This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
As Jamaica continues to enhance the cruise guest experience, its capital city, Kingston, is set to regain its place as a favourite port of call. “Kingston enjoyed a busy cruise following in the 1960s and early 1970s,” says William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping and marine operations at the Port Authority of Jamaica. “There are many things to see and do there, the road network in and around the city has improved significantly, and there was real interest among local stakeholders in bringing cruising back to the city.”
Tatham says the growth of the cruise industry, and its increasing demand for interesting ports of call and rich cultural experiences, make this the ideal time for the project. Port Royal, a village at the mouth of Kingston Harbour, was the obvious place to start. “Port Royal has an incredible legacy, covering every aspect of Jamaica’s history from the Taino Indians to the modern day,” says Tatham. “It’s the original home of the pirates of the Caribbean that inspired the Disney movies. It was the main base for the British Navy for over 200 hundred years and Lord Nelson was stationed there. It was also the site of a massive earthquake in 1692 that sunk most of the city into the sea and froze it in time, and it’s been a site of archaeological research for many decades.”
As work proceeds on the Port Royal development, the ultimate goal is to expand the project to include downtown Kingston, across the harbour. “At Port Royal we will have the berth in place by the end of 2018 and most of the port facilities will be ready in early 2019, with the capacity to take ships in early winter 2019,” says Tatham. “For the longer term we’ll be building out as we go.”
A unique approach to development was necessary to preserve the location’s sensitive historical and ecological areas. So, when the National Heritage Trust responsible for the sunken city said it couldn’t support the dredging and pile-driving involved in traditional port construction, Tatham and his team set about finding alternative methods. “We approached Cruise Ventures, which developed the Seawalk floating pier solution in Sweden, Norway and other places,” he says. “A lot of major cruise lines use Seawalk, and every line I’ve discussed it with has tremendous confidence in the technology. Cruise Ventures did a site inspection and worked with us to find a fantastic location. Our Seawalk is currently under construction. It will be delivered towards the end of this year, installed in the new year and then we’ll be ready to go.”
Port Royal’s prospects look good as demand among cruise companies is already outstripping capacity, especially in the winter months. “When you look at that demand coupled with the projected growth of more than 100 ships on order, it’s safe to say that we are going to be able to grow the Port Royal business at the same time as we grow our other ports,” says Tatham. “We are doing very well: 2017 was another record year for the Port Authority of Jamaica. We are the third largest island in the Caribbean with a diverse natural makeup, so each of our ports has a clear identity and a clear offering.”
The development holds a lot of interest for cruise guests and local residents alike, with Kingston just a short boat or bus ride from Port Royal. “Kingston has an amazing waterfront and we’re planning a ferry dock at Port Royal to transport people straight into Kingston across the harbour,” says Tatham.
That proximity puts a vast range of Kingston attractions – including the Blue Mountains, Newcastle military fort, Hope Gardens and Bob Marley museum – on the doorstep of Port Royal cruise guests. “There is a lot to see and do and we anticipate a strong desire to visit, even with the attractions we have directly in Port Royal,” says Tatham.
In Port Royal itself a range of ecological activities, as well as historical and archaeological attractions, is being developed to excite guests. “There is an amazing set of mangroves and we’re working with the marine lab to include them in some for our visitors,” says Tatham. “We’re also developing some other nuggets we’ve found that will surprise guests when we open. Several areas around Port Royal are being enhanced to make them more visitor-friendly, and we have some really interesting concepts and attractions that we are looking to develop further.”
Jamaica’s strong road network also means that whichever of the island’s ports cruise passengers visit first, other destinations are within easy reach. For example, Ocho Rios and the nearby Dunn’s River Falls are just a 90-minute drive away. “We can open up many other destinations to cruise guests, and once we’ve finalised the development of Port Royal we expect such a strong following that guests will come from Ocho Rios to visit it,” says Tatham.
Improved infrastructure at other ports will also enhance the Jamaica cruise experience. “In Montego Bay we have completed an upgrade of the cruise terminal and we’ll be lengthening berth two later this year, expanding it further to make it the largest terminal port in 2019,” says Tatham. “We’re also looking to put in place a permanent tender dock and water taxi stand which will allow guests to enjoy water taxis across the bay. In Falmouth, dredging is underway to provide a second Oasis berth in time for the winter season. In the town itself we’ve been working with other government agencies on a big upgrade project which includes a streetscape programme. We have developed a new craft market across the road from the port, putting street vendors that were scattered around the town into an attractive location that’s more in keeping with the tradition of Falmouth. We are also doing a large redevelopment project at Hampden Wharf, adjacent to the port. That entails upgrading old buildings that were part of the original port property to improve retail, entertainment and create an artists’ village. That will be in place for early 2019.”
Together, these various projects underline the diversity of Jamaica and the distinctive identities of its ports. “Jamaica is a large island and each of its ports, from Port Royal to Ocho Rios, is unique,” says Tatham. “It’s our objective to clearly identify what each port offers to suit individual tastes and, working with the Ministry of Tourism, to help educate the travel industry and the consumer. Jamaica’s key strength is that it can offer more variety and destinations, just one hour away from each of its ports of call, than any other destination in the Caribbean.”
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