My First Cruise Excursion: Chukka Horseback Ride ‘n’ Swim

Despite the fact that this was my third cruise, I’d never actually gone on a cruise-line-sponsored shore excursion before . I’ve already shared my feelings about guided tours,but based on the recommendation of many, many people I assumed to be more informed than myself (meaning they’d visited these ports before…or they were my overly-concerned mother) I chose to book a tour for each stop on my Western Caribbean cruise.  The first and last stops would be cruise ship excursions, and on my second stop I booked with an outside company–for the sake of comparison.  Up first–Falmouth, Jamaica.

On the way to the stables

After two and a half (rather boring) days at sea, I finally found myself in Jamaica.  Well, sort of.  I was in fake Jamaica.  Fake-maica, as I will call it from now on.  But more on that later.   I was headed out on my very first cruise excursion ever—something called Chukka Horseback Ride and Swim—and I wasn’t going to let something as minor as 40 mph winds and sideways rain stop me.  ‘Chukka’ is the company that runs most tours from Falmouth, and the ‘ride and swim’ part referred to the fact that we’d not only be riding horses through the fields and along the beaches, but in the water as well.

My first tip for such an excursion—and my apologies for the graphic nature of this tip:  if you are anything like me, wear a bathing suit…and a bra.  Seriously.  And by ‘anything like me’ I mean ‘anything over a c-cup’.  I fortunately have a strapless bra that’s completely undetectable under my bathing suit (which is also important, as there’s nothing less attractive than a bra under a bathing suit), and I’m so very glad I chose to wear it (even though it may be ruined forever after being submerged in salt water).

Weather on Jamaica is more changeable than anywhere I’ve ever been, and this includes London and Halifax, two cities with very changeable weather.  Or at least it was this day.  As it turns out, despite the fact that it did actually start to pour once on the way to the stables and once at the actual stables, we remained relatively dry for the duration of the tour.  And that’s really what it was—a tour.  Thankfully it was not as rushed as the only other tour I’ve been on—Bath to Stonehenge—but then again, it’s Jamaica, mon.  No one is in a hurry.

Upon disembarking the ship and making my way through Fake-maica in the sidewasy rain, there was some confusion as to where to meet for our particular tour.  But of course I managed to find some equally confused looking women also going on the horseback riding excursion whilst wandering about the throbbing masses of people lining up behind women holding signs.  Eventually we found our tour guide, were led to a van, and waited.

At the stables

After about ten minutes we were on our way.  I was seated in the last row, which prevented me from hearing anything that the tour guide said other than something about ’45 minutes to an hour’ which I assumed—with a bit of shock—that this was how long it would take us to get to our destination.  This annoyed me a bit, as I’d imagined that one could ride a horse anywhere, so there’d be no need to go very far.  Alas, I was wrong.  It seems that this port is so new, there’s really NOTHING in the immediate area.  And by immediate area, I apparently mean ‘closer than an hour away’.  So after two photos stops—one of which we just sort of pulled over to the side of the rode and pointed our cameras out the window—we finally made it to the stables.  Where there were restrooms.  Yay.

The ride itself was pretty neat.  I do have to admit that I had a good time, mainly thanks to the super nice guide that I’m imagining was hoping for a tip (I gave him one).  Said super nice guide became my personal tour guide for the day, telling me, personally, all about every plant, tree, and rock we were passing.  He even rode into the woods to pick guavas for us to eat.  I was a bit reluctant to eat it—having strange fruit whilst in the middle of the woods is never a good idea—but I did manage half of it before conveniently dropping it.  Ooops.  We rode through paths, past mountains—but not up them or near them as I’d imagined—and along two very scenic beaches.  It was a very nice ride.  I’d say we were out for maybe forty five minutes.  Definitely less time than it had taken us to get there.
At the end of the ride, we sort of rode through the shallow part of the beach and back to the stables, where we got off and they unsaddled the horses.  We then were taken out in smaller groups to ride in the ocean.  It was kind of crazy.  And difficult.  First, you are bareback.  So there are no stirrups and you’re holding on with your thighs.  Second, you’re sitting on this blanket-like thing that’s hooked under the horse…and that blanket-like thing moves.  And third, after one circle of the protected little cove, they actually start having the horses RUN through the water.  Like way, way faster than we’d done on land.  So you might fall off your horse.  And then the nice guides might have to help you back on.  And it might be really awkward.  I’m not saying I know anyone who did this…cough me cough cough…but just be warned.

On our way to un-saddle before the 'swim' part of the ride

Still, it was a fun way to spend a few hours.

We then had some free time to buy jerk chicken or Red Stripe beer or cheap crap at the ‘gift shop’ which was just a specific corner of the pavilion that contained cheap crap.  I used this opportunity to take some photos with my ‘real’ camera—that I was forced to leave behind because they wouldn’t let me bring my backpack on the trail ride and it was raining so I didn’t want to just wear it around my neck—and chat with some other cruise passengers.  Everyone seemed to have a pretty good time, and I was just glad I made it out of the water without embarrassing myself further.

The ride back was nice, apart from the man sitting next to me with no sense of personal space.  Seriously, if you are sitting in a small two-seater van bench with a stranger and you have plenty of room to put your entire arm casually between your legs, well, then your legs might be too damn far apart.  I had maybe 25% of the room available to the two of us, and I’m not a small person.

As we drove back, I tried to take photos out of the van window and wished desperately that I’d just rented a car.  I don’t know if that’s possible or advisable in Jamaica, but if I ever return it will be on my own, it will be for longer than a day, and I will do more than ride a horse.

All in all, it was a better day than I expected, but not as great as it could have been.  I guess I pictured riding through something more scenic.  Or up a mountain.  Or near a mountain.  I don’t know.  Something epically beautiful.  But it was a fun, unique experience, and not as rushed or crowded as I imagined a cruise excursion to be.  I’m glad that I got to see a bit of ‘real Jamaica’, because to not have left that terrible fake port area would have been a sin.  And even though I know that tour-guide-Sean (pronounced SEE-ahn) was just trying to get a good tip, he more than earned the tip I gave him, having acted as my own personal guide and photographer (though some of the photos he took will never be viewed by anyone.  I’m posing on a horse in a bathing suit.  Yeah.  Those are going to be deleted). And, um, he may have also rescued me from falling off my horse in the ocean.

Snapping photos after the ride

Would I recommend this tour?  Yes and no.  If you are docking in Falmouth, it’s a good way to spend the day.  It gets you out of the port area, and it’s a fun and unique activity.  If you’ve never ridden a horse along a beautiful beach, you really should.  And the experience of riding in the water—though a bit traumatic for me (did I mention that the horses shit in the water?  And that I fell in?)—was pretty awesome.

However, there’s still the ‘no’ part of my ‘yes and no’ answer.  That’s based on this—just don’t dock in Falmouth.  It’s a super cheesy port and it’s really far away from anything you want to do.  Fly to Jamaica.  Stay there for a week—or two.  Rent a car.  Drive around.  It’s beautiful.  I promise.

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