An almost perfectly-scattered arc of islands, sparkling tropical waters practically made for the cruising which is the Eastern Caribbean. Of all the regions in all the world, the Eastern Caribbean offers the most choice for cruising. Nearly every cruise line, major or minor, offers some type of itinerary that either concentrates on the region or at least touches a port or two.
Voyages not only depart from the region’s major points namely: (Miami and Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades) but also other East Coast ports ranging from New York City to Charleston. You can even cruise to or from Europe during seasonal repositionings in spring and fall. Technically, the Eastern Caribbean region encompasses the British and American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the two-nation-one-island St. Maarten and St. Martin.
The Bahamas is also included, which is not officially part of the “Caribbean” as well as Grand Turk in Turks & Caicos because stops there are such a major part of so many Eastern Caribbean itineraries.
Many itineraries also include a stop at cruise line private islands such as Labadee (Royal Caribbean), Half Moon Cay (Holland America), Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line) or Princess Cays.”High” season in the Eastern Caribbean typically begins in December and runs through April. Some cruise lines offers summer cruising to the Caribbean, which is an increasingly family oriented destination.
The only major difference between winter and summer in the Eastern Caribbean is a slightly warmer clime but it’s not as searingly hot in summer as you might expect. Another tip: Late summer and fall, especially when kids go back to school, is when cruise lines offer the best bargains. Hurricane season runs from June 1 – November 30.
Cruise Port Highlights
Nassau, Bahamas. The Straw Market is a Nassau tradition, and you’ll find all sorts of souvenirs on sale, from thatched purses to hair-braiding.
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos. This small island chain’s claim to fame is its powdery white sandy beaches, and position on a major coral reef. So watersports such as diving, snorkeling and catamaran excursions are popular.
St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., Charlotte Amalie is easily walkable and a duty-free shopping mecca (although bargains are not always as good as they seem). Magens Bay is one of the Caribbean’s top beaches, but for a true snorkeling adventure, take the ferry over to St. Johns.
Tortola, British Virgin Islands. It’s all about beaches and watersports in this gorgeous corner of the Caribbean, although hiking and shopping are also popular. Take the ferry to Virgin Gorda and snorkel and swim among the prehistoric boulders that make up “The Baths.
San Juan, Puerto Rico. Visit Old San Juan’s most historic monuments, particularly El Morro, with original sections that date back to the 16th century.
St. Maarten/St. Martin. You get two cultures for one stop, as the Dutch and French sections of the dual island have retained their heritage. Philipsburg on the Dutch side is the hub, with streets crammed with duty-free jewelry shops, electronics (bargaining recommended) and liquor. Marigot is the capital of the French St. Martin, and is filled with designer boutiques and fabulous restaurants, bistros and cafes.