The last time I was in Jamaica was on my very first cruise. I was a senior in high school, and my family and I booked an excursion to Dunn’s River Falls. I enjoyed climbing the falls, but I felt uncomfortable with the aggressive vendors and the air of poverty. On my next cruise during college, I actually stayed on the ship rather than visit Jamaica again.
Today was my first time back to Ocho Rios since then, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I stepped off the ship and walked into a very civilized port area where we met our tour in an air-conditioned waiting room. A van took us to Dolphin Cove, where Carnival was throwing a Jamaican beach bash. I had signed up for the all-inclusive package, which meant all my food, drinks, and activities were already paid for.
All of the Dolphin Cove employees were warm and friendly, asking if we were having a good time and directing us toward activities. A few were dressed as one-legged pirates and way-laid unsuspecting tourists with a gravelly “arrrrgh.” My friend and I kayaked in a sheltered bay in glass-bottomed kayaks and swam with a Cuban dolphin named Pepe. Other activities included a shark show, swimming with sting rays, and just lying in lounge chairs along the beach. The Jamaican lunch featured jerk chicken and a vegetable pocket that I likened to a Jamaican empanada. For a snack, I had some sort of fried dough and plantain cake. Shuttles left from the beach to Dunn’s River Falls and a shopping area.
Although the souvenir-sellers and hair braiders called out to passing guests, they weren’t intimidating. I never felt hassled. All in all it was a lovely excursion, but I did get the sense I wasn’t doing anything particularly Jamaican (well, except eating). We could have been on any beach on any island. And although I love to travel to experience other lands and cultures, I must, somewhat shamefully, admit I didn’t mind.