Cruising to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is home to one the region's busiest cruise ports

Photo credit: © Richard Goldberg | Dreamstime.com

Cruising to Puerto Rico
 

Many cruise travelers will stop in Puerto Rico to enjoy beautiful beaches and warm weather. While Miami is the cruise ship capital of the world, Puerto Rico's San Juan is considered by some to be the cruise capital of the Caribbean.

Unlike most ports in the region, San Juan is not only a great port of call, it is also a popular home port.  In other words, you can fly into San Juan and depart on your Caribbean cruise directly from Puerto Rico. This tactic eliminates the two day round trip from Miami or other mainland cruise ports.

Planning ahead can save cruise travelers in many ways - not just financially. While booking early can end up saving vacationers a little cash, it can also assure travelers of getting exactly what they want out of a cruise. Thinking about items from time of year to type of cruise is also important. Cruising in the winter, from December through April, is the most expensive time because these are the most popular months for Caribbean travel. Vacationing in Puerto Rico is also more expensive during these times.

Also consider your travel plans. Whether you plan to travel with the children, or slip off for a romantic getaway, you'll need to choose your ship and its style. Luckily, many liners specialize in certain styles of cruises, from the more family-oriented Carnival to the stylish Princess.

Although other options are available, the following companies regularly schedule cruises to Puerto Rico:

Cruise Line Telephone Number
Carnival 888-CARNIVAL
Celebrity 800-221-4789
Costa 800-33-COSTA
Cunard 800-728-6273
Holland America 800-626-9900
Norwegian 800-323-1308
Princess 800-PRINCESS
Royal Caribbean 800-659-7225
Seabourn 800-929-9595
Silversea 800-722-9955
Windstar 800-258-SAIL

Cruise Classes

Four cruise classes make up the market, so, whether you're looking for the lap of luxury, or just a day in the sun, you'll have plenty of options. Choose from luxury, premium, contemporary (value), and specialty classes.

Luxury liners are the highest class of cruise ships, but also include a higher price tag. These offer plenty of amenities, and travelers sometimes feel that the difference in quality is worth the cost. Premium cruises are less expensive than luxury cruises, and offer smaller service and superior ships to the value cruise lines.

Many travelers will find themselves most familiar with the names Carnival and Royal Caribbean - and for good reason. These contemporary/value lines make up almost 90 percent of the cruise industry. Check for reasonable prices and package deals on these lines.

Some travelers enjoy specialty cruises, which often sail to unique ports off the beaten track, but many specialty cruises are for exclusive groups. Travelers such as singles, gays and lesbians, and senior citizens can have a cruise all their own.

Ships

There are many factors that make one ship different from another. While décor and luxury are certainly important, size is another very important factor. It can even be a concern for where the ship sails, as it may be too large to fit into some ports. This dilemma does not apply to Puerto Rico, but it might be an issue when visiting other Caribbean islands during your cruise.

The largest class of ship is the Panama-class ship - its name comes from the Panama Canal because the ship is so large it can barely fit through the canal in the canal's smallest portions. You'll find that even these huge liners, fitting 3,000 passengers, can dock in Puerto Rico at San Juan. However, during turbulent weather the larger ships will not feel the effects of the weather as much as smaller ships. Travelers who are prone to seasickness may especially want to consider a larger ship for their journey.

Ships are classified based on the following criteria:

Criteria Criteria Explained Meaning
Gross registered tonnage measurement of the ship's volume/vessel's size 1 gross registered ton = 100 cubic feet
Passenger-to-crew ratio number of passengers served by each crew member Smaller ratio = better service
Passenger capacity based on double occupancy (two passengers in each cabin) More rooms = more passengers
Space ratio comparison of ship space/tonnage to passenger capacity Higher ratio = extra spacious

Cabins

When selecting your cabin, cruise lines give travelers two options. A "run of the ship" cabin means you choose between an inside or an outside cabin, but final assignments aren't made until the week of departure. "Perfect" cabins are the exact cabin you request, but this guarantee comes at a slightly higher cost.

