Best Caribbean Cruises
Choosing the right cruise ship can be daunting. After all, with a cruise, a lot of your vacation is determined in that one choice. As with hotels, each ship is different—and even on a short Caribbean sailing selecting the right one is critical. Sure, the itinerary may be similar and the in-port activities can be comparable—expect beaches, sunshine, palm trees, and umbrella drinks, as well as hikes to rainfalls and tours of old sugar mills and banana plantations. In fact, even the hallmarks of the fantasy may be the same across all sailings, from the allure of sand between your toes to a frozen drink in hand and the appeal of tropical breezes when it is cold back home.
While suggesting that, like snowflakes, no two ships are alike is overstating it, the differences in experience between ships—even in the same region—can be vast. On a Carnival Cruises ship, for example, you may find DJs playing top 40 hits for larger millennial crowds on the at-sea days, while on a Crystal Cruises ship you may find an elaborate seafood buffet on the pool deck with a small band and plenty of couples reading in the sunshine instead. Entertainment offerings are also markedly different from ship to ship—Norwegian Escape stands out for its water slides, multi-level Sports Complex, and Broadway-style shows, while Fathom’s Adonia will offer Spanish language lessons and cultural films about Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The size of shore excursion groups, the level of service, and the attention to detail in the main dining room can also vary between price points on cruises, as will what’s included in the cost of the cruise itself.
In addition, the choices are constantly changing—and later this year a variety of lines will introduce exciting new ships in this part of the world, with all sorts of new amenities and restaurants in a wide range of price points and ship sizes. Here, a few of our favorite cruise ships sailing in the Caribbean this year, including the best of the class of 2016:
Sherri Eisenberg is the Editorial Director of ShermansCruise.com, a new deals and advice site.
This new line focuses on voluntourism and cultural exchange, and offers regular sailings out of Miami to either the Dominican Republic or Cuba starting in April. Until recently, the 704-passenger ship itself was part of the U.K.-based P&O line, but it was originally built in 2001 as part of Renaissance Cruises.
Most Notable: Shore excursions will allow guests to immerse themselves in local culture while at the same time having an impact on the people who live there. For example, you can teach young school children, or make ceramic water filters for people living on the Dominican Republic’s northern coast, where it is still difficult to have access to piped water. When you’re not working with residents, you can explore by taking a walking tour or visiting an organic farm.
Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas
This ship sails out of Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey down to the Caribbean each week. Onboard, you’ll find fun activities—from bumper cars to DJ-ed roller skating parties, acrobat classes, a surfing simulator, and a skydiving simulator.
Most Notable: Widely considered to be the most technologically advanced ship at sea, Royal Caribbean’s newest vessel solves one of the biggest limitations of cruising: slow, expensive WiFi. Here, you can stream your favorite TV shows, post photos to Instagram, and Tweet to your hearts content.
Holland America's ms Koningsdam
This venerable line’s newest ship launches in April in the Mediterranean, then repositions to the Caribbean in the fall. Onboard you’ll find a new cooking station-filled culinary school space, and a wine blending room designed in partnership with Washington State winery Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Most Notable: This 2,650 passenger ship offers longer, more in-depth itineraries, even in the Caribbean.
After a few years of not offering European choices, Carnival’s newest ship will also launch in the Mediterranean in the Spring before moving to the Caribbean in November. Fan favorites—from poolside burgers by Food Network’s Guy Fieri to Blue Iguana’s house made tortilla chips and salsa—remain, but you’ll also find a new Seafood Shack and the Cuban-influenced Havana Bar, too. Other highlights: An IMAX theater and an onboard microbrewery.
Most Notable: The ship has a wide variety of options in the Caribbean, from 5- to 11-day sailings in both the Eastern and Western part of the region.
Crystal’s pair of luxury cruise ships don’t do regular sailings in the Caribbean, so you have to plan ahead to snag a cabin on one of their shorter itineraries in the region. But it’s worth the effort: Onboard, you’ll find Silk Road, a sushi bar and Japanese restaurant helmed by Food Network’s Iron Chef Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu restaurant fame, as well as Prego, an Italian spot manned by Piero Selvaggio of Valentino in Beverly Hills. You’ll also see magicians perform in partnership with Hollywood’s Magic Castle.
Most Notable: What really makes this line remarkable is the service. Need help with that bow tie? Your butler is on it. Want to recreate your wedding dinner for an anniversary night? The Maitre d’ is happy to help.
Oceania’s identical Marina and Riviera are chic choices for couples who care about understated design. Unlike a lot of ships, the look onboard is more boutique hotel than Vegas resort or European Old World, and the food is unforgettable. You can take classes from an artist in residence, or learn from a chef in the hands-on cooking school. The Asian restaurant, Red Ginger, is arguably the best at sea, with Thai and Malaysian dishes that transport you from the Caribbean to the Far East.
Most Notable: TV star and cookbook author Jacques Pepin chose to open his first, eponymous restaurant on these ships, complete with a custom-built rotisserie for his ducks. His classics—including escargot, onion soup, coq au vin and steak frites—also never fail to impress.
This ship does regular sailings out of Fort Lauderdale to the Eastern and Western Caribbean all winter long, so there are lots of opportunities to see a variety of sunny ports. Onboard, the stylish design includes egg chairs in the lounge and hammocks on the pool deck, where you’ll also find a casual café that serves spa cuisine at breakfast and lunch.
Most Notable: The Lawn Club Grill—where guests can barbecue their own dinner, right beside the ship’s stretch of bright green grass—is one of the most pleasant outdoor restaurants on any ship. Think of it as backyard chic meets the open sea.
Regent's Seven Seas Explorer
Launching in July in the Mediterranean, this luxury ship will move to the Caribbean in November and offer round-trip sailings out of Miami. The opulent ship itself has a formal French restaurant, a Canyon Ranch Spa, and a cooking school.
Most Notable: This line is known for very spacious cabins, but Explorer is best known as the home of the Regent Suite, the most expensive suite at sea. It has its own spa with heated lounge chairs and included treatments.
This new ship just launched in November, and she’s sailing seven-night cruises out of Miami. The new poolside Margaritaville restaurant and It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere bar are fun additions to the offerings, as are Bayamo—a pan-Latin restaurant by Iron Chef Jose Garces—and Food Republic, a modern new fusion restaurant that’s as cool as any on land. That’s not praise we hand out lightly, but the bulgogi tacos and pastrami dumplings are that good.
Most Notable: The entertainment here is truly impressive, with a Broadway-style performance of “After Midnight,” a John Hughes tribute dinner theater show, and Million Dollar Quartet, which celebrates the music of, among others, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.