The Caribbean has got its groove back with plenty of new things to do and see for cruise holidays. So now is the time to book a tropical trip to see the area’s most famous destinations.
There’s never been a better time for first-time Caribbean cruisers to dip their toe in the warm crystalline seas and stretch out on the toothpaste-white strips of sand that have made this region paradise on earth.
Most Caribbean islands are now fully open to vaccinated travellers, and a growing number (including Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago) require no additional Covid testing for entry. Plus, cruise liners like Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line are leading the way in lifting mask mandates. So, slap on that sunscreen and dive on in…
Lying between Martinique to the north and St Vincent to the south, this volcanic speck in the Eastern Caribbean is rightly feted as the region’s most romantic island. But it has hidden depths and heights. Rising half a mile straight out of the sea on its southern coast are two jungle-clad volcanic spires known as the island’s UNESCO-listed Pitons. If you don’t want to scale them, you can snorkel between them!
A natural paradise, rainforest carpets a staggering 20,000 acres of the mango-shaped island. You can zip-line over its tree canopy, trek to the foot of jungle-wrapped waterfalls or wallow in warm mud baths at Sulphur Springs Park, dubbed ‘the world’s only drive-in volcano.’ A new botanical trail unveiled in December connects some of the island’s finest parks, plantations and gardens, like Mamiku - which nurtures 300 different plant species.
St Lucia’s also one of the world’s most popular destinations for chocolate tourism. Lunch on a working plantation or take a new bean-to-bar tour at Rabot Estate, Saint Lucia’s oldest cacao farm.
Get on board
Cunard's 13-night ‘Eastern Caribbean’ cruise aboard Queen Mary 2, roundtrip from New York via Philipsburg (St Maarten), Roseau (Dominica), Bridgetown (Barbados), Castries (St Lucia) and Basseterre (St Kitts), departs November 20, 2022, from £1,899. cunard.com
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Located 600 miles south of Miami in the eastern Caribbean, this mountainous island serves up lively and laid-back in equal measure. Its emerald-green interior is awash with working coffee estates, plantation-homes-turned museums and dreamy tucked away waterfalls.
Adventure seekers can embark on a nocturnal hike up the country’s highest peak (the 2,256 metre Blue Mountain), skim the tree canopy on an exhilarating zip line ride at Mystic Mountain, or try mud buggying at Yaaman Adventure Park.
Meanwhile, King of Reggae Bob Marley’s birthplace of Runaway Bay on Jamaica’s north coast, and the island’s famous Seven Mile Beach (which in fact only measures four), gives beach-bums a licence to chill! It’s hardly surprising Marilyn Monroe and Ian Fleming made this country of calypso colours their second home.
Most ships drop passengers off at sand-fringed Montego Bay – perfect for cruisers wanting to dive straight into Jamaica’s colonial heritage. Jamaica’s second city, Mo-Bay is also where ships bound for Britain were loaded with supplies of sugar in the 1700s. It's also the setting for the Caribbean’s largest music festival, Reggae Sumfest, which takes place every July.
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NCL's six-night ‘Caribbean: Great Stirrup Cay and Cozumel’ cruise aboard Norwegian Prima, roundtrip from Port Canaveral (Florida) via Cozumel (Mexico), George Town (Grand Cayman), Ocho Rios (Jamaica) and Great Stirrup Cay (Bahamas), departs December 16, 2022, from £1,292. ncl.com
Located scarcely 17 degrees north of the equator in the eastern Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, heart-shaped Antigua has the whole Caribbean package. Think yacht-lined harbours, brooding forts and a premiere annual sailing regatta every April.
Did we mention its 95 miles of coastline that sports a strip of sand for each day of the year? Bury your toes into rainforest-backed Rendezvous Bay’s sands, Fort James Beach or Half Moon Bay, which straddles the Atlantic and Caribbean waters. It’s located a whisper from the island’s hottest new gourmet destination, Asian fusion restaurant Rokuni, which boasts a show-stopping infinity pool.
The main cruise terminal puts you in striking distance of the capital of Saint John’s, which dramatically stretches across canopied terraces that tumble into the glistening waters.
Culture vultures can tour its restored Georgian buildings before taking a deeper dive into naval history at the still working Nelson’s Dockyard, where the Norfolk-born admiral sheltered his warships. It’s a site visitors can soak up from restored military lookout Shirley Heights, where you can join locals in drinking in a sunset with a side of steel band music every Sunday.
