Your Guide to Eastern Caribbean vs. Western Caribbean Cruises

Let’s imagine you’re about to plan that dream Caribbean cruise. There’s this one critical fork in the road that determines the course of your unforgettable journey: do you set sail east or west? Let’s unwrap the differences and take a look at the marvels of both the east and west Caribbean islands.

The terms “eastern Caribbean” and “western Caribbean” were coined by the cruise industry to describe the two most common Caribbean cruise itineraries. While both typically depart from Florida (although the Western Caribbean can also be accessed from Galveston, TX), your western Caribbean voyage brings you closer to Mexico, including stops such as Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Belize. Eastern Caribbean itineraries veer more toward the open Atlantic, winding through the British Virgin Islands, the Leeward Islands, St. Maarten, and Puerto Rico.

The good news? Either way you choose, you’ll enjoy the welcoming blend of laid-back island vibes, breathtaking beaches, and pristine, turquoise waters. Both sides boast world-renowned shores known for their natural beauty. To the west is Grand Cayman’s enchanting Seven Mile Beach, Jamaica’s white silky sands, and Belize’s tranquil coves. As we journey eastward, St. Thomas enchants us with places like Magens Bay and St. Maarten’s Dawn Beach brims with top-tier snorkeling opportunities while Puerto Rico’s Condado and Isla Verde beaches come alive with water-based activities.


If lounging in the sun is your dream, every western island guarantees sun-drenched beaches. The Caribbean islands do vary, though. For water-based fun seekers, the western islands may be the better choice. Cozumel, for instance, flaunts some of the world’s clearest waters — perfect for snorkeling, fishing, and delightful encounters with dolphins and gentle whale sharks. For dreamy beach days and serene waters, opt for Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and The Bahamas. Eco-tour enthusiasts should look for cruise itineraries that include Key West, Roatan, or Belize City.


Eastern Caribbean islands offer more than just aqua-green water and sunny beaches. More charm lies in the sprawling history and diverse culture of these gems. Not to discount the western islands, which also brim with cultural jewels such as the majestic Mayan ruins in Cozumel and Belize, as well as Jamaica’s vibrant culinary and music scene. But the east spices up the cultural blend. St. Thomas exudes a rich infusion of African, British, and indigenous culture crafted over centuries. St. Maarten engages with its mix of African, British, Dutch, and French heritage, so much so that the island is dual nationality (Dutch and French). As for Puerto Rico, its vibrant Hispanic influence greets you the moment you step into the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, with rhythmic reggae and salsa music, and historic architecture.

Typical eastern Caribbean routes include stops at: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; or St. Johns, Antigua.


Whether you go east or west, the Caribbean promises a montage of Instagram-worthy views, beautiful beaches, rich cultural treasures, and warm hospitality. Some seasoned cruisers lean toward the eastern islands with more historical sites and landscapes, while others prefer the western islands. But for a real taste of the Caribbean, many suggest sampling both. In truth, the Caribbean islands have something for every taste. You may wish to refer to this infographic as you make your cruise decision, but don’t worry, there’s no right or wrong in exploring this beautiful corner of the world. Ask your travel advisor for recommendations, then work together to plan your next Caribbean adventure based on your desires. And remember, whichever one you don’t choose this time will be waiting for you next time!