estern Caribbean islands are popular destinations for cruises in part because they have some spectacular attractions and excursions.
Most definitions of the western Caribbean includes the Bahamas, Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti), Puerto Rico and Turks and Caicos, but cruise lines usually include them as part of their eastern Caribbean itineraries.
Six major islands are included in most of the western cruise itineraries. They are:
- Cayman Islands
- Puerto Rico
Common departure ports are Miami, FL; Tampa, FL; Galveston, TX; and New Orleans, LA.
Stingray City; photo © Lawson Wood
Grand Cayman receives 10 times as many cruise visitors as people who visit there for a longer-term stopover.
The island is most famous for two major attractions -- Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City.
Seven Mile Beach, often named as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, is located within walking distance of the cruise port at George Town, capital of the Cayman Islands.
The beach also is home to most of the major hotels and resorts
on Grand Cayman.
Stingray City is one of the best Caribbean excursions
because visitors get to interact with friendly stingrays that have become used to contact with humans.
The stingrays live on a sandbar where visitors can jump off boats in snorkeling gear and stand or swim in about three feet of water while watching the stingray glide past -- and sometimes touch them with their wings.
Cozumel is the largest Mexican island and located off the eastern coast.
It also receives a massive number of cruise visitors because of the ambiance at San Miguel, the Cozumel cruise port, as well as its beaches, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Visitors can take a ferry across the water to tour Playa del Carmen, a large Mexican city with excellent shopping along its lengthy Fifth Avenue.
Cuba is one of the most popular Caribbean destinations for tourist from Britain, Canada and other countries.
The island draws visitors because of numerous beautiful beaches, Latin American culture and interesting history.
It is not as accessible for American tourists because of a history of poor relations between the two countries. But that problem is changing.
At this time, Americans must fly to another country first and then to Cuba. In addition, there are restrictions on spending money there because of the embargo.
See the U.S. State Department travel guidelines
for up to date information.
Negril Jamaica beach; © Jamaica Tourist Board
Jamaica is a lush island with a distinct local culture that attracts both cruise visitors and long-term stays.
Unlike the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Jamaica receives more visitors who stay than people who visit by cruise.
Jamaica is one of the best islands in the Caribbean to visit for all-inclusive resorts
that provide so much food and entertainment that few people leave the resort property.
The island also is home to another famous Caribbean excursion at Dunn’s River Falls, 600 feet of cascading waterfalls that visitors can climb as part of a daisy chain.
San Juan is capital of this U.S. island territory, a popular cruise stop and also a major embarkation port for southern Caribbean cruises.
But more people visit Puerto Rico for a long-term stay than by cruise.
This large island has numerous attractions in its own right, especially Old San Juan, the city’s historical district with large forts, cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings.
Some people also combine a brief stopover in San Juan with a cruise.
This small but up and coming island on the coast of Honduras is attracting more and more cruise ships.
Roatan has the second largest coral reef in the world, which creates many opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Things to do include zip line jungle canopy tours, Roatan Tropical Butterfly Garden, horseback riding, deep diving submarine, glass bottom boat, sailing and diving tours.