The Caribbean, which consists of around 30 island nations and over 7,000 individual islands, is a nothing short of paradise and the world’s top cruise destination. Cruises offer good value for money, because they give the chance to visit a number of islands over a short period, whereas trying to accomplish the same thing by flying and staying in hotels costs more time and money. Cruises to the Caribbean operate throughout the year, but the best time to visit is between the months of November and May, outside the hurricane season.
There are three main Caribbean cruise regions: eastern, western and southern. Eastern cruises travel east of Puerto Rico and usually include the Leeward and Windward Isles and the ports of Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, St Croix, St Kitts, St Maarten, St Lucia and St Thomas, however itineraries vary depending on which cruise line you choose. These picturesque Caribbean islands are often small and unspoilt, with beautiful beaches. Being grouped fairly close together, they offer shorter travel time between ports. Western Caribbean cruises typically include the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Mexico. Islands in the western region are more developed than those in the east but offer excellent snorkelling and diving and greater diversity in terms of cities and culture, landscapes and seascapes. Southern Caribbean cruises typically include the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaḉao), Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, possibly La Guaira (the port for Caracas, Venezuela) and Tortola.
Some cruise lines include day trips to magical private islands in the Bahamas or the Dominican Republic, allowing passengers to truly escape and unwind. The cruise liners that sail to these dreamy places however, are also destinations in themselves. Forget ferries and cramped and airless quarters and cabin fever, the ships operated by the leading cruise lines are designed to the highest specifications Accommodation tends to be spacious and comfortable and there are endless leisure facilities and entertainment programmes to suit all sensibilities. Throw in full board, with gourmet dining, art galleries, ballrooms and health spas with every conceivable treatment and it’s hard to imagine not enjoying a cruise around the Caribbean.
For those who like to relax ashore, most cruise lines have a range of land-based excursions. Zoom down a zip-line over a forest canopy in Belize, try an off-road jeep safari in Tortola, swim with dolphins in the Bahamas or sail and snorkel in Barbados.
Cruise itineraries vary, but are usually between four and fourteen days in length. A week-long cruise might consist of the following: departing from Port Canaveral in Florida and setting sail for CocoCay in the Bahamas - a secluded tropical island in a breath-taking setting, with white sandy beaches and crystal waters. From here, the ship cruises on to the idyllic island of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, where passengers can disembark to exquisite beaches, translucent waters and serious duty-free shopping. On then to the unique island of St Maarten, which was formally shared between the Dutch and French in 1648 and which today clearly retains elements of both countries’ cultures and customs. The landscape is stunning, with endless beaches and excellent shopping. Following two more days of cruising amid awe-inspiring scenery, the ship will then return to Port Canaveral.
For the trip of a lifetime, a Caribbean cruise is hard to beat.