If you're new to cruising, it's easy to get Bermuda and the Bahamas mixed up. Both island chains have a shared British heritage and are located in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean. Both are easily accessible from the East Coast, which makes them a favorite for cruise lines.
Yet, the two archipelagos have some important distinctions when it comes to cruise seasons and itineraries and island attractions. Read on for more tips on how to choose between a Bermuda or a Bahamas cruise.
Both Bermuda and the Bahamas rate tops with beachgoers and water sports-lovers. You can choose from a mix of activities on both islands, including sailing, snorkeling, diving, jet skiing or simply lolling at a resort near the sand.
The Bahamas may particularly appeal to fishing fans, as the waters in the archipelago teem with bonefish, marlin, tuna, shark and much more.
Both islands have their fair share of resorts that cater to international visitors, and some of these open their doors to cruise passengers for a day pass. The ones in the Bahamas cater more to families, particularly the world-renowned Atlantis, which has a massive water park, dolphin experience, aquarium, golf and spa.
You won't have to hunt too hard for cruises that go to either island. Because Bermuda is so close to the East Coast -- it sits at the same latitude as North Carolina -- cruise lines send ships there from Boston, New York/New Jersey and Baltimore, as well as Florida ports.
Meanwhile, the Bahamas is only 180 miles from Miami, making it an easy hop from any of the Florida ports, as well as Charleston and other East Coast cities.
Bermuda and Bahamas were both ruled by Britain at one point; Bermuda is still a U.K. territory while the Bahamas is part of the Commonwealth. The British touches are more evident in Bermuda, in terms of the accent and culture; major hotels such as the Fairmont serve afternoon tea, and cricket is such a big sport there's a national holiday dedicated to it. In both countries you drive on the left, a la England.
Although both have considerably more wealth than many of their Caribbean counterparts, Bermuda has been an upscale outpost for preppies for decades, making it more in line with Martha's Vineyard than Montego Bay.
That's not to say Bermudians don't like to have a good time -- the island's most famous bar, the Swizzle Inn, promises that you'll "swizzle in and stumble out." But the island is more buttoned up than most, certainly when compared to the Bahamas, which draws its energy from sport fishing, international resorts and local Junkanoo (Carnival) celebrations.
Because it's so far north, Bermuda has a more limited cruising season. While ships begin visiting in mid-April and run through mid-November, the water and beaches will be decidedly cooler in spring and late fall. Meanwhile, the Bahamas stays warm year-round.
Cruise lines treat the two islands differently on their itineraries. Cruise ships tend to hop around the Bahamas, usually stopping in Nassau or Freeport before heading to a private island; Castaway Cay, CocoCay, Great Stirrup Cay, Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay are all located in the Bahamas.
Cruise ships sailing to Bermuda, on the other hand, tend to stay put in King's Wharf for a full three days. If you're someone who likes to come and go at your leisure in port, this setup is highly attractive.
If land activities are your thing, you'll find slightly more to do in Bermuda than the Bahamas. Golfing is tops here, and two of the island's top attractions, Fantasy Cave and Crystal Cave, are underground. St. George's is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of colonial buildings and cobblestoned streets, and King's Wharf has a rich naval history.
That's not to say the Bahamas doesn't have historical sights -- Fort Charlotte is a popular stop in Nassau and there's the changing of the guard every other week at Government House -- but beachy activities tend to trump all.
While you should be careful anywhere you travel, there's a slight need for increased caution in the cities of the Bahamas when you go ashore, particularly in Nassau. While only a small percentage of cruise passengers run into problems, you'll want to treat your stop here as if you were in a large American city and stick close to well-traveled areas.
Choose Bermuda if you like the idea of spending three days in one destination; you want a mix of history and culture with your beach time; or you are traveling from the Northeast during the prime summer months.
Choose the Bahamas if you like the idea of a short getaway from Florida during any month of the year; you love all kinds of water sports or fishing; or you want to kick back and relax at a cruise line private island.