Caribbean Cruise Guide
The Caribbean is an amazing kaleidoscope of islands that has enticed travellers & holidaymakers for years. An explosion of colour, sound and fragrance across 7,000 islands are just some of the many reasons why. From Barbados & the Bahamas across to Curacao & Cuba, it also makes them a perfect destination for a Caribbean Cruise. We hope this Caribbean Cruise Guide will offer you some insights in what to expect.
Blue seas, golden beaches and rainforests of green – these make up the subtle landscapes of the Caribbean. Swim below the waves for an eye-popping mosaic of tropical fish and coral. Feel the sand between your toes at any one of a thousand beaches.
Trek into verdant wilderness and spot the flash of gold from beneath a parrots wing or splashes of red from beautiful Hibiscus. Cruise ship visitors can choose from a variety of adventures. You can relax on a beach, explore new communities or even island hop if the time allows.
Food & Sounds
It’s not just about the Reggae. Although, that rightfully stands at the forefront when people think of the sound of the islands. However, the Island music scene is as varied as it’s landscapes. The joyful Calypso and Steel Pan of Trinidad and Tobago. The hypnotic rhythms of Salsa in Cuba & Puerto Rico. Even the food is colourful. Guava, Mango & Papaya fruits can be seen in the local markets along with the staples of plantain, Boniato and Mamey Sapote. Combined with unique spices and fish caught the same day; that’s Caribbean food.
With so many islands, beaches, cultures & flavours to choose from, how could this not be a cruise vacation paradise? Cruise excursions vary from simply lying on a sun-kissed beach, enjoying a Mojito as the Caribbean water lap softly at the shoreline to taking in the sea air aboard a graceful catamaran skimming across azure waves.
Of course for the adrenaline junkie, there are more active excursions. Gasp as all-terrain vehicles whisk you beneath the jungle canopy or zip line high above the palm trees.
It used to be that private tropical islands were the preserve of the rich and famous. Well a lot of the large cruise lines now have their own and since the 90's they have been heavily investing in land-based private islands to allow their guests to enjoy a beach type break as an extension of their onboard experience.
Whilst you may not have the place to yourself (a lot of your fellow cruise passengers will be joining you) we know from personal experience that they can be a lot of fun and offer a large array of activities other than just lying on a sun-kissed beach or enjoying a cocktail in your private cabana.
Disney Cruise Line – Castaway Cay invites cruisers to enjoy balmy tropical weather and world-class recreation on a Bahamian oasis with signature Disney hospitality. After disembarking on Castaway Cay, you can obtain beach towels and use your convenient Key to the World cards for retail transactions on the island. Everything needed for the perfect beach getaway is here—from lounge chairs and beach umbrellas to tasty food and family-friendly entertainment.
Royal Caribbean – Perfect Day at Coco Cay – This amazing cruise experience combines a beautiful sandy beach with theme park rides, water slides and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as floating high above the island on a helium balloon ride. Of course, if you just want to chill in your own private cabana all day long…you can.
Virgin Cruises – The Beach Club at Bimini. This new exclusive retreat for Virgin Cruise guests will place an emphasis on wellness, kicking mornings off with yoga and meditation to the sounds of the ocean before amplifying the energy later in the day during lively DJ-led pool and flotilla parties. Guests will wind down with nightly beach bonfires and acoustic musical performances
Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Cay – Welcome to Great Stirrup Cay, an idyllic private island paradise exclusive to Norwegian guests. Unwind on white-sand beaches and enjoy the many ways to explore paradise. Snorkel with sea turtles and colourful fish in warm turquoise waters. Peacefully glide along the coastline in a kayak, or soar high into the sky as you zipline across the island. Craft your own delicious taco at the complimentary Abaco Taco, whilst sipping on a refreshing drink. Do it all – or nothing at all – the choice is yours.
