Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean
When choosing to cruise to the Caribbean, images of white-sand beaches, cerulean water and plenty of sun often come to mind. But since most of the islands in this region boast those sought-after features, how do you know what cruise line offers the best Caribbean experience? Using a methodology that factors in the variety, number and percentage of Caribbean itineraries, along with the cruise line's approval rating among experts and travelers, U.S. News' Best Cruises team has compiled this list of the best cruise lines sailing to the Caribbean.
Disney's ships sail to 14 ports across the Caribbean, with stops in top spots like St. Kitts and Grenada. Families are fans of this line thanks to its onboard and onshore activities and excursions for younger children. Kids get a kick out of featured activities like treasure hunts with Disney characters and swimming with dolphins. Couples also enjoy Disney cruises for their affordability and secluded, adults-only areas found on every ship. Plus, most of Disney's Caribbean cruises stop at Castaway Cay (the cruise line's own private island in the Bahamas), so everyone can take advantage of less-congested beaches and prime snorkeling.
Royal Caribbean is known for its varied island itineraries — popular stops include Barbados, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. What's more, shore activities arranged through Royal Caribbean cater to all types of travelers: You could zip line through the jungle, strap on scuba equipment and scour the deep blue sea or just relax on the beach. Along the way, you'll be cruising with travelers of all ages and you'll have access to Royal Caribbean's water sports activities, diverse dining options and lively evening entertainment.
Celebrity's quality service and variety of Caribbean itineraries make it a star in the eyes of many cruisers. You'll be sailing the seas with a diverse crowd — Celebrity's ships boast programs for traveling foodies, fitness buffs, language learners and active types. You can choose to cruise to spots like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Aruba or boat around the Bahamas, among several other islands. Whatever you choose, Celebrity's destinations all offer interesting and exciting shore excursions. Glass-bottom kayaking, snorkeling or swimming with dolphins, anyone?
Carnival brings the party to the Caribbean with its "Fun Ships" cruising to a handful of hot spots, including Turks & Caicos, Martinique and Belize. Families enjoy Carnival's lively atmosphere and abundance of onboard activities, along with the affordable and flexible island itineraries: Caribbean cruises last anywhere from three to 14 days, and you'll often find trips for less than $100 per person per night. Meanwhile, shore excursions organized through Carnival range from dolphin encounters and cave exploration to water park fun and beach relaxation.
Sailing to destinations like Bonaire, the Bahamas and St. Lucia, Holland America's ships offer a host of onboard amenities and activities to keep guests entertained at sea. Cruisers will enjoy the activity schedule distributed daily that outlines things to do and places to be on board. Once you dock in any port, you'll be able to participate in volunteer efforts and historical excursions or private tours and culinary outings.
The colorfully decorated ships in Norwegian's fleet are a treat for the kids and families that travel to the islands. Meanwhile, solo travelers appreciate the discounted rates and studio cabins designed specifically with them in mind. With sailings to dozens of popular isles in the Caribbean — including Aruba, Curacao and Antigua — you'll be sure to find a schedule to suit your fancy. And Norwegian's extensive list of excursions includes offerings like horseback riding along the beach, surfing lessons and cave exploration.
Princess plays host to a wide variety of travelers: kids, teens, families, couples, solos, you name it. And lovers of sun, sand and adventure will find routes to a laundry list of Caribbean destinations (like Barbados, St. Maarten and Honduras). Princess also entices travelers with its "cruisetour" options: These trips add a few extra days to typical shore excursions, providing more time to explore all a given destination has to offer (and giving guests more bang for their buck).
MSC doesn't tout as many Caribbean itineraries as other lines on this ranking — just one of its ships, the MSC Divina, is sailing to the region in 2016 — but its routes stop in popular ports of call like Jamaica, the Bahamas and Trinidad & Tobago. Along the way, you can take advantage of the variety of food and drink offerings at the restaurants and lounges on board. When you get to shore, you'll have plenty to keep you busy, including swimming with dolphins, jungle river tubing and guided hikes.
Disclaimers about ship ratings: A ship's Health Rating is based on vessel inspection scores published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If a ship did not receive a CDC score within 22 months prior to the calculation of its Overall Rating, its Health Rating appears as N/A; in such a case, the ship's Overall Rating is calculated using the average Health Rating of all CDC-rated ships within the cruise line. All ship Traveler Ratings are based on ratings provided under license by Cruiseline.com.