Cruises from San Juan are the best way to explore the exotic islands in the South Caribbean. This historic port city is the capital of Puerto Rico. As well as being a popular port of call for approximately 500 cruise ships each season, it is also the home port for several cruise ships offering Southern Caribbean cruise itineraries.
San Juan cruise port is the largest and busiest in the Caribbean with two separate terminals. Most cruise ships use the main San Juan Terminal within sight of the Old Town. It has four piers and can accommodate up to 7 ships at a time. Across the harbor, the Pan-Am cruise terminal is used by larger mega cruise ships and can accommodate two further cruise ships at the same time.
In normal years, San Juan hosts around 2 million cruise visitors each season. However, the 2020-21 cruise season is scheduled to be much quieter as the port is largely closed due to planned privatization and necessary maintenance of the infrastructure.
Before you decide to book one of the Caribbean cruises from San Juan, check out our informative pros and cons.
Pros for Cruises from San Juan
Prime Location for South Caribbean Ports of Call
The island of Puerto Rico is approximately 1000 miles southeast of Miami. This means that cruises to the attractive islands in the Southern Caribbean can be reached in a matter of hours rather than days.
Cruises from San Juan cover a variety of exotic ports of call to most islands in the Southeast Caribbean including:
- British and US Virgin Islands
- Leeward islands ( including Saint Martin)
- Windward Isles (Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Dominica and the Grenadines)
- Netherlands Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao)
Choice of Top Cruise Lines
The main cruise lines that normally use San Juan as a home port are Carnival Cruise Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Silversea, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises. You will find a good choice of itineraries departing from San Juan on these cruise lines.
Many other cruise lines use San Juan as a port of call, particularly for refueling and loading fresh supplies as part of a Transatlantic cruise.
Hotels at the Port
San Juan has several luxury hotels overlooking the cruise port and just a short walk from the cruise terminal. If you are flying into Puerto Rico to join a cruise, it makes sense to arrive a day or two earlier to ensure that any flight problems do not cause you to miss your cruise.
Post-cruise hotel stays also allow you to extend your cruise vacation with a relaxing break to visit beaches, the rainforest and Old Town attractions. Check out these 26 ideal hotels in San Juan for cruisers.
Most passengers booked on cruises from San Juan arrive by air into the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU). It is one of the busiest airports in the Caribbean and consequently flights from the USA are regular and cheap.
The San Juan cruise port is located 8 miles west of the airport and is easy to reach by taxi. The cost is around $28 and most taxis accept major credit cards. The journey takes about 20 minutes.
If you are staying in a hotel before your cruise from San Juan, several hotels offer complimentary transfers to and from the airport. Check out the details when you book and save yourself some money.
Everything in the shops, cafes and restaurants in Puerto Rico is priced in US$. This makes shopping very easy. You can pay either using cash dollars or credit cards without having to worry about the exchange rate.
Old San Juan Attractions
Old San Juan has over 500 years of history, from the Fort San Cristobal walls near the port to the National Historic Park and Castillo San Felipe del Morro Fortress. All these attractions have modest admittance fees (around $5) and guides speak English as well as Spanish.
If you are only visiting San Juan for a short time before your cruise, the free Trolley is a good way to get around and see the sights quickly and easily. This service is also very useful for those with limited mobility, or families with children.
The trolleys run daily from 7am to 6pm (9am to 7pm on weekends) and they offer a hop-on, hop-off service. Check the destination of the trolley before boarding to make sure it is going to your required destination.
There are 3 routes to choose from:
Castillos Fortifications is an open-air trolley that covers all the forts in San Juan and the Capitol building. You can board across the street from the main cruise piers (Stop #1) although this stop can be crowded when visiting cruises ships are in port.
El Morro/ Fort Trolley Long Route
This air-conditioned trolley bus runs around the forts and the main shopping streets of Old San Juan. It circles around the Plaza de Armas and then heads to La Casita bar/restaurant complex, Paseo de la Princesa and then back to the port (Stop #1).
Casa Alcadia/ City Hall
This short route is operated by air-conditioned trolley which covers a shorter route around the main shopping district of Old San Juan, La Casita and the port.
The trolley stop outside the port is always busy when cruise ships are in port. Instead, walk a short distance to the forts or La Casita where most passengers disembark and you can hop aboard the trolley without having to wait. Check the routes and print out the free trolley map on the website.
Ride a Garita
If the free trolley bus is overcrowded, wave down one of the “garitas” that operate in Old San Juan. These golf cart vehicles are free to ride and they will take you to any local destination very easily.
Puerto Rican Food and Drink
Puerto Ricans certainly know how to enjoy food. The tasty staple of rice and beans is far more delicious than it sounds and street food is well worth sampling. Puerto Rican coffee is full-bodied and flavorsome and bags of coffee beans make a great souvenir!
