Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: the Caribbean

Sarah taking in the architecture around San Juan © Sarah Reid

Sarah Reid, Destination Editor at Lonely Planet, recently returned from her first-ever Caribbean cruise.

Tell us more… My fiancée and I thought it might be fun to escape the European winter in favour of a more tropical festive break and where better than balmy Puerto Rico. San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, is a major cruise port, so while we were over there it felt like the perfect opportunity to sample our first-ever cruise.

In a nutshell…We acclimatised for one night in San Juan before embarking on a seven-day Christmas cruise. We cruised between St Thomas (US Virgin Islands), St Kitts & Nevis, Aruba and Curaçao before disembarking in San Juan to explore the city and its surrounds for an additional week over the New Year.

Defining moment? Waking up each morning in a new country as the ship pulled into a different port was quite surreal. Our suite was at the back of the ship, which offered some great views of each port, and sunrises/sunsets from the balcony.

A magical sunset in St. Thomas from Sarah's balcony © Sarah Reid A magical sunset in St. Thomas from Sarah's balcony © Sarah Reid

So, learn anything new? As typically more of a DIY kind of traveller, I’ve traditionally turned my nose up at the idea of being somewhat spoon-fed on a cruise. After taking the plunge, however, I can’t deny that it is a brilliant way to get a taste of the Caribbean, as it’s not particularly easy or affordable to travel around this region by other means. Getting to explore some of the smaller island nations was especially enjoyable. The ease of rolling off the ship each day into a new country without having to go through passport control was bliss.

Fave activity? I did some great reef and wreck diving during port stops in St Thomas and Aruba, and loved checking out the gingerbread house-esque architecture of Willemstad, Curaçao and the forts and colonial buildings of Old San Juan. I did a nice hike through El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico, and can highly recommend taking a self-guided piña colada tour of San Juan – it’s the birthplace of the classic tropical cocktail, after all.

El Yunke rainforest, a lush escape from bustling San Juan © Sarah Reid El Yunke rainforest, a lush escape from bustling San Juan © Sarah Reid

Bizarre moment? Spending my first Christmas at sea! On Christmas Eve, the ship’s dining room staff gathered on the big staircase during the dinner service to sing carols, which culminated in one of the crew members breakdancing on the landing. Everyone got into it.

Next time… I’d definitely consider taking another cruise to visit other parts of the Caribbean that suit shorter visits, ideally departing from Puerto Rico again, as I’d love to explore the region in more depth.

Sarah Reid travelled to the Caribbean with support from Royal Caribbean International (royalcaribbean.co.uk) onboard Jewel of the Seas. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.