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Snorkeling in Cozumel (Photo: Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock)
Western Caribbean (Photo:CAN BALCIOGLU/Shutterstock)

Everything You Need to Know About Western Caribbean Cruises

Snorkeling in Cozumel (Photo: Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock)
Western Caribbean (Photo:CAN BALCIOGLU/Shutterstock)
Contributor
Erica Silverstein
Contributor
Marissa Wright

Last updated
Dec 20, 2023

Read time
7 min read

The Western Caribbean has long been a magnet for travelers interested in a unique blend of sun and surf, the history of ancient civilizations and eco-oriented adventures. The area's wealth of attractions -- plus convenient homeports throughout the southern U.S. Coast -- make Western Caribbean cruises a popular choice for first-time cruisers.

The Western Caribbean variety of itinerary options also lets repeat cruisers enjoy the area again and again while still discovering new places.

With so much to love, we want to ensure you’re taking advantage of everything Western Caribbean cruises have to offer. Here are the top eight tips for cruises to the Western Caribbean.

1. Pick Your Ideal Destination: Where Do Western Caribbean Cruises Visit?

Grand Cayman Islands (Photo: andy morehouse/Shutterstock)
Grand Cayman Islands (Photo: andy morehouse/Shutterstock)

Consider what destinations you want to visit and explore before booking any Western Caribbean cruises. Western Caribbean cruises are not synonymous with Eastern or Southern Caribbean cruises -- their ports of call and overall itineraries differ -- so it's important to acquaint yourself with these cruises' destinations (and if you want to visit them) first before anything else.

The Western Caribbean consists of islands due south of Florida, such as Grand Cayman and Jamaica; destinations on Mexico's Caribbean coast on or near the Yucatan Peninsula, such as Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progreso; and Central American destinations in the Caribbean, such as Belize and Honduras.

Key West, on Florida's southernmost tip, is another popular stop, particularly for cruises that originate from the East Coast ports of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

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2. Choose the Best Time to Set Sail on Western Caribbean Cruises

The Western Caribbean is an ideal spot for a getaway any time of the year with temperatures that seldom vary from highs in the 80s to lows in the 70s.

The best time for cruises to the Western Caribbean is December through March, when it's cold up north and warm but not stormy in the Caribbean. Late April and May are shoulder season, when the ships and islands are not as crowded, but the weather is still good.

Beware of hurricane season which runs from June through November, with storms most likely August through October. However, as many families and happy honeymooners flock to the Caribbean during the summer, prices don't tend to dip, and ships sell out despite storm possibilities.

We recommend planning ahead and booking early, no matter what season you’re booking in. Cruises to the Western Caribbean are popular due to the easy-to-access cruise ports and affordable prices.

3. Book with Your Preferred Cruise Line for Cruises to the Western Caribbean

Best Shore Excursions in 30 Caribbean Cruise Ports (Photo: Costin Constantinescu/Shutterstock)
Best Shore Excursions in 30 Caribbean Cruise Ports (Photo: Costin Constantinescu/Shutterstock)

Virtually every mainstream cruise line offers seasonal, if not year-round, trips to the Western Caribbean. Among them, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the big powerhouses; these two lines dominate all year long. Disney and Princess have a year-round presence as well.

On a seasonal basis -- the high season, of course, being the period between the Christmas holidays through spring break -- you'll find every other line. Aimed primarily at North American travelers are cruise ships from the fleets of Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity and Holland America. Ships from Costa and MSC Cruises attract international travelers.

Luxury lines occasionally cruise the Western Caribbean as well. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea, Crystal and Oceania visit the region a few times per year.

4. Plan Ahead: Pick Your Desired Itinerary for Cruises to the Western Caribbean

Western Caribbean cruises come in various itinerary lengths and depart from homeports across the U.S. southern coastline, including Fort Lauderdale, Galveston, Miami, New Orleans, Port Canaveral (Orlando) and Tampa. Ports range from true Caribbean islands to destinations along Mexico and Central America's Caribbean coast.

