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At The Pier - Caribbean Insights

Where Cruise Ships Dock
(Caribbean Top 11 Ports)

By: Editor-in-Chief | Date: July 22, 2017

Costa Maya - Mexico

Many travelers on a cruise calling at Costa Maya choose to stay at the port terminal not realizing there is much more to see and do close by. In fact, because the area where the port is located is so sparsely populated (south border of the Mexican State of Quintana Roo with Belize) the port has developed an excellent terminal along the last decade, with great services, entertainment, bars, restaurants, and shopping. However, Costa Maya is one of the ports in the Western Caribbean itineraries that offers a great variety of experiences.

NAME Costa Maya

By The Terminal in Costa Maya

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Whatever you decide to do, all cruise travelers will have to pass by the terminal building. The entrance to the terminal is impossible to miss with its bright orange color at the end of a long pier. At a 90 degree angle to this pier is the primary docking pier where ships moor. Although the accesses pier to the terminal is long, the good news is that there is a free trolley for those with walking difficulties or not willing to walk, which is particularly convenient if cruising with young children. The pier trolley travels on a continuous loop but be prepared for a bit of a wait if 3 mega ships are in port, which only seldom happens.

As you get close to the entrance to the Terminal, you will see the Tour Dispatch area on your left and a 'late minute' tour desk to book an excursion if you haven't booked one already. Once inside the terminal, shops are the first thing you will come across.


Saint Kitts - Port Zante

St. Kitts Island and its port - Port Zante (as it is officially named) - has become in the last years one of the most popular and loved cruise port destinations in the Caribbean Eastern Itineraries.

Arrivals Hall Saint Kitts

Arrivals Hall Saint Kitts

Photo © IQCruising.com

Since 2005, when Port Zante started to be developed with a long pier, all major cruise lines have included St. Kitts in their itineraries. The construction of a new pier will be finished soon (early 2018) and the cruise lines that haven't yet called at St. Kitts will be visiting the island in the near future.

There are many reasons why St. Kitts has become such a successful cruise port in the Caribbean. One of them is the fact that Port Zante has a wonderful setting and has been very well developed - similar to the Historical Port in Falmouth, Porta Maya in Cozumel or Grand Turk. The proximity of the port to Basseterre (the Capital of St. Kitts) is another reason why so many cruise travelers love St. Kitts, specifically because it is safe, local population is very friendly and the city has a few interesting landmarks to explore on your own.

After disembarking the ship and walking the pier, the cruise traveler will enter the 'Arrivals Hall' building where a tourist information kiosk, restrooms, and tour dispatch are found - and boarding cards are controlled on the way back. The Arrivals Hall opens into a large square lined with the typical Duty-Free shops found all over the Caribbean cruise ports - Colombian Emeralds, Effy, Diamonds International that, surely, your onboard shopping guide will endlessly promote before arriving in Port.


Falmouth - Jamaica

When docking in Falmouth, the port area/terminal is one of the main attractions for the day and many a cruiser doesn't venture much farther or exit the port gates to explore the Old Town, which is easy to do on your own and, above all, safer than other Jamaican ports.

Trolley Tour Falmouth

Trolley Tour Falmouth

Photo © IQCruising.com

After a major redevelopment in 2011, the old docking area was officially renamed Historic Falmouth Cruise Port and is now a large retail shopping complex. The port has a triangular shape with two piers at an angle, the exit for both at one end and the exit to the town at the southern side. The area between the piers has a very nice ambiance with large squares, shaded arcades, shops (and more shops), a few places to enjoy a quick bite and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville with its typical bar, restaurant, pool, and shop. All these are housed in brick buildings designed in the style of British Georgian architecture that recreate the Colonial ambiance found in the Town just outside the gates.

