Tuesday 12th December – Tuesday 26th December 1017
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to spend Christmas in Jamaica. Although I was born in London, England, my family are Jamaican. I have travelled to Jamaica many times, to see family and get to know my roots, since I was child – it’s the place that I know I can go and everything makes sense.
After discussing this with my boyfriend we decided to do a one-week cruise followed by a one week stay in a hotel in Jamaica. All the previous times I have been to Jamaica I have stayed with family, it would be my first trip as a “tourist” plus things have changed since my last visit to the island – I am now a wheelchair user and I have accessible needs. Also doing the cruise and stay was £350 per person cheaper than staying the full two weeks in a hotel. We booked the cruise and stay package holiday in October 2016 with Thomson (now Tui) and paid for it, bit by bit, over the next 11 months.
Our flight to Montego bay, Jamaica was leaving at 9:15am, so we thought it was a clever idea to stay in a hotel at the airport the night before. My boyfriend had some Hilton Honours points, that he had accumulated on his business travels, and we were able to use the points to book us an accessible room at the Hamptons by Hilton Hotel London Gatwick North. This hotel was perfect for us, as it was connected to the north terminal via a walk way, so no need to get a shuttle bus in the morning and it came with breakfast.
The morning of our flight we were filled with excitement. We checked-in and went through security early, so that we had enough time for a little airport shopping where I got some new sunglasses. As a wheelchair user I need to be at the departure gate 50 minutes before the flight leaves, because we get boarded first; we are also the last to leave the plane when we land.
The flight was smooth and went without issue, when we landed it was humid, windy and raining -not the weather I was expecting. Also, my electric wheelchair was not at the aircraft door, as it usually would be. The assistance team at the airport told me that I would get my electric wheelchair at the port terminal and that I should use theirs until then – being a Tui (Thomson) package cruise holiday luggage is taken directly to the cruise ship rather than having to collect your luggage and then make your way to your transfer. The porter pushed me to the waiting area for transfer buses and the pick-up point for my accessible taxi – to take us to the port where I would go through security. It was at this point that I insisted that I wanted my electric wheelchair before leaving the airport, and would not be going in the taxi without it. Within 10 minutes they brought my electric wheelchair and I was happy to make my way to the taxi.
The port security staff were very tight! The lady insisted, as I can’t stand, that my boyfriend pick me up, so she could feel the wheelchair cushion I was sitting on. Only for her, to only feel the corner of the cushion – that she could have felt with me sat on it. Once she finished embarrassing me, we boarded the ship.
The Marella Discovery 2 cruise ship is gorgeous! And one of the biggest in Tui (Thomson) fleet, with 7 bars, 7 restaurants (two with a charge), 2 pools, mini golf, rock climbing wall, gym, spa, casino plus loads more, and the best bit was that the All-Inclusive package onboard is standard – including prosecco and cider. Happy Days! Our accessible, inside, cabin was a decent size with a roll-in wet room shower and within 10 minutes of arriving in our cabin our luggage was delivered by the porter.
After a day at sea, the first port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. Cozumel is a little island off Mexico and very popular cruise ship “port of call”. It was a lovely hot sunny day and I was feeling a little hung over, after one to many prosecco’s from the day at sea, the day before. It was a “big sunglasses” with no make-up just lipstick kind of day as we disembarked the ship, to see the sights of Cozumel.
The port terminal area is large with lots of shops bars and restaurants. It was a little uncomfortable as we wondered through because of the cobble-like bricks on the ground. Once you came out the other side of terminal there was a high street with a Hard Rock Café, shops and shopping malls. Unfortunately, this is where exploring of Cozumel ended. There were no drop curbs on my side of the road but there was one on the other side, no matter how we tried to find a way across we were unable to. So, my sightseeing of Cozumel was over, we just stayed in the port terminal area and looked around the shops there. We had lunch in a nice Mexican restaurant, which made me vegan gluten free fajitas and nachos with all the trimmings, washed down with a mango margarita. It was so delicious!
The next port of call was Havana, Cuba. I was so excited! Cuba is a place I have always wanted to go. So, to get a day and a half docked overnight was just fantastic! For Cuba we needed to have our tourist visa forms filled and our passports. We also needed to visit the foreign exchange, the CUC (Cuban tourist currency) because Cuban currency is not legal tender outside of Cuba and therefore it can only be obtained in Cuba. It is set at a fixed rate CUC to the US dollar (i.e. GBP1 = 1.3 USD, and 1.3 CUC) I would however advise you to change British pound into CUC, as there a charge of 10% commission to convert US dollars into CUCs.
