Since the islands of the eastern Caribbean are fairly close to the United States, this is one of the most popular routes for cruise ships in the Caribbean. Four and 5-night cruises usually only visit the Bahamas, while longer cruises add islands from other areas of the Caribbean. If you haven't cruised before, a short cruise through the eastern Caribbean might be the best to give you a feel for shipboard life. But don't expect a unique experience ashore -- you will find it hard to get away from all the tourists on these well-visited islands.
Area beaches leave a bit to be desired compared with other beaches in the region. Instead, take a cab to Garden of the Groves, the island's main attraction. The 11-acre garden features waterfalls, birds, flowers and 10,000 kinds of trees. If you plan on shopping in St. Thomas, you can probably skip the International Bazaar. But if you can't help yourself, remember to bargain at the 100 shops here.
This port has room for 11 cruise ships at once, so don't expect an intimate experience. If you can blow a few bucks, skip the shopping and head for the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. You can buy a day pass to take advantage of the 14 acres of pools, lagoons and water slides. There's also a casino at the hotel. Disney and Royal Caribbean have special arrangements with the Atlantis.
In recent years, St. Croix has had a reputation for crime causing many cruise lines to cut the port from their itineraries. This might be the place to consider a shore excursion offered by your ship, especially for snorkeling. Golfers recommend the frequently offered excursion to Carambola, one of the Caribbean's best courses.
The Virgin Islands National Park spans half the island of St. John. You can relax on the park's beautiful beaches or observe birds and animals on its hiking trails. If your ship doesn't directly dock at St. John, you can get here by boat from nearby St. Thomas.
St. Martin and St. Maarten
St. Martin is the French side and Sint Maarten is the Dutch side of the same 37-square-mile island. Skip the sightseeing tours and hit 1 of the island's celebrated beaches. Topless beaches dot the French side. On the Dutch side, Mullet Bay Beach and Maho are good for swimming.
St. Thomas' Charlotte Amalie is known for its duty-free shopping within walking distance of the port. Main Street is the busiest shopping spot in all of the Caribbean.
Castaway Cay is Disney's private island in the Bahamas. There are separate beaches for teenagers, adults and families. This is the only private island where cruise ships can dock right at the pier (instead of anchoring offshore and transferring passengers by tender).