The Caribbean vs. the Bahamas: Smackdown!
Both the Caribbean and the Bahamas have stretches of sand that appeal to beach bums of all ages. Party animals can swig drinks from beach bars at sundown, while couch potatoes happily roast on the sand and sporty types windsurf. The big difference is the location: The Bahamas are a lot closer to Florida and offer more weekend cruise options. And they’re cheaper. Why? It takes less fuel to get to the Bahamas, and the cruise lines usually position their older ships on the weekend runs. Read on for our full comparison:
Caribbean cruises are filled with bright turquoise waters, white-sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and sunny weather. Itineraries in this region are broken up into three routes: Eastern, Western, and Southern. Vacation length, ideal embarkation port, and interests will determine which area of the Caribbean is best suited for you.
With an average of 315 days of sunshine per year and crystal clear blue waters, it’s no surprise the 700-island country called the Bahamas is a famed vacation destination. With the closest port of the Bahamas only 55 miles off the coast of Florida, you’re a quick weekend cruise away from a tropical haven. While Bahamas cruise itineraries differ based on embarkation port and cruise line, there are two common ports of call in the country - Nassau (home to Atlantis and Paradise Island) and Freeport on Grand Bahama Isle. Most cruise lines also have their own private island located in the Bahamas.
Prices on Caribbean itineraries depend on the destination, length of cruise, and time of year. Most Caribbean cruises are at least 7 nights, with more time spent at sea and additional stops on the itinerary. Expect to pay more on these trips.
- During the off-season months (September through December excluding Holiday weeks)) you should be able to find great deals on Caribbean cruises. Be aware that hurricane season, a big concern for the Caribbean, runs from June through November, with most activity occurring in September.
- Depending on the region of the Caribbean you are sailing to, be prepared to spend more for extra shore excursions if your itinerary includes multiple stops. Sometimes Eastern Caribbean routes can be more expensive than Western for this reason.
- Some Southern routes depart from ports in the Caribbean, which could mean extra money will be spent traveling to get to the ship.
Typically Bahamas cruises depart from a Floridian port and are shorter 3-4 night voyages, making them less expensive than a Caribbean cruise. Commonly, these trips are on older ships in the fleet, but are great for first-time cruisers to develop an appetite for cruising.
- As voyages to the Bahamas are shorter, there’s less time onboard the ship which can mean less spent onboard.
- With many cruise lines owning private islands in the Bahamas, certain excursions may already be included in your cruise fare. Do your homework ahead of time as some experiences will be complimentary but things like private cabanas, fishing, beach toys, and even water parks, could be an extra charge.
- Mid-December through April is the high season for the Bahamas. Expect fares to be higher during this time period.
Our Pick: Draw
You are likely to find less expensive fares on Bahamas routes, as they are shorter voyages visiting fewer destinations. However, you can find good deals in the off-season for Caribbean routes.
Caribbean Itinerary Highlights:
Caribbean cruises are commonly a week-long (or more), with the majority leaving from Florida, or east or gulf coast port. Some lines offer sailings departing directly from Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and Barbados. Nassau (or one of the many private Bahamian islands owned by the cruise lines) is commonly a stop on a Caribbean itinerary. Typically, sailings focus on one of three regions for the area - Western Caribbean, Eastern Caribbean, and Southern Caribbean.
- Western Caribbean routes offer a blend of eco-adventures and cultural attractions, with stops like Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Honduras, Belize, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman. Cruises in this area are a perfect mix of relaxing beach days combined with the opportunity for activities like hiking through Mayan ruins or snorkeling with stingrays. Some Western itineraries offer destinations that can take longer to sail to, meaning more days at sea.
- Eastern Caribbean routes include calls in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Grand Turk, US Virgin Isands or the British Virgin Islands. Here, destinations are commonly closer to embarkation ports, allowing for more port calls. Expect to spend your time island-hopping, sipping tropical drinks on pristine beaches, and shopping until you drop.
