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Top Cruise Ports in the Eastern Caribbean

Best Islands for Stopovers in the Eastern Caribbean

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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.

Bahamas - Nassau

Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island near Nassau in the Bahamas
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 their 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 picturesque beach.

Nassau Photo Gallery

St. Maarten/St. Martin

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 nice cafes/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. My husband and I really enjoyed an America's Cup yacht racing adventure, 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

St. Thomas

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. John doesn't have a cruise ship dock, but is only a short water taxi ride away.

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 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

Puerto Rico - San Juan

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

Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands

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.

More on Virgin Gorda - The Baths

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.

More on Dominica

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.

More on Barbados

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