Far away from snow-capped mountains and icy weather, the tropical Caribbean islands thrive and sparkle with holiday spirit. It’s hard to imagine a place with swaying palm trees being the epicenter of winter celebrations, but the festive light displays and the scrumptious foods of the tropics will convince you otherwise. When traveling to the Caribbean during the holidays, it’s important to remember that each island is a unique wonderland of colorful cultures and traditions.
Puerto Rico is one of the most popular winter cruising destinations because of its friendly people and lively energy. Let the balmy breezes and the spectacular sights enchant you.
See the Christmas lights in Old San Juan. Old San Juan is already visually stunning because of its rich colonial architecture; however, the joyful addition of holiday decorations and lights elevates it to a new level. Our favorite is Plaza De Armas, which is the main square located on San Jose Street. The entire square is set aglow with festive lights and poinsettias. Experience the wonder of this ancient 500-year-old city during the most magical time of the year.
Locals tip: On Nochebuena, the night before Christmas, look out for carolers. They hop from house to house singing customary Spanish songs called parrandas. It’s hard to miss the howl of excitement and cheer echoing through the streets.
It’s not a celebration without a table covered in delicacies.Try the succulent roasted pig with traditional rice and pigeon peas for a savory dinner. But for a truly inspiring dish, indulge in delectable tamale-like Pasteles, made of mashed green plantains with small bits of meat wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. Don’t miss these special dishes – they are only served during Christmas time.
Coquito is the local drink of choice. It’s a fun play on American egg nog mixed with coconut and rum. Pick up a prepackaged bottle at any local shop, or mingle with the locals and ask them to share their recipe. Either way, it’s simply not the holidays without a coquito in your hand.
The Dominican Republic is known for sandy beaches and panoramic views. It’s no wonder visitors leave with a smile on their faces. If you are fortunate enough to cruise here during the holidays, you will see an island devoted to celebrating daily life.
Enjoy stunning fireworks on Christmas Eve. After a big dinner, friends and family stroll into the streets to set off these fuegos artificiales (fireworks). The sky is gleefully set ablaze while people light sparklers and sing Christmas songs. What an incredible way to commemorate a holiday.
Appease your sweet tooth with Arroz con Leche. This delicious Dominican treat has several varieties, but our favorite is the zesty version made with coconut cream and coconut milk. If you don’t get a chance to try this dessert on land, look for it onboard.
What are the holidays without a signature drink? Jengibre is a warm home-made ginger tea with hints of cinnamon. It may not be chilly outside, but this tea is guaranteed to have you feeling the spirit. Craving an alcoholic beverage? Anis Del Mono, is a Spanish liquor and an evening requirement on Noche buena.
ST. KITTS AND NEVIS
St. Kitts and Nevis is a year-round destination thanks to these islands’ breathtaking mountains, exceptional beaches, and lush rainforests. During the holidays, the focus shifts from these islands’ natural beauty to their National Carnival. Unlike other Caribbean islands that celebrate during Spring, they start the day after Christmas, also known as Boxing Day.
Join in the festivities as the islands explode into a week-long celebration featuring street parades, masquerades, brass bands, beauty pageants, calypso contests and more. Starting on December 26th, the streets are bursting with music and activities. Be prepared to see costumes, hear steel drums, and dance the night away.
Festive foods include black pudding, conch, Johnny cakes and roti. As exotic as they sound, they also pack a punch of flavor. Explore one of many street festival and see what you can discover. Remember, it’s the journey not the destination, and you’re on the journey of a lifetime!
Christmas Sorrel Drink burst with all of the yuletide flavors we are accustomed to. It’s a variation of a hibiscus tea enhanced by ginger and other spices. Enjoy it along with a piece of black cake for the ideal holiday pairing.
Don’t forget to check out our featured cruise lines that travel to these and many other Caribbean destinations: