Some of the best cruise destinations in the world can be found close to home in the Caribbean. The islands offer white sand beaches, historical forts, rich histories and active volcanoes so it’s no wonder the Caribbean is so popular among cruisers. For our top 10 Caribbean cruise destinations we are going to concentrate on islands only. In other words, places like Belize and Panama that could have easily made our list will be saved for another time. So lets get started.
Without a doubt Dominica is the best kept secret in the Caribbean and if future cruisers are lucky it will stay that way. When you step into the unspoiled beauty of Dominica you are immersed in waterfalls, emerald pools, lush rainforest and some of the best underwater sea life in the Caribbean.To add to the mystique, nine of the 16 active volcanoes in the Caribbean are located on Dominica. If Dominica starts to look familiar its because both the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp were filmed on location in Dominica. As you sail away after a long day in Dominica, you know you have been somewhere special… and if you’re lucky you might even see a whale or two (we did).
Unlike most Caribbean islands that feature white sand beaches as their main attraction, Dominica’s must visit spots lie inland in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is central Caribbeans only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Included in the park is Trafalgar falls which has two waterfalls known as the Father and the Mother. The most amazing thing about these twin 100ft falls is that one of the falls is cold water and the other is hot. Visitors can soak in the warm waters of one and then walk a few feet over to take a dip in one of the cool pools of the other.
Even though beaches aren’t the highlight of this island, if you have time head over to Champagne Beach named for the bubbling volcanic vents that give snorkelers the feeling of swimming in warm champagne. Note however that this is a rocky beach so you will need shoes. Snorkel gear can be rented at the beach if you haven’t brought your own.
Other Dominica Attractions
- Emerald Pool
- Boiling Lake
- Sari Sari Falls
- Middleham Falls
It’s really a shame that the Natalie Holloway fiasco happened in Aruba because you aren’t likely to find a friendlier or happier island in the Caribbean. Amazingly clean white sand beaches and perfect year round weather thanks to the trade winds help make Aruba one of the most popular cruise destinations in the Caribbean.
Inexpensive tours can be found as you leave the ship and are a great way to see the island but if you want to to do it up right look for an excursion on the Kukoo Kunuku party bus. It’s a fun time you won’t soon forget. If you just want to head to the beach for the day head over to Eagle Beach or if you or looking for better snorkeling opportunities head over to Baby Beach instead.
Don’t miss out on the Paddock which is a great little bar and eatery just outside the cruise dock. You can’t miss it. It’s the building painted like a cow with a big car on top. Be sure to ask for a Balashi which is Aruba’s locally made beer.
Other Aruba Attractions
- Divi Divi Trees
- California Lighthouse
- Casibari Boulders
- Casino Resorts
3. St Thomas
If this was just a list of best Caribbean Islands then I’m not sure if St Thomas would be ranked so high. But the fact remains this is a great cruise port. The toughest part about going to St Thomas is choosing whether to visit the world famous Magens Bay (consitently ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the world) or hopping a ferry over to the Virgin Islands National Park on St John.
If this is your first trip go ahead and opt for a tour of St Thomas that stops for a few hours at Magens Bay. Also make sure your tour takes you up to the Mountain Top for a banana daiquiri and picture perfect fews of Magens Bay from above.
Other St Thomas Attractions
- Coki Beach
- Coral World
- Sapphire Beach
- Drakes Seat
4. San Juan
San Juan may be better known as more of a cruise embarkation port but ships still include this former Spanish city on some itineraries and with the charm of Old San Juan, she deserves a solid four spot on our list.
Part of what makes San Juan great is there is no need for an excursion or guided tour. Depending on which cruise line you are on and where you dock you are within a short walk or short cab ride to the heart of Old San Juan where all the main sites such as Castillo del Morro (the main fort), the city walls, the city gate even the local casinos can be seen via your own personal walking tour.
If your ship is in port early don’t miss out on breakfast at La Bombonera in Old San Juan. Go for one of the Mallorcas and a cafe con leche made from the 70+ year old Cuban coffee maker. It’s the best way to start your walking tour. You can even get a few fresh baked snack for later.
