I have spent a good majority of the last three years of my life on the water, sailing with Disney Cruise Line. Let’s be real. I basically lived in a metal box that floats. Every morning I woke up to see either two things: the vast ocean in front of me or a gorgeous Caribbean landscape.
Now that I’m back home in Canada, I’m once again reminded of the beautiful things that life style has to offer and am thankful I took advantage of its gifts.
Through it all though, I have never been better reminded how lucky I am than when I am doing a port adventure. In cruise life, a port adventure is basically a day excursion that the cruise line will organize in certain ports. Typical things like “swimming with dolphins” or “spend the day at a private beach” will be seen in every port adventure booklet that passes through the Caribbean.
However, in the last three years, I have made it my mission to do things that are a little bit less typical. Things only the more adventurous cruisers would do. A little tip I’ve discovered is using the guest’s port adventure lists as inspiration and diverging from there. You can usually do most of them on your own, and at a discount!
Though I’ve explored multiple islands in a variety of ways, there are definitely a handful of days that stand out to me as being some of the best excursions I’ve had the chance of experiencing. Hopefully, you can use this list as a starter guide of things to look into if you ever have the chance to visit these stunning islands. In no particular order, these excursions are in my opinion must sees for any traveler.
#1. HORSEBACK RIDING IN THE CARIBBEAN SEA (FALMOUTH, JAMAICA)
The port of Falmouth, Jamaica has some seriously beautiful things to offer if you know where to go. This is one port in which I always recommend planning ahead. The port itself is very Americanized, featuring some basic jewellery stores (duty free!), the classic Margaritaville, and quick service stops like Quiznos and Dairy Queen. Not quite what you are expecting for your daily getaway.
However, if you plan to leave the port and travel out of the vicinity of the ship, you can find some truly wonderful sights. I have climbed waterfalls (Dunn’s River Falls – another great thing to do that we can talk about another time!), jumped off cliffs and rode bobsleds “Cool Runnings” style. But one of the coolest things I’ve done is horseback riding in the Caribbean Sea.
This was actually a port adventure I booked directly through Disney when my best friend was sailing. The shuttle picked us up in the port and drove about 1 hour to Ocho Rios, another port town of Jamaica. Along the way, our tour guide gave us fun facts about her home country.
One of the coolest things I’ve done is horseback riding in the Caribbean Sea.
The excursion itself included being matched with a horse, walking a basic trail on the farm, stepping through creeks in the Jamaican forest, and finally heading waist deep into the sea with your horse. The current is quite strong and though you are wearing a life jacket, it is quite the sight to see these beautiful creatures make their way through the waves. Not being the most proficient horse back rider, I clung onto my horse as the waves easily crashed over his back onto were I was sitting.
We trotted heavily through the water in a line, the horses following the group leader with surprising accuracy. My horse did go a little rogue at some point, walking in a direction that was very much its own. In a bit of a panic, I called out to our tour guide, who expertly brought us back into line. I was honestly just thankful I hadn’t fallen off.
After the horse back ride, they served us a traditional Jamaican lunch, which consisted of jerk chicken, rice and peas before taking us back to the ship. All in all, the excursion was one I would definitely recommend, as long as you are willing to trust the horse to do its thing.
#2. THE FLYING DUTCHMAN IN ST. MAARTEN
This excursion caught my eye on a poster in downtown St. Maarten as a top thing to do on the island. Advertised as the steepest zip line in the world, it spans over 2800 feet and looks over the side of the Dutch coast at a height of 1050 feet.
Even with the very little information I had, I knew right away that this would be an experience for the books.
With that in mind, we made our way to the base of the mountain (about a 15 minute drive) to check out what was on offer. There were multiple packages available to choose from, including a chair lift ride and a go kart type course that you rode down on a tube. We chose to keep it simple, opting for the more popular zip line package.
As we made our way to the top of the mountain, we marvelled at the beautiful view. Awaiting us at the top was a small rooftop bar with a local musician playing some island favourites. They gave us a number and told us to wait until it was our turn, where they lined us up and hooked us into our harnesses.
Using a 4 line system, we were both able to zip line together, side by side. The ride was gorgeous. Zipping down at 56 miles per hour, you truly feel like you are flying, as you effortlessly glide down the mountaintop at what I considered just the right speed: slow enough to enjoy the view, but fast enough to feel the thrill.
Having done quite a few zip line courses throughout the years, I definitely still consider this a highlight. Even more so, awaiting you at the bottom is a restaurant with a selection of mouth watering plates, where you can sit and watch fellow adventurers fly down the tree line after you. A absolute must next time you visit the beautiful island of St. Maarten.
#3. CHOCOLATE MAKING IN COZUMEL, MEXICO
It is no secret that Mexico is known to make some of the best chocolate in the world. In Cozumel, there are many factories that mass produce their very own locally flavoured chocolate, my personal favourite being cactus chocolate.
One little gem we found about a half hour walk from the port is the Chocolate Seaside Workshop.
Recommended to me by a fellow crew member, I brought my parents on their last visit to the Fantasy. The workshop consists of a tiny wooden building right on the ocean’s edge, in which you can snorkel, swim with stingrays, race crabs, and make chocolate. A rare combination of activities you could only find in Mexico, I’d say.
