It happens every year. The dog days of summer wind down, drawing their last faint breaths; the sound of lapping waves, not lifeguard whistles, reigns over beaches up and down the eastern seaboard; leaves begin their chameleonic march; and dusk begins creeping in just a little bit sooner than before.
Yes, Labor Day was here, now gone—time to put the whites away and begin thinking what you'll pack for your next cruise vacation. Although seasons are cyclical and beyond control, the cruise lines make sure that their itineraries are not. So what's on tap for the fall and winter coming?
The Caribbean has long been the default destination for the cold-weather seasons. Understandably: the climate invites bathing suits and tank tops, making it a natural choice among families—whether for a Christmas break or even a short weekend getaway.
What to Expect
So besides the obvious, other charming Caribbean characteristics convince visitors to cruise there. With many embarkation ports strewn across the U.S., it's relatively easy to get to one. (Many ports can be driven to, which is more cost effective than flying). On top of that, the region offers an array of shopping, entertainment, dining and, of particular importance to cruisers, robust shore excursions.
One day can be spent reef snorkeling; another, scuba diving and exploring the remnants of a sunken ship; and yet another can be wasted away sailing on a catamaran prior to a romantic dinner in a starlit cove. The list goes on and on—and I haven't even mentioned land activities.
Another attractive Caribbean trait is that the region has ports of call that serve every cruise segment, whether it's a St. Thomas call made by Carnival Cruise Lines, a Curaçao call by Holland America or a Silversea cruise to San Juan: a Caribbean cruise can be cost conscious and short, or extravagant and of a longer duration.
Many cruise lines hit the same Caribbean ports, whether in the eastern, western or southern portions of the region. For a first-time cruiser, many of the ports you pull into might look similar: tourism is one of the Caribbean's main sources of income, and money has been spent to build up the cruise terminals so that they can accommodate the bigger ships that come calling, and offer arriving guests entertainment, shopping and dining as soon as they step off board.
That said, many destinations in the Caribbean have become more popular than others, whether due to exceptional beaches, dining or the indigenous culture, which is different from island to island.
One such destination steaming ahead is the archipelago known as Turks and Caicos in the West Indies. Part of its appeal can be chalked up to a new cruise terminal that opened this past year on Grand Turk island, built in corroboration with Carnival Corp. at a price tag of around $40 million.
A cruise terminal is the first handshake a cruiser has with a new port, and The Grand Turk Cruise Terminal doesn't disappoint. The terminal has its own beach with free lounge chairs, and if you become hungry or parched, there's a Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Café on site.
Obviously a cruise terminal doesn't sell an island—and it doesn't have to in the Turks and Caicos, which is known for its string of white-sand beaches. Its trendiest and most expensive island, Providenciales, is home to many upscale resorts.
By pronunciation alone, Curaçao sounds more like a Japanese film director than an island in the Caribbean. And just how Japanese cinema has become increasingly popular in the U.S., Curaçao is trudging along as a popular Caribbean destination.The island is the biggest of the so-called ABC Islands, which, besides Curaçao, encompasses Aruba and Bonaire. Dutch architecture and ubiquitous multi-chromatic buildings dot the harbor at Willemstad, Curaçao's capital city, giving it the feeling of a tropical wonderland.
Now, if you're looking for an exclusive port with low foot traffic and even less of the ticky-tack trinkets that abound on many a Caribbean port, take a look at St. Barts in the French West Indies. It's not your typical Caribbean cruise port, whisper many cruising insiders, from its gorgeous beaches (if you enjoy undisturbed nature, do your sunning at the pristine Saline and Governor beaches on the southern side of the island) to its selection of shopping in the capital of Gustavia (widely held as the fashion capital of the Caribbean) that includes such haute retailers as Louis Vuitton and Prada. If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of rapper/entrepreneur Jay-Z with his belle, singer Beyoncé.
Also in the West Indies, you can't discount the emergence of Dominica, known as the "nature isle of the Caribbean." More cruise lines are including it on itineraries because of its unspoiled rainforest environment, which covers most of the island and includes the world's largest boiling lake (the water temperature is between 180 and 197 degrees Fahrenheit). Lines such as Oceania Cruises (www.oceaniacruises.com) offer shore excursions to the site.