Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong

Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong

I’ve just returned from back-to-back Caribbean cruises on two very different ships, the massive 6,000 passenger Symphony of the Seas and the smaller 1,200 passenger Oceania Vista. And on both, despite their dramatic differences, I was amazed how many people were still getting the same five things wrong that I’ve seen on every Caribbean cruise I’ve done over the years. I want to warn you about them, so you can avoid them.

First, most passengers I met on those two cruises had started by choosing the cruise line they wanted to cruise with, and then chose the itinerary. That is the wrong way round.

You’re more likely to have a better Caribbean cruise if you start by deciding which of the 5 different itinerary options is best for you. Then the cruise line – especially if you are a return cruiser.

 Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong!

#1: Not All Caribbean Cruises Are The Same

This is important because each of the itineraries offer a very different experience and can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy yourself.

So, what are those five itineraries?

One just sails to the Bahamas and back. These tend to be shorter cruises of three or four nights and are ideal for a quick party cruise or getaway where the destination is less the key focus.

The next two are the most common ones, usually lasting seven nights.

Western Caribbean

The first is the Western Caribbean, which is what I did on both those cruises. They call on places like Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico, Roatan in Honduras, Belize, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. These are pleasant enough ports, but feel less authentic and very tourist-based in my view.

Eastern Caribbean

The other is the Eastern Caribbean. This will take you to even more scenic places like St. Maarten, Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts, Antigua, St. Thomas, St. Barts, and the Bahamas. These are more scenic and have nicer beaches and sights, in my opinion.

Many cruise lines will alternate their ships between the Western and Eastern itineraries. So, you can do a back-to-back 14-night cruise to see both.

Southern Caribbean

The fourth itinerary is a southern Caribbean cruise, and probably my favourite. They tend to be a little bit longer, often 10 nights out of Florida, as it’s further to sail.

Some go to the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao), though most go to places like Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, Dominica, and Martinique.

These tend to be a bit more exotic. And less busy in terms of cruise ships because they’re further away.

Caribbean & Panama

The fifth itinerary, hitting a bucket list for many, are Caribbean cruises with a partial transit of the Panama Canal. They tend to be at least 10 nights and often call on Curacao or Willemstad. They also do the partial transit through the Gatun Locks into the Gatun Lake and back down again. And then visit some of the western Caribbean ports like Roatan and Belize.

It’s a magnificent way of combining the Caribbean with a taste of the Panama Canal.

I recommend trying different itineraries each time to see a more diverse side to the Caribbean.

This leads me on to a very important point about ports on the itinerary to look out for, and one that I have changed my mind about.

 Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong!

#2: Underestimating Cruise-Owned Destinations In The Caribbean

I used to avoid itineraries that called on cruise line owned and operated islands and destinations. Feeling that going there wasn’t supporting local communities which are not very affluent across the Caribbean.

I now see this as a mistake. After visiting these islands, I find them beautiful, well run, and with lots to do.

All the main cruise line corporations have them (Carnival Corporation has several, Royal Caribbean a few, as does Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney and MSC cruises).

On my two recent cruises, I went to two of them. One of my favourites is Harvest Caye Belize, the Norwegian group island. It is not a particularly large island but has great beaches.

I also went to Royal Caribbean’s Labadee resort in Haiti for the first time. This is a beautiful resort with different beaches, facilities and even zip lines and slides.

I’ve also been to Holland America’s Half Moon Cay, again a stunning island with lots to offer.

One of the most famous of all is Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at Coco Cay. They spent $250 million developing it.

Another upside is I found them to be safer and more secure option. With less need to worry about crime and safety, something that I will come to later.

But before that, I recommended choosing which of the 5 routes is the first thing you should do, so what is the second? It is where I saw on my recent cruises, so many people tripped up on.

 Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong!

#3: Choosing the Cruise line For Your Caribbean Cruise

And that is going on the wrong line. The choice is huge, as every line offers Caribbean cruises.

So many people, however, including many I met on Symphony of the Seas, associate and book Caribbean cruises on these big resort style ships. They assumed to cruise the Caribbean required being on vast ship with around 6,000 mostly younger adults, teens, and kids. And spoke about how they disliked being crammed on a ship with so many people.

Of course, they didn’t have to be. As I explained to them, my second cruise right after Royal Caribbean was on a ship with only 20% of that number of guests – just couples, and mostly older.

Almost every cruise line, style of ship and size of ship sails in the Caribbean.

I’ve cruised the Caribbean on vast resort-style ships, on premium ships like Celebrity Solstice, Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam and Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. On luxury small ship Oceania Insignia with 600 guests and Vista with 1,200, and even ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas with just 420 guests.

