Some of the world’s best beaches, most alluring scenery, and favorite water-oriented activities lie in Caribbean waters. In fact, Caribbean itineraries account for almost 40 percent of the more than 20 million cruise ship passengers annually, according to industry statistics.
But not all Caribbean islands are the same.
Swim with dolphins, try your luck at a Casino, dive near coral reefs in waters teeming with exotic fish, fish for trophy species, take a zip line high above a rain forest, trek to ancient ruins or encounter brilliant birds, playful monkeys, pink flamingos and impressive iguanas during a strenuous wildlife adventure. All this and more awaits you in the Caribbean. Beach options can include parasailing, skidoo rentals, beach volleyball, or private cabanas with personal food and drink service.
Princess Caribbean cruises are generally referred to as “Eastern,” “Western” or “Southern.” Making a decision depends on more than just price, departure port and cruise duration. The character of each region is varied; book your trip accordingly.
Nassau and Bermuda are still essentially British colonies with a “new world” island vibe; Martinique and Guadalupe will charm you with a distinctly French joie de vivre, along with croissants and good wine! Destinations and activities vary from family friendly to “adult,” from upscale to more primitive, with shore excursions that can range from “do nothing” to extremely vigorous.
Although itineraries sometimes overlap, it’s generally accepted that Western Caribbean cruises extend from the Caymans and/or Jamaica westward, and often include Cozumel or Costa Maya as well as Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras and perhaps Cartagena, Columbia. Panama Canal cruises often visit these ports.
The Bahamas, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, and the Turks & Caicos Islands constitute the port calls of many Eastern Caribbean cruises, but some also include Puerto Rico and even Cuba or private islands like Princess Cays, named one of the Top 5 Private Islands by Cruise Critic.
Southern Caribbean cruises might call at a northern private island and several of the above ports on their way to Martinique, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Bonaire, Aruba and Curacao.
Bahamian ports are close to home if your cruise departs from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. But if you enjoy lazy days at sea as much as shore visits, beach time, exotic food and sightseeing, look for an itinerary that takes you further south, or book your cruise from a northern port.
Port Liberty in New Jersey, Baltimore and Boston all are jumping-off points for Bermuda and other Caribbean cruises. A 10-14 day trip will include relaxing days on board ship as well as your choice of itinerary, allowing you to sample several different islands.
If, on the other hand, getting to snorkeling grounds, azure waters and new destinations quickly is preferable, consider flying to St. Thomas, Jamaica or Puerto Rico to board your ship, or grab a quick trip to the Bahamas from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.
There are many options in between. Some cruise lines offer two-to-five-day fun packages. But you can also pack a lot of Caribbean island ports into a longer cruise. With 7- to 14-day cruises to all three regions of the Caribbean, Princess Cruises gives you plenty of options to choose from, including cruises that also visit the Panama Canal and Central America.
Whatever your choice, you will experience food, drink, sights and lifestyles very different from mainstream USA.
Cruise lines visit Caribbean ports all year long, and temperatures are always warm, sometimes hot and humid. The rainy season is generally considered to be from May through December. The hurricane season extends from June through November, with the worst storms typically occurring from August to October.
The Windward Islands of the extreme southern Caribbean have a more stable climate than the more northern Leeward Islands — including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and popular ports like St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Kitts, Barbuda and Antiqua — because of the trade winds that constantly blow northeasterly from Africa.
Many travelers believe that Caribbean travel is at its best between December and April, but that is also when fares are higher and crowds heavier. And, of course, there will be more children on board ship and on the beaches if you travel in the summer or during school breaks.