Both the Caribbean and the Bahamas have stretches of sand that appeal to beach bums of all ages. Party animals can swig drinks from beach bars at sundown, while couch potatoes happily roast on the sand and sporty types windsurf. The big difference is location: The Bahamas are a lot closer to Florida and offer more weekend cruise options. And they’re cheaper. Why? It takes less fuel to get to the Bahamas, and the cruise lines usually position their older ships on the weekend runs.
Read on for our full comparison:
Because the Bahamas are so close to southern Florida, you’ll find a lot of short three- and four-night cruise options there. If your ship leaves at 5 or 6 pm from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you’ll easily be in Nassau by morning. Most Caribbean cruises are weeklong, and the majority leave from Florida — but also from ports in Texas, as well as Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and Barbados in the Caribbean itself.
Our Pick: It's a draw.
The Bahamas are great for quickie escapes, and the Caribbean offers lots of choices for seven- to 10-night cruises.
The Caribbean claims some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, with strands in St. John, St. Barts, Anguilla, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and Grenada topping the list. Adults love to sunbathe, while kids happily build sandcastles and run into the waves all day. But these shores are not the only ones with natural gold: In the Bahamas, the white-sand beaches of Half Moon Cay and Castaway Cay, Holland America Line’s and Disney Cruise Line’s private islands, respectfully, plus the northern part of Nassau give the Caribbean beaches a run for their money.
Our Pick: Caribbean.
The beaches of the Bahamas aren’t too shabby, but there are fewer options than in the Caribbean. Plus, the Bahamas can get chilly in winter months.
Watch cliff divers while sipping planter’s punch at the famous Rick’s in Negril, Jamaica, or soak up the Mexican flavor at the popular Carlos’n Charlie’s in Cozumel. The Caribbean is chockablock with places to grab a drink. Take your pick: From chic lounges and clubs in St. Barts, where celebrities hang, to the rustic beach bars, strays dogs, and yacht crews frequent in the British Virgin Islands and Grenadines, the Caribbean is a barfly’s dream. In the Bahamas, Nassau’s got places like the posh Dune Bar at the One & Only Ocean Club, and cruise line private islands have their basic watering holes, though they tend to lack character.
Our Pick: Caribbean.
If you like variety, the Caribbean’s bar scene — which is infused with the flavors of Mexico, Spain, France, England, and Holland — is hard to beat.
The hunt for gold first inspired Europeans to explore the Caribbean and Bahamas from as far back as the 16th century. Then sugar cane and other natural resources drove them to stake their claims. The Spanish and British had a big presence in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, while the Dutch grabbed Curacao and Aruba, and the French took over islands like St. Barts and Guadeloupe. When they finally shoved off, the colonial powers left behind their old fortresses and churches. Vestiges of their languages and cuisines also stuck, in some cases more than others. Locals still speak French in Guadeloupe and Spanish in Puerto Rico.
Our Pick: Caribbean.
This one is easy: There are many more colonial-era ruins and cultural holdovers in the Caribbean than there are in the Bahamas.
5. For Kids
The cruise line private islands in the Bahamas are designed for families with kids, featuring water slides and playgrounds. Rent bikes to pedal around the island, or play in the “archaeological dig” set up in the sand on Disney’s Castaway Cay. On Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay, the giant inflatable water slide sends passengers on 40-foot-high, 175-foot-long thrill rides. There are battery-operated mini race cars for little kids on Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, and you can snorkel with the stingrays at Holland America’s Half Moon Cay. True, the Caribbean has its share of family-friendly activities, from water parks in Mexico to snorkeling all over, but the Caribbean has more offerings geared toward adults than kids.
Our Pick: Bahamas.
You just can’t beat the convenience. Plus, cruise line private islands not only offer family-friendly beaches and activities, but a free lunch too.
Our Pick: Caribbean
The Caribbean trumps the convenience of the Bahamas for its huge variety of beaches, landscape, and cultures.
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