When deciding on a cruise, the majority of new cruisers will decide on a cruise based on the itinerary over the cruise line or ship. The destination, especially when you may not have traveled to a location before, is more important than the ship. That might change over time, but for new cruisers it’s all about the itinerary.
How do you choose the itinerary, especially when you may not be familiar with the various ports? You can ask your friends, read online, or research the various ports. Since almost half of all cruises go to the Caribbean, let’s look at those here:
Bermuda Cruises: These cruises typically leave from Northeast ports such as New York City, Bayonne (New Jersey), Baltimore, or Charleston. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about 1,030 kilometres (640 mi) to the west-northwest. It is about 1,373 kilometres (853 mi) south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and 1,770 kilometres (1,100 mi) northeast of Miami, Florida. Some highlights of Bermuda can include the Royal Dockyard, Somerset, Harrington Sound as well as golf, sailing, and snorkeling.
Bahamas Cruises: These are generally shorter three or four day cruises that people take as introductions to cruising or quick, weekend getaway cruises with departures from Florida. The Bahamas is a country consisting of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets (rocks). It is located in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti), northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and southeast of the United States (nearest to the state of Florida). Its total land area is 13,939 km2 (5,382 sq mi); slightly larger than the US states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined), with an estimated population of 330,000. Its capital is Nassau. Geographically, the Bahamas lie in the same island chain as Cuba, Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the designation of the Bahamas refers normally to the commonwealth and not the geographic chain. A few highlights from the Bahamas include Atlantis, Freeport, Nassau, swims with dolphins, stingrays, and sea lions, and great beaches.
Western Caribbean Cruises: These cruises usually depart from Florida and make stops in Cozumel, Belize, Falmouth, George Town, and/or the individual cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas. There are definitely more Western Caribbean cruises available than any of the others. In Cozumel, Mexico you might want to visit San Gervasio ruins or Chankanaab Lagoon & park or maybe spend a relaxing day on the beach. In Belize you might want to try cave tubing as they have the largest cave system in all of Central America. In Falmouth, Jamaica you might want to visit the Good Hope Great House, go shopping, and enjoy a meal with one of over 300 Jerk recipe possibilities. In George Town, Grand Cayman you might visit Turtle Farm, Hell, the Stingray City Observatory or go snorkeling or play a round of golf. The cruise lines purchased islands from the Bahamas after Norwegian Cruise Line purchased theirs in the 1970’s. This is an opportunity for you to get off the ship and have fun, but with all of the amenities of the ship. Simply take your cabin card and show it to pay for drinks, food, or spa treatments.
Eastern Caribbean Cruises: These cruises also generally depart from Florida, but like the Western Caribbean cruises, you do see other departure ports as well. Some of the Eastern Caribbean ports you might visit include St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and sometimes Falmouth and Grand Cayman. In St. Thomas, USVI why not enjoy Mafolie Hill, Louisenhoj Catle, Drake’s Seat, Coral World or swimming, snorkeling, or a helicopter tour. In St. Maarten, one of my most favorite destinations, you get the opportunity to visit two countries on one stop. Half of the island is French (St. Martin) and the other is Dutch (Sint Maarten). Here you can enjoy the great dining options in Grand Case, Marigot, Philipsburg, snorkeling, scuba diving, and some really great shopping!
Southern Caribbean Cruises: Most Southern Caribbean Cruises depart from San Juan, Puerto Rico and are a great option especially if you have done any of the other cruises and are looking for new ports to visit. Some ports included Antigua, Barbados, St. Lucia, Tortola, Aruba, and Curacao. Starting in San Juan where you can arrive a day or two before your cruise, you can visit El Morro, El Yunque Rainforest and enjoy hiking, golf, deep sea fishing, or a helicopter ride. In Antigua you might enjoy Nelson’s Dockyard, Clarence House or sailing, swimming, snorkeling, or golf. In Barbados a visit to Harrison Caves, a crystallized, limestone cavern is a must as well as Andromeda Gardens or St. John’s Church or sailing, snorkeling, and swimming. In St. Lucia, a visit to the Pitons are a must as well as Soufriere. In Tortola there is Cane Garden Bay, Virgin Gorda as well as hiking, swimming, or a day out in a glass-bottom boat. In Aruba there is Schooner Harbor, St. Anna’s Church, Wilhelmina Park and sailing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Lastly, in Curcao there is Curacao Seaquarium, Brievengat, Chobolobo or Underwater National Park for snorkeling.
Narrow down the possible ports you might want to visit first and then deciding on the actual cruise line and ship will come naturally after that. You want to have fun so do the work now and you will have fun – I promise!