Nearly four years in the making, the Historic Falmouth Cruise Port (the official -- and somewhat ironic -- name for a place created in 2011) is located in Jamaica's north coast town of Falmouth, the capital of Trelawny parish. Well positioned between the popular ports of Ocho Rios (60 miles west) and Montego Bay (18 miles east), Falmouth's two-berth port is a triangular peninsula that can accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world within a very short walk of the city's historic Georgian sights.
In the 19th century when Jamaica was under British rule, Falmouth was bustling and prosperous, shipping sugar, rum and coffee to England and serving as an arrival port for African slaves. Its fortunes declined after slavery was abolished and only began to revive when the $220-million, purpose-built cruise port came.
A short walk to Falmouth's streets, the port is well guarded and closed to locals, save for Jamaicans who work at the dozens of shops and handful of restaurants. With a faux-Georgian terminal building leading to a large square bordered by red-roofed, Caribbean-style buildings housing various businesses, the port may strike you either as attractive or as artificial and Disney-esque, depending on your point of view. Those homesick for American fast food will find a Dairy Queen and Quiznos. There's plenty of shopping, from upscale jewelry stores to a crafts market. A dozen large posters relate Falmouth's history, including the fact that Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt hails from the area.
The town of Falmouth is being developed to better appeal to tourists, but there's much work to do. Those who do walk the dusty streets to have a look at architectural gems such as Falmouth Court House and St. Peter's Anglican Church will likely run a gantlet of hair braiders and vendors of everything from local carvings to knitted caps with fake Rasta dreadlocks attached. Being hassled by vendors is a common complaint, although refusing to engage and walking past with eyes forward and a polite but firm "No, thank you" worked for us.
Many cruisers never go beyond the gates of the port, where a crowded outpost of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville has a pool, swim-up bar, and mini version of Dunn's River Falls, not to mention a hot tub shaped like the bowl of a margarita glass. A good number leave for the day in a bus or cab to go on one of the numerous excursions offered by cruise lines; there are also local guides and drivers that you can engage on the spot.
Lovers of local flavor will enjoy interacting with restaurant staffers and merchants, watching chattering schoolchildren in uniforms hurrying home, or sampling barbecue-like jerk chicken or a Jamaican patty -- a pastry filled with meat, chicken or vegetables.