Stretching from the Florida Keys to Venezuela, the 7,000 islands that make up the Caribbean are scattered like jewels across the sea.
With incredible sugary beaches and sparkling turquoise waters that are made for swimming, snorkelling, and world-class diving, the balmy Caribbean is a paradise on earth. So, if you long to explore this tropical paradise at a relaxed pace, why not consider travelling by sea?
With guaranteed sunshine, diverse islands to explore, and of course, rum cocktails, it’s no wonder this region is such a popular destination for a cruise. One day you could be discovering the islands’ unique heritage and the next, hiking to stunning waterfalls.
If you like the sound of a Caribbean cruise, but aren’t sure which islands to visit, we’ve got you covered. Here are eight inspiring destinations for an unforgettable holiday experience.
If you’re looking for a tropical escape, why not soak up the sun on Antigua’s white sand beaches? With over 360 of them fringing the island, the locals boast there’s one for every day of the year.
Cruises come into the capital of St John’s, which is home to rainbow-coloured creole houses and the best of Antigua and Barbuda’s coastline. Here, you can pop into the museum to explore the island’s history, or shop for local crafts and handmade clothes.
For relaxing swimming and sunbathing, you can visit the picturesque Deep Bay beach – well known for its talcum-white sand and azure seas. Or, for watersports and a lively beach bar, head to Runaway Beach.
Culture enthusiasts can visit the 18th-century Nelson’s Dockyard in the pretty English Harbour (pictured above), where the famous admiral made his base.
And those with an adventurous spirit may want to consider zip lining in the Antiguan rainforest, horse riding on the beach, or kayaking along the coast. At Great Bird Island, you can snorkel among starfish and stingrays too.
Head for the beaches of Antigua
Cruises to Cuba often arrive in the characterful, cultural capital of Havana, which offers a Caribbean city experience like no other.
In the old quarter of this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city, crumbling pastel-coloured Spanish-colonial mansions rub shoulders with murals of revolutionaries. There’s also no short supply of hole-in-the-wall bars pulsing with live jazz, and offering rum and cigars.
If you want to be like the locals, you can explore Havana in a vintage car from the 1950s. Why not drive along the city’s famous seafront promenade (the Malecon) with the top down, to absorb the laid back vibe of the city?
For those who want to get to the heart of the island’s history, it’s worth heading to Revolution Square, which is dedicated to Fidel Castro’s uprising in the 1950s. Or, following in the footsteps of one of Havana’s most colourful characters, Ernest Hemingway, by visiting his old home (which is now a museum) and ending with a mojito in one of his favourite bars.
And, if you want to live like Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando for a night, then a cabaret show at The Tropicana or The Havana Café is a must-see too.
Cruise to tropical Cuba
3. Dominican Republic
Sandy beaches, lush rainforest, majestic mountains; and seductive Spanish colonial towns and cities…the Dominican Republic has plenty to explore.
Cruises regularly come into Amber Cove on the north coast, named after the famous stone produced here. And nearby is the characterful resort town of Puerto Plata, which has long stretches of blinding-white sand, fringed with palm trees. There, you can take the Caribbean’s only cable car up Mount Isabel de Torres for views of the coast.
For watersports, you can head to Cabarete Beach, a world-famous spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding; while nature lovers can take a boat trip to spot humpback whales. And for those who fancy a Caribbean adventure, a hike through seven of the Waterfalls of Damajagua, which is set among jungle scenery, will offer an unforgettable experience.
Find magic in the Dominican Republic
4. St Maarten
This Caribbean island has a split personality, and two distinctly different European flavours. St Maarten in the south is Dutch, while St Martin in the north is French – but what both countries have in common is their sugar-white beaches and crystal-clear waters.
Though unique and beautiful, St Maarten is tiny and expensive, so is best visited on a multi-island cruise. Ships dock in Philipsburg, the capital, on the more developed Dutch side, where you’ll find colourful, colonial-style buildings; excellent duty-free shops along cobblestone streets; and lively beach resorts nearby.
The French side (St Martin) is more rustic and laid back, with outdoor markets, wooden boats bobbing in the harbour, and secluded stretches of sand.
You can take a coastal hike between bays – or you might prefer a catamaran cruise, which typically anchors at one or more of the island’s powder-white beaches for swimming and snorkelling.
St Maarten is also a place for foodies, with 400-odd restaurants and unique fusion cuisines – earning it the reputation as the ‘culinary capital of the Caribbean’.
Head to vibrant St Maarten
The teeny laid back island of Curacao in the Dutch Caribbean is one of the most colourful Caribbean islands – with tempting coves and expansive coral reefs, rich with marine life.
