The Jamaican Experience

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When booking a cruise itinerary to the Caribbean you’ll usually be given options to follow itineraries through the South, East or West Caribbean. But what’s the difference? And what islands are located where? We break down the three regions here, so you’ll know before booking.

East Caribbean

The main ports in the East Caribbean are the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as St. Martin (both the French and Dutch sides), the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos. Some cruises will also visit the smaller islands like Antiqua, Anguilla and St. Barts. The beaches in this part of the Caribbean, especially in St. John, the BVIs and St. Barts, are dreamy perfect. And best of all, the East Caribbean is the most accessible of the three regions with embarkation points in Florida, Puerto Rico and even from ports along the East Coast between Boston, MA and Charleston, SC. On the downside, this is also the busiest cruise region, and sometimes more than 10,000 passengers will be disembarking at ports in St. Martin and St. Thomas at once. To avoid the chaos, consider a smaller ship that goes to one of the less visited islands like Les Saintes or Virgin Gorda.

Western Caribbean

This region is great if you want to include non-traditional Caribbean destinations like Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, as well as Honduras and Belize, along with the traditional West Indies ports in Grand Cayman and Jamaica. This is a good choice if you want a dose of culture with your beaches as stops include the Mayan ruins at seaside Tulum and options to see the impressive ruins at Chichen Itza, located farther inland. There is also excellent snorkeling and diving at reefs in Belize and Grand Cayman. But on the downside, the mega ports, like Cozumel, can feel claustrophobically crowded with, on busy days, some 10,000 passengers all heading to the same spots at once. To cruise the Western Caribbean, you find most ships embark from Fort Lauderdale, Portn Canaveral, Miami, New Orleans and Houston.

Southern Caribbean

The least accessible of the three Caribbean cruise regions, cruises to the southern portion of the Caribbean usually visit the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao as well as Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and the Grenadines. Highlights of booking a cruise to this area is you’ll find fewer crowds at the ports, and trips tend to last longer than a week. The beaches in Aruba, Grenada and the Grenadines are idyllic and St. Lucia is a beautiful natural destination with stunning scenery and a lush rainforest. And some of the longer itineraries also incorporate transit of the Panama Canal, which is a must for history buffs. That said this is the hardest region to access with most cruises departing from Puerto Rico, the Barbados or St. Martin, which means you’ll need to fly to one of these destinations just to get on the ship.
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