Our guide to Caribbean cruises

Cunard’s guide to cruising the tropical islands of the Caribbean.

White sand and turquoise sea may be the Caribbean’s calling card, but with bustling markets, candy-hued houses and ancient garrisons (along with volcanoes, rainforests and reefs for the adventurous) a Caribbean cruise offers an equal dose of exploration and escapism.

In this guide to cruising the Caribbean with Cunard, we round up the travel highlights to see on shore, the islands to add to your itinerary and the best time of year to travel, along with expert tips about where to eat, how to dress, and what to pack for your cruise to this sun-infused archipelago.

Quick links

Why choose the Caribbean for a cruise?

With year-round warm weather, 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and some of the world’s finest sand beaches, the islands of the Caribbean have long been a magnet for cruisers. As well as its sublime tropical landscapes, the Caribbean is beloved for its fresh and fiery cuisine, seemingly endless supply of rum distilleries (you’ll find upwards of 1000 on Barbados alone), lively markets selling local crafts, and historic architecture dating back centuries.

Cruising is one of the most popular ways to explore the Caribbean, offering a luxurious and comfortable way to travel between islands with the added convenience of only having to unpack once. If your Caribbean cruise is sailing roundtrip (no air travel required) you’ll also benefit from being able to bring as much luggage on board as you like. See our packing section for more information about what you’ll need for a Caribbean cruise.

What to expect on a Caribbean cruise

The first thing you can expect on a Caribbean cruise is great weather. Caribbean cruise season is timed to coincide with the driest months (November through to February) when precipitation is at its lowest and days are filled with blue sky and sunshine. The conditions at this time of year are ideal for sunbathing and the Caribbean offers no shortage of magnificent beaches.

The other thing you should expect on a Caribbean cruise is greenery. The islands enjoy a tropical climate and you’ll notice emerald-hued trees and colourful flowers dotted throughout the region. Guided nature hikes, helicopter tours and strolls through botanical gardens are great ways to appreciate the lush natural landscapes the Caribbean has in abundance.

History of Caribbean cruises

Caribbean cruises have been popular since the late 19th century, following the success of passenger cruises to the Mediterranean and Transatlantic Crossings between Europe and North America. By the 1960s, when commercial air travel had also entered the picture, the Caribbean had firmly established itself as a top cruise destination, and one of the pinnacles of luxury travel.

Today, cruises to the Caribbean are as popular as ever, with roundtrip cruises from Florida (Fort Lauderdale) and New York complemented by fly-cruises to the Caribbean from Southampton. Generally pitched as a winter sun destination, with many itineraries sailing December to April, Caribbean cruises have become a rite of passage for those looking to swap cold bleak days for sand, warmth and sunshine.

Caribbean cruise routes

When it comes to selecting your Caribbean cruise you’ll find a wide choice of itineraries, with routes calling at eastern, western and the southern Caribbean. Each region has something unique to offer, and the longer you stay, the more islands you’ll be able to experience.

Eastern Caribbean cruises typically take in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. Opting for a southern Caribbean itinerary opens up the likes of Aruba, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Curacao and Martinique, while western Caribbean routes could see you step ashore in Jamaica, Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Belize or Honduras.

Combining a Caribbean cruise with a stay in New York, or even a Transatlantic Crossing from Southampton or Hamburg, is a popular choice for those wanting to get away for longer. Relish the opportunity to explore an iconic city in addition to experiencing the Caribbean’s sunny shores.

Caribbean cruise highlights

From the oldest rum distilleries in the world to beaches skimmed by turquoise sea, the Caribbean is a kaleidoscope of colour and beauty – a paradise for nature lovers, adrenaline seekers and cultural enthusiasts. Here are just some of the highlights to look out for in this tropical region.

Caribbean cruise sights

White sand and sunshine aren’t all a Caribbean voyage has to offer. Each island boasts treasures worthy of exploration and activities guaranteed to set your pulse racing.

