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Cruise destination spotlight: Eastern Caribbean

Eastern Caribbean cruises are perfect for the first-time cruiser, but also offer choices for the experienced sailor. Newbies benefit from a wide selection of three- to seven-night itineraries on multiple cruise lines and extremely tourist-friendly destinations. Old-timers who have been there and done that can use the ports-of-call as bases from which to explore nearby smaller islands and less touristed destinations. Cruising die-hards may also prefer the longer itineraries, which can run to almost two weeks.

Winter is typically the peak travel time to the eastern Caribbean. The sure bet for deals are fall sailings during the tail end of hurricane season and before the winter holidays. The weather in the eastern Caribbean is conducive to cruising year-round, so the best travel dates are the ones that fit your vacation schedule and budget.

Where you’ll go and what you’ll do

Eastern Caribbean itineraries focus on the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and their neighbors. Popular ports-of-call include the Dominican Republic, Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Tortola. Many cruises combine these ports with stops in the [% 1612507 | | Bahamas %] or [% 1628495 | | southern Caribbean %] islands such as Antigua.

St. Thomas is a duty-free shopping mecca. You can find bargains on luxury goods along Main Street in Charlotte Amalie and at the Havensight Mall. Cruisers can opt to take a ferry to nearby St. John and get away from it all amid the unspoiled beauty and pristine beaches of the smallest U.S. Virgin Island. In Tortola, most visitors take to the sea or the air. That is, many people charter sailboats to explore the waters and small nearby islands or take mountain roads high up to spectacular views. Ferries to Virgin Gorda also depart from Tortola, so guests can swim and snorkel at “The Baths.”

St. Maarten’s beaches are already well known, but it’s quickly gaining a reputation as a shopper’s paradise. A favorite activity is competing in a sailboat race on an actual America’s Cup route. The [% 1608891 | | Grand Turk %] port was created by the Carnival Corporation, and cruisers can relax on the beach, shop, and party by the huge Margaritaville pool—all just steps from their cruise ship.

The Dominican Republic was made for adventure enthusiasts. Excursions include horseback riding, biking, kayaking, and exploring caves. Lazier cruisers can hit the beach. In Puerto Rico, visitors can explore old San Juan or head to El Yunque Rainforest to hike and swim in natural pools.

Which cruise lines sail to the eastern Caribbean?

Here’s what the cruise lines are offering:

Carnival: Carnival sails five- to eight-night itineraries from Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, New York, and Port Canaveral/Orlando.

Celebrity: Celebrity offers seven-night cruises departing from Ft. Lauderdale.

Disney: Disney offers seven-night cruises on the Disney Magic departing from Port Canaveral/Orlando.

Holland America: Holland America runs seven- to 10-night cruises from Ft. Lauderdale and New York.

Norwegian: Norwegian runs seven- to 10-night cruises from Miami and New York.

Princess: Princess offers seven- to 10-night cruises from Ft. Lauderdale and New York.

Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean sails three- to 10-night cruises departing from Bayonne, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Norfolk, Port Canaveral/Orlando, San Juan, and Tampa.

Costa, Crystal, Cunard, MSC Cruises, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, and Windstar sail to the eastern Caribbean, either on dedicated itineraries or as part of general Caribbean or Panama Canal itineraries. For more information about any eastern Caribbean cruises, contact the cruise line or a travel agent.

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