Shortly after Christopher Columbus returned from the Americas, European powers began colonizing islands in the region. These colonies provided precious metals and abundant natural resources for the Europeans. While Spanish and Portuguese ships began to claim parts of South America, England, the Netherlands, and France focused on a group of islands between North and South America. Known as the West Indies at the time, the region’s more than seven thousand islands are commonly called the Caribbean today.
Haiti became the first Caribbean republic in 1804. Empowered by this success, several Caribbean islands fought for and won their independence during the 19th century.
But it wasn’t until the 1960s that the British finally agreed to grant independence to any Caribbean nation that wanted it. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados became free countries during this period. But the road ahead would have been much more arduous if it weren’t for tourism.
You see, the Caribbean nations had been exploited for centuries by European powers who established a plantation system that was almost entirely dependent on agriculture. As a result, there was virtually no industry and no hope of steady employment once these countries gained their independence.
Fortunately, they had three things going for them: proximity to the United States and the most beautiful climate and scenery in the world. For these reasons, the tourism industry began to flourish in the late 1960s when several major cruise lines began adding Caribbean islands to their itineraries.
Why cruises? Since most of the islands had little to no infrastructure at the time, cruise ships were the easiest and cheapest way to reach them. Arriving by plane was not only expensive, but could be quite dangerous. Therefore, the cruise lines were the only reliable way to see the Caribbean islands for several years.
These cruise ships contributed to the growth of the Caribbean as they provided employment for locals in numerous sectors of the economy. To this day, ports of call on many Caribbean islands are supported by tourist dollars, most of which is spent by vacationing Americans.
What is the appeal? Due to their proximity to the US, cruises to the Caribbean islands are much more affordable for Americans than any other type. Not surprisingly, it is the most popular destination for American tourists. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly three out of four Americans who take a cruise visit the Caribbean. The same survey noted that customer satisfaction rates for these cruises are the highest in the industry.
There is a simple explanation for this. While other cruises focus on tourism and the history of a specific region, Caribbean cruises are all about relaxation. That is why the most luxurious cruise ships in the world travel to the Caribbean. And since Americans are the most stressed people in the world, it really fits the bill.
What to expect? The average Caribbean cruise offers guests everything they want. For couples in need of a relaxing vacation, the saunas, spas, sumptuous dining, poolside drinks, and stunning views should do the trick. And for families, there are countless activities that both parents and children can enjoy, from shuffleboard to nightclubs and team competitions.
But before you go ahead and plan your trip, it’s important to decide what part of the Caribbean you’d like to see. There is the Western, Eastern and Southern Caribbean. Of the three, the Western Caribbean is the most popular destination for tourists.
On a 7-day voyage to this region, cruise ships may call at ports in Key West, Ocho Rios (Jamaica), Grand Cayman, George Town, Cozumel, or Montego Bay. This package is not only slightly cheaper than the others because it’s closer to Florida, but it also includes several popular historical sites, including ancient ruins.
A favorite for active guests is the Jamaica day trip. The island nation is famous for its snorkeling, rafting, and tubing. All of the Caribbean islands offer guided tours for cruise passengers who just want to relax a bit and see the sights.
Slightly less popular are cruises to the Eastern Caribbean. Although it takes a little longer to get there, the Eastern Caribbean is home to some of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world. Popular ports of call in this region include: San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas. Fishing, diving and shopping are the most popular pastimes for tourists during their stopovers on these islands.
Because cruise ships often depart from Puerto Rico instead of Florida, cruises to the southern Caribbean are much less popular with American vacationers. Of course, that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable for people who choose to go the extra mile. Ports of call for the Southern Caribbean include: Dominica, Barbados, Aruba and St. Thomas. All these islands are famous for their white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and challenging hiking excursions.