Cruising to the USVI

Vacation styles can vary by cruise line and destination in the Virgin Islands

Photo credit: © Ruth Peterkin |

Cruising to the Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands are widely known for the gorgeous stretches of sea that surround them. People sail around these islands for the fishing, the sailing, and the beauty. Add this to islands' proximity to the United States, and it's easy to see why cruises to the Virgin Islands are so popular.

Many ships pass through and stop in the Virgin Islands before heading on to other islands. Cruise ships often arrive at a port at night, and open their doors in the morning, giving to passengers the whole day to explore the island. You may have only a short time on any one island, but some cruises stop at several islands along the way.

Vacationers considering a cruise in their travel plans should make sure to plan ahead, as cabins are usually booked months in advance - especially for popular wintertime cruises. Book the cruise yourself by calling the cruise line, or make an online reservation, but, if the idea appeals to you, travel agents are available online and in person to offer guidance.

Travelers may not realize it, but there are many types of vacations to choose from - even when taking a cruise. So, whether you're looking for a family trip or a romantic escape, choosing a particular line over another can make a difference. Children are more than welcome on ships from the Disney line, but might feel a bit out of place on a Princess Cruise, the line used by the "Love Boat" TV show. When planning, keep in mind what type of trip you ultimately want.

Each of the many ocean liners servicing the Virgin Islands offers a variety of price, schedule, and island stop options. Whether you seek an extravagant vacation aboard a floating luxury hotel, a romantic getaway with your loved one, or an activity-filled family voyage, your dream ship awaits.

Choose from the following cruise lines that travel to the Virgin Islands:

Cruise Line Telephone Number
Carnival 888-CARNIVAL
Celebrity 800-221-4789
Norwegian 800-323-1308
Oceania 800-531-5619
Princess 800-PRINCESS
Royal Caribbean 800-659-7225
Yachts of Seabourn 800-929-9595

Cruise Classes

Understanding each of the cruise classes - contemporary/value, premium, luxury, and specialty - can help you choose your cruise based on the type of vacation you seek and how much money you wish to spend.

  • Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the cruise leaders, two of the most popular contemporary/value cruise lines, and together make up almost 90 percent of the entire cruise industry. This largest of the cruise classes is known for its package deals and low prices.

  • Despite their cost, premium cruises are more expensive than contemporary cruises, travelers often choose such liners. Such liners provide a larger waitstaff for a fewer passengers on smaller ships, making the journey that much more personal.

  • Travelers looking for top of the line travels will find it in the luxury class. Such ships are known for their high quality services, but many travelers view this as worth the expense.

  • Unique destinations and exclusive passenger groups are the cornerstones of the specialty class. Here travelers searching for a one of a kind getaway can certainly find it, but so can singles, seniors, and even homosexuals.


Cruise ships can vary greatly, but one of the most important, and most obvious, variations is their size. Size is important for several reasons, but it can be a critical factor in vacation booking. Some ships are too large to dock in certain ports, making it impossible to visit certain islands.

The Panama class ship is the largest type. It was named because it is so large it can barely pass through the Panama Canal. These huge liners can hold a maximum of 3,000 passengers, but can only visit the Caribbean's most popular and largest ports.

If visiting a secluded island sounds appealing, try a smaller ship that carries no more than 300 passengers. These smaller ships, such as the Windstar Cruise Ships, generally avoid the larger ports the megaships visit and stick to smaller harbors like those in the Virgin Islands.

One positive side to travel in a large ship is that weather is less likely to effect the smoothness of the journey. While medium sized ships might roll a bit from a swell, the largest ships won't feel a difference.

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 (2 passengers in each cabin) More rooms = more passengers
Space ratio comparison of ship space/tonnage to passenger capacity Higher ratio = extra spacious


Selecting your cabin for your stay begins with one initial choice: Would you prefer a "run of the ship" or a "perfect" cabin. The difference lies in the room selection process - a run of the ship room is assigned the week of departure, and are less expensive. Your only choice is whether to make it an inside or an outside cabin. Travlers with defined preferences, however, will want to select a perfect cabin, where they are guaranteed a particular cabin for their stay.

Some additional guidelines for selecting a room:

  • Cabins near anchors, bars, casinos, elevators, nightclubs, public rooms, stairways, engine rooms, gyms, pools and hot tubs, theaters, or thrusters should be avoided, especially by light sleepers. These areas can be particularly noisy.

  • Travelers with young children should avoid outside cabins with balcony access.

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

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

  • You may want to request a view of the ocean. Confirm the view you'll have in an outside cabin - make sure you're getting what you expect.

When To Go

When you travel can make a big difference in several aspects of your cruise. Prices within the Caribbean are significantly higher between late December and early April, as these constitute the high season for Caribbean travel and many vacationers leave the snowy northern climate for a tropical vacation. Off season, however, brings more rains and even hurricane season, though this can mean drastic price cuts. Despite the many warnings get about hurricanes, the season should not be ruled out, as hurricanes can easily be tracked by modern technology, and are fairly rare. Travelers looking to cruise on a budget will want to avoid the major cruise holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and Easter.

Where To Go

Travelers who want to visit both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands should have no problems. Some travelers will stop on St. Thomas, St. Croix, or Tortola, and other cruises stop at both St. Thomas and St. John, offering visitors a chance to explore the spectacular nature on St. John. Many cruises stop at more than one island, giving passengers more opportunities to experience island culture. Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and San Juan (Puerto Rico) are primary departure ports for cruises to the Virgin Islands. An Eastern Caribbean cruise can take you through the Islands on your way to visit many other destinations.


Cruises can last from two days to two weeks. First time cruisers may wish to select a shorter journey, and the Virgin Islands are easy to reach, so this should be no problem. During a two-day cruise, the ship may dock at one, two, or no ports. Seasoned cruise travelers can choose a much longer cruise, sometimes doubling the number of stops they make along the way.

Travelers can choose all kinds of activities that are pre-arranged by the cruise lines at their island stops. Travelers will usually find outings such as snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, golfing, and scenic tours. These excursions, however, usually cost an additonal $25(USD) to $100(USD), and can be reserved either when you book your travel or once you've boarded, though spots are usually limited. Of course, you'll need to plan some time for island exploration on your own, so it may be best to consult the cruise director about how much island time you'll have.


Costs are extremely variable, everything from number of travelers to length of the cruise and, of course, level of luxury, play a part in the cost. However, once you get onboard many of the day to day costs are covered in the price of the room, from meals to entertainment, you've got nothing to pay. However, items like final tip, shore excursions, and even beverages may not be included in the cost. Check ahead of time to find out what extras you'll need to budget for. You may also want to ask about the amenities you'll find in your cabin. Travelers who would like items like bath tubs and television sets will usually need to request them, and often cost an extra fee.

What To Bring

While items like bathing suits and lightweight cover-ups may top your list of items to pack, it's best to remember a few other items as well. Don't forget sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat to protect yourself from the Caribbean sun, and bring plenty of items to wear when you're on-island, as conservative dress is often key. And, of course, it's best not to overpack, as cabins rarely have much excess space.

On the ship travelers will need to pack for the evening meals as well. Whether casual, informal, or formal the proper evening attire will not include denim. Casual attire includes slacks, blouses, and sundresses, while informal means a suit and tie or cocktail dress. Formal meals are a black tie affair.

Cruise stops in the Virgin Islands offer many kinds of activities, from a day of shopping on St. Croix to general island exploration. Each island of the Virgin Islands has its own personality for you to discover.


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