Opinion5 Favorite Caribbean Cruise Ports (And 5 Least Favorite)

5 Favorite Caribbean Cruise Ports (And 5 Least Favorite)

We asked our readers which cruise ports in the Caribbean and Bahamas were their favorite and least favorite.

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This list is a direct result of the replies to this question from several hundred followers willing to voice their opinion.

Cruise ships in port in St Maarten
These 5 Caribbean/Bahama cruise ports are favorites among Cruise Fever readers. We also list 5 cruise ports that aren’t quite as loved. Photo 16038194 © Ruth Peterkin | Dreamstime.com

Not all cruise ports are created equal.  And with the popularity of cruise travel in the Caribbean and Bahamas there are some destinations more popular than others.

It should be noted that this is a very subjective topic.  While some may rather stay on the ship when docking in Nassau, you might love exploring this port.

Top 5 Favorite Cruise Ports

These cruise ports in the Bahamas and Caribbean were the most mentioned in the “favorite” category by our readers.

Cruise ships in port at St. Maarten in the Caribbean
Cruise port at Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

1. St. Maarten

With a French side and a Dutch side, this 13 square mile island is one of the busiest cruise ports on our list.  In fact, Port of Philipsburg in St. Maarten saw at least 1.3 million cruise passengers last year, with almost 500 cruise ships pulling into port.

Cruise passengers love both the culture of the area as well as the natural beauty.  There are 37 beaches around the island, and according to some sources the island holds the record for the most beaches per square mile.

St. Maarten was the most mentioned favorite cruise port, and as more cruise itineraries have this port of call on their schedule, more cruisers have had the chance to explore this little slice of paradise.

Read more:  25 Things to do in St. Maarten on a Cruise

2. Aruba

aruba cruise port
ORANJESTAD, ARUBA : Downtown port and shopping disctrict used for tourism of cruise ships passengers

A favorite Southern Caribbean cruise itinerary hot spot, Aruba is the most well-known of the ABC islands.   You will find this port of call on cruises with durations of 8-12 days in many cases.  Since the island is so far south in the Caribbean Sea, it requires a longer voyage for ships sailing out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Cruisers love Aruba for its pristine white sandy beaches, Dutch heritage that permeates the island, and the feeling of safety throughout.  Aruba is one of the safest ports of call to visit.  Add in some great shopping spots in Oranjestad and plenty of unique excursions, and you can see why Aruba made the list.

Read more: 19 Best Things to do in Aruba

3. Grand Cayman

With about 1.4 million cruise passengers visiting Grand Cayman every year, it’s one of the most popular ports in the Caribbean.   Cruise visitors will often rave about Seven Mile Beach or the stunning coral around the port that is perfect for both snorkeling and diving. 

George Town offers loads of shopping opportunities as well.  And don’t forget one of the most popular tourist activities on the island: Cayman Turtle Centre.

Grand Cayman is one of the three Cayman Islands and is located about 100 miles west of Jamaica and south of Cuba.

Read more: Best Grand Cayman Tips for Things to Do and See

4. San Juan

San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of my personal favorite ports.  There’s just something special about Old San Juan and the vibrant culture that can be found along those cobblestone streets.  Cruisers love that most of this area can be explored on foot and that beautiful beaches like Condado Beach and Playa El Ultimo Trolley offer plenty of space for some relaxing in the sun.

You can also get some fantastic food in San Juan (Oh, and I love the local coffee) with a blend of Spanish and Caribbean flavors.  There’s also some unique history at this port.  El Morro is a six-level fortress that looks over San Juan Bay which was built in the mid 1500’s.

5. Curacao

Another Dutch Caribbean island, the C of the ABC islands is known for colorful reefs and stunning beaches.  Williamstad, the capital city, is also a popular attraction near the port.  The vibrant colonial style buildings provide a lovely backdrop for walks along the waterfront that is dotted by shops and cafes, so always save a little room in your stomach for a walk downtown.

Cruisers love the laid-back atmosphere of Curacao along with the natural beauty of the island.  Hikes through Christoffel National Park are pretty popular as well, but it’s about an hour way from the port itself.

Read more: 15 Fun Things to Do in Curacao on a Cruise

Notable mentions:

 A few other favorite ports that were mentioned included St. Thomas, Bonaire, and “any private island”.

