Living in the Northeast, nothing sounds better during or after a long, harsh New England winter than catching some rays on the deck of a Caribbean cruise ship. And because the trip from New York, Boston or New Jersey can mean a lot of days at sea, there’s all the more reason to take advantage of some of the amazing Caribbean ports that you can call home for a few days on your cruise travels.
While your ports of call may vary depending on the length of your cruise, your final destination, and whether or not you’re round-tripping, each provides a unique view of the Caribbean and offers plenty to do.
Royal Naval Dockyard, King’s Wharf Pier, Bermuda
Home of the British Royal Navy’s outpost after the Revolutionary War, most cruises stop here, giving them easy access to not only attractions in the Dockyard itself, but also to nearby Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital city, as well at historic St. George’s. Both Hamilton and St. George are easily accessed by ferry.
While the Dockyard and King’s Wharf hasn’t been used much as a navy outpost since 1951, there’s still plenty to do at the pier itself. Snorkel Park Beach and the Bermuda Maritime Museum are all within walking distance from where cruise ships dock.
If you’d rather get out and about, head to the beach! Horseshoe Bay, Church Bay and Warwick Long Bay Beach are nearby and easily accessible by public transportation.
If shopping is more your scene, you’ll find plenty to bring home. Hit up the Clocktower Shopping Mall or Bermuda Craft Market where you can score everything from designer duds to locally-produced banana dolls, jewelry made of the area’s signature pink sand and pottery. While there is no sales tax in Bermuda, you will incur import duties included in the price of foreign goods.
Are you a history buff? The area’s rich history leaves the intellectually curious plenty to learn. Travel back in time to 1609 and follow in the footsteps of Sir George Somers, the founder of Bermuda. Wander down tiny cobbled streets to get a taste of what life was like back then; take in the churches, forts and historic buildings of this UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll need at least four hours if you plan to head to St. George’s. If you’d rather stay local, you’ll still have plenty to do; work out your sea legs by climbing the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, one of the first to be made of cast iron.
Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Upon landing in Tortola in 1493, Christopher Columbus supposedly dubbed this Caribbean cruise port the “Land of the Turtle Dove.” Notorious for being a pirate’s hideaway as late as 1972, you can make like Blackbeard and tuck away in one the island’s many coves or get lost it is crystal blue waters.
After arrival and clearing customs, the hardest thing is deciding on how to spend your time! It’s an active person’s paradise, where you can take to the water for snorkeling, scuba, surfing or fishing. If you’d rather stay dry, hike to the top of Sage Mountain to check out a total view of the area from the highest peak on Tortola. Want to just relax? Stop by the Callwood Rum Distillery for a history lesson and a drink.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan is a popular Caribbean Cruise stop for ships departing the Northeast for the Eastern or Southern Caribbean. The oldest city under U.S. jurisdiction, it’s a melting pot of food, music and culture on the island.
Get out your walking shoes and head to Old San Juan, walkable from the San Juan cruise pier. There, you’ll be able to take in the country’s history, parading down cobblestone streets for a step back in time. The forts of San Cristóbal, San Felipe del Morro, San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo) set against glistening San Juan Bay are a must-see.
All that sightseeing sure works up an appetite, and lucky for you, San Juan is quite the foodie destination. Since Puerto Rico is the home of the piña colada, you’ll want to head to the Bacardi distillery to learn about all things rum or if yours in a booze-free cruise, check out a coffee plantation tour. Cap the day off with a big bowl of Creole deliciousness before heading back to your ship.
The Bahamian islands have a long and multicultural story to their past and it’s woven into the very fabric of life in the Bahamas. Even the native speech has a distinct cadence; a little Queen’s English, a few echoes of Africa and a sprinkle of island flair.
With its consistent tropical climate, there is no bad time to visit the Bahamas. Nassau is the capital city on New Paradise island, and if your cruise docks here, you’ll likely find yourself with too little time and too much to do. If you know that you’re planning a stop here, speak to your travel agent or cruise company to see if they can arrange a Caribbean vacation package that includes a trip to the Atlantis Resort and Casino, one of the island’s most popular destinations.
If it’s seclusion you seek, hop a ferry to Blue Lagoon island, a three mile trip that seems worlds away. You’ll need to ensure transportation to/from your cruise ship, but a day at this private paradise is worth it for the up close and personal encounters with sea life!
If you’d rather stay close to port, there is plenty to do on a city tour of town, where you’ll see Fort Fincastle, the Queen’s staircase, Fort Charlotte and Fort Montagu, all remnants of British influence that permeates Bahamian history.
Finally, if shopping is on your agenda, be aware of U.S. Customs requirements; U.S. citizens out of the country for 48 hours are allowed up to $800 worth of duty-free merchandise.
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
While one of the smaller island stops on the Caribbean cruise circuit, there is no shortage of things to do. While St. Thomas offers many of the same features- beach, snorkeling, shopping, dining, history- than other cruise ports, there are few sights that are uniquely St. Thomas that you shouldn’t miss.
Mountain Table, the highest point in St. Thomas, is your sure stop for the best vantage point in town to snap the best picture, so have your camera ready. Keep it out, because a tour of the island will take you past other prize shots: Blackbeard’s Castle, Beacon Point, Drake’s Seat and the Botanical Gardens, just to name a few.
If you really want a bird’s eye view of St. Thomas, walk to Paradise Point Skyride and get yourself a day gondola ticket. Want to speed things up? The Tree Limin Extreme Experience, located in the rainforest of St. Peter Mountain will send you soaring over 6 different zip lines, 2 sky bridges, and 8 platforms.
Finally, St. Thomas is truly a shopper’s delight since it is duty-free, meaning that you can bring home $1,200 in merchandise- more than from most of the other Caribbean pit stops.
Moving away from British influence, upon arrival in Bonaire and you’ll find yourself in a land decidedly Dutch. A municipality of Holland, this island boasts some of the most spectacular scuba diving around since it’s surrounded by a marine park.
Note that most beaches are a 10-25-minute walk from the pier, though taxis are readily available. However, if you do have the time to spend, plan a trip to Washington Slagbaai National Park where you can meet and greet with some of the parrots, flamingos, parakeets, iguanas and other creatures that call Bonaire home. You can also browse through a museum or strap on your boots for a hike. Whatever you do, it’ll be worth the 45-minute ride from the ship.
Note to self – don’t be tempted to pick up and stowaway shells while you’re out exploring – it’s against the law!
Fort de France, Martinique
The Caribbean is not without French influence and nowhere is this more evident than in Fort de France. The largest city in Martinique, it’s part France, part New Orleans. The terrain is two-fold: part beach, part rainforest. And if you only have one day at port, you’ll have to choose. The beaches at Pointe du Bout, Pointe des Salines and Sainte-Anne have a decidedly St. Tropez flair to them. If you’re getting beach-ed out, head for the hills to experience the rainforest at Head north to Mont Pelee.
Parlez-vous Francais? If so, you’re lucky! French is the language spoken by most.
What Caribbean cruise ports are you most excited about exploring? Tell us in the comments.