Get on board
Celebrity Cruises' seven-night ‘Southern Caribbean’ cruise aboard Celebrity Millennium, roundtrip from San Juan (Puerto Rico) via Charlotte Amalie (Saint Thomas), Basseterre (Saint Kitts & Nevis), Saint John’s (Antigua), Castries (Saint Lucia) and Saint George’s (Grenada), departs December 10, 2022, from £555. celebritycruises.com
The most easterly of the Caribbean islands, this pear-shaped pearl of the West Indies is synonymous with world heritage architecture, turquoise seas that stretch for infinity, and lively nightlife.
Despite becoming the world’s newest republic in December 2021, the 21x14‑mile island still holds on to British traditions like cricket, horse racing and afternoon tea. Home to 57 miles of blissful beaches, its sheltered west coast is perfect for snorkelling and swimming, while its rugged Atlantic-facing eastern shores are primed for surfing.
Venture into Barbados' central highlands for barrel-to-bottle-tours in rum distilleries, its northern reaches to spot scampering green monkeys in a four-acre wildlife reserve, or crescent-shaped Carlisle Bay to wreck dive. The natural harbour is located a coconut’s throw from its UNESCO World Heritage-listed west coast capital of Bridgetown, also the gateway for cruise liners. You can happily fill a few hours at its picturesque seaside boardwalk and clutch of museums.
As for the island’s lip-smackin’ good cuisine – which blends African, British and Indian flavours – you can get a taste for it in Barbados’ tumbledown roadside cafes, or fine dining establishments like The Cliff Restaurant. The renowned oceanfront eatery is reopening this July with a fresh look and new head chef Liverpudlian-born Matt Worswick.
Get on board
MSC Cruises' seven-night ‘Caribbean & Antilles’ cruise aboard MSC Seaside, roundtrip from Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe) via Castries (Saint Lucia), Bridgetown (Barbados), Saint George (Grenada), Kingstown (Saint Vincent and The Grenadines) and Fort de France (Martinique), departs February 5, 2023, from £599. msccruises.co.uk
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Separated by a choppy 2.5-mile strait, this two-island nation – where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet – was the first English settlement in the Leeward Islands chain.
It may officially be the eighth smallest country in the world by area, but it sure packs an impressive punch. Highlights include hiking the crater rim of a dormant volcano, boarding a colourful double-decker train that once delivered sugarcane from field-to-mill, and drinking in views of a sextet of islands from Saint Kitt’s mighty citadel. Cruise ships dock 10 miles south at Port Zante Marina, which debuted its second cruise pier last October.
Often described as the Caribbean’s best kept secret, 36-square-mile Nevis is Saint Kitts’ sleepier sister, where green vervet monkeys outnumber humans two-to-one. Marvel at one of the Caribbean’s largest orchid collections at its Botanical Gardens, go snorkelling with southern stingrays and hawksbill turtles off its western coast, or just lime (the art of doing nothing!) in candy-coloured Charlestown.
A vision of gingerbread-trimmed buildings, Nevis’ capital’s two-storey Nevis houses one of the Caribbean’s largest orchid collections at its Botanical Gardens museum honours the island’s most famous son, Alexander Hamilton, whose life was brought to the world stage in the Broadway hip-hop musical.
Get on board
P&O Cruises' 14-night ‘Caribbean Cruise’ aboard Arvia, roundtrip from Southampton to Bridgetown (Barbados) via St Maarten, Basseterre (Saint Kitts) and Castries (Saint Lucia), departing January 6, 2023, from £1,078. pocruises.com
An archipelago of almost 700 coral islands and 2,400 cays, cast 50 miles from Florida’s south eastern coast, the Bahamas is where Columbus made his first landfall in the new world.
With the mercury rarely dropping below 15°C, and averaging 340 sunny days a year, it’s no wonder this English-speaking paradise attracts more than five times its population in tourists. Most cruise liners dock at Nassau, the capital and New Providence island’s only city, where piracy flourished in the late 17th century.
Admire Georgian-era architecture and see straw vending (one of the country’s oldest industries) at its animated open‑air market. Beyond easy breezy Bahamas powder‑soft, limestone-white sand beaches, cruisers can tour artisan rum distilleries and translucent underwater caves, go wild for its 32 national parks or dive into the planet’s third largest barrier reef, 140-mile-long Andros.
Meanwhile, on family-friendly Grand Bahama (the country’s northernmost island) you can visit a farm on the fringes of Freeport, where Earthshot prize winners Coral Vita are growing climate-resilient coral on land.
