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Grand Turk is a very popular port for cruise ships making 7-day cruises to the Eastern Caribbean. In 2015, Grand Turk is slated to host around 802,000 passengers sailing on 302 ships.
 
Grand Turk is a small island in the British Overseas Territory of Turks and Caicos. Only 7 miles long, and maybe a mile at its widest, the island is home to Cockburn Town, the capital of the Territory. There are only around 4,500 people who live here, so when a large cruise ship arrives, the population on the island can double. Today's visitors come to Grand Turk for the sun, the beach and the diving reefs.
 
The mainstays of the economy of Turks and Caicos Islands are government, financial services and tourism. The big boost to Grand Turk came when Carnival Cruise Lines, working with local partners, opened the Grand Turk Cruise Center in 2006; this marked the beginning of large scale cruise tourism to the Turks and Caicos. The Cruise Center is adjacent to the 1,000 foot long pier, which was created by dredging the coral reef, allowing large cruise liners to dock.
 
Grand Turk has a tropical marine climate, with year-round daytime temperatures ranging from the low to high 80s F. The dry season begins in December and lasts through April, while the rainy season commences in May and extends through November, with the heaviest rains taking place in September and October.
In many Caribbean ports, active excursions such as zip-lining, kayaking and hiking have replaced lazy days on the beach and the gridlock in shopping and sightseeing areas. But even though it's the capital of the island chain Turks and Caicos, Grand Turk maintains a slower pace of life.
 
Though Grand Turk is part of Eastern Caribbean itineraries, it is interesting to note that Turks and Caicos is not a part of the Caribbean at all. Each island is surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic Ocean, and though it's only about 30 miles south of the Bahamas, it's not a part of that chain of islands, either.
 
Shore excursions on Grand Turk run the gamut from horseback riding to fly fishing -- and one of the biggest draws is diving, with the islands -- technically in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean -- lying along one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. But traffic is sparse, and with a population of about 5,000, most people know one another's names. There are no fast food restaurants or chain hotels. You may even see a horse or donkey, once a means of transportation during the days of Grand Turk's salt industry, roaming along Governor's Beach or through the narrow alleys in historic Cockburn Town.
 
Though only smaller-ship and luxury cruise lines such as Crystal and Silversea once called at Grand Turk, Carnival Corporation has committed time -- and money -- to positioning the port as a mainstream cruise destination. Carnival Corp.'s cruise terminal is a destination in its own right, with retail shops, a recreation area on the beach and a huge pool. The pier can accommodate two mega-ships, theoretically from any of the many cruise lines under Carnival Corp.'s umbrella, including Princess, Carnival and Holland America. The company is also developing a new downtown welcome center.
 
In 1962, long before cruise lines were interested in this little island, John Glenn -- the first American to orbit Earth -- splashed down just a mile or two off the coast of Grand Turk and spent his first couple of days there after his historic space flight. Some reports quote Glenn as saying it "must be paradise" when he spotted the 40 coral islands from space. Whether viewing it from space or sea, we have to agree. In 2012, Grand Turk celebrated the 50th anniversary of the splashdown with new murals, monuments and additions to Splashdown Grand Turk, a 3,500-square-foot attraction explaining the space program and Friendship 7 mission, located at the cruise center. This exhibit is free and open to the public.
 
Where You are Docked
Your ship will dock at the Grand Turk Cruise Center pier. It's a short and easy walk from your ship into the Cruise Center. If you're taking an excursion by bus or van, your vehicle will pick you up at the parking lot just in front of the Cruise Center. Likewise, if you're taking an excursion by boat, you'll board it at the Cruise Center.
 
A number of people have said that Grand Turk today is what many of the Caribbean islands were like 30 years ago. It's a small island that doesn't have much built up tourism infrastructure. In fact, over 90% of the tourists that come to Grand Turk come by cruise ship.
The Day the Cruise Ships Came to Town
 
Grand Turk is the kind of place that lingers with you long after you've left. Maybe that's why some people were concerned that the new kids in town -- the Carnival Cruise Line ships that started arriving at the Grand Turk Cruise Center in February 2006 -- would rend the very fabric that makes this place unique. In a 40-year land-lease deal with the TCI government, the cruise line has built a $42-million "tourism village" designed to look like a Bermudian salt-rakers' settlement from the early 19th century. It's a colorful representation of the local architecture, but its theme-park underpinnings can't help but peek through. Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, for example, is here, bigger, bolder, and brassier than any other Margaritaville on earth, straddled by a lagoon pool with swim-up bars and slides. And silliness reigns when cruise passengers driving multicolored dune buggies parade through the streets of Grand Turk.
 
Carnival did many wonderful things for Grand Turk in preparation for its opening. It paved the potholed Duke Street area and sandblasted the dirt off the old lighthouse. It brought construction jobs and spiffier taxis to the islands, and locally owned shops opened up in the cruise center. It's bringing business to local tour operators, and a nice touch is the horse-drawn carriages that clip-clop through town. On the downside, it cut a hole (said to be an environmentally sensitive one but a hole nonetheless) in the coral reef to build a passage to allow 2,000- to 3,000-passenger ships to dock here.
 
