July 27, 2009

Ocho Rios and Dolphin Cove

Nando and I have always gone out of our way to avoid tourist traps. Our idea of an ideal vacation includes a lot more mountains, palm trees, rivers, and isolated beaches and a lot less people, shopping malls, and theme parks than you find at Ocho Rios.

We decided to spend the weekend at Ocho Rios because I had some interviews with deportees there, and because it is only two hours from Kingston. When we first arrived, I was not impressed. The beach was too small and the buildings too high for my liking. However, once I gave in to the fact that we had to appreciate Ocho Rios for what it is, I was able to enjoy myself.

Ocho Rios may once have been acclaimed for its natural beauty. Today, however, its claim to fame is more the variety of activities designed to attract tourists – theme parks, all-inclusive hotels, Bob Marley's birthplace, snorkeling, and dolphins.

Ocho Rios does have a beach where you can sit and relax. The water is crystal clear, and the sand is soft and white. However, it is far from the nicest beach in Jamaica. The tall hotels and housing developments kind of take away from its scenic beauty. And, the port where cruise ships land leaves swimmers with less space to explore the sea. We spent our first day in Ocho Rios at this beach. It was okay, but I decided we had to do one of the tourist attractions if we wanted to take advantage of our time in Ocho Rios.

Soraya, me and Raymi at the Ocho Rios Beach

The tourist attractions are expensive, so we told the kids all of their options – climbing the waterfall, horseback riding, playing with dolphins, and a boat ride out to sea – and said they had to choose one. The kids took a while to decide between the horseback ride, which involved riding horses through the sea and up the mountain, and going to see the dolphins. We finally decided on Dolphin Cove. They love horses, but they might not get another chance to see dolphins. Plus, the advertisement for Dolphin Cove is quite impressive.

When we arrived at our hotel in Ocho Rios, there was a sign in the lobby advertising Dolphin Cove. Soraya saw it and asked if we could go there. I told her we would have to think about it, as it was very expensive. She asked me how much. I told her about fifty dollars a person. She said, “that is not a lot.” I told her it was fifty American dollars. She asked why it was American dollars, if we are in Jamaica. Then, she looked at the poster again, and said, “I know why; it's because it's all white people.” Sure enough, the people in the photo enjoying the dolphins and other attractions were all white. Places like Dolphin Cove often do have a lower price for Jamaican residents. However, it is still not affordable for the vast majority of Jamaicans.

We set out for Dolphin Cove early Saturday morning. We found a taxi that didn't rip us off too much, and arrived there before 8 am. That was nice, as the place was empty when we arrived. I have to admit, the park was pretty nice. It is like an amusement park, but better. Instead of rides, you have unlimited access to sea kayaking, mini-boat rides, snorkeling, resting on the beach, and watching the dolphins play. The first thing we did was sea kayaking. At first, we used two kayaks, with Nando and I each in control of one. Soon, however, Tatiana and Soraya, my eight-year old twins, wanted to do it alone. And, they were able to. It was an enclosed area in the sea, so it was quite safe. We did have a minor incident, but it was more funny than dangerous. Nando's kayak got too close to the rocks, and a wave came and filled his kayak with water. Raymi, who is five years old, was in the kayak and had to jump over to mine. The lifeguard had to come and rescue Nando and take his kayak back to shore. After that, Raymi had a ball jumping from one kayak to the other.

Tanya and Nando Kayaking at Treasure Reef

Tatiana giving Raymi a ride

The next attraction was a mini-boat ride. This is a small motorboat that you or the guide can drive. The guide showed us how to ride the waves, and the girls loved it when the boat jumped up. From the boat, you can see a beautiful waterfall that pours down into the sea, as well as catch a glimpse of Dunn River Falls. It was awesome to be out on the sea in this mini-boat, and Tatiana even had a hand at driving the boat. Soraya was happy to sit on the end and bounce over the waves.

From there, we went to do snorkeling with the stingrays. When you first get into the water, the guides let you hold a stingray. Tatiana and Soraya had a lot of fun doing that. Then, they give you snorkeling gear, and you can explore the mini-reef yourself. I love snorkeling – it feels like you are viewing another world that people rarely have access to – the underwater realm.

After that, it was time for the main attraction of the day – the dolphin program. We had only paid for the kids to do the dolphin program. So, the three girls got into the water, where a dolphin trainer let them touch and kiss the dolphin. For about twenty minutes, they got to watch, up close, the trainer and the dolphin. It was magical to see those beautiful creatures up close. The kids were a bit disappointed they didn't get to swim with the dolphins, but I didn't want to dish out the extra cash for that.

The kids checking out the dolphin

After the dolphins, we spent the rest of the afternoon between kayaking, snorkeling, the mini boat, the stingrays, and the nature trail. On the nature trail, there were parrots, a couple of snakes and a huge iguana. Animal lovers that they are, the girls greatly enjoyed holding and playing with the animals. Sometimes their animal love can be a problem.

When we were snorkeling, Soraya saw a sea animal that looked cool and tried to catch it. She finally was able to pick it up. It turned out to be a “fire worm,” and it sprayed some stuff on her hands that burned them. I had to rush her up to the information desk, where they put some cream on it. The burning sensation finally went away, and Soraya went straight back to play with the stingrays.

I had to leave the park a bit early to go do my interviews, but Nando and the girls stayed right up until closing. It really was a magnificent day.

On Sunday, Soraya woke up feeling a bit under the weather, so we decided to take it easy. Just before noon, we went over to Island Village. This is basically a huge shopping mall, full of touristy stuff to buy. We ignored all the shops, and went straight to Margaritaville, a tourist trap restaurant par excellence. Despite that, it is actually a great concept for families. It has a nice pool right in the middle, with a decent waterslide. And, it is right on the beach, and you have access to the private beach if you dine there. It also has showers and clean bathrooms. We parked our family at one of the tables. The kids had a blast sliding down the waterslide and venturing out onto the beach.

Soraya chillin at Margaritaville

The beach was pretty nice, if you ignored the huge mall and unsightly port. The sand was white; the water was crystal clear; and it got quite deep as you swam out. I went in the sea and the pool a couple of times, but also took it easy, and just watched the kids run around while I enjoyed fajitas, pizza, and fish n chips.

We left Margaritaville around 4pm, and headed out to take our bus back to Kingston. As planned, the kids were tired and slept most of the way back. Overall, it was a nice mini-vacation, and I am glad to have had a break from the routine here in Kingston.

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