You can expect sunny skies, warm temperatures, turquoise waters, sandy beaches, and generally smooth sailing while cruising the Caribbean. No wonder it’s the number one cruise destination in the world. In 2015, more than 200 ships, including nearly all the major cruise lines, offered Caribbean itineraries.
Eastern Caribbean island cruises are wildly popular and generally visit the British and American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the two-nation island of St. Maarten/St. Martin; sometimes stops in the Bahamas are also included. Western Caribbean itineraries typically include islands due south of Florida, with stops in Key West, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, islands along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, and Central American destinations such as Belize and Honduras. The Southern Caribbean region includes islands east and south of St. Maarten/St. Martin; popular stops include Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Barths, Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Trinidad and Tobago. Panama may also be included.
So, how do you choose the best one for you?
Carnival (800-764-7419, www.carnival.com) offers some of the best deals and a slew of itineraries to choose from, with departures from several East Coast cities, including New York. Nineteen of its 24 ships operate in the Caribbean or Bahamas. Find out if you like cruising on one of their short three- or four-night itineraries. For example, the four-day Western Caribbean cruise from Miami visits Key West and Cozumel, for as little as $45 a night. Princess (800-774-6237, www.princess.com) also offers a range of four- to 10-day Caribbean sailings to the Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean, departing from Fort Lauderdale and Houston, with more than 20 different itineraries. The 10-day Southern Caribbean cruises, departing from Fort Lauderdale, make stops in Grenada and Dominica and includes a visit to Princess Cays, Princess’s private island in the Bahamas.
For luxury lovers
Caviar and champagne, anyone? On a Seabourn cruise (866-755-5619, www.seabourn.com) staff members plunge into the water to deliver champagne and caviar to guests. This small-ship, ultra-luxury line is now booking 2017 sailings, which include a 12-day itinerary departing from Fort Lauderdale with stops in the Dominican Republic, British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Barths, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados. Really want to get away? The 39-day Caribbean and the Panama Canal cruise includes a transit of the canal and some 20 ports along the way. View the blue-hued waters of the Caribbean from your oceanfront suite on Silversea (888-978-4070, www.silversea.com) sailings. The luxury liner is lauded for its top-notch service, fine dining, and all-inclusive fares. In 2016, it’s offering six voyages ranging from 10 to 15 days. For example, the 12-day Fort Lauderdale to Fort Lauderdale cruise includes stops in Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize, Roatan, Grand Cayman, and Key West.
Snorkel hidden reefs, kayak the shores of wild islands, and explore remote rainforest rivers on a cruise with Lindblad Expeditions (800-397-3348, www.expeditions.com). If you’re more about the adventure than the buffet, this cruise line is for you. The company is a pioneer in small-ship expedition cruising with onboard naturalists and historians. The 58-passenger Sea Cloud, a four-masted tall ship, visits Barbados, Dominica, Iles des Saintes, St. Lucia, the Grenadines, and Bequia on its popular eight-day itinerary. The cruise line also offers a selection of Costa Rica and Panama itineraries, ranging from eight to 15 days, set aboard the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Lion.
For sailors and yachtsmen
Imagine cruising the Caribbean on a private yacht with a cadre of people at your beck and call. Such is life aboard the SeaDream Yacht Club (800-707-4911, www.seadream.com), where a crew of 95 is in charge of pampering just 112 people. SeaDream I will sail between Barbados and St. Martin visiting the elite private island of Mustique, as well as the Grenadines and Guadeloupe. You’ll visit small harbors, hidden coves, and the favorite cruising grounds of sailors on a Caribbean cruise with Windstar (888-210-4485, www.windstarcruises.com). The Yachtsman’s Caribbean, a seven-day cruise aboard the 310-passenger Wind Surf, a majestic, five-masted mega-yacht, is one of the more popular itineraries. In 2016, the cruise line will have seven new Caribbean voyages with 30 new ports of call, including itineraries with visits to Little Bay, Montserrat. Windstar will be the first cruise line to make regular calls since the 1995 eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano that buried the island’s capital city. Paul Gauguin Cruises (800-848-6172, pgcruises.com) will introduce a new, seven-night Roundtrip Philipsburg, St. Maarten, itinerary featuring overnights in Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Anguilla, and St. Barths, aboard the m/v Tere Moana, an 88-passenger luxury yacht. The cruise line will also sail an eight-day itinerary combining Caribbean islands with Central and South America, with stops in Aruba, Cartagena, and Panama.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.