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Caribbean Cruises 101

Uncover the perfect Caribbean cruise to suit your tastes

By ShermansTravel Editorial Staff

ShermansTravel.com

Updated on April 5th, 2013

Given the hundreds of picture-perfect, palm-dotted, beach-fronted islands that speckle the Caribbean Sea, it's little wonder that these turquoise waters provide haven to a higher number of pleasure cruise ships than anywhere else in the world. Though many islands are too small or underdeveloped to support cruise ship ports, countless others, each with unique personalities, landscapes, and cultural offerings, provide a wealth of choices. Caribbean cruise itineraries are typically divided into Western, Eastern, and Southern segments, with the entire region serviced by more than 20 cruise lines, offering fleets ranging from intimate, tall-ship windjammers to village-at-sea, mega-ship liners. Whether you're in search of raucous nightlife, stellar duty-free shopping, exhilarating waters sports, rich colonial history, or pristine tropical terrain, there’s a Caribbean island itinerary to suit almost every taste.

Plan your perfect Caribbean cruise vacation by reading the answers to commonly asked questions below, as well as our tips for booking a Caribbean cruise like a pro, then scout for the best Caribbean cruise deals on the travel deals section of ShermansTravel.com. Be sure to check out our Top 10 Cruises in 2011 piece, too, for our editors' top picks for sailings to the Caribbean and beyond in the coming year!

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When is Caribbean cruise season?
Can I cruise the Caribbean during hurricane season?
How long do Caribbean cruises last?
What ports do Caribbean cruises leave from?
What kind of cruise lines operate in the Caribbean?

When is Caribbean cruise season?
The highest concentration of Caribbean cruise itineraries run from late fall through late spring, safely outside of hurricane season (roughly June 1 to November 30), although abundant sailings are scheduled year round. You’ll nab the lowest rates by cruising in early fall (rainy season), just before peak season kicks in and ships are back in Caribbean waters after their Alaska and European summer runs; prices also dip for a few short weeks following the December holidays. Summer cruisers will encounter the hottest (and often most uncomfortable) temps, as well as plenty of bargains (although to a lesser degree than in fall) – expect to encounter plenty of families onboard at this time. You’ll pay the most by sailing during the December holidays or between late January and the Easter/spring break period.

High Season: December; late January–April
Low Season: June–November
Sweet Spot: Early to mid-January; May

Can I cruise the Caribbean during hurricane season?
Cruising during hurricane season, which officially lasts from June 1 to November 30, is still very much an option, so long as you’re not too attached to any specific ports of call – ships are equipped with modern satellite warning systems, giving captains plenty of time to change course if need be. As many cruisers are deterred by this possibility, this is a great time to nab discounted cruises. Note that while Southern Caribbean ports were long regarded as falling safely outside of the hurricane belt, the storms that have touched islands like Aruba and Curaçao in the last few years have led many to reconsider this route as fail-safe.

How long do Caribbean cruises last?
Most Caribbean cruises are destination-intensive, with the larger cruise lines typically cramming in anywhere from four to seven ports in the span of one week. Although the bulk of sailings are a week long, you’ll find durations of anywhere from 5 to 15 nights, as well, while shorter 4-night cruises, often touted as “Western Caribbean,” focus on ports mostly in the Bahamas, Florida, and Mexico. Longer cruises may combine Caribbean ports with stops further into Mexico, Central America, or even South America.

What ports do Caribbean cruises leave from?
Most Caribbean cruises leave from the Floridian ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, and Tampa, although ships also set sail to a lesser extent from other Southern and Eastern U.S. ports like Galveston, Mobile, New Orleans, Charleston, Norfolk, New York, and Baltimore. (Read our Homeport Cruising 101 Guide to discover what ships are sailing to the Caribbean – and beyond – from a port near you.) Some ships, particularly smaller adventure and tall-ship cruise lines, embark from right within the Caribbean at ports like San Juan (Puerto Rico), Bridgetown (Barbados), or Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas) – the upside to these cruises is that you’ll most likely be able to cover a more robust itinerary of ports, while the downsize is that flying to the Caribbean-based embarkation points can be complicated and/or expensive.

What kind of cruise lines operate in the Caribbean?
With more than 20 cruise lines plying Caribbean waters, you’ll find operators that run the gamut from child-friendly to adventure-driven, and from spa-focused to nightlife-oriented. Thematic cruises, ranging from gay-and-lesbian to wellness-and-health, can help customize your experience. Mainstream mega-ship cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival offer plenty of value and veritable villages at sea, perfect for those who want lots of entertainment and dining options to choose from while not in port. However, these mega-ships’ itineraries can be limited to only the largest of Caribbean ports, due to their sheer size. Smaller cruise lines geared toward adventure cruising or tall-ship sailing, like Arabella or Island Windjammers, offer more flexible itineraries (as they’re able to squeeze into smaller harbors) and a more intimate, hands-on approach to cruising (try out your deckhand skills and raise the sails!). Other cruise lines like Cunard and Regent Seven Seas offer the ultimate luxury experience, with five-star dining and white-glove service to enjoy between ports. Rest assured that all Caribbean cruise lines strive to give passengers ample beach, sightseeing, and shopping time.


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