Harbor of cruise ships, Virgin Islands

Since many Caribbean nations rely on tourism to fuel their economies, your cruise vacation is helping to aid in the recovery process. (Getty Images)

More than a month after hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean, recovery efforts are well underway and cruise ships have started returning to some of the islands affected by the storms. But with so many popular cruise destinations in the process of rehabilitation, some travelers are wary of taking a Caribbean cruise. U.S. News spoke with industry experts and travelers to gain perspective on what passengers should anticipate on a their next Caribbean cruise.

[Read: The 2018 Best Cruise Lines.]

Caribbean Ports Are Welcoming Passengers

Travelers shouldn't worry about having their cruise vacations canceled. Although the recovery period can be extensive after a Category 4 or Category 5 storm, the Caribbean has already bounced back earlier than the cruise industry predicted. "The concern was that these storms were going to keep ports closed for longer than it has," says Chris Gray Faust, senior editor at cruise advice site Cruise Critic. "The actual surprise has been that islands are coming back quicker than anticipated."

In fact, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, a nonprofit trade organization that includes 19 cruise lines that sail to the region, 85 percent of Caribbean ports are up and running. Popular cruise destinations such as Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic were virtually untouched by the September storms, while affected destinations, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Martin, are preparing to welcome passengers by mid-November.

Travelers will find much of the natural beauty and rich culture of the Caribbean untouched. "The beaches, rivers, waterfalls, mountains; the great food, the diversity and safety of the Caribbean – everything that people are expecting is going to be delivered," says Michele Paige, president of the FCCA.

However, Puerto Rico is still a big concern for travelers. It took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria, leaving much of the island without electricity or running water. The island is still struggling to meet humanitarian needs in some inland areas, but businesses closer to shore are keen to revive the flow of tourists. The port of San Juan started receiving passenger cruise ships on Oct. 7, and major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines, have announced plans to return to a normal cruising schedule beginning Nov. 30.

While experts advise that there are still major recovery efforts taking place inland, they say travelers shouldn't be concerned about sailing to San Juan, Puerto Rico. "The restaurants are open and most of the establishments that might not have electricity restored yet are running on generators. As you travel more inland in Puerto Rico, you're going to experience more need for the work that's being done," Paige says.

[Read: Cruise Planning 101: Steps to Smoother Sailing]

Be Flexible

The Caribbean encompasses 1 million square miles across 40 destinations, meaning travelers will have the opportunity to explore plenty of diverse cultures and ports of call even as parts of the region rebuild. While previously closed ports are reopening on a rolling basis, some cruise lines have altered itineraries through the beginning of 2018 to ease passengers' minds and ensure the best cruise experience possible.


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Recent cruisers to the region say the revised itineraries didn't affect their trip. "We were happy with the change in itinerary and we enjoyed the places they took us. We didn't feel like we missed out on anything on the ports we didn't visit," says Dr. Stephen Samson, who recently returned from a sailing on the Viking Sea that bypassed St. Martin and St. Thomas in favor of St. Lucia and Barbados.

In addition to itinerary substitutions, shore excursions might be altered or scaled back. You'll likely find closer-to-port activities, such as walking tours of Old San Juan, while more adventurous excursions like zip lining may be unavailable.

"If you're someone who wants to visit an off-the-beaten track attraction, those types of things may not be there, but the mainstream attractions will be the first things to come back," Faust says. Before your scheduled sail date, make sure to check with your cruise line to find out what's available. "The longer the island has to recover, the quicker the off-the-beaten-path attractions have to come back," Faust says.

Faust encourages passengers to remember the importance of adapting to the necessary changes. "Cruisers always need to pack a little flexibility when they go. We always tell people not to get their heart set on one island because there are many and you're still going to have a good time."

Your Vacation Will Help Recovery Efforts

Experts also point out that since many Caribbean nations rely on tourism to fuel their economies, your cruise vacation is helping to aid in the recovery process. "Cruise ships are very important to these islands. They're a mainstay of the economy. So, I think that governments and the cruise lines and the ports have all been working hard to reopen as quickly as they can," Faust says.

In 2016, an estimated 8.1 million travelers sailed to the Caribbean, according to the FCCA. Before the storms, that number was only expected to grow in 2017. A single, 3,000-passenger cruise ship can generate more than $500,000 for a destination. This includes tourist spending at restaurants, souvenir shops and with tour operators who rely on cruise passengers for their livelihood.

Now that Caribbean residents are rebuilding, they're eager to get back to work and welcome tourists back to the islands. "The Caribbean is open for business and the best way to help the Caribbean is to cruise to the Caribbean," Paige says.

[See: 17 Bucket-List Cruise Itineraries]

Faust echoes similar sentiments. "You can still have your fun and sun vacation and also feel good about helping out a region that really needs a little more TLC," she says.


