There are times during every cruise when a day spent frolicking gaily on the beach becomes preferable to participating in yet another organized shore excursion. And for the cruiser enjoying a Southern Caribbean itinerary, there's certainly no shortage of suitable beach options.
So whether you're a swarthy beach bum with sun-kissed hair or an active adventure seeker looking to explore an underwater wreck, we've complied a helpful list to guide you to the perfect sunny spot.
Best Beaches for a Half-Day Visit
Brighton Beach in Barbados, also known as Weiser's Beach (Weiser is the popular beach bar by the ocean), is beautiful beach visible from your cruise ship. Placid water and a laid-back vibe make this one a favorite with locals.
Seaquarium Beach in Curacao boasts all the facilities you could need for a solid beach day: shops, bars, water sports vendors and restaurants. Plus, beachgoers can enjoy the old standbys of white sand and palm trees. It's also a fine choice for families.
Grand Anse Beach is Grenada's most famous stretch of sand. Located just south of St. George's, this two-mile long stunning soft white sand beach has attracted many of the island's hotels and resorts. There are many dive operators on Grand Anse offering a wide array of water sports and dive/snorkeling tours, as well as many good hotel restaurants and bars. Levera Beach is located on the northern side of the island, about an hour from St. George's. This lovely beach, with its natural barrier reef that restrains the Atlantic surf (this is the Atlantic Ocean side of Grenada) is popular with tourists and locals and has several picnic spots and food stands.
Located in the Village of St. Jean, St. Barth's, Baie St. Jean beach is a scene straight out of St. Tropez -- beachfront cafes, lounge chairs for rent, shops and a gentle harbor for swimming.
Best Beaches for Active Types
Antigua's Jabberwock Beach is the best place to learn the sport of kitesurfing, which consists of using a powerful kite to propel the rider through the water on a small surfboard (see Wikipedia entry here). Wind conditions always seem to be ideal, and private lessons are available at the professional kitesurfing school located at Sunsail Colonna. And for the less daring, the lovely beach serves as an ideal vantage point to witness the spectacle of people attached to kites and surfboards flying through air.
If traditional surfing is more your speed, Galley Bay Beach is the island's hot spot for catching waves, dude.
Curacao's newest park, Caracas Bay Island, is geared toward nature buffs (especially birdwatchers), families and explorers. Located on the Caracas Bay peninsula, options include mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, banana boat rides and snorkeling tours. A fully equipped dive shop is on the premises.
At Oualie Beach in Nevis, you can rent all manner of water sports equipment, from sunfish sailboats to kayaks. You can even rent mountain bikes for inland exploring. This is as well a central location to hook up with scuba diving, deep sea fishing and snorkeling trip operations. At the Sea Life Education Center you can sign up for a half-educational half-action-oriented program called "Touch and Go;" folks learn about the underwater environment here and then don snorkeling equipment for a guided experience. Or, check out the petting zoo at the Nevis Equestrian Center.
At Turtle Bay in St. Kitts, you can rent everything from snorkeling gear to windsurfing equipment here -- and eat and drink. Don't forget to check out the monkeys. Snorkelers may want to head to White House Bay or Friar's Bay.
Best Beaches for the Dedicated Beach Bum
At Payne's Beach in Barbados there are plenty of beach cafes, bars and places to rent everything from snorkeling equipment to parasailing rides. On the southern part of the east coast, Crane Beach, with its cliffs, dunes and pink sand has received accolades as one of the Caribbean's prettiest beaches; it's a great place for body-surfing.
At Pinney's Beach on the island of Nevis you can find free lounge chairs and the island's most hopping' bar/restaurant: Sunshine's. This is also a great place for star-gazing because it's right next to the swanky Four Seasons Hotel and celebrity guests there -- Michelle Pfeiffer, for one -- have been known to wander on over to Sunshine's.
San Juan's Luqillo Beach, located near El Yunque, is a real locals' haunt; long stretches of sand, water sports rentals and a great line of food stands offering classic Puerto Rican beach food.
If you're looking to hang ten, surfing beaches in St. Barth's include Lorient and Anse de Cayes in the north. The rocky shoreline along Toiny is considered by locals to be an expert surfing area.
Best Secluded Beaches
You'll find a plethora of secluded beaches in Barbados. The most romantic beach is actually a collection of them, five miles along, that are strung along the east (Atlantic) coast between Belle Plain and Bathsheba. The surf is too rough for swimming however. For romance and easy surf, check out the stretch in Holetown between Sandy Lane and Payne's Beach. On the island's south side, Harrismith Beach and Bottom Bay (both in St. Phillip Parish) have beautiful cliffsides, palms and caves; take a picnic.
If you really want to get away from it all, head to Hope Bay along Bequia's eastern coast. You'll need to take a cab and then hike about a mile down to the beach (don't forget that you'll have to hike back up that mile as well!). It's worth the trek for a wide stretch of white sand that you may have completely to yourself -- just remember to bring a picnic (there are no facilities) and to arrange to have your cab return for you at the end of the day.
LaSagesse Beach in Grenada is about 25 minutes from downtown St. George's. It's a peaceful spot with a beautiful beach and hiking trails that lead across headlands to adjacent snorkeling beaches. At one end of LaSagesse beach is a salt pond fringed with mangroves, a perfect spot for birdwatching and/or kayaking. Or, check out Bathways Beach, on the Atlantic, northern side of Grenada, near Levera. This beach is undeveloped with speckled coral sands and a dramatic rock shelf that parallels the shoreline, creating a long 30-ft. wide protected "pool."
Tortola Smuggler's Cove is a hidden, private beach with a quirky little beach bar -- well to call it a beach bar would be stretching it, it's more of a shack in which a refrigerator is stocked with beers and sodas and you leave the cash in a jar. The beach also offers great views of Jost Van Dyke and good snorkeling.
Best Beaches for Families
Aruba's Baby Beach, 40 minutes away by taxi, is a good stop for small children or inexperienced swimmers. The water, in a shallow pool created by man-made rock breakwaters, is no more than five feet deep. One drawback: There are only a handful of food stands.
Try to find Nemo on a snorkeling trip along St. Vincent's leeward coast. The excursion includes a lesson before everyone's turned loose among the corals, sponges and tropical fish. This two-hour tour allows time to hit the beach or visit a garden afterward. Older kids might enjoy a longer excursion that combines snorkeling with kayaking (3.5 hours).
--compiled by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor