The Best Months to Visit the World’s Top Beach Destinations on a Cruise

by Donna Heiderstadt

The Best Months to Visit the World’s Top Beach Destinations on a Cruise

by Donna Heiderstadt

Cruising to a beach destination—whether you’re island-hopping in the Caribbean, Greece, or Hawaii or enjoying coastal sailing in the Mediterranean, Australia or Brazil—means there’s new sand and surf to enjoy each day. Here are the best months to visit the world’s top beach destinations on a cruise.

Cruising to a beach destination—whether you’re island-hopping in the Caribbean, Greece, or Hawaii or enjoying coastal sailing in the Mediterranean, Australia or Brazil—means there’s new sand and surf to enjoy each day. Here are the best months to visit the world’s top beach destinations on a cruise.

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Bora Bora / Photo courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises
Magens Bay, St. Thomas
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January: The Caribbean

The Caribbean is known for its beautiful beaches. Book an Eastern Caribbean itinerary to relax while ashore in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (for scenic Magens Bay); San Juan, Puerto Rico (Condado is close by); and Phillipsburg, St. Maarten (don’t miss the planes landing over Maho Beach). Cruise the Western Caribbean to visit Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and George Town, Grand Cayman (for Seven Mile Beach).

Read more: Which U.S. Virgin Island Is for You?

The Caribbean is known for its beautiful beaches. Book an Eastern Caribbean itinerary to relax while ashore in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (for scenic Magens Bay); San Juan, Puerto Rico (Condado is close by); and Phillipsburg, St. Maarten (don’t miss the planes landing over Maho Beach). Cruise the Western Caribbean to visit Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and George Town, Grand Cayman (for Seven Mile Beach).

Eagle Beach, Aruba
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January: The Caribbean

Cruise the Southern Caribbean and you might call on Oranjestad, Aruba (where both Palm and Eagle beaches are stellar); Bridgetown, Barbados (for pink sand Crane Beach); and St. George’s, Grenada (for lovely Grand Anse Beach). Large cruise lines (Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival) also visit their own private islands in the Bahamas, designed to offer the ideal day at the beach.

Read more: How To Stretch Your Dollar in Aruba

Cruise the Southern Caribbean and you might call on Oranjestad, Aruba (where both Palm and Eagle beaches are stellar); Bridgetown, Barbados (for pink sand Crane Beach); and St. George’s, Grenada (for lovely Grand Anse Beach). Large cruise lines (Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival) also visit their own private islands in the Bahamas, designed to offer the ideal day at the beach.

Wailea, Hawaii
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February: Hawaii

Hawaii’s beaches are great year-round, but cruising here in February adds a few perks. On Maui, where you’ll dock in Kahului, you can sun on Kaanapali or Wailea’s golden sands while spotting wintering humpback whales offshore. On Oahu, Honolulu is home to legendary Waikiki Beach, or head to the North Shore to watch the pros surf big waves (no swimming here, alas) or Hanouma Bay for a snorkel day.

Read more: How to Plan a Trip to Hawaii

Hawaii’s beaches are great year-round, but cruising here in February adds a few perks. On Maui, where you’ll dock in Kahului, you can sun on Kaanapali or Wailea’s golden sands while spotting wintering humpback whales offshore. On Oahu, Honolulu is home to legendary Waikiki Beach, or head to the North Shore to watch the pros surf big waves (no swimming here, alas) or Hanouma Bay for a snorkel day.

Kauai, Hawaii
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February: Hawaii

After docking in Nawiliwili (Lihue) Kauai, explore the scenic North Shore between Princeville and Hanalei to enjoy gorgeous beaches: Anini for snorkeling, Lumahai for photo ops and Hanalei for a tranquil dip or stroll. Or head south for a full day of swimming and snorkeling in Poipu, a sunny playground for all ages. The easiest option: Walk 20 minutes from the cruise pier to pretty Kalapaki Beach.

Read more: How to See Hawaii -- and Save -- With a Cruise

After docking in Nawiliwili (Lihue) Kauai, explore the scenic North Shore between Princeville and Hanalei to enjoy gorgeous beaches: Anini for snorkeling, Lumahai for photo ops and Hanalei for a tranquil dip or stroll. Or head south for a full day of swimming and snorkeling in Poipu, a sunny playground for all ages. The easiest option: Walk 20 minutes from the cruise pier to pretty Kalapaki Beach.

