First off, I LOVE Jamaica. If there is a more beautiful spot on Earth, I haven’t found it. The history, the diverse culture, the welcoming people, the incredible rain forests, the mountains, the rivers, the flora and fauna, are all just breath-taking…and a bit overwhelming. That’s why you owe it to yourself to make sure your tour guide is more than just a company driver with a script. In Ocho Rios, that means Phil Lafayette Tours.
Kim and I toured with Phil and his lovely daughter Tammy for the first time in 2006. I had seen reviews on various sites about Phil and decided to give him a try. I went to his web site JamaicaPhil.com and registered for a tour. The next day I had an email from Phil with a warm welcome and complete instructions on where and when to meet, what we would be seeing, what to bring (towels, water shoes, change of clothes), and the costs. That gave me a warm fuzzy, getting off to a good start.
As soon as we stepped off the ship, there was a representative standing on the dock who took us straight over to Phil’s bus and introduced us to Phil himself. Meeting Phil is discovering you’ve had a long lost brother you’ve just been reunited with. For the next 5 hours Phil showed us the beauty of Jamaica and kept us enthralled with his stories, songs and peculiar affinity with the letter ‘P’. He whisked us to every destination ahead of the cattle tour buses so we climbed Dunn’s River Falls in a group of eight not eighty, went tubing with only a half dozen other folks, and drove through Fern Gully with no other traffic. Phil took us shopping and kept the pushy vendors away so we could shop in peace. At the end of a long day, he took us right back to the ship. And charged us a whopping $20 for all of that.
We had the opportunity this month of revisiting Ocho Rios with four friends who were on their first cruise. Naturally, I called Phil. Apparently bureaucrats have taken over the port because officials with uniforms and clipboards kept trying to “protect” us from the tour operators. Finally, they let us go through the gate and there was Phil’s bus waiting for us. Phil had that same big smile and it seemed like only yesterday since we had seen him.
The delays at the port meant we didn’t get to Dunn’s before everyone else but Phil led us through the park while pointing out the various plants, animals, fruits and anything else that caught his eye. Phil is a walking encyclopedia of Jamaican history, culture, and nature. He made sure we had everything we needed and handed us off to the park guides to begin our climb.
After Dunn’s we went on a tour of the town and out to Fern Gully. Then he took us to a little place called Scotchie’s for lunch. Jerk pork and chicken to die for at a price so low its almost criminal. Phil acted as waiter, bus boy and entertainment for a meal none of us will ever forget. Following lunch it was more sight seeing and then shopping. And the price for all of this? Still only $20/pp. Bargain doesn’t begin to describe what you get with Phil.
So what did the first time cruisers think? I’ll let David answer that. David is a retired U.S. Marine and has been all over the world.
We just did a tour with Phil on the 4th of March, and it was wonderful. Despite limited time in port (we were cruising on the Carnival Liberty), Phil packed the time with a lot of fun and interesting activities and we still had plenty of time for shopping.
Phil is very flexible and will take you where ever you want to go, he will keep the aggressive peddlers away from you, and is a walking encyclopedia of the flora, fauna, history, and culture of Jamaica. I have done tours all over the world and his was among the very best; WELL worth the price.
If you are planning a visit to Ocho Rios, you owe it to yourself to get in contact with Phil; you won’t regret it.