Twice the fun in Jamaica with more immersive experiences

Although Jamaica has five highly diverse cruise ports, cruise lines have traditionally only visited one per itinerary. William Tatham tells Michele Witthaus how that’s set to change as several cruise lines plan double calls

Twice the fun in Jamaica with more immersive experiences
Adventurous cruise guests visiting Ocho Rios can climb Dunn’s River Falls and enjoy ziplining over the waterfall and rainforest canopy

There are many good reasons for cruise ships to visit the island of Jamaica more than once in an itinerary, says William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping and marina operations for the Port Authority of Jamaica.

Montego Bay offers homeporting and port of call opportunities for most of the biggest cruise lines and is the gateway to the famous beaches of Negril and the rum estates of the South Coast. Meanwhile, the Port of Falmouth’s joint venture with Royal Caribbean Group, which opened in 2010, has tailor-made facilities for very large ships; Ocho Rios, the “crown” of the island, gives access to some of the island’s most renowned natural attractions; the boutique cruise port of Port Antonio combines glimpses of history and Hollywood; and the new Port Royal is of archeological importance due to a preserved underwater city that sank during a catastrophic earthquake in 1692. The latter port is also close to Kingston, the birthplace of reggae music, which is where Bob Marley grew up, making it a major attraction for many cruise guests.

“Because of the size of the island, Jamaica tends to be very different in its makeup,” says Tatham. “The small port of Port Antonio in the northeast is the lushest part of the island with rain forests, rivers and waterfalls, and smaller cove type beaches – in fact, the latest James Bond film was filmed there.”

Ocho Rios boasts the nearby famous waterfalls of Dunns River Falls, as well as Mystic Mountain, which has a bobsled that goes through the rainforest, and Dolphin Cove, where guests can swim with dolphins.

In contrast, “Falmouth is built for the very big ships and there’s a lot to be seen, such as Green Grotto Caves, where slaves hid after running away, and where the Spanish hid when they were leaving Jamaica after the British invaded,” says Tatham.

Port Royal, the newest of the Jamaican ports, is “probably the most historic location in the Caribbean”, says Tatham. “That’s why when we developed the cruise port, we selected an area that didn’t need to be dredged so we would protect the sunken city. We also implemented the Western Hemisphere’s first Seawalk system, which is used in the fjords of Norway and Sweden. The dock actually floats out and meets the ship.”

With so much to choose from, there is strong interest from cruise lines in taking up the offer of two calls per itinerary. Tatham explains: “Crystal Cruises and Holland America Line both are going to be doing double calls, so they will be in one of our North Coast call ports the day before, and then the next day they’re going to be coming into Port Royal. We’re very focused on being able to deliver a unique experience in both of those ports of call. I think that once they’ve had that experience, we’re going to see a lot more cruise lines doing the same.”

The sales pitch to the cruise lines regarding Jamaica’s many attractions, says Tatham, is: “You can mix and match these for multiple calls. There’s so much variety of offering that your guests just can’t do it all in one call. Working with us, you can deliver a very different experience for each call.”

The cruise industry in general is seeing an increase in the number of people looking for more immersive experiences than in the past, and Tatham says Jamaican ports are well equipped to make the most of this.

“We are definitely seeing more of that and that’s why we are following those trends. So, in Falmouth, which has a large collection of Georgian architecture, we’re installing storyboards for people who want to walk around and explore. We’re doing the same thing with the historical buildings in Port Royal. We’re giving visitors guide maps and we have storytellers in some of these locations.

It’s all about offering something deeper than the traditional tourist experience, says Tatham. “There will always be a customer base that wants to lie on the beach or do a thing that you can do anywhere. However, in Jamaica, we try and offer an interesting slant on these activities that you can’t get somewhere else.”

This article was first published in the 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Michele Witthaus
By Michele Witthaus
10 January 2022

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