She then passed around multiple pieces of chocolate, all paired with a complimenting wine.
We made our way there on our own, and they were able to accommodate our party of 4 pretty quickly and at a decent price. We were brought into the only room of the building, which had long turquoise picnic style tables set in a large square outlining the perimeter of the room. Multiple apparatuses (which we later discovered were used to make the chocolate) sat on top of the tables. In the middle of the square, stood a display table with different photos, tree leaves and nuts. This was where our chocolate expert stood as she gave us a brief history lesson of how chocolate came to be so prevalent in Cozumel today through the ancient Aztec and Mayan processing techniques.
She then passed around multiple pieces of chocolate, all different flavours originating from various types of trees and nuts. And all paired with a complimenting wine. She showed us how to snap the chocolate by our ears, and how the noise depicted the worthiness of the chocolate.
We probably sampled about 8-10 pieces of various chocolates, all locally made at their factory a few roads down. The last part of the workshop then came as we were instructed how to make our own chocolate, using the machines on the table to crush the ingredients into the paste we needed to set our chocolate consistency.
As you are leaving the workshop, you are of course encouraged to buy some of the chocolate you tried as well as various chocolate spin offs, like their custom scented candles and engraved frames to document the occasion. I may have been tempted to buy a few chocolate bars, most of which I ate on the walk back the ship!
#4. SWIMMING WITH STING RAYS IN GRAND CAYMAN, CAYMAN ISLANDS
As any avid cruiser probably knows, Caribbean itineraries are famous for offering one thing: to swim with “insert marine animal here”. Over the last few years, I’ve swum with dolphins and turtles and sharks. There’s even an aquatic park in St. Thomas that offers sea lion visits.
But one of the coolest swims I’m ever had fell in my lap while my friend and I perused the various offerings in the Grand Cayman port.
A local caught my eye as he held up his advertising sign: $60 to swim with sting rays. But what really grabbed my attention was when he explained we would be boating about 40 minutes out to sea to a small sandbar where the sting rays come to be fed, by choice. I know very little about animal captivity, but this seemed ideal, being in their natural habitats, stingers and all.
And so we boarded the boat and made our way through the growing waves as we got further from shore until suddenly we could see only a small sandbar in the middle of the ocean. Amid other boats swam many stingrays, clearly comfortable with the people in the water. The tour guide showed us how to feed them and how to pose with them for pictures without touching their stingers. They were happy to be there, swimming all around us for food.
After a good length of time in the water, we boarded the boat and headed to a different part of the ocean, this time with a much deeper sea level. Here, we snorkelled for about 40 minutes, swimming near sea turtles and schools of fish boasting every colour of the rainbow. After a tired boat ride back to shore, we still had plenty of time to grab a quick mid afternoon snack before heading back on board.
It was a perfect day, immersing ourselves in the wild life of the Caribbean and an excursion I would definitely recommend.
#5. THE BATHS IN VIRGIN GORDA (TORTOLA, BVI)
Being in the Caribbean, I felt compelled to add a beach day excursion to satisfy those who love basking in the dazzling sun and swimming in crystal clear waters.
If you are looking for a beach day with a twist, the Baths is the place to visit.
Hidden on an island called Virgin Gorda, this picturesque location has it all: pristine white beaches, turquoise water and explorative caves to please even the more adventurous beachers. I will admit, finding this beach from the Disney Fantasy’s port in Tortola is a bit strenuous, but worth while.
The journey includes a ten minute walk from the port to the ferry, a 35 minute ferry ride to Virgin Gorda (around US$20 each way) and a quick taxi ride to the beach (note that some ferry companies include the taxi fare in their overall price but some don’t). Once there, there is a US$3 entry fee, and an approximate 10 minute walk down to the beach. Some describe this walk as a hike, though I found descending the rock and sand path manageable in my flip flops and swim wear. There is also an easier alternate path to the beach for those concerned.
Once at the beach front, there are two sections to discover: Devil’s Bay and the Baths themselves. Devil’s Bay resembles a more typical beach setting with open waters lapping onto a sandy shore. There are giant boulders set around the perimeter, permitting a quieter more secluded atmosphere. This beach is much quieter but does not have any necessities such as a restaurant or bathrooms. To access these, you can either take the easier path from the top of the mountain or walk through the cavernous rock formations that separate the two beaches.
Resulting from molten rock seeping into already existing volcanic rock layers, these caves are why I believe this beach has more to offer then the typical sand and water destinations. They have also been slightly modified to allow exploring, with ladders and ropes added to facilitate the journey.
Giant boulders cast shadows over the paths, magnifying the magnitude of nature around you.
Though not a long walk, these caves allow access to beautifully hidden treasures. Giant boulders cast shadows over the paths, magnifying the magnitude of nature around you. Pools of cool water await to refresh the tired and make for great photo opportunities.
I would highly recommend water shoes or sandals that can get wet as you will be traversing consistently through dry and wet ground.
Awaiting you at the cave exit is the next beach, this one usually more populated. There are bathrooms as well as a shack in which you can order drinks and food (think bbq style: hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken wings etc…). These three components, the two beaches and the caves, make a large circle, so whichever order you choose, you can see everything this little gem has to offer!