Caribbean Cruise Guide
Cruising is one of the most popular ways to visit the Caribbean Islands. Cruise visits to the islands are quickly approaching 30 million each year, and cruise lines are adding new destinations to their itineraries all the time.
A big part of planning a cruise vacation to the Caribbean is deciding where you want to go. Pick a mega-ship, and you’ll generally be limited to the big ports that can accommodate the large vessels operated by cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line. Smaller ships offer more flexibility in terms of destinations, so if you want a taste of the exotic, then check out cruise lines like Island Windjammers and Windstar Cruises.
* = Favorite Cruise Lines
Caribbean Destinations for Each Cruise Line
*Costa Cruises: Antilles, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Turks & Caicos
*Cunard Line: Barbados, St. Lucia, Grand Cayman, Bermuda, Bonaire, Aruba, Guatemala, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, Turks &Caicos, St. Maarten, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, and Curacao
*Holland America Line: Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, Bahamas, Curacao, Aruba, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, St. Barts, Martinique, Barbados, Grenada, Bonaire, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Dominica, and Antigua
Island Windjammers: Grenada, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines
*MSC Cruises: Bahamas, Aruba, Antigua, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Martinique, and Guadeloupe
*Norwegian Cruise Line: St. Maarten, U.S. Virgin Islands, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Roatan, Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, and Belize
*Oceania Cruises: Dominica, St. Lucia, British Virgin Islands, and St. Barts
*Princess Cruise Lines: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, Cozumel, Curaçao, Dominica, Grand Cayman, Turks & Caicos, Grenada, Roatan, Martinique, Jamaica, Nassau, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, and British Virgin Islands
*Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, St. Marteen, St. Barts, St. Lucia, Turks & Caicos, and U.S. Virgin Islands
*Seabourn Cruise Line: St. Kitts, Barbados, Grenadines, Tobago, Nevis, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Bahamas, Martinique, Grand Cayman, Turks & Caicos, St. Barts, Guadeloupe, British Virgin Islands, Bonaire, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, St. Maarten, Aruba, Bahamas, St. Martin, Dominica, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Antigua, and Curacao
SeaDream Yacht Club: British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, and St. Maarten
Windstar Cruises: St. Kitts, St. Barts, British Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Maarten, and Barbados
Choosing a Caribbean Cruise Itinerary
Eastern Caribbean or Western Caribbean – Which Is Best for You?
Caribbean cruises are the most popular cruise destination for cruise travelers. Choosing where to sail – the eastern or western Caribbean – is one of the first decisions made when planning a cruise vacation. Most cruise travelers select a 7-day Caribbean cruise for their first experience at sea. Seven days gives cruise travelers the opportunity to see more places and become adjusted to life on a cruise ship. Shorter 3- or 4- day cruises cost more per day, and often leave travelers not knowing for sure if a cruise vacation is a good travel option for them. When you talk to a travel advisor, search the Internet, or read cruise brochures on your own, the most common itineraries offered are Eastern Caribbean and Western Caribbean. Which is better? The answer is either! It all depends on what your interests are, so in addition to selecting the right ship, you need to research the ports of call before you book your cruise vacation. Both itineraries will provide cruisers with opportunities to sail, swim, snorkel, and shop. But there are differences. Let’s take a quick look at the two most popular Caribbean cruise itineraries.
Eastern Caribbean Cruises
Most cruise ships sailing to the eastern Caribbean on 7-day itineraries embark from ports in Florida like Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Miami, or Tampa, but ships also sail to the region from Charleston, SC, and the New York City area. Ships sailing to the eastern Caribbean often stopover in the Bahamas at either Nassau or one of the cruise line’s private islands in the archipelago before heading further south to the Eastern Caribbean. These private islands like Holland America Line’s Half Moon Cay offer guests the opportunity to enjoy all sorts of land and water sports in a pristine setting. Ports of call on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary often include St. Thomas, St. John (USVI), Puerto Rico, and perhaps St. Maarten/St. Martin. If you want less sailing (more time in ports ashore) and more shopping and opportunities to go to fantastic beaches, then an Eastern Caribbean itinerary might be more appealing to you. The islands are relatively close together, smaller, and shore excursions tend to be more geared to beach or water activities. Typical shore activities might include snorkeling, sunning on an amazing beach, or even racing in a sailboat. St. John in the US Virgin Islands has terrific snorkeling, as do the other islands (both British and USA) in the group. One of the most memorable shore excursions in the eastern Caribbean is racing in an America’s Cup yacht in St. Maarten.
Western Caribbean Cruises
Cruise ships sailing to the western Caribbean usually embark from Florida, New Orleans, or Texas. Ports of call on a Western Caribbean itinerary often include Cozumel or Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Key West, FL; the Dominican Republic; Jamaica; Belize; Costa Rica; or Roatan. If you look at a Caribbean map, you will see that since the ports of call are further apart, more time at sea is usually involved on a western Caribbean cruise. So, you may have more time on the cruise ship and less time in port or on the beach. The ports of call in the western Caribbean are sometimes on the mainland (Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica) or at larger islands (Jamaica, Dominican Republic). Therefore, the shore excursion options are more varied since the islands and mainland are more diverse. You can explore ancient Mayan ruins, hike the rain forests, or go snorkeling or SCUBA diving in some unforgettable locations. Of course, you’ll still find opportunities for shopping or just sitting on a spectacular beach watching the azure blue Caribbean. And most people never forget visiting Stingray City on Grand Cayman Island. If you are now thoroughly confused, that’s okay! The Caribbean Sea is a cruise lover’s heaven–blue seas, sunny beaches, and interesting ports of call filled with history and fascinating cultures. You will get all of this whichever direction you cruise. East and West are both great–and then there’s the Southern Caribbean.
Southern Caribbean Cruises
Cruise lines like to port in the ABC islands — run year-round with the most popular months being December through April. Summer sailings run a slight risk of being affected by hurricanes but offer better deals. Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao are the ABC Islands. Most mainstream cruise lines including Princess, Disney, and Norwegian Cruise Line all feature Southern Caribbean itineraries. Luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas also frequent the region. Many Southern Caribbean ports — like Bonaire — are less commercialized than Eastern and Western Caribbean ports — tour significant historic sites like Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua and Willemstad in Aruba, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But these ports still offer the opportunity for glorious beach days, spectacular snorkeling and diving, shopping at local craft markets and engaging in water sports. Traveling to the Southern Caribbean, if you’re a U.S. citizen and your cruise starts and ends in the same U.S. port, a passport is not formally required. Some islands, depending on the itinerary, might require a passport so it’s always prudent to bring one just in case. You should pack comfortable, casual, lightweight clothing, flip-flops, sunglasses, and sunscreen are essential in the Southern Caribbean.
TravelKatz would love to help you plan your next Caribbean Cruise. Because we are stationed in Florida, we have FIVE ports of departure from wqhich to choose. There just has to be one that you can drive/fly to that will get you on board any number of Itinaries.