Beginners Guide to Caribbean Cruises

01 December 2023
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Why build castles in the air when you can build sandcastles on the beach in Mexico, Barbados or the Bahamas? You can make your balmiest dreams a reality when you journey to the land of reggae, rum and legends on a cruise to the Caribbean. 

It’s easy to get lost in daydreams of castaway beaches and Caribbean sunsets. It’s equally easy to go Jamaica-me-crazy and feel overwhelmed by the staggering choice of 7,000 pearlescent islands, each offering their own flair. How do you choose between Antigua or Aruba; St. Maarten or St. Lucia? We chatted to Caribbean cruise champion Deirdre de Swardt to get the Pentravel Perspective

Are Caribbean cruises a popular option for South Africans?

Not really, as South Africans think they are quite expensive. However, if you compare flying from island to island and paying for accommodation, a Caribbean cruise is a very affordable way to see the Caribbean.  

Caribbean Cruises

What makes a Caribbean cruise experience different from a Med cruise experience?

There is not much history as one would find on a Med cruise that stops in old cities, but there are fantastic beaches. My Caribbean cruise had a bit more of a “party” vibe as the average age was younger compared to my Med Cruise.   

In addition, most of the ports in the Caribbean must be tendered – which means that passengers must take a boat from the ship to land. This is because many of the islands do not have a cruise port as they are quite small. In the Med, most of the stops have an actual port, so the cruise will dock there, and passengers can disembark directly from the ship onto land. 

Caribbean Cruises

Which Caribbean cruise would you recommend, and why?

I did a Royal Caribbean cruise for 7 nights from Miami and it stopped in Grand Cayman, Cozumel in Mexico, Ocho Rios in Jamaica and Labadie (Royal Caribbean’s private island). This itinerary was a perfect introduction to the Caribbean. We had lots to see in Ocho Rios, Cozumel and Grand Cayman, so we didn’t just have to lie on a beautiful beach!  

What is a typical day on board?

The night before, the crew member assigned to your cabin will put out an itinerary of the next day’s events in your cabin. This will give you info on the next stop as well as any exciting happenings on board – it is great to go through this so you can plan your next day.  

After breakfast, if you are not in port, you can decide what you would like to do: relax on the deck, try your hand at the casino, or just take a walk around the ship. There is always something going on, especially when cruising with Norwegian or Royal Caribbean – you can never get bored.  

At lunch, you can typically decide between the a ’la carte or buffet restaurant (depending on the ship). And then in the evening most cruise liners have live entertainment – you can see a show before dinner, or you can catch the later performance. There is then a disco, for those that wish to party the night away.  

Caribbean Cruises

Any inside tips to share?

I would recommend opting for the drinks package. A cocktail costs around US$12, and if you are having a “sea” day you can spend quite a bit on drinks. A drinks package will vary according to cruise line, but for example the Royal Caribbean Deluxe Beverage package (includes unlimited beers, wine by the glass, cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages, premium coffee, tea, fountain soda, fresh squeezed juices, sparking and bottled still water) costs around US$55 per person per day, so it is definitely worth it. I would recommend adding this on once you have booked as it is cheaper than purchasing it on board.  

I would also recommend booking your shore excursions before you depart as these are subject to maximum numbers, so they can fill up quite quickly. If you would prefer to tour each island by yourself, you can most definitely do that. I did that in Jamaica; four of us hired a taxi for the time we were there and toured to all the must-see sights. It cost us a lot less than what it would have through the cruise company. You just need to make sure that you are using a reputable taxi company and negotiate a rate before you get in. 

Caribbean Cruises

What are the disadvantages of Caribbean cruises for South Africans?

Most of the cruises only require a USA visa but there are some islands that do fall under UK/Schengen countries, which means getting another visa. So, some itineraries may bring extra costs. Also, the Caribbean is known for their hurricanes, so the seasons are very important to look at. It may also be worth making sure you don’t cruise during spring break, as it is very popular for young Americans and this may not be to everyone’s taste.

When is the best time to go on a Caribbean cruise?

The best time is December through April as there are more sunny days and less rain on average than at other times of the year. The rainy season for the Caribbean runs from May to December; so ideally, it’s best to avoid travel there during these months. 

Time to go island hopping? Cruise to the Caribbean! Contact Pentravel today to make it happen.

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