A large part of this area of the Terminal is occupied by the shops that can be found in most Caribbean ports - the typical international brands, fine jewelry, designer boutiques, duty free shops, and gift shops like Diamonds International and Tanzanite, Breitling, Colombian Emeralds, Cariloha, Pirana Joe or Del Sol. The cruise traveler will also find a few local shops, kiosks and stalls with exclusively Jamaican souvenirs. You may find a few crafts in these shops but if you like genuine, handcrafted works, the best will be found at the Crafts Market (close by Margaritaville) or in Town.


Grand Turk

Unlike most ports in the Caribbean where ships dock close to a major town, in Grand Turk the cruise piers are next to a stunning beach. This is an invitation to spend the day basking in the sun, swimming, snorkeling and enjoying water activities. There are a few excursions to explore farther into the island - which is small (7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide) - and to enjoy activities like a 4x4 Safari, a Dune Buggy Safari, a Horseback Ride N' Swim, a Catamaran Sailing or a tour of Historic Homes, the Old Town and Museum.

Pier Grand Turk

Pier Grand Turk

Photo © IQCruising.com

There are a few excursions to explore farther into the island - which is small (7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide) - and to enjoy activities like a 4x4 Safari, a Dune Buggy Safari, a Horseback Ride N' Swim, a Catamaran Sailing or a tour of Historic Homes, the Old Town and Museum.

As the cruise traveler exists the pier, the entrance to the terminal aka Cruise Center is the only possible path; this wide open air area is dotted with excursions booths offering most of the possible tours and activities in Grand Turk - many can be booked online or onboard your cruise ship. The open area of the Terminal - known as Grand Turk Cruise Center - is surrounded by the inevitably ubiquitous shops to be found in all Caribbean: Dufry, Colombian Emeralds, Effy Jewelers, Diamonds International, Piranha Joes, Silver Emporium, Del Sol or Tanzanite International. But also by a few local souvenir shops and craft market.


Grand Cayman

George Town is the capital city of Grand Cayman and the port which all cruise ships visit. For those that have never been in this very popular cruise port, the cruise traveler should know that this is what is called a tender port: cruise ships will anchor in the large bay right in front of the city and then local boats will take passengers to one of the 3 piers/terminals right by the city.

Harbour View Grand Cayman

Harbour View, Grand Cayman

Photo © IQCruising.com

All these piers are within walking distance to the main attractions of George Town - Margaritaville, the Museum, all major Shops, and Restaurants. To explore Grand Cayman on your own, there are taxis right outside any of the Terminals and a Bus Station also at walking distance with services to all main destinations.

This is naturally the most affordable way to explore Grand Cayman. Although many a cruise traveler may feel uneasy with public buses, you shouldn't be as these are very well kept and a great way to travel around.

Central Bus Station in Georgetown Grand Cayman

Central Bus Station in Georgetown

Photo © IQCruising.com

The Central Bus Station in George Town is know as District Bus Depot and is loacted close to Heroes Square, the main landmark in the town. Buses are small vans but with air condition, clean, inexpensive and everyone is very friendly - in fact, you will find that many visitors to Grand Cayman use the Public Bus services. Buses to the Seven Mile Beach depart every 10 to 15 minutes and cost US$ 2.50 per person each way. Most top attractions are served by these public buses costing US$ 2.50 to Turtle Farm, Hell, Pedro Castle or Pirate Cave; to the Botanical Gardens ticket is $5.00 and $10.00 to Rum Point.


Saint Martin - Sint Maarten

Saint Martin or Sint Maarten (in Dutch) is one of the Editor’s favorite island in the Eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries for two main reasons - its natural beauty (clean beaches and paradisiacal climate) and the fact that it is very easy and safe to explore on your own.

Pier View Saint Martin

Pier View Saint Martin

Photo © IQCruising.com

The Island is divided into two areas – the northern side belonging to France and the southern part (more a less one-third) controlled by Holland as part of the Netherlands Antilles. Cruise ships dock at the A. Wathey Pier with six docking spots for large ships. This pier is fairly close to the Philipsburg – the Dutch capital.

