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 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 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 Bahamian 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 St. Croix. 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.
Carnival brings the party to the Caribbean with its "Fun Ships" cruising to a handful of hot spots, including Aruba and Belize. Families enjoy Carnival's lively atmosphere and abundance of onboard activities, along with its affordable and flexible island itineraries: Caribbean cruises last anywhere from four to 14 days, and you'll often find trips for less than $100 a night. Meanwhile, shore excursions organized through Carnival range from dolphin encounters and cave exploration to water park fun and beach relaxation.
Silversea caters to couples and older travelers, with onboard activities like bingo, lectures and dance classes. Shore activities abound as well — Caribbean excursions range from bird-watching in the rainforest to touring sugar plantations. Cruisers also have access to Silversea's Destination Consultants, who are available onboard each ship to help guests pick the perfect adventure. Another reason Silversea is a top Caribbean cruise line? Its eight ships sail to more than 20 Caribbean ports, with stops at exclusive destinations like Bonaire and Martinique.
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 traveling foodies, fitness buffs, language learners and active types. You can choose to cruise to spots like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Curacao 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?
Sailing to destinations like Trinidad & Tobago, 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, 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.
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. Puerto Rico, 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.
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 Honduras). Princess also delights 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).
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 scenery. 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, schedule a midday swim with stingrays and cap off your adventure with a dune buggy safari — all without having to pay extra.
Oceania's fares may not cover as many onboard amenities and services as other lines, but these ships don't skimp on trips to the Caribbean. With itineraries covering many of the most popular locales — St. Maarten, Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic, to name a few — the typical 50-plus 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 midsize ships along the way.
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, Virgin Gorda, 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.
Caribbean itineraries available on this line are few and far between — only a handful of Costa ships are hosting Caribbean itineraries in the next year. 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.
MSC doesn't offer many Caribbean itineraries (just one of its 12 ships, the MSC Divina, is sailing to the region in 2015), but they stop in popular island spots like Jamaica and St. Maarten. 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.
Cunard's Caribbean itineraries (available on all three of the line's ships) typically depart from Southampton, England and usually last more than a week (the shortest trip sails for 12 days, the longest is 110). However, the itineraries still cover islands like St. Lucia, Bonaire and Antigua — some of cruisers' favorite locales.
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.