The Caribbean lures cruise travelers with its warm weather and world-class beaches, but under the water additional treasures await. Three different coral reef systems span from Central America to the Bahamas, including the Mesoamerican reef system - the third largest in the world. On a cruise ship, you can reach several world-class diving destinations in one trip without having to allow a 24-hour rest time after diving (as you do if you are flying). Here are three popular cruise ports with attractions both above and beneath the surface.Flickr.com/Thespis377 — Photo courtesy of A drift dive in Grand Cayman
As an immensely popular port, Georgetown, Grand Cayman is a destination for a number of seven-night cruises from Florida, including Carnival, Disney, and Norwegian Cruise Line. The port itself is duty-free and bustling with shops, restaurants and white-sand beaches, while the "Stingray City" offers a unique attraction and a chance to get up close to the marine creatures. Devils Grotto is ideal for snorkelers, and the sunken 1940s schooner Cali is located right near the port. The waters surrounding the island offer everything from cave dives, reef dives, wall dives, and wreck dives and there is no shortage of operators. The Bloody Bay Wall is perhaps the most famous and has exceptional visibility, marine life, and coral.
Although not a destination found on most itineraries, Bonaire is a stop for several luxury cruise lines (Princess, Silversea, Celebrity) and is a top choice for a summer cruise because it is just below the "hurricane belt." Bonaire is a diving paradise and most dives are easily accessible while docked in Kralendijk, with 53 of the 86 sites being shore dives. Don't miss the "1,000 Steps" shore dive, the "Pink Sands" dive (as the name states the ocean floor is pink), and the Hilma Hooker, a 250-foot freighter. In port, visitors will also find kayaking, horseback riding, and kite boarding but the island lacks flashy entertainment and is relatively quiet compared to other ports.
Turks and Caicos
Although Turks and Caicos is technically not considered part of the Caribbean, the diving is spectacular and Grand Turk is appearing on quite a few Caribbean cruise itineraries. Immediately after getting off the ship, travelers are greeted by a tourism village; grab a souvenir or two and get out to the dive and snorkeling sites. Columbus Landfall Marine National Park is a must see, and the Grand Turk Wall is ideal for advanced divers. The island is still very much a sleepy village that contains 18th and 19th century buildings and fresh fish fried to perfection.Cruise ships in Turks and Caicos — Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan
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