Caribbean Cruises With A Difference
The Caribbean is the most popular region in the world for a cruise holiday, with a daunting array of possibilities. One key decision to make is where to sail from.
Most Caribbean cruises depart from Floridian ports but many also leave from the islands, such as Barbados. Lots of transatlantic voyages sailing out of and back to the UK also take in the islands.
Then there is where to cruise to. Routes broadly fall in to the eastern Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Antigua, St Lucia, Barbados), western Caribbean (Jamaica and Mexico) and southern Caribbean (the Grenadines and sometimes Dutch Antilles). But arguably the most crucial choice is which cruise line to travel with.
Over two dozen lines feature itineraries that take in a selection of the islands, and the ships vary enormously in size, style, comfort and facilities – and in the ports of call they visit. Below, I’ve divided up cruise lines featuring Caribbean trips into those offering resort, traditional, luxury and sail/cruise ships – and summarised what each line offers, highlighting main selling points, and flagging up any new ships, itineraries and services.
Think vast ships with thousands of passengers and a cornucopia of facilities and entertainment. They are the best bet for most families, and many companies offer year-round Caribbean sailings, including cheaper, low-season summer cruises. With some lines, a big selling point is a day at their own private beach (often an island).
Carnival Cruise Lines
Eighteen Carnival ships visit the Caribbean, mostly from Floridian ports, but also from Galveston (Texas), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Barbados. Expect a full-on party atmosphere, with DJs out on the main deck. Good for affordable family fun. Some ships feature a new tie-in with Dr Seuss (including a green-eggs-and-ham breakfast) and new Camp Ocean children’s programme for two to 11-year-olds – Carnival Freedom offers both.
The six Celebrity ships touring the Caribbean, most departing from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, are among the most stylish of the big resort vessels – some have a Lawn Club, with real grass on deck. A new Suite Class option – benefits include an upmarket restaurant exclusively for suite guests – is being introduced in April. Some itineraries include a day at the activity-filled private peninsular beach resort of Labadee in Haiti.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney ships are probably the most enjoyable for families with younger children. Departures from Port Canaveral (convenient if visiting Orlando) and Miami: three to five-night cruises to the Bahamas, including Disney’s own Castaway Cay; five to seven-night trips take in other parts of the Caribbean.
Holland America Line
Eight mid-sized HAL ships (smaller than many of its competitors) sail the Caribbean, from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. Most cruises stop at Half Moon Cay, HAL’s private, little-developed island in the Bahamas, with a three-kilometre-long crescent of beach. Good for cultural immersion: locals board ships and give on-board lectures, demonstrations and performances. Interesting excursions include a Barbados tour led by a local photographer.
Italian cruise line MSC has week-long Caribbean cruises from Miami on the elegant MSC Divina, and for 2015/16 has introduced a 14-night itinerary from Barbados on the MSC Orchestra, with stops at less-visited islands, including Trinidad, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Norwegian Cruise Line
With an innovative open-air promenade, 28 dining options and an aqua park, Norwegian Cruise Line's vast Norwegian Getaway (it can accommodate 4,000 passengers) sounds fantastic for families. Launched this year, it sails year round from Miami on seven-night eastern Caribbean cruises that take in Great Stirrup Cay, the cruise line’s private Bahamian island. The similar Norwegian Escape is scheduled to start sailing from Miami this year.
P&O's winter Caribbean cruises cater to a British clientele, departing from Barbados or, with transatlantic crossings, Southampton. The family-friendly Azura and Ventura offer two-week round trips from Barbados, as will the Britannia from November – when built, it will be the largest ship for the British cruise market. The Azura has a wine-themed Caribbean cruise in February.
Five Princess ships sail Caribbean waters from Fort Lauderdale, including the new Regal Princess, with a glass-bottom walkway over the sea. Itineraries include Princess Cays, the line’s private beach getaway on Eleuthera in the Bahamas.
