(10:30 a.m. EDT) -- Are palm trees, white-sand beaches and umbrella drinks calling? Don't rule out that Caribbean cruise this winter. Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries are in full swing, and Cruise Critic members have been busy sharing their experiences from ships sailing in the region.
Ports affected by the recent hurricanes rely on tourism to help them continue getting back on their feet. As the Caribbean Tourism Organization's CEO Hugh Riley put it: "The best way to help the Caribbean is to visit the Caribbean."
Most Caribbean islands were unaffected by the storms, and those that suffered devastation have made significant strides in recovery (thanks in part to cruise line efforts), which weeks ago might have seemed unimaginable. Even St. Maarten, one of the most severely damaged cruise ports, aims to reopen as early as mid-November.
Emphasizing the significance of cruising in St. Maarten, the island's Minister of Tourism Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher said, "The importance of our cruise product cannot be underestimated, and we will lend whatever support that we must to get the port fully operational sooner rather than later."
While cruise lines wait for the green light from closed ports, they continue to replace them with other port options -- including Antigua, St. Kitts and Barbados.
So, what's it really like in the Caribbean right now, and what can cruisers expect looking ahead? Below are excerpts from Cruise Critic member reviews, following recent cruises to the Caribbean.
TeaPartyTessi, just back from a Carnival Vista cruise to the Southern Caribbean.
"We danced to Caribbean music and enjoyed an open bar of all kinds of mixed drinks …. Next was the beautiful Curacao. We went to an exclusive resort of the far end of the island.
We did a walk-in snorkel, enjoyed some relaxation time on the beach, had lunch, and did a little shopping. In between ports, we sang karaoke in the RedFrog Pub, rode the SkyRide, had pool time, and ate too much!"
kitten1965, just back from a Carnival Paradise cruise to Cuba.
"We went parasailing in Key West on Fury, which was booked through Carnival, and the experience was great -- not our first time, but our best time. Other than that, we just wandered around and went into a few shops and had a few drinks here and there. We would not normally buy souvenirs, but as this was the second ship back after the hurricane we bought a few things."
Sand_in_my_Toes, just back from a Norwegian Escape cruise to the Western Caribbean (modified from an Eastern Caribbean itinerary).
"Service on the ship was excellent, from the room steward, to the dining staff and the Guest Services desk -- especially considering the week and days leading up to our cruise, the staff had to endure some very uncertain and stressful circumstances with Hurricane Irma affecting all of Florida.
"The ports were beautiful: Roatan, Harvest Caye, Costa Maya and Cozumel. They had all had something for everyone, whether you wish to just kick back and relax on gorgeous beaches, take in cultural sites or something a bit more adventurous."
Marbles101, just back from a Harmony of the Seas cruise to the Eastern Caribbean.
"The entertainment team worked hard to delight us -- we particularly enjoyed the moment when the lift doors opened and a guy was inside playing the piano!
"Ports of call were all changed due to Irma and Maria, which meant that cruise ship traffic was heavy, but I am certainly not complaining about that -- let's hope BVI, USVI, Puerto Rico and all other affected islands get the help they need to back up and running as soon as possible. We'll most definitely be back next year to spend our tourist dollars with them."
cruiserwow, just back from an Adventure of the Seas cruise to the Eastern Caribbean.
Noting the itinerary was altered to include St. Croix, Aruba and Bonaire: "We had a very enjoyable trip -- complete with the excellent dining experiences that we have come to expect with Royal Caribbean (and I have special dietary concerns that they met), good excursions, and excellent and friendly service by staff.
"We were very pleased to know that the ship has turned into a relief ship -- bringing supplies to Puerto Rico this week, and bringing folks back to Florida. Excellent time -- one of the best cruises we have had to date, and this is our 9th cruise (1 per year). Well done, Royal Caribbean. It's a good company to sail with!"
- Read Cruise Critic's live reports from Adventure of the Seas' humanitarian cruise.
LadyDuchess, just back from a MSC Divina cruise to the Western Caribbean (modified from an Eastern Caribbean itinerary).
"Our itinerary was Montego Bay, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Costa Maya, Mexico; and Nassau, Bahamas. We enjoyed the change and loved our ports."
--By Gina Kramer, Editor