Bondi Beach, Sydney
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March: Australia

In Australia, summer winds down in Sydney in March, but the city’s top stretches of sand, Bondi Beach and Manly Beach, will still be packed with sun-lovers. Hop a ferry from Circular Quay to Norfolk-pine-lined Manly to people watch and enjoy a craft beer. Or take a taxi to Bondi, where the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk is a scenic five miles (roundtrip)—and you can see several beaches in one day.

Read more: Here’s When You Can Sail on 2020’s New Ships

In Australia, summer winds down in Sydney in March, but the city’s top stretches of sand, Bondi Beach and Manly Beach, will still be packed with sun-lovers. Hop a ferry from Circular Quay to Norfolk-pine-lined Manly to people watch and enjoy a craft beer. Or take a taxi to Bondi, where the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk is a scenic five miles (roundtrip)—and you can see several beaches in one day.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays
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March: Australia

The Whitsundays, 72 small islands off the Queensland coast, are known for their idyllic, white-sand beaches, so if your cruise calls on Airlie Beach you can book a day excursion to see some of them. Not to be missed: blissful Whitehaven Beach. Note: Two species of dangerous local stingers (jellyfish) are still in the water in March, but snorkel and dive operators do provide protective wet suits.

The Whitsundays, 72 small islands off the Queensland coast, are known for their idyllic, white-sand beaches, so if your cruise calls on Airlie Beach you can book a day excursion to see some of them. Not to be missed: blissful Whitehaven Beach. Note: Two species of dangerous local stingers (jellyfish) are still in the water in March, but snorkel and dive operators do provide protective wet suits.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico
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April: Mexico

The tail end of high season is a great time to visit Mexico’s Riviera Maya on a Western Caribbean cruise itinerary that calls on Playa del Carmen, Costa Maya, or Cozumel. This region on the Yucatan Peninsula is known for its soft white sand and calm aquamarine water and all three ports also offer access to Mayan culture, handicraft shopping, and snorkeling and diving.

Read more: Planning Your Trip to Mexico

The tail end of high season is a great time to visit Mexico’s Riviera Maya on a Western Caribbean cruise itinerary that calls on Playa del Carmen, Costa Maya, or Cozumel. This region on the Yucatan Peninsula is known for its soft white sand and calm aquamarine water and all three ports also offer access to Mayan culture, handicraft shopping, and snorkeling and diving.

Riviera Maya, Mexico
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April: Mexico

The stretch between Ensenada and Manzanillo on Mexico’s Pacific Coast is known as the Mexican Riviera and it’s been a popular cruise locale for decades (the TV show “The Love Boat” was set here). Beach-goers can discover Lover’s Beach in Cabo San Lucas, horseback ride on the beach on Mazatlan’s Stone Island, and visit Mismaloya Beach near Puerto Vallarta, where “Night of the Iguana” was filmed.

Read more: Los Cabos Two Ways: Find Your Perfect Getaway

The stretch between Ensenada and Manzanillo on Mexico’s Pacific Coast is known as the Mexican Riviera and it’s been a popular cruise locale for decades (the TV show “The Love Boat” was set here). Beach-goers can discover Lover’s Beach in Cabo San Lucas, horseback ride on the beach on Mazatlan’s Stone Island, and visit Mismaloya Beach near Puerto Vallarta, where “Night of the Iguana” was filmed.

Bermuda
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May: Bermuda

Bermuda cruises, many sailing round-trip from New York, are ideal for beach lovers because ships typically spend two or three days in port in King’s Wharf, allowing guests plenty of time to explore and find their favorite stretch of sand. Horseshoe Bay Beach is a favorite. It has pale pink sand, a restaurant (and restrooms) and is so beautiful your Instagram followers will have instant beach envy.

Read more: How Cruising to Bermuda Can Save You Money

Bermuda cruises, many sailing round-trip from New York, are ideal for beach lovers because ships typically spend two or three days in port in King’s Wharf, allowing guests plenty of time to explore and find their favorite stretch of sand. Horseshoe Bay Beach is a favorite. It has pale pink sand, a restaurant (and restrooms) and is so beautiful your Instagram followers will have instant beach envy.

