Chichen Itza, Mexico, El Castillo
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Chichen Itza's El Castillo iStock.com / VICTOR PELAEZ TORRES
Cancun, Mexico, Beach Palapas
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Cancun iStock.com / byronwmoore
Western Caribbean, Frozen margaritas
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Margaritas in Mexico iStock.com / Cameron Whitman
Stingray City, Cayman Islands, stingrays
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Stingray City in Grand Cayman iStock.com / DurdenImages
Mexico, maracas
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Maracas at a Mexican Market iStock.com / thenewts
Chichen Itza, Mexico, Temple of the Warriors
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Chichen Itza's Temple of the Warriors iStock.com / MaFelipe
Jamaica, Ocho Rios
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Ocho Rios iStock.com / fallbrook

Western Caribbean

Tulum, Mexico Tulum iStock.com / ArturoLavin

The biggest ships tend to ply this route, where the islands are farther apart and the big vessels can move faster. Yes, these ports are big and bustling, but they have culture too. This route provides the tastes of Mexico and Jamaica, plus natural treasures as well, from Belize’s coral reefs to Grand Cayman’s excellent diving. Western Caribbean cruises sail round trip from ports in Florida and Texas, and a few beat this path from New Orleans and Puerto Rico.

What We Love

Natural Beauty: Belize’s coral reefs are an excellent place to snorkel and dive, while river tubing and rafting through Jamaica’s lush jungles are must-do excursions for the adventurous.

Water Parks: Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula has several water parks — including Xcaret, Xel-Ha, The Secret River, Hidden Worlds Adventure Park, and Paradise Lagoon — that capitalize on the region’s ancient underwater caves. Come for tubing and swimming along scenic waterways and lagoons, but the biggest thrill is exploring the underground pools, called cenotes.

Best Known For

Mayan Ruins: The seaside ruins of Tulum, which are set high on a rocky bluff above the surf, are stunning. Farther inland, the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza has a massive, pyramid-shaped temple at its core.

Mexican Food: From enchiladas to margaritas, you can savor the flavors of Mexico in the ports of Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun.

Stingray City: Yes, it’s crowded with lots of other cruise ship passengers, but this Grand Cayman hot spot is a bucket list must. Hop in the shallow waters of a barrier reef to watch, feed, and pet the hundreds of tame stingrays that swarm around visitors.

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Best Ports

Jamaica: The natural beauty of the jungles and rivers, coupled with the distinctive Jamaican attitude, makes this island an interesting place to spend the day. Look for local reggae music, dreadlocked Rastas, and local dishes, such as jerk chicken and curried beef patties.

Cuba: Some cruise lines, including Carnival, have been granted permission to call on Cuba from the U.S. under the auspices of offering a cultural exchange experience. And there sure is a lot of pent up culture in a country that's been virtually closed from the world for decades. From 16th-century Spanish and French colonial architecture to national parks, you'll find a total of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

Join the Crowds: Multiple mega cruise ships often visit Jamaica's ports — and Cozumel's — at the same time. That means you could spend the day milling around town with 20,000 other cruisers. You’ll either find it exciting ... or, more likely, overwhelming, at least at first.

Anticipate Choppy Waters: If your ship docks at the island of Cozumel and you want to head to Playa del Carmen on the mainland to see the sights, the 45-minute ferry ride is often quiet choppy and problematic for anyone who suffers from motion sickness.

Heidi Sarna

Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.

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