Ya Mon! A Beach Day in Ocho Rios

There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach in the Caribbean! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m a terrible person to take to the beach. I sunburn easily. I don’t like the heat. And I get antsy if I’m not constantly on-the-go. So as I mentioned, I’m a terrible person to take to the beach. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just that I could do 30 minutes of it and be perfectly content.

It might come as a surprise then that I chose to go to a beach (willingly) at our first port of call on this six-night Western Caribbean cruise aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s flagship, Carnival Vista. But that’s exactly what I did.

Carnival Vista makes her way into Ocho Rios, Jamaica…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…on a gorgeous May morning. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Once again, the best place to be is all the way forward. Taken from Deck 8, facing port. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Before coming on the actual cruise, I prebooked my excursions online on My Carnival. Carnival’s shore excursion site is one of the best in the industry. It lets you sort excursions by port, provides links to reviews written by real guests, and even adds candid photography to each listing so you can see what the place actually looks like, not what the place looks like at six in the morning when it’s deserted. I’m looking at you, Dunn’s River Falls.

I always book my excursions beforehand online, and I’d encourage everyone to do likewise. It’s better for budgeting for your onboard spending, since pre-booked excursions have to be paid at the time of reservation. It also lets you research the destination you’re going to be going to, and forces you to think about what you really want to do there.

Using My Carnival online, I was able to pre-book my shore excursion, and browse for excursions in other ports.

And Ocho Rios, Jamaica is a port that you really want to have an excursion booked for. There’s not much to do around the docking location of the ship, save for browsing the small tourist-oriented shops that crowd the dock apron. Wandering around on-foot with no plan isn’t really a great idea from a safety perspective; and trying to hitch a ride will be problematic. Jamaica’s traffic is diabolical – particularly here in Ocho Rios, where small mini-vans and private cars serve as the only public transportation network (there are no transit busses, as such, in the city or its Parish.)

Carnival offers 44 different shore excursions here in Ocho Rios, ranging from adventure excursions to quiet beach break and even a Bob Marley-themed journey through the countryside. Ya mon!

Alongside in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I chose the first excursion I saw. Which, admittedly, may not be a good practice for picking an excursion. But the four-hour Bamboo Beach Club VIP Package was listed under the heading “Guest Favorites” and got good reviews, so I figured I’d give it a go.

At $89.99 per person (or $79.99 per person for a child), this morning excursion takes guests to the Bamboo Beach Club, located about 30 minutes’ drive to the west of the town of Ocho Rios. It’s quiet. It’s secluded. It’s hassle-free – which, if you’ve been to the Caribbean before, you’ll know isn’t always the case.

Disembarking Carnival Vista…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and heading for a morning of relaxation at the Bamboo Beach Club. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our two local Jamaican guides were a pair of enthusiastic, energetic women with broad smiles and an easygoing manner. They got everyone in the mini-bus ready for a good time on the drive over, and once on the beach, led us to our section.

In each section is an assortment of chairs in the sun, and ones shaded by tall coconut and almond trees. I really, really wanted a chair in the shade, and was briefly worried I’d get stuck in the sun. Clearly someone has crunched the numbers on this: sun-worshippers got their front-row seats, and I got a cozy spot at the back of the beach, under the protective canopy of some tropical trees.

A day at the beach – without the hassles associated with your typical Jamaican beaches. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

A cool ocean breeze came down from the north, preventing things from getting too hot. Also preventing us from overheating: a bevvy of drinks – alcoholic and otherwise – that our guides kept trotting out with excellent regularity. I opted for a glass (or three) of ice-cold beer. I checked my watch: 10:05 am. When in Rome…

Our guides/hostesses also came around with a wide variety of foods, from salads to fresh fish to shrimp and jerk chicken. In April, May and June, lobster can’t be served because of Jamaica’s Closed Lobster Season. But if you come on this excursion at any other time, lobster replaces shrimp on the menu.

Bring a good book and relax! I could have chose my book better, though. Chernobyl Prayer, about the Chernobyl disaster, is an interesting read but pretty heavy stuff for a day at the beach. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Other than eating and drinking, I read a book – for three straight hours. I loved every minute of it: the relaxation, the cool ocean breeze, the refreshments. It’s the kind of lifestyle that seems alluringly easy to get pulled into.