The Ins and Outs of Choosing a Cruise Ship Cabin


Photo Gallery
Sunset onboard a cruise ship cabin.
Mature woman sitting on a lounge chair while staring into the ocean, while vacationing on a cruise ship
Hands taking  us dollars  out from wallet on the street
A man and woman planning vacation overseas.
woman having trouble sleeping
Man holding head.
Woman using digital tablet on sofa
Woman looking out to sea on a cruise ship
Woman lying on bed using laptop computer in her cabin on a cruise ship
Happy couple reading paperwork at laptop
Cruise cabin
Cruise cabin
|

Too many options can be overwhelming.
With a variety of cruise ship cabin choices, it can be difficult for travelers to figure out what stateroom best suits their needs. That's why U.S. News consulted cruising experts to get their recommendations on how to make researching and booking a cruise cabin easier. Whether you're looking for a family-friendly cabin or you're traveling solo, you can find a cruise cabin that meets your price point and expectations. Read on for top tips and tricks for selecting the right stateroom for you.
(Getty Images)

Identify what's important.
The best way to start searching for the right cruise cabin is to know your preferences, according to Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor at Cruise Critic. "Are you a night owl? Are you likely to spend most of your time away from your cabin? Or are you somebody who wants to relax and spend time in your cabin? That will help you figure out the [cabin] type," she says. According to McDaniel, if you plan to spend most of your time away from your cabin, you'll likely want to book an interior or ocean-view room. Meanwhile, a suite or balcony room can accommodate those who seek more space and a private terrace.
(Getty Images)

Consider your budget.
Narrowing down how much you are willing to spend will not only help you select what cruise line to sail on but also what cabin type best suits you. Inside cabins are generally the most affordable stateroom type, and while these cabins may receive criticism for their small size, John Heald, brand ambassador of Carnival Cruise Lines, describes them as superb. "They give the best night's sleep because once the lights are out, there's no window [and] you sleep for hours," he says.
(Getty Images)

Consult a travel agent.
Travel agents with cruising expertise can offer helpful insight for first-timers trying to decide on the perfect cabin. "They can provide the insider knowledge and recommendations to match guests with the right cruise line and the right stateroom for their individual needs, based on family configuration and budget," says Camille Olivere, senior vice president of sales for Norwegian Cruise Line. McDaniel also recommends hiring a travel agent as they can assist with research and make booking much easier. The Cruise Lines International Association, a cruise industry trade group that promotes and educates travelers on cruising, offers a handy tool to search for travel agents.
(Getty Images)

Beware of the location.
There are certain areas to avoid on a cruise ship if you're seeking a restful night's sleep. "You don't want to be below the theater, below the galley or below the pool deck because there's a lot of activity all the time there," McDaniel says. She recommends consulting the ship's deck plans to find a cabin with stateroom decks above and below the room. McDaniel also advises steering clear of rooms near the elevators, even though the location may provide some convenience. "People congregate around elevators and stairways, they have conversations, elevators ding. It can be kind of a noisy spot to be," she says.
(Getty Images)

Weigh seasickness concerns.
Those who suffer from motion sickness should book midship cabins on the lower levels of the ship, since that's considered the most stable area on a cruise ship. "That said, newer ships really are very stable. Many people don't even feel the movement," McDaniel says. Heald and Olivere also say today's modern cruise ship technology allows for smooth rides, so cruisers shouldn't let that affect their cabin choice too heavily.
Getty Images

Check social media and message boards.
Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, can also aid in cruise cabin selection, according to Heald, who says cruisers should use social tools to their advantage as they research accommodation options. "Now we've got reviews of all the cabins, great photos, all the different amenities listed that you get inside the cabin," Heald says. "I definitely think social media comes into play here. [Travelers] can look at the reviews and where people have stayed." Meanwhile, McDaniel recommends checking cruise message boards on Cruise Critic to read first-hand experiences and cabin tips from previous cruisers.
Getty Images/Hero Images

Deluxe staterooms or suites may be best for families.
When choosing a cabin, consider your family's size and your children's ages. For example, a suite may be the best option for families with small sailors. "A suite will give you more room, it also might have something like a bathtub, which when you have a baby is really key," McDaniel says, adding that Royal Caribbean International and Disney Cruise Line offer ideal family suite options. Olivere also recommends Norwegian's multibedroom family suites. For families with older kids, Heald and McDaniel suggest booking connecting rooms, which can be found on most cruise ships. Heald also recommends Carnival's Family Deluxe Staterooms, which offer two bathrooms and can accommodate up to five passengers.
(Getty Images)

