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This is one of those excursions that people seem to love or hate. We thought it was one of the best parts of the cruise, but a lot depends on which raft guide you end up with.
My wife, her sister and husband and I booked a cab just outside the terminal. The fixed rate was $90. For this, the driver would take us to the river and pick us up afterwards.
The trip to Martha Brae took about one hour. When we arrived, we were just about the only ones there. The cost of the raft trip was (as best as I can remember)$25 per raft, and each holds two people. We also bought some Red Stripe beers for the trip, and they put these in a bag of ice. The float down the Martha Brae take about an hour, through a canopy of rain forest. The guide describes everything, and stops to pick flowers or let us smell the aromatic leaves of the vegetation. A very relaxing trip.
Now for the possibly bad part. Some of the raft guides can be pretty aggressive in selling their crafts to their passengers. This is true just about everywhere in Jamaica, but on the raft, you are a captive audience. Ours wasn't too bad. We bought something from him (can't remember exactly what), but considered that to be part of his tip. There are also vendors on the banks of the river selling drinks, crafts, etc. Our guide steered away from them unless we asked him to stop. Some guides, I have heard, are shills for these vendors, and will stop whether you want to or not. Just make it clear to the guide ahead of time what you want, and that his tip will depend on whether or not he makes you happy.
On the way back to the ship, the cab driver asked if we wanted to stop for some shopping. We did, and that was a mistake. The shop owners were very aggressive, and it was a pretty unpleasant experience. When that ordeal was over, we asked the cab driver to take us somewhere for lunch where the locals ate. The place was called The Jerk Shack (or something like that) and was excellent. All four of us ate and drank for about $10 per person.
At the end of the trip, we gave the cab driver a total of $125. Altogether, the excursion cost us about $50 per person, including lunch. That was quite a bit less than the Carnival excursion, and we avoided the kind of crowds you get when a bus load of cruisers shows up at a place like Martha Brae. The people who booked the trip through Carnival were a lot less happy with it than we were. Some found the trip boring, but that just depends on what you like to do on vacation.
Rafting on the Martha Brae - we did it a few years ago and loved it. Guess we were also lucky and had a good guide - he didn't pressure us into buying anything and he didn't stop along the shore anywhere.
At that time we were crusing with Princess and booked the tour through them.
The rafting part was OK ... some points along the river were quite pretty.
When we arrived at the Rafter's Village which was a complete zoo, we were finally assigned to a 2-Person bamboo raft with a guide to "pole" us down the river. Each guide constructs his own raft so every raft is different.
Our guide NEVER stopped talking! Over & over, he told us how poor he was and that his job was the ONLY means of support for his parents and entire family of 17 people. He sort of slipped a bit on his sad story when he told us his brother was on the raft behind us.
All along the river there were vendors with styrofoam coolers of beer and displays of wood carvings. Our guide absolutely insisted we stop because he would really so very much appreciate a beer of two. (To be quite honest ... we had NO PROBLEM stopping after the awful bus ride UP the mountain -- We needed a beer also! )
The trip UP the mountain as a "Sunday School Picnic" compared to the trip back DOWN!
We were on this HUGE bus (Grayhound sized) barreling down the tiny, narrow mountain roads at record speeds ... almost running on-coming autos and rusty old trucks full of terrified workers completely off the mountain.
This bus driver must have been a taxi driver in Cozumel in a former life!
In the mist of all of this our tour guide seemed to think it would be a good idea for us to sing our National Anthems. We thought we should be singing "In the Sweet Bye'n Bye" or "NEARER MY GOD TO ME"! !!!
Whatever .... Some liked this one better than others. Just our opinion!
If you want to avoid all the problems of aggressive vendors and raft operators use a tour guide who will go with you and protect you from this kind of situation. You can hire a private tour operator for about the same price you paid the cab driver (if you get a group of about 4-6) but have safety and a competent, intelligent and knowledgeable guide for the day as well.
We've done Jamaica twice and both times used Barrett Adventures. I posted earlier a link to her tour to the Pelican Bar that she shared with me. Check it out or contact her yourself. (Carolyn Barrett) email@example.com
Ocruiser's experience is just what I meant about getting the right raft guide. If that had been our experience, we would have hated it too. That's just the luck of the draw, for the most part, but the rafters depend a lot on tips, and you have to let them know ahead of time that you don't want to be hassled, and that their tip will depend on how you are treated.