Always wanted to shake your tail feather at Junkanoo, the biggest and best of the Bahamas’ many festivals? Or perhaps you’d prefer to check out Pirates Week – 11 days of pirate themed fun and festivities across the three Cayman Islands?
No matter which Caribbean festivals and events you have your heart set on attending, there’s a cruise that can take you there. Here’s our guide to the Caribbean’s best parties – and the cruise lines that encompass them.
1. Bob Marley Birthday Bash, Jamaica
Reggae fans from around the world flock to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, to pay tribute to the King of Reggae on his birthday, at his former residence on Hope Road. Expect a myriad of reggae entertainers, often including the superstar’s sons – take a bow Ziggy, Damian and Stephen – and grandson, Skip Marley.
In addition to the museum in Kingston, the small museum in Nine Mile (Bob Marley’s birth site) near Ocho Rios is a popular destination as is Negril, where current reggae artists perform live in honour of the music legend.
2. Carnival, Trinidad
Late February/early March
Together with Brazil, the Caribbean is synonymous with carnival – five days to a fortnight of revelry held in the run-up to Ash Wednesday. Each island has its own carnival, but the biggest and the best party takes place in Trinidad.
Get your sequins on for the battle of the steel-pan bands, elaborate floats basting soca and calypso music, twirling dancers, outlandish costumes and wild street parties that rage until dawn.
The outfits won't disappoint Credit: istock
Big, bright, loud and proud, it’s the mother of all carnivals – and everyone is invited.
3. St. Patrick's Week, Montserrat
Help Montserratians celebrate their Irish heritage (an official green shamrock is stamped in your passport at the airport, while the national flag shows an Irish harp symbol) during St Patrick’s Week.
Yes, you read right: locals paint the Caribbean island green for a whole seven days in memory of the Irish who settled there in the 17th century, after Protestants expelled them from the neighbouring island of St Kitts.
Leprechauns, shamrocks and Guinness abound during St Patrick’s Week but there’s also a distinctively Caribbean twist to festivities, and cruise passengers can look forward to riotous street-drumming jams and Twenty-20 cricket matches.
4. Antigua Sailing Week
One of the sport's most famous regattas, Antigua Sailing Week is equal parts serious racing and serious partying. Five days of formal racing runs out of Falmouth Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard on the south coast of Antigua, and is followed by a lively après sailing scene.
Inaugurated in 1968, Antigua Sailing Week is said to be the major event that drives year-round awareness of Antigua and Barbuda.
Sailing means big business in Antigua Credit: getty
5. Crop Over Festival, Barbados
Barbados bound? Don’t miss Crop Over Festival, the island’s top event celebrating a 200 year-old tradition that honors the end of the sugar cane season. This legendary six-week festival features dusk till dawn parties, Instagram-worthy parades, arts and crafts markets and culinary-driven street fairs.
Grand Kadooment Day marks the end of Crop Over and sees revellers take to the streets in flamboyant masquerade-style costumes.
Parades aplenty on Grand Kadooment Day Credit: getty
6. Reggae Sumfest, Jamaica
Dubbed “the greatest reggae show on earth”, Reggae Sumfest sees Bob Marley devotees and die hard rastafarians from around the world descend on Montego Bay (or Mo Bay as everyone calls it) to jam with world class reggae artists for a week. Last year’s line-up included Jamaican heavyweights such as Spice, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, Beres Hammond, Popcaan and Capleton, alongside international headliners. Sumfest, which started in 1993, kicks off with a beach party on Walter Fletcher Beach.
Montego Bay Credit: istock
7. Pirates Week, Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands’ national festival, Pirates Week (actually longer than a week) promises parades, games, fireworks, music and more for the whole family to enjoy.
Festivities begin on Cayman Brac before moving to the main island, Grand Cayman, and concluding on Little Cayman (which, as the name suggests, is the smallest of the three Cayman Islands).
Conceived from an idea to throw an event that would attract tourists, the festival draws heavily on Cayman’s history of pirate attacks. Legend has it that the first settlers of Little Cayman fled due to a pirate invasion, while it’s rumoured that Blackbeard buried his treasure in the caves of Cayman Brac.
Pirates descend on the Cayman Islands Credit: getty
8. Junkanoo Festival, The Bahamas
December 26 and January 1
The Bahamas’ version of Mardi Gras is called “Junkanoo” – pronounced junk-uh-noo – and it starts in the twilight hours of Boxing Day. Crowds come to Nassau for the colourful street parade replete with dancing, music, impressive floats and iridescent costumes (that can weigh over 200lb/90kg each).
The origin of the name Junkanoo is hotly disputed but many claim that the word originated during the slave trade from John Canoe, a legendary African prince who demanded to celebrate with the slaves on their days off. Others believe that “junkanoo” comes from the French word “l'inconnu” meaning “the unknown” – in reference to the masks worn by the Junkanoo performers.
Junkanoo: the Bahamian’s version of Mardi Gras Credit: iStock
How to do it
The following cruise lines operate numerous itineraries in the Caribbean:
Caribbean cruises for non-cruise people
The Caribbean is the world’s largest cruise-ship destination and for good reason: it's the easiest way to explore a variety of islands, and the most economical. Travel in the Caribbean can be extortionate and because cruises cover accommodation, meals, transportation and entertainment in one price, they are comparatively affordable.
Still not convinced a Caribbean cruise is for you? Here’s a handful of boutique cruise lines plying the Caribbean Sea:
The sounds of steel drums have become synonymous with the Caribbean Credit: iStock
Sea Cloud Cruises
A German-American company that operates luxury cruises in the Eastern Caribbean on their two traditionally rigged sailing ships, Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II.
The brainchild of Swedish entrepreneur Mikael Krafft, Star Clippers operates three tall-ship sailboats that primarily sail under wind power and carry no more than 170 passengers.
This boutique cruise line carries between 200 and just over 300 passengers on its small ships, and is known for its immersive and authentic experiences and unique, port-intensive itineraries.
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