It’s tough choosing one Caribbean island, so take a cruise and see several. Emily Bamber looks at key Caribbean cruise operators and their latest itineraries
The benefits of a Caribbean cruise will be immediately obvious to anyone who has tried to choose one island from the more than 7,000 in the region.
With year-round sun, some of the best beaches in the world and historic and cultural sites throughout the Caribbean, it makes sense not to restrict yourself to a single location. Suggest your clients follow in the footsteps of almost 200,000 Brits who took a Caribbean cruise in 2006 and visited more than one.
It’s also a great time to go. Some 80 cruise ships were based in the Caribbean last winter, and with the dollar still weak against the pound, British holidaymakers have never enjoyed so much choice or value for money.
A showcase for new cruise ships
Despite the strength of the Mediterranean and emerging cruise markets, it’s in the Caribbean that most cruiselines still showcase their newest and best ships.
Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, Holland America Line’s Eurodam, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem, P&O’s Ventura, Carnival Splendor, Ruby Princess and Celebrity Solstice all launch this year and will spend their first winters in the Caribbean.
New Caribbean cruise itineraries
Cruise itineraries tend to cover eastern, western or southern-island routes and mix large and smaller islands.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines is more than doubling its capacity to the region for 2008/09 and is adding two longer ex-UK itineraries, while Ocean Village has two new itineraries on Ocean Village Two based out of Barbados and Aruba.
These mix big-hit destinations such as St Lucia, Tobago and Barbados with unusual ones such as Dominica, St Vincent and Mayreau in the Grenadines. Ocean Village will also call at La Guaira in Venezuela, St Barts and Guadeloupe for the first time in 2008/09.
Carnival and HAL are allowing for ex-Barbados allocation for 2008/09. They are also offering more cruise-and-stay programmes with tour operators such as Virgin Holidays and Thomas Cook – again through Barbados.
Princess Cruises adds the private island resort of Samana, Dominican Republic this winter plus St Kitts, where Carnival Destiny will also call year-round. Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Fred Olsen are all adding to their UK regional charter programmes, taking passengers from their local airports to their ships.
Which cruiseline to choose?
The ships vary as much as the islands, and Ocean Village, Island Cruises and easyCruise all offer fantastic deals.
Carnival Cruises has the largest fleet in the Caribbean – 17 ships in winter, 15 in summer – and together with Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, NCL and Celebrity is investing millions in first-class on-board facilities.
MSC and Costa Cruises have Italian cruise cultures, whereas Britishness is transported to the Caribbean with P&O Cruises, Fred Olsen and Cunard, which offers another class of cruising.
Sharing the luxury market are Crystal Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, Regent Seven Seas, HAL, Azamara and Silversea, which is almost doubling its programme in the region for 2009.
Star Clippers and Windstar Cruises are masted sailing ships visiting smaller ports, along with SeaDream Yacht Club, which for 2008/09 has added Coconut Grove on Nevis for private beach parties, and Susan Island for its natural history, eco-trails and its beach.
While it may be behind the Mediterranean for the British market, most large cruiselines still consider the Caribbean their bread and butter.
Princess Cruises head of brand marketing Pieter van der Schee said: “Customers can combine the pampering of a cruise with visiting incredible destinations – and a Caribbean cruise is still great value for money. It’s the quintessential cruise destination.”
Sample Caribbean cruises
Royal Caribbean International has a nine-night flycruise on Mariner of the Seas, calling at ports in the eastern Caribbean, including flights, from £999 per person this autumn.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines has a 15-night flycruise on Braemar from Miami, with flights from Gatwick, Birmingham or Manchester. Cruise calls include Curacao, Isla Margarita, Antigua and Tortola and it costs from £1,352 per person.
P&O Cruises has a 15-night flycruise on new ship Ventura from Barbados. Prices start from £1,459 per person this winter calling at St Vincent, Bonaire, Aruba, Catalina Island, Tortola, St Maarten, St Lucia, Martinique and Grenada before returning to Barbados.
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