Port of Montego Bay
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Jamaica's second-largest city after Kingston, Montego Bay is a market center for locals, in addition to being a package tourism hotspot for Canadians, Americans and Europeans. You might not know it with the abundance of U.S. hotel chains and even chain restaurants like KFC, but the town has a storied past that dates back centuries to the arrival of the original inhabitants, the Taino Indians, and later Christopher Columbus and Spanish control in 1494. For 300 years after, the British ruled Montego Bay, and the town was a center for plantations and the slave trade. It wasn't until the late 1800's that tourism really began to gain a foothold there. It's an industry that still supports the local economy today, along with banana, sugar and bauxite exports.
One of Montego Bay's most important historical events occurred in 1832, when Sam Sharpe, a slave who preached nonviolent resistance, was lynched in the center of town in what is now Sam Sharpe Square. (There are memorial statues there dedicated to his courage.) Sharpe was hanged for leading the Christmas Slave Rebellion of 1831, but by 1838, slavery was abolished. Today, MoBay's population is a diverse one, with people from other Caribbean islands, European and North American ex-pats and an influx of Chinese, too.
Visitors come, largely, for the idyllic tropical weather and beaches, which are among the prettiest in the Caribbean. However, cruisers will find that many of these sandy hotspots are accessible only to the guests of whichever mega-resort or all-inclusive hotel is backing them. That said, there are several scenic beaches for whiling away onshore days, both along the Hip Strip in MoBay and closer to the cruise port.
The town is a hotspot for reggae music and hosts some of the best live concerts in the Caribbean. But, high on most tourists' to-do list (in addition to sipping fruity cocktails and beach-lounging, of course), are visits to the area's duty-free shopping venues and terrific golf courses.
The port makes an excellent base, too, for arranging tours and excursions to nearly every other major Jamaican attraction, including Dunn's River Falls near Ocho Rios, Negril's famed Seven Mile Beach and the many old plantation homes (called Great Houses) in the area.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock a few miles outside of Montego Bay proper at the Montego Freeport port -- a rather unsightly complex surrounded by office parks. It's a five-minute, fixed-rate ride into Montego Bay from there ($5).
Good to Know
While there aren't too many touts outside the terminal building itself, you're likely to be approached with offers for everything from tours and souvenirs to more illicit things in the town of MoBay itself. A firm "No, thank you," usually does the trick if you're not interested. Marijuana or ganja is smoked openly, but make no mistake: Drugs are illegal in Jamaica.
Mosquitoes and other creepy-crawlies can be particularly brutal in Jamaica, due to its tropical climate. Be sure to use insect repellent frequently to avoid bites and potential illness. And don't forget the sunscreen, either.
Jamaica is known for its high crime rates, so be careful when carrying cash, purses or wallets, and leave any unnecessary valuables stowed in your in-cabin safe.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Jamaican dollar is the national currency, but U.S. dollars are readily accepted at most places, including all of the favorite haunts in Montego Bay. Be prepared: If you pay with U.S. dollars, your change might be returned to you in the local currency. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.
There is no ATM machine at the Montego Freeport port, but cash machines can be found throughout town. Several stops along the Hot Spots Shuttle have Scotiabank ATM's, including the Harbour Street Craft Market, the Yacht Club and the Hip Strip across from the Jamaica Bobsled Cafe.
English is widely spoken and understood in Jamaica. But, when the locals talk among themselves, it's with a colorful patois, based on English but with a thick accent and different vocabulary that makes it hard for new arrivals to understand.
Jamaica is known for beautiful artisan work, especially the wood carvings that are sold all over the island. With designs inspired by mother Africa, the carvings run anywhere from 80 to several hundred dollars, depending on intricacy and size. You'll find lots of options at Montego Bay's craft markets, and it's well worth bringing your best bargaining skills to the table to save a few bucks.
Try Jamaican Rum Punch, a blend of juices from seasonal fruits (which might include locally grown pineapple, oranges and limes) and Tia Maria, the island-produced coffee liqueur.