Cruise excursions are a convenient way to see the sights when you dock at a Caribbean island, but ship excursions usually only take you to the most popular places. If you really want to experience the island, you'll need to venture out on your own and visit a few of the places that many official cruise ship excursions miss.
Dunn's River Falls, the most well-known waterfall in Jamaica, is also the most crowded. If you're looking for a more relaxed waterfall experience, try Mayfield Falls (Mabel Erwin Drive, Glenbrook), located one hour from Negril and 1.5 hours from Montego Bay. Rent a car for the trip or make transportation arrangements with a local tour company before your arrival. You'll find a list of tour companies on the official Jamaica tourism website. Because Mayfield Falls isn't quite as steep as Dunn's River Falls, it's a little easier to make your way to the top. You'll have plenty of time to relax in the 21 natural pools and enjoy the tropical plants, flowers and ferns that surround the falls. Mayfield Falls offers knowledgeable tour guides who can show you the best paths. When you arrive, your group will be assigned a guide. Don't forget to bring a pair of water shoes; you'll need them to walk up the falls.
If you're returning to a ship docked in Montego Bay, stop by Juici Patties at 36 St. James Street for some authentic Jamaican cuisine. Juici Patties features beef, chicken, vegetarian, shrimp and other ingredients in fried pastry dough. The tasty treat will give you the energy you need to hit a few souvenir shops before you return to the ship.
Learn about native flora and fauna in Grand Cayman with a walk on the Mastic Trail (Frank Sound Road). The trail runs through the largest area of old-growth dry forest on the island, and you can hike it in approximately three hours. Although you can walk the trail on your own, you'll learn more about the plants and animals of the Caymans by taking a guided tour offered by The National Trust of the Cayman Islands. Tours are offered Tuesday through Friday and require advance reservations. When you arrive at the reserved time, a tour guide will be assigned to you.
For a more relaxed sightseeing trip, pay a visit to Pedro St. James (305 Savannah Pedro Castle Rd.). This three-story restored plantation house offers a glimpse into 18th-century Cayman culture. The property also includes a 7-acre garden that features native plants that early Cayman Islanders used to create thatched roofs and treat common illnesses. Taxi service is available to take you to these attractions, or you can rent a car or moped. For a complete list of transportation options, visit the Cayman Islands tourism site.
There's no better place to spend a lazy day than at Isla de Cabras Recreational Park (Calle Manuel Enrique, Carretera 870). Whether you rent a car or take a taxi, you'll appreciate the short 20 minute drive from San Juan. The park offers a quiet picnic area, plenty of room for a walk on the beach and scenic views of El Morro, the city's former naval fortress. During your visit, take a stroll around Fort San Juan de la Cruz. The fort was once a pivotal part of Puerto Rico's defense system, and although it's now closed, it's worth a walk to look at the exterior of this important historical site. After you visit the fort, grab a drink from the snack bar, and take in the activity in the bay from the observation deck.
When you're ready for a swim but don't want to battle hordes of cruise ship visitors competing for beach chairs, visit nearby Punta Salinas beach on the west side of Isla de Cabras. The guarded beach offers public restrooms, changing rooms and outdoor showers.
The Colonial Zone is the place to be in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. You'll find an impressive selection of shops, restaurants and historical sites conveniently located in the Zone. Chocolate lovers will want to pay a visit to ChocoMuseo (Calle Arzobispo Merino 254). The museum and factory features exhibits that chronicle the Dominican Republic's history in the chocolate-making business. Sample a few homemade chocolate treats before you continue your stroll through the Colonial Zone, or buy a box to eat later.
After you exit the ChocoMuseo, pop into the nearby Basilica Catedral Menor Santa Maria de la Encarnacion (Calle Arzobispo Merino, Parque Colon). The cathedral, the first one in the new world, was built in the 16th century and still offers masses today. It features a hammered silver altar and is an excellent example of the Gothic-Plateresque architectural style. View artifacts from the cathedral in the museum across the street. If your cruise docks at Don Diego Quay, you'll be able to walk to the Colonial Zone. If you don't mind an hour long walk, you can also walk if you dock at San Souci, but a taxi ride will be much more convenient.
The last place you'd expect to need a winter coat is St. Thomas, but visitors to Magic Ice (21 Dronningens Gade) will want to bundle up before they enter this chilly attraction. The gallery features the work of world-famous ice sculptors who use their talents to create a life-sized history of the Caribbean Islands. Take a ride on the ice slide, or just enjoy a walk through the sculptures. Temperatures are below zero, but you won't freeze. Magic Ice thoughtfully provides a warm coat, gloves and shoes to every visitor.
If enjoying some native cuisine is a priority, stop by Cuzzin's (7 Wimmelskafts Gade) for lobster, shrimp, conch or friend plantains. The restaurant is located on Backstreet in downtown Charlotte Amalie. When you want a more upscale dining experience, try Room with a View (1331 Estate Taamberg), located in the Bluebeard's Castle resort. As the name promises, diners have a spectacular view of the harbor. You may even be able to spot your ship from your table as you dine on pork Marsala or calamari Provencal. All of these locations are a short taxi ride away from the cruise ship dock, although you may prefer to rent a car.