It's tempting to think of a cruise as an epic ocean escape, but you don't need a long trip to have a great adventure. Spend a long weekend exploring the pristine, white beaches of the Bahamas, the ancient Tulum Ruins in Mexico or the sky-blue waters of the Eastern Caribbean during holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Don't let the long weekend flash before your eyes — see the world instead! Choose among these unforgettable destinations and make the most of your long weekend on a 3 to 5-night cruise. Gather your gang and put the nine-to-five behind you as you embrace island time. From zip-lining over the stunning waters of Haiti to snorkeling off the pink beaches of Bermuda, you'll be sure to bring new meaning to the term weekend warrior.
In just a few days, you can cruise to Mexico and explore the world-famous beach resort of Cancun, discover colorful Cozumel and traipse through the ancient Tulum Ruins. Venture inland into the jungles of the Yucatán or underground into the iconic cenote swimming holes. Mexico is close to many U.S. cruise ports, such as Galveston, which makes it an ideal choice for shorter cruise itineraries.
Another excellent choice would be the Bahamas, which is the most convenient option if you plan to cruise from Florida. The wide variety of ports within the islands of the Bahamas themselves make this a perfect destination for Memorial Day weekend cruises. Calling at Nassau allows you to explore the vibrant capital of the Bahamas, while wilder adventures await in Bimini, Paradise Island and beyond. Further sweetening the deal is Perfect Day at CocoCay, where the kids can brave the largest wave pool in the Caribbean while you belly up to the swim-up bar.
One of the best last-minute tips for weekend cruises is to select ports like luxurious Grand Cayman and Falmouth, Jamaica, which are far enough from the mainland that they might not be as crowded as closer options. Other popular cruise destinations in the Western Caribbean include San Juan, resort-filled Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic and even the port of Labadee in Haiti — where you can find thrilling adventure on the world's longest over-water zip line.
Alternatively, if you can stretch your Labor Day weekend cruise beyond just a few nights, you might venture deep into the Eastern Caribbean. Dock at ports within and beyond the U.S. and British Virgin Islands to discover some of the most exotic jewels of the tropical Atlantic. Sink your toes into the golden sand of Pinney's Beach on St. Kitts and Nevis, hike above the sea in Cabrits National Park on Dominica and marvel at contrasting cultures on the Dutch-French island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. Or head further north to Bermuda, whose azure waters and pink beaches are warmed year-round by the jet stream.
Many of the best Memorial Day cruise destinations are interchangeable with places you might go over the Labor Day holiday. Memorial Day activities for the whole family, such as letting loose on CocoCay private in the Bahamas, are just as enticing in late May as they are in early September.
On the other hand, some important advantages present themselves to travelers who are able to cruise during the Memorial Day holiday, no matter who you're traveling with or where you sail from. If you're looking for Memorial Day weekend getaways for couples, keep in mind that school tends to be out during May. Therefore, while family-friendly destinations such as the Bahamas and Mexico will be on the crowded side, romantic escapes to St. Kitts and Nevis or even Bermuda might have more availability. Have a private, romantic moment at Grace Bay in Turks and Caicos, widely considered one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Couples might also consider dipping into their paid time off hours, since extending a weekend cruise to include Thursday or Tuesday will reduce the number of other travelers able to take the trip.
None of which is to say that Memorial Day weekend cruises for families are a non-starter, particularly if you start shopping now. After determining how many days you can cruise and where you want to depart from, you can immediately begin browsing Memorial Day cruises. For instance, if you live in Atlanta, you can fly or drive your family to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami and take a 2 or 3-night cruise to family-friendly CocoCay private island.
As is the case for general long weekend travel or even trips you take over Labor Day, many of the best cruises are the most adventurous ones. Why not head beyond the comforts of Cancun to the lesser docked-at cruise ports of Belize? Whatever you do, allow your brainstorming and research to be fun. After all, Labor Day is meant to be a break from work, not create more of it.
The good news is that while Labor Day is a popular time to travel, possibilities for Labor Day weekend cruises are practically unlimited. If you combine this built-in advantage with smart strategic moves, like booking early and leaving from a convenient departure port, you'll manage to cruise stress-free at one of the busiest times of the year. Moreover, being open to a wide range of destinations — from top choices like the Bahamas and Cancun to secondary options like Puerto Rico — further sweetens the deal.
