Source: Data adapted from Cruise Market Watch.
The Caribbean is the world’s largest cruise shipping market, representing over 40% of the annual cruise supply. It serves as an ideal cruising destination for the following reasons:
- Geography. The Caribbean is mostly a chain of islands (archipelago) in close proximity implying short cruising distances between ports of call. The climate is subtropical with limited temperature fluctuations, albeit the hurricane season (August to October) can create some disruptions. There is a variety of landscapes ranging from rain forests to semi-arid conditions as well as the presence of coral and volcanic islands.
- Historical and cultural. The region has a long history associated with European colonialism and accounts for the oldest settlements in the Americas. African, Hispanic, English, French, and Dutch influences are prevalent, conferring a very diversified cultural landscape that often changes completely from one island to another. Therefore, the cruise industry can offer its customers a variety of cultural experiences in close proximity.
- Commercial. Being adjacent to the United States offers a large market of potential tourists able to afford cruise packages without having to travel far to start a cruising itinerary.
Most Caribbean cruises call from the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Port Canaveral cruise ports cluster that acts as the main turn (hub) ports. All are near major airports well connected to the rest of the United States and major touristic destinations in their own right. New York is also a significant hub port, but its distance limits its Caribbean ports of call options; Kings Wharf (Bermuda) represents a common port call for New York-bound Caribbean itineraries. Galveston and New Orleans have emerged as turn ports for cruises calling the Western Caribbean market. Itineraries using San Juan, Puerto Rico, as a hub port have the advantage of being able to effectively cover the Southern Caribbean market, the furthest from the United States.
The typical Caribbean itinerary is about 7 nights of duration, covering a sub-region of the Caribbean comprising 3 or 4 ports of call. Cruise ships commonly arrive at the port of call early in the morning and leave in the evening, using the night to sail to the next port of call. Ships are constantly moving between ports of call, and shore leaves are of low duration, 4.3 hours on average in the Caribbean. To take advantage of a location that does not have sufficient infrastructure to accommodate cruise operations, several cruise shipping companies developed private cruise terminals, including related private touristic amenities (beaches, craft markets, restaurants, etc.). A salient example is Labadee in Haiti, which is privately owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises. The facility is an enclave protected by private security forces and acts as a port of call for most of the company’s Western Caribbean itineraries since the nearby Windward Passage is the main gateway to the region.
Another important type of itinerary concerns cruises of 3 to 5 nights in duration that will call 2 or 3 ports in the Bahamas. It caters to a mass market of tourists wishing to take a short, low-cost cruise, often using the largest ships in the fleet, commonly combined with a longer vacation (in Florida). This market is also very appealing for cruise lines since it concerns very short distances and therefore low fuel consumption, maximizing the use of their ship assets. To take advantage of this market opportunity, every major cruise line has established private resort facilities in the Bahamas, such as Cococay (Royal Caribbean), Half Moon Cay (Holland), Castaway Cay (Disney), Princess Cay (Princess), and Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian). An example of a combination cruise/resort concerns Disney Cruise Line, which calls from Port Canaveral and offers 4 to 5 nights cruises to the Bahamas (Nassau and Castaway Cay). This cruise can be taken in combination with a vacation package at Disneyland Resort in Orlando, which is just 100 km inland of Port Canaveral.