What’s New In The Caribbean For The Winter of 2016-17

The Caribbean is the quintessential winter cruise getaway destination, and the winter of 2016-17 isn’t any different. With bookings in Europe soft and American passengers reluctant to travel overseas, it’s expected that this year’s Caribbean cruise season will be a good one indeed.

Caribbean dreaming, Star Clippers style. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Caribbean awaits. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of sailings to choose from in the Caribbean this year, from quick and inexpensive cruise getaways to multi-week journeys aboard the latest ships.

What can you look forward to in the Caribbean this year? Here’s a few of the latest trends in the region:

More Short Cruises

Empress of the Seas upon her triumphant return to Miami. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean
Empress of the Seas is just one of the ships operating short runs to the Bahamas and the Caribbean this winter. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean

One of the biggest trends this year is a return to shorter cruises that are less than a week in duration. Sure, most of the sailings to the Caribbean still run a full seven days, but for those looking to take a quick three, four, five, and six-day jaunt to the tropics, there seems to be more choice than ever out there at the moment.

Royal Caribbean, for example, has an entire page on its website dedicated to this very thing, with a total of 34 short itineraries on offer between now and April, 2017. What’s great about this is that these short sailings leave from a wide variety of ports (Port Canaveral, Miami, Tampa), are operated on different classes of ships, and call on different destinations within the Caribbean.

Other cruise lines are offering shorter sailings, too – including some that you might not expect. Seabourn is offering a six-day Caribbean cruise departing from Fort Lauderdale on November 4, 2016 aboard Seabourn Quest, while Silversea’s Silver Wind operates a quick five-night sailing out of San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 7, 2017.

Private Islands

Coco Cay. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

Private Islands are all the rage again, with numerous itineraries that call on dedicated private islands like Holland America Line’s Half Moon Cay, and pseudo-private islands like Carnival Corporation’s Grand Turk and Royal Caribbean’s Labadee.

Private islands are, of course, nothing new, but there seems to be more pressure than ever on lines to differentiate their idyllic beach day offerings. Carnival’s new Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic just opened this year, providing one of the few private island experiences on offer in the Western Caribbean. On the Eastern side of things, Disney Cruise Line continues to enhance Castaway Cay, while Norwegian Cruise Line just made some substantial changes to its Great Stirrup Cay.

If you’re after fun in the sun, look for an itinerary that stops in any one of these ports of call (but note that not all lines may visit all ports): Amber Cove, Castaway Cay, Cayo Leventado, Coco Cay, Great Stirrup Cay, Half Moon Cay, Labadee, Princess Cays.

New Ships (And Some Old Favorites)

The Savoir No. 1 bed in the master bedroom of the Regent Suite cost $150,000. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Regent is sending its lavish new Seven Seas Explorer to the Caribbean this winter. The Savoir No. 1 bed in the master bedroom of the Regent Suite cost $150,000. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle

There are some fantastic new cruise ships coming to the Caribbean – ones that you won’t want to miss out on.

The big news – literally – is that Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas makes her Caribbean debut in November, on roundtrips out of Fort Lauderdale. Her inaugural Caribbean itineraries include port calls on Nassau, Bahamas; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Phippsburg, St. Maarten on the Eastern Caribbean; and Falmouth, Jamaica; Cozumel, Mexico; and Labadee, Haiti on her Western runs.

Holland America Line is also sending its new Koningsdam to the Caribbean this fall, with some great sailings to the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, as well as a handful of four-day jaunts to the Bahamas. In addition, the line is also giving Koningsdam some of its longer “Southern Caribbean Wayfarer” sailings that run between 10 and over 20 days in length.

She’s not exactly new, but Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas is still new to the fleet, having returned into service late this spring. She’s operating quickie three-and-four-day runs to the Bahamas during the winter months.

On the luxury side of things, Regent Seven Seas is deploying the brand-new, ultra-luxurious Seven Seas Explorer in the Caribbean this winter. Beginning in December, she’ll offer voyages that depart roundtrip from Miami on a variety of itineraries. Things kick off on December 4, 2016, with her 14-night “Serene Islands” sailing that calls on Oranjestad, Aruba; Bonaire, Netherlands; St. George’s, Grenada; Bridgetown, Barbados; Fort-de-France, Martinique; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe; and Gustavia, St. Barts.

Another newcomer to the Caribbean that you’re not going to want to miss: Viking Ocean Cruises is bringing its Viking Star – and its oceangoing cruises – to North America and the Caribbean for the very first time this fall. If you’ve always wanted to see what all the Viking fuss is about, but don’t particularly relish the long-haul to Europe, this is the chance to do so. Viking Star will operate a series of 11-day “West Indies Explorer” itineraries beginning on October 19, 2016 with port calls in Tortola, BVI; St. John’s, Antigua; Castries, St. Lucia; Bridgetown, Barbados; Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; and St. Thomas, USVI.

Cuba

Cuba Cruise's Louis Cristal (now Celestyal Crystal) off the Isle of Youth, Cuba. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Cuba Cruise’s Louis Cristal (now Celestyal Crystal) off the Isle of Youth, Cuba. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Of course, the big news in the Caribbean is Cuba. Niche line Fathom can already sail there, along with Cuba Cruise, which has been sailing to the region since 2013 as a subsidiary of Celestyal Cruises. Viking Ocean Cruises has been granted approval for 2017. But more lines are inching ever closer to operating cruises to Cuba, including Oceania. Royal Caribbean had hoped to operate Empress of the Seas in Cuba this winter, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely after the company’s latest bid was rejected earlier this month.

If you’ve cruised to the Caribbean before, there’s a lot to like about this new 2016-17 winter season. And if you’re new to the region, well, get ready:

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