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Caribbean: Eastern vs. Western vs. Southern. Which Cruise Is Best For You?

Travelers new to cruising might not know that the Caribbean presents itself in very different ways. There are several common options — from the ease of the eastern Caribbean to the adventure of the western and exotic charm of the southern Caribbean, each itinerary has its own characteristics. Comparing and contrasting these destinations can give you an idea of what to expect and help to ensure that you choose the right cruise!

The Easy, Breezy, Eastern Caribbean

Do you want to visit a new port every day? Do you love to shop and prefer a refined experience? The eastern Caribbean might be the way to go! The islands of the eastern Caribbean are in relatively close proximity, so you can wake up every day at a new destination. Typical ports include San Juan, Puerto Rico; Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s award-winning private island. At these destinations you’ll find world-class shopping and beautiful white sand beaches.

A great way to kick back and explore is to embark on the half-day Champagne Catamaran Sail, Snorkel & Beach tour from St. Thomas, or set out to see some of the most incredible marine life on the Reef Snorkel & Stingray Safari at Grand Turk.

On Half Moon Cay, there’s nothing more relaxing and pampering than the Beach Villa Package. The two-story villa is air conditioned and includes a hot tub, refrigerator, misting shower and private sun deck, and is painted in the colorful Calypso style of the eastern Caribbean. It is the ultimate way to relax. Ken from Tampa visited with his family and said,

“We had four children and seven adults so this Beach Villa was great for us. It was nice to have your own private bathroom, shower and a place to get out of the sun and relax.”

Relax in a private Cabana at Half Moon Cay.

Relax in a private Cabana at Half Moon Cay.

Find Adventure in the Western Caribbean

Western Caribbean itineraries are known for outdoor adventure! Find some of the best snorkeling in the world at Grand Cayman, zip line through the jungle at Cozumel or check out Bobsled Jamaica & Dunn’s River Falls, an excursion that allows you to climb the world-famous waterfall and then fasten your seatbelt and ride a Jamaican bobsled through the rainforest at Falmouth or Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Are you in for adventure? How about a hike up Dunn's River Falls on calls at Montego Bay or Falmouth, Jamaica.

Are you in for adventure? How about a hike up Dunn’s River Falls on calls at Montego Bay or Falmouth, Jamaica.

Because the western Caribbean islands are a bit further apart, a western Caribbean cruise usually offers a few sea days to enjoy onboard activities. Fans of sea days enjoy the time to take a class at the Culinary Arts Center, hit the spa, or simply relax on the Lido deck with a good book as the bright blue Caribbean Sea rushes by.

Western Caribbean itineraries typically visit Mexico, where you can put on your archaeologist hat and explore the gorgeous coastline and historical Mayan ruins. At Costa Maya the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins are just a short drive from the port. Guest ew2103 from Michigan took this tour and said,

“Our guide Daniel (a full-blooded Mayan; he proudly told us so) was superb. He gave interesting information on the way back to port — not just going to and on the tour. We viewed numerous fascinating ruins and gained an understanding of the marvelously accurate Mayan calendar — more accurate than the one we use routinely!”

Take Your Time in the Southern Caribbean

The southern Caribbean itineraries typically visit Half Moon Cay and cruise by way of the eastern Caribbean islands and then — just when other cruise ships are turning back — dive deeper to explore the Lesser Antilles. There you’ll find European charm in the tropics. From French Martinique to British Barbados, to the Dutch-tinted ABC Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, the influence of the European colonial area is strong, but the islands maintain their natural beauty. The distance means that often these cruises are longer.

Among the most gorgeous islands in the southern Caribbean are Bonaire, sometimes called the best scuba in the world, and St. Lucia, which combines dramatic volcanic Pitons with colonial history. Get to know St. Lucia on the Historical Island Extravagana tour. One guest did, saying,

“…we had the most wonderful time with this one! The sights were superb, the stops were educational and comfortable, and the people who hosted us were well versed and most gracious, the food was great, the working plantation was most informative, and that volcano — what a hoot!”

The Pitons of St. Lucia are among the most impressive sights in the southern Caribbean.

The Pitons of St. Lucia are among the most impressive sights in the southern Caribbean.

Torn between two Caribbean itineraries? Maybe a 14-day Western/Eastern Caribbean cruise or a longer 21-day Southern/Eastern Caribbean is the one for you! Whichever course you choose, the Caribbean is brimming with beauty and wonder, and a cruise is an outstanding way to island hop … offering a most complete view of the region.

Don’t forget, you can pre-book shore excursions to save time onboard and ensure you get the tour of choice!

Which Caribbean itinerary most appeals to you? Let us know in the comments!

4 Comments
  • Samantha Herbert

    Hi, my husband and daughter who will be two we want to take a crusie.
    I’m one for adventure and husband more relax. I would like to go horseback riding and see dolphins/ animals.. Sharks aren’t my fav.
    Would like to see crystal beaches and have good food. Best place to go for relaxing adventure and kid freindly ?? Western southern or northern ?

  • Julie

    Hi Samantha, yes, yes and yes! The entire Caribbean is a great family vacation. Your husband can relax on the beach with your daughter, you can go off on an adventure! And several of the ports have EXC Tours that are great for all ages, especially Half Moon Cay. Two is too young to go swimming with dolphins or anything like that, but you can certainly sign up. It’s just a matter of personal preference on the islands. And if you’ve never been to any, you can’t go wrong!

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