|The Grand Turk Cruise Center is the ideal setting for shoppers, beachgoers and those looking to stretch their legs mid-cruise.|
About 575 miles southeast of Miami, Grand Turk is a popular port of call, particularly on cruises that depart from southern U.S. ports. Home to 3,700 residents, the sleepy island is just 1.5 miles wide and 7 miles long.
What do cruisers do on a port call? Grand Turk shore excursions typically focus on snorkeling, boat rides, stingray encounters, swimming, kayaking, scuba diving, fishing, dune buggy adventures, horseback riding and snuba (a unique way for nondivers to explore underwater via a tethered breathing helmet).
Clients may also take an island tour or visit the new Conch World, a million-dollar-plus tourism attraction that showcases the isle’s native Queen Conch. For many cruisers, though, simply hanging out at the Grand Turk Cruise Center is a fun and relaxing experience.
The Appeal: Developed by Carnival Corp. and frequented by passengers from multiple cruise lines, this 14-acre “destination onto itself” features myriad shops, restaurants, beaches, a pool, watersports rentals and FlowRider surfing pool. The center boasts a long pier with two berths capable of docking post-Panamax ships. Guests walk off their docked ship onto the pier and then about 390 feet to the cruise center entrance.
I truly enjoyed my time ashore at the Grand Turk Cruise Center during a recent Costa Cruises’ Costa Atlantica port call. While there is certainly no substitute for getting out to explore a destination’s culture and sites firsthand, this cruise center has strong appeal for three prime groups—shoppers, beachgoers and those wanting to stroll ashore and return to the ship anytime they wish during the port call.
Some history: Grand Turk was colonized by Bermudian salt rakers more than three centuries ago. But it also has a tropical flair given its location southeast of Miami. For the cruise center’s appealing look, Carnival Corp.’s architects adeptly blended several cultural influences—creating pastel-colored, Colonial-style buildings and adding touches of tropical decor and landscaping.
The real star, though, is the shimmering aqua water. Passengers “ooh” and “aah” over their first glimpse of this crystal clear water, the island’s sugary white beaches, and colorful fish swimming adjacent to the pier.
The Shops: When passengers arrive at the cruise center, they’ll enter a 10,000-square-foot duty-free shop, which sells everything from liquor to perfume, cigarettes to souvenirs. Exiting on the opposite side, they’ll emerge into a central plaza with palm trees, benches, space for cultural performances, another 35,000 square feet of high-end jewelry stores, an array of apparel and T-shirt stores, locally crafted souvenirs, and food and beverage facilities.
|The center has a long pier with two berths at which large cruise ships can dock.|
Opened last year are Colombian Emeralds International, Effy Jewelers and Diamonds International. For quirky purchases, tell clients to check out the funky Christmas ornaments at Piranha Joe’s; the tooth-baring piranha with a Santa hat is a hoot and costs only $4.99. Surf attire and souvenirs are on tap at Ron Jon Surf Shop. Fashionistas may head for Del Sol with its 20-plus shades of nail polish that change color in the sun. Other retailers include Milano Diamond Gallery, Dizzy Donkey and The Trading Post at Jimmy Buffett’s Magaritaville, to name just a few. Several small shops specialize in local handicrafts and jewelry.
The Beaches: Cruisers will discover two lovely beach areas with cushioned lounge chairs. Advise clients to bring beach towels from the ship and return them once back onboard. Walking from the ship to land, the busier beach is on the left, the quieter South Beach on the right.
Palm trees along the beach fringes provide some respite from the sun, or clients may rent clamshell shades for their lounge chairs. Also available for rental are water toys, thick foam floats ($5 per day) and snorkeling gear. Snorkelers may want to explore several sunken reef balls that often attract fish, as well as a few submerged 18th-century cannons and anchors.
Spa Anani provides beachside massage services. A 15-minute massage is priced at $20, while a sea mud mini-facial is $50.
What’s next for beach fun? A Carnival Corp. spokesperson told us at presstime that “we are adding another beach-related secluded area on about two acres [at Grand Turk] but it is not ready to accept visitors just yet.”
The Food and Fun: For tropical libations, the Turkuoise Beach Bar opened last summer adjacent to Diamonds International. A prime hot spot is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville bar, restaurant and retail shop, the largest such facility in the Caribbean. Outside the venue, people pose with a gigantic parrot statue or relax on brightly colored Adirondack-style chairs; kids have their own pint-sized versions of the chairs.
Adjacent to Magaritaville is the complex’s swimming pool, ringed by outdoor tables and umbrellas. Waiters wearing pseudo grass skirts take drink and food orders. This area was extremely busy during my visit.
Nearby are poolside cabanas, which, the cruise center says, must be reserved in advance via the cruise lines. On my cruise, Costa charged $129 for a cabana that accommodates up to four people. Cabana rentals include private waiter service, an outdoor shower, loungers, a ceiling fan (no air conditioning) and a window for fresh air.
Active clients may, alternatively, go surfing at the popular FlowRider attraction, where they should again reserve their slot in advance through the cruise line. Slots are limited. On my Costa Atlantica cruise, the FlowRider shore excursion was priced two ways—at $29 or $39 per person; the higher-priced option had more surfing time and features.
The Island: The Turks & Caicos Tourist Board operates an information kiosk near the center’s transportation hub. At the hub, clients may rent a car via Grand Turk Grace Bay Car Rentals or tour the island by taxi. The taxis aren’t metered, so advise clients to negotiate the price and trip scope in advance.
Last year, the Grand Turk Cruise Center hosted 265 cruise ship calls and welcomed 640,000 passengers. The center looks primed for another strong year in 2011.
For the complete schedule of ship calls in the first quarter, visit www.grandturkcc.com/scheduling.aspx.
|The FlowRider surfing pool at the center is a popular choice for the active set.|