Shopping: Cozumel. There’s great shopping right at the pier, or you can grab a cab into town for a mind-numbing selection of more of the same. Colorful ceramics; onyx chess sets and figurines; silver jewelry with gems and without; and inexpensive knickknacks from maracas to magnets makes shopping a blast. You’ll find consumables there, too. Read more at Chocolate, Rum and Spice: Food Souvenirs of the Caribbean.
Best beach: private islands. These are, simply put, paradise. Carnival’s Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Honduras; Princess Cays in the Bahamas; and Royal Caribbean’s Labadee on Haiti offer the quintessential Caribbean beach day. They’ve got powdery sands and calm blue waters perfect for swimming and water sports; palms and hibiscus and bougainvillea to feast the eyes; and lounge chairs everywhere, along with plenty of shops and ways to soothe a parched throat.
The private islands are surely the best way to relax on a cruise.
|Lined up and ready to go at Princess Cays.|
Biggest variety: St. Maarten. A beach right in town, cheap chair-umbrella-beer packages, surfside seafood shacks, water sports, great shopping, gambling and even a blast from the past—an automat—selling local foods like the Dutch kroket. This lively place of merriment is constantly changing—for the better. There’s more at “How to Spend Your Cruise Day in St. Maarten.”
Prettiest harbor: Dominica, Bonaire. This one’s a tie. Dominica has perhaps the most compact port, with its location at the foot of surrounding velvety green hills. Be prepared to invest some leg muscle if you walk around town, where you can visit a farmers market or grab some free wi-fi at the local library. Or, shop the stalls at the pier, where you can get locally woven baskets and other souvenirs.
Then there’s the transparent waters of Bonaire, where a stroll along the waterside promenade is like a visit to an aquarium. Vibrant-colored fish swish by underfoot, and the sea around you is a painter’s pallet of shades of azure. Read more at Knowing Your ABCs.
|A walk along the promenade in Bonaire is like a visit to an aquarium.|
Most European-ish: St. Barts. Part Riviera, part Caribbean, totally French, St. Barts is remarkable for many reasons. You won’t find any bargains here, but you’ll marvel at the mega yachts parked in town, the hilly and winding streets that force cars and all manner of local vehicles to part halfway on the sidewalk. You can sip café au lait at a seaside café, nibble on quiche from the local patisserie, marvel at the wines lining the walls at the supermarche´ or browse the fashionable shops. St. Barts is off course and worth it.
|Paris? Mais non, the patisserie of St. Barts.|
Time travel: San Juan. With two well-preserved, exhibit-laden forts, a dramatic fountain honoring the island’s birth, blue cobblestone streets, mosaic stairwells, and even shops selling Spanish hand fans and the short jackets of the matadors, the old town of Puerto Rico’s capital takes the cruiser back in time. No DeLorean needed here—just a little bit of pedestrian power.
San Juan is one of those ports that are made for walking.
|The ancient wall today protects San Juan from sailboats.|
Memorable feature: Curaçao. This Southern Caribbean Leeward island off the Venezuelan coast has several oddities—a floating bridge that takes you to the colorful Punda District when it’s not stepping aside to let boats through, and a fruit and veggies market where vendors sell their stuff out of wooden boats tied up to the dock. And if that’s not enough, how about liquor that’s made from oranges but is blue in hue?
So, that’s my “best of list.” What’s yours?
Musing’s Top Tip: Did you miss Some of the Best in Cruising Part 1? Then check it out here, for ship life highlights—from what’s on your plate to what’s on the stage.