Eastern vs. Western Caribbean Cruises

Photo above of San Juan, Puerto Rico


Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Cruise lines differentiate the majority of Caribbean itineraries by Eastern vs. Western, but new cruisers don’t always know which of those sailings are best for them. Whether you’re perusing a Western Caribbean sailing with stops in Belize, Jamaica and Honduras or you’re eyeing up the Eastern Caribbean’s Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and Leeward Islands, there’s a lot to consider. Check out our recap of the similarities and differences between the two most popular U.S. cruise regions below.  Also see our blog post on Southern Caribbean cruises which include the French West Indies, many of which tend to be longer in length or sail from San Juan.

Although the specific history, cultures and customs, and even food in each Caribbean port is very different, there are similarities. The Caribbean islands are located near the equator assuring warm weather year-round. Eastern and Western Caribbean islands are all easy to reach from the southeastern embarkation ports of the US, making them an easy cruise getaway for anyone who is looking for warm, sunny tropical weather.

In addition to weather, the general attitude is often comparable in both places. Life moves more slowly, both because of the heat and because of the friendly locals’ desire to savor everything with an appreciation not regularly found in other more fast-paced areas of the world. Locals are frequently late due to schedules being considered only as guidelines. This is known as “running on Caribbean time. Remember your ship does not run on Caribbean time, so don’t be a pier runner getting back to your ship late and note the all aboard time upon disembarkation.

In terms of activities, visitors to either region can shop, learn about history, lounge on the beach or have active adventures that involve some of the best areas for snorkeling, hiking, zip-lining and other adrenaline-pumping activities.

The biggest differences you’ll encounter when comparing Eastern Caribbean versus Western Caribbean cruises are the actual itineraries. The only ports found on both region stops are Nassau and Freeport in The Bahamas and Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private island in Haiti. Otherwise, Western Caribbean sailings include ports in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Mexico, Cuba, and sometimes Central American ports, such as Belize City and Harvest Caye, Belize and Roatan, Honduras.



Left to right; top Grand Cayman, Costa Maya; bottom Belize, Mayan Ruins near Costa Maya

Meanwhile, Eastern Caribbean voyages frequently feature the U.S. (USVI) and British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Dominican Republic and the French West Indies, in addition to San Juan, Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, and Key West, even though some of those ports are technically in the Atlantic or Southern Caribbean. The Windward Islands of Trinidad/Tobago, Grenada, St. Vincent (and the Grenadines), Barbados, St. Lucia and Martinique are considered to be in the Southern Caribbean.



Left to right; top St. John & St. Thomas, USVI; bottom St. Martin, Tortola, BVI

Specific ports aside, the duration and pricing of Western Caribbean versus Eastern Caribbean cruises are also different.  Western voyages usually involve fewer ports and can be less than 7 days and are therefore less expensive, while Eastern sailings from the southern/southeastern coast tend to stop at the popular ports in close proximity.  Also, from Florida, where the majority of Caribbean cruises sail from, there is a greater distance to reach most Eastern ports.

If you’re new to cruising and want a shorter, more budget-friendly cruise to warmer climes, check out a Western Caribbean cruise. Western is also ideal for those who want to visit fewer island ports and are interested in exploring Mayan culture in Mexico and Central America. An Eastern Caribbean cruise is better for first timers and repeat cruisers who can cruise for a week or longer. It’s also the better bet for shopping enthusiasts and beach connoisseurs.

We at Getaway Dreams Come True Travel Agency will be happy to assist you in planning your personalized lifetime memories vacation. To schedule your Planning Session, please call 724.752.2655.

For more information on specific ports we suggest you view our blog posts as follows:

Islands and Ports of Call in the Western Caribbean

Common Eastern Caribbean Ports of Call (Destinations)

Visiting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

What to See and Do in the British Virgin Islands

So You’re Going to Grand Turk!

So You’re Going to St. Maarten!

Is A Cuba Cruise on Your Bucket List?

Are You Visiting a Cruise Line Private Island or Destination?


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