The Caribbean's newest port of call, Amber Cove raises the bar for cruise line private islands. The Carnival Corp.-owned village, which welcomes lines including Carnival, Princess and Holland America, offers a combination of fun, history and culture on the Dominican Republic's northern coast. (Most cruise ships visit the south.) Cruisers can enjoy everything from ziplining and kayaking to shopping and swim-up bars. They also can leave the private area and venture to nearby Puerto Plata for great shopping, authentic Dominican dining and a closer look at the first European settlement in the Americas. Look out for familiar scenes from the first Jurassic Park movie, part of which was filmed in Puerto Plata. (The fossilized amber can be found at the city's Amber Museum.)
If your cruise includes a stop at Amber Cove or you're simply curious about the new destination, here are 10 cool things about Amber Cove to put you in vacation mode. (Warning: We're not responsible for spontaneously booked cruises.)
--By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief; Updated by Gina Kramer, Associate Editor
Photos: Cruise Critic
Amber Cove is only open to ships under the Carnival Corp., umbrella: Carnival, Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Costa, P&O Cruises and Fathom, among others. The location is also a hidden gem, as Puerto Plata hadn't been a regular cruise port for nearly 30 years before Carnival decided to develop Amber Cove port from scratch. Only two ships can dock at Amber Cove at the same time, and because most spend their time on the Caribbean coast -- in Santo Domingo and La Romana -- you'll notice much smaller crowds than at other ports on your itinerary.
The buildings are freshly painted, and the hammocks show little wear. Everything about Amber Cove is new, even the shore excursions. Cruisers can embark on an off-roading adventure or feel like millionaires for a day on a luxury catamaran and snorkeling tour -- all in an exciting location.
You're only a short ride to the region's best beaches.
Amber Cove does not have a beach, but the port is surrounded by some of the Caribbean's best beaches. Take a day trip to Cayo Arena, a tiny island accessible only by boat, or visit nearby Playa Dorada on your own. Carnival's shore excursion program also offers day passes to a number of beaches, most of which are connected to all-inclusive resorts.
There's a pool with a swim-up bar and waterslide.
Amber Cove makes up for its lack of an on-site beach with a fabulous resort-style pool. The splash-worthy oasis comes with a swim-up bar and waterslide, so both adults and kids can stay entertained. There are also plenty of lounge chairs to prevent the chair-hogging crises that loom on many cruise ship decks. Pool floats can be rented for $10 each.
It's full of adventure.
You don't have to leave Amber Cove to get your fair share of adventure. The port offers ziplining, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and aqua-boat cycling. Although the prices are a bit higher than what you might find at home (single-person kayaks are $34 for one hour, for example), they're still cheaper than what you'd pay for a shore excursion. Willing to venture off on your own? El Choco National Park's hiking trails and caves are sure to unleash your inner Indiana Jones.
You can shop for more authentic souvenirs.
Shoppers rejoice: Amber Cove is full of neat little stores and markets that steer clear of the "same-old, same-old" chain stores typically seen in other Caribbean ports. Products include local cigars, coffee and handmade trinkets. If you're looking for something one-of-a-kind, go for the amber. The gorgeous gemstone, which is formed when tree sap turns to resin, is commonly used in jewelry because of its varying hues of orange-yellow-red. Dominican amber is revered for its transparency, and many pieces actually have fossilized insects inside. Use the port's shuttle system to navigate the shops and property. Note: Amber Cove also has a transportation hub of buses and preauthorized taxis to take passengers to shore excursions, Puerto Plata and other area attractions.
Getting out on the town is fun and easy.
Amber Cove is a stone's throw from Puerto Plata, whose main strip, Malecon, is lined with myriad restaurants, bars and boutiques. Other nearby attractions include the Brugal Rum visitors center and Fort San Felipe. The factory is a must for rum lovers. If you thought Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados and Jamaica had the lock on Caribbean rum, think again: The award-winning Brugal has been producing rum in Puerto Plata since 1888. History buffs won't want to miss Fort San Felipe. The fort, which was originally built to ward off pirates, is the last standing structure of Puerto Plata's early Colonial days.
You can rent a private cabana.
If you're staying put, rent one of the private villas that are perched out on the water, built into the hillside or alongside the pool. They're equipped with air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, comfy furnishings, private decks and whirlpools. Butlers also make the rounds to deliver food and drinks. Ocean cabanas are priced at $275 for the day, while the others each cost $250. For the ultimate splurge, a grand cabana over the water includes 1,000 square feet, a full living room set and two watersport rentals of your choice for $1,495.
You can swim with dolphins … and sharks!
Ocean World, with its sea lions, dolphins, sharks, birds and more, is a perfect day trip (roughly 10 minutes from port), especially for families. You can swim with dolphins (and learn to train them) and have encounters with sharks, sea lions and stingrays. You can also snorkel in Ocean World's Tropical Reef Aquarium, feed exotic birds and meet tigers. There are eateries (and bars) on-site as well, and the property sits right on the Atlantic, so the views are gorgeous.
Wi-Fi is a bargain.
Whether you want to send a quick text message or upload a photo of yourself lounging in a hammock to Facebook, you can do so by purchasing Amber Cove's Wi-Fi. The $8 per day fee is a bargain for those who wish to stay connected. Ports generally don't offer Wi-Fi outside their terminals; instead, you have to seek out local cafes or public areas if you want Internet.
We wish there were a magic elixir you could whip up to get a free or low-cost cabin upgrade on a cruise ship. We'd be chugging it all the time. But sorry -- no can do. Before you sit by the phone, waiting for the upgrade fairy to call, there are a few basic things to know about cruise ship cabin