If swimming warm ocean waters, sipping tropical drinks by the pool, and palm trees swaying in the breeze sound like an amazing way to spend a vacation, look no further than a Caribbean cruise. However, most cruise lines offer only itineraries to either the Eastern or Western Caribbean. Picking which direction to go can be tricky when you don’t know what’s different about each. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide whether to cruise the Eastern or Western Caribbean.
The first thing to consider is the departure port. Most Eastern Caribbean cruises tend to leave from the Florida ports of Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Miami, and Tampa Bay, and some even leave from Charleston, New York, and New Jersey. Most Western Caribbean departures still leave from the normal Florida ports, but you also have the option of the New Orleans and Galveston ports.
When traveling to a port that’s farther away, it can be draining on both the budget and require extra time. Take into account booking flights to and from the port city, and finding accommodation for a pre- and post-cruise stay are some of the extras to budget for outside of the normal cruise fares. So if you live near a departure port with cruises to the Eastern or Western Caribbean, it can help you narrow down your search.
Second, look at itineraries for both Eastern or Western Caribbean cruises because the destinations are not the same. Eastern Caribbean sailings visit the Virgin Islands, the French West Indies, San Juan, Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Antiqua, St. Lucia, the Dominican Republic, or Nevis. A Western itinerary includes Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cuba, Belize City, Roatan, Costa Rica, Cancun, and other places in Mexico and Central America. If you have your heart set on a particular destination and an activity, then make sure that port stop is included in your cruise schedule.
It’s important to note that most cruises in either direction are only 7 days. This means that in the Eastern Caribbean, where islands are closer together, you wake up to a new island every day, while Western Caribbean islands are further apart and require more sailing time between stops. Whatever style, decide whether you’re more of an on-the-go type who needs to see as many islands as possible or you are content to drift a little longer in the ocean between stops.
For those who think 7 days is not a long enough vacation, cruisers can also opt for a 14 or 21 day itinerary that can also include the Southern Caribbean islands of French Martinique, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Aruba, Bonaire, or Curaçao.
Lastly, look at the list of excursions available for each itinerary- not every place is the same on Eastern or Western Caribbean cruises. The Eastern Caribbean leans towards beach-centered activities for those who just want to relax in the sand and play some beach volleyball or rent some snorkel gear to swim with some colorful fish. The small Caribbean towns also have world class restaurants and is a great place to search for shopping deals. If your itinerary has a late night departure, the Eastern Caribbean caters to travelers searching for a higher-end and more glamorous nightlife.
On the other hand, families might find the Western Caribbean more suitable. While there are still beautiful coastlines and clear blue waters to relax in, the activities are more varied. Have someone in your group who thinks sunbathing is too boring? Then they can pick an excursions that visits ancient ruins or sites of historical consequence, or other more land-based activities that stray away from the beach-centric island lifestyle. With more to do, you can take a week-long vacation and explore Mayan ruins, tour a sugar plantation, scuba dive in underwater cliffs, and go horseback riding along the beach.
Choosing between two areas of the Caribbean might seem impossible- both Eastern or Western Caribbean have gorgeous white sand beaches, plenty of scenery, a relaxing island atmosphere, and welcoming people. To put together a plan, look at the closest departure ports, figure out your vacation style, and keep in mind that excursions suitable for beach lovers or for families who need variety are dependent upon whether you sail East or West. Whatever horizon you sail towards, you are guaranteed to have a fun-filled Caribbean cruise.