Jamaica’s cruise ports are much more than gateways to the country’s unique history, natural beauty and cultural heritage. Thanks to a series of far-sighted development projects, they are becoming hubs of enrichment for residents and visitors alike.
At Falmouth, for instance, the introduction of pedicabs and the completion of a second craft market are among the latest projects that see the Port Authority of Jamaica bringing locals and guests together to elevate the guest experience. Building on the success of its fishermen’s village at Ocho Rios, the authority is also working with Falmouth’s fishing community to upgrade the fishermen’s village there. And for those disembarking at the cruise port, more attractions are planned just a few steps away.
“In November we’ll be opening a large artisan village that can be accessed directly from the cruise port,” says William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping at the Port Authority of Jamaica. “Visitors will have the opportunity to see artists producing works of art such as sculptures, paintings or jewellery, and to purchase something unique.”
Looking further ahead, the authority is exploring the potential for a small water park adjacent to the port – an idea inspired by the success of similar projects elsewhere. “In the private islands and some other ports, cool zones and fun zones are well received,” says Tatham. “Water parks, especially, are a strong draw.”
At Montego Bay the upgrade of berth two has been finished, complete with a small cruise terminal in part of the existing cargo depot. “We’ve also recently completed a small shopping area and upgraded the main cruise terminal, including air conditioning and a mezzanine level,” says Tatham. “We’re now furnishing the mezzanine with a coffee shop and sitting area, which has become a standard offering at European terminals.”
Beyond the port, guests can enjoy a large public beach and entertainment area that is being developed by another government organisation in the town centre. “This will be highly visible from the cruise terminal and a major offering in Montego Bay,” says Tatham. “It will be very popular with cruise passengers, as many of them head to the beaches even if they’re not going on a tour.”
Accommodating increasingly large cruise ships is a priority, and the coming year will see the port’s cargo terminal converted into a standalone cruise terminal complete with its own ground transportation areas and retail offering. “Ships are getting larger from both a port-of-call and a homeporting standpoint,” says Tatham. “We want to deliver both of those as standalone units, which will increase efficiency for the cruise lines.”
In Ocho Rios, the next phase of upgrades is underway following the successful transformation of the Reynolds Pier and creation of the fishermen’s village. “We’re completing the roadside promenade that will lead from the Reynolds Pier, providing a spacious walk into the town for passengers,” says Tatham. “We’re also about to begin on the turnaround area. Space is at a premium at the Reynold’s Pier. We’ve built a new administration building for the owners to use, and we’re about to tear down the old building and expand the ground transportation area to deal with tours more efficiently. We’re also building a small, pass-through cruise terminal there.”
Plans for the next year include a waterside promenade which will continue from the port, along the seafront to the fishermen’s village. “Passengers leaving the port will have the choice to stay on the waterside or take the roadside promenade for a faster route into the town,” says Tatham. “These routes complement the streetscaping and beachside promenade built by other government departments, providing easy access to the main beach and nearby retail outlets.”
An exciting season lies ahead for Port Royal, where the imminent completion of several projects heralds a richly enhanced visitor experience. After the SeaWalk pier is installed in August, work will continue to ready the landside area and terminal for late November and build a new roadside promenade from the cruise terminal into Port Royal town centre.
A major upgrade of Fort Charles and a new museum will also be ready for the season. “Fort Charles has played a role in Jamaica’s history over hundreds of years,” says Tatham. “Lord Nelson was based there, for example, as was the West India Regiment, and the British Navy was in charge there for 250 years. As well as upgrading the building and its canons, we’re creating pockets in the fort to tell its stories.”
Adjacent to the fort, the new museum will tell the rest of Port Royal’s story – including its role in the slave trade, its pirates, the arrival of the breadfruit in Jamaica, brought by Captain Bligh of the Bounty, and the earthquake of 1692. “There are so many stories that the museum is going to help flesh out,” says Tatham. “Like Pompeii, part of Port Royal is frozen in time as it sank into the sea during the earthquake. We’re going to recreate a street within the museum to reflect Lime Street, one of the most important streets in pre-earthquake Port Royal.”
Even more attractions are planned in the next few years, including a large children’s playpark and a railway experience that will run six kilometres from the port facility to the lighthouse. “We discovered the route of old tracks that had been laid by the navy to move armaments between the forts and send supplies to the lighthouse,” says Tatham. “We plan to reinstate those tracks and replicate the train system to carry passengers and help tell the story of the peninsula. It will stop at places including a naval graveyard and Fort Rocky, before finishing at the lighthouse where we’ll have a small museum experience. That will also make a great pick-up and drop-off point.”
Tatham says the challenge for visitors will be in choosing which of Port Royal’s attractions to spend their time at – not to mention the city’s easy access by land and sea to Kingston and its rich culture, music and sports heritage. It’s an expansive vision that, by finding new ways to tell the area’s stories, extends beyond cruise tourism to reach and inspire local populations.
“We’re not just building for visitors,” says Tatham. “There’s an opportunity to develop Port Royal as the centrepiece of history for the Caribbean, pulling in Jamaicans and visitors from across the region as well as cruise guests. People will come to learn not only the history of Port Royal and Jamaica, but also of the wider region. That’s a major objective.”
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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