- Ports on the Southern Caribbean route are generally further apart than those on Eastern and Western sailings, requiring more travel time. Here you will visit exotic destinations like Curacao, St. Lucia, St. Kitts or the ABC Islands. Many of these routes depart from various Florida ports, Puerto Rico, Barbados, or St. Maarten, which is something to keep in mind for planning travel.
Bahamas Itinerary Highlights
Because the country is so close to southern Florida (the closest port is just 55 miles away), most Bahamas cruises are short three and four-night getaways. If your ship leaves from Miami or Fort Lauderdale in the evening, you can be in Nassau by the next morning.
- Many cruise lines own private islands in the Bahamas including Carnival & Holland America (Half Moon Cay), Royal Caribbean (Perfect Day at CocoCay), Disney Cruise Line (Castaway Cay), Norwegian (Great Stirrup Cay), MSC (Ocean Cay), and Princess (Princess Cays). These islands extend days of fun in the sun and offer activities like waterparks, pools, dining, and picturesque white sandy beaches.
- Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas. This is a very popular port stop with a vibrant nightlife scene, casinos, theaters, historical sites, and great cuisine. Atlantis, Paradise Island’s most famed resort, has several hotel towers, a gorgeous beach, pools, and many restaurants. Most cruise lines offer a day pass package that includes transfers to/from the port and use of the beach and water park facilities there.
- Freeport, on Grand Bahama Isle, offers a variety of beaches, resorts, and cultural sites to check out. We recommend a Grand Bahama Waterway Tour or the Lucayan National Park & Cave Tour from Shore Excursions Group if your cruise includes a stop on the island.
Our pick: Caribbean
The Bahamas are great if you are looking for a quick weekend escape, however, the Caribbean offers so many destination choices. The Caribbean also wins this one as many itineraries include a Bahamas stop at one of the cruise line’s private islands.
The Caribbean is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, with picturesque destinations like St. John, St. Barts, Anguilla, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and Grenada topping the list. Adults love to sunbathe and kids can happily build sandcastles and run into the waves all day.
- On an Eastern Caribbean route, you will find a wide variety of beaches. Soak in the sun and take a dip in the crystal clear waters of Trunk Bay in Saint John. Neighboring Jost van Dyke is home to sugar-white sands and the birthplace of tropical cruise drink favorite, The Painkiller.
- The beautiful beaches of Jamaica, Mexico, Belize, Grand Cayman, and Honduras all await you on a Western Caribbean cruise. Famed locales in this area include Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman and Montego Bay, one of the top beaches in Jamaica.
- It’s easy to settle into island time on a Southern Caribbean route. Expect to see blue-green water and sugary sands on beaches in this area like Surfside Beach in Oranjestad, Aruba, and South Friar’s Beach in Basseterre, St. Kitts.
The gorgeous Bahamas beaches on cruise line private islands or the stunning shores of Nassau could give some Caribbean beaches a run for their money.
- Half Moon Cay, a private destination for Carnival and Holland America, offers a two-mile stretch of beach that’s perfect for a day of relaxing in the sun. Ocean Cay, MSC Cruises’ private destination, is an authentic Caribbean Marine Reserve which features six beach areas perfect for snorkeling and sunbathing. And Disney’s Castaway Cay not only offers a pristine family beach, but an adults-only one, too.
- Junkanoo Beach in Nassau is just a short distance from the cruise port and is the perfect place to spend a day sunbathing in port. Just a few miles away also lies Cable Beach, a popular area with turquoise waters, white sands, and several luxury resorts.
Our pick: Caribbean
The beaches of the Bahamas are not shabby at all, but we have to give the Caribbean this one for the sheer variety of beaches the area offers. Note, the Bahamas can get slightly chilly in winter months so the water can sometimes feel a little cold.
‘Bored’ is not how you will describe the time in port on a Caribbean cruise. Depending on whether you seek adventure or relaxation, Caribbean routes offer something for travelers of all ages and interests. For adventure seekers, we recommend a Western Caribbean itinerary and an Eastern or Southern route for those looking to spend most of their time on the beach.