Curacao’s cruise port is in its capital city of Willemstad, where you’ll find vivid street murals, the historic Pietermaai cathedral, and a waterfront lined with pastel-painted Dutch colonial buildings.
The city is divided into two parts, which are connected by a pontoon – or floating – bridge. This is lit up at night, making it an enjoyable place for a stroll. It’s also the place to pick up a bottle of the famous Blue Curaçao (an orange-flavoured liqueur) as a souvenir.
Those who love watersports can choose from activities such as jet-skiing and speedboat rides to kayaking around the island’s coast.
Doctor’s Bay is also the islands’ top snorkelling spot – home to a shipwrecked tugboat teeming with turtles, rays, and tropical fish. Or, for diving, head to Blue Bay Beach, which ticks the boxes for stunning stretches of sand too.
Have a relaxed adventure in Curacao
6. Turks and Caicos
A 40-island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, the Turks and Caicos are what Caribbean dreams are made of…think secluded white sand beaches and twinkling turquoise seas.
A trip to Turks and Caicos isn’t complete without a visit to Grand Turk, one of its most beautiful islands, where wild horses and donkeys still roam. It’s possible to fly here from Turks and Caicos but most agree that it’s much easier and enjoyable to go by cruise.
Surrounded by a ring of beaches and translucent water, Grand Turk is a great place for watersports. You can snorkel with stingrays, watch turtles, or go scuba diving on a dramatic underwater wall.
Time will also be well spent in Cockburn Town, the capital city of the archipelago. Here, you’ll find Bermudian-style buildings – as well as the Turks and Caicos museum where you can learn about the slave trade, the native Taino Indians, and see centuries-old artefacts from the oldest shipwreck in the Americas.
And for an unusual adventure, it’s worth taking a four-wheel drive safari to see flamingos in the islands’ salt ponds.
Find tranquillity in the Turks and Caicos
7. St Lucia
St Lucia is a place to enjoy the wonder of nature. Its headline attraction are the towering conical-shaped twin mountains clothed in tropical rainforest, known as the Pitons. At their feet are volcanic beaches with black sand, surrounded by lush greenery, and some of the best coral reefs in the Caribbean.
When cruising to St Lucia, most ships dock in the capital city of Castries on the northwest coast. This popular city boasts beautiful architecture, lively markets, white coastline, and clear waters.
Once you’ve explored Castries, you’ll find a lot of the island’s most popular attractions on the southwest coast. Here, you can hike the trails on the slopes of the Pitons – and on the waterfront of the nearby fishing village of Soufriere, you can sample some of St Lucia’s signature seafood, like grilled lobster and cod fritters.
It’s also worth paying a visit to the lovely Marigot Bay, the most famous cove on the island, where in the 18th century, the English fought the French for control of the island. You can snorkel around Pigeon Island, enjoy great scuba diving on the reefs, or take a whale watching trip to spot humpback and pilot whales.
Embrace nature’s bounty in St Lucia
The unspoiled island of Dominica is a nature lover’s paradise — with rugged mountains, tropical rainforests, and tumbling waterfalls.
With no international airport, cruising is the best way to reach this off-the-beaten-track haven. You’ll dock in the capital Roseau, whose colourful timber houses have European-style porticoes and verandas.
For those interested in culture and tradition, Dominica is home to indigenous Kalinago people, and a day trip to the model village in their territory on the east coast will offer a glimpse into the way they live.
Dominica is also known as the adventurous island of the Caribbean, with hiking trails criss-crossing the island – which is tiny, so easy to explore.
You can admire the photogenic twin Trafalgar Falls or try canyoning in Titou Gorge. Or why not head to Morne Trois Pitons National Park, and take a day hike to the boiling lake in the crater of an active volcano?
Dominica has great scuba diving too, and on a catamaran trip off the coast, where you can spot dolphins and sperm whales.
For many of us, these laid-back sunny islands with flour-soft sands and sparkling azure waters are what dreams are made of – and a cruise can be one of the best ways to see them.
There are a number of unique benefits to cruising; the key one being that they allow you to visit multiple destinations in a single trip, without the hassle of packing and unpacking, and catching extra flights. And, if you want to linger a little longer to soak up the tropical sun and see more of a particular place, many cruise companies also offer ‘Cruise & Stay’ holidays.
Cruises are one of the most popular ways to experience the Caribbean. From Dominica and Antigua, to Cuba and the Dominican Republic, whatever tropical destinations are on your travel wish list, chances are, there’ll be a cruise to take you there.
For more ideas for your next escape, why not visit the travel section of our website?