Soon 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 started claiming portions 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 more than seven thousand islands in the region are commonly called the Caribbean today.
Haiti became the first republic in the Caribbean in 1804. Steeled by this success, a number of islands in the Caribbean fought for and gained their independence during the nineteenth century.
But it was not until the 1960s that the British finally agreed to grant independence to any Caribbean nation that desired it. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados all became free countries during this period. But the road ahead would have been far more arduous were it not for tourism.
You see, the Caribbean nations had been exploited for centuries by the European powers who established a plantation system that relied almost entirely on agriculture. As a result, there was virtually no industry and no hope of consistent employment once these countries gained their independence.
Fortunately, they had three things going for them: proximity to the United States and the most beautiful weather and scenery on earth. For these reasons, the tourism industry began to flourish in the late sixties when a number of major cruise lines began adding Caribbean islands to their itinerary.
Why cruises? Since most islands had little or no infrastructure at the time, cruises were the easiest and most affordable way to reach them. Arriving by plane was not only expensive, but it could be quite dangerous. Therefore, cruises lines were the only reliable way to see the Caribbean islands for several years.
These cruises contributed to the growth of the Caribbean as they provided locals with employment in numerous sectors of the economy. To this day, ports-of-call in many Caribbean islands are supported by tourist dollars, most of which are spend by vacationing Americans.
What is the appeal? Because of their proximity to the US, cruises to Caribbean islands are far more affordable for Americans than any other kind. Not surprisingly, it is the most popular destination for US tourists. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly three out of four Americans that 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 the sightseeing and the history of a specific region, Caribbean cruises are all about relaxation. That is why they world’s most luxurious cruise ships travel to the Caribbean. And since Americans are the most stressed-out people on earth, it really is a perfect fit.
What to expect? The average Caribbean cruise ship offers guests whatever they might desire. For couples that are in need of a relaxing vacation, saunas, spas, sumptuous dinning, drinks by the poolside and breathtaking views should do for trick. And for families, there are countless activities that both parents and kids can enjoy from shuffleboard to nightclubs to team competitions.
But before you go ahead and plan your trip, it is important to decide what part of the Caribbean you would like to see. There is the Westerner, the Eastern and the Southern Caribbean. Of the three, the Western Caribbean is the most popular destination for tourists.
On a 7-day trip to this region, cruises may call at ports in Key West, Ocho Rios (Jamaica), Grand Cayman, George Town, Cozumel or Montego Bay. Not only is this package a bit cheaper than the others because it is closer to Florida, but it also includes several popular historical sites, including ancient ruins.
A favorite for the more active guests is the day trip in Jamaica. The island nation is famous for its snorkeling, white water rafting and tubing. All Caribbean islands offer guided tours for cruise goers who simply want to relax a bit and see the sights.
Only slightly less popular are cruises to the Eastern Caribbean. Although it takes a bit 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 on their stops to these islands.
Because cruises often depart from Puerto Rico instead of Florida, cruises to the Southern Caribbean are far less popular for 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 of these islands are famous for their white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters and challenging hiking tours.