The idea that a projected half-million visitors would descend on little Grand Turk annually has been a cause for concern, particularly among the diving community -- the fear being that the presence of cruise ships would foment a slick, über-commercial tourism environment that could undermine the quirky, small-town charm and drive away former visitors. Only time will tell, but for the most part the cruise center at Grand Turk has been an unqualified success as well as a source of economic relief for a battered and beleaguered island, still in recovery from a brutal Category 5 hurricane and the global recession. Nearly 90% of the shops in the center are open, locals have opened restaurants and food stands nearby, and tour operators have jumped on the bandwagon with a range of shore excursions. In March 2008 Grand Turk won Porthole Cruise Magazine's award for "The Most Unspoiled Caribbean Destination." And the cruise center is set far enough away from the center of Cockburn Town that the lovely, laid-back rhythms of Grand Turk continue apace.
 
Things To See and Do
Front Street – Lined with blooming trees and attractive colonial buildings, Front Street leads into “downtown” Cockburn Town. Take a two-minute taxi from port to where the street begins, and meander down to the brightly colored government buildings, the small square where old cannons still face out to sea, and further into the heart of downtown.
 
Governor’s Beach – Situated directly in front of Waterloo, the residence of the British governor appointed to the territory, this calm stretch of beach is the perfect alternative to White Sands Beach, which attracts most of the cruise passengers due to its close proximity to the dock and wide array of water sports. A five-minute taxi ride from the ship, Governor’s Beach is shaded by towering Casuarina trees and is often serenaded by local musicians playing traditional island melodies for tips. Though more secluded than White Sands, this beach still gets crowded by 11 am, so go early.
 
For couples: Pillory Beach – With clear turquoise waters, Pillory Beach is the prettiest on the island. Looking to do something special with your sweetheart? Have the gourmet restaurant at the Bohio Dive Resort (located just offshore) fill up a basket of goodies, and charter one of its boats to a nearby key for a private picnic.
 
For families: Turks & Caicos National Museum – Kids will get a kick out of the artifacts — including guns and crossbows — on display in this historic building, circa 1850. Equally impressive are the pre-Columbian artifacts of the indigenous Lucayan people, including a ceremonial chair that’s more than 1,000 years old
 
Cockburn Town
Historic 18th-and 19th-century Bermudian architecture lines the long, narrow streets of Cockburn Town, the administrative capital of 

Turks & Caicos National Museum
The museum, located in one of the oldest stone buildings on the islands, chronicles Grand Turk's history from 700 A.D. to modern times and features artifacts from the Molasses Reef wreck.

Grand Turk Lighthouse
More than 150 years ago, this lighthouse was brought from the U.K. to help halt shipwrecks on Grand Turk's reefs. Today, it's a prized historic site, protected by the National Trust.

Gibb's Cay
The unspoiled, uninhabited island of Gibb's Cay is located about a mile from Grand Turk. A luxurious white sand beach and fascinating snorkeling make this a favorite among visitors.

Governor's Beach
Located in a protected area within the Columbus Landfall National Park, Governor's Beach is a crescent of soft sand and a calm turquoise ocean that fronts the official British Governor's residence.

Snorkeling & Diving
The crystal-clear waters and underwater visibility are trademarks of Grand Turk.

Outdoor Adventure
Grand Turk offers horseback riding, biking, dune buggies, kayaking - and even a Flowrider® near the pier.

Grand Quay Salt Company
Tour Grand Turk's "Salt House," a museum that focuses on the island's salt and slave trade heritage. You can even purchase a variety of culinary salt blends on site!
 
Eating Out
Breakfast: Ari’s Kitchen on Wheels – Across the street from Her Majesty’s Prison, the out-of-commission jailhouse built in the 1830s, Ari’s Kitchen on Wheels is a newly opened food truck serving up island food that’s a blend of Dominican and local styles. Stop by for a hearty helping of fried plantains and corned beef or codfish grits — all for a mere $8. Just be prepared to wait: Tostones are cut and fried in front of you, and the cooks take their time talking to locals who stop by to gossip.
 
Lunch: Konky Joe’s – Owned and operated by a local couple, Konky Joe’s is only open when a cruise ship is in port. Famous for its light and refreshing conch salad, this eatery uses fresh ingredients: raw conch, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, vinegar, and just-squeezed lime juice.
 
Dinner: Barbie’s – Barbie’s is located in a small rundown building in the “downtown” part of Cockburn Town, but don’t let the exterior scare you away. Hang with the locals, kick back a cold Grand Turk Beer ($3), and make a free call to the U.S. or Canada while you wait — and we do mean wait — for your food. Try the platter of conch fritters (six for just $2) or the whole fried snapper with homemade hot sauce.
 
Shopping
Don’t go to Grand Turk if you’re looking for a bustling shopping district or cutting-edge cuisine. Despite housing the territory’s capital (the Turks and Caicos islands are a British Overseas Territory), this beach-lined isle feels like a small town, where locals know each other by name. Only 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, Grand Turk, inhabited by 4,500 people and hundreds of wild horses and donkeys, has a lot more to offer than the coral reefs it’s famous for.
 
Shopping for Self-Catering -- Many resorts and rented villas have full kitchens for self-catering. You can get all your basic provisions (food, drinks, snacks, toiletries, even fishing gear) at Cee's Superstore (Pond Rd.; tel. 649/946-2995). Dot's Food Fair (Hospital Rd.; tel. 649/946-2324), located in the old town center, also offers a grocery/basic provisions store as well as a boutique with toiletries, books, clothes, you name it. Buy fresh fish straight off the dock on Front Street when fishermen come in at the end of the day. Liquor, beer, and wine can be bought at any grocery or convenience store (except on Sun) or at Dot's Liquors (yes, the very same Dot of Dot's Food Fair), across from the Red Salina on Pond Street.


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