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Caribbean vs. Bahamas Cruises

Ships docked side by side in Bahamas aerial view (source: Fernando Jorge, Unsplash)

Cruise itineraries offer a variety of ports in varying combinations that quench passengers' thirst for new experiences. But, the same variety that makes itineraries intriguing can also make them confusing, and it's even more head-spinning when destinations overlap.

What is the difference between the Caribbean and The Bahamas? Is the Bahamas part of the Caribbean?

Below, we explain the difference between Bahamas vs. Caribbean cruises, which focus on two of the industry's most popular areas -- ones that evoke thoughts of sand, sun and fruity cocktails. 

What is the Caribbean?

View from the deck of a cruise ship in Saint Martin (source: James Thomas, Unsplash)

The Caribbean is a region that consists of the Caribbean Sea and its islands, as well as the coasts that bound it. The borders generally consist of the Gulf of Mexico, the east coast of Central America and the northern coast of South America.

Southern Caribbean, Western Caribbean and Eastern Caribbean sub-regions make up the overall Caribbean.

Eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries tend to see a bit of overlap with Southern Caribbean ones, but sailings to the Eastern Caribbean region are the ones where you're most likely to see Bahamas ports pop up. Stops often include Freeport, Nassau, private islands (more on those below) and Key West.

What is The Bahamas?

Parasailing in the Bahahamas (source: Joe deSousa, Unsplash)

The Bahamas is a country comprising more than 100,000 square miles of ocean and 700 islands, the closest of which is just 50 miles from Florida. Known for its stunning, pristine beaches, these islands offer fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities, thanks to brilliant blue waters that boast 200 feet of visibility.

Is The Bahamas part of the Caribbean?

Map book with compass (source: Chris Lawton, Unsplash)

Technically The Bahamas is in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than the Caribbean Sea, but in many ways -- in terms of diplomatic relations and trade agreements with the U.S., for example -- it is considered to be a part of the Caribbean.

Most cruise lines offer Bahamas-only sailings, which are perfect for first-time cruisers, as they tend to be less expensive and shorter in duration.

The majority of cruise line private islands -- Royal Caribbean's and Celebrity's Perfect Day at CocoCay, Norwegian's Great Stirrup Cay, Carnival's and Holland America's Half Moon Cay, MSC's Ocean Cay, Disney's Castaway Cay and Princess' Princess Cays -- are located in the Bahamas and appear on some Caribbean itineraries, along with Freeport and Nassau.

How are The Bahamas and Caribbean different?

Shrimp prawns in a bowl (source: Daniel Klein, Unsplash)

We've established that The Bahamas is a country in the Atlantic Ocean, while the Caribbean is a region that encompasses many countries in the Caribbean Sea. But what else differentiates the two?

Although the climates are generally similar, The Bahamas tends to be a bit milder in the winter.

Additionally, the culture and vibe between Bahamian islands is fairly consistent, whereas you can experience a vast array of food, customs and histories throughout the Caribbean since it is made up of many different countries.

How are The Bahamas and Caribbean alike?

Sea turtle underwater in the Caribbean (source: Kris Mikael Krister, Unsplash)

The Caribbean and The Bahamas are both considered warm-weather destinations, and they draw lovers of a slower-paced beach life that's teeming with nearly endless sun, sand, water sports, cocktails, conch fritters, seafood, and fresh fruit and sugar cane, which thrive in the warm, sunny climate.

Both locations are great for shopping, sunbathing, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, parasailing and a host of other activities that will help you to melt away stress. Both are also ideal destinations for first-timers.

Is a Caribbean or Bahamas cruise for you?

Passion fruit daiquiri on a Caribbean beach (source: Mariamichelle, Pixabay)

If you're someone who relishes the idea of relaxing on a beach with an umbrella drink, perusing outdoor markets and high-end boutiques, or dining on some of the best seafood you've ever tasted, either the Caribbean or Bahamas is a solid choice.

If you're short on vacation time or funds, opt for a two- to four-night sailing from Florida that calls on the Bahamas only. If you've got a little more time or money to spend, consider a sailing of a week or longer to one of the three Caribbean regions, some of which do include the Bahamas.