I completely disagree with Lou about GC. Grand Cayman is very tourist friendly and is the best place to book an excursion on your own. The island is small, and the tour companies have a great reputation. We snorkel the stingrays on the Buccaneer http://caymanislandsdiscounts.com/St..._Excursion.htm and had a fabulous time. The timing was perfect for a cruiser. We had plenty of time to get off the ship, and plenty of time to shop after the excursion.
Mariner of the Seas 3/30/08
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
i agree that grand cayman is more tourist friendly than jamaica, but keep this in mind - it is the reason we ALWAYS book excursion via the cruiseline. if your excursion for ANY reason goes over time, and you end up stuck on your excursion (on a boat, bus, whatever), and it's not booked through the ship, they WILL LEAVE WITHOUT YOU! if you book through the cruiseline, they are aware that your excursion is running long and the boat will wait for you. our boat has had to delay departure because some excursions were running long, so i know this is true. i always book through the cruiseline even if it is a little more expensive.
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Anything not sanctioned by the cruise line in Ocho Rios is very sketchy. My husband and I did an ATV Adventure through the cruise line in Jamaica and it was the highlight of our trip. We booked it through Princess. The minute you get out of the cruise terminal in OR there are a hundred people trying to hustle you, braid your heair, sell you reefer or worse, or give you a "special" tour of the area. Whatever it costs, book your Jamaican excursions through the cruise line. Also, like Bill Clinton, maybe you smoked reefer in college but never inhaled, whatever, DO NOT buy any contraband from locals - don't even talk to them! Just tell them beat it! There was a young couple on their honeymoon who were real sweet, friendly kids, and in OR the locals were trying to hustle them and I am sure they weren't jaded city folk like my husband and I who told them "Scram!" They were probably like, "No thank you..." which only encouraged their attention. You can't be nice, just firm. They were detained and searched by authorities on their way back to the ship. Maybe it was because they looked young college kids, but they felt it was because they were observed talking to the local hustlers. They were really frightened by the experience and lucky they had nothing on them.
Much safer than Jamaica. We did not book an excursion because I had read that 7 Mile Beach was no big deal to get to. I am pretty sure we used US money and it was maybe $8 to book a taxi ride there (same fare back, I think) and they took us to a nice stretch of beach with a bar and beach chair and umbrella rental. It was very relaxing and snorkling would have been cool, but we didn't rent any snorkle equipment there. The drinks at the bar cost a fortune, though, so if you go, maybe grab a few apples from the breakfast buffet and have cocktails when you return to the ship.
In G.C. Capt Marvin or Sea Kirk, but in Jamaica book through the cruise line. Last month in Jamaica on the Freedom OTS, there was a tour that came back thirty minutes after our sailing time, and they did wait. If it had been independently booked, they would have said "sayonara" and left on time.
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Just got back and we chose Moby Dick's two stop tour to Stingray City and snorkeling...so GLAD we made this choice!
Got off the ship with no waiting at about 8:20 (and actually could have stayed on the ship another 30 minutes). Checked in with Moby Dick tours at the dock shortly after 8:30, then walked around the town about 1 hour. About the only thing open that early is the grocery store, a short walk away. You DO NOT need to rush to get off the ship for this tour since they load the van at 9:30 with ALL who signed up...not just your group. If you are there too early, you will have to fill time until 9:30.
After loading on the van, we drove about 30 minutes to the boat. There were maybe 25-30 people on our boat...VERY comfortable and not crowded. Saw some huge double-decker boats from the ship's tour and they were very crowded...looked to be over 100 people on some of them.
When we got to Stingray City, it was fairly crowded with boats, so our guides took us to do snorkeling first...very close. You can see the stingray sandbar from the snorkeling area. During snorkeling, the guides get into the water with you and help you find cool underwater things. We saw a huge eel and a 5-foot nurse shark. Kids & I got close enough to touch the shark and took pics. I was surprised that I was not scared...it was awesome!
After about 45 minutes, the stingray sandbar had cleared out a good bit and the ship tours had gone, leaving us a very uncrowded experience! We all kissed a stingray, some of us fed them, and DD held one and got it to lay on her.
On the boat they have water and fruit punch, an on-board bathroom, plenty of snorkeling equipment & life vests, a fresh-water shower, music, very fun and "hands-on" guides...a SUPER experience....for only $35 USD. Since this IS a frequently canceled port, you may be interested to know that no down payment is required...you pay in full when you show up for the tour. It's about a 30 minute drive to the boat (each way), so that's an hour gone. It's another 20-25 minutes each way by boat to the snorkeling/stingrays so I would not recommend any combo snorkeling/stingray tour that goes for less than 3 hours...you will have little time actually interacting. Our time was just perfect.
We got back to the dock in time to pick up a few quick souvenirs. Although the tendering line looks long, keep checking it as it moves fast. My DH & DS thought they had plenty of time to pick up a few things and they were the last ones on the last tender boat. They had to jump on but that was totally their fault...not the tour operator.
As for Jamaica, this is one of the few places I would NOT recommend a private tour vendor and would recommend that you use the ship's tour IF you must see the area.
As for the ship leaving passengers, I've been on the balcony watching as we sailed away leaving passengers on land, BUT I've also been on a cruise where we waited nearly two hours in Skagway, AK for a group of four. Everyone boo'd them when they came up the gangway. Whether the ship waits or not could depend on how long the ship has to get from one place to the next and if the captain feels he can make up the time. Soooo, yes, you can get left, but there are times when you can be late and will NOT be left behind.