The Caribbean is best by ship. With itineraries for every budget, cruises here have never been so accessible, writes Anthony Pearce
Holidays in the Caribbean are the bread and butter of the cruise industry. Last year, 35 per cent of all cruise ships were deployed to the region – the highest of any destination. The Mediterranean received the second-highest deployment at 18.3 per cent. With such great volume comes great diversity: there are Caribbean cruises to suit all budgets and customers, from young families to wealthy retirees and everyone in-between. In 2016, 8.6 million people from around the world took a cruise to the Caribbean.
Most cruise lines have a presence in the Caribbean, even those that sail exclusively from the UK, meaning vessels range in size and style, from Star Clippers’ 200-guest tall ships to Royal Caribbean International’s state-of-the-art mega ships, including Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest. Not only do the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line sail there, but so do smaller ship operators such as Viking Cruises, SeaDream and Seabourn, as well as expedition lines including Aurora Expeditions and Hurtigruten.
Cruise itineraries are generally divided by eastern, southern and western options. To the east, ships call at the likes of the Virgin Islands (St Thomas, St John and St Croix), the British Virgin Islands (Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Tortola), Puerto Rico and Grand Turk, while St Barts, Antigua, Anguilla and Dominica are often visited by the smaller vessels. To the west, ships visit Cozumel, Mexico and make stops in Honduras, Belize, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. In the southern Caribbean, stops include Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St Lucia, Barbados, Grenada and the Grenadines.
In the Bahamas (although not technically part of the Caribbean, but often a stop on the way) you’ll find many of the biggest cruise lines’ private islands: Castaway Cay (Disney Cruise Line), Half Moon Cay (Holland America Line), Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line), Princess Cays (Princess Cruises) and CocoCay (Royal Caribbean). In Hispaniola, the second-largest island in the Caribbean, you’ll find Labadee (also Royal Caribbean).
The opening up of Cuba to cruise ships from America under the Obama administration has also changed the dynamic of these itineraries, many of which will now call at Havana, and other Cuban ports, before heading south to Belize City and Cozumel, although Donald Trump has threatened to undo his predecessor’s good work. However, Brits don’t need to worry: they visit Cuba as tourists (whereas Americans still need to travel under one of 12 approved reasons).