When most people picture a cruise to the Caribbean, they envision a massive ship carrying thousands of people pulling up alongside a sun-splashed island paradise. The fact remains that not all Caribbean cruises are created equal, and those seeking a more relaxed, premium, even luxury in experience in the Caribbean have plenty of options to choose from.
Here are five premium and luxury cruise lines you may not know offer cruises to the Caribbean;
With only three oceangoing ships in its fleet, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Crystal Cruises would give the Caribbean a pass. The truth is, Crystal offers a comprehensive season of Caribbean voyages, with itineraries that are as diverse as the individual ports of call.
Crystal’s Caribbean cruises are only available for a few select months, typically from November through January. Many of these cruises are Panama Canal journeys between Florida and Los Angeles, but include a wide array of Caribbean ports of call.
Some, however, are dedicated Caribbean itineraries. In December of 2018, Crystal Symphony sails three unique Caribbean itineraries that are sure to be snapped up quickly by the line’s legions of loyal past guests.
Her first, from Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans, is what Crystal is calling its Island Rhythms & Big Easy Jazz cruise. Departing December 2, 2018, this 13-day voyage manages to call on Bimini, Bahamas (a maiden call for Crystal); Grand Turk; Willemstad, Curacao; Bonaire; Ochos Rios; Grand Cayman; and overnights in The Big Easy before guests have to disembark the following day. If you want to take the whole family, good news: Crystal is currently offering a “Kids Sail Free” promotion on this voyage (subject to change).
Following that, Crystal Symphony offers a weeklong cruise to Mexico’s Yucatan roundtrip from New Orleans on December 15, 2018, followed by a 14-day Holiday Caribbean voyage that departs on December 22, 2018, again roundtrip from New Orleans.
That Crystal Symphony recently emerged from her most dramatic refit to-date makes these Caribbean cruises all the more appealing.
Cunard Line may best be known for its Transatlantic Crossings aboard the superlative Queen Mary 2. But every year, Cunard sends its massive flagship on voyages to the sun-splashed shores of the Caribbean.
Like Crystal, Cunard typically sends Queen Mary 2 to the Caribbean during the high-season month of December.
This winter, you can sail roundtrip from New York aboard Queen Mary 2, on a 12-night Holiday Caribbean Cruise that departs December 22, 2017, with ports of call on English Harbour; St. Kitts; Barbados; and Amber Cove.
Next year, Queen Mary 2 returns for two massive voyages to the Caribbean, all of which can be booked either roundtrip Southampton, England; roundtrip New York; or between Southampton and New York or reverse.
It’s not just Queen Mary 2 getting in on the Caribbean action: this year and next, Cunard is also sending its smaller, but no less elegant, Queen Victoria on voyages to the Caribbean that depart roundtrip from Southampton.
Chances are good that you’re aware ultra-luxury-line Seabourn offers cruises to the Caribbean. What you might not know is that Seabourn has not one, but two ships in the Caribbean this year, Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn.
Seabourn Odyssey does most of the heavy-lifting, with a full season of Caribbean cruises that stretches from December to April of 2018. What’s particularly noteworthy about Seabourn’s Caribbean offerings aboard Seabourn Sojourn is just how diverse they are, from quick 10-day Caribbean Holiday getaways to the fantastic, multi-journey Caribbean Holiday Circle that departs on December 27, 2017. The latter offers 38 days in the Caribbean, combining itineraries in the eastern, western and southern Caribbean into a single journey. Impressively, there are still some suites available at the time of writing.
Seabourn Sojourn only has a few itineraries in the Caribbean, but she’s a valuable addition. Freshly-refitted with The Grill by Thomas Keller prior to her Caribbean sailings, she offers luxury voyages to the southern and eastern Caribbean from Miami, Florida.
Seabourn Sojourn’s December 11, 2017 voyage is a great deal. Offering 10 days in the Caribbean, she calls on St. Croix; St. Kitts & Nevis; Antigua & Barbuda; and San Juan, Puerto Rico before arriving back in Miami in time for the Holidays. Since it’s before Christmas and New Years, this sailing is going for a fraction of Seabourn’s other sailings – and is a great way to experience the luxury line’s charms for the first time.
The Caribbean is the ideal stomping ground for European sailing line Star Clippers. Founded by Mikael Krafft, the Caribbean offers the “trade winds” that the line’s classy Royal Clipper and her smaller fleetmate, Star Flyer, need to cruise along under sail power alone. Sure, the auxiliary diesel engines are fired up every now and then to maintain schedule but for the most part, only the wind whistling between the ship’s sails and rigging can be heard on these romantic cruises to paradise.
Between December and March of 2018, Royal Clipper and Star Flyer operate primarily weeklong cruises throughout the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. Royal Clipper makes her homeport in beautiful Bridgetown, Barbados; while Star Flyer is committed to operating out of Philipsburg, St. Maarten – which will be open for business again just as Star Flyer’s 2017 winter season begins.
Simply put, to sail with Star Clippers to the Caribbean is to discover the Caribbean you never knew existed. The one you see in brochures, devoid of people, seemingly in existence just for you. Forget the lines and the crowds and the need to get up early to save that favorite deck chair; aboard Royal Clipper and Star Flyer, the magic of sail is alive and well, and nowhere is it better showcased than in the crystal-blue waters of the Caribbean.
Most will know Viking Cruises best for its Viking River Cruises arm that offers river journeys around the world, but as Viking brings more of its ocean liner fleet online, it is beginning to offer more and more itineraries in the Caribbean.
Like the rest of the lines on this list, Viking operates a shorter Caribbean season that predominantly sets sail during the high-season months of November to February.
What’s truly striking, however, is just how diverse Viking’s Caribbean itineraries are. From the Southern Caribbean to the Panama Canal to voyages that just explore Cuba, Viking’s Caribbean cruises are a veritable wish-list of best sun-drenched ports of call.
Of particular note are the line’s eight-day voyages to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that call on Key West; Belize City; and Cozumel and Merida (Progreso), Mexico. The latter gets you close enough for a day excursion to the famed ruins of Chichen Itza, done in Viking’s own inimitable style.
Viking’s Cultural Cuba sailings set it apart from its contemporaries as well. In December of 2017, the brand-new Viking Sun (which will also sail Viking’s first-ever World Cruise later that month) will sail to Cuba roundtrip from Miami, with a stop in Key West, Florida and a three-day overnight call on Cienfuegos, Cuba. Viking is eschewing Havana in favor of Cienfuegos due to its location to other popular Cuban locales like Trinidad, but that doesn’t mean it is abandoning the Cuban capital altogether. Viking’s entire complement of Cuban excursions are provided free-of-charge, and guests can indulge in either a full-day overland tour to Havana, or a 1.5-day excursion that includes a free overnight stay in a five-star hotel.
For 2018 sailings, Viking diversifies its Cuban offerings even further, dropping the call in Key West in favor of a day-stop in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Filled with impressive colonial buildings, this bustling port city is also home to one of Cuba’s most spectacular seaside forts, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca.
The Caribbean might be most popular with the big, mainstream cruise ships, but fans of small, niche, and luxury ships still have plenty to choose from in this sun-drenched paradise.