Top Cruise Ports in the Eastern Caribbean

Best Islands for Stopovers in the Eastern Caribbean

Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic in the eastern Caribbean Sea
••• Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Carnival Corporation
A cruise to the eastern Caribbean Sea is one of the most popular itineraries for cruise ships. It's no wonder. These ports of call offer everything cruise vacationers are looking for--great beaches, sparkling blue waters, fascinating geological and historical sites, amazing marine and island wildlife, outdoor water and island activities, great ocean views, and excellent shopping opportunities.

A cruise to the eastern Caribbean is bound to include some of these delightful islands on their itineraries.
  • 01 of 09
    Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic
    ••• Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. Carnival Cruise Lines

    Amber Cove on the north coast of the Dominican Republic is one of the eastern Caribbean's newest ports of call.  Carnival Corporation opened the cruise center in 2015 and Amber Cove has quickly become popular with cruisers arriving on Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Costa, and P&O ships.  Those who love fun in the sun will especially appreciate Amber Cove.

    Although a purpose-built cruise center and not an island city or town, Carnival has added many activities and features that travelers will love like beaches, swimming pools, cabanas, zip-lining, a dolphin center, retail shops, and places to eat and drink. 

    The nearby town of Puerto Plata offers a taste of local culture and history. 

  • 02 of 09
    Royal Caribbean ship at Labadee Beach on Haiti
    ••• Royal Caribbean ship at Labadee Beach on Haiti. Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line

    Carnival Corporation has Amber Cove on the north shore of the Dominican Republic, and Royal Caribbean has Labadee on the north shore of Haiti. This private beach resort  offers lots of fun on the beach and in the pools, along with other water sports like kayaking, parasailing, and snorkeling. 

    The cruise line also offers shore excursions outside the resort for those who want to see more of the Haitian countryside.

  • 03 of 09
    Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island near Nassau in the Bahamas
    ••• The huge Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island is one of Nassau's most recognizable buildings. Nassau (c) Linda Garrison

    The Bahamas are in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean, but for many of us Nassau is the first cruise port we ever visit. And, the town is often included on eastern Caribbean cruises.

    Most people seem to equate Nassau with the Bahamas, although the country has many inhabited islands, including Freeport and several that are used by cruise lines as "private" islands.

    Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas and is located on New Providence Island. The island is mostly flat, with beautiful beaches and sparkling blue water.

    A dozen cruise ships can simultaneously dock in Nassau, so the town is very busy with travelers. The port is right next to the downtown area, and shoppers will find plenty of places to spend their time and money. Nassau has several interesting historic sites, so a walking tour is recommended for those who enjoy a guided tour. Many cruise visitors visit nearby Paradise Island, home of the famous Atlantis resort complex. Others play golf, go snorkeling, or just find a...MORE picturesque beach.

    Nassau Photo Gallery

  • 04 of 09

    St. Maarten/St. Martin

    View of the hills of St. Maarten from the Dutch capital of Philipsburg
    ••• View of the hills of St. Maarten from the Dutch capital of Philipsburg. St. Maarten (c) Linda Garrison

    St. Maarten is the Dutch side of an eastern Caribbean island with two distinct cultures--Dutch and French. The two countries on the island even have different spellings, with the French half spelled St. Martin. Most large cruise ships dock at Philipsburg, the capital of St. Maarten, while smaller ships anchor at Marigot, the French capital. Although St. Maarten/St. Martin is small, it takes a couple of hours to ride between the two cities.

    Philipsburg and Marigot both have good shopping, and the beaches on the island are lovely. The most well-known beach is at Baie Orientale (Orient Beach) on the French side. Although it's most famous for being "clothing optional", the beach is gorgeous and has some good cafes and bars. The island has several other spectacular beaches, but only those on the French side of St. Martin are clothing optional.

    The island has several other activities other than shopping or sitting on the beach. The America's Cup yacht racing adventure is...MORE exciting and memorable, and the snorkeling is also good at some of the beaches or on a catamaran shore excursion. An island tour of St. Maarten/St. Martin is also fun since the French and Dutch sides are so different.

    More on St. Maarten

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  • 05 of 09

    St. Thomas

    Magen's Bay on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands
    ••• Magen's Bay on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas (c) Linda Garrison

    St. Thomas is the cruise lines' most popular port in the Caribbean, with ships visiting most every day. Ships dock at either Havensight or Crown Bay. These two ports are on opposite sides of Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas.

    The Charlotte Amalie harbor on St. Thomas is in a beautiful setting, and the town certainly has enough stores to tempt every traveler. Since it's in the USA, the shopping, currency, and language are all familiar to Americans. Many cruise visitors take one of the many open-air taxi tours of the island, or choose to visit nearby St. John, which is mostly a national park with gorgeous beaches and good snorkeling. 

    St. Thomas has many offshore excursion options for such activities as sailing or snorkeling. The area has clear water and many old shipwrecks, which make diving a good choice, too. Other popular St. Thomas excursions include golf, rides on an Atlantis submarine under the ocean, or a seaplane or helicopter ride over the ocean. Those who spend...MORE most of their day shopping at Havensight Mall might want to take the nearby cable car to the top of Paradise Point. It offers good views of St. Thomas, but you will also get good views from an open air taxi ride of the island.

    More on St. Thomas

  • 06 of 09
    Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico
    ••• Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan, Puerto Rico (c) Linda Garrison

    Like St. Thomas, Puerto Rico is part of the USA, and the capital of San Juan is a very popular port of call. Ships dock near the old town, and it's fun to explore such an historic city.

    If you haven't been to San Juan before, spending the day in the old part of the city and visiting the two major fortresses is a good introduction. If you want to venture out to see more of the island, hiking in the El Yunque National Park is interesting and a way to get some exercise. If your ship is overnighting in San Juan, you might want to take a kayaking tour of the bio-luminescent bay near Fajardo. Paddling at night through a mangrove forest to a quiet bay filled with glowing micro-organisms is certainly memorable!

    More on San Juan, Puerto Rico

  • 07 of 09

    Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands

    Snorkeling at The Baths on Virgin Gorda
    ••• Snorkeling at The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The Baths on Virgin Gorda (c) Linda Garrison

    Not many large cruise ships visit Virgin Gorda, but this interesting island is one of the British Virgin Islands and is popular with small ships and for day trippers from Tortola or St. Thomas.

    Virgin Gorda has several nice beaches, but is most famous for its area of giant boulders called The Baths.

  • 08 of 09
    Roseau is the capital city of Dominica
    ••• Roseau is the capital city of Dominica. Dominica (c) Linda Garrison

    Although several of the islands in the eastern Caribbean are famous for their towns and good shopping, Dominica will appeal to anyone who loves the outdoors and nature. In fact, it's often called the "Nature Island".

    Dominica is perfect for hiking, river rafting, snorkeling, and a wide range of outdoor pursuits.

    One fun snorkeling excursion on Dominica is south of the capital Rousseau at Soufriere. This area has geothermal vents under the water whose gasses make the area all "bubbly" and like snorkeling in a glass of champagne.

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  • 09 of 09
    Harrison's Cave on Barbados
    ••• Harrison's Cave on Barbados. Harrison's Cave on Barbados (c) Linda Garrison

    Barbados is in the southeast Caribbean and is usually included on either longer cruises or on those embarking from San Juan. Barbados has a British heritage, and the island has the Caribbean on its calm western coast and the rougher Atlantic Ocean on its eastern coast.

    Barbados has a good variety of things to do. It has good beaches, fascinating caves, rum and cigar factories, and some historic sugar plantations like the Sunbury Plantation.