The national drink is pina colada, made from local rum, pineapple and coconut milk. Locals often celebrate with pitorro, a potent moonshine sometimes mellowed with coffee or fruit juice.
Puerto Rico has very little serious crime and most cases are drug-related. Petty theft occurs in the city, but generally only if you leave valuables lying unattended or on top of your bag in plain sight. Leave jewelry and expensive electronic devices in your hotel safe if possible. As with any city, avoid dark alleyways and poor neighborhoods after dark and take a taxi back to your hotel. Apart from that, you can relax and enjoy exploring Old San Juan without worrying about your safety.
Although Spanish is the official language spoken in Puerto Rico, English is widely spoken in San Juan.
American Stores and Brands
The island is an unincorporated territory of the USA and consequently you will see many familiar US brands such as Walgreens Pharmacy, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco and Marshalls stores. It makes it very easy to shop for extra clothing, forgotten toiletries and pharmaceuticals before boarding the cruise ship.
San Juan has some beautiful sandy beaches making it a very attractive for combining cruises from San Juan with a beach stay. Hotels right on the beach are very affordable so you don’t need to rent a car to get around. It’s a great way to enjoy a Caribbean beach vacation for just the cost of your hotel and food.
Like all Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico has a tropical climate with warm sunny temperatures throughout the year. Even in January, the average high is 83 °F (28 °C). It is particularly attractive in winter for those escaping from the cold weather further north. You can count on having the perfect weather for your winter cruise from San Juan as you sail around the neighboring Caribbean islands.
Cons Against Cruises from San Juan
Higher total cost of cruises from San Juan
When booking cruises from San Juan, you should check the price carefully. Even if the cruise price is attractive, they can work out more expensive overall than cruises from more popular ports of call in the USA, particularly for US residents.
Cruises from San Juan require passengers to first fly to Puerto Rico and this cost is not included in the cruise price. You should also allow for extra expenses such as spending a night in a hotel in San Juan before and/or after your cruise. You may also need to pay for taxi transfers between the airport and the cruise terminal before and after the cruise.
Cruises from San Juan draw thousands of visitors to the island every year. The Old Town can be crowded in peak cruise season from November to April. However, there are plenty of attractions to visit outside the city. Alternatively, join a guided tour and avoid the most crowded attractions closest to the cruise port.
Puerto Rico has been damaged by hurricanes several times in recent years. These include Category 5 Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and Hurricane Dorian in August 2019.
The main season for cruises from San Juan is during the winter months, from November through April. The hurricane season runs from June through November with the most active months being in August and September.
Related: How a Hurricane Could Affect Your Cruise
However, a devastating hurricane such as Maria can leave the island amenities and the cruise port badly damaged and without power. Without massive assistance from the rest of the world, the damage may not be repaired speedily and may affect the following cruise season.
Like many other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is affected by earthquakes. Although most of these are minor tremors, it has had a spate of earthquakes in recent times. From December 2019 through January 2020, the island had 11 earthquakes greater than magnitude 5. They can cause loss of power which may affect your cruise departure or flight arrival.
Puerto Rico is generally considered to be a safe, politically stable country. However, in extreme circumstances there has been some unrest and protests. These were triggered when the islanders felt that the government and the USA were failing to provide essential disaster relief following devastating natural disasters.
Also Read: 40 Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico for Cruisers
San Juan Frequently Asked Questions
The main cruise lines that use San Juan as a home port are Carnival Cruise Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Silversea, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity Cruises. However, the cruise season 2020-21 is likely to be disrupted if the port goes ahead with its planned privatization and scheduled maintenance program.
Cruises from San Juan are usually the same price per night as from Florida. The exception is when a cruise is not fully booked. At that time, you may find last minute cruise deals out of San Juan that are cheaper than Florida ports, and vice versa.
However, cruises departing from San Juan can work out more expensive overall as cruisers have to add on the cost of flying to and from Puerto Rico and possibly having to spend a night or two in a hotel before and/or after the cruise.
San Juan cruise port is very popular for Southern Caribbean cruises. Being over 1000 miles southeast of Miami, San Juan cruises have speedy access to ports in the British and US Virgin Islands; the Leeward islands ( including Saint Martin); the Windward Isles (Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Dominica and the Grenadines) and the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao).
San Juan cruise terminal is on the central north coast of Puerto Rico. The port is located just yards from the historic Old Town attractions, shops, cafes, hotels and restaurants. It is 8 miles west of San Juan International Airport (SJU).
The full address of San Juan cruise terminal is:
Old San Juan Cruise Terminal,
Paseo Gilberto Concepcion de Gracia,
San Juan, PR 00901
Photo Credit: refrina / Shutterstock.com