Jamaica's got great food and dolphins too Ocho Rios, Jamaica By Catharine LearnedDunn's River Falls is one of the island's most famous attractions and a great adventure for older children and their parents.
Long touted as a beautiful setting for weddings and a romantic getaway for honeymooners, Jamaica also is a fantastic place to take kids. With temperatures consistently in the mid-80s, it's also a great place to escape the winter blues and there are a lot of things to do and food to eat for the whole family. [For a place to stay, see the companion story.]
Dolphins and waterfalls Ocho Rios is an gorgeous inlet east of Montego Bay, about a two-hour drive from the airport. The area was named in 1494 by Christopher Columbus, who mistakenly thought there were eight rivers flowing through the area. It is a pretty resort town with stunning waterfalls, beaches and interesting architecture.
Ocho Rios' fairy tale beauty is epitomized by the vine-draped Fern Gully. Once a riverbed, Fern Gully is now a three-mile-long canyon festooned with hundreds of varieties of fern and hardwood trees. So dense is the canopy that Fern Gully seems to exist in a perpetual twilight. It is a beautiful and awe-inspiring drive or hike. Kids may think of the animated movie, “Fern Gully: The Last Rain Forest.” If it excits them, great. But tell them, that was Australia, this is Jamaica.
Dunn's River Falls is the island's most famous attraction. The 600-foot cascades tumble from one jade-colored pool to another, spilling down to the warm blue sea.
Climbing the falls with a guide is easier than it looks and quite an accomplishment. Guides help you navigate the tricky terrain and everyone links arms so no one falls, but this is a waterfall, after all and this is not for small children. At the base of the falls by the beach, there are changing rooms and lockers. Bring beach shoes or rent them there if you forget, because climbing the slippery falls without them is treacherous.
Dolphin Cove is my favorite stop. Swimming with the beautiful bottlenose dolphins in is a pleasure reserved for children ages 8 or older. Younger kids can watch, but not swim. It's an experience that will cost you but one your family is likely to remember a long time. Admission is $15 per person, free for children under 6, to get into the cove where you can relax on the beach, watch the dolphins frolic or hike up a nature trail to pet different parrots, turtles and snakes. Swimming with the dolphins is extra. The Touch Encounter, $35 per person, allows you stand knee deep in the water and touch the dolphin. The Swim Encounter, $79 each, includes swimming in deep water with the dolphin, giving the dolphin a kiss and dancing with the dolphin. The Swim With, a whopping $149 each, includes a kiss, a dorsal pull and a foot push-the dolphin gently pushes your feet to propel you through the water. Life vests and flippers are provided, but bring your own towels.
Local Cuisine Don't leave the island without trying Jerk Chicken. Jerk seasoning is central to Jamaican cuisine. In full form it's very spicy, but it can be toned down for children's sensitive taste buds. It has a spicy sweet flavor to it and is smoked or barbecued onto meats. Jamaicans will jerk just about anything, pork, beef, shrimp, even eggs, but Jerk Chicken can be found just about anywhere, and it's delicious.
Island Grill is Jamaica's answer to McDonald's and it serves pretty good quality Jamaican fare at fast food prices. Island Grill is a great place to hit on the way to or from the airport, or to grab to go for a cheap picnic on the beach.
For a nicer but pricier dinner out with the family, The Ruins is a beautiful place. The tables are outdoors at the base of a spectacular 40-foot natural waterfall. The menu here is diverse, with Asian specialties such as lotus lily lobster and Far Eastern chicken, Jamaican dishes and some vegetarian choices as well.
For Jimmy Buffet fans, Jamaica has Margaritaville, located in a little outdoor shopping mall near the beach called Island Village. The restaurant features a rooftop whirlpool and a two-story, 100-foot-long waterslide that spirals down into a freshwater pool below.
Just the facts The Ruins at the Falls (876) 974-4729
Margaritaville Island Village (876) 795-4643 www.margaritaville.com
Dolphin Cove (876) 974-5335, (876) 795-0484 www.dolphincovejamaica.com
Jamaica Villas by Linda Smith (301) 229-4300 www.jamaicavillas.com
Jamaica Tourist Board (800) 233-4JTB www.visitjamaica.comCatharine Learned is a writer and a former intern at Chicago Parent.