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 ethereal features, how do you know what cruise line offers the best Caribbean experience? Factoring in the variety and frequency of Caribbean itineraries, along with the cruise line's overall appeal among experts and travelers, U.S. News' Best Cruises team has compiled this list of the best cruise lines that sail to the Caribbean.
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Disney's ships sail to 12 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 on-shore 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 deluge of dining options. Plus, most of Disney's Bahamian cruises stop at Castaway Cay (the brand's private island in the Bahamas), so everyone can take advantage of less-crowded beaches and prime snorkeling.
With Caribbean in its name, are you surprised this cruise line ranks so high? Royal Caribbean is known for its plethora of 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 a soft, sandy 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, decadent dining and evening entertainment.
The luxurious Silversea line caters to couples and older travelers, with onboard activities like bingo, lectures and dance classes. Shore activities abound as well — Caribbean excursion examples include bird-watching in the rainforest, visiting sugar plantations or snorkeling among sea life. Cruisers also have access to Silversea's Destination Consultants, who are available aboard each ship to help guests pick the perfect adventure. Another reason Silversea is a top Caribbean cruise line: Its seven ships sail to 19 Caribbean ports, with stops at more exclusive destinations like Bonaire and Iles Des Saintes.
Regent Seven Seas sails to some of the best Caribbean beaches: Turks & Caicos, Grand Cayman and St. Maarten to name a few. Sun-seekers will be content lounging poolside on the ship before stretching out along alabaster sands to soak in the views of the jade-hued sea. And unlike other cruise lines, Regent allows passengers to try an unlimited number of shore excursions at no extra cost. That means you could spend the morning on a catamaran sailing across the cobalt water, schedule a mid-day swim with stingrays and cap off your adventure with a dune buggy safari in the afternoon — all without having to pay more.
Carnival brings the party to the Caribbean with its "Fun Ships" cruising to a handful of hot spots, such as Aruba and Belize. Families enjoy Carnival's lively atmosphere and abundance of onboard activities, along with its affordable and flexible Caribbean itineraries — cruises last anywhere from two to 23 days. Meanwhile, shore excursions organized through Carnival range from dolphin encounters and cave exploration to water park fun and relaxing on the beach with an umbrella drink in hand.
While you'll likely find older travelers on Crystal's ships, the staff keeps everyone busy with evening shows, lively casinos and a consistently lauded spa so you can cruise to the Caribbean in style. Curacao, St. Barts and St. Lucia are among the featured destinations on Crystal's upcoming itineraries; you'll be able to use the online shore excursion finder tool prior to your voyage to find the best activities for you. You can spend your Caribbean getaway flying high above the islands on a helicopter tour or meandering among colorful wings in a butterfly garden.
Celebrity's quality service and variety of Caribbean itineraries makes 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 culinary whizzes, fitness buffs, language learners and active athletes. You can choose to cruise to spots like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos 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?
The colorfully decorated ships in Norwegian's fleet are a treat for the kids and families that travel to the islands. Meanwhile, solo travelers love the discounted rates and studio cabins designed specifically with them in mind. With sailings to dozens of popular isles in the Caribbean — including Aruba, Dominica and Barbados — 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.
Oceania's fares may not cover as many onboard amenities and services as other lines, but these ships don't skimp on sailing options to the Caribbean. With itineraries covering many of the most popular locales — St. Maarten, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to name a few — the typical 50 and older cruising crowd will appreciate the available excursions, many of which focus on cultural immersion. Oceania also offers plenty of relaxation opportunities at the spa and pools on its mid-sized ships along the way.
Sailing to destinations like Trinidad & Tobago, the Bahamas and Curacao, Holland America's ships feature a bevy of amenities. 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.
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, Grenada and Jamaica) available to book on Princess Cruises. Princess also delights travelers with its cruise tour 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).
Azamara Club Cruises caters to adult world travelers, but its Caribbean voyages attract young adults as well. Since Azamara's fleet only consists of two ships, its Caribbean itineraries are limited. But Azamara's ships do feature several dining and entertainment venues, along with pools and fitness facilities. Book a cruise to St. Kitts, Tortola, the Bahamas or a selection of other Caribbean locales and take advantage of Azamara's complimentary AzAmazing evenings, which offer travelers the chance to experience the local culture of their destination.
MSC only offers a handful of itineraries that travel to the Caribbean (just one of its 12 ships, the MSC Divina, is sailing to the region in 2014), but they stop in popular island spots like Jamaica and St. Maarten. Along the way, you can admire the MSC Divina's elegant decor and take advantage of the variety of food and drink offerings at the restaurants and lounges on board. And with Caribbean ports of call come plenty of things to do, including swimming with dolphins, jungle river tubing and guided hikes.
Typically departing from Southampton, England, Cunard is not the most accessible line on which to take a Caribbean cruise. Cunard's Caribbean cruises (only available on the Queen Mary 2) are also longer voyages lasting more than a week (the shortest trip sails for 12 days). However, the itineraries still cover islands like St. Lucia, Bonaire and Antigua — some of cruisers' favorite locales.
Though Caribbean itineraries available on this line are few and far between (only some of Costa's ships are offering Caribbean itineraries in the next year), you'll find Costa's ships embrace an elegant decor. The Bahamas and the Cayman Islands are among the islands Costa's ships visit, with excursions like sailing, Land Rover adventures and helicopter tours available for booking. Activities abound on board Costa's ships, which are equipped with pools and casinos, and dining venues run the gamut from buffets to casual bistros to traditional sit-down restaurants.
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 24 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.