Jamaica has undertaken a major campaign to turn the island into the "St. Thomas" of the Western Caribbean, in terms of cruising, according to Ferdie Martin, Director of the Cruise Ship Division.
The division was formed to actively promote the ports of Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio and Kingston. Among its chief objectives are (1) to establish Montego Bay as a home port; (2) attract cruise lines to Port Antonio; and (3) rebuild cruise business in Kingston.
Last year, Jamaica received a total of 277,819 cruise passengers, up from 261,580 in 1985. This year, officials expect to see about 300,000, Martin said. Montego Bay and Ocho Rios see the most cruise ship activity, and welcomed 93,209 passengers and 160,761, respectively, in 1986.
A major effort is currently underway to equip and establish Montego Bay as a major home port in the Caribbean, Martin said. Chandris' Britains is based there from late October through April; and Regency's Regent Sea is based there until the end of this month. In May, the line will move its new ship, the Regent Star into Montego for weekly cruises.
Martin said plans to upgrade the cruise facilities in Montego Bay are underway, beginning with the construction of two new piers. In addition, airlift has recently been expanded. Air Jamaica offers daily service from New York, Miami and Tampa and one flight weekly from the West Coast. Eastern has started twice daily service from the East Coast and there are charters available from California, Houston and Denver. Efforts to obtain additional air service are underway.
A special team also has been assigned to expand and improve the island's shopping Martin said. This includes increasing the variety and number of shops, and upgrading the merchandise.
Ocho Rios is the island's most popular port of call, receiving the Holiday, Song of Norway, Nieuw Amsterdam, Starward, Cunard Princess, Ocean Princess, Royal Viking Star, Royal Viking Sea, Fairwind and Fairsky, among others.
There are two cruise piers here, and a commercial pier available if necessary, enabling the port to accommodate three passenger vessels simultaneously.
According to Martin, the infrastructures in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are well-equipped to accommodate the cruise industry. "The roads are well-paved, and all of our equipment is new. We have air conditioned buses, properly educated tour guides, and a wide variety of tour operators."
The Cruise Ship Division is making a special effort to attract cruise ships to Port Antonio, which has not been visited by cruise passengers since the Boheme was sold last year.
According to Martin, Port Antonio is "a nature stop," with opportunities for river rafting, deepwater fishing and visits to the Nonsuch Caves and Blue Lagoon. There are also historic Spanish ruins and waterfalls to explore.
"Port Antonio has two piers available for cruise ships, good port services and some of the best operators on the island, Martin said, "so there is no reason why it cannot attract cruise ships. The only limitation is that it cannot accommodate cruise ships longer than 600 feet."
To encourage calls in Port Antonio, members from the Cruise Ship Division recently visited several operators in Miami.
Kingston has not received cruise ships recently, because of the poor reputation it has experienced during the past 10 years, Martin said. "But we are cleaning things up now, and Kingston was recently reported to be the cleanest city in the Caribbean. There are a lot of cultural things for tourists to enjoy, and a lot of diggings and excavations going on to entice the cruise industry."
Kingston has two cruise piers and two commercial docks available to passenger ships.
As part of the campaign to develop all of the ports in Jamaica, officials have stepped up their participation in trade shows, and are actively calling on the cruise companies. They also visit the ports in Florida on a regular basis "to learn from those who are more experienced," Martin reported.
In addition, the Cruise Division of Jamaica recently teamed up with officials in Grand Cayman and Mexico to develop plans that will make the Western Caribbean more attractive for cruising.