Day 5; Port of Call Montego Bay, Jamaica
When I was reviewing the Cuba Cruise itinerary and noticed the Montego Bay stop I wondered how Jamaica compares back-to-back to Cuba? And wow! What a culture shock!
Sailing into Montego Bay, one is struck by the contrasts. Hold it! Is that a yacht club? Are those other cruise ships? (Cuba Cruise is the only one that moors in Cuba) Modern automobiles? Suddenly we were back in the year 2015.
Today’s land excursion was a beach day at Negril beach approximately an hour’s drive from the port. Along the way, we were treated to mountainside neighborhoods of wealthy locals and ex-pats, golf course developments where we were proudly informed Bill Cosby had a home (to some snickering in the back of the bus), lush farmlands and tiny villages- all of which were clearly thriving. Interesting.Is this what Cuba may become, perhaps?
After a pleasant voyage we arrived at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Negril with a rather direct sign in the parking lot that read, “Let’s get drunk and screw”. There was some immediate excitement amongst some of the cruisers as they discovered there was free Wi-Fi in the restaurant. A pit stop was made by many to quickly download four days of delayed emails.
I slipped the guy who fetched the chairs $5 CAD (which he looked at with some mild contempt). They also take credit cards for food and drink here which was a relief since both cost a small fortune.
Again the contrast between the Cuban beach activity and the Jamaican hustling was striking. However, the Margaritaville section of the beach is quite secure and the strolling beach vendors are restricted to the edge of the water and the outer edges of the Margaritaville territory.
I enjoyed a powerful margarita (when in Rome) and a very tasty plate of jerk chicken (when in Jamaica). A few of the other cruisers ventured off the beaten track down the beach to another jerk chicken hut and reported back that they, too, had a great meal but at a fraction of the price.
Once we had enjoyed our allotted time of sun worshipping on Seven Mile Beach we piled back onto the bus for our next stop, the legendary Rick’s Café. This is a popular tourist destination where I am told the sunsets are to die for.
We were going to miss that display of beauty tonight as we had to be back at the boat by then but we were treated to some cliff diving by local showmen who did an impressive job and expected to be rewarded with tips (I dropped in a Canadian toonie to some hesitant acceptance from the tip bucket bearer- “What’s that? Italian?”).
After about an hour at Rick’s we were shepherded back into the bus for our return trip to the boat (on the way out a local craftsman selling his wares from his bike asked me if I wanted to buy any pot, mushrooms or “space cake”? “What’s ‘space cake’ I asked my teenager at home later in the week. He just smirked.)
While we were away, new cruisers had boarded including those from Jamaica and others who chose to fly to Montego Bay, instead of Havana, as their embarkation point.
By 5:50 pm we still had not departed though we had been due to leave at 5. An announcement came from the captain that we were missing two passengers who had not come back from their day in Montego Bay (space cake, perhaps?) and that if they did not arrive within the next ten minutes we would leave without them. Just then I saw a young couple scramble out of a cab for dear life to catch the boat. I have never seen two people -outside of Olympic competition- run faster!
Lucky for them. Missing the boat without their passports, clothes and money would have spelled disaster, no doubt. This was a telling lesson for all of us to be well aware of the ship’s “all aboard” times or the consequences could be dire.
With our day in reality now complete we set sail back to the time warp that is Cuba. Tomorrow we visit Cienfuegos. Yeah!
Cuba Cruise travel tip:
Be sure to be on the boat on time.
Do not buy nor consume “space cake”.
Ignore “Let’s get drunk and screw” sign until further notice.
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer.
To begin AJ’s cruise on Day 1 click here