Caribbean Voyages With an “Expeditionary” Flair

A Caribbean voyage is often a second or third vacation of the year for luxury travelers. It’s a closer-to-home getaway nestled between a big, annual European trip and an exotic one elsewhere. Fortunately, in 2023 and 2024, travelers have more Caribbean options—many small-ship, luxury expedition or eco-adventure cruises.

Debuting in April 2023, Scenic Group USA’s 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse II will sail several 2023-2024 Caribbean voyages. Talking about “remote” destinations, this second Discovery Yacht, a sister to Scenic Eclipse, will call at Darby Island, Egg Island and Long Island in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico’s Isla de Culebra, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Mayreau, and Isla de Providencia in Colombia, among others.

On October 23, 2023, during a nine-day voyage from Nassau, the Bahamas to Montego Bay, Jamaica, Scenic Eclipse II’s guests will explore the mangroves and small caves of Providenciales, Turks & Caicos via glass-bottomed kayaks. On the Bahamas’ Little Inagua Island, they’ll possibly spot tens of thousands of West Indian flamingos. And in Jamaica, they can float on a bamboo raft along  Port Antonio’s Great River.

Scenic Eclipse II
Scenic Eclipse II guests can “dive underwater” without getting wet by riding in the ship’s submersible. (Scenic Group USA)

The well-equipped Scenic Eclipse II carries Zodiacs, paddleboards and kayaks for guest use. We’d also suggest “diving underwater” without getting wet by riding in the ship’s submersible, or heading into the sky for aerial sightseeing via one of the ship’s two helicopters.   

While Scenic Eclipse II was originally envisioned as a “copy” of Scenic Eclipse, with this second ship, look for an upgraded, enlarged Senses Spa and expanded steam room, KLAFS infrared lounge, new custom salt therapy lounge, new color (light therapy) treatments and cold therapies. Guests will also find a new outdoor terrace with relaxation loungers. Plus, Deck 10’s new Panorama Bar area will have indoor-outdoor seating and a large, oval-shaped Vitality Pool with massage jets.

Many expedition voyages ply the Caribbean while repositioning to the Arctic region or Antarctica. Such is the case with Silversea Cruises’ 254-passenger Silver Cloud. On October 1, 2023, the ultra-luxury expedition ship will sail a 15-day expedition cruise from Port Everglades (Greater Fort Lauderdale), FL to Callao (Lima), Peru.

Carrying a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, Silver Cloud will call in the Caribbean at Port Antonio, Jamaica; Cartagena, Colombia; and Portobello, Panama. Then the ship transits the Panama Canal and calls at Pacific Ocean ports. At Port Antonio, Jamaica, Silversea’s guests can select from three different included excursions. For physically fit guests, we’d suggest the “Great Huts Trail” excursion. It’s a beach eco-resort experience that includes a 30-minute, eco-diverse walking tour along a fossilized rocky cliff trail through beach, jungle and meadow terrain.

An expedition means different things to different people, too; sometimes, it’s all about the critters. During the Cartagena call, we’d recommend birdwatching enthusiasts take Silversea’s excursion to the Colombian National Aviary at Baru, home to 135 different species of birds. One highlight is the aviary’s tropical rainforest habitat, another is the separate condor habitat as the Andean Condor is Colombia’s national bird.

Explaining to guests that “a tropical expedition voyage is more a matter of encounters,” Ponant focuses on remote, seldom-visited destinations, ecology and ancient customs for its Caribbean voyages. On March 21, 2024, Ponant’s 184-passenger Le Dumont d’Urville will operate an eight-night “Pearls of the Caribbean” cruise roundtrip from Fort-de-France, Martinique.

Calls include Port Elizabeth, Bequia and Mayreau/Tobago Cays Marine Park, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, plus St. Lucia, Guadeloupe and Dominica. Beyond the “Blue Eye” underwater lounge, we particularly like this voyage for the scuba diving and snorkeling potential, particularly at the marine park. One plus is that Ponant brings along an experienced diving instructor for the entire cruise.

For those who love watersports, snorkeling and diving, Windstar Cruises’ 312-passenger Star Legend or Star Pride offer seven-night “Windward Ways and Tobago Cays” sailings on multiple 2023-2025 dates. Traveling between Oranjestad, Aruba, and Bridgetown, Barbados, the ships will call at Willemstad, Curacao; Kralendijk, Bonaire; Soufriere, St. Lucia; Mayreau, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Man-O-War Bay, Tobago.

At the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, snorkelers can explore Man-O-War Bay’s coral reefs, while birdwatchers look for Amazon parrots, native parakeets and flamingoes. Varying by voyage and Caribbean destination visited, Windstar’s complimentary watersports equipment and amenities for guests could include: snorkeling gear, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, foam flotation magic carpet, a water trampoline and more.

