I have been on a total of five cruises – four Carnival Cruises and one with Royal Caribbean.
Besides one cruise I did that took me to countries in Central America, all other cruises I have travelled with have taken me around to the Caribbean Islands. I have compiled a list of all the islands I have visited in the past and the very best activities I got to endure while visiting.
Please keep in mind though that I was on these islands for less than 24 hours, so my activities listed are not very extensive, but will give you at least a gist of what can be done when visiting.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
An unincorporated territory of the United States (an area controlled by the US, but is not under constitutional rights), Puerto Rico is an island that does not give off a Caribbean vibe, but a place that will make you feel like you have wound up somewhere in Spain. Founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, San Juan, the island’s capital, is the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas.
What makes San Juan so unique is it’s old part of the city. Old San Juan is the main part of the city, which holds an abundance of character. It’s narrow streets, blue cobblestone, and colonial buildings, Old San Juan is a picturesque beauty. Along with it’s historic buildings, San Juan also features high walls and well-known forts a part of this island’s history.
You can take a tour of both Old San Juan and one of it’s forts if you are only there for a limited time. Shopping is also great downtown, just right off the port. If you get the chance go for a San Juan City tour, or if you are with a cruise ship, they may still offer a tour to go and watch Juan Carlos & his Flamenco Rumba – an amazing and beautiful show I got to watch while I was visiting San Juan. Go if you can!
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Another unincorporated territory of the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands hold many activities to do, for just one day or for a whole week’s worth. Magens Bay is on St. Thomas and is rated one of the best beaches in the world. A quiet beach with crystal blue waters, white sand all around, and palm trees galore, it’s no wonder how Magens Beach got rated in the top 10!
Other points of interest, which I got to visit myself and I highly recommend seeing include a visit to Blackbeard’s Castle and the Rum Factory. Again, lots of great shopping on this island!
St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
St. Maarten has an interesting history in comparison to other Caribbean Islands around. It has an interesting division, 40% belonging to the Dutch and 60% belonging to the French, but this by no means strains or affects the unique culture this island has developed. Take an island tour to see both the French Side of the island and the Dutch Side. If on a cruise ship, your ship will dock on the Dutch Side, where there is lots of shopping at the port. You can take a water taxi back and forth from the shopping area to the cruise boat port.
Looking for unique shops? You don’t need to look far! A small Parisian-themed boutique called Vis a Vis is most lovely! I bought a Paris serving tray, a tea pot and a cereal jar. Looking for refreshments following your intense shopping trip? Head over to Barefoot Restaurant, where they serve excellent Banana-Coconut smoothies that are to die for!
What a beautiful port! You can take a historical tour of the island and get the chance to visit sites like Fort Fincastle, Fort Charlotte, and one of my favourites, the Queen’s Staircase. The Queen’s Staircase is actually hand-carved from limestone. When Queen Victoria abolished slavery in the Bahamas, the staircase was built in her honour.
Another one of my favourite day trips in Nassau is exploring the grounds of the infamous Atlantis Resort. Similar to the standards you would find at Disney World, not a nook or cranny was left out of the grand scheme of this resort’s design and architecture. Strikingly beautiful and jaw-dropping as you walk through each hallways, you do not need to be a staying guest to go and catch a glimpse of this gem of a place. You won’t want to miss it! Perhaps try your luck at the casino while you are there?
You will even see famous sites as you approach the resort via water-taxi, like where a couple James bond films were shot. On your way to Paradise Island, you can see the homes of Nicholas Cage and Mick Jaguer, as well as you can see the shack from the James Bond film Thunderbolt. Once on Paradise Island, just a little ways down the road you can go and see another James Bond movie set location, The Beach Club, from the flick Casino Royale.
St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda
I did not spend a lot of time here, but loved the beautiful colours all around this adorable little port.
Head over for some more delectable smoothies at Cafe Napoleon. At this cafe, there are pretty flower vases made my a local pottery studio just across the street. If you like them that much, you can head over to the shop for your own replica or you can shop around for other fine-art pottery pieces. Shopping and smoothie-ed out? Head to one of Antigua’s 366 beaches for the day for some swim and snorkel!
Castries, St. Lucia
Castries is a port of call for cruise ships and is one of St. Lucia’s most touristy areas. When our ship docked here for the day, I took a Pirates of the Caribbean tour with my mom that our cruise shipped offered. We set sail from our port and made way across the water to Pigeon Island.
As we sailed, our tour guides told us that the exact ship we were on was used for the filming the movies of Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 and 3! Being an avid Disney fan and a huge POTC film-junkie, I was stoked to be on the ship, as close to Johnny Depp as I would ever be, ha! To make the experience that more authentic, they played soundtrack music from the films – I was in pirate heaven!
When we arrived at Pigeon Island, tourists have an option to bum it at the beach or hike to the top of the island to explore Fort Rodney. Being the adventurers we are, my mom and I decided to make our way to the top. Pigeon Island is a historic site thanks to this fort and it’s history. It was an important fort on top of one of the two peaks that make up St. Lucia’s. Fort Rodney was used by the British to spy on French ships that were from the close-by island of Martinique.
Upon our descent of the peak, we loaded back onto our pirate ship and sailed back to our oh-so-boring-in-comparison ship, all the while drinking tropical punch and eating bread pudding.
St. George, Grenada
Another postcard-worthy back drop, St. George, Grenada is a gorgeous town that is surrounded by a hillside of an old volcano crater. Grenada is known as the Island of Spice, because of its production of nutmeg and mace crops. Take a walk from the port all the way up to Fort George for a stunning view of the town’s horseshoe-shaped harbour.
You may encounter a few vendors on your way up selling spice necklaces. Pick one up as a souvenir! I bought one on my trip and got to savour it’s sweet smells of nutmeg, bay leaves, ginger, cinnamon, chiffon, and others. Grenada is the world’s largest spice exporter so what a sweet reminder of the island you visited with this nice little take home.
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
Though I cannot really speak to what’s on land for Turks & Caicos, I can brag about it’s snorkelling. My dad, brother and I signed up for a Snorkelling Expedition through our cruise ship. This was going to be my very first time snorkelling in the ocean – it was also going to be the time I fell in love with this aquatic activity, something I still do today whenever I travel near an ocean and absolutely treasure and respect. We went to Hidden Bay, where we snorkelled amongst the coral reef and tropical fish of the area. The reef took my breath away! Though it was my first time snorkelling and as terrified as I was, this truly made me fall in love with snorkelling and all it has to offer. We same ashore and found huge conches, but then soon returned to the water for some more snorkel time.
Whether you do it in Turks & Caicos or any other island I mentioned above, if you have never tried snorkelling before, GIVE IT A GO! It changed my life and who knows, it may change yours!
Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba
I spent a week on this island, but did more beach-bumming than any other activity to be honest. I stayed on a resort when I was here and I really took advantage of swimming in the ocean and snorkelling. I had to be careful though of the barracudas, as a girl staying on our resort was bit by one while we were staying there. Shopping, drinking, laying on the beach – a typical/signature Caribbean vacation if you ask me.
In the built up tourist shopping centre of Cayo Santa Maria, you could find unique shops, cigar-rolling demonstrations, and dancing in the streets. There is even a night club for tourists in this district. My friends and I went one evening and I could have sworn it was a picture taken right out of Dirty Dancing Havana Nights. Salsa dancing left, right and center, Cubans pulling in tourists to get their groove on. Just an awesome time! Don’t’ forget to load up with Cuban coffee before you leave the island as well as Romeo and Juliet cigarillos. Dip into that crystal blue ocean one last time too before you leave!