I didn’t know what to expect from my first cruise experience. I knew this Eastern Caribbean cruise would draw different types of people from all over the country, but I didn’t know how I’d fare on board a boat where, seemingly, you’re stuck on a floating island with no way out.
As it turns out, this floating island is more than just a deserted beach (though we did stop at a couple of those). Sailing on board the Carnival Vista turned out to be more like a “do whatever you want” kind of trip. And when I say whatever, I do mean whatever.
The fact is, this boat has everything.
Do you remember those adventure books we read as kids where you could choose your own destiny? It’s like that, only instead of choosing between chasing after a would-be robber and sticking around to steal the jewels, you’re choosing between climbing the on-board ropes course or relaxing by a peaceful pool with a margarita in hand.
As it turns out, one of the best things about going on a cruise is that you can have whatever kind of trip you’d like. If you want to socialize and party, they’ve got (more than) a few options for that! If you’d rather be calm and solitary, there are plenty of places to find your zen moments, too.
You can chase adrenaline and adventure, you can party all day night, you can chill and relax, or you can opt for some more cultural options both on and off board the ship. Or you can throw it all into a blender and have yourself a margarita.
I knew that I wanted a mix. I was looking forward to some downtime, but I was also ready for a bit of adventure. As you guys know, I’m never one to shy away from high-risk/borderline stupid activities (disclaimer: everything on board is perfectly safe!), so I was pumped to see a mix of options available.
Once I got on board, though, I realized how you really can choose your own adventure. There is so much going on that you get to decide exactly what type of trip you want to have.
1. An Eastern Caribbean Cruise Itinerary for the Adrenaline Junkie
You like to go to extremes — and you don’t expect to slow down just because you’re on a cruise in the Eastern Caribbean. Luckily, there are plenty of options to keep your heart-rate high.
On your first day at sea, make the most of the adrenaline-packed activities on board. The most compelling? The Skyride! These bikes are mounted on an airborne track above the ship—you cycle way your around the ship, soaring through the air as you round corners, taking in a bird’s eye view from the boat.
That’s a vantage point you don’t get every day.
Next, hit up the ropes course. Climb your way across rickety ladders and slide across the tightrope. Round out your afternoon with some trips down the three waterslides—yes WATERSLIDES—on board.
And when it’s time for shore excursions, every port has adventure options from which to choose.
In Grand Turk, climb the high wire ropes course and zip line over the beach. The views from above Grand Turk are stunning, and this is the highest point on the island. You might even spot whales and sharks from up here.
In San Juan, learn how to surf. Puerto Rico happens to be a great place to go surfing. Sign up for surf lessons or, if you already know what you’re doing, just take your board and go have fun!
In St. Kitts, go on an ATV adventure. Bomb around the island in an ATV, powering over boulders and getting stuck in the mud. If you’re not covered in dirt by the end of it, you’re not doing it right.
And in St. Maarten, take an excursion to Maho Beach, famous for being just meters from the airport runway. Giant planes land so close overhand you can almost reach out and touch the landing gear from below!
But the real rush is from the takeoffs, when the planes are heading in the opposite direction, away from the beach. You’ll be blasted by the hot air of the jet engines with wind speeds up to 120mph, which, if you’ve ever been skydiving, is the same speed of a complete freefall.
Note: you will lose your hat and end up with sand in every unmentionable crevice of your body.
2. An Eastern Caribbean Cruise Itinerary for the Socialite
Whether you’re a natural extrovert or just in vacation mode, you love to be the life of the party—or at least a part of it. Cruises are a melting pot of American culture and you’ll meet people from all over the country—you’re guaranteed to meet some cool people on board!
On your days at sea, hang out in the pools and hot tubs. I found that some of the best conversations happen while hanging out poolside.
And you’d better be hitting up the nightly parties! Whether you’re salsa dancing at the Cuban-themed Havana Bar, doing karaoke in the lounge, or dancing to an 80’s Party on the main deck, there is always something going on, for every age group. Also, be sure not to miss the comedy clubs, nightclubs, and even the craft cocktail bar.
As for shore excursions, there are plenty of options. My recommendation? If you want to party, choose the ones that say “open bar”—or any of the following.
In Grand Turk, go on a catamaran cruise. Choosing this shore excursion was probably the smartest thing I did on my Eastern Caribbean cruise. It had everything: incredible turquoise water, white sand beaches, snorkeling, plenty of rum punch, and awesome people.
