As we make our way through summer, many of us are already looking to prolong the blue skies and sunshine by planning to head south for the winter to the Caribbean. For the Winter 2013/14 season, there are lots of choices for those looking to get away to the sun and sand.
Big Ship Caribbean Cruising
Big ship cruising is all the rage this winter, and there are more choices to choose from than ever. Chief among these is Norwegian Cruise Line’s brand-new Norwegian Breakaway, which will operate 12-day voyages to the Southern Caribbean from New York along with weeklong journeys to the Bahamas and Florida. Her sister, Norwegian Getaway, will begin sailing from Miami in February 2014.
Royal Caribbean’s huge – and hugely successful Oasis of the Seas and sister Allure of the Seas each operate alternating weeklong Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises sailing roundtrip out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These call on popular Caribbean mainstays like Falmouth, Jamaica; Cozumel, Mexico; St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, Sint Maarten; and Nassau, Bahamas — and a few even offer a day to soak in the sun on Royal Caribbean’s private island, Labadee, in Haiti.
MSC is bringing cruising, Italian-style to Florida this winter when its MSC Divina arrives in November for a full year of homeport Caribbean cruising from Miami. The latest in the line’s feature-laden Fantasia Class cruise ships, MSC Divina will be the first ship in the fleet to homeport year-round in Miami. Her itineraries range from three-night jaunts to the Bahamas to full-blown weeklong Caribbean escapes. If you’re looking for a Caribbean voyage with a unique flair, the line is also positioning its slightly smaller MSC Musica to the Dominican Republic for the winter, where she will operate weeklong voyages departing from Santo Domingo.
Princess Cruises is deploying its new Royal Princess to the Caribbean this winter. She’ll sail to the Eastern Caribbean every week on a 7-night itinerary that calls on St. Thomas, Philipsburg, and Princess Cays, Princess Cruises’ slice of paradise in the Bahamas.
Carnival, of course, deploys most of its fleet to the Caribbean during the winter months, but the brand-new Carnival Sunshine (ex-Carnival Destiny) is the ship to watch this year. Recently refurbished and totally revamped to the point where the ship is so different from her former life as Carnival Destiny, Carnival Sunshine will spend the winter season sailing out of New Orleans on weeklong Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises.
Luxury Caribbean Cruising
Those who like small, intimate and luxurious ships won’t be left out in the cold. Nearly every major luxury operator maintains a presence in the Caribbean this year.
Silversea’s Silver Spirit returns for another winter of Caribbean splendor this year, operating an eclectic array of itineraries that range from one to two weeks in length. These call on popular ports of call like St. Thomas and Philipsburg, but also make time to stop in smaller, out-of-the-way ports of call like Samana, Dominican Republic and the gorgeous Bequia, part of The Grenadines.
Other Silversea vessels also make stopovers in the Caribbean, including the line’s Silver Explorer expedition vessel that offers one of the most in-depth programs in the Caribbean, complete with Zodiac landings ashore in ports of call that could best be described as unspoiled gems.
Seabourn Sojourn, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Pride all return to the Caribbean this year, offering itineraries spanning various lengths and with a focus on small, out of the way ports that the sleek ships are suited to. Although Seabourn Sojourn is one of the line’s latest-and-greatest, cruisers might want to consider sailing on the smaller Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Pride this winter instead: both vessels have been sold to Windstar Cruises, and this will be Seabourn Pride’s last winter under operation by Seabourn.
Regent Seven Seas is sending Seven Seas Navigator to the Caribbean this winter, where she will operate voyages departing roundtrip from Miami. These can be as little as a week in duration, or as many as 24 nights of Caribbean bliss. Regent also makes it easy to enjoy your time ashore: Unlimited shore excursions are included in your cruise fare.
Sailing The Caribbean
One great way to experience the Caribbean is to set out on a sailing cruise. One of our favorites is Windstar Cruises, which eschews US-based ports of embarkation in favor of more exotic ports of call like Bridgetown, Barbados and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
Both Wind Star and her larger fleetmate Wind Surf offer a series of weeklong Caribbean cruises that call on small, out of the way ports of call like Pigeon Island and Tobago Cays. Plus, as hybrid motor-sailing ships, the Caribbean is one of the best places to experience Windstar’s product, as favorable winds allow these ships to spend more time sailing and less time motoring than practically anywhere else.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com