Bermuda
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May: Bermuda

In fact, many of Bermuda’s beaches are pretty shades of pink. A few other photogenic options are Warwick Long Bay Beach (the island’s longest), Tobacco Bay Beach near St. George’s or Church Bay on the South Shore (both ideal for snorkeling), Clearwater Beach on Cooper’s Island (offering dunes and nature trails), and Astwood Cove or Jobson’s Cove (hidden spots set amid jagged cliffs).

In fact, many of Bermuda’s beaches are pretty shades of pink. A few other photogenic options are Warwick Long Bay Beach (the island’s longest), Tobacco Bay Beach near St. George’s or Church Bay on the South Shore (both ideal for snorkeling), Clearwater Beach on Cooper’s Island (offering dunes and nature trails), and Astwood Cove or Jobson’s Cove (hidden spots set amid jagged cliffs).

Psarou Beach
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June: Greek Isles

A Greek Isles cruise is a great way to discover gorgeous beaches packed with happy people, backed by the region’s iconic white Cycladic architecture and washed by the sapphire Aegean Sea. The sandy, party-centric beaches of Mykonos are perhaps most famous, but Santorini also offers several notable strands with hot and pebbly black sand: adjoining Perissa and Perivolos and neighboring Kamari.

Read more: How to Take a Greece Vacation

A Greek Isles cruise is a great way to discover gorgeous beaches packed with happy people, backed by the region’s iconic white Cycladic architecture and washed by the sapphire Aegean Sea. The sandy, party-centric beaches of Mykonos are perhaps most famous, but Santorini also offers several notable strands with hot and pebbly black sand: adjoining Perissa and Perivolos and neighboring Kamari.

Lindos Beach
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June: Greek Isles

Each Greek Island has its own signature landscape and many cruises visit multiple islands—so you may get to hit the sand (or pebbles) a few times. On Crete, Elafonisi Beach is famous for its pink sand and turquoise water. Kos has several beaches just a short walk from the cruise pier. Corfu’s Paliokastritsa is postcard perfect and on Rhodes, Pallas Beach is near the must-see Lindos Acropolis.

Read more: Which Greek Island Is Best for You?

Each Greek Island has its own signature landscape and many cruises visit multiple islands—so you may get to hit the sand (or pebbles) a few times. On Crete, Elafonisi Beach is famous for its pink sand and turquoise water. Kos has several beaches just a short walk from the cruise pier. Corfu’s Paliokastritsa is postcard perfect and on Rhodes, Pallas Beach is near the must-see Lindos Acropolis.

Newport, Rhode Island
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July: Canada/New England

Mid-summer means beach time in Canada/New England ports stretching from the tiny state of Rhode Island to the tiny province of Prince Edward Island. Cruise itineraries call on Newport, home to Easton Beach (stroll past opulent mansion on the nearby Cliff Walk, too), and Bar Harbor, where Acadia National Park has beaches galore and a sand bar at low tide allows you to walk across to Bar island.

Read more: Smart Luxury: Newport, Rhode Island

Mid-summer means beach time in Canada/New England ports stretching from the tiny state of Rhode Island to the tiny province of Prince Edward Island. Cruise itineraries call on Newport, home to Easton Beach (stroll past opulent mansion on the nearby Cliff Walk, too), and Bar Harbor, where Acadia National Park has beaches galore and a sand bar at low tide allows you to walk across to Bar island.

Prince Edward Island
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July: Canada/New England

Some of the region’s most dramatic beaches are in Canada’s Eastern Provinces, where you can explore Prince Edward Island’s 683-mile coastline (Cavendish and Brackley Beaches are superb). In Nova Scotia, Halifax has 10 great nearby beaches and Sydney offers access to Cape Breton Island. In Quebec’s Les Iles de la Madeleine, you might just have an entire beach to yourself as you eat a lobster roll.