Some additional guidelines for selecting a room:

  • Avoid booking cabins in noisy areas in close proximity to anchors, bars, casinos, elevators, engine rooms, gyms, nightclubs, public rooms, stairways, pools and hot tubs, theaters, or thrusters.

  • If you are subject to motion sickness, consider a cabin on the lower decks. The further into the middle of the ship you are, the less ship movement you'll feel.

  • Confirm the view you'll have in an outside cabin - make sure you're getting what you expect. You may want to request a view of the ocean. However, if you are traveling with young children, do not select an outside cabin, especially one with balcony access.

  • Keep money and valuables safely hidden in your room and always lock your cabin door. Avoid carrying unnecessary cash around the ship.

When To Go

Booking travel during the Caribbean's high season, the winter time, is a controversial subject - one that only you can decide upon. While visiting Puerto Rico in the high season does mean higher costs, it also means avoiding the summer rains and hurricane season. Most popular times for cruises are New Year's, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. However, remember that hurricane season rarely effects cruise travelers.

Where To Go

As one of the largest natural harbors in the hemisphere, it's not surprising that San Juan is one of the busiest cruise harbors in the world.  It's popular as both as a cruise destination and as a cruise departure port.  

Most cruisers originate in Fort Lauderdale or Miami, and just visit Puerto Rico for the day, but there is also a lot of merit to choosing San Juan as your departure port -- unless you have a specific reason for wanting to include a visit to South Florida in your trip.  By spending a few more hours in the air, flying directly to San Juan will put you right in the heart of the Caribbean.  This allows for a more event-filled cruise, saves two days of cruising to and from Florida, and allows you to spend some extra time exploring the island's beauty and  culture at the beginning or end of your cruise.

Whether you are departing from Puerto Rico, or stopping en route, your other ports of call are likely to include a stop somewhere in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as some other ports in the Eastern Caribbean -- like St. Maarten or Antigua.  However, itineraries vary widely, and your options will include routes that head farther south, calling on places like Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, and the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and  Curacao). 

Itineraries

There are many different cruise lengths for travelers to choose from - starting as low as two days. It's suggested that first time cruisers make shorter cruises, but two week-long cruises may even be strung together and become a two week cruise. On shorter cruises there will be fewer stops, but can be as many as time allows.

Once you reach any given destination you'll find that cruise lines offer a number of pre-planned activities, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, golfing, and scenic tours. These are arranged by the cruise director and will generally cost an additional $25 (USD) to $100 (USD). Remember to book such additions early - either when you book your cabin or just after arriving onboard, but also remember to plan a little time to see your port.

Since most cruise ships arrive at San Juan, visitors have something to do almost the minute they disembark. Exploring history in Old San Juan is an easy way to spend an afternoon. Incredible nature sights such as El Yunque, the Caribbean National Rainforest, are also nearby. Walk along the beaches of San Juan or explore the casinos. There are plenty of options for independent visitors who want to strike out on their own.

Cost

Every cruise comes with different costs. While entertainment and meals will be included in the cruise price, extras like drinks and activities usually won't be. However, you may want to consider that single occupancy rates can be higher than double occupancy rates. Luxury level and length of the cruise can also change the total cost. Some cruise lines include gratuities in the final bill, so travelers may want to ask about that before leaving a tip.

What To Bring

When packing you'll want to remember to bring everything you'll need for a normal, sunny vacation. But remember not to bring too much, either. Cruise ships are hardly known for their expansive cabins. Don't forget breathable clothing and cover ups for over top of any bathing suits. Flip-flops and sandals are important, but don't forget to protect your face and eyes from the sun with sunglasses and a hat.

Evenings on the ship travelers should plan for by being aware of their style. Usually jeans are considered inappropriate, but evening meals are classified by three modes of dress. Casual wear includes slacks and collared shirts or sundresses and slacks for women. Informal includes a suit and tie, or cocktail dress for women. Formal dinners are "black tie."

Visiting Puerto Rico is an interesting experience, whether you're there as part of a cruise or to depart on one. With so much to do just outside the port, you're certain to enjoy any length of stay.

 

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