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Cruise Guide: Big or small: Cruise ships drawn to Caribbean

By Michael Coleman

Some 40-plus years after mass-market passenger vessels first began sailing to the region, Caribbean voyages are hotter than ever. 

Island culture, turquoise waters and sun-drenched beaches have been drawing passengers since the 1960’s, and while the scenery is no less stellar today, a host of sleek, amenity-laden ships make the experience all the more enjoyable for a new generation of travelers. 

It doesn’t get much better than Southern Caribbean itineraries, however, as both large and small vessels carve their own special niches.

Carnival Cruise Lines positions a number of ships in the region, but look for the 2,642-passenger, 101,353-ton Carnival Destiny to lead the way. It operates year-round seven-day sailings round-trip from San Juan that call at the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia and Antigua.

Celebrity Cruises’ Galaxy sails round-trip from San Juan as well, on 10 and 11-night cruises visiting Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, Margarita Island, Curacao, Aruba, Dominica and St. Kitts.

Select sailings on the Costa Magica and Costa Mediterranea depart from Fort Lauderdale and visit ports including St. Maarten and Tortola.

Holland America Line, meanwhile, explores the Southern Caribbean with a variety of itineraries that range from 10 to 14 days. Five ships from this premium brand will journey to 18 different ports of call on 36 departures.

The Italian brand, MSC Cruises, takes guests to Grenada, Barbados, Tortola, St. Lucia, Martinique, Margarita Island and Samana (Dominican Republic), featuring the line’s private paradise, Cayo Levantado.

Norwegian Cruise Line features nine, 10 and 11-day Southern Caribbean cruises round-trip from New York and Miami. Destinations include Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and Tortola.

Princess Cruises features seven, 10 and 14-day Southern Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, San Juan and Barbados. Destinations include Antigua, Dominica, Grand Turk, St. Barts, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Tortola.

Royal Caribbean positions Adventure of the Seas, Empress of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas on deep Caribbean itineraries round-trip from San Juan. Look for three, seven and 11-night voyages.

If a smaller ship fits the bill, look no further than two intimate cruise lines – Star Clippers and Windstar – to add a special dimension to Caribbean cruising. Their respective ships glide from port-to-port under engine power or wind in their sails.

The 170-passenger Star Clipper sails seven-night alternating itineraries round-trip from St. Maarten while the Royal Clipper, the line’s 227-passenger flagship, sails seven-night alternating itineraries round-trip from Barbados.

Premium-brand Windstar Cruises features seven-day voyages to the deep Caribbean from December through March aboard Wind Spirit (148 passengers, round-trip from St. Thomas) and Wind Surf (308-passengers, roundtrip from Barbados).

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