Royal Caribbean International
Giant ships with great entertainment for teenagers (e.g. rock climbing, surf simulators) often visit the Royal Caribbean's private beaches of Coco Bay in the Bahamas and Labadee in Haiti. Most departures are from Tampa or Fort Lauderdale, but the state-of-the-art Quantum of the Seas, which promises skydiving, bumper cars, robotic bartenders and much else eye-popping besides, will be sailing from New York to the Caribbean after it launches in November.
While you're in the neighbourhood: Top 5 Must See Beaches On A Caribbean Cruise
If islands and beaches float your boat: On Location In The South Pacific Islands
Compared with the giant resort ships, these vessels are generally less ritzy, more sedate and much smaller, accommodating from about 450 to 1,500 passengers.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines has departures from the UK and Barbados; a month-long Caribbean from Scotland cruise on the Black Watch in November is new.
On these ships you can expect fine dining and excellent service, and many are small, so they can visit off-the-beaten-track islands whose harbours are unable to accommodate the big cruise ships.
Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara's West Indies Hideaway Voyages, from Miami, on the country-club-styled, 686-passenger Azamara Journey take in some of the loveliest small islands, including St John (US Virgin Islands), Nevis and St Barts.
Cunard's supremely elegant ocean liner Queen Mary 2 has a 12-night Caribbean Fiesta cruise from/back to New York, which you can lengthen with Southampton-New York crossings.
Crystal Cruises offers several Caribbean cruises from Miami on the mid-size Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Outstanding food on board, and interesting excursions, some geared to late risers.
The food lovers’ luxury cruise line, Oceania has Caribbean itineraries from Miami on the mid-size Riviera, with culinary excursions in St Lucia and Antigua that include cookery lessons and visits to markets.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Paul Gaugin Cruises offers small port stops in the British Virgin Islands and French Caribbean on the sleek, 45-cabin, mega-yacht-style Tere Moana, departing from St Maarten.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas offers various eastern and western Caribbean seven to 11-night itineraries from Miami on the stylish Seven Seas Navigator (490 passengers maximum); unlimited excursions included in the price.
Seabourn's elegant and intimate Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend (both 208 passengers maximum) tour “the unspoilt, uncommon Caribbean”. On a 14-night Exotic Caribbean In-Depth cruise from Barbados, you anchor off little Grenadine islands, and have a Caviar in the Surf beach party on titchy Prickly Pear Island in the BVI.
SeaDream Yacht Club
SeaDream has a good choice of largely off-the-beaten-path Caribbean itineraries (some from Barbados) on the stylish but informal SeaDream I and SeaDream II – mega-yacht-styled ships sleeping up to 112 passengers, with retractable watersports platforms. Complimentary 'shore-side casual' crew-led excursions, such as a bike ride around Nevis and a hike on Culebrita, an uninhabited island off Puerto Rico.
Three Silversea ships (296-540 passengers maximum), some with bridge programmes and distinguished 'gentlemen hosts' to accompany solo travellers at dinner, are sailing the Caribbean. Some Barbados-Fort Lauderdale itineraries include little-visited stops such as Dutch Bonaire (fantastic snorkelling and diving) and Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second city.
The fully rigged tall ships that cruise around the Caribbean are among the most graceful-looking vessels afloat – and they are very romantic and comfortably kitted out. The ships move under sail when there is sufficient wind but have engines to use when needed.
Sea Cloud Cruises
Sea Cloud's elegant, retro-styled windjammers Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II (64-94 passengers maximum) include sailings from Barbados, Antigua and Havana, taking in the Grenadines, British Virgin Islands and Cuban cays; excursions are included in the rates.
Three majestic Star Clippers tall ships (170-227 passengers maximum), with an informal atmosphere, sail the Caribbean: Royal Clipper from Barbados; Star Clipper from St Maarten; and Star Flyer from Cienfuegos in Cuba, with itineraries taking in the country’s offshore cays and colonial towns, plus the Cayman Islands. Passengers can climb the ships’ masts.
Two casual, contemporary-styled Windstar sail/cruise ships, with self-furling, computer-operated sails (so not proper working tall ships), explore the Caribbean. Wind Star (148 passengers maximum) runs seven-night round trips from Barbados, with three days in the unspoilt Grenadines.
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This article was written by Fred Mawer from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.