 

5 Least Favorite Cruise Ports

Just because a cruise destination is on this least doesn’t mean you can’t absolutely enjoy an amazing day in port there.  In fact, I often read cruise reviews that offer much different perspectives than my own.

But these ports in the Caribbean and surrounding areas were mentioned as the least favorite.  Agree or disagree, perhaps these ports have some room for improvement.  By the way, some have already made vast improvements, so don’t write them off.

1. Nassau

It was somewhat disheartening to see Nassau mentioned so many times as the least favorite cruise port, but I totally understand it.  Besides the crime issues that have plagued the region, Nassau has always felt more like a necessary rest stop for cruise passengers who were on their way someone else.

The port recently spent $300 million upgrading the entire port, so you might not even recognize it if you haven’t been there in a while.    No longer do you have to push your way through the gauntlet of local residents trying to sell you excursions and services.  The whole process has been streamlined and the terminal is much more open.  Even the straw market area is clean, open, and organized.

But I know I’m not going to convince any of you am I?  Ok, on to the second least favorite port.

Read more: Things to do in Nassau on a Cruise

2. Freeport

Another port in the Bahamas, Freeport was also not very well liked by our readers.   First of all, the port does have a very industrial feel, a contrast to the Seven Mile beach you can find at Grand Cayman.

That’s not to say Freeport doesn’t have some great natural beauty of its own.  You just have to spend some time in a taxi or bus driving by all of the cement plants and oil refineries to find it.   I’ve enjoyed a few lovely excursions to the beaches in Freeport.  I’ve also explored several beautiful caverns.

However, recent travel advisories for the Bahamas as a whole have not helped the image of this cruise port in the eyes of wary travelers as well.

Read more: Best Things to do in Freeport on a Cruise

3. Jamaica

This country has had a colorful history for cruise travelers.  Both safety concerns and trouble dealing with overly aggressive vendors have made Jamaica one of the least favorite places for some cruisers.  While exploring a foreign port on your own can be a rewarding experience, some have expressed difficulty in doing so here.

Jamaica has five cruise ports: Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Falmouth, Port Antonia, and Port Royal (Kingston).  Ocho Rios is the busiest of these five with Falmouth closely behind it.

But there are many wonderful things to do near any of these Jamaican cruise ports as well.  A vibrant culture, lush rainforests, and many private beaches or all-inclusive reports can help make any cruise visit to Jamaica pretty incredible.

Read more: 24 Awesome Things to do in Jamaica on a Cruise

4. Belize

Due to the shallow waters around Belize City, cruise ships drop anchor a few miles from shore and send cruise travelers to the port area via tenders (small boats).  This trip can take around 20 minutes, a process not all passengers have been thrilled about. 

The area can also feel a bit on the touristy side.  While some will venture out to visit Mayan ruins and lush jungles, those who stay in the bustling cruise port area often feel they aren’t getting the true authentic experience of Belize.

5. Tortola

The largest of the 50 British Virgin Islands, Tortola is also the most populated.  Just east of Puerto Rico, about 24,000 residents live on the 21 sq. mile island.   The cruise port area can be a little more crowded and bustling than some prefer, with plenty of shopping and commercial activity nearby.

Most cruise ships will dock at the cruise pier near Road Town which can handle two large ships at once.  However, most of the time there are not more than two ships in port at the same time.  I did notice on the cruise schedule for Tortola that a few times in December of this year 3 ships will be calling on the islands on the same day.  This means at least one ship will have to anchor in the bay and send tenders to land.

Tortola is an easy port for English speakers to navigate and US dollars are accepted as well.

Notable mentions:

Some other ports that cruiser passengers weren’t in love with included Martinique and RoatanCozumel, Mexico was mentioned a few times as least favorite, but it was also on commenters list of favorite ports.

 

Final Thoughts

As I always say, a cruise is what you make of it.  I’ve had some great cruises at the cruise ports mentioned at the bottom half of this article just as much as the ones at the top.

Everyone has a different expectation of what they want a day in port to be like, so always keep that in mind when you hear something negative said about a port of call. 

The important thing is to keep an open and curious mind about new places.  Soak in the culture and history of each place like a sponge and find something new that is not always listed in a brochure.

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
Opinion5 Favorite Caribbean Cruise Ports (And 5 Least Favorite)
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