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Your essential post-Covid guide to Caribbean cruising

Author: Sarah Freeman

Published on:

Updated on:

Caribbean cruise holidays have been sorely missed, but as travel opens back up again, which island is best for a getaway? Our post-Covid guide will help you pick.

The Caribbean is making a confident comeback, despite being a region hard hit by COVID-19, thanks to a pent-up demand for winter cruising and longing for silky soft sands and shimmering seas.

With entry and testing requirements varying according to the port of departure, your age group, vaccination status and the liner itself, the red tape can bamboozle even the most veteran of cruisers!

So we’ve done the hard work for you, covering everything from bubble excursions to beach curfews across the region’s most popular islands…

1. Antigua & Barbuda

The largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, Antigua is most famous for claiming the only Georgian naval dockyard in the world. But it also boasts panoramic lookouts, historic forts, stingray-packed coral beds and a candy-coloured colonial capital. Did we mention it also has 365 tropical beaches? Yes, that’s one for every day of the year!

Whilst picnicking on them is a no-no right now, visitors can unfurl their towels from 5am-5pm (weekdays) and till midday at weekends. And, since over 60 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s (Antigua’s sleepy sister isle) hospitality workers are vaccinated, there’s a raft of certified tour operators offering excursions.

However, bars are shuttered and restaurants are open for takeout only until early next year, making the twin-island state a great option for an early 2022 cruise.

The Nitty-gritty: As of October 1, cruisers over the age of five years must provide evidence of a negative PCR test taken no more than four days before their last point of departure, and have received at least one dose of an approved covid vaccine.

Ease of travel rating: 4/5

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2. Barbados

From superb deep-sea diving to swimming with turtles, the Caribbean’s easternmost island delivers more than rum punch and jerk chicken!

And now cruisers can lap up a whole lot more Bajan culture thanks to Tradewind Voyages winter sailings from Barbados and Royal Caribbean, who will christen Barbados the homeport for yet another liner from next November.

P&O’s new 14-night fly-cruises on Britannia and Azura from Bridgetown should also be a safe bet since the liner can adapt its itinerary in line with FCO’s red list to accommodate its largely British clientele.

- READ MORE: P&O Cruises to return to Caribbean as more cruises added -

With Barbados’ public beaches open from 5am-7pm, visitors can still enjoy the island’s pink and white sandy licks (said to be some of the most diverse in the Caribbean), along with its restaurants, that are open on select days of the week till 9pm.

The Nitty gritty: A smooth and sterile airport-pier corridor exempts double-jabbed cruisers from testing on arrival (unless you’re booking a pre-cruise stay). Meanwhile, unvaccinated travellers are subject to five-day quarantine on entry.

Ease of travel rating: 5/5

Barbados’ public beaches are open from 5am-7pm. Credit: Shutterstock

3. Jamaica

Cast 390-miles northeast of mainland Central America, Jamaica’s rich colonial history, warm hospitality, creole cuisine and powdery soft beaches have been luring sun-seekers for decades. And its lush interior is ripe for adventure - think farmland horseback rides, bobsledding through a rainforest and hiking in Jamaica’s coffee-producing Blue Mountains!

Luckily, visitors can still participate in a host of these excursions thanks to the island’s “resilient corridor” tours. With cruise operations only resuming mid-August, the island is still adapting to the new norm.

Carnival Cruise Line was the first ship to dock after a 16-month hiatus, with Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises following suit. Weekday nighttime curfews from 8pm-5am apply throughout October, and public beaches are currently closed. Restaurants and bars, on the other hand, have opened at 50 percent capacity.

The Nitty gritty: New government guidelines require cruise passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated and undergo a PCR test within 72-hours of sailing, in addition to an antigen test on disembarkation. Passengers will also be denied entry if they’ve been in Trinidad & Tobago in the last 14 days.

Ease of travel rating: 2/5

Jamaica boasts a rich colonial history, warm hospitality, creole cuisine and powdery soft beaches. Credit: Shutterstock

4. St. Kitts and Nevis

Located in the northern Leeward islands where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, this twin-island nation of pretty plantation inns and historic great houses is better known for being the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.

And finally it’s opening up to cruise tourism, with the first commercial call to Port Zante since the onset of the pandemic being Celebrity Equinox on September 14.

With one of the highest local vaccination rates in the Caribbean, St. Kitts is a reassuringly Covid-safe destination too. The island’s travel-approved bubble vaccination tours use only fully jabbed operators and guides, meaning a ride on the region’s last working railway line or a trek in one of the only expanding rainforest on earth, is entirely possible.

The Nitty gritty: The country has a mandatory vaccination policy for passengers over the age of 18, and requires a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of homeport embarkation for under-18s.

Ease of travel rating: 5/5

St Kitts and Nevis is home to pretty plantation inns and historic great houses. Credit: Shutterstock

5. The Cayman Islands

A firm Caribbean favourite, this trio of coral reef-ringed tropical islands just south of Cuba, blends first-rate diving sites with boat–to-table brasseries and “Caymankind” hospitality.

Unfortunately, the Cayman’s spectacular crystal caves, mangrove forests and colourful capital of George Town are set to remain off-limits to cruisers for the foreseeable.