Main Terminal Building in Saint Martin

Main Terminal Building in Saint Martin

Photo © IQCruising.com

Next to the piers, the cruise traveler will find a large open area with a number of buildings where all major services and amenities are offered - Tourism Information, Excursions and Tours, Wifi spots (not free), ATM, Taxis, Water Taxi, Stalls with souvenirs, a couple of shops with Duty Free Alcohol, Tobacco (both cigarettes and cigars), Chocolates, snacks and beverages; restrooms (suitable for disabled), and the typical shops the cruise traveler is expected to find in the Caribbean such as Little Switzerland, Diamonds International, Boolchands, Ballerina’s Jewelers or Effy. There are also a few nice shaded places to enjoy local drinks and flavors such as Sharky’s or Guavabery.

The A. Wathey Pier is close enough to Philipsburg if you like to walk (both safe and easy) - at a leisurely pace, it will take less than 15 minutes to reach the eastern (and nicer) side of Philipsburg. Along the way, there are a couple of places to stop if you feel like a refreshment – Chesterfield's waterfront restaurant and bar is IQCruising Editor's favorite – and also a small shop to buy Dutch delicacies and souvenirs (the cheese selection is impressive).

Water Taxi to Philipsburg

Water Taxi to Philipsburg

Photo © IQCruising.com

Most cruisers prefer to take a very convenient Water Taxi that will take you to the Captain Hodge Pier right in the middle of the Great Bay (and Beach) of Philipsburg and across the Wathey Square. The water taxi runs almost continuously, is a large boat and is reasonably priced - offering a single fare ($5.00) or a day pass ($7.00) that allows as many trips as you want. Because the difference in price is minimal, most cruisers end up using the Water Taxi for both ways.

Along the years, the Editor has found that the Water Taxi is in such demand when cruise ships dock in the morning that waiting in line can take quite some time and – insider’s tip – walking to town become the best choice, only using the water taxi to return to the Pier at the end of the day.

Taxi Dispatch Saint Martin

Taxi Dispatch

Photo © IQCruising.com

Behind the main building in the Wathey Pier (on the right when exiting the gates in the docking area), the cruise traveler will find a shaded taxi dispatch area with all major destinations on offer including Philipsburg ($3 per person each way) – this can be a good alternative to the water taxi or walking. It is also here that you will find the taxis to the major attractions of the Island – Orient Beach, Pinel Island, Dawn Beach, Marigot (the Capital of the French side), DIVI Little Bay, Mullet Bay (and the famous Maho beach next to the airport). If you plan to explore the island on your own and rent a car, Hertz together with local car rentals have their offices close to the taxi dispatch area.


Aruba - Oranjestad

Aruba is one of the most popular destinations in the south Caribbean itineraries. And there are very good reasons why this island is a love at first sight for most cruisers. Oranjestad – the capital and cruise port of Aruba – is a very neat city, clean, well kept and pretty well organized that from the moment you step out of the cruise ship embraces you with a sense of relaxed safety.

Panoramic View of Oranjestad Marina in Aruba

Oranjestad Marina, Aruba

Photo © IQCruising.com

The beaches of are both famous and spectacular; and very easy to enjoy on your own as public buses have stops next to the most popular beaches, and taxis are not the rip-off found in many other Caribbean ports.

Public Bus Oranjestad Aruba

Public Bus in Oranjestad, Aruba

Photo © IQCruising.com

The cruise ships dock at a Port that is literally next to downtown Oranjestad. Depending on how many ships are in port and where these are docked, the walk to the main street – Lloyd G. Smith Boulevard – may take anything between 5 and 10 minutes. As the cruise traveler reaches the entrance/exit gates of the port, the Bus Terminal is right in front – not only very conveniently located but with clear maps of the routes and bus fares to all major destinations (in particular the beaches).

If you are not much into spending a day at the beach or attracted by water activities, Oranjestad is a lovely city (really a small town) to explore on your own. Just turn right once you exit the port gates and you are in the city. Many a cruise traveler walk along the L.G. Smith Boulevard all the way to the Renaissance Marketplace and then back thinking that this is it.

