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.
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.
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.
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.
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Related: The best Caribbean cruises for every type of traveler
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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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.
When to cruise to the Caribbean and Bahamas for the best weather. Some of the Caribbean's nicest weather is in May, at the start of shoulder season. The weather is particularly pleasant in the Southern Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominique, Grenada and St.What is the best month to go on a Caribbean cruise? ›
The best time for a Caribbean cruise is from December to April when the weather is dry, sunny, and clear skies on most days. The ideal cruising conditions of mild temperatures and calm waters typically last throughout winter and spring, making it the prime Caribbean sailing season and very traveler-friendly.What months to avoid for cruising the Caribbean? ›
Rain is more frequent in the wet season, but the temperatures are warmer. Wet season and dry season are both good times to cruise the Caribbean. The worst time for a Caribbean cruise weather-wise is August to September, as it is peak hurricane season.
So what is the best time to go? To save some money on a Caribbean cruise, it is best to sail in off peak times such as January, May, and early fall. With kids back in school, there is less demand for cruising during these periods.What is the best month to go on a Southern Caribbean cruise? ›
February just might be the best time of year to cruise the Caribbean, as blue skies and warm temperatures are the norm throughout the region. You can expect highs in the mid-80s in the Southern Caribbean, with lows typically no cooler than the mid-60s in more northern destinations like the Bahamas or Puerto Rico.What time is year to avoid Caribbean? ›
June to November is the official hurricane season, and there can also be tropical storms at this time of year.What is the cheapest month to go to the Caribbean? ›
September is the cheapest time to book a Caribbean holiday as it falls in the middle of hurricane season. However, don't let that put you off, as this usually just means there's a greater chance of showers at that time. Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 to November 30.What months are bad weather in Caribbean? ›
The official hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from 1 June to 30 November, but within that, there are variations. On rare occasions, hurricanes can occur as early as May.Do you need a passport for a Caribbean cruise? ›
And if you're starting and ending your cruise at different ports within the U.S. — or flying in to or out of a Caribbean country — you will need a passport. However, while many cruise lines may not require passengers to bring their passports, plenty recommend it, as does the U.S. Department of State.What months are considered high season in the Caribbean? ›
In terms of seasons, these are divided into two main types; the high season which runs roughly from mid-December through mid-April, and the low season which runs from June through November. In addition there are two shoulder seasons in the spring and autumn. The low season is also the hurricane season in the Caribbean.
What is the cheapest time to book a cruise? Prospective cruisers can usually find "a lot of good deals at the beginning of the year" during wave season, Goldberg-Glazer said. That period typically lasts from January until March.What month are cruise ships least crowded? ›
During April and May and September to November, the combination of cooler temperatures, a higher chance of rain and a lack of family vacations leads to more availability and lower prices for cruises.Is it better to be at the back or front of a cruise ship? ›
The back of the ship tends to be considered the next best cabin position after midships. Whilst the front of the ship gets the most movement the back also does get some. Whilst it's nowhere near as bad as the front of the ship, you may still notice some movement in rough seas.What is the biggest month for cruises? ›
Most people travel during the summer months (June through August), making those voyages pricier, but you'll find deals on spring and fall departures (April through early June and September through November, respectively).How far in advance is it best to book a cruise? ›
Booking a cruise one to two years in advance is not practical for many families, so a great time to book a cruise is between six and 12 months before sailing. In addition to the lower prices, booking well in-advance of a cruise assures you of the ship and stateroom you want to reserve.Are Caribbean cruises choppy? ›
Expect Rougher Caribbean Seas in the North and East
Rough Waters: When one body of water runs into another, waves tend to be higher and rougher. Although the Caribbean is generally known for smooth sailing, it can get choppy in areas where it meets up with the Atlantic Ocean.
What is the cheapest time to book a cruise? Prospective cruisers can usually find "a lot of good deals at the beginning of the year" during wave season, Goldberg-Glazer said. That period typically lasts from January until March.What month is best to cruise to Bahamas? ›
If you want the best weather, you will want to cruise to the Bahamas in November, late April, or Early May. All of these months fall outside of the rainy season, as well as hurricane season. Plus, you are unlikely to encounter a cold front in November.