There are times when it is more convenient, and possibly more prudent, to see the sights of a cruise port via tours. Driving in ports like Piraeus or Istanbul can be intimidating for even the most adventurous drivers. How about driving on your own in Montego Bay Jamaica? Anybody think that’s a great idea? There’s no reason to rent a car in ports with good public transportation or where the main sights and activities are accessible on foot from the port. But there are a handful of ports where you might really want to go beyond what the tour and taxi drivers want you to see, where it would be safe to do so, and where you can explore at your leisure.
Car rental basics
• Reserve in advance when possible.
• Always use a credit card that includes foreign rental insurance, but know that in some places, they will still make you pay for primary coverage.
• Do your homework; knowing what you hope to see while you have the car and what type of vehicle will get you there is key. Is four-wheel drive needed? Is there parking at your intended destination?
• Take a folded soft-sided cooler with you so that you can stop for snacks.
• If pre-purchase of fuel is an option, take it. Your time in port is limited; the last thing you want is to have to find a gas station near the rental office to refuel.
• Make sure you get a map. If there is any doubt, print computer maps before you leave home.
• Watch your time carefully. You don’t want to be left standing on the shore as your ship sails away because you didn’t allow enough time to return your rental.
Here are examples of ports where rentals are an easy and fun way to enhance your experience.
Renting a car on Aruba is made easy by the fact that there are rental agencies located at the cruise terminal. You can reserve in advance, then walk off the ship and start your adventure. Having your own car makes it possible to drive to secluded beaches beyond the crowded hotel area. Try Santo Largo Beach for a true Aruban escape. Rates run in the $35-40 per day range. Try Speed Car in the cruise terminal.
You can arrange for the rental company to pick you up at the pier and take you to a rental office. Bonaire is perfect for driving a rental. Traffic is light and a car gives you the opportunity to see a large portion of the island a little easier than via the golf carts rented at the pier. A car works really well if you plan to snorkel or shore dive. You can rent gear and tanks at the Dive Friends Bonaire location near the pier, then head out to find your own perfect dive spot. Rates run in the $35 range, some trucks are set up for diving. Try AB Car Rental.
A day on Grand Bahama Island can be greatly enhanced with your own car to explore from. Drive to Gold Rock Beach or Lucayan National Park with a picnic you can pack from markets in Lucaya. The driving itself is an adventure worth re-telling — remember it’s on the left side of the road. Rates run in the $75 range. Try Island Jeep Rentals.
If snorkeling or shore diving is your thing, having a car at your disposal on Grand Cayman gets you away from the crowds and into the water without a boat. Use the information at ShoreDiving.com to help you locate great options. If beaches are your goal, there are choices far quieter than the famed Seven Mile Beach. Packing a picnic and driving to Smith Barcadere or Starfish Point will give you a whole new impression of the island. You can get a Jeep for as low as $69.95 per day. Try Cayman Auto Rentals.
Obviously, the islands are too big to see all of any one while on a cruise ship stopover, but renting a car might get you a better overview of the sights, or at least allow you to escape the usual tourist hangouts. The best example is on the Big Island. If your ship docks in Kona, rent a car and drive down the coast a bit, sampling public beaches, coffee plantations, and unique shopping and food along the way. It’s a great way to see the island. Thrifty may be the best choice here. Rates start at $75 per day.
There are a few stops on a cruise through the Greek Islands where having a car gets you to the good stuff easier than on a tour. It’s not recommended on Santorini, but Crete would be worth looking into. The best choice might be on Lemnos. In the Port of Myrina, Holiday Car Rental is near the docks. Stop in one of the nearby shops for cheese, bread, & wine before you pick up the car. Driving on the tiny roads in town is crazy, so head south on the coast road where you will find secluded beaches and quaint shops. Holiday Car Rentals has options starting at $75.
We saved the best for last. A rental on Cozumel allows you to escape the tourist attractions in favor of the secluded beaches and scenery on the wild east side of the island. Or maybe you want to do both. Take a scenic drive, enjoy your own private beach break, then head back to the fun at Chankanaab Beach Park, with its abundance of facilities, before returning the car. Alamo has cars for under $20 per day and Jeeps under $50.