Princess Cruises – Princess Cays – This island is situated on more than 40 acres and features over a half-mile of white-sand shoreline, all at the southern tip of the island. The resort boasts outstanding amenities while carefully preserving this natural paradise. Take in the views from the observation tower. Enjoy a complimentary beach barbecue. Sip a cool drink or browse the shops and the local craft market.
MSC Cruises – Ocean Cay – On Ocean Cay, you can enjoy a relaxing massage in a cabana, discover the beauty of the sea and explore the area with dedicated excursions.
Top 10 Cruise Destinations on your Caribbean Cruise
Cruise lines generally opt for a western, eastern or southern Caribbean itinerary although there are some variations to this that might include, Belize, Honduras, Columbia or the Panama Canal.
Florida is the main launch point for most cruises with state of the art cruise terminals in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral & Tampa. However, cruise ships do venture down from as far away as Galveston & New Orleans or even New York in some cases.
Some of the most popular Caribbean destinations are:
This island is one of the Leeward islands. Half of the island is French, the other half Dutch, buts it’s 100% Caribbean. Within walking distance of St-Martin’s dock in Philipsburg are some beautiful beaches lined with shops, restaurants, and bars, as well as a historic district that can be easily explored with only a day in port.
A ferry from the cruise port to the seafront shopping district makes St-Martin very accessible. Locals are exceptionally friendly, and the absence of street and beach peddlers makes the port experience a breath of fresh air.
One of the southerly ABC islands (along with Aruba & Bonaire) Curacoa is lined with pastel-colored stores, bars and restaurants and is great for walking. The Dutch, Spanish, and Caribbean history of the island can be explored by crossing the Queen Emma Bridge and strolling around Punda, the main shopping and tourism district of the island.
Barbados has some of the best beaches found along the Caribbean cruising routes. Barbados excursions are very varied. Whether you’re looking to swim or just sit in the shade of a tropical palm, the beach for you can be found waiting for you here. A Catamaran cruise is a delightful way to see the island too. Add excellent shopping, restaurants, and historical sights all near the cruise terminal in Bridgetown.
Geographically the Bahamas are not in the Caribbean but they are often linked as part of the larger West Indies. It’s very rare that you will find a Caribbean cruise itinerary that does not stop here. The Bahamas are made up of over 700 islands (Only 30 of which are inhabited) but most cruise stops are at Nassau on New Providence island. Excursions from Nassau could be to the excellent Blue Lagoon on Salt Cay or to the impressive Atlantis Resort which dominates the landscape north of Nassau.
White-sand beaches and stylish shopping. The long stretches of exceptionally beautiful white-sand beaches are the top Aruba attraction for cruise passengers. A mere stroll from your ship and you can find upscale shops, restaurants, beach bars & historical sights that you and your fellow shipmates can explore.
Several beaches are within walking distance of the cruise port but they will be busy. Beat the crowds and head north to some of the most picture-worthy stretches of sandy coast.
While St Thomas is a wonderful port in its own right, nearby St John is the real treasure. Take a short ferry ride across to Cruz Bay and escape to some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of the Caribbean, notably Hawksnest Beach and Trunk Bay which is breathtaking and well worth the excursion.
Grand Cayman can be very touristy, especially when there are a few ships anchored offshore on the same day. However, the nearby sun-drenched beaches and excellent shopping within walking distance of the dock keep passengers coming back to Grand Cayman. If you like shopping this is the port of call for you.
Famous for its tax-free shopping including jewellery, watches, luxury brands, gems, precious metals and more. If that’s not your thing then leave the bustle of the bars and boutiques behind. Board a boat headed to one of the offshore reefs for snorkelling or diving in some of the best underwater sites in the Caribbean.
Great beaches (there is one for every day of the year) and a maritime history going back hundreds of years are just a few of the attractions on this popular island. Spend some time in the sun at one of the great beaches on the west coast of the island then head south and visit Nelson’s Dockyard that was once used by Horatio Nelson to repair and refit Royal Navy ships during the Napoleonic Wars.
