Caribbean - Southern Cruise Guide

worthing beach barbados
Worthing Beach, Barbados - by SIME/eStockPhoto

Why go?

The Southern Caribbean is a diverse region with islands stretched over a wide swath of the sea, from the arid, southernmost islands of the Caribbean, Aruba, and Curacao, up to Guadeloupe and Dominica near Nevis and St. Kitts.

Most people who choose a Southern Caribbean cruise do so for the great beaches, European flavor, and the quiet, as these ports are smaller and less visited than those of Eastern and Western Caribbean routes. Southern Caribbean cruises feel more exotic, but you’ll have to travel farther to get there, as many sailings depart from San Juan, St. Thomas, and Barbados. Weeklong Southern Caribbean itineraries aren’t as uniform as the Eastern and Western routes; most include some combination of the ABC islands — Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao — St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, and the Grenadines.

A Southern Caribbean cruise is definitely the one to try if you’re looking for something different among the Caribbean’s 40 main islands. Curacao’s pretty 17th- and 18th-century gabled buildings lining the harbor are a pastel version of Amsterdam, while Aruba lures visitors with its rock formations, caves, and white sand beaches that seem to stretch forever.

Grenada is another natural beauty, with waterfalls and rain forests to explore, plus the soft, appealing sands of Grand Anse Beach. Munch on baguettes in Les Saintes and revel in the solitude of tiny green Bequia, with its intimate arcs of golden beach shaded by cedar and almond trees.

In the tiny Tobago Cays, powdery white sand meets lagoons full of colorful coral, tropical fish, and sea turtles. St. Lucia’s draw is the beauty of its twin peaks and extinct volcanoes, mineral baths, and sulfur springs near La Soufrière. Barbados stands out for its British accents, pink sand beaches, and pretty back roads dotted with old churches.

When to go

You can cruise in the Southern Caribbean year-round with little threat of rain as the traditional June-to-November hurricane cycle rarely makes an impact this far south — with a few exceptions, such as when Grenada got pummeled in 2004. The slim chance of bad weather means there’s only an upside to cruising in the off-season months of September through early December, when you’ll find lower prices and fewer crowds.

Like the rest of the Caribbean, high season in the southern region is January through April, along with the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and Easter holidays, when sunseekers flock here from the coldest states. Temperatures remain steadily in the mid to high 80s Fahrenheit, and in the hot ABC islands, the trade winds keep things cooler and drive the insects and storms away.

 

Routes

It’s not easy to pin down the typical Southern Caribbean cruise as there are more itinerary combinations than you’ll find in the Eastern and Western Caribbean. Many combine Eastern and Southern Caribbean ports, and big-ship itineraries are quite different than those for small ships. Most depart from San Juan, Puerto Rico, with some also cruising out of St. Thomas, Barbados, and Aruba, a few from Florida, and some from Curacao.

How to Get There

Here are three of the most common itineraries:

 

Seven-Night Big Ship:
This route sails round trip from San Juan and typically visits four or five islands: Barbados and St. Lucia, and some combination of St. Kitts, St. Martin, St. Thomas, St. Croix, and Antigua.

Good For: Beach lovers will be happy, and so will Anglophiles when they visit Barbados and St. Lucia, which still cling to some of their English colonial heritage.

Downside: There are fewer flight options to San Juan than there are to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Also, St. Thomas and St. Martin can be very crowded.

 

Seven-Night Small Ship:
The routes that small ships ply sail round trip from Barbados and visit five or six ports: some combination of St. Lucia, Grenada, Martinique, Les Saintes (Guadeloupe), and (in the Grenadines) Bequia, Canouan Island, Union Island, Tobago Cays, and Mayreau.

Good For: Loners and yachters will love feeling like they’re the only ones on the beach. This itinerary is also perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway.

Downside: There are fewer flight options to Barbados than to Florida and San Juan, plus flying to Barbados in the high season will cost you more.

 

10-Night Cruises:
These routes sail round trip from Fort Lauderdale and visit Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire, plus make two or three other stops in the Bahamas, Grand Turk, or the Dominican Republic.

Good For: People who appreciate a European flavor to their Caribbean cruise are drawn to this itinerary and the Dutch influences in Aruba and Curacao.

Downside: If you don’t like sea days, this itinerary isn’t for you — most cruises will have three or four quiet days on the water.

Cruise Lines That Sail Caribbean - Southern

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