Get on board
Royal Caribbean's nine-night ‘Bahamas & Perfect Day’ cruise aboard Radiance of the Seas, roundtrip from Galveston (Texas) via Key West (Florida), Nassau (Bahamas), Perfect Day at CocoCay (Bahamas), Bimini (Bahamas) and Grand Bahama Island (Bahamas), departs February 18, 2023, from £799. royalcaribbean.com
Pronounced kay-MAN, this triad of picture-postcard islands nestles between Cuba and Jamaica in the northwest Caribbean. The well-known tax haven was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1503 when his ships were blown off course. A water lover’s paradise, the Caymans’ boast 365 dive sites, spanning marine parks, reef walls and coral-covered shipwrecks.
Each island offers up a distinct flavour. The largest, Grand Cayman, is best known for its Seven Mile Beach: a long crescent of coral-sands located 10-minutes north of George Town, where liners anchor. Other must-sees include Stingray City, a sandbar where you can wade waist deep with hundreds of the graceful gliders, and its Mastic Trail, which wends through a two million- year-old tropical forest.
Deep sea fishing destination Cayman Brac, meanwhile, is veined with hiking paths, while on even sleepier Little Cayman, drivers must give right of way to the island’s endangered rock iguanas. A highlight is its Booby Pond Nature Reserve, where birders can witness magnificent frigate and rare red-footed boobies. In a conservation first for the islands, 30 juvenile green sea turtles were tagged with micro-satellites this spring. You can learn more about this herbivorous species of turtle at the Cayman Turtle Centre.
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Disney Cruise's seven-night ‘Western Caribbean Cruise with Pixar Day at Sea’ aboard Disney Fantasy, roundtrip from Port Canaveral (Florida) via Cozumel (Mexico), George Town (Grand Cayman), Falmouth (Jamaica) and Disney Castaway Cay (Bahamas) departs February 25, 2023, from £2,859. disneycruise.disney.go.com
Trinidad and Tobago
Nicknamed ‘T&T’, this tiny twin island republic sits just off Venezuela’s north eastern coast, in the West Indies. Despite being one of the Caribbean’s most industrialised nations, it remains one of the region’s most under-explored destinations, with pristine mangrove swamps and untamed jungle.
A nature lover’sparadise, the interiors of both islands are criss-crossed by walking trails that take you from remote beaches to rainforest, where more than 480 species of birds make their home. This is the birthplace of calypso, soca and steel pan; the quintessential sound of the Caribbean and great music can be heard everywhere.
Founded in 1754 by the Spanish, Trinidad’s vibrant capital and main cruise ship terminal Port of Spain plays host to a carnival rivalling that of Rio every February.
Afro-Creole culture infuses its slower-paced sister isle of Tobago, where you can try their tropical take on paella, known as pelau. Cruisers can explore the island’s chalk-white sand coves by kayak, or take a glass boat tour around Buccoo Reef, a protected marine park christened ‘the third most beautiful reef in the world’ by Jacques Cousteau. This June marked the designation of a new UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in North-East Tobago, which encompasses one of the last remnants of a dry tropical forest on earth.
Get on board
Silversea's nine-night ‘Bridgetown to Bridgetown’ cruise aboard Silver Dawn, roundtrip from Bridgetown (Barbados) via Castries (Saint Lucia), Kralendijk (Bonaire), Oranjestad (Aruba), Willemstad (Curaçao), Scarborough (Trinidad and Tobago), Bequia (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) and Saint George’s (Grenada), departs February 8. 2023, from £5,400. silversea.com
The smallest landmass in the world to be shared by two different nations, St. Maarten rises out of the surf in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. This 37 square mile island is ringed by 37 white-sand beaches, including Maho (a 20-minute-drive west of Philipsburg’s cruise port), where you can watch large jets soar hair-raisingly close overhead.
An island of two personalities, its northern region is a petit outpost of France where colourful boats bob in its Med-like harbour, whilst its Dutch side to the south offers up lively beach bars and coastal lagoons.
St. Maarten has earned itself another moniker, that of the Caribbean’s gourmet capital. Foodies can stroll the rues of its elegant French capital, Marigot, for boulangeries and bistros, or raise a glass of guavaberry (St. Maarten’s national drink made from rum and local berries), on both sides.
2022 marks the island’s ‘Year of Gastronomy’, with big name chefs like Michel Portos and Tristen Epps of Miami’s Red Rooster Overtown fame washing up on St. Maarten’s shores for the culinary event.
Princess Cruises' seven-day ‘Eastern Caribbean with Bahamas’ cruise aboard Sky Princess, roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) via Princess Cays (Bahamas), Saint Thomas (US Virgin Islands) and St. Maarten, departs November 26, 2022, from £499. princess.com
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