Royal Plaza Oranjestad Aruba

Royal Plaza, Oranjestad, Aruba

Photo © IQCruising.com

Nice as this walk is with great high-end shopping and wonderful views of the bay and marina, you would be missing the best of the city. Havenstraat and Schelpstraat (followed by the Main Street) are the main streets to explore. These run parallel to the L.G. Smith Boulevard and you just need to turn inland to find them. Surely you will not miss any of these streets if you look out for the tram tracks or the tram itself which offers both transportation and sightseeing all the way to Plaza Nicky and back.

Streetcar in Oranjestad Aruba

Streetcar in Oranjestad in Aruba

Photo © IQCruising.com

In between these major streets, or very close by, the cruise traveler will find most of the landmarks and highlights of Oranjestad: the Archaeological Museum of Aruba, the Protestant Church, the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum, the City Hall, the Renaissance Mall & Marketplace, shopping and more shopping (reputed to be one of the best in the Caribbean as far as tax and Duty free goes); and very nice restaurants to taste local delicacies.

Insider’s Tip: The Editor has always preferred to start the walk around town on the inland streets of Oranjestad, return to the port along the Lloyd G. Smith Boulevard and stop midway for a quick bite with a fabulous view of the marina – The Paddock has been a favorite for many years.


Antigua - St. John's

At the pier in Antigua

The Cruise Pier Next to Heritage Quay

Photo © IQCruising.com

Because cruise ships dock at the Deepwater Harbour, on Heritage Quay, at no more than 5-minutes-walk from the piers to downtown St. John's, the landmarks, and attractions of Antigua's main city and capital are easy to reach on foot and on your own. Heritage Quay is itself an attraction for many a cruise traveler with over 30 prestigious duty-free shops, a food court, and a casino. For those that love shopping when cruising the Caribbean, this is one the places to exercise bargaining skills in outlets such as the ubiquitous Diamonds International, Tanzanite International or Colombian Emeralds but also others like the Body Shop, Sunglass Hut and Goldsmitty.

Nelson's Dockyard Museum Antigua

Nelson's Dockyard Museum, Antigua

Photo © IQCruising.com

Outside the Heritage and Redcliff Quays, you will find yourself in downtown St. John's - a small town with a charm of its own where locals go about their business and will not harssing visitors. At walking distance, the Anglican St. John's Cathedral is a must see as well as the small Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. But it is out of twon that the cruise travleler will find the manin attractions of Antigua. Besides the spectacular beaches like Hawksbill, Dickenson Bay, or Half Moon Bay, historical sites should be part of an excursion or your own: Nelson's Dockyard, Shirley Heights, Betty's Hope Plantation. You should consider either an excursion or hiring a taxi. The good news is that Taxis are reasonably priced and most drivers know the island pretty well and will be great guides.


Nassau

Cruise Ships dock in Nassau in one of three long piers right by the city - and Capital of The Bahamas. Sailing in (or away) is an impressive spectacle not to be missed.

The piers are parallel to the shoreline with docking spots for 4 to 8 cruise ships (depending on the size) and as you can see on the map below even the farthest docking spot is very close to downtown Nassau and its main attractions. In fact, unless the cruise traveler wants to explore Paradise Island and Atlantis, most attractions in town are within walking distance.

Image with Map of the Port of Nassau

The distance between the farthest pier and the Terminal is around 300 meters. But, for those with walking difficulties, there is a shuttle that will transport you to the Terminal building - aka Festival Place. The cruise travelers will not find any sort of amenities at the piers as all sorts of services will be found at the terminal building - tourist information desk, restrooms, ATM, Post Office, shops and so on.

Festival Palace Terminal in Nassau

Festival Palace Terminal in Nassau

Photo © IQCruising.com

Officially named as Prince George Wharf, the cruise ship terminal of the Harbor in Nassau is really known as Festival Place and has been under renovation works for some time. In one word, it is has been a hassle to go trough the terminal and Be Aware: the cruise ship passenger is required to have both the ship card and one photo ID to re-enter the pier.

