We all want to see the off-the-beaten path sights when we explore new islands, but just like you wouldn’t go to Rome and not visit the Roman Colosseum and you wouldn’t go to Paris without a quick selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, there are certain things you just can’t miss when you cruise to the Caribbean.
So, embrace your inner tourist and grab your camera. Here are 13 things every cruiser needs to do in the Caribbean.
Whale Sharks are actually the world’s largest species of fish in the sea (yes fish, they are not mammals like whales) measuring up to 40 feet and weighing up to 15 tons. They swim close to the surface extending their mouth up to 5 feet wide and sucking in the plankton and that’s typically the time when you get to swim with them. They are only found around Cancun from May until September due the nutrient rich water in the area. Swimming with them is an amazing experience that you will not forget. And no, they won’t eat you they only like plankton. Most cruise lines offer shore excursions to swim with these magnificent creatures.
You will have options when it comes to zip lining in the Caribbean, but choose wisely— such as at these two ports:
Jamaica: We recommend Jamaica’s lush jungle in the heart of the spectacular Cranbrook Flower Forest. You will literally fly from platform to platform on a series of traverses ranging from 105 feet to 660 feet in length. There are even a few free falls, which are terrifying and amazing all at the same time. Tip: If you want to wear a GoPro, bring the helmet attachment, not the chest attachment.
Puerto Rico: Harnessed, helmeted and propelled horizontally high over the lush rolling hills of Orocovis. That’s pretty much what zip lining at ToroVerde in Puerto Rico will be like. ToroVerde is a 400-acre nature adventure park southwest of San Juan, where suspension bridges, rappelling activities and zip lines draw action-seeking cruisers. The line that you’ll want to take is known as The Beast. Depending on the winds, we’re told you can soar along the cable at highway-like speeds — about 60 to 80 miles an hour.
Terrifying and dangerous? Hardly. Cute and playful? Absolutely. The moment you step foot into the water at Stingray City, stingrays large and small will circle around you and lightly bump into your feet and sway in and around your legs. Just before your adventure wraps, you will pucker up for a stingray kiss — guaranteeing you, according to local folklore, seven years of good luck. An unforgettable experience only found in Grand Cayman.
Beyond San Juan’s rich culture is an even-richer landscape punctuated with palm trees, forests and wildlife.
Cruise to Puerto Rico and venture into the heart of it all at El Yunque National Forest, a sprawling park with multiple hiking trails, scalable waterfalls and tropical rainforests where wildlife abounds. Navigate the more-than-28,000-acre park with a guide and get a glimpse of the natural resources and unique creatures that help give Puerto Rico its nickname, “the island of enchantment.”
This sounds more dangerous than it actually is. You do climb a waterfall, but it’s not Indiana Jones style. Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s national treasures (and absolute must-dos), and we cruisers love to climb it. Bring water shoes and be prepared for a busy visit. It’s usually packed with people, so try to make this excursion first on your list. The pools of water at the falls are only waist deep, and you can actually exit the falls at any point if the climb gets too hard. The groups that visit are fairly large and everyone helps each other up the steep parts, which is great if you happen to be on the excursion alone. Every time I cruise to Jamaica I climb the falls; it’s just that cool.
Skip the conch at the fancy restaurants and hop into a cab and head straight to the beachside shacks of the Fish Fry (a restaurant district) for the freshest conch in the Bahamas. The cab driver will know exactly what you are talking about, because this is the same area most of them go to for lunch. Choose any of the places along the Fish Fry that look good to you. The conch can be prepared as conch salad, golden-crusted cracked conch, conch and a few more options. You really can’t go wrong with your choice.
Maho Bay Beach, two miles east of Simpson Bay, is a must-visit beach in St. Maarten. Right in front of you is the perfect Caribbean Sea; right behind you is the tarmac of St. Maarten’s airport. Aircraft approaches are low, noisy and thrilling. Watch for noise and jet blast. Seriously. It’s worth visiting, even if just for the Instagram and Facebook photo ops.
The jungle is home to the Kohunlich Mayan ruins, including the Temple of the Large Masks, the Plaza of the Acropolis and the Plaza of the Estelas. The only bad thing is the ruins are two and a half hours west from port, so you’ll only be able to go if you have an extended amount of time in port. Closer by are the Chacchoben ruins, a nearly 10-acre site. Local guides describe the history of the ruins and lead participants through Mayan temples, the main pyramid and the site’s manicured gardens.
Thrill seekers cruising to Nassau, we’ve got an adventure for you. Get ready for a fast ride down an almost-vertical waterslide at Atlantis Paradise Island, a popular attraction for cruisers in the Bahamas. A slide known as Leap of Faith, a steep 60-foot drop along the face of the resort’s Mayan temple structure, will propel you into a clear acrylic tunnel amid a shark-inhabited lagoon. Note: This is a time you’ll be happy you packed your practical bathing suit.
Whether you’re experienced sailors or first-timers, jump off your cruise ship and keep your sea legs as we get ready to race. Yes, you will be racing and working like a crewmember on 12-metre class yachts on the Caribbean waters off St. Maarten. You will learn how to work the jib, grind a winch and trim a sail from a fun-loving professional team. You’ll start as a land-lubber and leave feeling like an experienced sailor.
The action in Mallory Square heats up during the sunset festivities when fire-eaters, juggling unicyclists and musicians entertain spectators. If you’re lucky, they may ask for you to assist them with their tricks. The quirky yet lively Mallory Square is within walking distance from where cruise ships pull into port and there's always something happening at all hours of the day.
Key West is famous for being the southernmost point of the U.S., its breathtaking sunsets and its history with Ernest Hemmingway, but it’s also famous for its bars on Duval Street. Basically, as far as the bar scene goes, Duval Street is to Key West what the French Quarter is to New Orleans. And believe it or not, there’s actually an organized pub crawl you can sign up for. The two and a half hours of crawling will take you to some of the most popular bars; you’ll have a choice of a domestic beer or a mixed drink at each bar. Be sure to pace yourself so you’re not actually crawling back to the ship.
One of the best parts about cruising to the Caribbean is that the water generally is warm and teeming with colorful fish. Bring your own snorkel gear on the cruise and you can snorkel at just about every island. You’ll find some of the best snorkeling at the private islands, Cozumel, St. Maarten, St. Lucia and Bermuda. And remember that fish love to swim around things, so keep your eyes open around piers. Don’t forget your underwater camera.