Probably the most popular cruise itinerary for North American vacationers is the Eastern Caribbean. All the major cruise lines run a seven night cruise out of South Florida that is fairly inexpensive and goes to ‘safe’ islands where English is widely spoken and the U.S. Dollar is the currency of choice.
Princess Cruise Lines will have the Crown Princess and the Royal Princess running this itinerary in the fall and winter of 2013-2014. The ships will run roughly the same course with Ft. Lauderdale (Port Everglades), Florida as their home port. Each cruise has standard ports of call in the Bahamas, Sint Maarten, U.S. Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos.
Princess Cays, Bahamas
Princess Cays is advertised as a private island owned by Princess Cruise Lines. In fact, it is a private beach at the southern tip of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Eleuthera is a 110 mile long island that basically runs in a thin strip from north to south. There is no dock here capable of holding a large ship. The cruise ships drop anchor a distance out in the ocean and shuttle passengers back and forth in tenders.
The beach acts as a chance to get acclimatised to the tropical weather. There is no population. There is no culture. There is a simply a beach with the usual shops. Really, this is just an extension of the State of Florida. Other than a Bahamas flag flying at the dock area.
Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
Philipsburg is the capital of the Constituent Country of Sint Maarten under the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Previous to 2010, it was known as the Island Territory of Sint Maarten. The population of Philipsburg is just 1,338. It is the main town on the island of Saint Martin. Half of Saint Martin is Dutch while the other half is under French rule. Columbus made his landing on the island in 1493.
The town is touted as a shopping mecca. Booze, electronics and jewelry are some of the popular items that people look for in Philipsburg. On the main beach, bars and restaurants abound with drinks much cheaper than on board the ship. The water is quite warm and comfortable to swim in but a bit silty, perhaps because it is directly adjacent to the harbour.
It’s worth the time to take a cab to Maho Beach, home of the world famous Princess Juliana International Airport. Even if you have no interest in watching airplanes land, this is the beach where jets as large as Boeing 747s land just a few feet above the beach.
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands
Charlotte Amalie is a city on St. Thomas Harbour on St. Thomas Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is the capital and largest town of the U.S. Territory with a population of near 19,000. Once again, shopping is a big deal here.
St. Thomas is known for Magens Bay Beach. Those on St. Thomas claim that Magens Bay is one of the top ten beaches in the world. It may have voted that in some poll, years ago but it is not now. However, this is still a great location. The beach is at the end of a squared off bay that is closed off from the ocean by a barren island, ensuring calm and clear waters. The beach is limited in length and can be nearly overcrowded, depending on the number of cruise ships docked on the island.
Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos
Grand Turk is the largest island in the Turks archipelago, which is actually a geographical extension of the Bahamas. The population of the island is 3,720, 3,700 of which live in Cockburn Town. The total population of Turks and Caicos is around 47,000 with the largest city being Providenciales at a population of around 27,000.
Grand Turk is small enough that the ocean can be seen on the opposite side from the 16th deck of any Princess Grand Class ship. Visitors to the island are typically going for the waters around Grand Turk as opposed to the actual island. SCUBA diving is excellent. For passengers of the cruise ship, this is the best opportunity for snorkeling within walking distance of the boat.
Grand Turk is also home to a Margaritaville Restaurant and Resort. The Jimmy Buffett owned and themed resort is just steps from the dock and features a sprawling open air restaurant with a large, intricate swimming pool.
The Crown is a Princess Grand Class ship with two sisters, the Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess which are nearly identical. The Crown has been in service since 2006. She consists of 19 decks and has a capacity for 3,080 passengers and 1,200 crew members. The boat is 290 metres long or about 950 feet.
This is the brand new headliner for Princess with her maiden voyage scheduled to take place in June, 2013. The Royal is the first of two Royal Class ships. The Regal is expected to come into service some time in 2014. The Royal is the longest of the Princess fleet at 330 metres or 1,083 feet. She also has the greatest capacity for passengers at 3,600.