Havana has very few drop curbs and lots of the roads are cobbled. The cars in Havana drive slow enough and the roads weren’t too busy for me to feel comfortable to wheel in the road at times. We wanted to do an hour classic car tour around Havana, and we were quoted 40 CUC for the tour, we knocked him down to 30 CUC. The guy that managed the tours said that I could leave my electric wheelchair parked up with him until we got back. I had a good vibe from him, that I could trust that my chair would be there when I got back, so I did and went on the tour.
The tour was amazing! It is something I have always wanted to. The city of Havana is so rich in history, driving around in this beautiful classic car was the perfect way to see the sites. Our driver Rafael was friendly, very informative, spoke good English and gave us plenty opportunities to take photos. It was a dream come true! At the end of the tour we paid up, giving a 10CUC tip, and collected my electric wheelchair, then headed back to the ship.
As ship was docked in port overnight, it gave us the opportunity to experience Cuba at night plus it was a Friday night. So, my boyfriend and I along with a couple from the ship went for a wonder in Havana. It felt safe enough for us to be wondering around at night with no clue of where we were or were heading. We found this Cuban restaurant & bar with outdoor seating and we stopped there for a couple of mojitos. It was a lovely place and a real Cuban vibe with Cubans out for the evening and a man playing on his guitar, it was so lovely. After our drinks we wondered back to the ship, we saw a group of young people hanging around, looking at their phones and not really talking to each. It turned out that this was because it was a wi-fi hot-spot, one of the few places/areas in the city where you can get the internet. Cuba has only had internet for a year so not many places have access to it. Amazing to think how much I rely on the internet.
Nearby there was a guy with his guitar, singing Bob Marley’s No woman, No cry. We joined in and sang with him and danced in the street it was so much fun and when the song had finished the youths on their phones clapped, probably because we sounded awful and glad it was over. LOL!
Back on board the ship we went to the night club Bar 11, where partied until the early hours. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.
The ship sailed away from Havana at midday, it was another beautiful hot sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. I would love to go back to Cuba one day, the Cuban people are so friendly and welcoming.
There is lots to do on board the ship when you at sea, there is day time entertainment, not that I took part, or you could simply lounge around the pool relaxing with a good book or talking to others, alternatively as I did you could get a massage in the spa. People on the cruise ship are very friendly and talk to anyone, whether you travelled with others or on your own (and many did) it wouldn’t be long before you were conversing with someone. Its great!
Grand Cayman was the last port of call before returning to Jamaica, but it was a tender to shore. A tender to shore is where the ship docks away from the port in the sea and they use the life boats to ferry you a shore. It was not suitable for me as a full-time wheelchair user, unless it was an emergency, so I stayed on board and went to the salon to do my hair while my boyfriend went ashore.
While on board we tried out a few of the restaurants the staff were all very hospitable and cooked vegan and gluten free meals just for me. The buffet restaurant, which I did not eat at very much, would also freshly prepare food for me in the kitchen when asked, and they were happy to do so.
Gallery 47 did Italian food enjoy Italian food and I enjoyed there’s we ate dinner there twice.
47 degrees did British food, the food was ok but not many options for me to eat, we ate there once.
The Glass House did Tapas and fresh Pizzas. We only ate there once, and we went for pizza. They made me a gluten free vegan pizza, it was good!
Kora La did Asian food but there is a £22.95 per person charge for a 3-course meal, which I think is reasonable. We ate here on our last night on board the ship and it was my favourite meal.
I would totally recommend doing a Thomson cruise, the staff are friendly and helpful, I will certainly be doing another in the future.
The second half of our package holiday was a 7nts stay at the Riu Montego Bay. This lovely 4* hotel has 4 restaurants plus a jerk hut on the beach, 3 bars, a night club, 2 large pools, 2 shops, spa, gym and its own beach all conveniently located only 10 mins from the Montego Bay airport. The hotel is very accessible, there were ramps anywhere there maybe stairs, there was no part I couldn’t access. Even the beach had wheelchair access and parts of the sand were firm enough for me to be able to wheel on, which was great, and I took full advantage of it.
Our room was located on the ground floor it was nice, spacious, with shower seat in the bathroom, our own terrace, a liquor dispenser and a mini bar which was restocked regularly.