Harrison’s Cave, Barbados: A twenty minute drive from Bridgetown brings you to this 2.3-kilometre network of crystallised limestone caves that make up one of the island’s most magnificent natural wonders. Guided tours via tram allow you to take in the cave in all its majesty, and hop off at several stopping points to take photographs and enjoy a closer look at the many stalagmite formations. Don’t forget your camera for this one.

Morne Trois National Park, Dominica: Dominica is one of the Caribbean’s greenest islands, largely thanks to the lush, unspoilt, rainforests of Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Elevated to UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997, this magnificent expanse of tropical fauna, rivers and mountains is like stepping back in time. Its Boiling Lake, Emerald Pool and Titou Gorge (where Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was filmed) are must-sees on a Cunard Shore Experience from Roseau.

Rockland Estate, Sint Maarten: With 360 degree vistas, Rockland Estate offers the most magnificent viewpoint on the island, but its real claim to fame is its zip line, known as The Flying Dutchman. Billed as the steepest zip line in the world, this 45-second descent offers an exhilarating ride and incredible scenery. The estate also offers the chance to learn about Sint Maarten’s history at a restored plantation house.

Rainforest aerial tram, St Lucia: Just half an hour from St Lucia’s bustling port capital you’ll find one of the Caribbean’s most memorable experiences – an open-air gondola tram. Located within the St Lucia Forest Reserve, the aerial gondola glides high above the rainforest, transporting you through treetops filled with hummingbirds and bananaquits. You’ll be joined by a nature interpreter on board, who’ll navigate your journey with expert commentary.

Cultural highlights

Savour the opportunity to uncover more of the Caribbean’s history, customs and traditions on your cruise at these vibrant cultural sites throughout your holiday.

Museo Historico Arubano (MHA), Aruba: Located in the capital, Oranjestad, Aruba’s historical museum occupies two of the island’s oldest buildings: the 1798 Fort Zoutman, and the 1868 Willem III Tower, which was originally a lighthouse before becoming a clock tower in 1963. Both buildings are now protected and contain a small collection of exhibits and artefacts expanding on Aruba’s heritage and history. The tower also offers some picturesque island views.

Philipsburg Courthouse, Sint Maarten: This white wooden courthouse in Wadley Square is nestled among the enigmatic restaurants and shops of Philipsburg’s lively Front Street and was originally the home of Dutch Navy captain John Philips. Previously used as a post office, a fire station and the town’s jailhouse, the structure, erected in 1793, features a bell tower adorned with a pineapple – symbolic for ‘welcome’ in Caribbean culture.

Historic Garrison, Barbados: Around two miles from Heroes Square in Bridgetown lies the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the island’s Garrisons, a former military complex which acted as headquarters for the British West India Regiment in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site includes many historic buildings, including a former mansion known as George Washington House, where the former U.S. President resided.

Caribbean food highlights

Heady sweetness, piquant spice, a dash of rum and a hit of citrus are the hallmarks of Caribbean cuisine. On each island you’ll find a blend of local street food stalls, beachfront bars, and restaurants specialising in native delicacies, all inviting you to sample a taste of the Caribbean.

Iconic foods ashore include flying fish and cou cou, green fig and saltfish and conch and dumplings – the national dishes of Barbados, St Lucia and Sint Maarten respectively. Dominica, meanwhile, offers a blend of traditional creole cooking and French patisserie. As for dining on board, you’ll find everything from fine dining and poolside grills to afternoon tea and classic pub fare.

Caribbean Shore Experiences

From swimming with turtles in St Thomas, to lunch with a local after exploring St Lucia’s UNESCO listed Pitons, a Caribbean Shore Experience is your chance to return home with some unforgettable holiday memories.

Set your pulse racing on a guided jeep safari, snorkel the world-famous caves of Treasure Point, or descend beneath the Caribbean’s blue sea on a submarine experience.

If foodie adventures are more your scene, delve into the native culinary scene with Creole cooking demonstrations or a tasting at a local chocolate plantation.