Downtown Nassau is just outside the gated area of the Terminal and regardless of the exit gate the cruise ship passenger will come into a busy street - Woodes Roger Walk - which many a first-time cruise may think is the main street of Nassau. Do not be fooled, the main street - Bays Street - is parallel to the one by the harbor. To read a full review of the Cruise Terminal in Nassau, what's at the pier and close by click the link below.

 

St. Thomas, USVI.

Cruise ships dock in two docks relatively close to Charlotte Amalie (the main city and capital of St. Thomas). However, with 3 docking spots in the Havensight Cruise Ship Dock and another 2 docking spots in the Crown Bay Cruise Ship Dock, it happens quite frequently that cruise ships calling at St. Thomas will have to anchor in the bay and tender passengers to a pier right by the waterfront in Charlotte Amalie.

Tender Pier in Charlotte Ammalie

Tender Pier in Charlotte Ammalie

Photo © IQCruising.com

As much as the Editor would like to provide a list of what ships dock and where, and the ships that have to tender, the reality is that cruise lines cannot guarantee a specific docking spot. With the exception of Mega-Ships like the Royal Caribbean's Oasis class, which dock at the Crown Bay, all other ships will only be assigned a docking harbor on the morning of arrival. Although cruise ship passengers find tendering a bit of an inconvenience, if you are planning to explore Charlotte Amalie a tender boat can be a pleasant and easy way to get to town. To learn more and read a full review of tendering in St. Thomas click the link below.

As already mentioned, Crown Bay is the dock where mega-ships will be mooring but this doesn't mean that smaller ships will not dock here. The cruise traveler will find just outside the pier a number of buildings with all basic amenities and services - tourist information office, ATM, restrooms, convenience stores, Taxi dispatch, a Wi-Fi spot and, inevitably, lots of shops.

Photo of Crown Bay Dock St. Thomas Cruise Port

Crown Bay Dock St. Thomas Cruise Port

Photo © IQCruising.com

If your cruise ship docks at the Crown Bay, walking to Charlotte Amalie is quite a stretch (over 2 miles) and not particularly pleasant until you get close to town. The best way to get anywhere - including downtown - is by taxi. To Learn more and read the full review of the Crown Bay Dock click the link below.

The Havensight Cruise Ship Dock is the larger than Crown Bay and closer to Charlotte Amalie. It is a long dock - close to 3/4 of a mile long and the pier is bordered by a shopping mall where all amenities and services can be found, including a couple of very nice restaurants and a large number of shops. Just outside the port, the cruise traveler will find the sky ride aerial tramway to Paradise Point with great views of St. Thomas and the Butterfly Farm. Walking to town is easy and can be very pleasant if you take the route trough the Yacht Haven Marina. To learn more and read the full review of the Havensight Dock click the link below.


Cozumel, Mexico

Around 11 miles off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula and right across Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is the largest island in Mexico and the most popular cruise ship port in the Caribbean

Main Street in Cozumel

Main Street, Cozumel

Photo © IQCruising.com

There are good reasons why Cozumel is such a popular cruise port. To start with, the tropical weather is just fabulous and very reliable with 80°F (27° C) average annual temperature. But its main attraction is the unmatched clarity of the ocean waters that surround the island. To learn more and read the full review of Cozumel Basics click the link below.

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St. Thomas Reviews

Overview

Panoramic Photo of St. Thomas, USVI

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St. Thomas is one of the most visited islands in the Caribbean, known for its sugar-white sand beaches, great activities, interesting historical landmarks in Charlotte Amalie and praised amongst savvy cruisers as a Shoppers Paradise.


Editor's Picks

Photo of Magens Bay St. Thomas, USVI

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Beaches

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Excursions

Photo of Zip Line St. Thomas, USVI

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Landmarks

Photo of 99 Steps St. Thomas, USVI

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Shopping

Photo of Main Street Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, USVI

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The Best shops in Charlotte Amalie ...

Restaurants

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Top places for a Quick Bite or Lunch ...

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