In Puerto Rico, head to the Vivo Beach Club. You can find beach excursions everywhere, but the Vivo Beach Club is notable because they’ve got their own brewery on site. Enjoy your beer while lounging on the beach or by the pool, or join in some beach sports with your new friends for the day.
In St. Kitts, choose the Sky Safari Zip lining. Doing an adventure activity is actually an easy way to bond with your fellow shipmates—the adrenaline brings you together! Zip lining is a must-do on a Caribbean trip and on St. Kitts you’ll love soaring through the mountains.
In St. Maarten, try out Sea Trek Helmet Diving. Remember back in the fifties when sea explorers wore a helmet connected to oxygen while walking along the ocean floor? This is the modern version of that—GoPro’s and underwater selfies allowed.
3. An Eastern Caribbean Cruise Itinerary for the Escapist
You work hard and have a crazy schedule at home—so your Eastern Caribbean cruise is an opportunity to unwind. If your goal for your cruise is to kick back, relax, and spend your days lazing about, you couldn’t have chosen a better way to do it.
The best mornings on cruises start with a cup of coffee on your balcony. Balcony rooms are especially worth the splurge if you’re looking for early moments of quiet and solitude. I loved the privacy and got to start every morning working my way through one of my books.
Next, head to Serenity. The Vista’s adults-only deck lives up to its name and has a much calmer atmosphere than some of the other zones. Secure a dome-shaped daybed for yourself and enjoy an afternoon in the sun or the shade.
All things considered, don’t forget to treat yourself at the spa. Sure, you can get a massage, but that’s far from the only thing you can do. Get hot stones layered on top of your body, get wrapped up with a full body mask, or clear your skin out with a well-deserved facial. They’ve even got steam rooms and infrared saunas!
Though it can be tempting to spend all your shore excursions just sitting on the beach, but there are actually options that are a lot of fun that will still let you relax.
In Grand Turk, try a snuba excursion. What’s snuba? It’s a bit like a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving, where you swim underwater while breathing through a snorkel that’s attached to a long hose. It lets you swim deeper that you can while snorkeling—it’s like scuba for newbs.
In San Juan, go on a horseback ride. If you’re used to sitting in traffic each morning, horseback riding through the rainforest is about as far from that as you can get. Breathe in the fresh air, give your horse (and yourself) a nice pat on the back, and promise yourself to do this more often.
In St. Kitts, take a catamaran and Nevis beach break. Nevis, the little sibling island to St. Kitts, is home to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. And there’s no better way to cross the water than on a catamaran, lying down in the net and soaking up some sun. Want more? Check out this guide to Nevis Island.
In St. Maarten, go on a scenic coastal hike. When we docked in St. Maarten, I was surprised to see how mountainous it was. You won’t get a better view of this island than from the top.
4. An Eastern Caribbean Cruise Itinerary for the Culture Hound
You chose this Eastern Caribbean cruise largely based on the islands visited — you’d never go to the same ones twice.
If you live to learn, here’s what’s you need to do:
In Grand Turk, join a tour of the island’s ten best sites. If you love architecture or photography, you’ll love getting to see the Bermudian-style pastel houses of Cockburn, as well as the lighthouse and even the historic prison.
In San Juan, take a rum mixology and salsa lesson excursion. If you didn’t know the importance of rum to the island, Puerto Ricans will teach you quickly! This is a good place to pick up a bottle to take back on board (and maybe a couple for back home).
Plus, learning how to salsa will come in handy back on the ship when the live band performs in Havana Bar!
In St. Kitts, go on a rail and sail tour. St. Kitts has a railway that circles the whole island, and it’s a great way to learn about the history and see some of the island’s most beautiful views. Finish it off with a sailing tour along the south coast of the island.
In St. Maarten, go on the Flavors of Philipsburg tour. St. Maarten is a good choice for a culinary tour because it has so many influences: Caribbean, Dutch and French to start. Enjoy your tastes of the island and do a little shopping downtown when you’re finished.
Ultimately, It’s Up to You
Maybe you don’t fit one of these archetypes—but that’s okay! Even though I planned on relaxing most of the time, I still took a million photos in Grand Turk, explored World Heritage Sites in Puerto Rico and St. Kitts, and howled with both delight and horror while getting blasted by a jet engine in St. Maarten.
The beauty of a cruise is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, whether it’s well within your comfort zone or far outside of it.
Because when you can choose your own adventure, you end up building yourself a memorable vacation. Mine was!
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