When it comes to Eastern Caribbean cruise ports, heading to a great beach always tops the list of excursion picks. Some passengers sign up for pre-booked escapes to tried-and-true locales, such as beach bars specifically designed for daytrippers, while others look for beach resorts fronting the turquoise sea, which sometimes means purchasing a day pass to make it easier all around. Still, other cruisers prefer the thrill of finding their own special stretch of paradise.
Whether you're looking for popular public beaches filled to the brim with other cruisers or a tiny, tawny spits of sand, here's a guide to nine places, from the Bahamas to St. Maarten, where you can get a jump on your tan.
Many passengers will head straight for Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island for their Bahamian day at the beach. But those looking for a more unique experience can head to the private beach on Rose Island, little more than a long, spindly sandbar, and just a 25-minute boat ride from Nassau.
Blissfully uncrowded, this beach is a favorite of locals, who spend the day kayaking, snorkeling and snoozing on hammocks with cold Carib beers in hand; organized tours that include a welcome drink, buffet lunch and snorkeling equipment are also available.
Grand Turk is a popular port for cruisers looking for a beach with all the amenities. White Sands Beach is right at this 7-mile-long island's cruise dock, and there's a plethora of water sports at their disposal. But those seeking a more secluded spot should take a five-minute taxi ride from the dock to Governor's Beach.
The calm area has a great mix of shade -- from the giant casuarina trees lining the strand -- and sun. The ambiance is mellow and fun, thanks to local musicians who play island tunes for tips. Still, it's not a secret hideaway, so get there early to stake out a spot as soon as possible.
Part of the Lucayan National Park, Gold Rock Beach is one of the best sandy strands around, and in the Bahamas, where hundreds of superb beaches can be found, that's saying something. It's a 25-mile ride from Grand Bahama Island's main town of Freeport, so you might want to pair up with another couple for the trip, but it's fantastic for families seeking a day of picnicking (tables and barbecue pits available) and the opportunity to walk and play in a low surf, which reveals sheets of wavy sand.
For added fun, the Lucayan Caverns, the longest underground cave system in the world, are just north of the beach. Want to go, but don't want to hassle with a rental car or taxi? Some cruise shore excursions also visit Gold Rock Beach.
St. Croix's north shore is a favorite for snorkelers and divers, and they especially love Cane Bay. The reason? It has a well-known deep sea wall just 25 feet offshore that drops to more than 3,000 feet -- optimum for exploring a Technicolor team of sea life.
After working up an appetite searching for sergeant majors and angelfish, Cane Bay carries a host of beach bars for cocktails and savory snacks. Try Eat@Cane Bay, where peel-and-eat shrimp and pine-rum-rita's -- a mix of pineapple run, lime juice, sweet and sour, triple sec and Grand Marnier -- are the essence of island style. Cane Bay is a 40-minute drive from the cruise dock in Frederiksted.
While beautiful Magens Bay is justifiably famous, it's usually offered as the beach excursion for most cruise ships -- thus, it's often extremely crowded. Instead, get a double dose of views at Sapphire Beach, a resort about a 30 minute taxi ride from port. It's located on St. Thomas's east end and has a magnificent view of St. John, and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
For those looking for calm, crystal-clear waters, this is it. Snorkeling is at its best; just walk right into the surf, and the fish are there to greet you. Windsurfers also have a great time, and all equipment and lounge chairs can be rented for the day.
Five miles from the St. Maarten cruise dock and just a few hundred yards from the Dutch/French border, Dawn Beach is known on the Cruise Critic circuit for its great snorkeling. To that end, make a beeline for the Atlantic Ocean-fronting coast, especially first thing in the morning before the waves kick in.
The adjacent resort is said to be generous with non-guests seeking beach chairs, as long as they order a beverage or some snacks at some point, but most especially if they drop a little cash in the glitzy casino.
Orient Bay (or in French "Baie-Orientale") on French St .Martin's eastern coast has been called one of the island's most pristine beaches. In fact, one section is quite a draw for the clothing-optional set, so those who might not dig the au natural scene should keep that in mind.
For those unbothered, there's a good deal of activity going on, from parasailing to windsurfing. However, you won't always find many actually swimming in the surf due to tumbling waves. Instead, the focus is on sunbathing using the rentable umbrellas and beach chairs, eating, drinking and, of course, people-watching. From the cruise port, Orient Bay is an 8-mile drive.
Head to the western tip of this British Virgin Island for a chance to clamber through larger-than-life volcanic boulders and intricate caves. It's just a 2-mile drive (or even a pleasant walk) from Spanish Town, where Virgin Gorda cruise tenders arrive.
Bigger ships dock in the BVIs at Tortola, and cruise lines offer day trips to this oceanfront maze of stone that one can walk, crawl and climb through to reach a white-sand beach. (The narrow passages and steep stairs can be challenging for some, so keep to the open-air beach if that's an issue.) A restaurant at the top of the hill gives an amazing view and is a must-stop. There's a $3 entry fee if you decide to visit on your own through the B.V.I. National Parks Trust.
You won't find any beaches in Old San Juan, where cruise ships dock, but it's only a 15-minute cab ride from the port to Condado and Isla Verde beaches. They're both well-trodden spots (all beaches in PR are public), and families flock there for the white sand, bathtub-warm water and water sports.
Want to see where puertorriquenos strut their stuff? Head to Ocean Park between the two for a more adults-only experience. This is where you'll find sexy, bikini-clad locals who have a blast swimming, kitesurfing, and sipping cocktails at the beachfront bars of the small hotels lining the strand.