This article was first published in Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
An island steeped in history, Jamaica has no problem attracting cruise visitors. But significant efforts are now being made to help showcase everything the island has to offer.
Much of Jamaica’s cruise business currently centres on the ports at Falmouth, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay – all of which have seen steady investment in recent times. But now, plans are afoot which will bring the cruise business back to the Jamaican capital Kingston in the not too distant future.
The Jamaican government has been keen for some time to return cruise shipping to the Kingston area, and it was decided that the best opportunity to do this was at Port Royal. A city with a wealth of history, Port Royal is where the pirates of the Caribbean, who inspired the ride at Disneyland and ultimately the film franchise, were based. The British navy also had a base at Port Royal for more than 200 years, while in 1692 a major earthquake struck and forced two-thirds of the city into the sea. Some relics and ruins still remain under the water’s surface, and Kingston harbour has been a site of great research and recovery over the past few decades.
It is hoped that due to the high level of interest in what is geographically a fairly small area, Port Royal will be able to deliver an offering that receives a great deal of interest to the wider world. And plans for this are now in place.
The idea of creating a cruise port at Port Royal has been discussed at various times over the years, but concerns had historically been raised by Jamaica’s Natural Heritage Trust about the potential to damage historic areas. One concern was around putting a pier in place at Port Royal, which would require the need for dredging and piles. As Port Royal’s sunken city is a very fragile area, there was a worry that doing that type of work could cause irreparable damage to areas of historical interest. A solution which wouldn’t see any dredging or putting in piles had to be found, and that’s where the SeaWalk technology comes into play.
SeaWalk floating pier technology means that potential damage to areas of historical interest beneath the water’s surface can be avoided. So, after a location for the new port was identified, Cruise Ventures, the developers of the SeaWalk technology, was approached to discuss the site and determined it to be a fantastic location with all the right attributes to make the plans work.
A plan of action was presented to Jamaica’s Natural Heritage Trust, expressing ways in which the organisation’s concerns were addressed. The trust was delighted with what they saw.
Jamaica’s Natural Heritage Trust owns Kingston’s old naval hospital and also Fort Charles and it is hoped that, with some work, these locations could be made into a very special offering.
The aim is to ultimately turn Port Royal into a very special port of call, and the current plans have received widespread support. Following government approval of the plans, a contract has now been signed with Cruise Ventures. The process of developing the new port and enhancing some locations to make them more visitor-friendly attractions will get underway soon, and the aim is to deliver everything by the end of 2018 and have it ready to experience in 2019.
Enhancements to existing port facilities across Jamaica are also taking place.
Montego Bay is a destination on the rise, and upgrades have been made to the port’s existing cruise terminal. A shopping section within the terminal has been relocated to open up additional space, while air conditioning has been put in, new flooring has been implemented, and a variety of other upgrades have been made. Upgrades have also been made to the small cruise terminal on berth two, allowing for two vessels to simultaneously homeport at Montego Bay.
At Falmouth, efforts have been made to improve the visitor experience in the town itself. A new craft market has very recently opened, and street programmes are in place to improve landscaping and hardscaping. The local community is also being engaged with the aim of increasing participation and benefiting the people who live in Falmouth year-round.
Further projects at Falmouth include a new pedicab programme and upgrades to the original wharf buildings, which will be converted for use as venues for entertainment, retail, food and beverage and other attractions. This location will be open to the public as well as cruise visitors.
At Ocho Rios, upgrades are being made to the Reynolds Pier. A multi-purpose port, Ocho Rios was limited in the size of vessels it could take. A multi-million dollar upgrade of the port facility and the pier is now taking place, enabling Regal, Royal and Breakaway class vessels to dock there. Projects to enhance the land-based offering at Ocho Rios will commence in the summer, and include the creation of a larger stage area, a waterfront promenade which will take visitors into the town of Ocho Rios, and upgrades to the Fisherman’s Village.
The recent work at Falmouth has helped Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, and it is hoped that the development at Port Royal will have a similarly positive effect throughout Jamaica. Port Royal will be an exclusive destination, as only one ship will call at a time, and the project to bring cruising back to Kingston is something the people of Jamaica are excited to see progress and develop.