Eastern vs. Western vs. Southern Itineraries
For the purposes of cruising, the Caribbean can be divided into three separate areas, known generically in the industry as the southern, eastern, and western routes. That said, these delineations really only exist in the cruise world. In addition, there is a lot of overlap on these itineraries.
Most weeklong itineraries will go to the big three eastern Caribbean ports of call: St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Nassau, in the Bahamas. It’s worth noting, however, that there’s an enormous range of potential ports of call within this one region. And here’s a tip: You can add even more time in the Caribbean sun by flying to San Juan, Puerto Rico, or St.
Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, to pick up an Eastern Caribbean sailing that departs directly from there.
Western Caribbean itineraries tend to include visits to some of the more heavily crowded ports: Belize, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Cozumel. Just how busy can they get? Well, multiple ships can visit Grand Cayman in a single day, and Cozumel boasts three separate docking locations for cruise ships. Still, many of these islands offer strong cultural attractions, such as excursions to Mayan ruins.
In fact, if you’re wavering between the two, you may be able to have your cake and eat it, too: Many ships operating Western Caribbean cruises alternate their itineraries with Eastern Caribbean sailings, which means you may be able to book two back-to-back voyages without ever repeating ports of call. Of all the Caribbean itineraries, Southern Caribbean voyages are often the best. Generally lasting from 7 to 15 days, they ofen depart right from the Caribbean, out of Barbados; Martinique; San Juan, Puerto Rico; or St. Lucia. Since they don’t have to traverse long stretches of ocean, they spend fewer days at sea, and frequently call on a mix of the following ports: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, and the little isles of the Grenadines, a real treat for sun worshippers. Some of these itineraries are so long they also include transit through the Panama Canal a boon for history buffs, if perhaps a bust for those who are more in search of sand and surf.