The Caribbean’s many islands present the perfect canvas for a cruise and the chance to really appreciate the region’s diversity by taking in several destinations on one trip.

“It’s always a popular cruise destination … because of the range of itineraries that encompass so many of the islands as well as the guarantee of white sandy beaches, plenty of sunshine and the warm Caribbean sea”

TONY ROBERTS, CLIA CHAIR AND PRINCESS CRUISES’ UK & IRELAND VICE-PRESIDENT

Grenadines daily grind

I’ve just realised the plane I’ve seen in the distance is landing in Canouan, the little Grenadine island we were anchored off yesterday. Clearly we didn’t cruise very far overnight.

I’m on SeaDream Yacht Club’s 112-passenger SeaDream I, on a Caribbean cruise with a difference. Since setting sail from Barbados, we’ve anchored off every island we’ve visited (Martinique, St Lucia, Bequia, Canouan and today Union Island), not seen any other ships and bumped into just a handful of tourists.

It’s a perfect way to enjoy the ‘other’ Caribbean, the one away from the crowds, where life is unhurried and simple pleasures such as swimming, snorkelling or reading a book fill the days. I’ve visited a turtle sanctuary in Bequia, put the world to rights with Rastafarian Ezra at his beach bar in Canouan and hiked up to a fort on St Lucia’s Pigeon Island.

On board I’ve tucked into some of the tastiest food afloat and passed fun evenings at the al-fresco top-of-the-yacht bar. Because there are so few of us, waiters and bar staff soon got to know our names, likes and dislikes.

Whenever they see me, they veer off and return with a glass of Champagne. Extravagant? Not really. As with all drinks on SeaDream, it is included in the fare, as are tips. It pushes up the price, but makes things super friendly – and with just 112 of us on board, that is important.

Market update

One of the things that makes Caribbean cruises such an easy sell for agents is that there is a holiday for everyone. If the small ship, getaway-from-it-all experience does not appeal, clients have plenty more vessels and itineraries to choose from.

Families can sail with Royal Caribbean International on the world’s biggest cruise ships or race go-karts on Norwegian Cruise Line vessels; there are ultra-luxury ships and sailing vessels, even cruises from the UK with P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines for those who don’t want to fly.

There are budget fares or all-inclusive prices with Regent Seven Seas Cruises; one or two-week voyages, port-intensive itineraries and cruises with multiple sea days for those who love life at sea.

The Caribbean is a perennial favourite with British cruisers, attracting some 295,000 passengers in 2018 – 7% more than 2017. “Thanks to the mix of fabulous destinations and cultures, breathtaking scenery and the opportunity to see a different island every day, it’s a fantastic cruise destination,” said CLIA UK and Ireland Director Andy Harmer.

CLIA Chair Tony Roberts told the association’s Southampton conference in May that the cruise market is down due to the uncertainty of Brexit.

However, Roberts, who is also Princess Cruises’ UK & Ireland Vice-President, added that the Caribbean remains one of his company’s ‘fastest-growing destinations’.

Silversea UK Managing Director Peter Shanks said the Caribbean will always do well due to its ‘unique mixture of relaxation and culture’.

He said: “A cruise is the best way to see the Caribbean, visiting both famous and ‘out of the way’ islands.” As an added incentive, Silversea is offering free shore excursions on selected cruises booked by July 31 2019.

Shanks added: “Silversea’s smaller ships access more of those ‘out of the way’ places and travel deeper to experience the very best of the Caribbean.”

What’s new

Ships: Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Encore, launching November 2019, makes its Caribbean debut this winter with a go-kart circuit and Italian restaurant called Onda.

Sky Princess enters service for Princess Cruises this autumn with new features including French restaurant La Mer and Sky Suites. It will spend the winter sailing Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

Ritz-Carlton makes its cruising debut in February with the yacht-like Azora. It holds 298 passengers and sails from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados, Aruba, St. Maarten and St Lucia.

Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages’ first new ship, launches in April 2020. An adults-only vessel, it will offer five-night sailings to Mexico and four-night short breaks to Key West and Bimini in the Bahamas, round-trip from Miami.

Itineraries: Carnival Cruise Line has new seven-night sailings from Port Canaveral to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Turks and Caicos, starting October 2020 on Mardi Gras, a new ship launching in August next year. From £624pp cruise-only.

Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas is sailing new five-night cruises from Fort Lauderdale to CocoCay, the company’s just-opened Bahamian private island, from May to November 2020. From £619pp cruise-only.

Celebrity Cruises has a new seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise round-trip from Fort Lauderdale on Celebrity Edge that visits Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands and St. Maarten. From £1,269pp cruise-only.

Shore excursions:  MSC Cruises has partnered with US lifestyle guru Martha Stewart to offer celebrity-branded tours in the Caribbean such as cooking classes, garden visits and market trips.

Starting this winter, clients on Marella Cruises’ seven-night Pride of Panama voyage can take a tour from Santa Marta in Columbia into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to meet and dine with the country’s indigenous Kogi tribe.

 

Top Experiences

Discover what’s cooking: Celebrity Cruises’ five-hour chef-led tour from Philipsburg, St. Maarten takes visitors to fish and produce markets to pick up ingredients for an exclusive dinner on the ship, as well as tasting French specialities at La Plantation Hotel. From £245pp.

Life balance: A four-hour tour from Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas with Crystal Cruises includes paddle-boarding, yoga and snorkelling in search of stingrays in a mangrove lagoon and marine reserve. Price not yet set.

Climbing Dunn’s River Falls: The Jamaican icon is one of Caribbean’s most sought-after experiences. The boulders are slippery, the water is gushing and you certainly get wet, wet, wet. Most lines go there. Carnival’s six-hour tour from Ocho Rios, pairing the falls with a jeep safari, costs from $108pp.

Snuba at Pigeon Island: The St. Lucia spot is a favourite for snuba diving, a cross between snorkelling and scuba that allows beginners to dive to 20 feet without struggling with tanks as they follow on a raft on the surface. Oceania Cruises’ three-hour snuba adventure costs from £77pp.

Where to book it

Seabourn offers 14 nights of all-inclusive luxury on the Classic Caribbean Yacht Harbours cruise, round-trip from Barbados. Departs January 4, 2020. Fares from £5,298pp for cruise-only but including all meals, drinks and staff gratuities.

MSC Cruises lets customers tick off six islands in one trip and enjoy two days on its new Ocean Cay private island with the 14-night Southern Caribbean cruise, round-trip from Miami, departing January 11, 2020. Fares are from £1,449pp, cruise-only but including all meals.