10 Cool Jamaica Shore Excursions by Nancy Schretter
Jamaica is a much-visited destination on Western Caribbean cruises – and no wonder. This Caribbean island has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for beautiful beaches, adventure, history, wildlife, relaxation or just lots of fun – Jamaica will make it happen.
If you’re wondering what to do while your ship is docked in Jamaica, here are ten top activities and adventures for cruise passengers:
1. Swim with Dolphins: Get up close and personal with dolphins (and even snorkel with sharks) at Jamaica’s number one marine attraction, Dolphin Cove. At Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios, cruisers can interact and swim with the dolphins. As part of their entrance fee, visitors can take out their own mini boats to explore the coast, snorkel and interact with stingrays, take a glass-bottom kayak ride, and interact with exotic snakes, birds and iguanas on the Jungle Trail. If your ship is docked in Montego Bay, Dolphin Cove Negril may be the closest option for you. Here, passengers can experience the same fantastic dolphin experiences at this 20-acre property that is the largest natural dolphin lagoon in the world.
2. Take a Bobsled Run: The cool bobsled ride at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios is one of Jamaica’s hottest attractions. Here’s your chance to star in your own Cool Runnings movie and hurtle along on steel rails 1,000 meters through the forest. Although gravity drives this bobsled ride, you can control your bobsled’s speed by maneuvering your bobsled’s handlebars. Parents who want to manage their child’s experience can have two bobsleds connected to each other.
3. Fly through the Canopy: Cruise passengers visiting Jamaica have multiple choices for zipline and sky trek adventures. Take the Original Canopy Tour, a two-hour zipline experience that will send you soaring through the treetops. Near the Rose Hall Great House, cruisers can take Chukka Caribbean’s exciting Flight of the White Witch zipline canopy tour. Here, ziplines traverse a densely forested canyon about 1200 feet above sea level. Guests will also rappel 100 feet down from Annie’s Web, a gravity-defying suspended platform high above the forest floor. A zipline tour and a sky trek experience are offered at Mystic Mountain as well.
4. Go Rafting on a River: Treat yourself to a rafting trip experience unlike any other. Journey down the Martha Brae River on 30-foot long bamboo rafts built for two. Located about three miles inland from the port of Falmouth, this river rafting tour was started over forty years ago and is the leading rafting excursion in Jamaica. Many famous individuals and celebrities, including Queen Elizabeth II, Chuck Norris, Spike Lee, and Jane Seymour, have taken this trip. As families glide along the three-mile stretch of water, they’ll learn about the “Legend of Martha Brae” and will have the opportunity to take a swim. Jamaica’s rivers are a delight. If tubing is more your style, take a shore excursion to Jamaica’s White River and get in on the fun. Kayaking safaris are available on Jamaica’s Great River as well.
5. Get Wet in the Waterfalls: Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s most famous tour attractions. Take a guided climb over 600-feet up to the top of the falls – definitely a great bonding activity. Wear water shoes with good treads for the best experience. Those who don’t wish to make the climb can view the human chain ascending the falls from a series of observation decks. There’s a nice beach below the falls for swimming and playing before or after your climb. Trips to Dunn’s River Falls are often combined with other activities on shore excursions, such as river tubing, catamaran sails, dolphin swims, bobsled or dogsled rides, zipline adventures and more. For even more exciting waterfall adventures, check out YS Falls, a set of seven spectacular tiered waterfalls and over-the-water zipline adventure located in the foothills of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country.
6. Hit Some Balls: Golf lovers visiting Jamaica will find some of the most beautiful and challenging courses in the Caribbean. As part of their ship’s cruise experience – or even on an independent tour – cruisers can arrange to play Jamaica’s famous Half Moon Course, consistently ranked as one of the top golf courses in the world. This breathtaking Par-72 Robert Trent Jones, Sr. course has hosted a number of prestigious tournaments, including the Dunhill Cup Final of the Americas and the Jamaica Open Golf Championship. Other popular courses for cruise passengers are the Sandals Golf & Country Club and the Breezes Resort’s course in Runaway Bay.
7. See the Wildlife: Go “under da sea” in an air-conditioned semi-sub reef explorer and learn about the fascinating marine life found in Montego Bay Marine Park – or go snorkeling on one of Jamaica’s many catamaran boat trips to see loads of bright corals and tropical fish. If your ship docks in Montego Bay or Falmouth, you may have the opportunity to take a scenic boat safari up the Black River where wild crocodiles can often be seen swimming through the water and sunning along the banks. Your guide will introduce you to these fascinating creatures and you could even be lucky enough to touch one if you dare!
8. Live the Legends: Visiting Nine Mile, the birthplace of reggae legend Bob Marley, is the equivalent of a Graceland pilgrimage for many fans. Cruise passengers have the opportunity to journey to this quaint mountain village to learn about Bob Marley’s life, see his home, and visit his final resting place. Several variations of this tour are offered, sometimes with a stop at Jamaica’s lush Fern Gully – home to over 200 different species of ferns. For those seeking a totally different type of legend, a trip to Rose Hall, the most famous Great House in Jamaica. Built in the 1770’s and immaculately restored, this Georgian mansion was the home of Annie Palmer, also known as the “White Witch of Rose Hall.” Visitors can walk through the rooms where Annie is said to have killed her three husbands – areas she is said to haunt to this day.
9. Go on a Camel Safari: Take a ride atop a camel at Prospect Plantation, a privately-owned 1000-acre 18th century working agricultural estate. The plantation is an interesting stop for cruise passengers, allowing them to see locally grown crops and even taste some freshly cut coconut. Guests can feed the ostriches as well. Once at the Camel Park, visitors will get a brief orientation to the camels and will have the opportunity to ride and pose with these exotic creatures. Children must be at least 8 years old to participate and kids 8-12 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
10. Saddle Up. Enjoy a leisurely trail ride through Jamaica’s lush rural areas, then head along the beach and into the sea to cool off. This popular tour from Chukka Caribbean takes cruise passengers on a trail ride through Jamaica’s countryside and to old sugar plantation estates. After riding through these areas, the horses will come to Chukka’s beach where riders (and their horses) can go for a swim in the sea. Children must be at least 6 years of age to participate in this tour. If horseback riding isn’t your thing, consider a Jamaican dogsled ride instead – without the snow, of course!
Of course, any list of what to do in Jamaica wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the beaches. Jamaica’s beautiful beaches are one of the major reasons why cruise passengers visit this tropical island time and time again. While Negril’s stunning white strand is legendary, other popular beaches include Runaway Bay, Mahogany Beach, Oracabessa, and James Bond Beach.
If you’d prefer to do something more low key while in Jamaica, shopping, bar-hopping, and garden tours are some favorite options. Margaritaville in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are both popular with cruise passengers – and there’s one in Negril, too. Wassi Art Pottery Works and Harmony Hall are great places for locally-made pottery and arts & crafts. Cruise passengers also enjoy touring the gardens at Shaw Park and Coyaba, visiting the rainforest at Fern Gully, and touring the 18th century Good Hope great house.
Nancy Schretter has been a leader in family and multigenerational travel for more than 20 years, covering these topics for her own publications as well as for leading magazines, newspapers, television and radio programs, and online travel sites. She is also a consultant and frequent speaker at travel industry conferences and events.
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