Raise your hand if this cruise sounds familiar: Nassau, St. Thomas, St. Maarten. How about Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel? We thought so. Like you, today’s cruise lines are looking for new frontiers. Problem is, big boats require big ports, and not many cash-strapped island governments can afford to build them. Enter cruising’s newest trend: ports developed (or redeveloped) by cruise lines. Starting with Carnival’s renovation of Grand Turk in 2006, the big players have financed port projects in Falmouth, Jamaica, and Roatan, Honduras, using them to replace old standbys or at least diversify itineraries. Despite the hefty price tags, the new ports are a win-win: Passengers get a fresh stamp in their passports, and cruise lines get a novel destination tailor-made to their desires. And because the ports are purpose-built, the lines can design shore excursions, shopping and dining around their cruisers’ preferences. So if you’re seeking new ports for your next cruise, chances are you’ll find them (see below). If not, cruise lines are building them. All you have to do is come.
GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICOS
Alternative To: Nassau, Bahamas; St. Thomas, USVI
Cruise Lines: Carnival, Costa, Holland America, Princess
Try This: Snorkel with stingrays at Gibbs Cay, then hit Cockburn Town for a lunch of cracked conch and a cold rum punch.
Coming Next: The major cruise lines have long favored the U.S. Virgin Islands over the neighboring British ones, but Disney is currently in talks with the government to redevelop the port and environs of Road Town, Tortola, over the next three years.
Alternative To: Cozumel, Mexico
Cruise Lines: Dixon Cove: Carnival, Holland America, Princess; Coxen Hole: Celebrity, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean
Try This: Come face to face with capuchin monkeys at Gumbalimba Park, then head to Tabyana Beach.
Coming Next: Banana Coast, a new port near Trujillo, Honduras, expects to welcome its first cruisers in 2013. Billing itself as Central America’s first mainland cruise port, it will offer excursions focusing on eco and cultural tours.
Alternative To: Ocho Rios
Built By: Royal Caribbean
Try This: Juice up the tried-and-true Jamaica river excursion with white-water rafting on the nearby Rio Bueno, then admire the Georgian architecture in Falmouth’s quaint historic district.
Coming Next: The Dominican Republic’s beach-blessed north coast will soon be within cruisers’ reach: Carnival is investing $65 million to build a port near Puerto Plata that’s scheduled to be completed within two years.