When it comes to Eastern Caribbean cruise ports, heading to the beach always tops the list of excursion picks. Some passengers sign up for pre-booked escapes to tried-and-true locales, while others look for nice beach resorts fronting the turquoise sea and purchase a day-pass to make it easier all around. Still, other cruisers prefer the thrill of finding their own special stretch of paradise.
Whether you're looking for popular public beaches filled to the brim with other cruisers or a tiny, tawny spits of sand, here's a guide to nine places, from the Bahamas to St. Maarten, where you can get a jump on your tan.
Rose Island (Nassau, Bahamas)
Many passengers will head straight for Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island for their day at the beach. But those looking for a more unique experience can head to the private beach on Rose Island, just a short boat ride from Nassau. Blissfully uncrowded, this beach on a sandbar is a favorite of locals, who spend the day kayaking, snorkeling and snoozing on hammocks with cold Carib beers in hand; organized tours that include a welcome drink, buffet lunch and snorkeling equipment are also available.
Photo: Jenni Konrad/Flickr
Governor's Beach (Grand Turk)
A great deal of cruise passengers head to White Sands Beach since it's close to the seven-mile island's dock, and there's a plethora of water sports at their disposal. Those seeking a more secluded spot should take a five-minute taxi ride from the dock to Governor's Beach. The calm area has a great mix of shade -- from the giant casuarina trees lining the strand -- and sun. The ambience is mellow and fun, thanks to local musicians who play island tunes for tips. Still, it's not a secret hideaway, so get there early to stake out a spot as soon as possible.
Photo: aquatic creature/Shutterstock.com
Gold Rock Beach (Freeport, Bahamas)
Part of the Lucayan National Park, Gold Rock Beach is easily considered one of the best sandy strands around. Just 25 miles from Grand Bahama Island's main town of Freeport, it's fantastic for families seeking a day of picnicking (tables and barbecue pits available) and the opportunity to walk and play in a low surf, which reveals sheets of wavy sand. For added fun, the Lucayan Caverns, the longest underground cave system in the world, are just north of the beach. Want to go? Take a taxi, tour bus or rental car.
Cane Bay (St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands)
The island's north shore is a favorite for snorkelers, and they especially love Cane Bay. The reason? It has a well-known deep sea wall just 25 feet offshore that drops more than 3,000 feet, optimum for exploring a Technicolor team of sea life. After working up an appetite searching for sergeant majors and angelfish, Cane Bay carries a host of beach bars for cocktails and savory snacks; try Eat@Cane Bay, where peel-and-eat shrimp and pine-rum-rita's -- a mix of pineapple run, lime juice, sweet and sour, triple sec and Grand Marnier -- are the essence of island style.
Sapphire Beach (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands)
While the justifiably famous Magens Bay is popular, it's usually offered as the beach excursion for most cruise ships. (Thus, it's often extremely crowded.) Instead, get a double dose of views at Sapphire Beach, a resort about a 30 minute taxi ride from port. It's on this U.S.V.I. island's east end and has a magnificent view of both St. John and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. For those looking for calm, crystal-clear waters, this is it. Snorkeling is at its best; just walk right into the surf, and the fish are there to greet you. Windsurfers also have a great time, and all equipment and lounge chairs can be rented for the day.
Photo: Sasha Buzko/Shutterstock.com
Dawn Beach (St. Maarten)
Just south of the Dutch/French border, Dawn Beach is known on the Cruise Critic circuit for its great snorkeling. To that end, make a beeline for the Atlantic Ocean-fronting coast, especially first thing in the morning before the waves kick in. The Westin resort is said to be generous with non-guests seeking beach chairs, as long as they order a beverage or some snacks at some point.
Photo: Christine Warner Hawks/Shutterstock.com
Orient Bay (St. Martin)
Orient Bay (or in French "Baie-Orientale") on the eastern coast has been called one of the island's most pristine beaches. In fact, one section is quite a draw for the clothing-optional set, so those who may not dig the au natural scene should keep that in mind. For those unbothered, there's a good deal of activity going on, from parasailing to windsurfing. However, you won't find many actually swimming in the surf due to strong waves. Instead, the focus is on sunbathing using the rentable umbrellas and beach chairs, eating, drinking and, of course, people-watching.
Photo: Steve Heap/Shutterstock.com
The Baths (Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands)
Head to the north shore of this British Virgin Island for a chance to see larger-than-life volcanic boulders and intricate caves. Cruise lines often have trips to this oceanfront maze of stone that one can walk, crawl and climb through to reach a white-sand beach. (The narrow passages and steep stairs can be challenging for some, so keep to the open-air beach if that's an issue.) A restaurant at the top of the hill gives an amazing view and is a must-stop. There's a $2 entry fee if you decide to visit on your own through the B.V.I. National Parks Trust.
Photo: BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock.com
Ocean Park (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
While you won't find many beaches near Old San Juan where the cruise ships dock, it's only a 15-minute cab ride from the port to Condado and Isla Verde beaches. They're both well-trodden spots (all beaches in PR are public), and families flock there for the white sand, bathtub-warm water and water sports. Want to see where puertorriquenos strut their stuff? Head to Ocean Park between the two for a more adults-only experience. This is where you'll find sexy, bikini-clad locals who have a blast swimming, kitesurfing, and sipping cocktails at the beachfront bars of the small hotels lining the strand.
Photo: Luis Alveart/Shutterstock.com
Cruise ship life can be a little mysterious. Your choices aren't always spelled out in black and white. The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial secrets the cruise lines don't tell you -- which give you more options, let you save money and generally allow you to have a better time onboard. Maybe it's knowing what your cabin steward is able to bring you or what the off-the-menu items are at the bar or dining room. Or perhaps it's a tip to getting a good deal on an onboard purchase. But why wait to figure these things out the hard way -- possibly after you've missed your chance? We trawled through all the great advice on Cruise Critic's Message Boards to bring you some of the worst-kept cruise secrets ... at least among our readers who love to share. But whether you're a first-time cruiser or an old sea dog, you might find there's something here you didn't already know.