Ocho Rios Port
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Ocho Rios Overview
Ocho Rios, affectionately referred to as "Ochi" by the locals, is situated on the northern coast of the island of Jamaica, midway between the capital, Kingston, and the popular tourist resort of Montego Bay. The Spanish translation of Ocho Rios is "eight rivers," but the town's name most likely was derived from the abundance of waterfalls in the area (since you won't find eight rivers there). The shoreline is dotted with one hotel resort after another, with the Caribbean's trademark warm sands and turquoise waters in their backyards. Beyond the shoreline, rainforestlike greenery blankets the mountainous landscape. The strikingly lush tropical foliage makes it easy to see why the Parish of St. Ann, of which Ocho Rios is a part, is known as the "garden parish."
Set just slightly past the cruise port, the shabby town of Ocho Rios offers plenty of duty-free shopping bargains, open-air eateries and happening bars on its two main drags, Main Street and DaCosta Drive (which run parallel to each other). Although the town is worth checking out, spending an entire day there would be overdoing it. For cruise-ship tourists, primary points of interest and attractions -- like Dunn's River Falls, Mystic Mountain and James Bond Beach -- lie beyond the actual town and are short 5- to 10-minute taxi rides away.
Ocho Rios gets its fair share of precipitation with the most rain falling in October, and average temperatures in Jamaica are in the 80's and 90's. (July and August are the hottest months, while February is the coolest.) Watch out for hurricane season in Caribbean ports from June until November.
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Other Western Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Belize City • Costa Maya • Cozumel • Falmouth • Galveston • Grand Cayman • Havana • Key West • Montego Bay • New Orleans • Ocho Rios • Playa del Carmen (Calica) • Progreso • Roatan • Samana and Cayo Levantado • Santiago de Cuba • Tampa
A Jamaican classic is the Hummingbird, made with coffee liqueur, rum cream liqueur, milk, strawberry syrup and bananas, blended with ice to a smooth, frozen consistency.
Authentic Jamaican rum and Tia Maria (a coffee liqueur) make great souvenirs. Just remember that if you're flying home from your cruise, you'll need to put the bottles in your checked luggage.
Standard English is spoken in Jamaica, but the locals speak an English-based patois with a thick accent.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency in Jamaica is the Jamaican dollar, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Most shops, restaurants and attractions accept credit cards. ATM's are located at the cruise terminal and in town at Margaritaville, Soni's Plaza and Gem Palace. ATM's are also available at major attractions like Dunn's River Falls and Dolphin Cove. Be prepared to pay a higher service fee than you normally would from home, and make sure the machine is marked dual currency if it's U.S. dollars you want.
Where You're Docked
The port has two piers for cruise ships. The Turtle Bay Pier is located next to the town's restaurants and shops, and the James Bond Pier, which is industrial in nature but serves cruise ships, is located farther west.
The piers are right beside the downtown area where shops, restaurants and bars are just minutes away on foot. Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville is located in the Island Village shopping center, the closest to the port, and backs up to the beach.
On Foot: You can walk into downtown. If you are docked at the James Bond Pier, take the Main Road to the west to get to town -- it takes about 10 minutes.
Taxis: Taxis are readily available at the dock; just make sure you hire a licensed JUTA taxi. Negotiate a price before you go and the time to be picked up; fares to many of the area's closest attractions are about $10 roundtrip.
Watch Out For
As with many other ports, and when traveling to foreign places in general, it's always best to proceed with caution. While in port, be aware of your surroundings, leave valuables and nonessentials on the ship, and take measures to keep yourself and your personal belongings safe. While you're shopping, merchants may come off as pushy, but responding with a respectful "no thanks" should do the trick.
The top attraction in Ocho Rios is the mighty Dunn's River Falls, where you can climb the flowing waterfalls that cascade down 600 feet and spill out into a pool right on the beach. Locals say that this is where "heaven spills into the sea," and on a first visit to Ocho Rios, giving the falls a climb is something that shouldn't be missed. If you're going to climb the falls, it's a good idea to bring water shoes or rent shoes onsite to keep from slipping on the limestone rocks.