Groups should seek variety.
If you're traveling in a group, look for ships that offer a variety of cabin options, McDaniel says. That way, like-minded group members can bunk together. Some travelers might need to stay on a tight budget or are concerned about the possibility of seasickness and want a midship cabin on a lower level, while others may really want to experience a balcony cabin. McDaniel says MSC Cruises, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all offer a plethora of cabin types.
(Getty Images)

Specialty cabins are best for solo travelers.
Some cruise lines cater to solo travelers with specialty staterooms built to accommodate one passenger. Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are a few companies that offer solo cabin categories on select ships. For example, on select Norwegian ships, including the Breakaway, Escape and Epic, studios are located in a private area, with a lounge and ample amenities, making it easy for single travelers to interact, Olivere says. These unique cabins are also a cost-effective option since there is no single supplement charge (a fee cruise lines impose to compensate for one cruiser rather than two using the cabin). River cruise lines, such as Avalon Waterways and AmaWaterways, are also addressing the needs of solo travelers by waiving single supplement fees.
(Getty Images)

Book early.
Once you've decided what cabin type is the best for you, you should book it as soon as possible. "There's this misperception that there's always these empty cabins just sitting there waiting to be sold. The best way to ensure you get the cabin that you want is to book early," says Vance Gulliksen, Carnival's senior public relations manager, who adds that if you wait until the last minute, odds are you won't get the cabin of your choice. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to book your cruise several months in advance to secure the stateroom you want.
(Getty Images)

Don't expect an upgrade.
Many first-time cruisers may wonder if they can score a cabin upgrade either before or after boarding. But this practice is not as common in cruising as it is in the hotel industry, since most cruise ships sell to capacity. "Unlike at a hotel where guests are always coming and going, on a ship, everyone boards at once and leaves at once, so there isn't opportunity to move staterooms," Olivere says. However, cruisers who book a guarantee cabin (where they're assured the room category they booked) might be able to snag an upgrade if the cabins at the category level sell out and they get bumped to a higher category. Cruise lines such as Carnival and Seabourn offer this option.
(Getty Images)

Splurge if your budget allows.
For many travelers, a cruise vacation offers the perfect opportunity to treat yourself and enjoy some time off. If you can swing it, Heald recommends splurging on a balcony stateroom. "I always try to tell people if it's in their budget that they try and choose a balcony, because one of the best things about cruising is the sound and the sights and the smell of the sea," Heald says. However, Heald cautions: "Once you book a balcony cabin it's hard to go back to inside."
(Getty Images)

Sunset onboard a cruise ship cabin.
Mature woman sitting on a lounge chair while staring into the ocean, while vacationing on a cruise ship
Hands taking  us dollars  out from wallet on the street
A man and woman planning vacation overseas.
woman having trouble sleeping
Man holding head.
Woman using digital tablet on sofa
Woman looking out to sea on a cruise ship
Woman lying on bed using laptop computer in her cabin on a cruise ship
Happy couple reading paperwork at laptop
Cruise cabin
Cruise cabin

Too many options can be overwhelming.
With a variety of cruise ship cabin choices, it can be difficult for travelers to figure out what stateroom best suits their needs. That's why U.S. News consulted cruising experts to get their recommendations on how to make researching and booking a cruise cabin easier. Whether you're looking for a family-friendly cabin or you're traveling solo, you can find a cruise cabin that meets your price point and expectations. Read on for top tips and tricks for selecting the right stateroom for you.
(Getty Images)

Identify what's important.
The best way to start searching for the right cruise cabin is to know your preferences, according to Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor at Cruise Critic. "Are you a night owl? Are you likely to spend most of your time away from your cabin? Or are you somebody who wants to relax and spend time in your cabin? That will help you figure out the [cabin] type," she says. According to McDaniel, if you plan to spend most of your time away from your cabin, you'll likely want to book an interior or ocean-view room. Meanwhile, a suite or balcony room can accommodate those who seek more space and a private terrace.
(Getty Images)

Consider your budget.
Narrowing down how much you are willing to spend will not only help you select what cruise line to sail on but also what cabin type best suits you. Inside cabins are generally the most affordable stateroom type, and while these cabins may receive criticism for their small size, John Heald, brand ambassador of Carnival Cruise Lines, describes them as superb. "They give the best night's sleep because once the lights are out, there's no window [and] you sleep for hours," he says.
(Getty Images)

Consult a travel agent.
Travel agents with cruising expertise can offer helpful insight for first-timers trying to decide on the perfect cabin. "They can provide the insider knowledge and recommendations to match guests with the right cruise line and the right stateroom for their individual needs, based on family configuration and budget," says Camille Olivere, senior vice president of sales for Norwegian Cruise Line. McDaniel also recommends hiring a travel agent as they can assist with research and make booking much easier. The Cruise Lines International Association, a cruise industry trade group that promotes and educates travelers on cruising, offers a handy tool to search for travel agents.
(Getty Images)

