For most UK travellers the Caribbean is the ultimate cruise destination. It encapsulates everyone's dream of white palm-fringed beaches, shimmering seas, endless sunshine and sipping rum cocktails as the sun goes down, and the beauty and variety of the islands means there is something there for everyone. However, there are too many islands to visit on a single cruise, and the most difficult decision is just where to sail.
From the UK, you can choose a fly-cruise, flying both there and back, a one-way fly-cruise, starting from or returning to Southampton, or a round trip, sailing from and returning to Southampton. The fly-cruises are usually around 7-10 nights, while the round trip is likely to be longer , often 24 or 35 nights. The main itineraries offered for most cruises are Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean and Southern Caribbean.
A cruise in the Eastern Caribbean is the one to choose if you prefer less sailing time and more time in port, as the islands are smaller and closer together. The region encompasses the Bahamas, St Thomas, St Maarten/St Martin, Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands. High season for cruising in the Eastern Caribbean usually lasts from December to April, but the best bargains can be found in late summer and autumn.
Typical shore activities include snorkelling, especially at St John in the US Virgin Islands, sail-boat racing, and tours of historic sites. Among the most popular ports is Nassau in the Bahamas, where you can visit the iconic Paradise Island. Other exciting port stops include Grand Turk in Turks & Caicos, and San Juan in Puerto Rico, with historic monuments dating back to the 16th century, and an original rainforest.
The wealth of attractions in the Western Caribbean makes it a true magnet for travellers. Many ports of call are on the mainland, and include Cozumel and other ports on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Belize and Costa Rica, plus larger Caribbean islands including Grand Cayman, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Shore excursion options are more varied than in the Eastern Caribbean, and include exploring ancient Mayan ruins, hiking rain forests, scuba diving and swimming with dolphins. It's perfect for cruising at any time of year, though April and May are less crowded -- storms are most likely August-October, but cruise vessels can be re-routed to avoid them.
The Southern Caribbean is home to the lion's share of the region's islands, and many of them are less travelled, meaning less hustle and bustle. Cruises take in the spectacular scenery of St Lucia and Martinique, the French ambience of St Barts, the enchanting beauty of Grenada, the Spice Island, the lush foliage of Dominica, and the colonial elegance and gorgeous beaches of Antigua. Any time of year is fine for cruising here, and many of the islands are below the hurricane belt.
The Caribbean is a cruise-lover's paradise. Whichever itinerary you choose, you find blue seas, stunning beaches, fascinating ports of call, and much, much more. One cruise will never be enough.