Mystic Mountain is a rainforest adventure park that's great for kids and adults alike and is home to some very unique outdoor activities. The adventure begins with a ride on the Sky Explorer, a chairlift that soars 700 feet over the lush landscape that trails below. Once at the top, travelers can opt to try the park's signature Bobsled Jamaica ride, the Zip-Line Canopy tour or a twisty slide that ends up in the mountaintop swimming pool. Have lunch, and take in the view from Lookout Tower before making your way back down the mountain on the chairlift.
Reggae roots run deep in Jamaica, and music-lovers shouldn't pass up the opportunity to tour the town of Nine Mile, the birthplace of Bob Marley. Situated in the mountains of St. Ann Parish, Nine Mile takes about 75 minutes to reach from Ocho Rios, and tours can be purchased that include transportation. You'll visit Marley's family home and mausoleum.
A musical option closer to port is Reggae Explosion, located in the Island Village shopping center. This interactive mini-museum honors reggae music and other music genres popular to the region.
Shopping: Haggle in classic Jamaican style at the craft market; you can get good prices on straw items, woodcarvings and souvenirs. Downtown, head for the Taj Mahal Shopping Center and Soni's Plaza. Both offer shops featuring unique jewelry, clothing and gifts. In the duty-free arena, you can get good buys on jewelry, cameras, china and crystal. Good souvenir choices include the island's well-known coffees, Blue Mountain and High Mountain; Tia Maria, the made-in-Jamaica coffee liqueur; and Jamaican rum.
The main attraction at Dolphin Cove is swimming with the dolphins. But, beyond puckering up for kisses with the friendly mammals, you can also pet Caribbean sharks, explore the waters in glass-bottom kayaks, snorkel with stingrays or take a jungle trail walk. (Expect to spot snakes, iguanas and birds.)
Been There, Done That
Take a drive through the lush rainforest of Fern Gully. This dense and often dark jungle of tropical foliage is set inland, where the winding road used to be a flowing river. It is said there are more than 200 different species of ferns in the area. The drive is about three miles long, and a tour of Fern Gully is often included in excursions that highlight the best of Ocho Rios.
For nature-lovers, a self-guided botanical garden tour is ideal. Shaw Park Gardens features 25 acres of tropical plants, flowers and trees, situated on a hill overlooking the Caribbean. Coyaba River Gardens features a water garden with streams and waterfalls running throughout the grounds, as well as cultural attractions. And, Turtle River Park, a free public park close to port, is a good option for those trying to keep spending ashore to a minimum.
Harmony Hall, located about 10 miles outside Ocho Rios, is a restored great house where arts, crafts and collectibles are now sold. You may also stumble onto a gallery showing of a local artist. Wassi Art Pottery Works is another option for craft-lovers; it's only a few minutes from town and offers a first-hand look at the making of pottery, from the clay stage to the final artisan-designed product. You can buy one-of-a-kind Wassi pieces at the onsite showroom.
Prospect Plantation is one of the island's oldest 18th-century estates. Tour the lush grounds in an open-air jitney while experiencing gorgeous views over the White River; explore the property's agricultural crops, including cassava, bananas, sugarcane and coffee; feed the ostriches; view native Jamaican butterflies in the aviary; or saddle up for a leisurely horseback ride.
Nonguests are welcome to play golf at Breezes' golf club in Runaway Bay and Sandals Golf & Country Club. Both are PGA-quality championship courses and are some of the most interesting in the Caribbean, with fairways and greens laid out amid the rolling hills and picturesque backdrop.
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: Mahogany Beach, 10 minutes east of port, is a great place for a beach day. Parasailing, kayaking, water-skiing and diving are just a few of the water sports offerings available, and with nearby shopping, beachside massages and a bar and grill, you're all set until your ship is ready to sail again.
