Down here in the Southern Hemisphere place names like the Cayman Islands, Mexico and the Virgin Isles are exquisitely exotic, destinations we might put on a bucket list - but they are easier to get to than we might think. Cruising is an easy way to make your sunny travel dreams happen, offering unforgettable voyages that are familiar in their format to us antipodeans but deliciously foreign in their itineraries.
To get you daydreaming of a Caribbean cruise, we have put together a snapshot of what you might expect. Set sail with us on an (imaginary, unfortunately) adventure departing from Florida and cruising to the hotspots of the beautiful, tropical Caribbean. It’s the world’s busiest cruising ground, and there’s good reason for that.
Sail away into the Caribbean from Florida
The majority of ships with the Caribbean isles on their horizons will depart from somewhere in the balmy southern state of Florida, be it Miami, Fort Lauderdale or a smaller port. For foreign cruisers (like you), this is an opportunity in itself to experience some of the amazing beachy lifestyle and vibrant atmosphere of the glitzy Floridian cities, along with the natural wonder that is the Everglades. Major international airports make it an easy place to get to, and the cruise industry there is a well-oiled machine, so departure is easy and breezy. Myriad lines depart from Floridian ports including of course the big names like Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean.
So, here begins your cruise adventure. You dance to the beats of Miami streets, people-watch on South Beach and perhaps even zip up to Disney World before stepping aboard your vessel. Sailing away with the sights of Florida in the rearview (if ships had rearview mirrors. They don’t but you aren’t driving so you can just turn around) is an experience to remember, so you take plenty of photos - and make sure to get your tropical fruity cocktail in a few of them.
You spend a day at sea to kick off the cruise. This downtime is a very important part of your journey, as it’s when you can seriously get down to the business of relaxation. Unpacking is all the work you need to do, and now it’s you time. That might mean chilling poolside and only budging to go to lunch, or it may be more along the lines of signing up for a sports tournament and exploring the ship from bow to stern - which could be quite a distance. However you like to wind down, now’s the time to do it. Hard.
Culture in Cozumel
Mexico is a likely destination on any Caribbean cruise, so for the purposes of this daydream we call in first to Cozumel, a gorgeous isle off the coast of the Quintana Roo region. You wake up to find yourself docked at the Cozumel Cruise Ship Terminal overlooking the downtown part of the island, enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the tropical heat and then disembark to experience this little slice of Mexico. Beyond the main tourist area you find a vibrant community, which has retained its unique customs and traditions in the face of booming tourism.
In the afternoon, you deep dive into the waters of Cozumel to discover why it is considered one of the world’s top undersea destinations. Through your cruise line or another operator you are able to snorkel the surrounding reefs which lie under incredibly clear water, or get on a glass bottomed boat to enjoy the same without getting wet. A great interest in seeing what is below the waters of the Caribbean was one of the factors that got you on this cruise, and Cozumel is a fantastic place to find out.
Grand adventures in George Town
Where to next? Along with your cruise buddies, you settle in for a night of great food and entertainment onboard before arriving in George Town, Cayman Islands. This beloved destination, favoured by holidaymakers all over the world, will be a highlight of your cruise itinerary, so you head ashore as soon as you can to make the most of it.
The long, low isle of Grand Cayman is a natural stunner, and its greatest assets are its beaches. In order to get amongst it, you take advantage of one of the many adventure activities and outdoor pursuits offered by tour operators. From swimming with the local stingrays to setting out on a yacht to embarking on a 4X4 trek, there is something for every taste in and around beautiful George Town and Grand Cayman. You choose to head back out on the ocean, this time harnessing the power of the tropical wind to get around and island hop for an unforgettable day of sailing.
Before you get back onboard the ship, you grab a drink in a George Town bar and enjoy the free and easy atmosphere of this British Overseas Territory which is more spirited than stuffy, embracing the rich culture and balmy atmosphere of the place in lieu of colonial customs.
Style and scenery in San Juan
Days at sea between destinations are great for topping up your relaxation tank again, so you spend all the time you can enjoying the delights of the ship - which is replete with amazing activities and facilities to keep even the busiest of holidaymakers occupied. Soon enough, however, you’re on to the next port of call, somewhere offering fresh new excitement - San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico and home to fantastic arts, music and dining scenes.
Here, everyone steps onshore and straight into the action of San Juan thanks to the cruise port’s handy location right in Calle Marina. This is an urban hotspot on many Caribbean itineraries, so you spend your day onshore enjoying a bit of a city break amongst the magic of the Puerto Rican destination, and exploring the Old Town which engulfs you just minutes away from the cruise dock. You take in the history of the centuries-old fort walls before heading farther afield to explore the many varied neighbourhoods of the city or joining a shore excursion.
Tours available from San Juan run the gamut of interests and physical exertion required. This time, you head out of the city to visit the incredible Window Cave or Cueva Ventana in Arecibo. The caves start out in darkness, but the light at the end of the tunnel is a stunning view from the natural picture window over a lush valley. Take pictures with your camera and in your mind to remember this natural wonder!
Character in Charlotte Amalie
Your (unfortunately) imaginary cruise now takes you to Charlotte Amalie on the isle of St Thomas, a popular destination for Eastern Caribbean cruises. It’s a pretty name for a pretty place, with steep jungly hills overlooking a deep blue harbour. Despite being a part of the US Virgin Islands, it has a character all of its own. The cuisine is Caribbean, the architecture largely Dutch colonial, and the local language a type of creole - although English is the official tongue. During your visit, you take it all in as you wander through the town, try a tidbit and a tipple here and there, and enjoy the tropical atmosphere. On a whim, you add in a visit to Blackbeard’s Castle, a favourite historic landmark where you are able to feel a part of the piratic lore of the Caribbean.
The smaller isles and blue waters off the coast of Charlotte Amalie are calling, so you sign on for a shore tour and trade in the big ship for a smaller one to head out and sail, snorkel or just explore this beautiful and tropical place.
The abovementioned destinations are just a few examples of what the Caribbean has to offer - think the bustling Bahamas, joyful Jamaica and the many idyllic private islands or beaches owned by cruise lines and tailored exactly to keep cruisers happy and relaxed - Labadee, CocoCay and other cabana-filled hotspots. Alas, this voyage has come to an end, and you’ll need to hop aboard another to see the rest of it - perhaps you could make it a real one next time!
Continue daydreaming and consider making it a reality on our page of Caribbean cruise deals!