Picking your cruise

Cruise lines visit around 2,000 destinations, from the Caribbean to Antarctica, from the Mediterranean to the Baltic, and from Northern Europe to the South Pacific. Here we break down just a few of the popular places in which to enjoy a cruise.

When choosing where to cruise, the world really is your oyster. There are more than 30,000 different cruises to choose from each year, and about 2,000 cruise destinations in the world. A cruise can also take you to places inaccessible by almost any other means, such as Antarctica, the North Cape, or the South Sea islands.

Caribbean cruises

There are more than 7,000 islands in the Caribbean Sea, although many are small or uninhabited. Caribbean cruises are usually destination-intensive, with three or four ports into one week, depending on whether you sail from a Florida port or from a port already in the Caribbean, such as Barbados or San Juan. This means you could be visiting at least one port a day, with little time at sea for relaxation. Although you may see several islands in a week, by the end of the cruise you might need another week to unwind.

Related: Do you love sailing? Check our Sailing the Galapagos trip.

From June 10 to November 30 is the official Caribbean Atlantic hurricane season in the Caribbean (including Bermuda and the Bahamas) and Florida. Cruise ships can change course quickly to avoid weather problems, which can also mean a change of ports or itinerary. When that happens, cruise lines will generally not offer compensation, nor will travel insurance providers.

Geographically, the Caribbean region is large enough to be split into sections: eastern, western, and southern.

Eastern Caribbean. Cruises sail to the Leeward and Windward Islands, and might include calls at Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, and St. Thomas.

Western Caribbean. Cruises sail to the Cayman Islands, Mexico, and Jamaica, and might call at Calica, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Grand Turk, Playa del Carmen, Ocho Rios, and Roatan Island.

Southern Caribbean. Cruises might call at Antigua, the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao), Barbados, La Guaira (Venezuela), Tortola, and San Juan.

Cuba, the Caribbean’s largest island, holds a fascination for many. No American cruise passengers can visit the island because of the US embargo imposed in the early 1960s restricting trade with Cuba, including tourism.

Private island beach days

Several cruise lines with Bahamas/Caribbean itineraries feature a ‘private island’ – also called an ‘out- island.’ These islands, or secure protected beaches, usually leased from the owning governments, have all that’s needed for an all-day beach party – water sports, scuba, snorkeling, crystal-clear waters, warm sands, even a hammock or two, and private beach cabanas. There are no reservations to make, no tickets to buy, no hassles with taxis. But you may be sharing your private island with more than 5,000 others from a single large resort ship anchored for a ‘beach day.’

Such beach days are not all-inclusive, however, and command premium prices for items such as snorkel gear and mandatory swim vest, rental pleasure craft, ‘banana’ boat fun rides, floating beach mats, private waterfront cabanas for the day, sunfish sailboat rental, floating foam mattresses, and hammock rental. Rent a cabana with deck and sunbeds for the day (around $300), and you even get ‘butler’ service, with lunch and drinks.

One bonus is that such an island will not be cluttered with hawkers and hustlers, as are so many Caribbean beaches. And, because they are private, there is security, and no fear of being mugged, as occurs in some islands.

European and Mediterranean cruises

Traveling within Europe (including the Aegean, Baltic, Black Sea, Mediterranean, and Norwegian fjord areas) by cruise ship makes economic sense. Although no single cruise covers every port, cruise ships do offer a comfortable way of exploring a rich mix of destinations, cultures, history, architecture, lifestyles, and cuisines – without having to pack and unpack each day.

European cruises have become increasingly popular because so many of Europe’s major cities – Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Genoa, Helsinki, Lisbon, London, Monte Carlo, Nice, Oslo, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Venice – are on the water. You will not have to try to speak or understand different languages when you are aboard ship, as you would ashore – if you choose the right ship. Aboard ship you use a single currency – typically US dollars, British pounds, or euros. Lecture programs provide insights into a culture before you step ashore.

Small ships are arguably better than large resort ships, as they can obtain berthing space – the large resort ships may have to anchor in more of the smaller ports, so it can take time to get to and from shore, and you’ll probably have to wait for shore tender tickets. Many Greek islands are accessible only by shore tender. Some companies allow more time ashore than others, so compare itineraries in the brochures; it’s probably best to choose a regional cruise line (such as Louis Cruises) for these destination-intensive cruises, for example.