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Now that hurricane season is waning, and as cold descends on North America, our thoughts turn to warm Caribbean beaches and the blue seas. With so many destinations available from cruise lines in the Caribbean, how do you pick the perfect itinerary? One of the ways to weigh different itineraries is to consider what to do in a port day in each stop. Here are some terrific suggestions to inspire your wanderlust for Caribbean port days.
by Rai of A Rai of Light
Aruba, perfectly located in the Southern Caribbean, is a popular cruise port destination. Throughout the year, the tropical climate and ocean breeze always guarantees wonderful weather and a whole lot of sunshine. The island is the pristine escape with its multitude of beautiful beaches, rivaling even those of the Dominican Republic, and a stop at one of these beaches is almost compulsory during a cruise stop. Fortunately, neither of these beaches is too far from the dock at Aruba Ports Authority. My top recommendations would be Eagle Beach or Palm Beach. Eagle Beach, the largest beach on the island, features a long stretch of white sand and blue waters. This expanse of beach makes for a great setting for the beach bum looking to tan while catching up on some reading. Palm Beach, on the other hand, also featuring a wide stretch of beach sand, is a busier beach filled with high-end resorts and visitors looking to party. This beach is susceptible to overcrowding but makes up for it with its calm waters that are good for swimming and snorkeling. With only a few hours, the best option would be to pick the beach that is most suited for what you’re looking for, ensuring a great time on the island.
Port Day in The Bahamas – Nassau
Blue Lagoon Island
by Michelle of Moyer Memoirs
Blue Lagoon Island is a private island, officially called Salt Cay, which is 5 km and a short ferry ride away from Nassau. If you are looking for a tropical paradise, then sign up for the VIP Beach Experience. You will be escorted over the clear blue water to a beautiful island, driven to an adults-only private beach surrounded by a coconut grove (we were only sharing with one other couple the whole time we were there!) and given a welcome cocktail in your beach lounge chair. Ice cold lemonade and tea is available to you at any time from your own island butler. If the shade of your umbrella is too much for you and you desire the hot Bahama sunshine, you are welcome to wade in the surf, or go around the bend to an even more secluded area to swim in the waves.
After a morning in the sun, a delicious grilled lunch buffet is served in a private picnic area underneath the palm trees. The price for this excursion is $104 online to book it on your own. There is an inflatable water park that is also included with this experience. Blue Lagoon also offers dolphin, stingray and sea lion encounters as well as many other water activities if you need something more adventurous and want to book an additional package.
Day Trip to Atlantis
by Anisa of Two Traveling Texans
If your cruise docks in Nassau, considering spending your day at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. It’s not your typical resort and it’s only two miles from the Nassau cruise port.
You will find plenty to keep your whole party entertained including two gorgeous beaches, 11 pools, a waterpark (Aquaventure), casino, aquarium, and more. Many of the attractions are kid-friendly and there are also some water slides (like the Leap of Faith) for only the very brave. Don’t miss my favorite ride, the Current, which is like a lazy river on steroids.
To spend a day at Atlantis you will need to purchase a day pass or an excursion that includes visiting Atlantis. There are different levels of daypasses. To get the full experience make sure your daypass (or cruise excursion) includes Aquaventure (prices start at $135 per adult). Also don’t wait until the last minute to purchase your entrance to Atlantis, it is popular and their day passes do sell out.
If you arrange the day pass on your own, it’s easy to take a taxi or shared van from the port to Atlantis. There is also a water taxi to Paradise Island that leaves from the docks behind Festival Place every 30 minutes from 9 am to 6 pm.
Port Day in Cruise Ship Islands
Castaway Cay – Disney
by Mikkel of Sometimes Home
The Caribbean is synonymous to two things in my mind: clear aqua blue water and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. There’s just one way to get there if you’re the general public and that’s their cruise line. I’ve sailed with Disney Cruise Line many times. And each time has me looking forward to the day we stop at Castaway. There’s never a wrong time to go and you always leave smiling!
