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The best time to cruise to the Caribbean

June 13, 2022
10 min read
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When is the best time to cruise to the Caribbean? The easy answer is whenever it suits you. There’s never a bad time to cruise to this giant blue fishbowl with a bazillion beaches to explore. That’s because Caribbean is warm and mostly sunny year-round. You can find hundreds of cruise options every single month.

That's not to say that every season is the same. If I had to pick based on weather, cost and crowds, I’d vote winter as the best time to cruise the Caribbean.

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If I were to narrow it down even further, I’d say the best time to cruise to the Caribbean is early December. It's a fun way to create a break between Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Picture yourself shopping for unique gifts after your snorkel excursion or before your spa appointment instead of slogging through slushy mall parking lots with the tip of your nose threatening to freeze, and I think you'll agree.

Here's how the entire year stacks up so you can identify the best time for your travel party to cruise the Caribbean.

A Carnival cruise ship anchored off Grand Cayman Island. (Photo by Sergio Pitamitz/VWPics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Winter: Moderate fares and quiet crowds (except during the holidays)

Let’s start with my favorite time to cruise the Caribbean: winter (December/January/February). The temperatures throughout the region are a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of the year, and the average UV index dips down to 5 or 6 (moderate to high exposure). Rain typically comes in the form of passing afternoon showers, not tropical storms.

Pros

Except for the weeks that include holidays, ships aren’t likely to be at capacity or filled with screaming children. Fares in winter are a bit below the yearly average (excluding the holiday weeks, which are often the highest of the year). Plus, there are deals available that bring prices down even lower. Look particularly at last-minute options and those first two weeks in December.

Bonus

Ships that sail seasonally in Alaska and Europe often call the waters of the Caribbean home for a few months in winter. That adds up to more choices during this time of year.

If there are cruise lines or specific ships you would like to try, winter in the Caribbean is an ideal time to test them out — especially luxury and premium lines that often feature lower prices on Caribbean sailings than on their cruises elsewhere in the world. If you prefer childless cruising during the holidays, you can choose an adults-only cruise line like Viking.

Related: The best Caribbean cruises for every type of traveler

Cons

The weather at home can be unpredictable in the winter, possibly affecting your departure travel plans and preventing you from reaching your Caribbean cruise. Plus, winter storms in the U.S. can increase wave action in the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. The farther north your departure port, the more likely you are to experience a rough ride until your ship sails south into calmer water.

While most of the season offers moderate fares, if your cruise dates are limited to holiday breaks, be prepared for prices close to double what you’d pay during the few weeks before that. Book holiday sailings well in advance to find lower fares.

Voyager of the Seas in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Prisma by Dukas/Getty Images)

Spring: Near-perfect weather with spring break crowds

If you don’t mind spring break crowds, spring is a wonderful time to cruise. The weather in the Caribbean in March, April and May is idyllic, and the seas are likely to be calm. Plus, escaping the last of winter's wrath at home can be just what the doctor ordered to save your sanity.

Pros

Prices during the first week of March aren't too high before they edge up throughout the rest of the month. Deals are also possible in early May. If your aim is to cruise with your own children while they are on break, there are plenty of ships with age-appropriate facilities. You’ll have options like splash zones for the little ones, monster slides for the adventurers and kids clubs for all ages. Don’t forget indoor activities such as laser tag and ice skating.

Related: Caribbean cruise packing list: What to pack for a tropical sailing

Cons

The spring break rowdies start in March and often continue well into April. Soon after, in mid-May, the graduation parties begin. If your goal is to avoid crowds of kids and partiers, skip the cheapest and shortest cruises, as well as cruise ships with water parks and thrill rides.

Be aware that spring break is high season for travel disruptions caused by peak demand. Airlines may overbook. I was once bumped from a flight home after a spring cruise when a high school Spanish club from Wisconsin needed the seats to travel home together as a group. I was compensated and flew out the next day, but what if I had been bumped on my cruise embarkation day? If you plan a springtime Caribbean cruise, have a backup plan, including travel insurance, in case your travel itinerary gets rearranged at the last minute.

Summer: Fewer storms, many families and prices that may beat land-based trips

Snorkelers in St. Thomas. (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)

Summer cruising in the Caribbean is ideal for lovers of sun, sea and sand looking for a fun escape with their kids or grandchildren while school is out. June, July and August temperatures average near 90 degrees throughout the region. While there’s a possibility of tropical storms or hurricanes, the Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t peak until late August through October.

Pros

These are the months when you rarely need to worry about weather shutting down onboard water attractions or causing cancellations of your in-port fun. Summer months are also perfect for multi-generational cruising, as they are often the only months when everyone’s schedules align. And when you have a group to manage, you need as many activities as possible to keep everyone entertained. Summer cruises in the Caribbean make that easy with plenty of options, both on board and in port.

Cons

Cruise fares are higher overall in summer than in the other three seasons. Ships sail at or near capacity. Even the ports themselves will likely be crowded. Shops and attractions will overflow with passengers from other ships and land-based vacationers.

You’ll also need to plan for mosquitos in port and for serious sun protection. Most of the Caribbean averages a UV index of 7 (considered a high risk) during the summer months, holding at a high or extremely high level for long stretches of the day.

Related: Eastern Caribbean vs. Western Caribbean cruises: Which itinerary will I like more?

Bonus

Despite high fares, summer cruise pricing and crowd levels stack up favorably against most land-based vacations. Once you factor in the included meals, entertainment and activities on a cruise, then consider traffic congestion, long lines and skyrocketing hotel costs associated with other vacation options like theme parks and even popular national parks, a summer Caribbean cruise with the family can seem downright affordable and less anxiety-filled.

Fall: Low prices, low occupancy, risky weather

Fall, especially September and early October, is not a bad time to cruise to the Caribbean – unless you are a worrier or someone who can’t go with the flow when travel plans go awry. That’s because the autumn months are the peak season for hurricanes and tropical storms. When it isn’t stormy, it might still be a bit warm and sticky for some early in the season. Temperatures remain near the 90-degree range well into October.

Pros

The weather isn’t all bad in the fall and Caribbean cruises prices are low during these months. I've been on lovely cruises in the Caribbean in September and October with calm seas and uncrowded, quiet ships, all at a fraction of the price of cruises just a handful of weeks earlier in the year. If saving money and avoiding the spring and summer crowds is your aim, and you are the kind of cruiser who will sing in a rowboat in the rain if it gets you away from home, then fall is perfect for you.

Related: The 9 best fall cruise itineraries

Cons

Weather happens -- and in the Caribbean, it happens a lot in September and October. Even if a hurricane doesn't cause you grief, rain might. A few years ago, I cruised the Western Caribbean near the end of October and it poured the whole time. I had no idea it could rain that hard in Cozumel, a desert island. And Grand Cayman? That's where I learned the meaning of the word "torrential." Even with all that rain, it wasn’t a bad cruise. The rain didn’t interfere with my scuba diving plans.

Bonus

November feels like a bonus cruise month. The temperatures have dropped a few degrees from summer’s heat and the chance of storms has mostly passed. Extra ships begin arriving for their winter season and prices remain low for most of the month. Back home, everyone else is busy buying turkeys and cranberries and catering to the in-laws. You, however, could be lounging on deck sipping a frozen tropical concoction while waiting for your samba class to start.

Bottom line

Now we're back where we started – with you booking a Caribbean cruise that works for you and your travel group. Each season has something to offer someone, which is what makes this whole year-round Caribbean cruise thing work. If we all thought early December was truly the best time to cruise to the Caribbean, it would cease to be so.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases