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People mainly travel to Grand Turk to swim, snorkel, dive, and do nothing but soak up the sun. But now that the cruise ships have arrived, local tour operators are offering a mind-numbing assortment of new activities and tours, including horseback-riding trips, jeep safaris, kayaking trips, and dune-buggy tours.

It's a pleasant bike ride to the Northwest Point to see the cast-iron Grand Turk Lighthouse, which was brought in pieces from the United Kingdom, where it had been constructed in 1852. Its old lens is on display in the Turks & Caicos National Museum.

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.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.