There are a few great things about the island, including how clean it is, it’s beautiful beaches, and the friendly staff there. I also appreciate how you don’t need money because everything is either included with the cruise or link to your stateroom reservation, much like it would be at Walt Disney World. The only thing to keep in mind is once in a while the cruise ship cannot dock there due to high winds or currents, but that’s also something to beware of overall on any cruise adventure.
If you’re traveling on Disney Cruise Line as adults only, you’ll be happy to know an area of Castaway Cay, called Serenity Bay, is a secluded beach for guests 18 and older. You can pay for a massage on the beach if you like (not included in the cruise) and simply relax in the Caribbean sun. And it is, indeed, serene!
Great Stirrup Cay – Norwegian
by Samantha of Have Seat Will Travel
If you cruise on Norwegian cruise line in the Caribbean, chances are you’ll stop at Great Stirrup Cay. This little port is Norwegian’s private island! They have a ton of loungers scattered all over the island so you’ll have no problem finding a spot in the sun or the shade. Those looking to get away from the crowds can venture to Fiesta beach on the far side of the island. We found this beach to be pretty deserted when we went! The island features five bars and three restaurants along with a beachside market for souvenir shopping. If you purchased a drink package on the boat it carries over to the island so you won’t even skip a beat! Their main restaurant serves up a complimentary barbecue buffet that is unique from what you’ll find on the boat and delicious!
The only downside to Great Stirrup Cay is they don’t have a dock. Guests have to tender from the cruise ship to the island. But, they are well prepared with speedy double-decker tender boats and I was quite impressed with how quickly I was able to get back on board. While on the island there are so many activities to do! For a relaxing day, you can rent a stand-up paddleboard ($29) or some snorkeling gear ($29). If you’re looking for a little more adventure they offer parasailing ($99) or a Jet Ski excursion ($99). They even have wildlife encounters with their Stingray Encounter ($69) and their Eco Boat tour ($59)! No matter how you’re looking to spend your day on Norwegian’s private island, I think you’ll find plenty of options!
Port Day in Cuba
by Sarah of A Social Nomad
The absolute best way to see Havana on your Caribbean cruise port day is to take a tour in a classic convertible car. It’s an iconic way to see the sights of the capital of Cuba. Tour past the Capitol building and stand in the Plaza de la Revolucion – famous for the monument to the father of Cuban Independence, Jose Marti and the murals of Che Guevara and Camil Cienfuegos.
Be sure to visit the Hotel Nacional, one of the best places to get a mojito is on the lawn here. And then you’ll be able to cruise the stunning Malecon back to the old town. Once in the old town, you should be sure the visit Hemingway’s haunts – the El Floridita bar and La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana and perhaps have a famous Cuban Cocktail there!
You can take a visit to the Museum of the Revolution and find out about Cuban’s revolution history, see stunning old photos and artifacts from the failed American invasion of Cuba in the 1960s. If you have time, also take a walking tour around Old Havana with a local and understand a little more of the history as well as getting a recommendation for where to have lunch in Havana before heading back to your boat.
Port Day in the Dominican Republic
by Margherita of The Crowded Planet
The Dominican Republic is best known for its wonderful beaches, but it also has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture. Its capital city, Santo Domingo, is an unmissable addition to any Dominican Republic itinerary, and it makes for a wonderful cruise excursion. The historic centre of Santo Domingo, known as the Zona Colonial, is UNESCO-listed and full of great colonial architecture – some examples worth checking out are the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, the first cathedral church in the Americas, and the ruins of the Hospital de San Nicolas de Bari, the first hospital to be built in the New World.
Santo Domingo is also dubbed ‘the city of firsts’ – the city was the first Spanish settlement in the Americas, which explains the abundance of historic buildings.
Another place worth checking out in Santo Domingo is the Malecon, a long seaside boulevard where you can find locals walking, running or simply enjoying the views. It’s a great place to be at sunset, before heading back onto your cruise ship for some evening entertainment!
Port Day in Grand Cayman
Swimming With Stingrays
by Bridget of The Flashpacker
Grand Cayman (Georgetown) is a popular port of call on Western Caribbean cruises. But if you can tear yourself away its powered-soft white-sand beaches and plethora of duty-free shops, take a half an hour boat ride to swim with the stingrays. It’s an incredible experience that is worth every last penny.
The area of shallow sandbars off Grand Cayman’s north coast, often marketed as ‘Stingray City’, is one of the few places in the world where you can safely swim with stingrays in their native environment. As you stand in calm, warm water no deeper than 4 feet, these graceful and gentle creatures will warmly welcome you to their home and allow you to pet them. The staff on the boat will tempt the stingrays with morsels of squid, their snack of choice, and will gladly take photos of you petting them.
This is a long and hot, shore excursion so make sure that you bring plenty of water and sunscreen. The best time to visit the sandbar is at a quieter time (early morning or in the afternoon). However, this will depend on your ship’s schedule and the availability of tours.
A half-day shore excursion will cost you from 40 USD.
Port Day in Jamaica
Visiting Dunns River Falls
by Daniel of Layer Culture
Any stop on a Caribbean cruise should have Jamaica on its itinerary. With cruise ships docking on the north coast, Dunns River is accessible and a must for any visitor to the island of Jamaica. The quickest option is to get a shuttle direct to Dunns River as the buses that run from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios can take from 2-3 hours. Traveling with an experienced tour guide you can do the round trip within the space of a day. The natural attraction offers a great experience for both couples and families as well as anyone else who wishes to go on a wet adventure up one of the most remarkable waterfalls in the world.
Your day becomes filled with giant-sized rocks and pocket-sized lagoons the second you start climbing your way up the falls. Most tour operators offer this experience as an excursion in which you can scale the waterfall safety whilst accompanied by an experienced guide. The guides show you which rocks are safe and to deter people from slipping off those giant rocks. For those who choose not to get wet, there is also a dry tour that can be done there. If you carry a waterproof camera you’ll get some cool photo opportunities. If not, you can purchase photos of your day from the experienced on-site photographer.
Port Day in Mexico’s Cozumel
by Jenn and Ed of Coleman Concierge
Cozumel receives over 4-million cruise passengers every year. Of course, this small Mexican Island offers a plethora of shore activities for all those visitors, but why not take the tour that put Cozumel on the map – drift diving. Cozumel’s dive sites start just south of the cruise ship pier and offer delights for divers of all levels.
Discover scuba divers and try the shallow bays for about $150 without any prior certification necessary. New diver candidates can make their certification dives in those same sites for around $220. Certified divers can explore the reefs and drift diving that makes Cozumel know worldwide because of the spectacular structure and outstanding visibility.
If you want to get under the waves without getting wet, consider the Depths of Atlantis submarine tour (~$110). If you’re looking for something in between, there’s an assortment of snorkeling tours from the ($80 – $120) range and even a mini-sub tour for ($90). No matter how you choose to explore the underwater world of Cozumel, you will not be disappointed.
San Gervasio Ruins
by Lee and Stacey of One Trip at a Time
If you want to explore some Mayan ruins without leaving Cozumel island, then a trip out to the ruins of San Gervasio is the perfect option. Visiting with a good guide would be our suggestion as they are able to explain the ruins and bring them to life with stories about Mayan culture.
The ruins are the only Mayan temple dedicated to the moon goddess Ix Chel. The name San Gervasio comes from the person who explored them, unfortunately, he used dynamite and did a lot of damage “exploring”. The locals would like to rename the ruins to their Mayan name, Tantun.
The ruins are fairly compact and you can see what’s left of structures such as houses, the Ossuary, Palace, Altar and the Murals. A well-preserved arch leads to a path deeper into the forest where you can see the Big House and Bats Temples and another altar. Adding this route to your visit will mean walking about 1km extra.
As the only moon temple, as well as the only significant ruins on the island of Cozumel, San Gervasio (or Tantun) is well worth a visit. The cost of entry is really cheap at just 70 pesos (3.50 USD).
Port Day in St. Lucia
by Stella of Around the World in 24 Hours
Caribbean cruises are relaxing, but sometimes the shore excursions can all start to look the same. There are beach relaxation days, animal encounters, and scenic drives on almost every island. But how many islands offer a drive-in volcano? Only St. Lucia. The official name for this drive-in volcano is Sulphur Springs. The easiest way to get to the volcano is on a shore excursion. That’s because it is a fairly long drive from the port in Castries, so it’s easiest to get there with the help of a local driver.
If you’re scared of volcanic eruptions, don’t be. The volcano hasn’t erupted for about 300 years. There are several different activities available at Sulphur Springs, but the two most popular are a guided tour and a soak in the mud baths. Keep in mind either way that there really is sulphur in the air all the time at the volcano, and that means a smell of rotten eggs. So don’t opt for the longer stay with the mud bath unless you can handle the odor.
Have fun walking around the volcano, but listen to the guide when she asks you to stay on the path. There was a local guide named Gabriel who was stomping around too enthusiastically off the path, and he created a hole and fell in. He survived, but was badly burned. Keep a lookout for the hole that he left in the volcano when you visit. (It’s called Gabriel’s Hole.)
Port Day in Sint Maarten
America’s Cup Experience
by James of Travel Collecting
When I worked on a Caribbean cruise ship, my favorite shore excursion was the America’s Cup Sailing Experience in Sint Maarten. The America’s Cup is a famous international sailing race with 12-meter yachts (though the boats are actually longer than 12-meters). In this experience, you get to be the crew on one of two yachts that to race against each other. The yachts actually ran, or were built to run, in the America’s Cup yacht race, so this is the real deal. There is a professional captain steering the boat and telling you what you do, but the rest is up to you.
It’s a fairly physical day as you “grind” the winch to move the sails and lean far over the edge to prevent the boat from tipping over. You can skip the grinding if you want, but you will definitely be involved. At the end of the day, there is a winner, but even if you don’t win the race (which I didn’t), you will still have a great day. The 12-Meter Regatta activity is run by 12-Meter Challenge. The race is in Philipsburg Bay on the Dutch side of the island. It costs $90 per person. You can read more about the America’s Cup shore excursion here.
Visit Maho Beach
by Jamie of The Daily Adventures of Me
Maho Beach in St. Martin is one of the most exciting experiences you will have in the Caribean! And because it is a private beach, it is free. Maho Beach sits right at the end of Sint Maarten International Airport’s runway. Jumbo jets take off and land from this runway, so you can enjoy the water, music, and beauty of the Caribbean while a plane takes off right over your head.
Sunset Beach Bar sits on the beach. You can sit at their waterfront bar, have a drink and enjoy the views. Or you can rent chairs and relax on the beach. The best is to swim in the warm, clear Caribbean waters looking up at the belly of the planes.
This experience happens on one of the Caribbean’s loveliest islands which is the smallest island in the world governed by two countries, the Netherlands and France.
Port Day in St. Thomas
Magens Bay Beach – One of the 10 Best Beaches in the World
by Lance and Laura of Travel Addicts
Many cruisers are surprised when visiting Charlotte Amelia on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas to find that it feels more like a bigger city than most Caribbean ports. Despite the size of the city, there’s a lot of activities to keep people busy.
But the best thing to do may be nothing at all! Many cruisers flock to the other side of the island and the long, narrow inlet of Magens Bay. Flanked by multimillion-dollar vacation homes and luxury resorts, Magens Bay’s clear blue water is a beacon to sun-seekers. And there’s a good reason: this the perfect Caribbean Island getaway. The weather is perfect, the water is perfect, and the relaxing is perfect.
