One great thing about a Caribbean cruise is that it is a vacation that provides entertainment for both adults and children alike. Many ships have a kid’s club, which will entertain the pint-sized passengers while parents get some alone time to explore the ship’s lounges and pools – many ships even have adult-only areas.
Onshore, however, there isn’t an easy divide of activities to separately entertain kids and adults. Kids are probably going to get bored shopping in markets and parents don’t want to spend the day making sure their kids have adequate entertainment at the expense of their own fun. That’s where a well-planned shore excursion can be a saving grace.
Shore excursions are tours and activities that are offered while in port during a cruise that make the day easier by providing transportation to and from the ship as well as guaranteeing you will be back before the ship departs.
The tropical terrain of the islands of the Caribbean makes it well-suited for a day of adventure. There are plenty of activities that will suit rambunctious kids but are still adventurous enough to thrill adults. While some adventures, such as scuba diving with sharks or white water rafting may be a bit too raucous for younger kids, there are plenty of shore excursions that will still put you on edge with excitement, whether you’re five or 35.
A popular adventure excursion in the Caribbean is ziplining. This activity involves strapping yourself to a rope and careening across the sky high above the trees – and the far below ground. You and the fam’ will be decked out in harnesses and helmets, which not only make for some good photo ops, but will also account for some extra fearlessness as you slide fast down the rope. Many Caribbean islands offer some form of ziplining over the tree canopies. If you have several stops on your cruise that provide this option, Jamaica is a popular pick due to its acres of rainforest.
Kids not old enough for ziplining? Try a shore excursion to Mystic Mountain in Jamaica, which also has chairlifts that will take you over the trees, but still offers a zipline for the adventurously able.
Cruise Ship Tip: Want to do more ziplining than what’s on land? Take a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas – both which sail Caribbean itineraries. These two ships – the largest at sea – have a zipline onboard on which you’ll sail through the air over the deck with a wide ocean view around you.
If heights aren’t your thing, off-roading in a Jeep will give you the same stomach-in-your-throat thrills. Hold on tight and get ready for a ride that’s more bumping and zigzagging than the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. Kids will love the rule-breaking feeling they get from careening around trails and trees in an automobile while adults will relish the fresh air and freeing feeling that comes from the wind whipping through the jeep. Top it off with amazing scenery and opportunities to see some Caribbean wildlife and you won’t need to worry about having to head back to the ship without some great stories to brag about to your fellow passengers.
Swashbuckling at Sea
Any kid who has seen Johnny Depp wave his sword and slur in pirate speak knows that being a pirate is the gateway to a great adventure, especially around the islands of the Caribbean. Pirates used to roam these waters and their history is still imprinted on many of the islands.
Visitors to St. Maarten can get a taste of pirate life by going on a pirate cruise. Yes, you will have just gotten off a cruise ship, but this won’t be any ordinary cruise. The boat is shaped like a pirate ship, complete with white sails billowing above. You’ll get a taste for what it was like to be a pirate all those years ago, plus get the chance to do some swimming and snorkeling in the ocean. Adults will enjoy the history and sailing around the turquoise waters of the sea. And kids…well, kids will simply enjoy the opportunity to be a pirate for the day.
Love to swim? You could stay on the cruise ship while it’s in port and use the same swimming pool you’ll use throughout the trip…or you could take advantage of your day in port and swim in the ocean or in a huge, interactive water park.
If ocean life in its most natural habitat is exciting to you and your kids, try a snorkeling and beach combo shore excursion. This type of excursion will pick you up from your cruise ship, outfit you with snorkeling gear and deposit you at a prime snorkeling spot. See some of the Caribbean’s colorful fish, plus the possibility to see a sea turtle or reef shark.
Many snorkeling shore excursions also offer some beach time to be able to rest and spend the remainder of the day lounging in the sun or playing in the surf. If you haven’t encountered the waters of the Caribbean before, be prepared to be amazed at how warm the water is – you and your family may find you never want to get out. Ports of call in the British Virgin Islands – which include Caribbean island favorites St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John – are a great place to snorkel due to their many coral reefs and underground walls teeming with sea life.
If, on the other hand, you and the family can live without the open water, but still want to interact with animals and get some adrenaline-pumping action in, spend your day at one of the marine parks in the Caribbean. Atlantis in the Bahamas is the most famous option with its monstrous waterslides including tube ones that go through a pool of sharks. Another option is Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas, which doesn’t have waterslides, but does offer opportunities to pet sharks, observe sea life in the ocean through a state of the art viewing station and hold starfish. Plus, for a more action packed day, you can meet sea lions or go for a Snuba swim – a mix between scuba diving and snorkeling that allows you to get closer to the bottom of the ocean while still being safely connected to the surface.
Cruise Ship Tip: Some of the newest cruise ships have water parks onboard. Check out Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic, which sails the Caribbean and has the first waterslide at sea that lets you go down on an inner tube. The Dream Class from Carnival, which includes the Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic – both which sail year-round to the Caribbean – have an expansive water park onboard which includes a 300-foot corkscrew waterslide.
The Caribbean offers many opportunities for families to get up close and personal with some inhabitants of the area, namely those who live in the sea. Make sure you don’t leave your Caribbean vacation without giving a sea creature a kiss or a hug.
Stingrays are elegant sea animals that glide through the water so gracefully it’s as if they’re flying. Stingrays are smooth to the touch and are friendly, which is surprising to most people since they have a stinging barb on the end of their tail. With proper instructions, however, swimming with stingrays is a safe and memorable activity.
Stingray City in Grand Cayman is one of the most popular places to interact with these creatures. Located a short boat ride off the coast of Grand Cayman, an array of connecting sandbars have become home to a multitude of stingrays. If getting in the water doesn’t seem the right fit for your family, there are also glass-bottom boats that go to Stingray City that still let you see the stingrays close up.
Who doesn’t love dolphins? Who hates going to the zoo or SeaWorld only to never get to actually touch the creatures – because they always seem to be on the other side of the tank from where you are? Give your kids a memory to last a lifetime by swimming with dolphins while in the Caribbean.
Choose a reputable place that puts the focus on the dolphins’ well-being first and foremost, such as at Ocean World in the Dominican Republic. You’ll be in the water with the dolphins, where you’ll get the chance to hug them and swim right alongside them. So unless you don’t like dolphins (and let’s be honest, have you ever met anyone who doesn’t?), this will be a memorable excursion for adults and kids alike.
Getting to the Caribbean
In order to do all of these fun shore excursions, you have to actually board a ship first. Some of the most popular cruise lines for families offer year round sailings to the Caribbean, sailing from easy-to-get-to departure ports such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami in Florida or Galveston in Texas. Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line all put a focus on kids while onboard with a multitude of entertainment options. But they also don’t forget the adults. Most ships have adult-only areas plus baby-sitting services so parents can enjoy a night out at one of the specialty restaurants onboard. Short 3-day itineraries plus multiple-week itineraries to the Caribbean are available, with several sailings that go to the abov-mentioned ports plus many more.
- Gina Douglas