- History buffs will be amazed by the cobblestone streets in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Chateau Dubuc ruins in Martinique. Adventure lovers will love mountain biking, visiting the Mayan ruins, and checking out jungle life - all while visiting Belize City, a common port stop on Western Caribbean cruise itineraries.
- The Caribbean is full of destinations to grab a cocktail while in port. From watching cliff divers while sipping planter’s punch at the famous Rick’s in Negril, Jamaica to hanging out at a rustic beach bar in the British Virgin Islands, the Caribbean islands are a barfly’s dream.
- The Pitons in St. Lucia, The Baths National Park in Virgin Gorda, or Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica offer exceptional opportunities to sightsee and take in the natural wonders the Caribbean islands offer.
Comprising over 700 islands in total, there’s no shortage of exciting water or land-based activities in the Bahamas.
- Adventure lovers looking to get up close with nature will love one of the many snorkeling and water excursions available in Nassau. Travelers can meet “locals” like stingrays and dolphins on these trips.
- Activities are in no shortage at the private islands owned by the cruise lines. At Perfect Day at CocoCay (Royal Caribbean’s island), thrill seekers can’t get enough of the 135-foot Daredevil’s Peak — the tallest waterslide in North America. Princess Cays (Princess Cruises’ island) offers dune buggy tours of the southernmost tip of the beautiful Eleuthera Island.
- On a Bahamas cruise, you can learn about the islands’ rich history. A former British colony in the 18th century, the Bahamas is famed for its pirate invasions and history of occupations. We recommend checking out Fort Charlotte, a historic British colonial fort that once protected the city of Nassau from invaders.
Our Pick: Caribbean
We’ve chosen the Caribbean for this one for the volume of activities offered across all the countries and ports in the region. Whether you want to relax, explore, learn, or discover, the Caribbean has something for every type of cruiser.
For Kids & Families
Caribbean Kids & Families
From water excursions to visiting historical and cultural sites, there’s no shortage of activities for families traveling with kids in the Caribbean.
- Older kids will love learning about the pirates who once sailed around the Caribbean during a visit to Blackbeard’s Castle in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
- While docked in Cozumel, Mexico, take a family day trip to Chichen Itza, the ruins of the ancient Mayan city.
- Kids will love the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feed (and touch!) a stingray at Stingray City in George Town, Grand Cayman.
Bahamas Kids & Families
Many private islands of the cruise lines in the Bahamas are designed for families traveling with kids. At these destinations, lines have incorporated activities like water slides, playgrounds, and zip lines for travelers of all ages.
- Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay sets the bar high for family-friendly private islands. Here, children (and adults) can enjoy amenities like a 2,400-square-foot water play area, scenic biking trails, and snorkeling in a blue lagoon. Kids will love character meet and greets, and getting groovy at the ‘Dance Party with Lilo and Stitch’ event. When adults are ready for some solo time, supervised care for children (ages 3-12) from Disney counselors is available at Scuttle's Cove, the on-island kid’s club.
- The coolest island aquapark for kids is Splashaway Bay on Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay. Families will enjoy the fountains, pools, water cannons, five waterslides, and two massive drench buckets.
Our Pick: The Bahamas
The cruise line’s private islands offer an abundance of family-friendly beaches and activities designed with kids in mind. Some of the experiences on these private islands are included in the cruise fare, which also makes it a plus.
Our Pick: Draw
When it comes to choosing a Caribbean cruise or a Bahamas cruise, it really depends on the amount of time you have, which port you want to depart from, and what types of activities you (and your family) enjoy. On one hand, the Caribbean trumps the Bahamas for its huge variety of beaches, landscapes, and cultures. On the other hand, you are guaranteed relaxation and fun in the sun on a Bahamas cruise route, in a shorter amount of time. In the end, when choosing between cruises to these areas, it comes down to your personal preferences, budget, and vacation time.
Join the discussion
Do you prefer Bahamas or Caribbean itineraries?