Avoid Cruise Ship Crowds In These Caribbean Destinations By Visiting The Best Alternate Spots

As the weather takes a turn from those chilly winter nights and the flurries outside your window start to give way to a spring breeze, it's hard to resist booking a warm-weather getaway in celebration of the spring season. Caribbean cruises have been popular for decades, allowing passengers to experience the best of the Americas' central tropical regions. With the combination of luxury service aboard the ship and the coastal ambiance that permeates the coastlines, sailing the Caribbean is one of the ultimate ways to experience these stunning palm trees and bright turquoise waters.

Convenience is a top reason to book a cruise and skip the stress of curating your own itinerary. However, there are some drawbacks to sailing from island to island alongside thousands of others. Upon docking at the port, it's not uncommon for crowds of passengers to pour out of the ship harbor and into the nearby villages, creating a chaotic mass that makes it hard to enjoy each island's authentic culture. Many Caribbean cruise lines follow similar routes, docking at the ports that can support the large size of the ships. This leads to the extreme popularity of only a handful of Caribbean gems, including Nassau, Cozumel, and San Juan. However, these tropical islands are also home to a select few areas that often go unnoticed by most travelers, making them the perfect spots to unwind without hectic tourist crowds. By making simple swaps, you can easily enjoy a crowd-free vacation in a Caribbean paradise!

Clifton Heritage National Park over downtown Nassau

Nassau is one of the most popular destinations along Caribbean cruise routes. As the tourist capital of the Bahamas, Nassau is anything but the casual and relaxed images often painted of this tropical haven. Tourist beacons, like Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, have become a coveted sensation in Nassau, fuelling the never-ending streak of visitors. The Bahamas is the fourth largest territory in the Caribbean, yet that doesn't stop mass crowds from pervading every corner of its market spaces and white-sand beaches.

That's not to say there isn't one place you can escape to if you want to bypass the crowded streets and umbrella-lined beaches. While most tourists stay on the east side of the island, there's a rugged coastal treasure to the west: Clifton Heritage National Park. This picturesque paradise contains a wealth of cultural heritage, visible from sea to shore. As one of the most stunning spots for water activities on the island, the park houses a thriving population of marine life. Visitors can also engage in the history of the Bahamas, including some of the most prominent groups that influenced the island's culture, like the Lucayans, Africans, and the Loyalists. Hiking and snorkeling are both popular activities in this park, particularly the Nuttall Coral Reef Sculpture Garden, which houses the largest underwater sculpture in the world. This park is one of the best secluded spaces to enjoy the Bahamas' picturesque scenery while basking in the warm tropical waters.

Southeastern Cozumel over western Cozumel

Cozumel is a trove of natural wonders, making it a popular favorite among Caribbean hot spots. Not one beach on this Mexican shoreline is less than picture-perfect, creating an abundance of spaces to spread out your beach towel and soak up the sunlight. Located on the eastern side of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Cozumel stretches an astounding 34 miles, making it Mexico's third-largest island. With a unique topography that supports a diversity of excursions, it's easy to find yourself lost in paradise on this island. Those with a wanderlust spirit will love the off-roading tours through the jungle, while ocean lovers can enjoy the pristine coral reefs just offshore. 

The eastern side of the island is where crowd-fearing visitors will want to spend most of their time, as many of the most popular cruise ship ports are located on Cozumel's western point. While the east may come across as underdeveloped compared to the west, it's an ideal spot to engage with the locals and gain an authentic perspective of Cozumel's culture without the stress of crowds. Nature enthusiasts will love Punta Sur Ecological Beach Park to the south of the island, a crowd-free nature reserve that's home to tropical flora and fauna, hidden lagoons, and less-crowded beaches located a short stroll from the park entrance. Beach bars and cantinas line the coast near the front of the park, offering beachcombers a relaxing treat after a day spent soaking in the sand and waves.

