The Caribbean... The place everyone dreams of visiting. It has warm, sunny beaches and clear, blue, inviting water. The Caribbean is located south of North America, and cradled by South America. It is split up into two areas, the Western and the Eastern. The Western covers the western half of the islands in the Caribbean Sea, including the Gulf of Mexico. The Eastern half spans more into the southern part, and most of the islands are included in both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. An easier way to remember this is, Western = adventurous and rugged, Eastern = shopping and tropical.
Nassau, about 100 miles from Miami, is on New Providence, the largest island in the Bahamas. It is home to the famous Straw Market, where you will be enticed by hand made crafts. I usually stop there and buy some necklaces, because they are inexpensive and you can bargain for a lower price. After that, we usually grab a taxi and head to the Atlantis Hotel. Here they have HUGE aquariums and a casino. If you are lucky, you might be able to get through the security guards into the water slides and lagoon. I strongly suggest that you try to get through! There two water slides that go through a giant shark tank, another one where you race down with a partner, and a few other small ones. After that, you can take a short dip in one of the dozen pools or be lazy on the lazy river that runs around the palm trees. Don't forget to stop by the crystal clear blue water at the Atlantis beach! I have been to Nassau at least seven times, and I still have a blast every time!
My favorite island, and one of the most beautiful, is St. Maarten. Its waters are amazingly clear! Here we took a shore excursion called "America's Cup Regatta" -- a sailing excursion where they teach you how to sail, and later you race against another team on a different boat. Even if you have no experience, they show you everything. They give you drinks and it provides a nice tour of the St. Maarten harbor. St. Maarten is also a good place to shop. I am not big on shopping, but electronics stores are everywhere! You can talk them into lower prices on all kinds of things, from cell phones (models not offered in America) to digital cameras. My mom and sister also liked the shopping in St. Maarten and St. Thomas best. They even bought some things and them shipped back home, so we didn't have to lug them everywhere. This spring when I return to St. Maarten, I am thinking about doing the kayaking trip (my favorite pastime) through the mangroves.
Then there's the more adventurous Western Caribbean. These ports usually include Key West, Fla.; Cozumel, Mexico; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Grand Cayman. In these ports you will find lots of shore excursions for the active person.
At the southernmost tip of the U.S., in Florida, is a small island called Key West. It's so small you can drive from one side to another in 10 minutes. During my last visit, MTV was there doing their spring break programming. It was interesting to see how they filmed all the shows. We visited the place where they filmed the show "Say What Karaoke," and stopped by the hotel where they were taping a new TV commercial. In Key West you can rent golf carts or miniature electric scooters and roam the island or shop. We usually stop at the famous Hogs Breath or Sloppy Joe's bar for a drink or something to eat before returning to the ship.
The second most beautiful port, in my opinion, is Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Its tree-filled, mountainous scenery complements its warm waters and beaches. Most people who visit Ocho Rios take a side trip to climb Dunn's River Falls, the best excursion I have taken yet. It's a waterfall nestled in a forest of trees. With a guide and a group of about 15 other people, you can climb this huge and at and times challenging waterfall. From the top, you can either climb back down through the water, or walk down alongside. In Jamaica, you can also visit Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which has a beach, a bar, water trampoline, and even a tube-waterslide that goes through the restaurant and bar.
The Caribbean is a very popular place to cruise, and most lines have ships there year round. Caribbean cruises can range from three to 17 nights depending on the ship. Cruising the Caribbean gives you the freedom to choose a certain ship and route one year, and then a different route and ship the next year. Either way you go, east or west, you can't go wrong!