Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

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Caribbean

8 Useful Caribbean Travel Tips

Caribbean cruise ship
Our colorful Caribbean cruise ship brightens the beautiful waters at the St. Kitts cruise port. © Scott S. Bateman

The best Caribbean travel tips offer unique experiences from cruises, attractions, shopping and other entertainment.

Caribbean travel draws millions of visitors each year because of steady warm weather, beautiful beaches and lush tropical islands that give people a feeling of getting away from everyday life.

The best Caribbean vacations give their visitors at least one unique experience that creates a lifetime memory. They are usually based on a combination of attractions, beaches, shopping, cruises or resorts (especially all-inclusive resorts).

1) Best Vacation Tips for Families

Great vacations create great memories, especially if they are with families. Seeing children filled with awe or joy is a sight that can last a lifetime.

The right places and experiences in the Caribbean can deliver those kinds of memories because of the unique shore excursions the region has to offer.

A western Caribbean cruise is a great choice for memorable family experiences. Popular and unique shore excursions include Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, Stingray City in Grand Cayman, Cozumel snorkeling, the Panama Canal, zip lining in Costa Rica and cave tubing in Belize.

Chichen Itza
Mayan ruins are popular attractions along the Caribbean coast of Mexico and Central America. © Scott S. Bateman

Another great option is all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica and Dominican Republic. They specialize in providing a complete array of things to do on site that families can share together.

The most popular Caribbean destinations combine beaches, attractions, shopping and other activities, some of which are educational and some just plain fun.

For example, Cancun offers the amazing Chichen Itza while Dominica, Belize and Costa Rica all have numerous eco tourism adventures. Our favorite destinations include:

  1. Aruba
  2. Cancun
  3. Cozumel
  4. Dominican Republic
  5. Jamaica
  6. St. Lucia
  7. St. Maarten

Family Friendly Tip

It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that certain destinations have beaches and even some resorts where topless sunbathing is common.

They include French islands such as Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin (St. Maarten is the Dutch side of the same island and doesn’t allow topless sunbathing).

Also be aware that quite a few destinations have gambling casinos and some have a reputation for partying, especially during college spring break, such as Cancun.

2) Best Vacation Tips for Attractions

Besides great weather most of the year, Caribbean attractions provide unique fun for anyone wanting to lie on white sand beaches under whispering palm trees or do something much more.

Five of the best natural attractions include:

  1. Stingray City at Grand Cayman
  2. Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica
  3. Cave tubing in Belize
  4. Snorkeling or scuba diving in Belize
  5. Canopying (zip lining) over rain forests in Costa Rica

Five great shopping districts include:

  1. Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen
  2. Philipsburg in St. Maarten
  3. Nassau, Bahamas
  4. Willemstad, Curacao
  5. Havensight Mall, St. Thomas

Historical or cultural attractions not to be missed:

  1. Mayan ruins near Cancun
  2. Old San Juan
  3. English Harbour in Antigua

Finally, some of the best beaches include:

  1. Palm Beach, Aruba
  2. Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
  3. Shoal Bay East, Anguilla
  4. Magens Bay, St. Thomas
  5. Orient Bay, St. Martin

3) Best Caribbean Cruises

cruise ship
Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Anyone thinking about a Caribbean vacation for the first time always has the option of taking a cruise to several destinations rather than spending a week or two at one destination.

Caribbean cruises can last from two or three days up to nine days or more, but seven days and six nights is most common. A week-long cruise is likely to visit four or five locations.

Cruises are divided into:

Eastern. Eastern cruises often include some combination of the Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Antigua, San Juan and Turks & Caicos.

Western. A western Caribbean cruise might include Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and some of the Central American countries such as Panama, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica.

Southern. A southern Caribbean cruise might include Barbados, Dominica, St. Kitts and St. Lucia.

4) 10 Best Cruise Ports

Which one is best? It depends on the ports of call. Ten of the best ports of call are (in alphabetical order)

  1. Basseterre, St. Kitts
  2. Castries, St. Lucia
  3. Charlotte, Amalie, St. Thomas
  4. George Town, Grand Cayman
  5. Nassau, Bahamas
  6. Oranjestad, Aruba
  7. Philipsburg, St. Maarten
  8. San Juan, Puerto Rico
  9. San Miguel, Cozumel
  10. Willemstad, Curacao

Like the hotel and resort hunt, shopping for a cruise is best when it is done in advance. Prices vary according to the length of the trip and the location of the cabin with the inner and lower cabins being the least expensive.

Another way of saving money for a cruise is by taking one of an increasing number of cruises that leave northern U.S. ports such as Baltimore, MD; New York, NY; Charleston, SC, and other cities. These options allow some vacationers to save money by driving to the embarkation ports rather than flying to them.

5) Best Destinations for Hotels

Aruba hotels
Palm Beach in Aruba is a popular hotel destination. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Anyone planning a “stopover” Caribbean vacation such as a week at one of the major destinations has a choice of a hotel, resort or villa. Each choice depends on budget, location and other factors.

Many major hotel chains have a presence in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central American tourist areas.

Certain places emphasize hotels because of the way they cluster around major beaches, shopping and dining.

They include:

Anyone planning a visit will find that extensive planning and research will result in substantial savings.

Visit the hotel Web sites and major travel booking sites for the best deals. Start researching months in advance to find price breaks, which can come and go almost daily.

6) Best Destinations for Resorts

The same advice is true of resorts. Caribbean resorts are generally defined as vacation facilities that specialize in having all necessities on the property—restaurants, shopping and entertainment.

An all-inclusive resort usually charges one price for all amenities including room, food, entertainment and most activities such as snorkeling gear, kayaks and even small catamarans for sailing.

They will charge an extra fee for more expensive options such as scuba diving, parasailing, jet skis and banana boat rides.

It is worth noting that all-inclusive resorts tend to be more popular in certain destinations such as:

They emphasize staying on the property especially if shopping or other activities are not nearby.

All-inclusive resorts are not as common at destinations such as Aruba and Cancun where there are nearby cities and other things to do.

7) Best Destinations for Villas

Finally, a smaller number of vacationers look for villas for their stay.

A villa is usually a house on the beach with dining, cleaning and other services provided as part of the stay. This option is the most expensive of the three.

Ten islands with a large number of villas are:

  1. Virgin Islands
  2. Puerto Rico
  3. St. Maarten
  4. Dominican Republic
  5. Bahamas
  6. Barbados
  7. Jamaica
  8. Guadeloupe
  9. Martinique
  10. Turks & Caicos

French islands such as the St. Martin (St. Maarten is the Dutch half and St. Martin the French half), Guadeloupe and Martinique emphasize private villas.

8) Best Months to Go for Weather

Just as weather in the Caribbean is a major attraction for visitors, it also requires careful planning because of the annual Caribbean hurricane season. The season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, but there are good and bad months even during that period.

The rainfall and bad weather hit a high point in September and October, making those two months the riskiest time for a Caribbean vacation—but also the least expensive when prices for hotels and cruises drop steeply.

June and July usually see fewer tropical cyclones—hurricanes or tropical storms—and so there is still a high number of visitors to the Caribbean during that time.

December through February have cooler weather with average daytime high temperatures around 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the location. Southern locations such as Aruba tend to have warmer winter weather—and warmer sea water for swimming—while northern locations such as the Bahamas have cooler air and water.

The best Caribbean weather usually takes place from March through May because of moderate temperatures and rainfall, a low risk of tropical storms and fewer visitors because children in school keep families at home. Average daytime high temperatures are usually 85-90 degrees with cooling breezes that keep the day comfortable.