Read more: Retreat to Canada's Dreamy Prince Edward Island This Autumn

Some of the region’s most dramatic beaches are in Canada’s Eastern Provinces, where you can explore Prince Edward Island’s 683-mile coastline (Cavendish and Brackley Beaches are superb). In Nova Scotia, Halifax has 10 great nearby beaches and Sydney offers access to Cape Breton Island. In Quebec’s Les Iles de la Madeleine, you might just have an entire beach to yourself as you eat a lobster roll.

Bora Bora
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August: French Polynesia

The islands of French Polynesia—also known as Tahiti—are beautiful year-round, but August means drier days and balmy temperatures ideal for sunning and snorkeling from sparkling white beaches and postcard-perfect motus (sandy islets). If you opt for a seven-night cruise through the Society Islands, you’ll find yourself enjoying beaches in Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Taha’a, Raiatea, and Huahine.

Read more: 12 Ways to Save on a South Pacific Vacation

The islands of French Polynesia—also known as Tahiti—are beautiful year-round, but August means drier days and balmy temperatures ideal for sunning and snorkeling from sparkling white beaches and postcard-perfect motus (sandy islets). If you opt for a seven-night cruise through the Society Islands, you’ll find yourself enjoying beaches in Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Taha’a, Raiatea, and Huahine.

Hiva Oa, Marquesas
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August: French Polynesia

Cruise itineraries of 10-14 days or even longer will also take you to some of French Polynesia’s most unspoiled islands. The Tuamotus, which include Fakarava and Rangiroa, are slender coral atolls with blindingly white beaches ringing brilliant lagoons, while the rugged and remote Marquesas include Nuka Hiva and Hiva Oa, where crescent beaches are framed by dramatic green peaks.

Read more: 22 Incredible Cruise Itineraries for 2021 & 2022

Cruise itineraries of 10-14 days or even longer will also take you to some of French Polynesia’s most unspoiled islands. The Tuamotus, which include Fakarava and Rangiroa, are slender coral atolls with blindingly white beaches ringing brilliant lagoons, while the rugged and remote Marquesas include Nuka Hiva and Hiva Oa, where crescent beaches are framed by dramatic green peaks.

Isola Bella Beach
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September: Mediterranean

July and August can be brutally hot in the Mediterranean, so a September cruise offers a break from the most intense heat while the water is still warm enough for swimming. An island-hopping itinerary is ideal for beach lovers, who can enjoy the sand on the Spanish islands of Ibiza and Mallorca; the Italian islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Elba, and Ischia; and the picturesque French island of Corsica.

Read more: 6 Cruise Extras That Are Worth the Money

July and August can be brutally hot in the Mediterranean, so a September cruise offers a break from the most intense heat while the water is still warm enough for swimming. An island-hopping itinerary is ideal for beach lovers, who can enjoy the sand on the Spanish islands of Ibiza and Mallorca; the Italian islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Elba, and Ischia; and the picturesque French island of Corsica.

Beach umbrellas
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September: Mediterranean

Some of the Mediterranean’s most legendary beaches are located on the coasts of Spain, France and Italy—think the golden sands near Spanish ports Cadiz and Malaga, Plage du Midi in Cannes or Plage de Pampelone in St.-Tropez, and the sun-lounger-lined shores of Sorrento. But the beach scene here is as much about people watching over cocktails as it is about swimming. Order up and enjoy.

Read more: The 10 Most Walkable Cruise Ports

Some of the Mediterranean’s most legendary beaches are located on the coasts of Spain, France and Italy—think the golden sands near Spanish ports Cadiz and Malaga, Plage du Midi in Cannes or Plage de Pampelone in St.-Tropez, and the sun-lounger-lined shores of Sorrento. But the beach scene here is as much about people watching over cocktails as it is about swimming. Order up and enjoy.

Playa de las Teresita
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October: Canary Islands, Azores and Madeira

Transatlantic repositioning cruises from Europe to the United States take place each autumn (usually in October and November) and are an easy way to experience the Canary Islands, the Azores, or Madeira. They are all groups of islands located off the coast of Africa and known for their dramatic landscapes, numerous beaches, and Spanish (Canary Islands) and Portuguese (Azores and Madeira) culture.

