When winter is at its most gray, grab your swimsuit and a piña colada: it’s time to look for Caribbean cruises. The perfect escape from seasonal doldrums, a Caribbean cruise offers travelers both the variety of a multi-location trip with the convenience of a hotel that moves with you. (In fact, it does the moving.) Travel + Leisure’s editors and contributors know how to best navigate this crowded and ever-popular field, looking for the most interesting routes, the most comfortable accommodations, the most delicious cuisine, the most memorable activities, and the most attentive service.
The difference between Caribbean cruise ships can be vast. The largest can welcome as many as 6,000 people aboard; smaller and more intimate vessels, as few as 16. The atmosphere also varies from ship to ship: some blast Top 40 hits by the pool, while others host black-tie events requiring gowns and tuxedos. Still others emphasize the activities they have on and off board, from water slides to snorkeling, or even theme their events after the culture or nature related to their ports of call. With new Caribbean cruise ships constructed every year, the options continue to diversify. Ask yourself: what size ship do you want to be on? What kind of shore excursions do you find most interesting? What level of service do you want? What do you want to be included in the base fare?
The Caribbean is home to over 700 islands. Its name comes from the Carib people, an indigenous tribe that first encountered Europeans in the late 15th century. After Columbus made his world-shaking wrong turn, the region was first identified as “the Antilles,” a fictional island group depicted on medieval European maps. Both names have stuck, with the Caribbean’s islands divided into the “Greater” and “Lesser Antilles.” Many of which now serve as Caribbean cruise ports. Greater Antilles destinations include Grand Cayman on the Cayman Islands, Montego Bay in Jamaica, Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, and San Juan in Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles, which combines Dutch and French colonial influences along with English and Spanish, features cruise ports like St. Martin, Martinque, St. Lucia, St. Barth, Aruba, Trinidad, and Tobago. Don’t forget mainland cruise ports like Mexico’s Costa Maya and Cozumel or ports in Belize and Honduras. Among these ports is an astounding degree of cultural, ecological, and geographic diversity.
Whatever Caribbean excursion you wish to embark on, there are islands that offer experiences for every stripe, be they white sands and blue water, mountains and rainforest, rum tasting or archeological touring. Sail, snorkel, and don’t forget the conch fritters.