Nowhere on earth says paradise more than the South Pacific, an area of over 8 million square kilometres with over 7,500 islands. Over 500 of these islands are populated and home to a diverse range of cultures and ecologies but, most famously of all, are the white sand and palm trees of countries such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa and the Marshall Islands. Cruising is a particularly good way to see this region due to the short distance between islands and high cost of staying on land. This gives you the opportunity to see a range of Pacific Islander cultures and geographies without breaking the bank.
The South Pacific is divided into three inhabited regions, namely Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Most cruise trips will stay within one or two of these three regions so it is worth knowing the differences between them before you have to choose. Polynesia is home mostly to volcanic islands such as Hawaii, Tonga and Samoa and parts of it still bear the influence of French rule.
Melanesia includes Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and the culture of these Melanesian nations bears little relation to that of Polynesia. Fijian mats and tapa cloth are amongst the crafts that are practised here and nowhere else. Micronesia, meanwhile, is named after the fact that the islands are mostly tiny. The most popular island for tourists to Micronesia is Guam, an American possession with many opportunities to spend your dollars in American stores like K-Mart.
Most Popular Shore Excursions
Find What Inspired Paul Gauguin in Tahiti
The famous French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin created much of his best work on Tahitian subjects and spent a great deal of time on the island, attempting to escape the artifice and conventionality of Europe. On the island you can find the Paul Gauguin Museum as well as many examples of unspoilt nature including beaches and mountainous jungles.
Feed the Sharks in Bora Bora
Bora Bora is an overseas collectivity of France and famous for having some of the best shark and manta ray feeding opportunities in Polynesia. Less adventurous tourists could try an Aqua Safari Helmet Dive which involves walking around on the floor of one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons with a large diving helmet on. This means you get many of the benefits of diving but without needing any experience with SCUBA equipment.
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Hindu Temples and Muslim Mosques in Nadi, Fiji
Nadi is Fiji’s third largest conurbation and home to a large Indo-Fijian population. The area is, as such, a unique cultural fusion of the two and the most important landmark in the town is the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple. The building itself is extremely colourful and provides an excellent photo opportunity within what is all round a charming city.
See the 6-feet Long Eels on Huahine
Regarded as sacred by the local people, one of the more popular attractions are the magnificent 6-foot long eels that you can see from a bridge in Huahine. It’s possible to feed the eels yourself with mackerel which provides excellent photo opportunities. Another important tourist site is the Fa’ahia archaeological site which preserves many fossils of now-extinct bird species from the local area.
Without a doubt, the Eastern Caribbean is the most popular part of the most popular cruising region in the world. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a cruise line which does not offer any itinerary in the area. But what’s the reason for this popularity? Of course, like many other parts of the Caribbean (and the world) there is the sun, sea and sand that many cruise lovers expect.
The extra something, however, is the way it has been developed – it’s the luxurious resort hotels, high-end duty-free shopping and a small army of well-trained tour guides to take you around all of the historic sites. The thing that makes a trip to the Eastern Caribbean unforgettable is the fact that a whole industry has sprung up to satisfy your every need over the course of your stay.
The area is home to the Lesser Antilles which include independent island nations like Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad & Tobago as well as a number of territories of the UK, France and the Netherlands. It’s possible to tailor your cruise to take in as much or as little of this as you want to see with cruise deals of every known length available through the various providers, from weekend breaks to 14 days and above.
Where do these cruises typically depart from?
The most popular ports of departure are Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, convenient for those who will need to take a plane to a port as well as pleasant, sunny places to visit in themselves. However, there are also plenty of ports along the east coast which depart for the Eastern Caribbean including three in New York: Manhattan, Cape Liberty and Red Hook. Those travelling from Europe needn’t necessarily fly out, either, with cruises departing from many ports in the UK and on the continent.
Which are the most popular ports in this region?
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
With some of the best duty-free shopping in the Caribbean it is perhaps no wonder that St. Thomas is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. The great majority of Eastern Caribbean cruises will call here and the island’s tourist industry is highly developed. Magens Beach, near the port, is also one of the most famous in the Caribbean with a long stretch of white sand and a history which allegedly involves Sir Francis Drake.
This one is getting more popular all the time and the shopping opportunities are always expanding. The island skyline is perforated by picturesque mountains and the beaches, as with all of these countries, are more than worth a visit. One of the benefits of travelling to St Maarten is that the Dutch territory of St Maarten and the French territory of Saint Martin co-exist on the same island in a curious melange of European cultures. Famously, the French side also has a couple of nudist beaches for the more adventurous cruisers.
Nassau is the capital and largest city in the Bahamas and it is notable for its mix of British colonial and West African influences as well as enormous Vegas-style casinos and world-famous resort hotels. The area is also surrounded by wildlife including dolphins, swordfish and flying fish. It’s pretty close to the coast of Florida and is likely to be your first port of call on many Eastern Caribbean cruises.
When is the high season in the Eastern Caribbean?
High season is from December to April which means many people will take a cruise in the region to flee winter in their home country. The less popular, and cheaper, time to travel is the rest of the year when it is slightly warmer and there are occasional storms or hurricanes. If you’re prepared to take the risk, however, you could stand to save a huge amount on the cost of your cruise overall and due to the proximity of the region to the equator the heat difference is not actually all that pronounced.