A normal part of Cruise Ship Caribbean itineraries, Grand Turk is a small island in the Turks and Caicos group. Cockburn Town, located in Grand Turk, is the capital city of Turks and Caicos, but not the largest or most influential city.
We’ve been to Grand Turk a number of times. Every other time that we’ve visited, we’ve stayed in the Cruise Center area. The Grand Turk Cruise Center is a large area with the normal Cruise shops, such as Diamond’s International. It’s also full of smaller souvenir shops and a small local market. This is where you meet your ship excursion, and buy excursions from locals. You’ll also see a small memorial to the Space Race and Astronaut John Glenn. This is where he came after splashing down.
Margaritaville is the largest restaurant at the cruise port, right alongside the pool. The pool features a swim up bar, and many places to relax, including cabanas (which have to be rented). However, all seating at the pool and at the beach are free. You’re also going to find a FlowRider in this area.
There is a beautiful beach on each side of the pier, with plenty of seating. The area to the right as you come down the pier is a bit less crowded, and it’s a good place to snorkel.
If you walk down the beach to the left as you come down the pier, you’ll find Jack’s Shack, and Topher, the dog. He’s kind of famous in his own right. Jack’s Shack is a small restaurant serving burgers, sandwiches, grilled seafood, and chicken. If you go there, be sure to meet Topher the dog. He’s rather famous.
On this visit to Grand Turk we had considered renting a golf cart to see some of the island. However, as we walked down the pier we noticed that a gentleman at the end of the pier on the left was selling island tours for $25 a person. I wasn’t really feeling comfortable taking a golf cart since I’d never driven one and didn’t know the island, so we decided to check out the tour. Check out Island Tram’s website here!
We were instructed to go to the beach and talk to the birthday girl. She was under an umbrella, and easy to find. We spoke to a gentleman there and he put wristbands on us, and took our cash. The tour was a two hour one, and included a stop in Cockburn Town, the only town on Grand Turk. It also included a stop at the lighthouse.
Long walk to the tram
What they don’t tell you when you book your tour, is that you cannot get on the shuttle inside the Cruise Port grounds. That is reserved for Carnival Excursion guests only. So, we had to walk at least half a mile until we got outside the gate. And it was very confusing because we were given very vague directions. A driver of a Carnival Excursions saw the group trying to figure out where to go, and he pointed the way, after telling us that it was our fault for not booking with Carnival. Keep the distance you have to walk in mind before you book.
Once we finally got to the tram, we managed to get a seat. The tram is kind of like the ones you see at amusement park, with two separate sections. It seats 4 across, although it’s a bit of a tight fit. It is open air and not air conditioned. The driver, Tracey, was giving out small bottles of water, but somehow kept managing to miss us. He’d go down one side of the tram and up the other, and we were holding up our hands. But we got no water. So, bring something to drink, just in case. It was pretty hot and humid out there.
And the tour begins…with donkeys…and goats
Once we got going, it was much more comfortable. There was a nice breeze produced by the open air tram, and Tracey talked about the island as we moved along. The island seemed to still have a lot of hurricane damage, but the most interesting thing to me was that there are wild donkeys, and also horses, standing along the road. Tracey explained that the Spaniards had brought the donkeys over to help in their salt mining trade. But once they stopped salt mining, they left the donkeys (or as he called them…jackasses), to fend for themselves. Seems like they did a really good job. They are everywhere.
The first thing that we saw as we rode the tram was the replica of the Mercury Friendship 7 capsule that John Glenn sailed in. This was near the JAGS McCartney International Airport. The tram stopped for a moment for pictures, and then travelled on. The roads in Grand Turk are very small, and kind of rough. It didn’t seem to have a lot of traffic, but the tram was being passed by cars now and then. The tram also passed golf carts and bicycles once in a while as Tracey narrated facts about the area.
We then went through a neighborhood. One of the houses had a fenced in area totally filled with goats. Tracey told us how the homeowner had bought a nanny and a billy goat, and that this was the result. We saw a brand new baby goat still being cleaned by its mother. A few goats had managed to escape their confines and were roaming the neighborhood. So cute! Maybe not to the neighbors though.
The first stop that we had was in Cockburn town. Cockburn town is the capital city of Turks and Caicos, but is a very small town, which is named after Sir Francis Cockburn, the governor of the Bahamas in the early 1800’s. It’s a really cute town, with plenty of colorful houses in British Colonial architecture, but it is also run down. The hurricanes have hit it hard. All over the area we also saw power lines down.
We had only 20 minutes to check out the small market at the edge of town. There were a number of very small local stores, with local souvenirs, both handmade and the normal souvenirs that you see everywhere. There was also a small restaurant at the end of the store area, but Tracey said that they’d be slow in getting the food ready so to go there first. He did come back with something to eat, and a few people had bought beers there. You can also buy bottled water in the shops.
I didn’t really find much of anything that I wanted to buy at the market. I’d hoped to find something for my toddler granddaughter, but there wasn’t much for children. I did end up buying a hand painted magnet from one vendor. It would have been nice to help the local economy by buying more, but since Tracey had said he’d leave without us, I wanted to hurry back to the tram. There really wasn’t enough time to shop.
The area of the marketplace had a very nice view of the Caribbean. I took some pictures there before getting back on the tram. Everyone was back on time, and then Tracey told us that he wouldn’t really have left us. He did check to be sure that everyone was there. As it was, the road was one way, and we could have stepped in front of the tram and stopped us. I’m sure he didn’t want to run us over.
Most of the roads in Grand Turk seemed to be one way. Probably a good thing since the streets are so narrow. We next went through an area of the hotels on Grand Turk. It seemed to me that they were all run down, and most seemed to be owned by Canadians. I have no idea of what they looked like on the inside, and they all seemed to be on a beach. Plus, the ship’s all-inclusive beach day is in this area. Couldn’t see much of it.
Lighthouse and donkeys
The Island’s lighthouse was next. It costs $3 to go on the lighthouse grounds and shops, but since we only had a ten minute break, it didn’t seem worth it. I think that there were restrooms in there. That is the only place that I saw restrooms during the two hours. The tram parked in the lighthouse parking lot, which was filled with lots of donkeys.
I got out to take pictures of the lighthouse and ocean. And then I went to meet the donkeys. There was a mama donkey with her 3 day old baby, and also another small colt. The donkeys are not shy, and will come up to you for food. I wished that I’d brought some cereal from the ship. Tracey got a bottle of water and gave mama donkey some. She didn’t seem to want to leave her baby alone to go and get water. I don’t blame her with all the tourists around.
On the road again…and flamingos
And quickly we were on our way again. Tracey asked who wanted to see flamingos? Me, of course! Flamingos are my favorite bird. He said it wasn’t a regular part of the tour, but we had time to stop. They weren’t where they were supposed to be, but he found them near a salt flat and stopped the tram for a quick photo opportunity.
Back to the ship
And then we headed back to the cruise port…well…outside the cruise port gates. We got off the tram, and headed our half mile or so back to the ship. The tour lasted almost exactly two hours, and I did enjoy it. I would do it again, but now I know where to meet them, and that I’ll have to walk a distance. I really feel that they should warn people before they buy their tickets.
So yes, I do recommend this tour. As long as you can walk a good distance to get to the tram, and don’t mind that it’s open air, you’ll enjoy it. I’m not sure if it would be good for those on scooters, but you can get in touch with Island Tram Tours here to ask. I never realized how diverse Grand Turk was before this tour, and it was nice to get to know the island a bit.