Adding Days to Your Caribbean Cruise

Cruising in the Caribbean, (photo by Kevin Cummins)
Cruising in the Caribbean

“Cruise and stay,” a term coined by the cruise lines for the practice of adding a land-based stay to a cruise, can offer the best of both world.

From a traveler’s point of view, the “cruise and stay” might be what adds up to the perfect holiday. It could mean combining a fairly active cruise itinerary with a spell on a beach; for example, a 12-night Panama Canal cruise might include Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the Panama Canal, Curaçao and the US Virgin Islands, plus a day in the Bahamas, which could be the only lazy beach day of the entire cruise.

In contrast, a 9-night western Caribbean cruise from Florida might include Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Cozumel; so a week’s touring in Florida would make a good combination.

Alternatively, you could create a contrast be-tween types of accommodation. A spell on an enormous, glitzy ship like Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, packed with action, might be followed by a quick hop from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas to chill out on a remote beach in the Out Islands.

Most cruise lines don’t allow passengers to jump ship halfway through a cruise, so an extended holiday is easiest to plan around one of the Caribbean gateways. Generally speaking, cruise lines are not very imaginative about options. One exception is Disney, which offers seamless combinations of the theme parks in Orlando and its three ships, Disney Wonder, Disney Magic and Disney Dream. These operate 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-night cruises from Port Canaveral in the same polished, Disney style as the parks.

Booking accommodation

The main reason for booking land-based accommodation through a cruise line is financial, as many of them have set up good deals with hotels, and will also include transfers to the port. Passengers arriving from Europe will usually incur an overnight stay, which should be included in the cruise package and can be extended at low cost. There is a growing trend, too, for European tour operators to package cruises with flights and hotel stays, among them the UK’s Virgin Holidays Cruises, which offers combinations on NCL, Royal Caribbean, Thomson Cruises, Carnival and even Silversea Cruises.

For the more adventurous traveler, there are endless opportunities for island-hopping from Miami. An intricate network of regional flights links most of the Caribbean islands, and many airlines, including American Airlines and liat, offer competitive, low-cost fares – although a private charter may be cost-effective if you are travelling as a group to a really out-of-the-way place. Secure the services of a good travel agent to help plan a trip like this.

Offshore-based cruises

Miami and Fort Lauderdale work well as jumping-off points for the Bahamas, with plenty of flights to Nassau and onward connections to the Out Islands. Cruises that start and finish offshore are harder to find; it tends to be the smaller, more upscale lines that base themselves in Barbados (SeaDream Yacht Club, and some Silversea cruises, for example). Carnival, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean have programs out of San Juan, while Star Clippers and Windstar Cruises both operate out of Sint Maarten.

Barbados is an excellent base for touring the Windward Islands, just a short flight from St Lucia, St Vincent, the Grenadines and Grenada. San Juan, meanwhile, is close to the Virgin Islands.