What to Expect

You can easily learn what to expect during each part of your Caribbean cruise vacation

Photo credit: © Pavel Losevsky | Dreamstime.com

First-time cruisers often have a lot of unanswered questions concerning just what a Caribbean cruise entails. If you are a first-timer, research what to expect on your trip. Take a little time to become informed about the details of your specific cruise vacation by learning what kinds of cruises are available, what distinguishes certain ships from others, and what to expect both onboard and in port. Knowing this information in advance is sure to make your cruise all the more enjoyable.

Getting Informed

There are several ways to find information about your upcoming Caribbean cruise vacation. First of all, find out about the specific cruise line which you will be traveling with. If you haven't chosen a cruise line yet, investigate several different cruise companies and do some comparative shopping.

During the research process, you may find that individual cruise lines cater to different kinds of travelers. For instance, honeymooners and couples renewing their vows will find Princess cruise lines a popular choice for performing weddings and vow renewals at sea. Their packages include special touches like champagne breakfast in bed, massages for two, and intimate balcony dinners with views of paradise.

On the other hand, Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise lines provide family-friendly travel options with such a wide choice of onboard activities, travelers of all ages can enjoy the cruise. For those looking for a high energy, partying crowd and younger passenger mix, Carnival cruise line stands out. These are only a very small sampling of choices in the mainstream cruise market.

After getting information on the Planningdifferent cruise lines, you can then explore possible cruise itineraries. This will give you an idea about the ports you will be visiting and what your destinations have to offer. Finally, what better way to get informed than by simply asking questions. Contact the cruise line and your travel agent for answers and overviews.

Kinds of Cruises

With so many different cruise lines and itineraries, it isn't surprising that you can find cruises that are marketed to specific demographic groups, or specific interests. If you would prefer cruising with people that share your interests or outlook, you might want to look for a cruise that is being marketed primarily to families, singles, seniors, gays and lesbians, honeymooners, and so forth.

Be aware, however, that even if a cruise is being marketed to a particular passenger category, the cruise line certainly won't turn you away if you don't happen to fall within that category. Thus, you should consider asking a few questions before committing to a specific sailing to ensure that you aren't on a singles cruise, as an example, when what you are looking for is a family oriented experience. When you choose the kind of cruise that fits the vacation you want to have, you can get a good idea of what to expect out of your trip. Find out more about different cruise styles by checking out our Choosing a Cruise section.


Unless you lucked out and won a free cruise vacation, you can expect that your cruise travels will come at a price. Although the cost of your cruise is never set in stone, you can still get a good estimate of how much you will spend by planning a budget before your trip. By doing this, you'll have less chance of splurging on extras during your vacation. Of course you will have the initial cost of the cruising package, which will include accommodations, dining, and some activities on your cruise, But you should also keep in mind that you will have to pay out-of-pocket for incidentals such as alcoholic beverages and soft drinks (unless sailing on an all-inclusive ship), souvenirs, and shore excursions. So, the more extras you want to include in your trip, the more money you should plan to budget for.


Even before you step aboard your cruise ship, there are a few things that you should be aware of. First of all, travelers should expect that they will be subject to certain government rules and regulations regarding international and air travel. If you are flying to your port of departure, you will have to present the necessary identification information (valid government-issued ID such as passport or drivers license) prior to boarding the plane. Other documents you will need at the airport include your airline ticket (if you didn't purchase an e-ticket), luggage tags, boarding passes, and, if you are using the cruise line transfers, vouchers for transportation to and from the ship. When it comes to air travel, vacationers should always expect delays at the airport, and arrive at the airport at least one hour before the scheduled departure.

Once you've been through airport security and successfully flown to the city of your port of departure, it is critical to have the proper cruise ship boarding documents ready. All cruises with ports of call outside the United States, including those to the Caribbean, may require a passport and proof of citizenship to gain entry into the country. Know that after you've applied for your passport, it generally takes a minimum of six weeks to arrive. Not only will you need these documents when you arrive in the Caribbean, you will also need them to re-enter the U.S.

Ship to Shore

Now that you've made it through air travel and cruise customs, you can focus on enjoying your time aboard the ship. Unless your ship actually departs from a Caribbean port or you're taking a quick Bahamas cruise, you can expect the first full day of your cruise vacation to be a day at sea. For many travelers, the days at sea are the most enjoyable of the trip. There are so many options in entertainment and activities aboard the ship while at sea; you will likely never experience a dull moment. In contrast, these sea days are perfect for passengers seeking the ultimate relaxation of comfortably lounging by a quiet deck area, maybe even their own private balcony.

Those at-sea loving cruisers can be found, usually with book in hand, taking in the fresh salty sea air as the ship glides through the sparkling topaz Caribbean waters. You too can be one of those many cruisers that savor such experiences on days at sea. From the minute you arrive on the ship, you will be waited on, even pampered, and presented with a huge array of activities. During the time between ports, you can expect to enjoy such activities as casinos, sunbathing, rock climbing, cooking demonstrations, art auctions, miniature golf and putting courses, on-board shopping, wine tastings, dance lessons, lectures ranging from current interest topics to the history of upcoming ports, and so much more. Of course, every ship offers different activities, so do your homework to see what your cruise line has to offer.

Depending on what type of Caribbean itinerary and length of cruise you are planning, you could visit only a couple if islands or stop at nearly all of them. Most likely, your ship will tour a specific region of the Caribbean. Although the islands are often lumped together, each of the Caribbean islands are unique with their own special features and attractions. For example, St. Johns,U.S.V.I. is known for its many exquisite secluded beaches and horseshoe reefs offering some of the best snorkeling experiences, while Barbados is an elegant very British island with some of the best all-around tourism.

You can get an idea of what to expect onshore by considering what region of the Caribbean you are visiting. The Eastern Caribbean is one of the most popular cruise regions, and appeals to a variety of tourists including first-time cruisers and experienced travelers. The region's warm temperatures, laid-back atmosphere and wide range of activities such as sightseeing, wide range of excellent shopping choices, charming island architecture and great water sports draw millions to the area each year. Expect large volumes of tourist traffic (particularly during the high seasons). Eastern Caribbean cruises typically last anywhere from four to 14 nights (although you may be able to find some longer itineraries) and are particularly kid-friendly.

The Western Caribbean is almost as popular of a cruise destination as the Eastern and has an atmosphere all its own. Travelers seeking quaint towns, beautiful beaches, warm waters, areas of ancient relics and varied water sports will find all this and more in the Western Caribbean. The length of most area cruises is also four to 14 nights and has somewhat less cruise passenger traffic than its Eastern counterpart.

The Southern region of the Caribbean boasts crystal-clear waters, palm trees swaying in the breeze, even warmer waters in the winter months and a great selection of ports. Even with such tropical charm, the Southern Caribbean sees far less cruise tourism than the other regions. Each destination in the southern region is characterized by different cultures, atmospheres, and terrain. For example, St. Lucia and Antigua are well-known for their sheer number of beautiful beaches, while lush rain forests are a highlight for tourists on Dominica.

Cruising to the Caribbean involves a lot of planning and research. Once you've worked out the details of your trip you'll know just what to expect out of your vacation, and you won't be cruising blindly. By taking the time to research, you can thoroughly enjoy your tropical getaway without being caught unaware.


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