For some cruise passengers, safety is a major factor in their decision to pick a particular cruise. Whether fairly or unfairly, some ports of call have reputations for being dangerous, whether that reputation be based on data, anecdotes of other passengers, or just preconceptions of a place.
The good news? Statistically, cruising is the safest form of travel.
As Travel Pulse reported in 2016, “cruise ships have the lowest rate of deaths per billion passenger miles with 0.08. Compare that to 11.9 for rail travel, 3.3 for cars and trucks and 0.8 for commercial air.”
When it comes to cruise safety, there are two distinct areas to look at — being on the ship (a controlled environment where only passengers and crew are allowed) and being in port (where cruise passengers mix with the public).
Fortunately, several factors protect most cruisers from crime when visiting port cities. Cruise ships usually arrive in a port in the morning and depart by early evening, meaning passengers are back onboard before nightfall.
Also, cruisers visiting ports frequently travel in groups with official tours organized by the cruise line and led by experienced guides. If you’re a novice cruise traveler and feel apprehensive about safety, you may want to stick to these guided tours rather than venturing out on your own.
In general, these factors make visiting a port of call relatively safe.
Considering Your Safety in Port
While cruising offers a safe vacation, you should know that crimes can occur. And when it comes to safety, some ports of call are considered safer than others.
For instance, Nassau in the Bahamas is one of the busiest ports of call outside the United States. Each year millions of passengers make visits to the port. But the U.S. State Department lists the Bahamas at “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” in its Travel Advisories and mentions the following on its website:
“The Department of State rates the criminal threat level in New Providence Island (includes Nassau and Paradise Island) as critical.
Armed robbery and sexual assault are major criminal threats facing U.S. citizens in New Providence. We have received multiple reports of tourists being robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint in downtown and tourist areas of Nassau, including during the day. We have also received reports of sexual assaults in tourist areas.”
That’s why it’s important that no matter where you cruise, you take some basic travel precautions.
Basic Travel Precautions
Since no area is guaranteed to be crime-free, it’s best to take basic precautions anywhere you go. These small steps can make a big difference. Many of the tips are common sense and can make you less likely to be a victim:
- Steer clear of isolated areas, and travel in groups when you can.
- Expensive watches and jewelry, designer bags and wallets can draw attention; wear and carry items that are less noticeable.
- Avoid keeping your wallet in a backpack if possible, or, if you carry a backpack, hold it in front of you, not on your back. Also avoid carrying your wallet in a back pocket where a skillful thief can pluck it out.
- If you keep your camera out rather than putting it in your bag, make sure you hold onto it tightly.
- If your backpack or bag has a zipper closure, protect your belongings with a luggage lock.
- People who appear distracted or inebriated are more likely to attract the attention of criminals. Try to remain alert and attentive.
Our 5 Safest Ports to Sail in the Caribbean
Of course, while common sense strategies can go a long way, it’s always nicer if you simply don’t have to worry as much. That’s why we’ve researched to find some of the safest ports on popular Caribbean cruise routes.
So how did we do it? Unfortunately, exact statistics about safety and crime aren’t readily available for every port of call. But we do have a number of resources and research, including official travel advisories from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, some crime data, news stories, and more.
With this in mind, we rounded up what we consider five of the safest ports of call in the Caribbean.
Note: Private cruise line islands like CocoCay were not included in our search. These islands are essentially an extension of the cruise ship and considered very safe for passengers.
Key West, Florida
The Florida island city is famous for its relaxed, tropical vibes. Key West has a relatively low crime rate, especially when compared to many Caribbean countries. For instance, City-Data.com cited just 15 robberies in 2017 and a violent crime rate that’s right on average with the U.S. as a whole.
Articles for prospective visitors advise taking the same normal safety precautions most people exercise in their own hometowns – like avoiding dark alleys and not openly displaying valuable belongings.
So what can you do in Key West? US News & World Report ranks Key West as number 5 among Florida’s best beaches, noting that the town “offers a relaxed yet unexpected seaside adventure.”
If you want to enjoy the island’s warm waters, you can go snorkeling or kayaking. Or take a bike tour of the small island. Stroll through the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy amidst tropical plants, birds, and butterflies. Enjoy the festive atmosphere of food and souvenir vendors, street performers, and musicians on Mallory Square. Go bar hopping on Duval Street. Visit the historic Ernest Hemingway House, famous not only as the abode of the late author, but as the current home of dozens of cats with six toes on each paw.
