Avid Cruiser Voyages: Western Caribbean Cruises

The Caribbean remains the quintessential weeklong cruise, but there are several distinct regions that cruise lines can choose to operate their weeklong itineraries. Of the more popular itineraries are Western Caribbean cruises.

Carnival Fantasy often offers Western Caribbean cruises.
Carnival Fantasy off Cozumel, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Carnival.

While these weeklong voyages can depart from the cruise hubs of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Western Caribbean cruises also lend themselves well to alternate homeports like Tampa, New Orleans, and Galveston. These ports of departure may have appeal for cruisers based on the West Coast of North America and those who reside in cities that have may have direct flights to one of these embarkation cities (though Galveston is typically served by Houston’s nearby airports).

Where Do Western Caribbean Cruises Go?

Once onboard, guests are treated to a mix of sun-splashed days spent sailing the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, while ports of call are not only numerous but also culturally varied.

On Western Caribbean cruises, Cozumel and Costa Maya serve as jumping-off points to explore the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.
On Western Caribbean cruises, Cozumel and Costa Maya serve as jumping-off points to explore the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Mexico remains a staple of the Western Caribbean itinerary, and for good reason. Cozumel, Costa Maya and Playa del Carmen serve as jumping-off points to visit the gorgeous seaside resort paradise of Tulum, or to explore the striking Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

Mexico also offers a vast array of water-based activities and tours to nearby Cancun, a veritable shopper’s paradise. Of course, every Mexican town seems to have a Senior Frogs or Margaritaville located near the piers (Cozumel is an excellent example), and sometimes half the fun of Mexico can be had simply by sitting down and enjoying a cold drink. Just don’t forget when you have to be back onboard.

Further south, Belize is a popular stop on many Western Caribbean cruises, with most passengers coming ashore in Belize City. Snorkeling and wildlife excursions reign supreme here, second to onshore adventures focusing on the city’s historical aspects.

Other popular ports on Western Caribbean cruises include Ochos Rios and Falmouth, Jamaica and Georgetown, Grand Cayman, where cruise ships must anchor in the bay and tender guests ashore, quite a spectacle on a busy day.

Key West, Florida offers plenty of laid-back charm on Western Caribbean cruises. Photo © Aaron Saunders
A popular port of call Western Caribbean cruises, Key West offers plenty of laid-back charm. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Some Western Caribbean cruises may also include a stop in picturesque Key West, Florida, home of the self-proclaimed Conch Republic. It was here that Ernest Hemingway made a home for himself, surrounded by the cool ocean breeze, heavy Cuban influence, and plenty of the city’s most famous export: Key Lime Pie.

The more adventurous might want to take part in the pub crawl of Key West, which is well worth it to take in the city’s colorful bars. There’s also a Conch Trolley Tour that is wildly popular.

One question for consideration: Big Ship? Small Ship? Which Is Better For Your Caribbean Cruise?

Perhaps the best reason to take in a Western Caribbean cruise is that it offers a decidedly different experience from its more easterly cousin. Where ports like St. Thomas and Philipsburg are characterized by high mountains and rolling hills, the Western Caribbean is more flat and lush, looming out as a paradise that really seems to exist in the middle of nowhere.

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