Read more: Secret Ports: 20 Great Places You Can Visit on a Small-Ship Itinerary

Transatlantic repositioning cruises from Europe to the United States take place each autumn (usually in October and November) and are an easy way to experience the Canary Islands, the Azores, or Madeira. They are all groups of islands located off the coast of Africa and known for their dramatic landscapes, numerous beaches, and Spanish (Canary Islands) and Portuguese (Azores and Madeira) culture.

South Beach, Miami
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October: Canary Islands, Azores and Madeira

Itineraries typically call on Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, where the sand is plentiful and golden-hued; Ponta Delgada in the Azores, where sweeping beaches are just a few miles away, and Funchal on Madeira, home to both volcanic and imported sand beaches. A few crossings call on Bermuda and most end in Fort Lauderdale, or Miami, home to some of North America’s finest beaches.

Read more: 7 Alternative Destinations to the Pricey Mediterranean

Itineraries typically call on Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, where the sand is plentiful and golden-hued; Ponta Delgada in the Azores, where sweeping beaches are just a few miles away, and Funchal on Madeira, home to both volcanic and imported sand beaches. A few crossings call on Bermuda and most end in Fort Lauderdale, or Miami, home to some of North America’s finest beaches.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
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November: Thailand and Vietnam

Small and medium-ship luxury cruise lines offer Southeast Asia itineraries this time of year that visit countries known for their beautiful beaches, among them Thailand and Vietnam. The region’s rainy season has ended and beach experiences in both countries often combine irresistibly white sand and brilliant blue sea with dramatic rock formations and lush greenery that create truly dreamy vistas.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Expedition Cruising and the Newest Ships

Small and medium-ship luxury cruise lines offer Southeast Asia itineraries this time of year that visit countries known for their beautiful beaches, among them Thailand and Vietnam. The region’s rainy season has ended and beach experiences in both countries often combine irresistibly white sand and brilliant blue sea with dramatic rock formations and lush greenery that create truly dreamy vistas.

Limestone rocks in Krabi
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November: Thailand and Vietnam

On a Southeast Asia itinerary, you can expect to call on ports that include Ha Long Bay, Nha Trang, Danang, and Hue in Vietnam and Koh Samui and Phuket in Thailand. Whether you take a stroll in the sand, gear up for a snorkel or simply enjoy the scenery while on a sightseeing excursion through magnificent bays, there’s no escaping the lure of the beach in these neighboring nations. 

Read more: 15 Cool Outdoor Spaces on Cruise Ships

On a Southeast Asia itinerary, you can expect to call on ports that include Ha Long Bay, Nha Trang, Danang, and Hue in Vietnam and Koh Samui and Phuket in Thailand. Whether you take a stroll in the sand, gear up for a snorkel or simply enjoy the scenery while on a sightseeing excursion through magnificent bays, there’s no escaping the lure of the beach in these neighboring nations. 

Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain
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December: Brazil

Brazil’s beaches sizzle in the Southern Hemisphere summer (December to March), so a South America cruise that calls on Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande, Buzios or other coastal ports or islands makes a great holiday gift to yourself.  Some itineraries even visit Punta del Este, Uruguay, world-renowned as a beach retreat for the wealthy and famous.

Read more: 7 Reasons Not to Put Off Taking a Bucket-List Cruise

Brazil’s beaches sizzle in the Southern Hemisphere summer (December to March), so a South America cruise that calls on Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande, Buzios or other coastal ports or islands makes a great holiday gift to yourself.  Some itineraries even visit Punta del Este, Uruguay, world-renowned as a beach retreat for the wealthy and famous.

Rio at Sunrise
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December: Brazil

When you think of Brazil and its beaches, two in particular come to mind: Copacabana and Ipanema. Both are located right in the center of Rio de Janeiro and offer splendid views of landmarks Sugarloaf Mountain. Ipanema and Copacabana also have photogenic pedestrian promenades paved in wavy Brazilian Modernist mosaics that are equally celebrated around the world.

Read more: The Newest Cruise Reviews for 2021 and Beyond

When you think of Brazil and its beaches, two in particular come to mind: Copacabana and Ipanema. Both are located right in the center of Rio de Janeiro and offer splendid views of landmarks Sugarloaf Mountain. Ipanema and Copacabana also have photogenic pedestrian promenades paved in wavy Brazilian Modernist mosaics that are equally celebrated around the world. 

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