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Catch the Calypso – Ocho Rios and George Town

Ocho Rios, Jamaica and George Town, Caiman Islands

A Caribbean cruise has to be many people’s dream holiday. But if you ask them to name some great places to visit in the Caribbean, they can sometimes get a little vague. They’ll generally name islands rather than specific places.

But the chances are that included in their list of paradise islands will be Jamaica and the Caymans. These are often included on Caribbean cruise itineraries – for example, Royal Caribbean’s Western Caribbean Cruise calls at both: Ocho Rios, Jamaica and George Town, the capital of Grand Cayman.

Ocho Rios has got to be as close to Eden on earth as anything else you could hope to come across. The tiny town sits in its own sandy cove in the middle of the north Jamaican coastline. There are lots of things to do: you can ride, go deep-sea diving or fishing, play golf or tennis, or even take a tour of the old-style sugar plantations at Prospect Estates and Brimmer Hall. These are modern commercial farms, producing far more than simply sugar. However, they can also give you a taste of what life was like in the West Indies two centuries ago, when tourism did not exist and virtually the whole island was given over to growing crops.

It’s also a great area for people who like a walk. The name ‘Ocho Rios’ is thought to be derived from the old Spanish word for waterfalls, a theory which would seem to make sense as the area is full of them. Possibly the best are the Dunn’s River falls, a series of beautiful cool cascades over rock terraces – none of them exactly Niagara, but every bit as beautiful in their way. A really good stroll runs through three miles of Fern Gully, allowing you to spend time admiring the local ferns on the way.

Most cruise lines stop for just one day at Ocho Rios. In the few hours available to you don’t miss a walk around the town itself – which has pretty impressive shopping facilities for such a small place – and make sure you spend some time admiring the area’s natural beauty. Enjoy getting into the wilds a little after having your every whim catered for on your ship!

Most lines head for George Town on Grand Cayman after calling at Jamaica. Grand Cayman has many splendours, including some of the finest beaches in the world. What’s often overlooked is how great a place it is visit if you like to eat and drink. No visit to George Town is really complete without a meal at the wonderfully-named Grand Old House. It’s a former plantation mansion which now serves as a restaurant. Its broad sea terrace affords some of the finest views in the Caribbean. It’s not cheap, but neither is it killingly expensive by the standards of London, Paris or New York. If you enjoy seafood and champagne it’s about the best place to eat within a thousand-mile radius.

Given its duty-free status for visitors, George Town is a great place to shop. General duty-free goods – including the island’s superb rum – are best bought at the British Outpost duty-free store on Harbour Drive. If your appetite for sensual indulgence hasn’t been satisfied on board your ship you should visit Icoa Chocolates, where the owners show off a fantastic range of “fresh, local and seasonal chocolates” All the chocolates are hand crafted using fresh local ingredients like Cayman keylimes, passionfruit, rum, coconut, and Cayman honey – and they taste out of this world. The shop staff are very helpful, and if you are short on time they can assist you in making a suggestion. Don’t think about taking these home for the kids, though, if you’re on a long cruise: to achieve the maximum taste sensation Icoa chocolates are made without modern preservatives. So you’ll have to eat them all yourself – it’s a tough life in the Caymans!

If you don’t fancy haring around during your brief stop in George Town you could lounge on the beach. Seven Mile Beach is widely reputed to be the finest in the Caribbean – all white sand, azure sea and deep green palm trees. It’s also really big, so if you’re prepared to walk a little way there’s no need to worry about overcrowding.

One of the things that makes the Caribbean such a special place for a holiday is its diversity. There’s a lot of different things to do and see. Yet the US dollar is accepted virtually everywhere and you’ll have to work hard to find people who don’t speak English – it’s the first language of most of the major and minor islands. So in a lot of senses, the Caribbean is like home from home. And cruising there makes the journey itself part of the fun!

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