Whenever I'm planning a cruise, I try to be mindful of one particular dichotomy: A week is both a long time and no time at all. In retrospect, I'll look back and feel like the vacation passed in the blink of an eye, but when I'm in the moment, each day will feel — delightfully — like its own lifetime.
I reconcile this contradiction by keeping myself occupied but not quite busy. While I plan sit-down meals and onboard performances, I make sure to spend time just wandering around the ship deck, taking in the views and exploring all that the ship has to offer. Attractions onshore are touchstones or reference points rather than pre-booked, so there's plenty of room for out-of-the-blue discoveries and once-in-a-lifetime encounters.
Balance is key when making the most out of your time on a cruise. If I'm taking a cruise to the Caribbean for a week, I might focus on the pristine nature of the Dominican Republic's beaches and choose to sightsee among more cultural spots, such as the colorful houses of Curaçao. This is also true onboard the ship; carving out time for contemplative solitude makes social experiences all the more enjoyable and allows me to be more present in them.
Whether you have an upcoming trip or you're still in the dreaming stage of planning a week cruise, consider what seven days at sea would mean to you. Where do you want to go and what experiences do you hope to have? And, perhaps more importantly, set an intention: How do you hope to feel during the trip and when the vacation is all over?
An important element of your week long cruise travels is how you'll occupy your time when you're out on the sea. Cruising is so much more than what happens onboard the ship, though the vessel itself is hugely important to your travel experience. While most of the best cruise ships have an abundance of good food and beverages on offer, the selection of entertainment can vary greatly — as can its target audience and age appropriateness — so you'll want to find the ship that ticks all your boxes.
The foundation of your vacation cruising experience starts with the stateroom you select. After all, your stateroom is where you'll plot and plan for your next adventure on land, and recover and recharge from the last one. You'll want it to be comfortable and functional to support you and your family throughout the week. I tend to think of cruise ships less like hotels and more like long-term apartment rentals, even if I'm only traveling for a few days. By selecting a stateroom where I'd be comfortable living for months or years (If only I were able to afford that!), I ensure that the week I spend traveling onboard will be as close to paradise as all the ports along the way.
Some of the people you meet on a week long cruise, particularly if you decide to travel alone or as a couple, can end up becoming real-life friends, too. Of course, a week typically isn't long enough to learn everything about someone, but you can definitely create a special connection, and your kids will surely make some new pals at the many kid-friendly activities and events the ship offers. The people you meet will always be your vacation buddies whom you can look back on fondly. Mingling with fellow cruisers will also help you plan your fun between ports, as I always get fantastic recommendations I wouldn't have known about otherwise.
Between ports, the energy of what's to come is palpable onboard. You can plan and swap tips with your new friends, but I can't stress this enough: Don't overplan. On a cruise, you'll reach a point when extraordinary moments start to feel like they can happen every day. A week at sea is action-packed, filled with memories you and your family will remember forever. Among visiting the ramparts of Fort Christiansvaern in St. Croix and discovering its history, feeling like Superman as you zoom down a thrilling zip line in Labadee, Haiti, or swimming with pigs on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas, these moments will stick with you long after you return from your trip. So, enjoy the present and don't think too far ahead, or it'll pass you by.
If you can adjust to a life of greatness during a week out on the sea, just imagine what you can achieve when you get back to your life on land.
Indeed, one of my favorite things about planning a cruise is daydreaming about the travel adventures that await on dry land. As I think about all the journeys I might embark on during my next Caribbean cruise, I imagine myself rustling past towering sugar cane reeds on a plantation tour in Antigua, trekking through the lush wilds of Puerto Rico's El Yunque National Forest, or getting up close and personal with some distant relatives at a monkey sanctuary in the Dominican Republic.
Of course, with a one week travel cruise, you need to be practical — though not every aspect of the trip needs to be mapped out. As delightful as life on deck is, getting off the ship in port for a day trip is always an ideal choice in any Caribbean vacation destination. As a result, without a plan, I highly recommend scoping out the port city for some food or drink you may not expect, like crispy conch fritters sold in the open-air restaurants of the Bahamas or an intoxicating rum flight on one of Jamaica's countless paradise beaches. If I give myself a little freedom, I'm bound to stumble upon something incredible.
And then there are the beaches. I try to narrow it down to one region of the Caribbean I have to see, and I make sure to revel in it. If it's sugar sand and fluorescent waters I'm after, I usually stick to the west, whether that's the familiar sandbar and cenote caves of Mexico's Riviera Maya, or the seemingly endless Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman. (Spoiler alert: It's not just a name!)
Alternately, if my week long cruise through the Caribbean heads east or south, the scenery gets much more dramatic and the beaches much wilder, so the options for adventure are endless. In St. Lucia, you can hike through the towering Pitons mountains, or simply admire them from afar as you relax and sun yourself on the golden shores of Marigot Bay — preferably with a cocktail in hand. In St. Thomas, you might swim up to the floating bar at pristine Lindquist Beach or have a wilder adventure at Coral World Ocean Park with a sea lion swim.
If you're cruising with your family, Perfect Day at CocoCay is a kid's paradise. With endless thrilling water park adventures, zip-line rides, private beaches and more, this private island in the Bahamas is a can't-miss. You could spend the entire week here and never get bored, no matter what age you are.
The post-travel blues are real, though they become more acute the more often you travel. I've felt especially sad disembarking cruise ships, precisely because the line between vacation life and real life blurs. But the easiest way to get over one trip ending is to plan another one. When it comes to cruises, there are as many to choose from as there are colorful fish swimming through the clear waters of the Caribbean.
You can unlock an eternity of possibilities when you take that leap and book your cruise. From the cocoon of comfort and luxury onboard the ship to the myriad wonders waiting to be discovered everywhere you dock, cruising for a week is balm for any traveler's soul. No matter where you go, you'll be amazed by the adventures that await you.