San Juan is one of the Caribbean's major cruise ship ports and offers a variety of options for passengers who wish to embark in Florida. While Puerto Rico is of added interest to visitors from the U.S. mainland as an overseas territory, the island’s charms know no barriers and seduce allcomers with a combination of culture and nature. Tours of El Morro Fort and Old San Juan rarely disappoint, while organized excursions to El Yunque forest or the Bacardi distillery are sure to leave a lasting impression long after the ship has returned to Florida.
The four major year-round cruise lines that ply the Caribbean, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Disney and Carnival, all incorporate Puerto Rico into their Eastern Caribbean itinerary. Leaving from Port Canaveral, Royal Caribbean adds in stops at its private resorts in Labadee, Haiti, and Coco Cay, Bahamas, on its standard 7-night cruise. Likewise, Disney drops in at Castaway Cay in the Bahamas for its week-long cruise departing Port Canaveral or Miami, with the added bonus of three days at sea. Princess departs Fort Lauderdale and calls at Princess Cays in the Bahamas. Carnival offers the lowest fares and the biggest range of departure ports in Florida, namely Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades, with a stop at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.
Typically, the seven-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary makes a stop in the Bahamas, then Puerto Rico, followed by either St. Thomas or St. Maarten, for a leisurely tour with the emphasis on duty-free shopping. Some lines offer slightly longer variations. Royal Caribbean’s winter nine-day cruise gives the option of departing Tampa and dropping in at Key West, while Carnival’s eight-day cruises throw Antigua, St. Kitts and Grand Turk into the mix, departing from Fort Lauderdale. While Carnival and Disney both operate year-round, typically with a couple of departures a month, Royal Caribbean focuses its energy on winter, dropping Puerto Rico off its itineraries entirely over summer.
For a two-week cruise, look to MSC and Holland America, which both operate Eastern and Western Caribbean hybrid cruises that return to port in Florida at the end of the first week. The former departs Miami and tours the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and St. Maarten on one leg, then the exotic delights of Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico, on the Western Caribbean leg. Holland America includes a stop in Montego Bay, Jamaica and a day at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, voted Best Private Island by Porthole Cruise magazine. Whatever the itinerary or length, San Juan still only merits a single day in port, so ultimately cruisers have to decide how much they want the Puerto Rican city to compete for their attentions overall.
San Juan in Style
Two cruise lines aimed at the mature, luxury market dock in San Juan in particular splendor. Oceania Cruises, which uses smaller ships with just more than 1,000 passengers, runs a 12-day cruise from Miami. The cruise also calls on Barbados, Dominica, Martinique and St. Kitts, ports that no other cruise line visits on the Puerto Rico circuit. The most opulent, though, is Regent Seven Seas, with 24-hour room service, gourmet dining and smart dress code. Passengers can choose a variety of winter cruises, from the 10-night Eastern Caribbean to the 17-night Miami-to-Miami odyssey, which works in Central American and Leeward Island ports. Most ambitious is the 24-night epic Amazon cruise, which takes passengers down to Manaus and stops at Devil’s Island, before delivering them to San Juan as the penultimate port.