Bringing cruising to an island of inspiration

As Port Royal welcomes its first cruise guests, William Tatham explains what makes Jamaica unique
Bringing cruising to an island of inspiration
Port Royal adds a new dimension to Jamaica’s cruise experience, providing a gateway to the rich heritage of Kingston

By Jacqui Griffiths |

When Marella Cruises’ Marella Discovery II docked at Port Royal on 20 January, it marked the return of cruising to Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, after more than 40 years. Developing the port – along with the completion of attractions including Fort Charles and a roadside promenade into the town – has taken years of work by the Port Authority of Jamaica and other government agencies. But the completion of this project is just the beginning.

“Jamaica’s capital is an extraordinarily culturally rich site, from the Blue Mountains where the coffee is made to [singer] Bob Marley’s home and museum, and the national stadium where our great athletes have trained,” says William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping at the Port Authority of Jamaica. “We now have a great opportunity to open that up and grow it for visitors and locals.”

For decades, the island’s north coast ports of Falmouth, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio have been the go-to destinations for cruise itineraries. But when Jamaica’s prime minister asked the port authority to find a way to bring cruise back to Kingston, discussions with cruise lines and other stakeholders identified Port Royal as the ideal starting point. “Port Royal is a truly unique location with 500 years of incredible history including a sunken city, the famous Pirates of the Caribbean and the main British Navy base in the Caribbean for over 200 years,” says Tatham.

Strong interest from European and American operators indicates the powerful draw of the area’s narratives for cruise guests. But Tatham says its success also lies in recapturing a sense of history for Jamaicans.

“Fort Charles, for example, doesn’t have the look and layout of grand historic buildings like the UK’s castles,” he says. “Its ability to immerse visitors lies in its stories – and there are so many, our challenge was to choose which ones to tell. The West India Regiment has an extraordinary history in that location and several Admirals including Lord Nelson were based there. By focusing on the year 1807, we’ve identified many compelling stories from the generation before that and the generation after, encompassing pre- and post-emancipation periods that had a huge impact on Jamaicans and the wider region. People can see the fort as it was in 1807 including the uniforms, officers’ quarters and other aspects of life there. Within that they’ll find different stories about the people who were based there and what day-to-day life was like.”

Port Royal adds a new dimension to Jamaica’s cruise experience, accompanying recent developments to ports on the island’s north coast. Falmouth recently celebrated the opening of an artisan village adjacent to the port, for example, while the Reynolds Pier project in Ocho Rios is nearing completion with a new terminal building and a seaside promenade set to open for the 2021 season. Meanwhile, at Montego Bay, the government’s Urban Development Corporation is upgrading a public beach at the edge of town to include an amphitheatre, food and beverage offerings and a jogging track among its attractions.

“Jamaica’s size lends itself to diverse offerings and each port offers access to different natural attractions including mountains, rivers and waterfalls, alongside historical heritage sites,” says Tatham. “Opening Port Royal means we now have five unique ports of call, each one close to exceptional attractions. In recent years our road network has improved dramatically, including completion of the north-south coast highway so guests coming into Port Royal can easily take a tour to Ocho Rios and vice versa.”

At each port, the authority is careful to avoid the congestion that it has seen negatively impacting the guest experience elsewhere. “We decided some time ago to fully develop Jamaica’s ports of call, but not to keep adding berths,” says Tatham. “Once we’ve reached a two-ship capacity, we look elsewhere to develop new ports. So, for example, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, can both take two mega-ships alongside and one more at anchorage. Falmouth can take two Oasis class vessels but there is no room for anchorage. And in Port Antonio we accommodate small boutique ships. Port Royal is an exclusive port of call where no more than one vessel will dock at any time. It can take ships up to Freedom of the Seas, but our objective for now is to take smaller vessels while we build our understanding of its capacity and facilities.”

Looking ahead, Tatham says plans for Port Royal include the development of new attractions including a museum at the port facility, a historic railway experience, a bar, restaurant and entertainment area at the nearby lighthouse, a potential water park and expansion of the museums. Ecological tours including an adjacent bird sanctuary, and upgrades to beach experiences on islands a short boat ride from Port Royal are also in the pipeline. But as this latest addition to Jamaica’s cruise ports establishes itself, it will also pave the way for exciting new cruise experiences in Kingston and its surrounding area.

“We see Port Royal as a starting point for cruise terminals in that part of the island,” says Tatham. “Once it is established, it will be natural for other ports in the area to develop – possibly in Kingston harbour or at other locations which we’ll identify in consultation with the cruise lines. Jamaica has everything from world class beach experiences to unique natural beauty, culture and history. Our ports are integral to those attractions, providing gateways to experiences visitors can’t get anywhere else.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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