One half of this small island is a territory of the Netherlands while the other side is a territory of France. Cruise ships usually dock at the port in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side.
The U.S. State Department’s Travel Advisory puts the area in “Level 1” for travel safety – the lowest level there is. It says that travelers should “exercise normal precautions.” The U.K.’s page on foreign travel advice for St Maarten notes that “main tourist areas are generally safe, but you should take sensible precautions. Avoid remote areas at night. Do not take valuables to the beach. Make sure purses and handbags are closed and not easy to snatch.”
So what is there to do in this island paradise?
When your cruise ship arrives in St Maarten, you may want to head straight to Great Bay, or Little Bay Beach, both located a short walk from the cruise docks. These beaches boasts soft sand and a shoreline ideal for snorkeling. Restaurants, snack bars, and strolling vendors here offer a wide selection of food and beverages. Or you can take a water taxi to Wathey Square, the picturesque center of the city, which offers abundant shopping and dining choices nearby.
Mention the Cayman Islands and the first thing you might think of is banking. A world-renowned hotspot for offshore banking, if people are going to put their money here, then they are going to demand that it be a stable, safe place.
Grand Cayman is the largest of the islands in this country and it’s where cruise ships dock when visiting. Like the other places on this list, Grand Cayman is listed by the U.S. State Department as a “Level 1” destination – a place where no extra precautions are deemed necessary for travelers.
Meanwhile, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Crime and Safety Report, “the Cayman Islands are considered a safe place with little criminal activity affecting tourists.”
Three islands compose the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands. The largest of these, Grand Cayman, is only nine miles at its widest, by twenty-two miles. Cruise ships dock here at the capital city of George Town.
Depending on how long your ship docks here and what you mood is, you can loll on white sand beaches facing brilliant azure waters, or take advantage of the island’s famous tax-free shopping. Other options include an excursion to swim with stingrays or visiting enjoy a tropical wildlife encounter amidst sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Center.
For how exotic Tortola in the British Virgin Islands sounds, it’s surprisingly close. Sitting less than 100 miles to the east of Puerto Rico, the port is easily reached by ships sailing from Florida.
As for your safety, the U.S. State Department’s Travel Advisory lists the British Virgin Islands at “Level 1,” with no specific mentions of places to be cautious or avoid.
The U.K. government’s foreign travel website states “Although most visits to the BVI are trouble-free, serious incidents, including armed robbery, do occur. You should take sensible precautions against petty crime.”
For reference, the island had just one homicide in 2013.
Cruise ships calling at the largest of the British Virgin Islands usually dock at the pier in the capital city, Road Town. See if your cruise line offers an excursion from Tortola to the Baths on Virgin Gorda where huge granite boulders form sunlit caves and tranquil coves with shallow waters.
If you’re an experienced diver, you can explore one of the most famous wrecks in the Caribbean, RMS Rhone – and 1860s sailing ship that went down in a hurricane. You can also go high into the island’s steep mountains on a 4×4 tour to enjoy beautiful views.
Sitting in the southern Caribbean — just a few miles off the coast of Venezuela — Bonaire is officially a special municipality of the Netherlands. It’s also among the safest cruise ports you can visit.
The U.S. State Department has no special warnings for the island, and seemingly for good reason. A 2017 survey of residents showed that a staggering 82% of respondents said that crime in their neighborhood was either low or non-existent.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government mentions petty theft and avoiding isolated places after dark as the biggest issues for its citizens.
If you’re looking for something fun to do during your visit, snorkeling and diving are two major draws, as are semi-submersible underwater tours. There are also beach clubs where you can lounge on the sand, eat and drink, swim in the pool and enjoy a slower pace of life.
Our Advice: Take Precautions, but Avoid Worrying
As a Swedish proverb says, “Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” Most cruise passengers sail many times and visit many ports without experiencing any problems. In fact, the few tips mentioned above can help to reduce your chance of becoming a victim of any mishap.
Don’t see your cruise port listed above? Before your trip begins, you may want to check the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory site for updated information on the ports your ship will visit. You can also get a good cruise insurance policy to help protect yourself and give you peace of mind in case something unexpected does happen. Once you’ve taken these steps, allow yourself to relax.
When your ship docks in a new port, let yourself get excited about the adventure of exploring a new place — soak in the sights, sounds, and delicious tastes of each place you visit. Soon you’ll have great photos and wonderful travel anecdotes to share with your friends and family.