The southern Caribbean offers a stunning array of cultural diversity. In one week, you can speak Spanish and salsa dance in the Dominican Republic, learn about Dutch history in Curacao, eat delicious French dishes in Martinique and St. Barts, and eat English fish-and-chips in Barbados. This region also offers many natural wonders, including a volcano, mountains, rain forests, beaches, waterfalls and rivers.
Barbados; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa, Fla.; New Orleans, La.
Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Nevis, Puerto Rico, St. Barts, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, British Virgin Islands (Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke)
(All offer cruises year-round unless noted) Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal (Nov. - Dec.), Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian (Oct. - April), Princess, Radisson (March - Dec.), Royal Caribbean, Seabourn (Nov. - Dec.), Silversea (Dec. - April), Windjammer, Windstar (Dec. - April)
On Antigua, lovers seek out Rendezvous Bay for secluded swimming and sunbathing.
Aruba has some of the best weather in the Caribbean. The island gets only 17 inches of rain a year and lies outside the hurricane zone. One of the neatest natural wonders in the Caribbean is Aruba's Natural Bridge, a 100-foot-long coral rock bridge made by crashing waves. You can walk across it.
One of the prettiest old sugar plantations in the Caribbean can be found on Barbados. Flower Forest is part of the Scotland District of the island (named for its resemblance to the original Scotland). Everywhere you look on Barbados, you will be reminded of the island's history as a British colony.
The famous Casa de Campo Resort in the Dominican Republic offers almost any land or sea activity you can think of. Some cruise lines offer transportation to this exclusive resort. Altos de Chavon, a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village, is nearby.
Dominica is a nature lover's paradise. What the island lacks in beautiful beaches, it makes up for in rain forests, waterfalls and coral reefs. Emerald Pool, about 45 minutes from the port, offers a stunning swimming experience in the interior of a rain forest. If you want to stay closer to the ship, the Botanical Gardens are within walking distance.
Old San Juan is a must-see for any visit to Puerto Rico. The cobblestone streets just ooze history, beginning with the city's settlement by Spaniards in the 1500s. To get the full breadth of the history here, sign up for a walking tour. If you're docked overnight, this is the time to venture away from the ship for some salsa and meringue dancing.
Martinique, a department of France, offers some interesting historical sites. Book the shore excursion to St. Pierre, the former capital of the island until a 1902 volcanic eruption destroyed it. It's called "The Pompeii of Martinique." Art lovers will want to visit the beachside town of Le Carbet, which Paul Gaugin depicts in his work Bord de Mer.
Baie St. Jean in St. Barts offers a bit of the French Riviera in the Caribbean with ritzy shops and cafes and plenty of (rich) people watching.
St. Lucia's scenery is simply stunning. You will not soon forget the green mountains (Petit Piton and Gros Piton) of this volcanic island. If your ship offers the La Soufriere Land and Sea Tour, take advantage of it. It includes a visit to the mountains and a stop at Mont Soufriere volcano, where you walk through the crater and dip in the Diamond Mineral Baths.
The Baths on Virgin Gorda are the most popular beach destination on the island. They were formed by boulders falling down and creating saltwater grottoes and pools. Nearby Spring Bay is great for snorkeling.