You can do it in any style you want, from adult-only Viking or Virgin to kid-friendly Disney.

And you could even go as far as doing it with completely different nationalities or languages on Italian lines like Costa, German lines like Aida and Mein Schiff, or even the French line, Ponant.

In fact, you could even choose to have a British cruise experience versus a more North American one too. This leads me to the next mistake and misconception I see.

 Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong!

#4: Florida Isn’t The Only Caribbean Sailing Option

Many people I met assumed their only option to cruise the Caribbean is out of Florida.

It is, of course, the North American state closest to the Caribbean, and every day multiple ships cruise out of its three ports: Miami, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral.

But sailing out of that means sailing out of Florida also has its problems. For example, when I was in Miami to catch Oceania Vista, there had been eight ships in on the Friday, nine ships on the Saturday, and there were going to be six ships on the Sunday.

With 15,000 to 20,000 people getting on and off those ships, it is busy, crowded, manic and hotels are costly. Flights can be too.

Other Options

There are many other options to cruise the Caribbean from other US ports. When I checked, Carnival had 12 other ports at various times of the year and Norwegian and Royal Caribbean had nine alternatives. These include New York, Tampa, Galveston, and so on.

The downside with those is, unlike if you’re sailing from Florida, you’re probably going to get some of the older ships, not the new, glitzy ships, but that does often mean lower fares.

But there are way more other options.

You can sail to the Caribbean direct to and from Europe. I have sailed to the Caribbean twice out of the UK. Once it was a repositioning Caribbean cruise on P&O Cruises Britannia, and the other on Cunard there and back.

You can also do a Caribbean cruise on European lines like the UK’s P&O Cruises, German Mein Schiff and AIDA and Italian Costa. As they move and base many of their ships there in the season, mostly out of Barbados.

Increasingly some more US-focused lines are also basing ships in the Caribbean in ports like Barbados, San Juan, and St Maarten, ranging from ultra-luxury lines like Ritz Carlton and Silversea. Small luxury lines like Windstar. Premium lines like Virgin Voyages and mass resort-style like Royal Caribbean.

There are so many more, and growing options, than relying just on increasingly busy Florida ports.

I do want to talk now about something that concerned me more than all these other mistakes. It felt very real on these two trips. And that is passengers falling into the trap of thinking that because the Caribbean is so busy and popular it is safe on and off the ship.

 Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong!

#5: Popularity Doesn’t Means It’s Safe

With many people on any ship, both crew and passengers, I always assume there must be some “bad eggs” as it were.

I had a vivid reminder of this when a crew member was arrested on Symphony of the Seas as I was boarding my Caribbean cruise. He had been caught leaving hidden cameras in the bathroom of a cabin shared by three women.

While reported crime rates on ships appear low, it does happen. Sexual assaults being the most reported on ships sailing in and out of the United States, which are mostly Caribbean cruises. The next is physical assault, so fights.

So, a reminder to be aware and not let your guard down totally – especially if using that drinks package heavily!

But also think about off ship safety in the Caribbean.

Off Ship Safety

Although the Caribbean is busy, and maybe because of it, it is important to know that many of the ports have crime issues. There is a lot of poverty across the islands and crime and unrest seems a growing issue.

As I headed in these cruises several of the ports were given elevated travel advisory warnings by the US State Department. Those were for calls into Jamaica and Nassau for elevated crime levels, and Labadee which is in Haiti, for the civil unrest there.

At various points many other popular cruise islands are or have been flagged as risky places due to crime for travellers and cruise passengers. Including Roatan, which I also called into on this trip, St. Lucia, the US Virgin Islands, Antigua, and Saint Kitts.

It is essential when you’re heading to the Caribbean to check the current advice and don’t make the mistake of letting your guard down.

This is key as personally I feel, and especially on these cruises felt, that the lines don’t do a good job at flagging the higher warnings nor give enough advice on staying safe in port. For example, the raised levels were only a small vague reference buried in the daily program.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down!

I think we all need to not let our guard down and get lulled into a sense of false security. On islands flagged as having elevated risk, stick with the crowds. Go on Cruise Line Excursions. Stay on board, or only go in the enclosed port areas in islands with current travel advisories. That was what I did in Jamaica.

On the upside, in most ports because tourism is so important, I am seeing increased security around the ports and main tourist spots.

Recently I saw in Dominica they’ve created a secure, controlled area around the port where the ships are docked which is manned by police. Some of the beaches, like in Barbados, now have tourist police keeping an eye on things.

As well as checking the State or Foreign Office advice before I cruise, I also use the website They also advise around safety in the port and when it’s a good idea to go on an excursion versus self-exploring.

 Too Many Caribbean Cruisers Still Get These 7 Things Wrong!




Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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