A cultural cheat sheet to the Caribbean

When it comes to booking a Caribbean cruise, all you need to know is that there will be beautiful beaches, plenty of sunshine and swaying palm trees. As your departure inches closer, you may wish to discover more about the exotic and tropical destinations you’re visiting and the unique and rich cultures you’d expect to encounter. Read on to find out what you need to know about Cuba, Barbados and the other islands in the Caribbean.

There are more than 700 islands in the Caribbean
 
Despite many of us being able to name a number of the most famous Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas and St Lucia, there are actually more than 700 islands in this part of the world but just two per cent of them are inhabited. They are also split into subgroups, including the Lucayan Archipelago and the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
 
English is spoken widely throughout the Caribbean 
 
English is the first or second language on many of the Caribbean islands, making it relatively easy to speak to locals. Spanish, French and Dutch are also widely spoken, due to the colonial powers that have ruled over them throughout history. Meanwhile, if you’re heading to Cuba, it’s worth having a basic grasp of Spanish too.
 
Hola = Hello
 
Por favor = Please
 
Gracias = Thank you
 
Much of the Caribbean celebrates Carnival in a big way
 
Carnival is celebrated widely throughout the Caribbean and if you happen to be on one of the bigger islands - such as Jamaica, 51 days before Easter - expect to get caught up in the festivities. 
 
It is a fantastic extravaganza to experience and generally includes colourful costumes, lively music and specially-prepared foods to signify the end of decadent provisions before Lent begins.
 
Jamaica holds the world record for most churches
 
Any MSC Cruises guest with an appreciation for an historic and grandiose church will feel like a kid in a candy shop in Jamaica. 
 
The island has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world with no fewer than 1,600, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of the churches worth checking out include Mary, Gate of Heaven Catholic Church in Negril, Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kingston and Spanish Town’s St. Jago De La Vega Cathedral.
 
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Nevis’ Cottle Church is deemed one of the most important churches in the world. This is because it was the first church where slaves and their masters worshipped together, effectively sparking the abolition movement and initiating desegregation in the Caribbean. 
 
Cottle Church may not have any lavish stained glass windows (we should mention, it doesn’t even have a roof!), but its significance can’t be overstated, and that’s why anyone with a love for churches or history should make the effort to visit. 
 
St Lucia - the only country in the world named after a woman
 
The name St Lucia is one that befits the stunning surroundings of the island. It was given the moniker by French sailors, who apparently became shipwrecked on the island one year in the 1550s on December 13th. As this is the feast day of Saint Lucy of Syracuse, they decided to name the nation after her. To this day, St Lucia remains the only nation in the world to be named after a woman.
 
The island’s culture, however, draws influence from African, French and English heritage. English is the island’s official language and its people are predominantly Catholic. 
 
Two traditional festivals are held on the island every year - La Woz (which translates as ‘The Rose’) on August 30th, and La Magwit (‘The Marguerite’) on October 17th. A number of small festivals and parades take place on the island around the Christmas season too. 
 
Creole Day is another cultural festival on St Lucia, celebrated on the last Sunday in October. This sees the chosen host town lay out a vast array of locally sourced food and drink, such as green fig, salt fish, roast pork, lime and guava drinks, plantain, and breadfruit. 
 
Most people commemorate Creole Day by wearing the island's national wear - the Madras. Those who do not want to wear the extreme layers of skirts and dresses make clothing out of the special plaid material.
 
The sound of St Lucia merges Caribbean music genres such as reggae, Calypso and soca, and the island has produced a lot of zouk music, with its fast jump-up carnival beat. 
 
For a taste of St Lucia, you could try green banana and saltfish - the island’s national dish. If that doesn’t take your fancy, its wider cuisine melds elements of West African, British, French and East Indian dishes. Just some of its dynamic dishes include macaroni pie, stew chicken, rice and peas, as well as a variety of hearty fish broths and soups.