Best Beach for the Dedicated Beach Bum: James Bond Beach, 20 minutes to the east in Oracabessa, occasionally features live reggae performances and has a couple of quiet coves in which to hide.
Best Beach for Active Types: Turtle Beach and the beach at Island Village are closest to port and will undoubtedly have the most people. But, action abounds there, with a host of water sports activities and places to eat and drink just a stone's throw away.
The Ocho Rios Jerk Centre, with its lively atmosphere, is the epitome of fun dining. Situated on DaCosta Drive, which runs parallel to Main St., this open-air eatery is a great place to enjoy authentic island flavors. Menu items include jerk chicken and pork, barbequed ribs and fresh fish. (Open daily from 10 a.m., 876-974-2549)
The Ruins at the Falls is a destination kind of place, featuring two restaurants and a cafe, all centered on a 40-foot-tall limestone waterfall, surrounded by tropical gardens. Chinese fare is served there, but Jamaican-style cuisine is available, too. (17 DaCosta Dr., 876-974-8888)
Familiar places like Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville (at the Island Village shopping center, 876-675-8976) and Hard Rock Cafe (at the Taj Mahal shopping center, 876-974-3333) are nearby for a quick bite to eat.
Evita's, set in an 1860's Victorian house on a hill overlooking Ocho Rios and the ocean, is a Northern Italian restaurant. (Owner Eva Myers hails from Venice.) It's considered a prime celebrity magnet. (Open daily from 11 a.m., Eden Bower Rd., 876-974-2333)
Toscanini's brings authentic Italian cuisine to the Caribbean. This restaurant has a great reputation and a convenient location in the Harmony Hall Art Gallery. It's priced in the mid to high range, but service is attentive, and the atmosphere is charming -- especially for couples. (Tuesday - Sunday, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., 876-975-4785)
Staying in Touch
Kaliente Gaming Lounge & Grill offers free wireless access to customers and has computers available to use for those without laptops. (8 Main Street, 876-470-8463)
Best for First-Timers: First-time visitors should choose a tour that includes a visit to and climb up Dunn's River Falls. Cruise lines offer the visit in combination tours with a variety of other attractions; choose from a visit to the Brimmer Hall Estate plantation, kayaking or snorkeling, shopping, or beach time.
Best for Active Types: The Chukka Caribbean Adventures tour company offers a variety of adrenaline-pumping activities through your ship's shore tours desk. For the ultimate active day, book a combination tour that begins with a zip-line traverse through the countryside White River Valley property and wraps up with a river-kayaking safari.
Best for Animal-Lovers: If you've always wanted to snuggle up to a dolphin, book the "Dolphin Swim Encounter" tour for a visit to Dolphin Cove, where you can spend 30 minutes swimming with the Dolphins. Afterward, you can relax on the beach there. Many tours combine this option with a visit to Dunn's River Falls.
Best for Music-Lovers: Take the "Bob Marley Experience" tour to see the birthplace and final resting place of the king of reggae. Toast his memory with a rum punch before enjoying a Jamaican lunch.
A popular selection of shore excursions is offered by the Chukka Caribbean Adventures tour company. Explore the countryside by all-terrain vehicle, jump in a dune buggy for an off-road safari, rush through the lush rainforest on a zip-line canopy adventure, tube down the White River, or meet the Jamaican dog sled team, and let them pull you along on the sled -- minus the snow.
Combination excursions featuring Dunn's River Falls are a great way to maximize your time -- and your fun -- ashore. Climb the falls first, and move on to your choice of interaction with dolphins or stingrays at Dolphin Cove. Catamaran party cruises or taking your own mini-boat for two to the falls will get you there in style, and land-based activities -- like visiting Prospect Plantation, Shaw Park Gardens or Walkerswood Jerk Country prior to arriving for the big climb -- are all great ways to get the most out of your visit in port.
For More Information
On the Web: www.visitjamaica.com or www.cometojamaica.com/
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Jamaica
The Independent Traveler: Jamaica Exchange
--by Kim Karis, Assistant Editor