Western Caribbean Stories and Tips

Riding horses in the ocean at Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Kristy & Peanut. Photo, Western Caribbean, Caribbean

There are several tours that are offered by the cruise line. I did a lot of time reading the forum at cruisecritic.com, which gave me a lot of ideas to book our own tours. The advantage of going with a ship tour is that they handle all arrangements and if you are late the ship will wait for you. The disadvantages are that the ship tours are much more expensive than what you can book yourself, they are inflexible, and you will be touring with a crowd of people.

Booking your own tours you can become very creative, you get a lot more for your dollar, and it will be much smaller groups. The disadvantages are that you have to make sure to cover traveling to and from and make sure you allow time for problems, because if you run late, the ship may leave without you.

That being said, we arranged the most awesome tour in Jamaica. My daughter and I wanted to ride horses in the ocean, my husband wanted nothing to do with this, but we all wanted to go tubing down a river. If we had booked a ship tour, we would not have been able to do both, the times overlapped and it would have been very expensive. In reading the forum, I came across numerous excellent reviews on A-J Jamaican Planners. I contacted Belinda (the owner) by e-mail, and she said would custom design a tour to do anything we wanted. So what we decided is that my daughter and I would ride horses in the morning while my husband would tour the Shaw Botanical Gardens. Then we would be picked up and delivered back to the ship for lunch (we could have gone to a Jamaican restaurant for jerk chicken, but my daugher would not have eaten, very picky). After lunch we would all be picked up, driven into the mountains to tube down a river.

We had our own personal driver, Oscar, who had come highly recommended on the cruise forum I read. He was absolutely awesome, very personable and attentive to our every need. We were driven to a plantation that rescues abandoned and abused race horses and rehabiliates them for riding.

The horses were in great shape and very well-taken care of. You ride in English saddles, no western. There were two other groups there getting ready to ride, I had assumed that we would tag along with them. Instead we had our own personal guide, just the two of us. Oscar stayed until we headed down the trail just to make sure everything was running smoothly. Then he drove my husband to Shaw Botanical Gardens. Our guide was excellent, talking about the plantation, life on Jamaica, and discussing various plantlife. We spent the next 30 minutes conversing about all sorts of things. He was a very personable guide.

We arrived at the ocean and met up with the other two groups. We dismounted and the horses were tied up while we had punch and various local snacks. We have worn bathing suits under our clothes, and took the pants off when we got ready to ride in the ocean. The saddles were synthetic, so we did not have to take them off. The horses went right in and we went out far enough that the water was almost over their backs, then we ran up and down through the water. This is fantastic fun and the horses don't seem to mind it at all (our horses at home would be mortified).

The extra bonus in having our own custom tour is that we stayed out the entire time the other two groups came and went, giving us double the amount of time in the water. It was absolutely awesome. And just a note, our table companions also did a horseback ride in the ocean on the ship's tour. There were fifty people in their group. They had a great time also, but certainly did not have the individual attention we did.

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