An expert guide to Jamaica's cruise ports
With sun, sea, sand and rum in abundance,
it’s no wonder Jamaica is a dream destination
for so many cruise fans.
Montego Bay is a thriving port that offers visitors all they need for a memorable tropical holiday. Sun-soaked beaches, historic plantations, tropical gardens and lush countryside add up to plenty of options on a port stop.
Doctor’s Cave Beach
If you think of Jamaica, you’re bound to picture white sands and a sparkling blue sea. In the early 1920s, a famous British osteopath declared that the water had curative powers after swimming here – a claim that helped shape the future of Montego Bay and the famous five-mile Doctor’s Cave Beach.
Today the beach is a great spot to spend a relaxing day away from your ship, soaking up some Caribbean sun with a Jamaican beer in your hand.
Rose Hall Great House
Overlooking the ocean about 20 minutes from Montego Bay, Rose Hall Great House is a restored plantation home that was built in 1770. Legend has it that Annie Palmer – aka the White Witch of Rose Hall – once ruled the roost here with her supernatural powers.
Today her home is decorated with furniture from the period and you can step back in time on a tour. For a spooky extra, try the candle-lit version – you might even glimpse a ghostly sighting of the wicked witch herself.
Montego Bay Cruise
If time allows, book a day trip with Dreamer Catamarans (dreamercatamarans.com). You’ll glide across the twinkling Caribbean, enjoying the sound of reggae on board, and you can stop to swim and snorkel in the Montego Bay Marine Park.
Then head on to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville for a play on the waterslides and maybe a glass or two of liquid refreshment.
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BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Rehab Sports Bar
Looking for a classic Jamaican atmosphere? This lively hangout has it in abundance (if you want to look like a local, the most popular drinks are the buckets of beer and mini-Guinness shots).
Rehab also hosts regular mixologists who whip up a nice line in day-glo cocktails, and on weekends you can enjoy live music and DJ sets as you sip.
The Houseboat Grill
Postcard-blue waters surround this floating restaurant in Bogue Lagoon, not far from Montego Bay’s main port. Choose a table on the open-air top deck and you can enjoy a fabulous view as you eat.
Seafood is the standout star of the menu (see the rave reviews online), and if you’re here in lobster season (July to March) don’t miss the celebrated scotch bonnet- spiked lobster linguine.
Once a snoozy fishing village, Ocho Rios is now a busy port stop. ‘Ochi’ as it’s called locally is quieter than Montego Bay, though not as relaxed as Negril, and unlike other resort towns in Jamaica, the beaches here are not the focal point. Instead, Ocho Rios is known for its picturesque waterfalls, luxuriant gardens and lazy rivers.
Dunn’s River Falls
One of Jamaica’s most popular attractions, Dunn’s River Falls features 180 metres of terraced cascades. With the help of a guide, you can climb the limestone tiers to the top of the Falls, slide down the smooth sections of rock, and swim in the cool lagoons at the base. If you visit just one attraction while you’re in port, make it here.
Green Grotto Caves
For something a bit different, the Green Grotto Caves are an ideal destination. These limestone caverns were once used by the native Arawak people, and were also the reputed hideaway of escaped slaves and Spanish settlers fleeing from the British.
In more recent times, they featured in the Bond movie Live and Let Die. On a guided tour you’ll learn about the history of the caves and see some incredible stalactites and stalagmites, as well as an underground lake.
The Blue Hole
This attractive natural wonder is a deep sinkhole that gets its name from the distinctive turquoise waters that fill it. Here you can also cliff dive and jump into the pools from the rope swings dotted around.
It’s the perfect destination for a day trip if you fancy doing something a little more energetic.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Ochos Rios Jerk Centre
Jerk-style cookery, using spices and chilli as a dry rub or marinade, is a Jamaican tradition, and the best jerk joint in town serves excellent pork and chicken in quarter- pound helpings, along with heaps of flavourful sides. There are daily specials, the best being escovitch fish and classic curry goat.
Miss T’s Kitchen
For another true taste of Jamaica, Miss T’s Kitchen is a rustic restaurant and bar that offers a selection of healthy, home-style dishes and drinks in a lush garden setting. Located in a quiet cul-de-sac off Main Street in the heart of Ocho Rios, it’s a great place to enjoy a tasty lunch with a lively ‘roots’ soundtrack.
Once a quiet coastal town, Falmouth was revived in 2011 with the reopening of the port. You’ll find a variety of shops in the terminal, as well as in the town’s original Georgian buildings – a reminder of its days as a major player in the sugar trade.
It’s a little rough around the edges, but take time to explore Falmouth’s cobbled streets and you’ll discover an engaging mix of old and new Jamaica with a low-key vibe that’s unlike anywhere else on the island.
Hampden Rum Tour
Next to reggae, rum is Jamaica’s most famous export. You’ll get a taste for it at the Hampden Estate distillery, where they produce a powerful Pure Single Jamaica Rum, using a process that’s been around for more than 260 years.Take the distillery tour and you’ll also see more of the breathtaking countryside, as well as getting a look inside Hampden Great House and enjoying a bite to eat too.
