WEDNESDAY: The port at Falmouth, Jamaica (above) is a new development. It shouldn’t be quite as new as it is, because the facilities were originally supposed to open soon after Allure’s sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, made its debut in 2009, but the laid-back approach to getting things done on the Caribbean island – where they simply don’t have a word which conveys the same sense of urgency as “mañana” – led to delay after delay. It finally opened about 12 months ago, but it’s still not finished.
Looking down from the decks of Allure, I can see lots of shops surrounding a large open courtyard. Just the sort of destination I usually try to avoid. But I’m an old cynic, with a large collection of “Been there, Done that” T-shirts. Looking through younger, fresher eyes, what does Russell think of the place?
“The port is custom built to get passengers to part with as much money as possible in the shortest possible time,” he says. “It’s got shops selling everything from duty-free booze, perfume and cigarettes, to diamonds and watches, and clothes that change colour in the sun. Something for everyone, but it’s unlikely any of it is unique to Jamaica.”
The “real” Jamaica lies outside the port gates, past a phalanx of tourist police directing traffic and pedestrians. But, says Russell, if you expect a picture-perfect Caribbean setting, you’ll be disappointed.
Market stalls line a couple of narrow streets leading from the port, and passengers exploring on foot have to run the gauntlet of over-eager and sometimes persistent stallholders, as well as a small army of touts trying to lure visitors into taxis to the beach or for a tour of the sights. Not quite the “no problem” we usually associate with Jamaica, because they are a bit of a nuisance, to be honest. One hawker, perhaps having over-indulged in the local herb, or perhaps rum, was arguing at the top of his voice with a policewoman who at least had the patience to give him a chance to calm down before she was prepared to lock him up.
Keeping our heads down and ploughing past with grim determination, we walked for about five minutes and found … very little. We walked a bit further and found even less. Time to return to the ship – to be met by some of the same touts we had steadfastly ignored only minutes earlier.
“You are going back to the ship? Why?” We hardly needed to explain, and they had the good grace not to try to persuade us into a taxi.
To be fair, the sales pressure from Jamaicans desperate to earn a buck is not unique to Falmouth. It’s standard procedure at other ports, such as Ocho Rios, and at tourist attractions such as Dunn’s River Falls.
The answer for Allure passengers is to do what Russell has done and book a ship’s excursion. He boarded a bus within the compound and was whisked to the Good Hope sugar plantation for an exciting afternoon of quad-biking. He learnt some of the history of the island as well as kicking up the dust as he raced along narrow tracks and through orange groves. It was $99 well-spent, apparently.
THURSDAY: Another day at sea provided a chance to check out more of what Allure can provide to keep its 6,000 passengers occupied – and happy! There’s much more than even the most determined guest could get through in a week. Rather than list more of what we did, let’s take a look, in the words of Bullseye’s Jim Bowen. at what we could have done …
For instance, I have not had a Starbucks coffee. I need my caffeine fix as much as the next man, but rather than pay extra I can get unlimited quantities of perfectly acceptable filter coffee from the buffet restaurants, Café Promenade and the Park Café. I haven’t had one of the treats from the Royal Promenade’s Cupcake Cupboard; I know they are delicious, but my waistline is expanding fast enough as it is. I have avoided indulging in unlimited free pizzas from Sorrento’s and hot dogs from the Boardwalk Dog House for the same reason.
We have not sampled the Tex-Mex treats in Rita’s Cantina, although we have tucked into a retro cheeseburger at Johnny Rockets across the Boardwalk, complete with double helpings of chips and onion rings.
What I should be doing, you might think, is working out in Allure’s giant fitness centre. I’m afraid that would be a step too far. If I were to attempt to surf on one of the two FlowRiders, I would risk drowning the spectators as I crashed from the board. A round of crazy golf might be more my style, but I can’t persuade Russell to take me on.
He’s more interested in finding out how much he would have to risk to take play Texas Hold’em, but he couldn’t get his head round a tournament being billed as “sit and go.” Surely it had to be one or the other. He was equally confused by the Flash Mob dance class – another contradiction in terms.
Trouble is, after five days on Allure, I fear we have got so far into the slower pace of cruise life that even the Rock, Paper, Scissors World Cup in the On Air sports and karaoke bar might be too strenuous for us.
TOMORROW: Cozumel and the Mayan ruins at Tulum.