Assuming you can only take three days for your Labor Day cruise, most of the best cruises are going to be the ones closest to you. If you live in the Northeast, you might depart from New Jersey's Cape Liberty Cruise Port for Bermuda, which is the closest major cruise destination to the New York City area. For a trip like this, the journey is the destination — enjoy the cerulean horizon of the open Atlantic before frolicking on legendary Bermuda shores like Horseshoe Bay Beach.
Remember that flexibility opens up your options. One of the best last-minute tips, even if you plan to sail over Labor Day weekend, is to make yourself more available. This could be in terms of the number of nights. A five-night departure from Miami to the Bahamas is less likely to be fully booked during Labor Day than a shorter Bahamas cruise since many people are unable or unwilling to take off additional days. Likewise, if you can manage to fly to Houston or New York, being able to sail from Cape Liberty Cruise Port or Galveston invites additional possibilities and, depending on how full bookings are for your dates, better prices as well.
Or, if you have some flexible time off work, you could choose to travel during a period adjacent to the Labor Day holiday for an even less stressful experience. Browse long weekend cruises during the last week of August or the second week of September, whether you stay close to the U.S. mainland with departures to Mexico and Belize or Grand Cayman and Puerto Rico, or take a longer cruise to Jamaica or even the Virgin Islands. Deserted Honeymoon Beach on St. Thomas beckons you, whether you're looking to relax on its sunkissed shores or get active with some snorkel gear.
Proper planning is essential to making sure your trip goes off without a hitch, whether you happen to be shopping for long weekend cruises throughout the year or you've selected travel dates during the Labor or Memorial Day holiday. An important first step is choosing the right port. The majority of Americans are within a nonstop flight (or even a short drive) of Galveston, Texas, New York City, or Florida's popular Fort Lauderdale and Miami cruise terminals.
Galveston is a great choice for Labor Day weekend cruises. The most obvious reason for this is how close departing here situates you to the treasures of the Mexican Yucatan, though more distant options exist. Continue sailing south to Belize, whose otherworldly Great Blue Hole you have to see to believe, or head over to the shallows of Western Caribbean and immerse yourself in the history and culture like the ancient pyramids in Cozumel, Mexico.
If you live in the Northeast, you'll be pleased to know that many of the best cruises for shorter itineraries also depart from the New York City area. Leaving from Bayonne's Cape Liberty Cruise Port, it's easy to cruise toward the paradisiacal shores of Bermuda, whose coral-rich beaches are prone to giving off a pink color. You can also head farther south to the Bahamas, and even into the Caribbean Sea — as long as you can devote four or five nights to your cruise instead of just two or three. Explore Western and Central Caribbean destinations like Grand Cayman, or head east to Antigua and Barbuda, where the panoramic lookout from Shirley Heights will have you feeling on top of the world, literally.
Florida, which has two very popular ports of departure, is perhaps the best place to set off on Memorial Day weekend cruises. In addition to the fact that you'll be able to shop sailings from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale, both locations put you in a great position to explore the Caribbean Sea. For shorter trips, you'll likely stick to nearby islands like the Bahamas and Grand Cayman, though you might also be able to reach Jamaica or even the Virgin Islands if you have a few additional days to spare. In fact, Florida is arguably the optimal place to depart from on more adventurous cruises, since you start being close to the most exotic destinations in the Caribbean.
There's no better way to spend an extra day off than in beachside bliss. From once-in-a-lifetime thrills to the soothing sound of lapping, blue waves, setting sail to one of these beautiful destinations is sure to make your next travel vacation one for the books with a relaxing weekend getaway or one week cruise.
Though cruise booking generally opens several months in advance, deals on long weekend cruises may post just weeks or even days before departure. If you're flexible about when you sail, you'll enjoy some pretty sweet deals.
On the other hand, for Labor and Memorial Day weekend cruises, booking (or at least searching) early is often a fact of life. Begin shopping early in the year, and book as soon as you begin to notice availability decreasing.
Be smart when you get onboard to avoid undue stress. For example, eat before or after typical meal times, then enjoy less crowded common areas while most others are eating.