The Luminous Lagoon
Plankton may not sound like the most obvious nightlife attraction, but
the clue is in the name at the Luminous Lagoon, where tiny bioluminescent organisms cause the water to light up at night, illuminating the pool itself and any other marine life in the water. As one of only five locations in the world where this phenomenon can be seen, it’s well worth a visit.
Martha Brae River
The lush countryside around Montego Bay isn’t something you want to miss, and one of the best ways to experience it is by rafting down the Martha Brae River. It’s a lazy three-mile journey between jungle-fringed banks, accompanied by local guides who’ll tell you all about the local flora and fauna (and if you’re lucky, they might sing you a little reggae, too).
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Club Nazz & restaurant
If you want to try Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and saltfish – the equivalent of scrambled eggs mixed with dried cod – this is the place to go. Order a side of banana and cornmeal dumplings, too, and you’ve got Jamaica on a plate. Expect to walk out full but happy.
Reserved solely for the use of cruise ship passengers, Margaritaville’s Falmouth location is a great place to kick back and relax with a rum in your hand (and thanks to a swim-up bar, you won’t even have to leave the water to top yourself up). There are all kinds of attractions, including live entertainment, the service is legendary and the food is fabulous, so you can easily spend a whole day here.
Probably the most fashionable cruise call on the island, Port Antonio features in the 1988 film Cocktail (still talked about here as if it were shot yesterday).
In this small, bustling town you can get a glimpse of the old Jamaica: ramshackle but clean, with a busy market and an appealing mix of tin-roofed shacks, grand old Georgian buildings and a sprinkling of modern brick and concrete.
Named for the sailors who sought refuge here after a battle with the British, Port Antonio’s most famous beach is a stunning stretch of white sand, nestled at the mouth of a freshwater stream that winds its way through the trees and into the sea. Find a shady spot and laze the day away, admiring the dreamy view of lush green cliffs and turquoise water.
Popular Reach Falls is an eco attraction in the John Crow mountain range where a dramatic waterfall cascades down a rock face into an emerald river pool. It’s beautiful just to look at – but you can also take a dip in the pool, so don’t forget to bring a swimming costume.
Blue Mountain cycle tour
A great way to see the Blue Mountains is on two wheels – but don’t worry, book with Blue Mountain Cycle Tours and it’s downhill all the way. A leisurely three-hour ride with minimal pedalling will give you a grandstand view of the island’s lush, tropical countryside, and lungfuls of that fresh Jamaican air.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
This famous restaurant and bar serves succulent steamed fish, curry goat and grilled lobster to an appreciative clientele of locals and visiting cruise passengers.
Roots 21 Bar & Kitchen
The special feature of this popular eaterie is that its roots run deep in both Indian and Jamaican culture, so you’ll find some great fusion food along with friendly service. Look out for their signature dish – coconut fish paired with roti and pumpkin talkari.
Port Royal and Kingston
With a different vibe from the other ports on the island, Jamaica’s capital is surrounded by mountains in the north and coastline to the south. There’s lots to see and do here (music fans mustn’t miss the Bob Marley Museum) but an integral part of the capital’s cultural scene is its restaurants and local eats, made up of big flavours and satisfyingly authentic, traditional dishes. If you’re a foodie, this is definitely the place to go.
The National Gallery
Built in 1974, The National Gallery of Jamaica is a prestigious showcase for contemporary, modern and early work from Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region. Strolling through the five permanent galleries, you’ll be able to see everything from pre-Columbian art created by the island’s indigenous communities to pieces by some of 20th century Jamaica’s most celebrated artists, such as Edna Manley and Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds.
Bob Marley Museum
Don’t miss the chance to visit reggae legend Bob Marley’s house in Kingston, bought in 1975 and occupied by the singer and his family until his untimely death in 1981. The property was later converted into a museum and now houses the great man’s personal effects and treasures. You’ll also find an 80-seat theatre, a photo gallery, a record shop and gift shop where you can buy reggae memorabilia.
The Blue Mountains National Park
Looming over the northern areas of Kingston, the Blue Mountains shade the region from the hot Caribbean sun. A trip to the Blue Mountains National Park is a wonderful escape for anyone hoping to enjoy a bit of wilderness and untouched beauty while visiting Jamaica. Hiking to the peak can take anywhere from four to eight hours, depending on where you start and your experience.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Located at the Terra Nova Hotel, Regency Bar is as regal as it sounds. In recent years, the bar has been refurbished and has become a local hotspot, offering a wide selection of wines, beers, liquors and spirits, perfectly poured every time.
An eaterie that specialises in vegetarian and vegan options, this restaurant offers light yet filling meat alternatives. Appetisers include vegetable samosas and hot pepper soups, which will whet your appetite for a main of curried tofu or fried veggie balls served with a delicious pineapple sweet- and-sour sauce.