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Get the most out of your Caribbean Cruise

Whether it is your first Caribbean cruise or your tenth, there is always something to discover and new experiences to add to your travel journal.

Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of your Caribbean cruise, whether you're a novice or an experienced cruiser.

By Maeghan Killeen

Get the most for your money

When traveling to the Caribbean, the spring and fall seasons are the cheapest times to book a tour. In the fall there is a possibility of the Atlantic hurricane season interrupting or canceling your trip, but this time of year you'll find the best prices as well.

If you book your trip more than six months in advance, keep watching the prices listed online. If they fall below what you originally paid, you can usually contact your cruise line and get them to match the price. This way, no matter when they hand out the discounts you can be sure to get them.

Explore the entire ship

Every cruise line and each ship within its line is different. For example, soda cards are a popular amenity on most cruise ships, but Princess Cruises also offers coffee cards and ice cream cards for those who make multiple purchases.

Princess Cruises also debuted the Crown Princess ship in June 2006, which features "The Sanctuary" - an adults-only area featuring plush lounge chairs, signature beverages, massages, relaxing personal entertainment, "serenity stewards" and a special menu.

Disney lines have "hidden Mickeys" (Mickey Mouse head shapes) in architecture and interior design features all over the ship, which can provide a fun scavenger hunt for children and adults.

Reservations-only supper clubs on Carnival's eight Spirit- and Conquest-class ships offer elegant interiors and an intimate atmosphere for a different dining experience than the regular daily seating.

Have your cake and crème brulee too

Speaking of dining, one of the most enjoyable parts of any cruise is the food. Your Caribbean vacation is the perfect time to try new flavors and expand your palette. The servers are always ready to recommend their favorite dishes or bring you a second serving of lobster or steak. This is the one time when asking for "one of everything" on the dessert menu is a request happily fulfilled.

In addition, if you're hungry for a late-night snack, or you're just feeling lazy and don't want to leave the cabin, room service is complimentary on most ships.

Forget the t-shirts and beach towels

When shopping for souvenirs to take home for yourself or a friend, unique gifts are always the best way to go. Instead of the standard screen print shirt that will sit at the back of a closet and never get worn, opt for a hand-made craft from a local salesman at the open market or splurge on designer jewelry. (Remember, it's tax-free!)

"In St. Thomas I bought some gemstones to bring home and have put in a custom setting as a mother's ring. In Nassau, I purchased a hand made cigar box purse from the Straw Market," said Stacey Welsh, a two-time cruiser from Dubuque, IA. "We also purchase an ornament for our Christmas tree from every port."

And make sure you get a good deal

Don't be afraid to shop around or haggle. What's priced at $20 in a shop right next to the pier may cost you $5 or less in the market a couple of blocks away. And the local residents in the market are used to negotiating prices, especially if the day is slow and you buy more than one item.

Some cruise lines allow passengers to have wine for personal consumption in their rooms. Other lines will store and serve it to your table at dinner for a corkage fee. Ephraim Dickstein, a travel blogger in Montreal, Quebec, offered this tip when shopping for alcohol on shore:

"Many Caribbean ports don't have alcohol taxes (an exception is Barbados). You don't need a ‘duty-free' store to purchase alcohol. Often, the local supermarket prices will be lower. For example, you can purchase a magnum of table wine and 750ml of Vodka for less than $10 at the supermarket in Antigua."

Stay healthy

If you don't know whether you're prone to seasickness, make sure you have a small supply of over-the counter Dramamine. But be sure to get the "non-drowsy" version unless you want to sleep through most of the trip.

While on a cruise, remember to wash or sanitize your hands often, and especially before meals. Ships are known to be carriers of norovirus, which can cause all sorts of unpleasant stomach symptoms.

"At the buffet, I sanitize my hands before I take food and then again after. Why? Because you don't know if the others sanitized their hands," said Dickstein.

Book your activities early…

When choosing your ship and shore activities, try to reserve your spot as early as possible. Popular attractions fill up fast and may leave you with limited choices.

"Guests are able to book shore excursions online once their cruise reservation is made, so to ensure they obtain the tour of their choice, we recommend this option. Otherwise, we recommend they book the shore tours as soon as they get on board," said Aly Bello-Cabreriza of Carnival Cruise Lines.

The same goes for any reservations-only dining facilities on a ship. For activities without a reservation list, make sure you show up at the appropriate place as early as possible to ensure you get the seat you desire with the best view.

But do your research first

Before you sign up for any on-shore activities, make sure you do a little research of the ports of call on your own. Search for events and local activities that interest you. The ship-sponsored activities are usually geared toward a general audience, so you may be able to find something more closely aligned with your interests looking outside the cruise line options.

For example, the Bahamas offers a variety of outdoor activities including kayaking, sailing tours, fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling.

However, make sure you book with a reputable business (online reviews would be a good resource) and remember that ports could be canceled, so if you book your activity privately you may not get a refund.

Finally, remember to participate as much as possible! Your cruise is only as memorable as you make it and the more you join in with ship and shore activities, the more you'll have to talk about when you return home.

Cruises by Island:

Anguilla
Antigua
Aruba
Bahamas
Barbados
Bermuda
Cayman Islands
Curacao
Dominican Republic
Grenada
 Grenadines
Jamaica
Mexico
Puerto Rico
St. Barts
St. Croix
St. John
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
 St. Maarten
St. Martin
St. Thomas
Tobago
Tortola
Turks & Caicos
Virgin Gorda


Ships and Reviews

Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest Built in 2000 and refurbished in 2007, the Journey and the Quest can each accommodate 694 passengers on nine decks... more




Anguilla
Antigua
Aruba
Bahamas
Barbados
Bermuda
Cayman
Curacao
Dominican Republic
Grenada
Grenadines
Jamaica
Mexico
Puerto Rico
St. Barts
St. Croix
St. John
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Maarten
St. Martin
St. Thomas
Tobago
Tortola
Turks & Caicos
Virgin Gorda