Cruise Wisdom Web Extra: Which Caribbean Itinerary is Right for You?

Eastern, Western, or Southern?

Choosing the Caribbean itinerary that’s best for you.

All three of these itineraries are a must-do for any avid cruiser. It’s selecting which one to try first that’s a matter of personal preference.

Do you want to visit ports that offer historical sightseeing options with a foreign flavor? Do you want to snorkel or dive on world-famous dive sites or zip line through a rainforest? Maybe you just want to soak up the sun on an exotic beach or maybe the fashionista in you wants to shop until you drop! While most Caribbean ports offer tours, shopping, and beach adventures, certain ports are better than others for indulging your individual interests.

Just remember that whichever one you choose, you still have two more to check off your bucket list!

Eastern Caribbean Western Caribbean Southern Caribbean


Beach babies will probably be best-served by the


Bahamian ports on the eastern itinerary include Nassau, the home of the Atlantis resort and casino as well as several out islands that are used as “private” islands by the cruise lines. Princess Cays is affiliated with Princess Cruises. Great Stirrup Cay provides Norwegian Cruise Line passengers with a great beach day with an ocean view barbecue. Half Moon Cay offers cruise guests on Holland America Line ships the same kind of relaxed outing.

St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is noted for its duty-free shopping. Since it is a U.S. port, American citizens can bring back $1,600 worth of duty-free merchandise. They can also bring back 4 liters of tax-free liquor, 5 liters if one of those products is made in the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is home to some spectacular beaches, including Magens Bay, considered to be one of the best beaches in the world. Views from the mountains overlooking Charlotte Amalie harbor provide camera buffs with great cruise ship photos.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, is another U.S. port. The city offers two particularly interesting historical sites: San Cristobal, a Spanish fort that was finished in 1763, and El Morro Castle, a 16th-century citadel built by Spaniards to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay. Both forts are easily accessible from the cruise ship terminal. El Yunque rainforest is another popular attraction for cruise ship passengers. They can enjoy hiking through the forest and a refreshing swim in the waterfalls as well. Several hotels in San Juan feature casinos if you care to enjoy a game of chance.

Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands. Tortola has powdery white-sand beaches and lush green mountains. The main attraction would be the beaches and water sports. Fishing, sailing, diving, and snorkeling are all good choices.

St. Maarten is a dual-nation island. Cruise ships dock on the Dutch side of the island, St. Maarten. The other side, Saint-Martin, is French. St. Maarten has excellent shopping as well as casinos. The water is an azure blue and both sides of the island have fabulous beaches. Some beaches on the French side are clothing-optional. Unsuspecting cruise ship passengers may be surprised to see topless or nude bathers on the beach.

Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos features a great facility built specifically for cruise passengers just a short walk down the pier. An enormous beach with free lounge chairs is right there in front of Margaritaville. Jimmy Buffet’s place has an enormous free-shaped pool that snakes through the property with a swim-up bar and free chairs as well. A shopping market is also located at this cruise ship village. Alternative shore excursions are available, but this beach day can be yours free of charge.


Eastern Caribbean Western Caribbean Southern Caribbean


 If you love experiencing history, choose the


Key West, Florida, is often the first port of call on this itinerary. It is the southernmost point in the United States. Key West is a laid-back resort town with many bars and restaurants. Tourist sites include author Ernest Hemingway’s house and a small aquarium. Conch Train tours are an inexpensive way to see the city without lots of walking.

Falmouth, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay are all Jamaican ports. The beach and water sports are an option in all three ports and they all offer almost the same excursions since they are not that far away from each other. River rafting on the Martha Brae River is a relaxing way to spend your day. History buffs can take a tour of Rose Hall museum, a historic Georgian-style mansion and former sugar plantation that was worked by African slaves. Dunn’s River Falls is an amazing attraction. Tourists can hike up the falls with the crisp water cascading over them or just view it from the sidelines. Another popular attraction is Mystic Mountain. Ride a chair lift to the top of the mountain. After reaching the summit you can visit the Jamaican Olympic bobsled exhibit, take a swim in the infinity pool with a fabulous view of the harbor below, and then take a thrilling ride down the mountain in your own bobsled. After your sled is towed back to the top you can either zip-line back down the mountain or descend on the chair lift.

Labadee is a port located on the northern coast of Haiti and is Royal Caribbean International’s private island for its passengers to enjoy a sun-filled beach day with water activities and a barbecue.

Belize is the second-smallest country in Central America and is noted for its ecotourism. It has a 185-mile barrier reef that makes it a world-class scuba diving and snorkeling destination. Cave tubing is also a popular adventure at this port of call. Sightseers can travel to the mainland and visit the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha.

Grand Cayman is a duty-free shopping mecca. Jewelry, camera equipment, clothing, electronics, and rum cakes are some of the many items that will tempt shopping tourists in downtown George Town. Grand Cayman is another prime site for scuba diving and snorkeling. Seven Mile Beach is a pristine stretch of powdery white sand that attracts throngs of cruise passengers. The clear aqua waters make this beach especially inviting to bathers. Another favorite shore excursion in Grand Cayman is a boating day trip to Stingray City. The opportunity to stand in shallow waters on a sandbar and interact with these beautiful creatures is amazing. Your guide will provide you with chopped squid to feed the rays.

Roatan is the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. Its spectacular coral reefs make it popular with divers and snorkelers alike. The visibility of the clear water is 80 to 120 feet. Roatan is not an extremely developed island. Water sports are the primary draw and many cruise passengers will spend the day at beach resorts built for big ships.

