Fun times I've had in the Caribbean in the past have come to mind frequently during this past year of mask-wearing, disinfecting and elbow-bumping.
A few years back, in Antigua with one of my daughters, we had one of those fun times on a six-hour boat ride around the island with a chatty captain, his deckhand and an itinerary that included snorkeling at Sting Ray City, a swim off Green Island, an Antiguan picnic lunch on a shell-packed beach, a cruise around Nelson's Dockyard and more snorkeling at the Pillars of Hercules, topped with a fast ride up the coast and a potent rum punch as the captain dropped anchor back at our our resort.
The excursion, called Xtreme Circumnavigation Adventure, lived up to its name and is one of many offerings of Island Routes Caribbean Adventures, a privately held, family-owned destination management company that is part of the Sandals and Beaches family of resorts but is operated as a separate entity.
Island Routes, which specializes in premier excursions along with private and customized tour experiences, has come a long way way since its launch in July 2009 with 80 land and water tours in Jamaica.
Today, the company's offerings (pre-Covid) span 12 Caribbean destinations with more than 500 tours offered. In 2019, more than 600,000 excursions were booked.
"Although we started off great in early 2020, the pandemic affected Island Routes' operations, and at this time, 173 tours are operational in Antigua, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Turks and Caicos," said Ryan Terrier, vice president of operations, "but that number can increase or decrease daily as the situation evolves."
Despite the temporary cutbacks, Island Routes has been busy this past year, launching a revamped website that includes a new user experience as well as an enhanced travel agent portal.
A fire eater entertains guests during an Island Routes Bespoke Collection (customized) experience.
A new slogan was introduced, "Wonder This Way," and the Private & Bespoke Collections, which were in the pipeline pre-Covid, made their debut, according to Terrier.
"Our Private tours are prepackaged, ready-made, secluded tour experiences that guests can do together as a family or group of friends, while our Bespoke offerings are fully customized and made to order from our guests' requests," Terrier said.
"They tell us what they want to do, and we will tailor-make weeklong itineraries or immersive daytrips. We've even partnered with island designers to curate tablescapes and culinary dining experiences," he said.
A first for Jamaica
Island Routes' latest addition to its offerings, one that is making waves in Jamaica, was the launch in February of its Powerboat Adventures for day tours, which it says is a first for Jamaica. The powerboat tours join the company's current immersive experiences that include catamaran cruises, the Drive Your Own Mini Routes' adventures through Jamaica's backcountry and river rafting on the Martha Brae with a Red Stripe beer in hand.
The company added three powerboats, named Macaroni, Astonia and Soul Bandit, to its fleet of owned and operated vessels, which include six catamarans and three deep-sea sport fishing vessels.
"This fast addition to our fleet of vessels gives adventurers the inside track to Jamaica as well as the opportunity to see the destination at lightning speed, slowing down only to take in one-of-a-kind stops along the way," Terrier said.
The 43-foot-long powerboats, which depart from Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, will seat 10 to 16 guests in normal times, but Island Routes is limiting capacity to 50% now and following CDC guidelines and government regulations regarding mask-wearing and social distancing in alignment with Covid protocols and Island Routes' six tiers of safety and sanitization.
The beach in Ocho Rios is the setting for a customized dinner offered by Island Routes Caribbean Adventures.
Highlights on the powerboat excursions include Dunn's River Falls, stops at Half Moon beach in Negril for an island-style picnic lunch, snorkeling in Negril's cliffside sea caves and watching the cliff dives at sunset at Rick's Cafe.
"There is nothing better than the wind blowing in your hair as you speed across the Caribbean Sea," Terrier said.
"I have a feeling that this tour will become one of the most sought-after and thrilling adventures for guests traveling to Jamaica," he said.
The Powerboat day tour ranges between $190 and $250 per person; in the Private & Bespoke Collections, the experience is priced from $1,900 for a two-hour, customized private tour, with additional hours priced at $500 each, based on what guests choose to do.
Terrier said that the recently overhauled website makes it easier for travel advisors to book any of the excursions offered through the agent portal to begin earning 10% commission for every booking, including the Private & Bespoke Collections of offerings.
An Island Routes Mini Routes adventure tour explores the back country of Jamaica.