Bobsledding Down Jamaica’s Mystic Mountain

by Tim Donovan, Cruise Director, Emerald Princess

Chairlifts carry bobsledders atop Mystic Mountain
Chairlifts carry bobsledders atop Mystic Mountain

As our cruise ship, Emerald Princess, pulled into berth 007 in Ocho Rios, the ocean breezes gave way to waves of heat. By 8 a.m. the temperature was a searing 90 degrees and the humidity made it feel even stickier. So, it’s hot, sunny and I’m going … bobsledding??

Maybe our berth number, 007, had put me in the mood for an adventure worthy of James Bond.  And here in Jamaica, I had my pick — famous Dunn’s River Falls, a terraced waterfall that you can climb like steps; or the three-mile-long Martha Brae where I could lazily float down this picturesque river on a bamboo raft. But most intriguing to me was Mystic Mountain, a lush tropical paradise with its own hidden secrets, the most unusual of which was its bobsledding track.

By mid-morning, I found myself at the foot of the rain forest wondering how we would get up the mountain. The journey, it turned out, was effortless, with a chairlift as our chariot. Perched comfortably on the Sky Explorer lift, we rose up over the canopy of the forest to the summit, our legs dangling over tropical foliage, the air growing cooler as we ascended.

Some 20 minutes later a member of the Jamaican tour staff met us at the peak. “Yeah Mon, welcome to Mystic Mountain where every’ ting is cool.”

At the top of a chairlift, one might expect a snow-capped mountain, yet the reggae beats I was hearing from a local band, accompanied by the island dialect, which was itself a kind of music, and the local arts and crafts on display – all said tropical paradise. That plus the temperature which, even at the top of the mountain, was more suited to flip-flops than ear muffs.

Making our way to the bobsled area, we were met by the tour operator who gave us instructions on how to work the sled. Push the levers forward to release the brake. Going too fast? Just pull the levers towards you, and the brakes engage. So simple, even I could do it!

I lowered myself into a slick-looking bobsled, jet black with the Jamaican flag stripes down the side, and positioned my hand on the brake levers to my left and right. Could I really do this? Would I crash spectacularly like the Jamaican bobsledding team did so famously at the 1988 Olympics?   

With no snow in Jamaica, our sled ran quite securely on a wooden track with metal rails. The steering I would have done on a cold course would be handled by the track. It was for me to determine how fast I wanted to go.  Since the sleds go out at timed intervals, the chances of a collision are extremely slim. Still, as I sat anticipating the downhill run, adrenalin pumped through my body. The operator closed the canopy over my head and pushed me into position. I was next!

In a single motion he released the brake and I was off!  It was a slow start as I used the hand brakes to keep my speed in check as I came to the first turn, but I let the sled gain momentum as I hit the decline. The exhilaration on the ride down made me laugh out loud – at least during the moments when I wasn’t outright screaming. Three minutes of pure speed. The quickest tour of a Jamaican rainforest you could ever experience.

Reaching the bottom, I couldn’t help but feel the letdown. I was disappointed for it to be over, but I was thrilled to find another leg of the journey remained. The sled, in fact, returned to the top of the mountain hooked onto a device that resembled a roller coaster, and riders were able to stay on board for the uphill trip.   

I rode along the tracks to the hook-up point, and then enjoyed eight more minutes of fun, climbing effortlessly up the mountain, through the rainforest. This was my chance to actually catch all the scenery I had missed on my way down. Ah, paradise!

Though I would’ve loved to take another run down the mountain in my mean machine, I was happy to settle for the Sky Explorer, which carried me gracefully back down the hill. I may not be James Bond, but I’d had an adventure to make an international spy envious – and with that final relaxing descent I could return to our cruise ship, ready for my next mission.