You may also like
Cruise ships in Grand Turk (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Cruise ships in Grand Turk (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Caribbean Destinations: Which Caribbean Islands Are Where

Cruise ships in Grand Turk (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Cruise ships in Grand Turk (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Christina Janansky
Assistant SEO Editor
Marilyn Borth

Last updated
Nov 6, 2023

Read time
5 min read

One of the unequivocally best cruise destinations is the Caribbean, a place that leads to visualizations of vast white beaches, slouching palm trees and turquoise waters. With more than 700 islands, islets and cays, the Caribbean offers saturated landscapes and crystalline coastlines along with a myriad of unique experiences, excursions and cultures.

There are three regions of the Caribbean: Western, Eastern and Southern. While some activities overlap in all three, each one embodies its own personality and provides visitors something truly special.

So what separates all the Caribbean destinations? And which islands are associated with which region? If you're a little fuzzy on your Caribbean destinations, we offer an introduction to the three major regions of the Caribbean, plus the activities and ambience each affords while on a cruise.

And if you want more Caribbean cruising tips, check out our best Caribbean cruise content, itineraries, reviews and more.

Western Caribbean Destinations: Cozumel, Belize and Beyond

Islands and ports of the Western Caribbean.
Islands and ports of the Western Caribbean. (map:

The Western Caribbean consists of destinations due south of Florida, as well as ports in Mexico and Central America. You can visit Mexico (Cozumel, Costa Maya, Progreso), Belize, Honduras, Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Cuba.

"Adventure" is the first thing that comes to mind when considering a Western Caribbean cruise. Abundant with water sports (fishing, clear kayaking and some of the best scuba diving in the Caribbean), hiking excursions and underwater adventures, the Western Caribbean is a good fit for high-energy cruisers seeking an adrenaline rush or a new cultural experience.

The Caribbean destinations in this region are also ideal for low-key cocktails on the islands' white-sand beaches.

Western Caribbean Cruises: Excursions and Activities

Aside from water sports, Western Caribbean excursions are well-organized and include visits to Mayan ruins, explorations of underwater shipwrecks and zip-lining adventures through the rainforests of Central America.

Other activities include diving with sharks in Belize's Shark Ray Alley, scaling Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica and swimming with stingrays in Stingray City Sandbar on Grand Cayman.

Western Caribbean Cruise Itineraries

Western Caribbean itineraries depart from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as well as Galveston, New Orleans and other East Coast and Florida ports. Some Florida departures add a stop in Key West, the southernmost tip of Florida, to the lineup.

Some cruise lines also supplement itineraries with a quick visit to their private islands, such as Royal Caribbean's Labadee in Haiti and Norwegian Cruise Line's Harvest Caye.


Eastern Caribbean Destinations: The U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands and More

Islands and ports of the Eastern Caribbean.
Islands and ports of the Eastern Caribbean. (map:

The Eastern Caribbean encompasses the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix), British Virgin Islands (Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda), French West Indies (St. Maarten and St. Martin) and the Dominican Republic.

The "no worries" vibe of the Eastern Caribbean attracts laid-back cruisers looking for a low-impact getaway. The highly westernized region is not quite as culturally different as its Western and Southern counterparts, and offers a wide array of activities, from sightseeing to scuba diving.

Eastern Caribbean Cruises: Excursions and Activities

The Eastern Caribbean is most notable for its duty-free shopping, which is among the best in the Caribbean, and its pristine sandy shorelines. In addition to the best Caribbean beaches, the region offers spectacular surfing (particularly in Puerto Rico), a bustling nightlife scene and several modern casinos.

Another main attraction is Old San Juan, where visitors can tour the city's historic sites or opt for a day of shopping. Like all other Caribbean regions, Eastern Caribbean excursions include water sports, like scuba diving and snorkeling, hiking excursions and zip-lining.

Eastern Caribbean Cruise Itineraries

Most Eastern Caribbean cruises depart from Florida ports, including Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Cape Canaveral. Several others, however, sail out of New York, Baltimore and Cape Liberty.

While The Bahamas is not considered part of the Caribbean, ports like Nassau and Freeport are often added to Eastern Caribbean itineraries. These islands, which are among the most developed for tourism, also offer a wide variety of water sports, land tours and duty-free shopping. Port stops in Grand Turk (technically in the Atlantic) and Jamaica are also common.

Many other itineraries include stops at the cruise lines' private islands, such as Labadee and CocoCay (Royal Caribbean), Half Moon Cay (Holland America), Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line), Castaway Cay (Disney Cruise Line) and Princess Cays (Princess Cruises).


Southern Caribbean Destinations: French West Indies, Aruba, Curacao and Beyond

Islands and ports of the Southern Caribbean.
Islands and ports of the Southern Caribbean. (map:

The Southern Caribbean includes the French West Indies (Martinique, Guadaloupe and St. Barts), St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Barbados, Antigua and St. Kitts/Nevis.

Southern Caribbean cruises may be a bit less popular offerings by cruise lines, but the Southern Caribbean is likely the most diverse of all three regions. Known for its exotic scenery and towering volcanoes, the Southern Caribbean flaunts a diverse topography that ranges from lush, tropical rainforests to dry desert landscapes, and is home to some of the most spectacular species of wildlife.

Southern Caribbean islands are ideal for vacationers looking to escape mobbed beach scenes and typical tourist attractions. The region offers explorations of the famous Hato Caves, tours of the world's oldest rum distillery and a look into the region's rich British military history.

Southern Caribbean Cruises: Excursions and Activities

The Southern Caribbean suits every taste, with everything from low-energy beach days to high-impact rappelling. The array of activities is reflected by the vast landscape of the Southern Caribbean: dense rainforests of Dominica, seaside villages of Barbados, beaches of Aruba flecked with bent divi-divi trees and crystal-clear waters of St. Thomas.

Other popular Southern Caribbean cruise activities include swimming, snorkeling, sightseeing and shopping.

Attractions include the Dutch-influenced Curacao and the French-influenced islands of St. Barth's and Martinique, which all offer dozens of sidewalk cafes, trendy boutiques and gourmet restaurants.

Southern Caribbean Cruise Itineraries

Southern Caribbean itineraries generally exceed one week, and sail roundtrip from San Juan and Barbados. However, other departure ports include Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Galveston and New York. Some Southern Caribbean cruises also stop in the Eastern Caribbean, the Bahamas and Florida ports, such as Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville, depending on the homeport.

Publish date November 01, 2018
How was this article?

Get special cruise deals, expert advice, insider tips and more.By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

© 1995—2024, The Independent Traveler, Inc.