Cruising the Caribbean Without the Crowds
The Caribbean is the world’s most popular cruise destination, and ports can feel overwhelmed due to the many big ships. So here’s a guide to avoiding the masses.
There are many wonderful spots throughout the Caribbean where big ships can’t or don’t go. For example, many smaller lines visit the same islands as the big ships but call at different, quieter ports.
Offbeat Places on the Most Popular Islands
Choose a cruise going to the French, not the Dutch half of St Martin/St Maarten, an island divided between two nations. Small ships anchor in Marigot Bay on the opposite side of the island from Philipsburg, a short cab ride to Grand Case. Grand Case is a laid-back village packed with boho boutiques, and an abundance of wonderful restaurants where you can sit right by the water, feasting on fresh fish and chilled French rose.
In Antigua, choose a ship that anchors at English Harbour, not over-commercialised St John’s. Potter around Nelson’s Historic Dockyard, beautifully preserved, ogle at the yachts (proper sailing yachts here, not motorboats) and have a daiquiri on the lawn of the Admiral’s Inn pub.
Big ships can’t get into Gustavia, the capital of St Barths, either. The harbour is too small, and this chichi little island wouldn’t dream of having ranks of coaches lined up on the quay. So there’s not an awful lot to do here (which is part of the appeal) except pose, swim, sunbathe and shop. Boutiques displaying Gucci, Dior, and Roberto Cavalli line the main street while mega-yachts bask side-by-side in the harbour. Shell Beach is a 10-minute walk from the dock, with decent snorkelling and a restaurant, although those in the know slum it in Le Select in town, a yachtie bar favoured by the King of Sweden, with a great pub garden and a cheap, all-day barbecue.
The Caribbean Under Sail
The best way to enjoy the finest anchorages in the Caribbean is to cruise the region on a crewed charter sailing yacht.
Port Of Call – Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
Star Clippers offers two routes throughout the winter on the magnificent, 228-passenger Royal Clipper, the world’s biggest five-masted sailing ship. The Windward Islands voyage round-trip from Barbados includes St Lucia, Dominica, Antigua (English Harbour), St Kitts, Iles des Saintes, and Martinique.
Big Ships Visiting Smaller Caribbean Islands
Sometimes larger ships do call at beautiful little places or unusual places. Ocean Village stops at Mayreau, a small speck of an island in St Vincent and the Grenadines, for a beach barbecue. Fishermen line up in small launches to offer rides to the Tobago Cays, a minuscule national park of four uninhabited islands offering breathtakingly good snorkelling in water the colour of blue topaz. Nobody comes here except sailing yachts, and there are no shops, so bring a picnic.
But it’s still hard for bigger ships to compete with their smaller sisters in terms of sheer innovation. If you’ve been there and done that in the Caribbean, check out the new itineraries from SeaDream Yacht Club, the ships of which take just 100 passengers each. Ports of call for next winter include the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebrita and Vieques; Saba, a little-known chunk of a volcano in the Netherlands Antilles; and most interestingly, Montserrat, devastated in 1995 by a volcanic eruption and now inviting tourists back to witness its recovery.