The Caribbean is one of those unique parts of the world where it’s possible to set sail from one particular home port and head in one of three different directions, visiting different ports, seeing different things and ultimately having a very different experience.

Sailing the tropical waters of the Caribbean is a dream for many, but when the time comes to start researching for a cruise here, you can be spoiled for choice amongst these three main areas. Which one is right for you? We take a look at the different regions of the Caribbean to address this question.

Eastern Caribbean

Pick of the Ports: St. Maarten, Dutch Antilles – enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches, coves and bays in the Caribbean while also sampling a fusion of Dutch, French and Caribe cultures and cuisines.

One of the many beautiful bays on the island of St. Maarten.
One of the many beautiful bays on the island of St. Maarten.

Typically including islands east of the Florida Peninsula, Eastern Caribbean cruises call at some of the most famous Caribbean islands. The Bahamas, Virgin Islands and The Antilles are all generally included when sailing this corner. Known as the “beach” run, you’ll generally visit ports known more for their coastal sites than cultural ones, so if getting a new tan is on your agenda, you may wish to explore the options in this direction.

For the most part, Eastern Caribbean itineraries are the most popular from most cruise lines sailing here. As such, many of the largest ships in the world can be found here working to meet this demand.

In addition, you may find some significant fare premiums on these itineraries compared with those heading elsewhere. Eastern Caribbean itineraries sail from ports in eastern Florida such as Fort Lauderdale, Port Everglades, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, with voyages around seven nights in duration making up the stock standard Eastern Caribbean experience.

The popularity of cruising the Eastern Caribbean can be seen in this shot of St. Maarten harbour where eight large cruise ships can dock at once!
The popularity of the Eastern Caribbean is evident in this shot of St. Maarten, where six large ships can dock at once!

Western Caribbean

Pick of the Ports: Cozumel, Mexico – blending the chance to catch some sun on a tropical beach while discovering ancient Mayan culture is an exciting prospect easily done in Cozumel, with the island’s small size making it possible to see both during a short visit.

Mayan ruins sit next to the beach of the island of Cozumel in Mexico.
Mayan ruins sit next to the beach of the island of Cozumel in Mexico.

For others, part of the lure of travel is discovering history and culture, and it is this sort of passion which may lead to a Western Caribbean itinerary being better suited to your tastes and style.

This part of the Caribbean is littered with an abundance of historical sites, from Mayan ruins to culturally significant towns such as Progreso, Mexico, where you can follow the town’s namesake on his route discovering the Yucatan Peninsula. Most Western Caribbean itineraries will feature noticeably more culturally significant ports of call and would be aimed more for those looking to do something other than “flop and drop on a beach”.

Notable destinations on a typical voyage include the Cayman Islands and a variety of ports in Mexico and Jamaica, each infusing your cruise with a unique perspective on Caribbean life. Depending on the length of your sailing, you may also come across ports in Central America including Belize and Roatan, Honduras, both of which add their own spice and variety.

The location of many Western Caribbean ports in the Gulf of Mexico sees voyages offered from embarkation ports such as Galveston, near Houston, Texas; New Orleans and even the odd sailing from Mobile, Alabama. Tampa Bay, in Western Florida may also prove to be your setting off point.

Cruise lines will also dedicate some of their largest ships to the Galveston market, with Carnival sailing with Carnival Breeze and and Royal Caribbean running the newly refurbished Liberty of the Seas from here.

The island of Grand Cayman is one of the more tropical ports on a Western Caribbean voyage.
The island of Grand Cayman is one of the more tropical ports on a Western Caribbean voyage.

Southern Caribbean

Pick of the Ports: Grenada – the island’s famed spice plantations are on show here, where you can learn about the unique history behind the trade.

Flamingos enjoying the beach in Aruba one of the "ABC" islands normally featured on Southern Caribbean itineraries.
Flamingos enjoying the beach in Aruba one of the “ABC” islands normally featured on Southern Caribbean itineraries.

Backboned by what is known as the “ABC” (Aruba, Bonaire & Curaçao) islands, guests on Southern Caribbean voyages will head to ports a little more off-the-beaten-track. Cruises in this region are generally longer at around 10-14-nights, however they also allow guests to indulge in ports with more of a South American flair. These islands typically draw more cultural influence from their neighbours to the south rather than North American influences.

Images of dozens of unique bird, plant and animal species entice guests to these waters, boosted further by a lack of development on each island, leading to rainforests remaining relatively untouched and pristine ecosystems holding the key to a treasure trove of one off experiences.

Guests can also experience the unique tastes of the region, as Grenada is full to the brim with exotic spices and other local flavours. This combination of natural beauty and a diverse historical past makes for a good mix for most tastes, as both the casual laid-back beach folk and the culture-seeking historians all able to have their holiday needs satisfied.

Southern Caribbean itineraries can embark from as far north as New York and Boston in addition to the usual ports in Texas, Florida and San Juan, allowing passengers to combine a unique cruise with a stay in two of the most popular American cities for Australian travellers.

Wildlife abounds on Southern Caribbean cruises, with underdeveloped islands showcasing unique ecosystems.
Wildlife abounds on Southern Caribbean cruises, with underdeveloped islands showcasing unique ecosystems.

Which region of the Caribbean did you see on your cruise?

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