There Are Four Main Routes to Choose From:
Eastern Caribbean: Nearly every cruise line, big and small, offers itineraries on this route, with sailings ranging from three nights to the traditional seven , and up to 10 nights and longer. Main ports include U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John), British Virgin Islands (Virgin Gorda and Tortola), plus San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Martin; and Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos.
The biggest decision won’t come in choosing an itinerary but an embarkation port. Cruising out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Miami are very popular choices since they provide less time at sea before the first port of call. But flying down to Florida is no longer necessary for New Englanders, with several embarkation choices along the East Coast: Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York; Bayonne, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; and Charleston, South Carolina. You can also fly to San Juan and embark from there.
Western Caribbean: With a mix of Central American and Caribbean ports, the cultural and scenic diversity of this route makes it a great choice for first-time cruisers. Even those who have sailed it before can uncover new things with a variety of itinerary options from which to choose.
Four- or five-night sailings typically stop in Cozumel; Key West, Florida; Jamaica; and Grand Cayman, while seven-night cruises may add on Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Costa Maya, Mexico. Most big-ship lines embark from southern cities such as New Orleans; Galveston, Texas, or Houston; Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Southern Caribbean: This route is different than the others in terms of travel requirements and port personalities. Standard weeklong itineraries require a flight to the embarkation port — typically San Juan or Barbados — since it’s too far to sail to from the U.S. Those planning a 10-night or longer vacation can choose to leave from domestic ports such as Florida’s Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Cape Canaveral, or New York City.
Southern Caribbean itineraries commonly make stops in some combination of the ABC islands — Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao — as well as St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Barbados. Seasoned travelers who’ve already sailed the western or eastern routes may opt for a cruise to these more exotic destinations, each offering its own unique charm. For example, Aruba and Grenada are known for their gorgeous beaches, St. Lucia for its tropical rain forests, and the Grenadine islands for their quiet, remote cays.
Bahamas: With more than 300 days of sunshine and high temperatures that rarely leave the 80s, a low season is virtually nonexistent in the Bahamas. Whether you like to explore cultural attractions, take in a few rounds of golf, shop in local markets, join high-adrenaline excursions, or just sunbathe on the soft, white sand, these islands offer enough variety to entertain visitors with nearly any interest.
Several mainstream lines sail year-round to the islands, with itineraries that include a stop in either Nassau or Freeport, along with a day on one of the cruise lines’ private isles. You can catch a shorter three- to four-night sailing out of Florida ports such as Miami, Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, or Fort Lauderdale, but longer five- to eight-night cruises must be taken from ports along the East Coast and the South, including Charleston, New Orleans, and Galveston.