Other San Juan Attractions
- Hotel El Convento
- Bacardi Rum Distillery
- El Yunque Rainforest
- Home of the Pina Colada
5. Grand Turk
The newest Caribbean port of Grand Turk has always been one of the top five spots for divers and not it has become one of the favorite cruise destinations in just a few short years. Part of what makes Grand Turk a divers paradise is the fact that just a few hundred yards from shore the shelf drops 7,000 feet down. This offers great diving, snorkeling and helmet diving for passengers visiting Grand Turk.
Like San Juan, excursions aren’t needed on this tiny island. In fact you could spend your entire day just steps away from the ship where an area was built just for cruise passengers that includes shopping, food, white sand beach access and an infinity-edge pool with a swim up bar. It’s sort of like your own private island except it’s open to all cruise lines.
Other Grand Turk Attractions
- Hop on Hop Off Tour
- Whale Watching
- Turks and Caicos National Museum
- Governor’s Beach
6. St Martin/Sint Maarten
Part French and part Dutch this is like a two for one island. The variety of beaches in St Martin is what helps this Caribbean island make our list. The French side offers shallow waters at Coconut Grove and Galion Beach that are great for kids and windsurfers and they also offer one of the few nude beaches in the Caribbean with Orient Beach.
Not to be outdone the Dutch side has one of the most unique beach experiences of anywhere in the world. Visitors to Maho Beach just might find themselves up close and personal with a jumbo jet as it lands directly across the street at the islands airport.
Other St Martin Attractions
- America’s Cup Sailing Regatta
- Butterfly Farm
- Guavaberry Emporium
7. St Lucia
Cruises to the virgin islands are now calling on one of the best honeymoon destinations in the Caribbean as St Lucia’s beaches are full of top of the line resort hotels that are perfect for couples. Cruisers are given a small taste of the beauty St Lucia has to offer and should probably just spend the day at one of the famous beaches such as Pigeon Island, Vigie or Marigot. More than likely you will leave St Lucia feeling the need to come back for a romantic getaway.
Other St Lucia Attractions
- Mineral Waterfall
- Fort Charlotte
If you are looking for cheap spring break destinations then Cozumel is the place for you. Cruises from Tampa and New Orleans can be found cheap and Cozumel offers cheap booze and plenty of it. If your spring break days are over don’t worry because Cozumel has plenty for you as well… although you should at least try some of the free tequila samples because I’m pretty sure that is the national drink of Mexico.
If you are looking to relax for the day many of the local resorts offer day passes that include all resort amenities, lunch and in most cases an open bar for more free tequila. Cozumel also offers a chance to ferry over to the mainland for a trip to Tulum which are some of the most breathtaking Mayan ruins you are likely to see in the Caribbean.
Other Cozumel Attractions
- Chankanaab Nature Park
- Playa Mia Beach
The main attraction in Curacao are the colorful picture perfect Dutch colonial houses lining the natural harbor that is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. Luckily for cruisers this is within site and walking distance of the ship. To get to these colonial houses you must also cross over the famous Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge which swings aside when boats need to pass. Chances are good you will get to see this happen at least once.
Be sure to head to the left of the Dutch houses early in your walking tour to check out the floating market. Ships from nearby Venezeula, Columbia and the West Indies sell fruits, veggies and crafts right off their boats.
Other Curacao Attractions
- Chistoffel National Park
- Curacao Sea Aquarium
- Curacao Underwater Park
10. Grand Cayman
It was between Grand Cayman and Jamaica for the last spot on our list but in the end Stingray City won out over Dunn River Falls and the crime and drug peddling that comes with Jamaica. The down side of Grand Cayman other than the unfavorable currency rate is the fact that you have to tender to shore instead of being able to dock and walk off the ship. Considering this is one of the few islands that doesn’t depend on tourism to survive it doesn’t seem they are in a big hurry to remedy that situation.
The biggest attraction by far and one of the best excursions in the Caribbean, if not the best, is swimming with the stingrays in Stingray City. Located two miles off the coast on a shallow sandbar this naturally occurring phenomenon is a once in a lifetime experience. You are able to jump in the water, feed the rays by hand and in some cases the guides will pull giant rays out of the water and massage your backs with their bellies. An underwater camera is a must for this one.
Other Grand Cayman Attractions
- Seven Mile Beach
- Town of Hell
- Cayman Turtle Farm