Magens Bay Beach is frequently named one of the 10 best beaches in the world. A broad stretch of sand extends from one end of the inlet to the other. There are loungers and sun umbrellas for comfort. A beach restaurant serves up food and drinks. And the water is warm and calm, which is perfect for swimming.
While many visitors congregate around the beach bar, the further west you go along the beach, the fewer people you’ll encounter. Admission to the beach and park is $5 per person, and it is a $10-15pp taxi ride from the cruise ship terminal.
During Caribbean cruises, some days you just want a really nice beach when you’re in port. And that’s exactly Magens Bay.
Day Trip to St. John
by Michele of Pursuing Wanderlust
Heading to St. John is the perfect way to spend a day at port in St. Thomas. Since St. John is a much smaller island compared to St. Thomas and since 60% of the island is a national park, it’s not as developed or busy.
Once you arrive in St. John, hop in an open-air taxi and have your driver whisk you away to one of St. John’s many beautiful beaches, like Trunk Bay or Maho Bay. Trunk Bay is especially popular, so it can become crowded, but if you head down the western end of the beach, you’ll find it’s much quieter.
If you opt for Trunk Bay, be advised there is a $5.00 facility fee collected for all visitors, but this allows visitors to use the showers and restrooms. There are also a few food trucks, a tiki bar, and a small gift shop.
If you’re more on the adventurous side and would rather go for a hike, take the Lind Point trail to Salomon Bay beach instead. It’s an approximate one-mile hike, but the beach is amazing and odds are, you’ll have the place to yourself.
Before you board the ferry to head back to St. Thomas, stop at Our Market Smoothies in Cruz Bay for a smoothie. They make the best smoothies on the island and you won’t leave disappointed.
Port Day in the United States
by Lori of Voyage Writers
Lucky enough to have a cruise port day in Port Canaveral, Florida? Taking a trip to the Kennedy Space Center is a great way to spend your time off the ship. Most cruise lines have a paid excursion, which includes transportation and admission to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Making arrangements for personal transportation is doable but more complicated.
KSC is a working spaceflight facility. It’s also home to a visitor complex that features exhibits, historic spacecraft, and memorabilia. There is something for all ages to see and do. Your first stop should be the KSC bus tour included in your general admission. It’s the only way to access the restricted areas of the property. You might even be lucky enough to see work in progress for an upcoming launch. Allow approximately two hours for the narrated bus tour, visit the Apollo/Saturn V Center and return to the main visitors’ complex. Once you know how much time you have left, you then can visit the other areas.
If you are hungry, there are several restaurants, and snack stands. KSC opens at 9:00 am daily but closing varies by season. When planning your trip, visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com.
General Admission: Adult (12+) $52US, Child (age 3-11) $42US
Note: This does not include transportation
Key West, Florida
by Adam and Hannah of Getting Stamped
Stopping at the United State’s southernmost city on an upcoming cruise? Then you’re in luck because we are big fans of the island of Key West! This island city is truly a place of its own, and there are plenty of activities to choose from once you’re docked, from water activities, tons of good eats and plenty of sights to visit.
If you’re looking to experience Key West’s eccentric culture, make your way to Duval Street that has a similar vibe to Bourbon Street, with live music, art galleries, shops, and bars. Experience the history and visit the Hemmingway House, the home of the world-renowned author Ernest Hemmingway and stop by Sloppy Joe’s, a bar made famous by Ernest himself. And if the beach is calling your name, head over to Smathers Beach, arguably the best beach on the island. Another one of our favorite activities on the island is kayaking the mangroves. If you have time, rent kayaks at Lazy Boy starting at $25 for a half-day and explore the beautiful backwaters of Key West.
We will be adding to this list as we experience more destinations. Check our our longer write-ups about what to do in a port day in Old San Juan, St. Kitts, and Antigua. We hope these ideas of what to do in a port day have inspired you. Caribbean port days can be exciting, adventurous, culturally diverse, or just relaxing. The choice is yours and we hope you enjoy a fabulous cruise!
Annick, The Common Traveler