Friday, January 25, 2008

Leaving Ocho Rios, Jamaica, aboard the Carnival Freedom

Yeh mon, no problem. Our third and last port stop on our week-long Carnival Freedom cruise through the western Caribbean has been Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We’ve now left Ocho Rios and are sailing back to Miami, but not before being assured there’s “no problem, mon” several dozen times. And, generally speaking, there wasn’t.

Ocho Rios is a lushly situated, lively port along Jamaica’s north coast. It’s located on a lovely beach-lined bay, easily accessible from the dock. You can walk to town in about five minutes, once you get past all the security people. Then all you have to do is politely wave off dozens of eager but not overly aggressive taxi drivers, unless, of course, you do want to hire a taxi.

Besides the beach and the usual plethora of shopping plazas one finds nearby the cruise ship docks in the Caribbean, Ocho Rios has some very worthwhile nearby attractions. Bob Marley’s home is located way up in the hills, a couple of hours away by taxi, and makes for a nice, if slightly perilous, drive.

Much nearer – maybe ten minutes by taxi or bus -- is Dunn’s River Falls, a spectacular multi-level cascade that you can walk up if you’re willing to get very, very wet. I did, and it’s well worth the effort. You can rent water shoes and lockers – don’t even consider trying to carry a backpack up or even a camera (though a few do) – and it’s best to wear a bathing suit and perhaps a T-shirt. Water shoes are important to get a good grip; I wore Teva sandals and was fine.

Most climbers go in large groups led by guides who know the best pathways, though it’s possible to sneak in at certain points and go solo. Some guides carry video cameras and will sell you a video of your climbing experience. To get the full effect, start all the way down at the beach and climb, climb, and climb some more, reaching various plateaus along the way where you can immerse yourself in the refreshingly cool water and get even wetter.

Allow plenty of time for the experience – don’t rush this one (though some guides may go faster than you want). And after you finish, as my bus driver noted, “you’ll feel five years younger.”

Near Dunn’s River Falls is Dolphin Cove, where I spent much of the rest of my port time. Dolphin Cove has swimming with dolphins opportunities along with swimming with stingrays and even with sharks; the dolphins put on shows as well. It also has a smallish sandy beach, kayaks, a snorkeling area, a shopping area (naturally), a jungle trail, and of course plenty of food and rum-soaked beverages. Try the rum and Ting (but don’t try to climb the Falls afterwards). They cram a lot in to a fairly compact area along a gorgeous cove, where, I was told, Ursula Andress once rose from the water in a James Bond film.

After Dolphin Cove, I had just enough time for a stroll along Main Street, where I had to fend off a few men offering illegal substances of various types, and then back to the ship by 3 pm. My advice in Ocho Rios is to leave a little extra time getting back to the ship, because the Jamaican security forces do a thorough check of everyone’s bags – and sometimes various body parts – on the way in. A few dozen people were a bit late getting back, but the ship duly waited for them – yeh mon, no problem.

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