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How to Choose Between an Eastern and Western Caribbean Cruise

How to Choose Between an Eastern and Western Caribbean Cruise
Both Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries are popular among tourists, and the islands on either sides have their unique aspects.
Sucheta Pradhan
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2017
The Eastern Caribbean has more ports of call than the Western Caribbean. Moreover, the ports on the Eastern islands are also more developed than their western counterparts. However, tourism-wise, there are more things to indulge in on Western Caribbean islands.
With about 7,000 odd islands, cays, reefs, and islets, the Caribbean, a region that comprises the Caribbean Sea, its islands, and the surrounding coasts, offers countless possibilities for travelers. While many of the islands located in the Caribbean Sea are still inaccessible, it is nice to know that plenty others can be pretty easily reached by air as well as water. Caribbean cruise vacations have become very popular of late, as more and more people are opting to cruise across this region. Owing to the fact that the Caribbean is huge and vacationing in the islands can turn into a complete disaster if you fail to choose your destinations wisely, it is vital to understand what the region has to offer to cruisers.
By far, the most popular Caribbean cruise itineraries that most cruise liners offer, pertain to the Eastern and Western Caribbean islands. Because both regions seem to be equally attractive and beautiful, it often becomes a bit confusing as to which of the two itineraries to opt for. Both itineraries will offer plenty of beach fun and water sporting adventures, but the peculiarities of these regions lie in the fun that they offer beyond the beaches. If you are planning to embark on a Caribbean cruise this vacation season, this Vacayholics article will help you choose an itinerary that best suits your needs and interests, from the two popular ones mentioned above.
Eastern vs. Western Caribbean Cruise
It is worth mentioning that many major cruise liners offer to sail across both regions of the Caribbean; however, owing to the huge distance that needs to be covered during such a tour, such itineraries usually last for a period of not less than two weeks. Nevertheless, if you do not have 14 days at your disposal, it is more advisable that you choose one of the two itineraries and commence your cruise holiday. Here is a brief sketch of the two itineraries and the unique things that they have to offer.
Eastern Caribbean Cruises
Eastern Caribbean
◆ Cruises to the Eastern Caribbean islands usually commence from Miami or Port Canaveral in Florida, and sail to the various ports of call in the Caribbean Sea, which include the ones on the islands of the Bahamas (mostly Nassau), St. Thomas and/or St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and/or Sint Maarten/St. Martin.
◆ Moreover, depending on the cruise line you choose to travel with, they may also be stops in the British Virgin Islands and Haiti.
◆ Generally, Eastern Caribbean cruises are seven nights long, and owing to the fact that the islands of the Eastern Caribbean are relatively closer to one another, lesser time needs to be spent at sea.
◆ In a week-long cruise, generally, about three days are spent at sea. On all the other days, you are free to indulge in excursions and enjoy the beaches. The Eastern Caribbean islands also boast of having some world-class diving and snorkeling sites.
◆ St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Sint Maarten/St. Martin offer plenty of opportunities for duty-free shopping.
◆ Puerto Rico offers a glimpse into the past with its historic forts and other ruins.
◆ Moreover, the islands of the Eastern Caribbean have a mountainous terrain, mostly covered by lush rainforests. Nature enthusiasts can explore these forests that boast of a variety of bird and animal life, and adventure-seekers may enjoy activities such as rock climbing and hiking.
◆ It is also worth noting that the Eastern Caribbean Islands boast of a seductive nightlife, with a lot of high-end casinos and pubs.
◆ All in all, the Eastern Caribbean itinerary offers ample opportunities for adventure and sightseeing. Therefore, it is best-suited for travelers, looking for active vacations, wherein they can spend more time exploring and participating in activities, rather than sitting back and relaxing.
** There is also a Southern Caribbean itinerary that is offered by some cruise liners. However, more often than not, the so-called Southern Caribbean islands (like Aruba, Bonaire, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, etc.) are covered by the Eastern Caribbean itineraries as well.
Western Caribbean Cruises
Western Caribbean
◆ Cruise ships that sail the Western Caribbean itinerary start from major ports cities in Florida including Miami, Tampa, Port Canaveral, and Fort Lauderdale.
◆ Apart from Florida, cruises also sail from New Orleans, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; and Galveston, Texas.
◆ The important ports of call on this itinerary include those in Mexico, Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Roatán Bay in Honduras, and/or Costa Rica.
◆ Unlike the Eastern Caribbean islands, the Western Caribbean islands are located farther apart from each other, and so, getting from one island to the other can often be time-consuming. This means that sailing the Western Caribbean itinerary requires more days at sea.
◆ These itineraries are also usually week-long, owing to the long distances between these islands, these cruises make three or four stops, and not more than 8 to 24 hours are spend at the port of call. Therefore, you get less time to indulge in sightseeing, and other adventures.
◆ If you are a first-time cruiser, opt for a Western Caribbean itinerary. It is less exhausting as you get more time on board to relax, as opposed to the port-intensive Eastern Caribbean itinerary that may stress you out.
◆ While beach fun and water sporting opportunities are common to both itineraries, the Western Caribbean islands have much more to offer.
◆ Swim with the stingrays in Stingray City, Grand Cayman; visit the ancient Mayan ruins in Belize and Mexico; or indulging in a waterfall climbing adventure in Jamaica. The Western Caribbean itinerary will offer you all of this and more.
◆ Cozumel is a shopaholic's paradise with an entertaining duty-free shopping scene, and the cuisine and culture you will experience at each of the stops will be simply unique.
◆ The Western Caribbean itinerary is ideal for people wanting to relax on the deck, and to enjoy the amenities provided by the cruise line. While every island in the Caribbean is ideal for beach lovers, the Western Caribbean islands also offer plenty of activities beyond the beaches. History buffs can specially opt for this itinerary as a lot of historical ruins and museums await them on these islands.
Matching Interests With the Itinerary
Some Caribbean ports of call are popular, more for certain things than others. Here's a brief synopsis of the various Eastern and Western Caribbean ports of call, depending on the interests of the cruisers.
Eastern Caribbean: Nassau, San Juan, St. Thomas, Sint Maarten/St. Martin
Western Caribbean: Playa del Carmen, Grand Cayman, Historic Falmouth, Cozumel
Beach Fun
Eastern Caribbean: Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Antigua, British Virgin Islands, St. Barts, St. John
Western Caribbean: Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Grand Turk
Diving and Snorkeling
Eastern Caribbean: U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix)
Western Caribbean: Belize, Grand Cayman, Grand Turk, Cozumel
History Buffs
Eastern Caribbean: San Juan
Western Caribbean: Belize, Cozumel, and other ports in the Yucatán peninsula
Nature Lovers
Eastern Caribbean: San Juan, St. John
Western Caribbean: Belize
No matter which itinerary you choose for your cruising holiday, we bet that the Caribbean will never cease to entertain you. We hope that you have a fulfilling holiday sailing the Caribbean, and return with memories worth cherishing. Bon voyage!