Beware of the location.
There are certain areas to avoid on a cruise ship if you're seeking a restful night's sleep. "You don't want to be below the theater, below the galley or below the pool deck because there's a lot of activity all the time there," McDaniel says. She recommends consulting the ship's deck plans to find a cabin with stateroom decks above and below the room. McDaniel also advises steering clear of rooms near the elevators, even though the location may provide some convenience. "People congregate around elevators and stairways, they have conversations, elevators ding. It can be kind of a noisy spot to be," she says.
(Getty Images)

Weigh seasickness concerns.
Those who suffer from motion sickness should book midship cabins on the lower levels of the ship, since that's considered the most stable area on a cruise ship. "That said, newer ships really are very stable. Many people don't even feel the movement," McDaniel says. Heald and Olivere also say today's modern cruise ship technology allows for smooth rides, so cruisers shouldn't let that affect their cabin choice too heavily.
Getty Images

Check social media and message boards.
Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, can also aid in cruise cabin selection, according to Heald, who says cruisers should use social tools to their advantage as they research accommodation options. "Now we've got reviews of all the cabins, great photos, all the different amenities listed that you get inside the cabin," Heald says. "I definitely think social media comes into play here. [Travelers] can look at the reviews and where people have stayed." Meanwhile, McDaniel recommends checking cruise message boards on Cruise Critic to read first-hand experiences and cabin tips from previous cruisers.
Getty Images/Hero Images

Deluxe staterooms or suites may be best for families.
When choosing a cabin, consider your family's size and your children's ages. For example, a suite may be the best option for families with small sailors. "A suite will give you more room, it also might have something like a bathtub, which when you have a baby is really key," McDaniel says, adding that Royal Caribbean International and Disney Cruise Line offer ideal family suite options. Olivere also recommends Norwegian's multibedroom family suites. For families with older kids, Heald and McDaniel suggest booking connecting rooms, which can be found on most cruise ships. Heald also recommends Carnival's Family Deluxe Staterooms, which offer two bathrooms and can accommodate up to five passengers.
(Getty Images)

Groups should seek variety.
If you're traveling in a group, look for ships that offer a variety of cabin options, McDaniel says. That way, like-minded group members can bunk together. Some travelers might need to stay on a tight budget or are concerned about the possibility of seasickness and want a midship cabin on a lower level, while others may really want to experience a balcony cabin. McDaniel says MSC Cruises, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all offer a plethora of cabin types.
(Getty Images)

Specialty cabins are best for solo travelers.
Some cruise lines cater to solo travelers with specialty staterooms built to accommodate one passenger. Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are a few companies that offer solo cabin categories on select ships. For example, on select Norwegian ships, including the Breakaway, Escape and Epic, studios are located in a private area, with a lounge and ample amenities, making it easy for single travelers to interact, Olivere says. These unique cabins are also a cost-effective option since there is no single supplement charge (a fee cruise lines impose to compensate for one cruiser rather than two using the cabin). River cruise lines, such as Avalon Waterways and AmaWaterways, are also addressing the needs of solo travelers by waiving single supplement fees.
(Getty Images)

Book early.
Once you've decided what cabin type is the best for you, you should book it as soon as possible. "There's this misperception that there's always these empty cabins just sitting there waiting to be sold. The best way to ensure you get the cabin that you want is to book early," says Vance Gulliksen, Carnival's senior public relations manager, who adds that if you wait until the last minute, odds are you won't get the cabin of your choice. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to book your cruise several months in advance to secure the stateroom you want.
(Getty Images)

Don't expect an upgrade.
Many first-time cruisers may wonder if they can score a cabin upgrade either before or after boarding. But this practice is not as common in cruising as it is in the hotel industry, since most cruise ships sell to capacity. "Unlike at a hotel where guests are always coming and going, on a ship, everyone boards at once and leaves at once, so there isn't opportunity to move staterooms," Olivere says. However, cruisers who book a guarantee cabin (where they're assured the room category they booked) might be able to snag an upgrade if the cabins at the category level sell out and they get bumped to a higher category. Cruise lines such as Carnival and Seabourn offer this option.
(Getty Images)

Splurge if your budget allows.
For many travelers, a cruise vacation offers the perfect opportunity to treat yourself and enjoy some time off. If you can swing it, Heald recommends splurging on a balcony stateroom. "I always try to tell people if it's in their budget that they try and choose a balcony, because one of the best things about cruising is the sound and the sights and the smell of the sea," Heald says. However, Heald cautions: "Once you book a balcony cabin it's hard to go back to inside."
(Getty Images)

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