Island Splendor: Listen! The Caribbean is Calling
Known for white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and a vibrant culture, the Caribbean has long been one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. And for North American travelers, it’s right next door—or at least a short flight away. Two million tourists visit every year. But speaking of “the Caribbean” as a general destination obscures the fact that its 7,000 islands are unique in their own way, and incredibly diverse.
For instance, the Caribbean is home to a variety of languages, including English (Virgin Islands, Jamaica), Spanish (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), Dutch (St. Maarten), French (St. Lucia, Dominica) and more. Some islands are volcanic, covered with lush rainforests and rolling hillscapes. Others are flat, sandy expanses on a base of sun-bleached coral, with desert-like climates.
Cruise passengers can disembark in ports with a laid-back vibe, perfect for those who love a quiet getaway. Or they can enjoy islands with a more adventurous spirit, appealing to guests who want to kayak, snorkel or zipline. As so many passengers have discovered, the Caribbean’s natural beauty—which boasts the most colorful sunsets in the world—can’t help but draw Believers toward the Creator in worship. That’s why this region is such a perfect setting for a Christian cruise.
With countless islands and a seemingly endless array of cruise itineraries, we thought we’d highlight a few of our favorite Caribbean destinations.
Alone, this archipelago has more than 700 islands and cays (pronounced “keys”), though only 30 are inhabited. While the port city and capital of Nassau appears on a number of cruise itineraries, our passengers are just as likely to stop at Half Moon Cay, a private Bahamian island owned by Holland America Line. You’ll have plenty to entertain you here. Like so many other islands in this sprawling chain, Half Moon Cay is full of nature trails, miles of white sand and sparkling blue waters ideal for snorkeling.
Beyond its financial draw as a tax haven, the Caymans represent the best of the Caribbean’s reputation as a safe and family-friendly destination. The jaw-dropping Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman is often cited as one of the most beautiful in the world. The surrounding water is considered some of the clearest in the Caribbean, making this a diving and snorkeling paradise. But most importantly, the Cayman Islands are known for their 42,000 permanent residents. If you visit here, introduce yourself to a local. In 2012, Forbes recognized the Caymans as the “World’s Friendliest Country.”
With a thousand miles of beaches warmed by the Caribbean sun, the Dominican Republic—which occupies the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola—is filled with all-inclusive resorts and boutique hotels. Cruise visits have increased to the island in recent years, landing at Punta Cana on the DR’s eastern coast and Amber Cove on the northern side. Regardless, you’ll enjoy the award-winning golf courses and sunny, sugar-sand beaches that dominate this verdant landscape.
When most travelers think of the culture of the Caribbean, they’re undoubtedly influenced by the sights and sounds of Jamaica. Calypso and reggae music, jerk chicken, island-grown coffee—all are central to the laid-back, cordial Jamaican vibe. Prominent to western Caribbean itineraries, Jamaica also offers plenty of ecological allure. Dip your toes in the cool water of Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios, one of the Caribbean’s highest-profile attractions. Nearby, the port of Falmouth is home to a large historic district filled with stately, estate-style architecture.
From the blue cobblestone streets and ancient forts of Old San Juan to the tropical rainforests of El Yunque, Puerto Rico is one of the most diverse islands in the region. Whether visitors are looking for big-city ambiance, historic architecture or the natural setting of a beach lined with palm trees, Puerto Rico offers these in droves. It’s a Spanish-speaking commonwealth of the United States, which means U.S. currency is accepted everywhere. As its people recover from Hurricane Maria (see below), they continue to welcome tourists with open arms.
With half of the island a part of the Netherlands and the other half belonging to France, this unique island has something of a split personality—and is the smallest landmass in the world to be shared by two governments. Most cruises dock in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side. The city’s colonial buildings offer a patchwork quilt of colors, while its narrow, cobblestone Front Street is one of the foremost shopping promenades in the Caribbean. When hunger strikes, sample the fresh local cuisine, including lobster.
As an American territory, this 32-square-mile island is always a passenger favorite. Its bustling capital, Charlotte Amalie, is known for some of the best shopping in the Caribbean and remains one of the most active ports in the region. Meanwhile, the island’s 40-plus public beaches are home to an endless array of water sports. Magens Bay, on the north side of the island, is considered by many the best beach in the Caribbean and one of the best in the world. At the same time, St. Thomas remains a great launching point for the rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the peaceful shores of St. John are a short ferry ride away.
These islands are all about the ocean experience, with stunning sapphire waters and some of the best beaches in the world. Divers love the protected reef surrounding Turks & Caicos, which is named for a native cactus called the Turk’s Cap. The ocean floor drops 7,000 feet, creating a rich environment for marine life, from blue marlins to humpback whales. And with an annual average of 350 days of sunshine, Turks & Caicos is home to some of the best weather on the planet.
Caribbean Recovery Update
In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in fall of 2017, a number of islands sustained heavy damage. However, of the more than 60 ports in the Caribbean, 80% went relatively untouched, receiving only minimal damage or none at all. Of those in the direct path of the storm, recovery efforts have been swift and encouraging. Despite initial, temporary closures and rerouting of a few itineraries, the cruise ports in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Maarten have reopened. Cruise passengers are fueling the recovery efforts in these places by contributing to the local economy. Please continue to pray for the people of these islands where recovery efforts are ongoing.
Do any of these sound like a place you’d like to visit? Choose the right cruise itinerary and you’ll see several of them while only unpacking once!
The Caribbean, of course, is just one of many scenic destinations to which we travel. Every place in Creation has its own beauty and, in one form or another, reflects the glory of the Creator. But there’s just something about its azure-framed shores and sun-washed dwellings that make us leave behind the pressures of the world and find rest in God’s presence. If you’re looking for a chance to experience the artistry of the natural world, a proud cultural heritage and a deeper relationship with Him, keep listening: the islands of the Caribbean may be calling.