On a very cool, rainy morning in February, 2019, I arrived on the ms Zuiderdam at Falmouth, Jamaica for the first time. Falmouth, is the capital of the parish of Trelawny, Jamaica on the north shore of this western Caribbean island. Near the 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 purpose-built cruise port was built. The Historic Falmouth Port’s pier is located within Oyster Bay on Jamaica’s north coast. Passengers walk directly off the ship into the purpose built port complex.
The cruise port, is a level, well developed merchandising area with numerous shops, and restaurants.is well guarded and closed to locals, save for Jamaicans who work there. With a faux-Georgian terminal building leading to a large square bordered by red-roofed, Caribbean-style buildings housing various businesses, the port appears clean and attractive. The port complex houses shops like Diamonds International and Dufry, as well as Jamaican craft vendors, restaurants and transport stops. Snack and souvenir vendors are set up on the port’s open spaces. Passengers can expect to find duty-free shopping and specialty boutiques, including a store dedicated to late reggae great Bob Marley. Falmouth has accessible exits to the cruise pier and cruise port. Accessible taxis at the port transportation hub are quipped with a wheelchair ramp so you won’t have to worry about accessibility details and can spend more time enjoying your accessible Jamaica experiences.
Many cruisers never go beyond the gates of the port, but opt for a visit to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, equipped with a pool, a 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. Right up my ally, I enjoyed a lovely lunch and a couple adult beverages. Partiers love to splash in the pool and sit on stools at the swim-up bar which has free Wi-Fi.
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” will work.
None of the major tourist attractions are within walking/rolling distance of the port. For the handicapped traveler to reach the top attractions in Jamaica, you will need to book private transportation, as there is no accessible public transportation on the island. At the attractions that have wheelchair ramps, these ramps will normally be much steeper than US and Canadian standards. Since Jamaica is one of the most mountainous islands in the Caribbean, most of the popular tourist attractions have steep hills or steep ramps.
The cruise port itself is very disabled friendly and therefore achieves a good accessibility grade. However, all of the main attractions listed below offer challenges to the disabled traveler. Even the Falmouth trolley is not accessible. My overall grade for Falmouth is a C.
- Dunn’s River Falls – Jamaica’s world famous waterfall cascades 600 feet down a giant rock staircase to the Caribbean Sea. Climb to the top or use the adjacent walkways if you prefer not to get wet. Wheel chair travelers visiting the falls will find the pavement is rough and patched with noticeable bumpy gutters right out of the parking lot. The entire trip to the falls is down hill, which means you have to climb back up hill to leave. There is a viewing area of the falls, maybe 500 feet down the path, which is the closest you can go in a wheelchair.
- Coyaba Gardens – Explore the lush tropical jungles, waterfalls and sparkling pools of this beautifully landscaped garden and adjacent historical museum built on grounds dating back to British colonial times.
- Jamaican Estates – Venture away from commercial areas for a tour of one of Jamaica’s historic Great Houses or plantation estates, where bananas, sugarcane, coffee and allspice are still cultivated today.
- Mystic Mountain – The exciting attraction which opened in 2008 serves up incredible views, and features the Sky Explorer Chairlift, Jamaican Bobsled ride, interesting displays, infinity pool and value priced restaurant. Fun for the whole family!
- Dolphin Encounter – Don’t miss an unforgettable opportunity to interact with bottlenose dolphins at Dolphin Cove, a magnificent ocean themed property. Interact with these playful mammals, learn training secrets and enjoy a host of water related activities. While the Disabled Cruiser might be able to swim with the dolphins in Jamaica, it’s not as wheelchair friendly as other Caribbean Ports.
- Beaches – Shimmering turquoise waters, soft white sands and postcard perfect views make the tranquil beaches of Ocho Rios some of the most sought-after sites on the island.