The Caribbean is the world’s most popular cruise region, packed with ships and passengers throughout the year. Many of the biggest ships operate fixed itineraries week-in, week-out – if it’s Tuesday, it must be St Thomas – smaller operators can be more varied. Susan Parker highlights three of the most popular ports.
1. Falmouth, Jamaica
Arriving in Falmouth is a feast of colour, music… and a host of familiar designer outlets for jewelry, watches, and T-shirts. There’s even abranch of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, complete with plastic pirate ship. Hidden among the commercial charivari is an enclave of about 20 stalls selling local handicrafts, and a short walk outside the gated compound there’s another 40 or more – where the vendors can become quite pushy.
Downtown is only four minutes’ walk away. Combine this with the heritage walking tour direct from the port that takes you by national monuments, 200-year old merchant houses and timber frame houses built by free slaves. Alternatively take the round-trip trolley tour which stops at St Peter’s Anglican Church.
Hungry for some local flavour? Then head for the Far Out Fish Hut just 15 minutes away or, a little further, Scotchies Jerk Center which prepares jerk second to none.
If you want to see more, you can pick up a taxi at the port at an hourly rate of $35 for up to four passengers or there is a bus to the Hip Strip in Montego Bay for $20 return. The most popular excursions are to Dunns River Falls and Dolphin Cove, both just 75 minutes’ drive east, and Good Hope Chukka Adventure Tours only 20 minutes away. The latter includes opportunities to take a horse and buggy, zipline, tube and enjoy the restaurant.
Proximity 4 minutes walk into
Falmouth Population 12,000
Restaurants Scotchies Jerk/Far Out Fish Hut
2. Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Tortola Pier Park opens next year as another new facility in the Caribbean where passengers step directly off the ship into a welcome centre, multilingual staff, tourist information and maps – and music. It is close to the heart of the capital, Road Town, so everything is easilyaccessible on foot.
The main street provides a typical slice of BVI life with architecture displaying both Danish and British settler influence. BVI is known for its sweet treats like fruit tarts and sugar cake as well as pea soup and potfish served with fungi. These can be found at The Crafts Alive Village of brightly painted stalls. At the other end of the spectrum is the old prison, brought to life by characters in period costume.
Within five minutes’ taxi ride are a number of other choices including Virgin Queen for authentic local fare and The Dove housed in a historic West Indian cottage, serving seasonal menus made from local ingredients.
Iit’s a 10-minute cab ride to the famous white sand beach of Cane Garden Bay where paddle boarding and kayaking are popular. If you just want to chill out, head for Smugglers Cove which is popular with the residents, but be aware – access is by unpaved road.
Alternatively, take a water taxi to Jost van Dyke with its 300 inhabitants or the seven-minute ferry boat to Virgin Gorda; it’s a great place to swim and snorkel.
Proximity 7 minutes
Restaurants The Dove/Origin/Le Cabanon/ Virgin Queen
3. Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
One of the joys of arriving in St Maarten is the choice of ways to get from the Harbour Point Village into the centre of Philipsburg. It’s a 15-minute walk, but also on hand are cabs, tour buses and water taxis which provide an all-day hop-on, hop-off service for $6 a day, with stops at The Captain Hodge Wharf, Walter Williams Jetty and Bobby’s Marina.
Founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy, Philipsburg is a duty-free paradise but it also has some interesting historical attractions including the Courthouse dating back to 1793, St Maarten Museum, Old Street and the Guavaberry Emporium. The waterfront boardwalk is packed with lively bars and restaurants.
Shore excursions abound – from a helmet dive to deep-sea fishing, guided Harley-Davidson tours, butterfly watching and plantation visits. For those wanting to chill out La Gallion beach is recommended or, for something a little more active, Lottery Farm offers ziplining as well as a restaurant and pool. It’s only 15 minutes drive to the local zoo.
Shieka’s Bistro downtown may not be all that fancy but it’s where the locals go and is full of local flavour. Further afield are Yvette’s, Johnny B’s and Melting Pot for something more casual or if you are after a more upscale venue try Bajatzu bar and grill, Bamboo Bernies or Temptation.
Proximity 15-min water taxi
Restaurants Shieka’s Bistro/Melting Pot/ Bamboo Bernie’s