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Caribbean Cruise Tips

Page Index: Aboard Ship | Great Excursions | Weather / When to Go | Best Deals

Our favorite Caribbean cruise tips are lessons learned from many vacations in the region. Here are some of those lessons.

Eastern, Western or Southern?


Caribbean cruises are usually divided into eastern, western and southern cruises.

We have been on all three, the shipboard experiences are similar and the off ship experiences are not. Know your islands and especially the cruise ports before you choose which region to visit.

Some islands are lush and have great rain forests and plenty of palm trees because of heavy annual rains while others are arid and have little vegetation.

Most of the islands are former English, Dutch, Spanish and French colonies. As a result, they are much different in look, culture and atmosphere.

Most importantly, understand what you might enjoy the most and then pick the islands and the region to fit those interests -- excursions, recreation, shopping, eco-tourism, culture and history are all major attractions on the islands.

Aboard Ship


The food is everywhere, generally decent and demanding that you gain weight. Wear dress clothes on captain's night. Expect to leave the casinos with less money than you had going into them.

The quality of the shows is reflected in the price levels of each cruise line. The cafeteria food lines for breakfast and lunch are usually lengthy; go at odd times or head toward the back of the ship to see if there is another food bar that is less obvious and used.

Keep in mind:

  • Get a cheap interior cabin if you plan to enjoy the onboard amenities
  • Get a more expensive cabin if you work on vacation
  • Reading and sleeping on deck are far more popular than swimming in the small, crowded pools
  • Even if you are not feeling sociable, try the formal dining at least once

Great Excursions


Stingray City
Stingray City
Virtually all of the islands have similar duty-free shopping, nice white beaches, the usual list of water recreational activities such as diving, snorkeling, para sailing, etc.

What makes each island different is the people, the landscape and especially the unique excursions -- such as Stingray City in Cayman, Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, underwater river tubing in Belize and other adventures.

Here are some of the best excursions broken down by destination:

Eastern
  • Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica
  • Stingray City at Grand Cayman

Western
  • Snorkeling and diving, especially in Roatan, Cozumel and Belize
  • Mayan ruins on the east coast of Mexico and Central America
  • Cave tubing in Belize
  • Ziplining in Costa Rica

Southern
  • Shipwreck scuba diving in Aruba
  • Shopping in Philipsburg, St. Maarten
  • Snorkeling with sea turtles in Barbados

Weather / When to Go


Cruise weather is a potential risk because of the annual hurricane season, but it's less of a risk on a cruise than if you visit one island for a week-long stopover.

The season, which of course includes frequent but less severe tropical storms, generally lasts from July to November with September being one of the worst months. If you have children to take, your options are generally limited to summers, Christmas and spring break.

Three of our cruises were during the summer, and the ship's captain avoided bad weather every time. If you don't have children, go any other time because the temperatures are still just as good and the prices are lower.

Finding a Good Deal
Plan far in advance to lock in lower prices if your time frame is limited because of family and work schedules. Shop at the last minute for fire sales if you can go on your vacation with short notice at any time of the year.

Go to the cruise Web sites and click on links that might say something like Specials. Or do what our family's cruise expert did, which was go to every cruise, travel and vacation Web site repeatedly to look for price breaks and get to know all of the prices as thoroughly as any travel agent.

Cruise prices vary based on time of year, islands visited, sellout rate and other factors. One cruise line offered an eight-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera for $769 and offered the same cruise two weeks later for only $529 or a 31 percent discount.

Here are 10 rules for shopping for a good cruise deal:
  1. Start shopping months in advance
  2. Prices are per person
  3. When kids are out of school, prices go up
  4. When weather is bad (fall months), prices go down
  5. Check prices weekly to look for special promotions
  6. Be aware that some cruise lines sell days and other sell nights, i.e., a seven-day cruise versus a seven-night cruise
  7. Analyze prices on a per-night basis
  8. Shorter cruises cost more per night, longer ones cost less
  9. Look for rate cuts for ages 55+, past guests and even per state
  10. Check for extra fees and surcharges
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Tips   

October 06, 2017


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