Explore the Caribbean’s unique natural landscape with a hot springs escape, coastal kayaking tour or an aerial tram ride through lush tropical rainforest.

Our range of shore experiences help you get more from every port of call. Book online through My Cunard. Login to explore the latest availability. You’ll also find Shore Experience experts on board your ship who’ll happily take you through the available options for your voyage and make all the arrangements on your behalf.

Caribbean festivals and events

If there’s one thing the Caribbean excels at it’s putting on a party, and you’ll find several popular festivals, events and cultural celebrations taking place in the Caribbean during the peak cruising period.

If it’s colourful costumes you’re hoping to see, be sure to visit between New Year and Ash Wednesday (which usually falls in the first half of February), when the infamous Barbados Carnival, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and Holetown Festival - a series of free open-air concerts celebrating Bajan music - take place.

Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day (January 1) introduce traditional Junkanoo street parades featuring music, dance and costumes of African origin. May sees Sint Maarten’s carnival explode into colour, and June, July and August bring Crop Over, one of the Caribbean’s most significant cultural festivals, honouring the end of harvest season. 

Caribbean cruises throughout the year

No matter what time of year you visit the Caribbean, you’ll rarely experience temperatures under 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Being a tropical climate, however, means the Caribbean is not without its share of rainfall, with drier winters generally offering the best time to cruise.

This season-by-season Caribbean cruise guide summarises the main weather patterns across the Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean. 

Spring (March, April, May)

March, April and May in the Caribbean can be hot with cool breezes and the occasional rain shower. Southern Caribbean islands, including Barbados and St Lucia, are among those offering the hottest temperatures in springtime, and around 10 hours of daylight is common at this time of year.

Summer (June, July, August)

Summer can be rainier in the Caribbean, particularly in the north and on mountainous islands such as Dominica and St Lucia. Temperatures are still typically around the mid-80s (circa 30 degrees C) with the peak humidity arriving in August, and sea temperatures comfortably warm for swimming.

Autumn (September, October, November)

Autumn is considered the low season in the Caribbean as this is when the worst of the rainfall lands and hurricane season kicks in. Weather can be interchangeable and stormy with high winds. Afternoon and overnight rain showers are to be expected and the humidity is still very high.

Winter (December, January, February)

Winter is one of the most popular times of year to visit the Caribbean with December marking the start of peak season, and January the best month for sunshine. Though temperatures drop a few degrees, daytimes are still hot, while nights provide a refreshing cool breeze. 

How to pack for a cruise to the Caribbean

As with all sunny destinations, must-haves for a Caribbean cruise include lots of high SPF suntan lotion, swimwear (not only for the beaches but for the pools on board), sandals, and beach cover-ups or kaftans – great if you want to go straight to lunch from your sun lounger.

Comfortable hiking or walking shoes are a must if you plan on venturing into any of the region’s national parks or rainforests. Lightweight fabrics such as linens and cottons will help you to keep cool against the Caribbean’s humidity, and a rain mac is always wise in case of unexpected showers.

Caribbean cruise reading list

With the sun on your skin, a cool drink to hand, and the sound of the waves gently lapping the shore, a Caribbean cruise is the perfect opportunity to switch off with a good book. If you’re looking to get lost in a story set among the islands, Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk, The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey, and Another Sun by Timothy Williams, are all Caribbean-based titles that come highly recommended.

Caribbean cruises: your questions answered

Explore the Caribbean

Caribbean Shore Experiences

Explore steamy jungles, sapphire waters and white sand beaches on these varied colourful islands, with recommendations to suit all types of travellers.

Find out more

Caribbean destinations

Explore the Caribbean ports we visit, each with their own influences in cuisine, language and architecture, but all with the same friendly, laid-back spirit.

Find out more

Hidden depths

The Caribbean is known for year-round sun and sandy beaches, but they hold so much more than that. Join us as we take a closer look at four of our favourite port calls, and highlight delicious Caribbean cuisine.

Find out more