All the staff were lovely, I could not say a bad word about any of them. They provided great customer service and were really helpfully and friendly. I made myself known to the all the head chefs and they really looked after me, making me vegan and gluten free meals just for me. The breakfast head chef Miss Alma really made sure I enjoyed my stay. She asked for what food I liked and when I told her I wanted Jamaican food and would like some breadfruit, she said they didn’t have that at the hotel, but she has a tree at home. The following day was her day off and she would pick it, roast it and bring it in the following day -and she did. Miss Alma is a woman of her word and she made breakfast, the meal I would look forward to the most, my meals would be ready cooked and waiting out the back being kept warm waiting for my arrival
Buffet breakfast and dinner were served in the Rose Hall restaurant where there is a large indoor dining room with an outdoor seating area.
Lunch was in The Mahoe Bay restaurant and it turned into a steakhouse in the evening and a Jerk Hut on the beach – not that I dined there or at the steakhouse in the evening.
The Kalu restaurant did Asian food, I dined here, and I would describe it as an Asian fusion with a Jamaican influence, it was very nice.
The little Italy restaurant did obviously Italian food, I dined here too, and the food was good, it was an Italian with a European influence.
Before we left for our holiday I pre-booked two wheelchair accessible tours with a company I found online called Ken’s Wheelchair Service Taxi and Tours Jamaica; I called up a few times to speak with the friendly Donnette and she always answered all my queries.
The first tour we did was the 3 hr Montego Bay highlights tour. Our driver and tour guide was Floyd Ellis. He was a was on time, polite, and very informative as he drove us around Montego Bay. We really enjoyed our time with him as he was such a nice guy.
The second excursion we did was the Ocho Rios Highlights and Dunns River tour. We were both very pleased to have Floyd as our drive and tour guide again, for the second tour, and just like before Floyd was friendly and informative stopping off at historical landmarks along the way. In all the times I been to Jamaica, growing up, I had never been to Ocho Rios or Dunns River, so I was very excited -we both were. It was my boyfriend’s first time to Jamaica, so it was nice that we could have that first together.
We arrived at Dunns River Falls Floyd parked up and said to go in and enjoy ourselves he would be in the vehicle waiting.
The Dunns River Fall is a major tourist attraction, any advert advertising Jamaica would feature the Dunns River Waterfall, it is iconic! The site itself is like a theme park there is $28USD per adult and a $12USD for disabled people admission fee. There is a Tranquil Garden area – where I got bitten by mosquitos – a Children’s Play area, market, souvenir stalls selling clothes, water and more, zip lining, a beach and the waterfalls itself. It is one of the only waterfalls in the world were the water goes directly into the sea.
Although I couldn’t climb the waterfall it was still worth going. There are two wheelchair accessible viewing platforms, I went to enjoy the scenery and views of the waterfall while my boyfriend climbed it. While climbing the waterfall, tackling one of the more testing routes…, my boyfriend’s short ripped and he had to buy a new pair to continue with the trip.
Once back in the taxi, Floyd took us to the fastest man in the world Usain Bolt sports bar & restaurant, ‘Tracks and Records’ in Ocho Rios. There is no wheelchair access at the front of the building but there is access via a ramp at a shop next door which is connected to the sports bar and restaurant.
Unfortunately, the restaurant does not do any food that is suitable for vegan and gluten free – meat, fish, onion rings, chips are all cooked in the same oil – which is a shame, so we just had a drink. At least we can say that we have been there, but meant that we had to stop off at a supermarket to buy crisps to eat for the 2-hour journey, in rush hour, back to the hotel. It was a long day, but we really enjoyed. Whether you are in a wheelchair or not if you have never been to Dunns River Fall and going to Jamaica then do, you won’t regret it!
On Christmas Eve, the hotel held a Christmas Gala. Dinner was held at the Rose Hall and all the other restaurants were closed. There were canapés, sangria and sorrel (Jamaican sangria) while you waited for a table to become available. The entrance to the restaurant area was nicely decorated and sparkling wine, was given as you went in for Christmas dinner meal. Followed by entertainment in Exodus show lounge. It was a lovely evening and the staff had done an excellent job making the evening special.
Christmas day there was a full day of entertainment and activities. There was aqua Zumba, a visit from Santa on the beach for the kids, a pool party and loads more. The entertainment team worked hard and made the day memorable. We spent most of the day on the beach or at the pool party. It was a wonderful day, one of the best Christmas I have had in years and one I will never forget.
We both had an absolutely fabulous holiday and we were gutted when we had to leave Jamaica. The whole trip was fantastic from start to finish! I have been on a Tui (Thomson) cruise before but flew home straight after the week-long cruise ended, doing a week-long stay in a hotel relaxing is the perfect way to end the holiday. I highly recommend doing the cruise & stay, I would certainly do it again and definitely with Tui (Thomson), as everything is taken care of and it is all in the one price. I look forward to doing the next cruise and stay adventure with them.