- READ MORE: Best winter sun cruise destinations from Dubai & the Canaries to Mexico & the Pacific -

Despite being UK green-listed and boasting an 80 percent on-island vaccination status, an uptick in recent Covid cases has scuppered the island’s planned phased reopening to tourists.

Whilst the sunkissed paradise is not likely to be on Western Caribbean cruising itineraries this year, it is one to watch for next spring, since it’s slated to reopen to cruise traffic in late January ’22.

The Nitty gritty: From March 16, 2020, the Cayman Islands Government imposed a ban on cruise ships docking in the Cayman Islands, which still holds, and its borders remain shut to all foreigners for 2021.

Ease of travel rating: 1/5

The Cayman Islands blend first-rate diving sites with boat–to-table brasseries. Credit: Shutterstock

6. The Bahamas

With more than 2,000 beaches, this chain of 700 islands and 2,000 cays located 50 miles off Florida’s coast promises year-round warm weather, pink sands and shipwreck dives aplenty! From run-ins with local wildlife like beach-loving iguanas and swimming pigs, to foodie-themed walking tours of the capital (Nassau), it’s no one-trick pony.

Royal Caribbean chose the Bahamas to mark its triumphant return to the region in June of this year, and in another vote of confidence, Virgin Voyages’ adults-only Scarlet Lady is about to set sail for its wintertime jaunt here.

- READ MORE: Royal Caribbean Covid rules and restrictions - what you can and can't do -

Cruisers hankering for some winter sun should bear in mind that changing local protocols (from restaurant curfews to testing) could impact on travel between different islands within the archipelago.

The Nitty gritty: Effective as of September this year, all cruise passengers over age 12-years entering a Bahamian port must be fully vaccinated. This rule extends to private islands owned by cruise companies as well.

Ease of travel rating: 4/5

Bahamas: Royal Caribbean chose the Bahamas to mark its triumphant return to the region in June. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Saint Lucia

Sandwiched between Martinique and Saint Vincent, this mango-shaped Windward isle remains one of the world’s most romantic destinations.

Marrying French finesse with Caribbean flair, its 19,000 acres of rainforest boasts a drive-in-volcano and bubbling mud baths, whilst its cultural capital of Castries serves up creole cuisine and locally grown chocolate. The news that the island’s Ministry of Health approved restaurants are open to fully vaccinated diners should be music to gourmands' ears!

Despite a sharp decline in Covid infections, stricter curfews were imposed at the start of October for a three-week period, and P&O axed its Britannia winter fly-cruises (that bookend with St. Lucia), from October 2021 through to March next year. But the volcanic isle remains a port-of-call for liners like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, so don’t scratch it off your Eastern Caribbean winter wish list just yet!

The Nitty gritty: Pre-testing five days prior to travel is now mandatory for all travellers aged five and above, irrespective of vaccination status. Fully jabbed cruisers are exempt from quarantine on arrival.

Ease of travel rating: 4/5

St Lucia remains one of the world’s most romantic destinations. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Grenada

Pronounced “gre-NAY-da”, this jungle-cloaked tri-island state in the Lesser Antilles is where cruisers come for a slice of the authentic Caribbean. As the world's second-largest producer of nutmeg after Indonesia, its historic spice and cocoa plantations are a good place to start, before hitting up its black and white beaches and turquoise waters, where 14 wrecks lie sunken!

The south-eastern Caribbean isle has taken a cautious approach in the face of Covid, welcoming cruise ships back on July 23 with Seabourn Odyssey’s round trip from Barbados. Passengers can rest safe in the knowledge that Grenada’s hospitality employees are fully vaccinated.

Despite faring better than many of its island neighbours and being categorised green in the UK’s traffic light system, the island continues to be in an official state of emergency until November 2021. But its bars and restaurants are starting to reopen, and nightly curfews are gradually lifting, which bodes well for early 2022 cruising.

The Nitty gritty: From July 31, 2021, anyone entering Grenada either by air or sea must be fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved jab. Additionally, tourists are required to quarantine for 48-hours, pending a negative PCR test upon arrival at the airport combined with a negative Covid test on entry.

Ease of travel rating: 3/5

Grenada is where cruisers come for a slice of the authentic Caribbean. Credit: Shutterstock

9. Trinidad & Tobago

Often shortened to “T&T”, this twin-island nation cast just off Venezuela’s northeast coast isn’t your archetypal Caribbean destination. A nature-lovers nirvana, the original capital of calypso’s pristine wilderness spans savannahs, wetlands and jungle, that hosts a wealth of wildlife, from giant leatherbacks to manatees.

Whilst its borders officially opened on July 17, cruise traffic has been sluggish, not helped by Caribbean countries like Jamaica denying entry to passengers who’ve visited T&T in the previous fortnight.

- READ MORE: Most popular international cruise destination in the world revealed -

It’s also just emerging from a month-long nationwide lockdown, with many beaches remaining out-of-bounds. There is hope on the horizon however. As of October 11, the island’s restaurants, bars and entertainment hubs will fully reopen to the vaccinated.

The Nitty gritty: Trinidad & Tobago is one of the few Caribbean destinations that remains on the UK’s red list. As well as a mandatory vaccination policy for non-nationals, all arrivals are required to undertake pre-departure testing.

Ease of travel rating: 1/5

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