Puerto Rico is a clash of Spanish, American and Caribbean history and culture, where cruise passengers will enjoy walking the cobblestone streets of Old Town San Juan which is a mere stone's throw from the cruise dock.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro. A monumental 16th-century Spanish fortification sits atop cliffside promontory just beyond the old town and is well worth a visit. Enjoy lush rainforest trails, crashing waterfalls, exotic wildlife and tropical botanical spectacles in the El Yunque National Forest.
Almost always a cruise stop on western Caribbean cruise itineraries, Cozumel is a great base for exploring the Yucatán coast. Visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum just across the Cozumel Channel on the Mexican mainland. A less-developed southern coast with long beaches and easy access to shopping, beach bars, and authentic as well as affordable Mexican cuisine round out the highlights of this culturally rich island.
And talking of food…
Delicious Foods to Try on your Caribbean Cruise
We know that your cruise ship will cater for all of your culinary needs but it is still nice to sample some of the local dishes if you get chance. Lunch perhaps overlooking an idyllic beach? Here are some ideas to try.
Conch Fritters – Known as a delicacy in various parts of the world, Bahamian conch fritters are small bites of local queen conch meat fried in a savoury batter with a combination of peppery seasonings (hot goat pepper, hot sauce, and sea salt) and commonly used vegetables in the Bahamian diet, which grow abundantly among the islands like onion, sweet green pepper, and tomato
Jerk Chicken – A delicacy that uses a range of fiery peppers and spices such as Scotch bonnets, nutmeg and pimentos, jerk chicken combines the heat of the seasonings with tender meat. Often the chicken is rubbed with the spices and then either roasted or barbecued for an intense flavour and succulent texture.
Callaloo – Callaloo is a popular Caribbean vegetable dish. There are many variants across the Caribbean, depending on the availability of local vegetables. The main ingredient is an indigenous leaf vegetable, traditionally either amaranth, taro or Xanthosoma. It has a slightly bitter flavour with a wonderful nutty undertone
Ackee and Saltfish – A yellow-coloured fruit that is soft in texture and slightly sweet when cooked, combined with the salty taste of codfish; ackee and saltfish is a flavorsome dish that is widely consumed in Jamaica. With strong, unique flavors and textures, mixed with carefully selected seasonings and spices, onions and pepper.
Mofongo – Hearty, flavorful, and unlike anything else you’ll try in the islands, Mofongo is a mash-up of tastes and textures that’s pure Puerto Rico. The dish features mashed fried green plantains flavoured with garlic and pork rinds
At A Glance
When to go
The traditional Caribbean season runs from Mid December to Mid April when the weather is slightly cooler and less humid although this is also the most expensive time of the year. May, June & late November are also good times to visit as they fall outside the rainy season. May to November can be soggy, with hurricanes possible from July to October
Although there are many types of currency used around the Caribbean region, St Lucia and Grenada, for example, us the East Caribbean Dollar, almost all accept the US Dollar which makes things so much easier as there is no need to take the various currencies with you on your cruise. Remember that ATM's on the islands will usually issue local currency so bear that in mind should you need to take any out.
English is not the official language of the islands but it is the most commonly spoken on the majority of them. This is down to the British Colonial Influence and the high rate if American tourism there. There is usually a local patois that the people speak to each other but once they realise you are a tourist they will switch to something you can understand.
Safety and security is always a concern when you travel and the Caribbean is no exception. While the Caribbean is generally a very safe destination sensible precautions are always a good idea. The US State Department and the Foreign Travel Advice in the UK publish up-to-date travel information on a range of countries so its always worth checking those out if you are concerned.
There is a lot of other usual information there too. We've found that some of the islands are a little friendlier than others. We would warn against walking alone in isolated places (including beaches). In busy towns and cities, pick-pockets can be a problem so always be on your guard. There are a lot of accessories you can purchase before you leave to enhance the safety of your possessions.