If you travel by cruise ship, there’s not a lot of choice in the matter. Cruise lines have a variety of islands to visit but the choices are limited with many itineraries virtually the same from ship to ship. Still, you are not required to get in line and go along with the crowd. Consider the cruise ship no more than the way you got there when thinking of what to do ashore. Planning as though you took a flight, not a cruise ship, puts things in a way better perspective. Think of yourself as a traveler who came by sea. No, really. Think that way and even ports you may have been to several times will have a fresh, new look and feel.
If you travel by air, flying can get you to islands not serviced regularly by cruise lines or maybe islands you might have sampled on a cruise and said “I think I could come back and do this again, without the ship”. If you have ever been on a cruise you probably said that at one time or another.
Sure, a cruise vacation is often a best value for travel. Good, glad to hear it. Now let’s take that a step further and get more out of your cruise by thinking a bit differently about common cruise ports visited by most every cruise line. Let’s look at ten top Caribbean islands and cruise ports.
- Ocho Rios, Jamaica–I think Jamaica is one of the prettiest places on the planet. As is so often the case when traveling, the people we meet along the way can make all the difference. Lincoln Stewart is a cab driver in Ocho who has lived in Jamaica all his life. However one gets to Jamaica, by sea or air, getting safely away from the tourist attractions and shore excursion mobs is key and well worth the effort to get there. Lincoln showed us “his” Jamaica, a remarkably different place than we see from a cruise ship.
- Cozumel, Mexico It’s almost a requirement of any cruise line and Cozumel is set up to handle the crowds. A best bet here is Paradise Beach. If you’re lucky enough to go at a time when “Tom” is around you’re in for a good time. This is the trick to making a day in port something special: Meet someone local. Get to know someone who lives there. Like so many other things in travel, the people make the difference.
- St Thomas-I think St Thomas was one of the most pleasant islands in the Caribbean. There are the typical third world looking parts, but as part of the United States there is an air of stability there not on other islands. Like traveling abroad, seeing a familiar brand can help make sense of otherwise unfamiliar surroundings. Throw in a US post office and feel right at home. .
- St John– Many who visit St John on a cruise never have the island on their itinerary. This is a common do-it-yourself shore excursion where travelers can choose to take a ferry from St Thomas to St John for a day at Trunk Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen.
- St Maarten-Split in two, one side French, one side Dutch, your cruise ship will probably stop on the Dutch side. A good do-it-yourself excursion would be a cab ride to the French side and a beach called Bae Rouge. You won’t find a lot of people there because it will take a couple hours round-trip to visit. Well worth the time though, this is about as secluded and pristine as beaches get. Nearby St. Barth can be visited in a day too
- Tortola– As part of the British Virgin Islands along with Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada, Tortola is considered the chains main island. Smugglers Cove is a popular place to go with snorkeling and amazing views. No facilities there but worth the effort to see. Divers like Tortola because of the crystal clear water and find sinkholes and ledges as well as caves and canyons.
- Key West, Florida– Maybe not on the top of your “Caribbean island” list but a good one to note nonetheless. A good piece of Key Lime pie can’t be beat for a real taste of Florida and the Keys. If you can’t make it the Key West Key Lime Pie Company will send you one.
- San Juan, Puerto Rico– San Juan gets a bad reputation for crime and other bad things that keep tourists away. Puerto Rico shouldn’t be judged by San Juan, those that live in other parts are not so proud of it and definitely prefer the West. The best beaches are in Cabo Rojo and Isabela or in close by small Island/towns like Culebra.
- Antigua– A good bet off a cruise ship is to take a cab for the 45 minute drive to the Allegro Resort of Pineapple Beach. There are 365 beaches on Antigua, one for each day of the year. Most of the beaches are inside the calm, protected waters of the island’s Caribbean side. All are open to the public. The trick is knowing which one is good to visit at the particular time you are there. Cab drivers know this.
- Barbados– This one also has two sides with the Atlantic on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. East Coast beaches, including Bathsheba are good for surfers. South Coast beaches such as Carlisle Bay and Sandy Beach are popular for body surfing while Needham’s Point is one of the best for snorkeling and swimming. Black sand beaches make this one unique. A big cruise ship excursion is Harrison’s Cave but Flightseeing is probably a better bet. Best bet here? Go sailing on a catamaran.
We know Spring is just around the corner but that Old Man Winter can come back to slap us around a little on his way out the door. Just thinking about someplace warm can help. Going there is better though.