Jamaica was the port highlight of the cruise. Welcomed by a very strong but short lived rain storm, we docked at Falmouth. This port is brand new to cruising as of this past February when the new reclaimed land complex was first used but is actually a historic port from the islandís past. The launch of the Oasis-class ships was the impetus for Royal Caribbean assisting the island in reintroducing this port to ships. While the port of Jamaica has full control over the actual land and which ships make berth here, Royal Caribbean arranged for the financing necessary for Jamaica to afford this new development which is also being overseen by the cruise line with the ultimate goal of creating a mixed use facility beyond the retail shops already open to visitors.
Itís an impressive port. The buildings are new but are made to resemble the local architecture, and the dock is large enough to accept two mega cruise ships. Yesterday, both Voyager of the Seas and the Freedom of the Seas, two ships representing the first of their respective classes, were docked across from each other, separated only by the new triangular port development. From afar it was striking to see the difference in size between the vessels viewed straight on. The Freedom is certainly plumper. The port is expected to receive ships from other lines soon too including Holland-America.
The people of Jamaica are extremely friendly. You feel an almost instant sense of camaraderie with the locals, and they made for fantastic guides during our shore excursions. Our first tour was a zip-lining and tubing combo. After leaving the port, we took a 30 minute bus trip to an historic sugar plantation that has since been converted into a tourist destination featuring the above mentioned activities along with hiking, ATV, and canoe options, making it a great destination for visitors seeking a range of physical activities. The area is lush with plant life and seemingly custom made for its current tourist use.
After, dropping off our belongings at lockers Ė a process that could be better explained and streamlined by the staff as it was not immediately made clear that we had to deposit our gear here instead of keeping it on the bus Ė we headed out to get harnessed into our zip-lining gear. After a brief orientation we were off to the first of five runs. Our tour was a sampler of sorts and featured only three of the five.
I had never been zip-lining before, and I was extremely excited to try it. The experience is simply a kick in the pants and is very much like a roller coaster ride except you are yourself the coaster car and the scenery is the forest canopy of an exotic land. The first run was very long. It certainly takes a bit of courage to sit down in the harness and raise your legs up to release yourself into the initially steep course, but once you do, you are rewarded with a surprisingly smooth and fast horizontal glide through the trees. You canít help but feel a bit like Jack Sparrow here in the Caribbean or Indiana Jones on an archaeological adventure as the site is spotted with old plantation structures overgrown with foliage.
After traversing three runs strapped tightly in your gear in a very tropical humid climate, youíll be sweating for sure. The following tubing portion of our tour was delightfully refreshing and relaxing after the adrenaline filled zip-lining. Between the two portions of the tour you are taken on a short but ridiculously bumpy outdoor truck ride that is reminiscent of an extreme version of the Indiana Jones Adventure ride at Disneyland. You are made quick acquaintances with everyone onboard as you are thrown about while laughing hysterically from the absurdity of the terrain.
The contrast that awaits as you glide peacefully down the river is undeniable. We were seated into inner-tubes that were strapped together into a string of four or so. Each grouping of tubes is escorted by a guide who directs the flotilla down the river and into a handful of minor but exciting rapids along the way. The water was cool but not cold and offered a chance to swim a bit too between rapids. When in the tubes, you are protected from the rocky riverbed at the rapids by a shield that plugs the underside of each inflatable. You are still required to lift your bottoms up and legs in at the rapids just to be as safe as possible, but you never feel in any danger as all precautions are carefully considered.
The river is so beautiful too. It reminds me a little bit of the Jordan River in Israel crossed somewhat with the Jungle Cruise at yes, you guessed it, Disneyland. The foliage is thick and often arches across the river to create a floral tunnel. Our guide pointed out the varieties of trees, bamboo, and flowering plants as well as different nests. It was fascinating. This combo tour of zip-lining and tubing is one of the best tours I have ever been on and certainly the highlight of this particular cruise.
On the way back to the ship we stopped at the plantation house which was in amazing shape and featured beautiful white-washed architecture with warm interior tones. The floors were all original made from wild orange tree wood that was somewhat similar looking to koa wood. Ordinarily, this location would offer a sit down lunch, but we were behind schedule and had to take ours to go. The local cuisine was very tasty. Our meal included jerk chicken, fish, and a fantastic rice concoction.
Unfortunately, this wonderful tour that we had just enjoyed was followed by an afternoon aboard the Captain Hook Adventure. There likely is an appeal, albeit very limited, for this type of tour, but to our group it was painful to be in attendance. Featuring a cast of pirate characters led by the so called Captain Hook, the show, if you can really call it that, was a barely discernible, narrative mess. It tried to be equal parts dance cruise, booze cruise and pirate show, a combination that failed at every turn. It was derivative and kitschy to say the least. All drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, were included as was a lunch of nasty hot dogs and chicken nuggets. It was occasionally amusing and the performers really did give it their all given the circumstances, but I cannot in good conscience recommend this tour. The only saving grace is that it afforded a fantastic view of the ships docked at the pier.