East Grand Cayman over George Town

Who hasn't dreamed of visiting Grand Cayman's iconic Seven Mile Beach? As the pinnacle of beauty and nightlife, Grand Cayman is undoubtedly the Cayman Islands' most coveted tourist destination. While popular hot spots like Stingray City, the vibrant village of George Town, and Camana Bay contribute to the ever-growing popularity of Grand Cayman, it also means an influx of tourists around the island. Seven Mile Beach is an iconic destination in Grand Cayman, yet not every stretch of sand on this sun-soaked promenade is covered in colorful beach towels and umbrellas. Upon docking at the Cayman Islands, heading to Cemetery Beach on the northern tip of Seven Mile Beach offers the best chance of finding peace and quiet while still embracing the beauty of this island jewel. Spotts Beach, just off of Shamrock Road towards the south, is another local favorite not far from Seven Mile Beach (17-minute drive), boasting clear waters and white powdery sand dunes. 

Keeping away from areas like George Town that tend to get congested with cruise ship passengers, Grand Cayman's eastern side offers a laid-back residential feel. Quiet side streets, local beach bars, and untamed beaches make this side of the island one of the best alternatives to the vibrant, crowded roads along Seven Mile Beach. While the east end is roughly an hour drive from Seven Mile Beach, it's worth the trek for the secluded beaches and local hot spot eateries, like Eagle Ray's Bar and Grill and Tukka East End. 

St. Martin over St. Maarten

St. Maarten has much more to offer than white sand beaches with a canopy of coconut palms hanging overhead — perhaps that's why it's an immensely popular docking point along Caribbean cruise ship routes. Dually governed by the French and Dutch governments, you'll be met by either a quirky and whimsical ambiance or one that's laid-back and secluded. St. Maarten is the first part of the island you'll experience, the Dutch-side that houses several buzzing shops, restaurants, and beaches. To avoid the crowds, however, escape to the northern French side of the island, known as St. Martin. This region is known for its reputation as a peaceful getaway, safe from the hustle and bustle that gives St. Maarten its vibrant appeal. 

Friar's Bay is a secret gem in St. Martin, boasting a laid-back ambiance, casual beach bars, and an endless stretch of golden sand dotted with coconut palms. 978 Beach Lounge capitalizes on the island's beloved Creole cuisine and is a great spot to grab a quick bite while replenishing your energy after hours in the waves. Bursting with French culture, this half of the island is known for its capital, Marigot, which contains a colorful display of classic European architecture, French cafés, and street food markets. Food tours and historical French ruins will keep you busy long after the ship's horn draws its passengers back toward the dock.

Luquillo over San Juan

The capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan is a treasure chest of vibrant culture, sparkling turquoise waters, and world-renowned cuisine. Given its lush, picturesque scenery and its UNESCO World Heritage Site — La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site — it's no surprise this city receives much attention from cruise ship lines. A mecca for the arts with regular cultural events, it's one of the most hectic areas to visit in the Caribbean. However, tucked away from the crowded urban ambiance is an idyllic day-trip destination known as Luquillo.

Located under an hour away from San Juan, on the northeast end of Puerto Rico, this vast, untamed stretch of wilderness will capture the heart of the adventurous. Commonly referred to as La Capital del Sol (the Sun's Capital), Luquillo contains over 12 miles of scenic coastline and the only designated U.S. national rainforest, El Yunque National Forest. Mountains, rivers, valleys, and beaches are all at the fingertips of travelers who venture beyond the typical tourist zones of San Juan. Ziplining, ATV off-roading tours, surfing, and hiking are just a few adventures awaiting in Luquillo. Beachside dining is also a large draw, with locals sharing their passion for native Puerto Rican fare with crowds from around the world. Of course, indulging in the leisure of an all-day beach session is never a wrong decision when visiting the white sands of Luquillo. Playa Fortuna, in particular, is every bit the local's beach, making it a quintessential escape while in Luquillo.