The Cruise Ship Ports of Call in the Caribbean

What to know when planning a cruise -- or trying to dodge the cruise-ship crowds

••• The Crystal Symphony cruise ship in the Mexican Riveria. © Crystal Cruises

With cruise ships getting ever-larger, specialized ports are required to accommodate these giants of the sea. Most Caribbean islands have only one major port capable of docking large cruise ships, but some popular destinations -- like Jamaica, for example -- have multiple mega-ports. Smaller islands may have ports that welcome cruise ships of all sizes but can only shuttle passengers to shore via smaller boats called tenders.

Caribbean cruise itineraries are typically established by region: Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, and -- less commonly -- Southern Caribbean. Typical Eastern Caribbean ports of call include San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and the Bahamas; the British Virgin Islands also may be included. 

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Western Caribbean cruise itineraries typically include Grand Cayman, Jamaica, the Mexican Caribbean, and sometimes Central American destinations like Belize and Honduras. Southern Caribbean cruises usually incorporate the French West Indies and the ABC Islands, with stops in Martinique, Guadaloupe, St. Barts, St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.

Caribbean cruise ports of call include:

Of course, cruising isn't for everyone, so if you're looking for a destination where you won't find crowds of people pouring off cruise ships, there are many Caribbean islands that don't get cruise visitors, including many of the Out Islands of the Bahamas, Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, most of the Grenadines, Barbuda, Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands, and Marie-Galante and La Desirade in Guadeloupe, to name a few. Other smaller islands may only get occasional visits by smaller ships that can dock in shallower waters, like the magnificent sailing vessels operated by Island Windjammer and Windstar.

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