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Cruise destination spotlight: Western Caribbean

SmarterTravel

Western Caribbean cruises are an ideal first cruise or multigenerational cruise because they offer something for everyone. Itineraries usually include a few days at sea, enough to explore the ship but not too many to frustrate independent travelers. The ports can entertain die-hard beach bums as well as adrenaline junkies, shopaholics, sightseers, and partiers, and all the ports offer family-friendly activities. And as the destinations visited are among the closest to the mainland U.S., cruisers can choose to depart from many ports and save on airfare.

Like all Caribbean destinations, the western Caribbean sees its peak traffic in the winter months. You’ll find the lowest prices from June through November—hurricane season. The western Caribbean has been hard hit by hurricanes the past few years, but the chances are slim that your departure will be affected. If a hurricane does strike before or during your cruise, most likely the ship will alter its itinerary to call in different islands or add sea days, or the cruise line will delay the departure or return of the ship. You’ll always be safe, but if you have your heart set on a particular itinerary, you’d be better off sailing from December through May.

Where you’ll go and what you’ll do

Western Caribbean itineraries vary based on the length of the cruise. The typical seven-night cruise includes visits to Mexico (Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, or Costa Maya), Jamaica, Grand Cayman Island, and the Bahamas (often the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas). Nowadays, cruise lines also substitute calls to relatively new cruise destinations including Honduras, Belize, Panama, Costa Rica, and Grand Turk. Key West and Hispaniola often make the list as well.

If you’re looking for beach or shopping opportunities, you’ll be set in the western Caribbean; most, if not all of the ports, cater to these activities. Active travelers will also be satisfied. In Jamaica, a favorite excursion is to climb to the top of Dunn’s River Falls, enjoying the cool mountain waters as you go. Grand Cayman is known for its coral and marine life, so if you snorkel or SCUBA dive at any island, this should be it. Costa Maya and Cozumel offer the chance to explore Mayan ruins, as well as sip cocktails by the beach. Belize is the place to go cave tubing and explore the rainforest, and cruisers can horseback ride, kayak, and snuba in Grand Turk.

Private islands abound in this region, including Royal Caribbean’s and Celebrity’s Coco Cay; Holland America’s Half Moon Cay; Princess’ Princess Cays; and Disney’s Castaway Cay. These islands try to create a tropical paradise with beautiful beaches and tons of water sports, such as sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboats, and banana-boat rides. Castaway Cay even has separate beaches for families, adults, and teens. Of course, food and beverages are never more than a few steps away.

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