The best itinerary for your cruise will depend on what port you can depart from and how many vacation days you have. Options like a three- to four-day cruise allow you to soak in some tropical sun and head back to work, while seven-day itineraries allow you to see more ports and enjoy sea days.

5. Pack Appropriately for Visiting a Western Caribbean Island

A Western Caribbean cruise may have you feeling "hot, hot, hot" -- but don't get careless; a bad sunburn can ruin your cruise. Be sure to pack plenty of reef-friendly sunscreen, sunhats, bathing suit cover-ups and after-sun lotion (just in case).

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows on cruises to the Western Caribbean. Add a few extras to your luggage, such as rain gear and warm layers, in case you run into a storm. You can stock up on anything you forget at stores onboard, but be aware that prices will be much higher than on land.

You can snorkel, scuba and swim in the turquoise Caribbean waters, make friends with dolphins, ride thrilling zip lines, take four-wheel-drive vehicles into the wilderness or visit Mayan ruins.

Families and active travelers will find a wealth of options, as will laid-back cruisers who just want to enjoy the tropical sun on a white-sand beach. This is all well and good, but this also means you might be competing for spots on popular Western Caribbean shore excursions. We recommend pre-booking activities you’re interested in or booking them ASAP after embarkation.

If you're planning to spend much of your cruise underwater, consider bringing some of your own gear (snorkel, mask and flippers), and check if your cruise line offers some sort of dive program.

On the point of shore excursions and ports of call, you should also take note that Grand Cayman is a tender port, meaning strong winds and high seas can prevent your ship from calling at the island.

It's also super busy, with up to five mega-ships anchored off its coast on a busy day. Be prepared for crowded beaches and shops along with the aforementioned weather conditions if/when you do call on Grand Cayman.

7. Leave Room in Your Schedule for Top Western Caribbean Destinations and Activities

Rio Frio Cave at Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize (Photo: Suzi Prat/Shutterstock)
Rio Frio Cave at Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize (Photo: Suzi Prat/Shutterstock)

Some of the most popular destinations and activities in the Western Caribbean are listed below for you to consider.

Belize: Belize's 185-mile barrier reef is the largest in the Western Hemisphere, and the Scuba diving and snorkeling are world-class. Other typical Belize excursions include cave tubing and visiting Mayan sites like Altun Ha.

Montego Bay, Jamaica: Montego Bay is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, such as Doctor's Cave Beach. This port is also the place for crafts and duty-free shopping, golfing, and stopping at local bars.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica: Dunn's River Falls is the adventure in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Hike 600 feet up a waterfall, surrounded by lush foliage, as the water comes crashing down onto a sandy beach.

Instead of the traditional motorcoach ride to the falls, consider a shore excursion that arrives at the falls via sea kayak. If you've done that, take the family to the Mystic Mountain rainforest adventure park for zip line swings, bobsled rides and twisty waterslides.

Roatan, Honduras. Roatan is the largest of Honduras' Bay Islands. Almost 40 miles long and just 2.5 miles at its widest point, the remote island boasts white sand beaches, pristine bays and spectacular coral reefs. For tourists, Roatan's charm is its barrier reef system -- the second largest in the world! -- and its appeal for diving and snorkeling.

8. Practice Saying “No” to Vendors While on Western Caribbean Cruises

Pottery from Cozumel, Mexico (Photo: Adam Coulter)
Pottery from Cozumel, Mexico (Photo: Adam Coulter)

Vendors in the Western Caribbean, especially in Jamaica, can come off as pushy or aggressive when trying to make a sale. They may place objects in your hand or touch your hair or arm, which makes many visitors uncomfortable.

If you're not interested in hair-braiding, T-shirts or other souvenirs, just give a polite but firm "no” and walk away without looking back. Practice saying “no” or “no, thank you” before getting off the ship so you feel comfortable doing it if you find yourself in that position.

Find more information and tips to help you plan your next Caribbean cruise with Cruise Critic.

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