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What You Need to Know Before You Take a Caribbean Cruise

If you’re thinking of taking a Caribbean cruise, you’re likely wondering the logistics of doing so and how to choose the best Caribbean itinerary. We have a breakdown for you in an easy “who, what, when, where, why” format. You’ll finish this article having a comprehensive understanding of what your options are for cruising the Caribbean.

Who Should Go on a Caribbean Cruise

Anyone who likes some sunshine and tropical landscapes! Whether you prefer lounging on a beach or getting your heart rate doing an exhilarating sports activity, there is something for everyone on a Caribbean cruise.

What to Expect When Taking a Caribbean Cruise

Most Caribbean cruises leave from Florida embarkation ports, but when taking a Caribbean cruise you actually have several options for where to leave from. In addition to the main cruise embarkation hubs of Fort Lauderdale and Miami in Florida, Caribbean cruises regularly leave from Cape Liberty, New Jersey and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

You’ll likely have two or three days at sea, though sometimes more depending on the embarkation port and how far south you’ll travel during your cruise. For example, when taking a Caribbean cruise from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, you’ll likely have more days at sea than a Caribbean cruise that leaves from Florida.

Also, cruises that depart from San Juan, Puerto Rico, are already right in the middle of the Caribbean meaning you usually have time to stop in an extra port of call before the cruise ends than itineraries that need a day at sea to travel back up to the mainland U.S.A.

When You Should Take a Caribbean Cruise

Taking a Caribbean cruise at any time of year is totally fine. While you may have heard that you should avoid cruising during hurricane season, cruising technology is so advanced nowadays that cruise ships can easily maneuver away from the path of hurricanes, though it sometimes means switching up the itinerary and sometimes missing a port of call. For more information about cruising during hurricane season, read our helpful guide about hurricane season cruises.

Where You Can Go on a Caribbean Cruise

This is usually the hardest part of taking a Caribbean cruise – deciding which islands in the Caribbean to see during your cruise. To help, here’s a breakdown of the main regions of the Caribbean that cruises sail to, and which islands are visited in those regions. Plus, we’ll highlight some popular things to do while there to help you best decide which Caribbean region is best for you: the Southern Caribbean, the Eastern Caribbean, or the Western Caribbean.

Southern Caribbean

Taking a Caribbean cruise to the southern islands will place you among some of the most exotic and sun-soaked islands in the Caribbean. The ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) are located off the coast of South America and get less rain per year than most of the other islands in the Caribbean. In addition, you’ll get the chance (depending on the itinerary) to visit St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, and Grenada.

Expect to depart on your southern Caribbean itinerary from San Juan if taking a 7-day cruise or plan on taking a longer vacation if you want to visit the Southern Caribbean islands from a Florida embarkation port since it will take longer to get down to the southern most islands.

The Southern Caribbean is an excellent choice for cruisers looking for a variety of different island landscapes, from the sand dunes of Aruba to the lush vegetation of St. Lucia. In addition, it will take you to different island cultures and give you ample opportunities to see how the islanders live.

Western Caribbean

The Western Caribbean includes the smattering of islands that are just south of Florida or slightly southeast of the state. These islands include Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba, Cozumel, and the Cayman Islands.

The Bahamas are often typically lumped into this region as well, though technically they lie within the Atlantic Ocean and not the Caribbean Sea.

Other destinations you’ll visit during Western Caribbean cruises are ports in Mexico and Central America that border the sea. These ports include Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Belize City, Belize. Those short on time will also appreciate Western Caribbean cruises since you can quickly get to the Bahamas on an itinerary that is only two or three nights long. Sometimes these Bahamas getaway cruises also visit Key West, Florida, or Cozumel, Mexico, before returning to Florida.

The Western Caribbean is a great option for adventuresome travelers who like numerous options for active shore excursions. You’ll also find an abundance of history, from nearby Mayan ruins in Mexico and Belize to old military forts in Puerto Rico.

Eastern Caribbean

The Eastern Caribbean consists of the islands that that are on the far eastern edge of the Caribbean before the archipelago curves south. You’ll come to several different collections of islands when taking an Eastern Caribbean cruise, such as the British Virgin Islands (the main islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke) and the U.S. Virgins Islands (the main islands are St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix). Eastern Caribbean cruises often stop in St. Maarten and St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well.

The Eastern Caribbean is an excellent choice for those looking for seemingly endless sandy beaches and underwater activities, such as the Buck Island Reef interpretive underwater trail that you can snorkel along.

Taking a Caribbean Cruise Can Begin Today -- Start Planning Now!

With so many itineraries and ships sailing the Caribbean, you might think you can wait and just book last minute, but the most popular times to cruise the Caribbean (such as spring break time) tend to have itineraries that fill up fast. Even if there’s space still available, the best staterooms are probably long gone. Therefore, it’s worth it to plan ahead and book the Caribbean cruise you want to take when you still have a wide selection of stateroom types and location.

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