Costa Maya is a man-made village for cruise passengers located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Similar to Grand Turk on the Eastern itinerary, Costa Maya has oceanfront pools, restaurants, bars, shops, and a small beach. Guests can also swim with dolphins at this location. To experience the local area, passengers can venture out of the village to nearby Mahahual, a quaint fishing village.

Progresso, Mexico, is primarily a jumping-off point to visit some of the Yucatan Peninsula’s famous Mayan ruins. The Mayan city of Chichen Itza is two hours away. It has temples, a pyramid, and a sacred ball court. Uxmal and Dzibilchltun are also accessible Mayan sites with noteworthy ruins.

Cozumel, Mexico, has something to offer every visitor. Nice beaches plus good shopping for souvenirs, arts and crafts, silver, and, of course, tequila. Local restaurants feature amazing Mexican fare. The Palancar Reef offers fabulous diving and snorkeling. A ferry ride away is Playa del Carmen providing access to the mainland with tours to the Mayan ruins of Tulum or Chichen Itza as well as several eco-parks that feature water sports and native flora and fauna. Playa del Carmen also has some excellent shopping centers and nice beaches.


Eastern Caribbean Western Caribbean Southern Caribbean


 Adventurers and hikers should select the exotic


Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao comprise what are known as the ABC islands and are all Dutch.

Aruba is a popular resort island known for miles of beautiful beaches with many hotels and timeshare properties. Aruba’s desert climate makes it an ideal habitat for many species of lizards such as brilliant blue lizards with yellow polka dots and many large friendly iguanas that will approach you on the beach, hoping for a handout of fresh fruit. Casinos are popular on the island and their public transportation system is excellent. A bus stop is located across the street from the pier and only costs a few dollars to get to any of Aruba’s beaches. Sightseeing is limited on this island.

Bonaire has great diving and snorkeling, but it doesn’t really have lots of beaches. Most aquatic adventures here begin with a boat or catamaran ride. Bonaire is not a highly developed tourist destination but visitors can enjoy hiking, bird-watching, shopping, or just relaxing in this pretty island nation.

Cruise ships arriving in Curacao dock in the cosmopolitan city of Willemstad. The buildings are all painted in a rainbow of pastel colors. This city has much history and a bus tour will prove to be both informative and enjoyable. You will get to see different historic neighborhoods as well as tour the Curacao liquor factory and visit some of the island’s beaches. A unique floating pedestrian bridge connects the two sides of the city that are separated by a channel of water. Outdoor cafés line the channel and customers can enjoy a meal or drink while watching the incoming and outgoing shipping traffic through the channel.

Antigua is definitely an island for oceanside sun worshipers. The island’s claim to fame is a beach for every day of the year. Three hundred and sixty-five beaches offer a lot of options for swimming and water sports.

For a glimpse into the island’s past, you can head to Betty’s Hope, a restored 17th-century sugar plantation. The estate accurately depicts life on a working plantation in colonial times. Some of the plantation’s machinery is even in working order.

St. Kitts and Nevis are two neighboring islands that originated from volcanoes. They’re both mountainous with lush rain forests and miles of unspoiled beaches. Both islands have a low-key, relaxed vibe and are uncrowded gems in the Caribbean.

Adventurous travelers in St. Kitts can chose to hike up Mount Liamuiga, an extinct volcano with steep, rugged terrain. This excursion is extremely challenging and only for serious hikers. Another option is a hike through the rain forest.

Beaches in St. Kitts have golden sand and it is not unusual for visitors to greeted by monkeys as they soak up the sun. The beaches on the southern coast of nearby Nevis are noted for their black sand.

Martinique is a lush island with lovely beaches as well as a tropical rainforest. It is a French-speaking island that will make you feel like you are in St. Tropez on the French Riviera. Like the Riviera, beaches are topless and some are nude. The harbor city of Fort-de-France is lined with cafés, small shops, and trendy boutiques. The town also has a vibrant outdoor market that sells handicrafts, spices, fruits, and vegetables. This island is extremely picturesque. It is lush and green with rolling hills and peaks. Martinique is one of the few islands that still grows bananas and sugar cane. It is also a food lover’s delight and a great place to enjoy a three-hour lunch of tasty French cuisine.

Although independent, Barbados is an island with a decidedly British flavor. The locals enjoy afternoon tea and drive on the left side of the road. Tourists can enjoy the beaches, go shopping, or tour the Mount Gay rum distillery. Various water excursions like the Barbados Black Pearl Party Cruise are also an option.

Dominica is known as the “Nature Island.” Its national parks are impressive and it is considered to be a hiker’s paradise. Dominica is a mountainous island with a rain forest, sparkling waterfalls, fresh water pools, and natural hot springs that are heated by underwater volcanoes. The island is home to 172 species of birds and seven types of whales live right off the coast. Dominica is not noted for its beaches as most are quite rocky. However, scuba diving and snorkeling are excellent here. Another popular attraction is the Botanical Gardens that are just a short walk from the cruise ship pier.

St. Lucia is a lush green island famous for the two mountains that rise up a half-mile out of the ocean, twin peaks known as the Pitons. They are best viewed by one of the many boat trips that sail past them. Hiking and bike-riding are popular, and, of course, St. Lucia’s beaches and resorts are always a hit, as well as the rain forests and Sulfur Springs, a drive-in volcano.

St. Barts is a French-speaking island that attracts celebrities from around the world. This island seems to embody the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Don’t be surprised to see any number of yachts anchored in the harbor. Like Martinique, it has a very European ambience. St. Barts’ biggest tourist attraction is its beaches. Visitors enjoy participating in all kinds of water sports from jet-skiing to deep-sea fishing.

The islands of St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, Bequia, and Grenada would also be considered part of the Southern Caribbean itinerary, but are not often visited on a 7-day cruise.


— Cindy O’Neil

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