How Jamaica continues to fascinate visitors

William Tatham tells Jacqui Griffiths how Jamaica offers unique and unrivalled experiences for cruise guests and operators

How Jamaica continues to fascinate visitors
Cruise guests can enjoy adventurous activities like ziplining when visiting Jamaica

This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Renowned for its warm hospitality, rich cultural history and lush natural beauty, Jamaica is a unique destination that is moving in sync with a booming cruise industry.

“Jamaica offers more within one hour of its ports than pretty much any other cruise destination,” says William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping and marina operations at the Port Authority of Jamaica. “It holds experiences to satisfy an increasingly diverse range of tastes among cruise guests – whether they want idyllic beaches, immersive history, shopping, food and drink or high adventure.”

Jamaica’s ports are the gateway to those experiences and the development of its newest port of call, Port Royal, has caused great excitement. Located across the harbour from Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city and home of the Bob Marley Museum, Port Royal brings cruising back to the south-east of the island after some 40 years away. And it promises some very different experiences from the sun, sea and adventure traditionally associated with the island’s north coast.

“Port Royal has an extraordinary 500 years of history, encompassing the indigenous Taíno people, the arrival of Columbus, the pirates that inspired Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, the period of slavery and emancipation, and 200 years as a major base for the Royal Navy,” says Tatham. “It is also a city frozen in time. After a major earthquake, followed by two tsunamis in 1692, two-thirds of the city slipped into the sea and soil where it has been preserved to this day, much like the city of Pompeii in Italy. There is a lot to see and a lot to talk about.”

Protecting Port Royal’s delicate ecology and sunken city while developing a world-class port of call entailed innovative thinking, resulting in the installation of a SeaWalk floating pier in August 2019. “We’re now able to host a ship, and the terminal building and staging will be ready to welcome Marella Discovery 2 from Marella Cruises in January 2020,” says Tatham. “We’ve been working closely with Marella to ensure an exciting relaunch for the port.”

At Jamaica’s three legacy ports – Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios – the focus has been on accommodating increasingly longer, wider and deeper cruise ships. “We’ve been growing our homeporting business in Montego Bay and those ships have got larger,” says Tatham. “To accommodate their growing volumes of guests, we’ve moved retail units out of the terminal for berths 5 and 6 to create more space for luggage and processing. At our old cargo terminal which we was previously used for extra cruise capacity when needed, we’ve built a berth for LNG and cargo and extended berth 2, our second cruise berth, so we can accommodate very large ships such as Carnival Excel-class vessels. In the next financial year, we’ll be expanding the terminal building so we’ll have two standalone cruise terminals that can operate independently of each other.”

The port authority’s partnership with Royal Caribbean International to develop Falmouth as an ideal port for Oasis-class ships has also been expanded. “Initially we only developed the northern berth at Falmouth for Oasis because Royal Caribbean didn’t anticipate a need to have two Oasis vessels calling on the same day,” says Tatham. “That now looks like a real possibility, so we’ve completed a dredging programme on the southern berth and we now have two berths that can accommodate the Oasis class.”

In Ocho Rios, transformation of the Reynolds Pier has also been completed. “We can now accommodate large vessels such as Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway for the first time, either at the main terminal or the Reynolds terminal,” says Tatham. “We’ve completed a roadside promenade that provides a pleasant five-minute walk for guests from the Reynolds Pier into the town, and we’re working to expand the ground transportation area for buses and other vehicles from the port.”

Organisations including the Ministry of Tourism, local authorities and operators continue to invest in creating exceptional experiences for cruise guests. For instance, Mystic Mountain and Chukka Group have developed several new attractions for the winter 2019 season, including Chukka’s partnership with Dunn’s River Falls to introduce a zip line over the falls.

Jamaica’s strong shore excursion offering is widely recognised, but for guests who choose to go it alone, the efforts of local government bodies ensure great experiences in the island’s resort towns. Falmouth is just one example. “We’ve worked with other government agencies to upgrade Falmouth, including putting in sidewalks, cleaning up the city centre and improving drainage,” says Tatham. “We’re also working with the Ministry of Tourism on the Hampden Wharf development which will open in December. Local artisans are being invited to take up residence in the beautiful old rum and sugar warehouse buildings, so guests can watch them work and buy unique works of art.”

Jamaica’s hospitality begins at its ports, and Tatham is focused on enhancing that experience for guests and locals alike. “With larger cruise ships, each passenger segment includes hundreds of people, so it’s important to ask what we can do closer to the port for passengers who don’t want to go further afield,” he says. “We’re looking at what the cruise lines are doing on their private islands to better understand how we can create exceptional shoreside experiences, outside our gates and in our properties. We’re also seeing a real desire for attractions among local communities, so we’re looking at things we can do that will interest them too.”

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Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths
06 January 2020

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