Around 1pm, we re-boarded our mini-bus and headed back to the Carnival Vista. The bus did make a 20-minute “shopping stop” along the way. I knew it would. No self-respecting tour operator goes straight back to the ship. But there was no pressure to buy anything, and our guides were nothing but gracious.

The Bamboo Beach Club has a small gift shop area…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and a menu of extras. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Now, you might want to check your phones when you pull into Jamaica. Go into your settings and take the thing off auto date and time: while Carnival Vista is on Eastern Standard Time, Jamaica is an hour behind. But we don’t change the ship’s clocks on this cruise – but my iPhone sure did, even when I was only using the WiFi network.

Thinking it’s an hour earlier than it is poses a huge problem. All aboard was 3:30pm this afternoon, and we had the usual “runners” – people who have neglected to keep track of time who come running (well, sauntering, usually) back to the ship. The last guest came back at ten to four. Don’t be that guest. There is zero guarantee that the ship will wait for you.

Carnival Vista at the pier in Ocho Rios, Jamaica on May 2, 2017. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Guests slowly filter back onboard Carnival Vista…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and before long, we’re headed back out to sea. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Latecomers onboard, Carnival Vista dropped her lines just before 4pm, and we slowly made our way back out into the open expanse of the Caribbean Sea.

After sampling one of the new cocktails in the Cuban-themed Havana Bar on Deck 5 aft, I went and found a cozy spot in the Atrium Bar on Deck 3. It’s smaller than the Atrium Bar on past Carnival ships, and my only complaint is that it was a little bit bigger, particularly in the evenings when live musical performances take place. Packing them in tonight: the superb bold brass sounds of Silver Lightning; a jazz trio that performed between 5:30 and 7:30pm.

Sampling one of the new cocktails in the Havana Bar on Deck 5 aft…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and taking in the beautiful sunset out on deck. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Enjoying some great live music…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…in Carnival Vista’s striking atrium tonight. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, I indulged in one of my favorite experiences on any Carnival ship: the steakhouse. Aboard Carnival Vista, Fahrenheit 555 continues Carnival’s tradition of providing a superb, upscale steakhouse experience for what amounts to really very little money per person.

Bookable for $35 per person between 5:30pm and 9:30pm, Fahrenheit 555 is located on Deck 5, just off of the secondary atrium that surrounds the ship’s Casino on Deck 4. “Cruise Elegant” dress is required for this classy venue, and most guests do a good job of adhering to that.

This evening, I dined in Fahrenheit 555, Carnival’s specialty steakhouse dining venue. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

It’s an elegant, classy space…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and Carnival (rightly) recommends Cruise Elegant dress for this venue. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Meats of all kinds are the big deal here. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I order the same thing every time I dine here: lobster bisque, Caesar salad, and the Filet Mignon, done medium-rare. I’m never disappointed. The only shipboard steak I’ve had that was better than Carnival’s was Holland America Line’s new “President’s Cut” bone-in steak that costs a cool $59 and is guaranteed to give you the meat sweats.

Embarrassing Fact Number One: I always get the Lobster Bisque when I dine here. Embarrassing Fact Number Two: Dinner was so good, I forgot to photograph my steak! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

However, if you’re not a fan of steak, there are still other noteworthy entrees here, from rosemary grilled chicken to some really tasty-sounding lobster ravioli. But bring your appetite: dinner here is very filling, and is an event meant to be enjoyed over the course of two full hours – if not more.

Should you spend the money on some of Carnival Vista’s specialty dining venues? You don’t have to – but a meal like this on land would cost well over $35 per person, and dining here onboard marks the evening as a special occasion of sorts. And cruising – even aboard Carnival – is all about making memories.

Evening turndown service aboard Carnival Vista…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…with a friendly towel animal. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista continues tomorrow, as we visit Georgetown, Grand Cayman! Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Carnival Vista - 6 Night Western Caribbean

Sunday, April 30, 2017MiamiEmbarkation4:30 PM
Monday, May 1At Sea
Tuesday, May 2Ocho Rios, Jamaica8:00 AM4:00 PM
Wednesday, May 3Georgetown, Grand Cayman8:00 AM4:00 PM
Thursday, May 4Cozumel, Mexico / Carnival LIVE performance with Jay Leno10:00 AM11:00 PM
Friday, May 5At Sea
Saturday, May 7, 2017Miami7:00 AMDisembark

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