On the Hunt for the Real Jamaica

Day 3, Grand World Voyage

Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023; Falmouth, Jamaica

Back in my corporate days, one boss sponsored a group lunch each month with the theme of a different country. She suggested we share photos of any vacations or trips. My travel at that time had generally been within the United States, so I didn’t have much to share for Japan, Australia or even France.

When China’s turn came, I just brought my photos from the China section of Epcot Center at Disney World.

In port with the Caribbean Princess

I was reminded of that experience today when we visited our first port of the 61 planned for this journey – Falmouth, Jamaica. The town has built a nice cruise port, but you soon realize it resembles a Disney version of the real country. There are wide cobblestone walkways – all perfectly level – surrounded by Georgian-style buildings full of Caribbean cruise port shops selling jewelry, rum cakes, T-shirts and general souvenirs. The craft marketplace stalls feature baskets, floral dresses, wooden bowls and toys.

It is when you walk a few blocks away that you realize you were in a controlled area, limited to licensed vendors and tourists with ship ID cards. Outside the gates is the real city, still with its Georgian architecture but not as sterile or controlled.

I spent some time in the real city window shopping while dodging slow-moving traffic and navigating uneven pavement. I had no particular goal in mind, so on my return to the pier area I sat in the shade to sketch (watercolor added later).

I’ve been to Jamaica before and traveled beyond the cities. I knew my budget would not cover excursions in every port so had decided to limit my time ashore today in order to continue getting settled onboard.

I last sailed on the Zuiderdam in 2019, but just two months ago I was on its sister ship the Westerdam, so I know the layout. In fact, I have the same stateroom — number and location identical, just a different ship. Once my luggage arrived early Tuesday evening, I already knew where to put everything. (These two ships are members of Holland America’s Vista class, which also includes the Noordam and Oosterdam. If you speak Dutch, you will recognize they are named after the four points of the compass.)

We had another great dinner last night. Again, I was delighted that I had trouble picking an appetizer and entrée from several that sounded good. Perhaps eventually even this great food will start to look routine. Then I’ll just remind myself that I didn’t need to do the shopping, preparations or cleanup.

My sisters and I have selected anytime dining, so we generally sit with different people each night. I struggle to remember the names of our dinner companions and try to write them down on my calendar when I return to my room. Between faulty memories and masks hiding half our faces, we all are expert at re-introducing ourselves, and no one seems to mind that we’ve forgotten his or her name.

Mask requirements differ by ships and sometimes day to day. We are required to wear masks the first three days of this cruise (through tomorrow). Tomorrow morning we will all test again for covid, and depending on the results we may transition to “mask recommended” while inside and not “actively eating or drinking.” I’ve heard a little grousing about the current requirement from a few passengers, but generally everyone is complying. No one wants to be isolated, but I don’t believe we have put this epidemic behind us. I brought a generous supply of my favorite KN95 masks — and of course a Kansas City Chiefs mask — and the ship will supplement if necessary.