Entering service on August 12, 2023, with a series of pre-inaugural voyages in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Caribbean is Seabourn’s second new expedition ship, the 264-passenger Seabourn Pursuit; it’s a sister to Seabourn Venture.

Important to point out? On these pre-inaugural voyages, expedition outings won’t be offered, but guests will still experience many Seabourn amenities and services. Plus, they can check out this expedition ship should they later desire to sail in a polar region. For example, a 10-day “Atlantic Sunrises” sailing on September 30, 2023, will operate between Miami, FL, and Bridgetown, Barbados.

Kralendijk, Bonaire
Pink flamingos are seen in Kralendijk, Bonaire. Shown in the background is the challenging Red Slave dive site.  Windstar will call in Kralendijk multiple times between 2023 and 2025. (Getty Images)

On October 10, 2023, Seabourn Pursuit will arrive at Bridgetown, Barbados (from where it’s slated to begin its scheduled expedition cruises). It will then call at Charlotteville, Trinidad and Tobago, before exiting the Caribbean and heading to Manaus, Brazil. Activities on this expedition will include an optional submersible dive or helicopter tour, Zodiac outings and kayaking.

One Caribbean yacht-style voyage with a different type of expedition flair — a port call at Little Bay, Montserrat — is SeaDream Yacht Club’s “Montserrat and Caribbean Gems” itinerary. The 112-passenger SeaDream I departs March 16, 2024, from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, to Philipsburg, Sint Maarten.

Before devastating volcanic activity and hurricanes, more than 13,000 people lived on Montserrat, a trendy “Insiders Isle” that attracted many celebrities and music producers. Now, 3,000 people or so live on the isle, so SeaDream is working to provide economic benefit to the community, while at the same time, giving its guests a unique Montserrat adventure. The yacht will also call at White Bay, Jost van Dyke, B.V.I.; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy; Falmouth Bay, Antigua; Chrishi Beach Club, Nevis, St. Kitts & Nevis; and other isles.

Also taking its guests to off-the-beaten-path harbors and coves is Emerald Cruises, a sister brand to Scenic. Emerald’s new 100-passenger luxury yachts, Emerald Azzurra and Emerald Sakara (debuting later this summer), both will spend their first season in the Caribbean this coming winter. Active guests will likely head for both ships’ marina platform when it’s deployed; there, they’ll find kayaks, standup paddleboards, snorkel equipment, SEABOBs and a giant trampoline.

On multiple dates in 2023 and 2024, Lindblad Expeditions’ 100-passenger National Geographic Quest will operate an eight-day “Panama and Colombia: Exploring the Caribbean Coast” itinerary between Cartagena, Colombia, and Panama City, Panama. Lindblad’s guests will head out to hike within Colombia’s rainforests, perhaps spotting an Emerald Toucanet or Brown-throated Sloth.

Brown-throated sloth
Hurtigruten guests optingto hike Colombia’s rainforestsmay get a chance to seethe brown-throated sloth. (Getty Images)

In addition, cruisers can also “make a difference” by participating in scientific studies during an exclusive visit to the Smithsonian Research Institute. That’s on Barro Colorado Island within the Panama Canal’s Gatun Lake.

Fortunately, as guests travel, even to the most remote spots, they’ll often discover faster, more reliable Wi-Fi at sea to stay connected. Case in point? In late 2022, Hurtigruten Expeditions and partner Speedcast completed the installation of SpaceX’s Starlink low-Earth-orbit (LEO) broadband connectivity fleet-wide. It’s complimentary to Hurtigruten’s expedition ship guests.

On April 13, 2024, Hurtigruten’s 250-passenger Fram sails a 13-day “From Panama to Barbados – Expedition Cruise to the Southern Caribbean,” between Colon, Panama, and Bridgetown, Barbados. Adventurers should love the Guajira Peninsula, a truly remote desert landscape. Also, they’ll go ashore by Zodiac to isolated, car-free Capurgana, Colombia, which has quiet bays, dive sites and a dense rainforest.   

On another front, those seeking a classic ultra-luxury, Caribbean voyage with beach time, cultural pursuits and shopping certainly can find that, too. For instance, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ seven-night “Sun-Splashed Shores” itinerary, operated by the new 746-passenger Seven Seas Grandeur (debuting later this year), will depart November 7, 2024, roundtrip from Miami. Guests will go ashore at Roatan, Honduras; Harvest Caye, Belize; Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; and Key West, FL.

In another example, Viking’s 930-passenger Viking Mars and Viking Sky will sail on many departures in late 2023 between Port Everglades (Greater Fort Lauderdale), FL and Panama City (Fuerte Amador), Panama. The ships will call at ports in Mexico; Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama. So, whether guests seek a laid-back tropical vacation, cultural immersion or an exciting active adventure, prolific choices await in the Caribbean.

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