7 Best cruise ports in the Caribbean

04 Dec 2023
Matt Hochberg

When you pick a Caribbean cruise, the islands you visit are probably just as important a consideration as the ship or cabin you choose.

St John beach

Caribbean cruises have been a popular choice for decades, due to in large part the beautiful ports you can visit.

Royal Caribbean's internal research shows the top two reasons people go on a cruise are for the food and destination, and that may lead you to wonder where are the best cruise ports in the Caribbean.

It can be difficult to choose a cruise because of how many different ports are available to visit.

St. John Beach

In considering all the Caribbean ports our team has been to, I wanted to help narrow down the choices if you are looking for the top cruise ports on a Caribbean cruise.

1. Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel coast with restaurants and bars

Of all the cruise ports in Eastern Mexico, Cozumel is the top choice given the breadth of choices available and beautiful beaches.

Cozumel is an island just off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula, and it has just about everything someone might want to do in a Caribbean cruise port.

There are beaches, historical sights, a city to explore, and plenty of great food too. It became famous thanks to a documentary by Jacques Cousteau, and it's only become more popular ever since.

Given the natural beauty of Cozumel, it's one of the most authentic ports of call you'll find in the Caribbean.  Sure, it has plenty of touristy spots, but you can easily find untouched areas of the island too.

What I really enjoy about Cozumel is how much variety of activities there are along with excellent food.  Mexican food is so popular to begin with, and when you get the real thing while visiting, it makes just about any tour that much better.

2. San Juan, Puerto Rico

When you combine hundreds of years of history along with a vibrant culture, you get San Juan.

Cruise ships come right into the heart of Old San Juan, making exploring the city super easy. And there's quite a lot to explore.

Puerto Rico's history goes back to the earliest European settlements in North America, and between the history, culture, and natural beauty the island possesses, you get lots to do on a visit here.

San Juan Street

You can visit Spanish fortifications, sample local cuisine, or head to one of the many lovely beaches.

The other thing that makes exploring Puerto Rico easier is that it's part of the United States, so there's a certain familiarity that comes with it.

You don't find many large cities in the Caribbean like you do in Europe, but San Juan is the exception.

3. Philipsburg, St. Maarten


St. Maarten is split in two: a Dutch side and French side, and the result is a dichotomy of choice.

Both sides of the island offer a beautiful beach day, along with a touch of Europe.

The Dutch side is within walking distance of your cruise ship, and it has a lovely boardwalk along the water and lots of shopping. Front Street in Philipsburg is a great place to stroll.

Orient Beach

If you venture to the French side, you'll find the capital of Marigot and Grand Case, and it's similar to traveling in Europe on a smaller scale.

The beaches are really lovely as well, with Mullet Bay, Orient Beach, and Friar's Bay Beach well known for their stunning beauty.

Read moreTop things to do in St. Maarten on your Royal Caribbean cruise

4. Oranjestad, Aruba

Beach sunset

The Southern Caribbean is truly remarkable when contrasted against other islands in the region.  Aruba wasn't worthy of becoming a lyric in a Beach Boys song for no reason, when you see it, you'll understand why.

A desert island, Aruba is just 20 miles large, but you'll find beach after beach that you'll not want to leave. Palm Beach and Eagle Beach are the idyllic places that draw tourists back time and and time again.

Aruba beach

The beach is likely the top draw in Aruba, and its bright blue waters are exactly what you'd look for in a day here.

In Oranjestad, you'll find lots of cultures intermingled together. Aruba’s traditions are influenced by the cultures of other countries, such as Holland, Venezuela, America, and other Caribbean islands.

Sasakiweg Street has many shops to explore on your way back to the ship.

5. St. John's, Antigua

Valley Church Beach in Antigua

At one time, Royal Caribbean had plans to open a beach club in Antigua, and it's not hard to see why.

Antigua boasts it has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year, and while that might be a good marketing slogan, it's indicative of how beautiful this island is.

When you measure Caribbean island beaches, you're essentially talking about how much more beautiful one is from the other.  Antigua has the white sand and clear ocean water that you imagine with a Caribbean cruise.

There's hidden coves, and coral reefs bustling with tropical fish to see as well.

If you'd like to do something beyond the beach, Antigua has historical attractions you can see. Shirley Heights Lookout the Nelson's Dockyard (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) or the Betty’s Hope sugar plantation are a must see.

6. Willemstad, Curacao


Curacao may be another Southern Caribbean island to make this list, but it differs from Aruba in a few notable ways.

Of course, Curacao has beautiful beaches to visit, but it's more than just beaches. You'll find cliffs, the desert, and a vibrant city scene.

Walking around Willemstad is easy, and a short walk from the cruise ship. Similar to San Juan, your ship docks nearby to the downtown area that are filled with shops, markets, and restaurants.  When you add in the Dutch architecture, you find a very intriguing city to explore.

Knip Beach, Curacao

Curacao has 38 beaches, many of which are secluded.

Shete Boka Park is known for being a rocky inlet where waves crash into underground caverns to create a profound natural effect.

If nature is your thing, be sure to walk, hike, or bike into Christoffel Park National Curacao.

7. St. John (via St. Thomas)

Trunk Bay

Of all the islands I've visited in the Caribbean, St. John is my favorite and it's not even an island your ship docks at.

St. John is a short ferry ride away from St. Thomas.  Both islands are part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it's perfect for cruise ships to come into St. Thomas for the day and hop over to St. John.

St. John is almost entirely a national park, and it has the prettiest beaches I've ever seen. 

St. John beach

Between the white sand and clear turquoise blue water, it's the perfect beach every time I visit. Cruz Bay, Trunk Bay, and Cinnamon Beach are just a few of the stunning white sand beaches to explore.

Because it's so uncrowded and underdeveloped, St. John feels like you've discovered an untouched oasis.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost experts on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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