Island-Hopping on a Caribbean Cruise

Repeat cruisers planning an upcoming vacation often say about a Caribbean cruise: “Well, I’ve already been there, done that.” Yet, the region is far more than great beaches, a warm climate and tropical flair. Spanning more than 7,000 individual islands, it has diverse ports of call, amazing cultures and biodiversity, plus luxury lines often call at remote, less well-known destinations. The Caribbean region is also close to home for many Americans and new, exciting cruise developments are happening in winter 2022-2023 or beyond. 

New Cruise Line, New World Cruise  

Highly anticipated, a new ultra-luxury cruise brand, Explora Journeys, will launch in spring 2023. Look for a vibrant, cosmopolitan European onboard experience coupled with a stellar level of personalized service. Itineraries — called “journeys” — will start at seven nights minimum, offer non-conventional arrival and departure times and include many overnight stays. 

Owned by MSC Group, Explora Journeys is a sister brand to MSC Cruises but officials say the new brand will offer a totally different, “luxury category” experience from top to bottom. In spring 2023, the new cruise line will welcome the 63,900-gt Explora I, the first of four new, spacious ships, each with 461 suites. Three sister vessels will follow — one per year — in 2024, 2025 and 2026, respectively.  

Explora I’s maiden voyage will occur in May 2023 as one of eight inaugural voyages. The first year’s destinations will include the Scandinavian fjords and Baltic region, Iceland and Greenland, the U.S. East Coast and Canada, South America, Hawaii and, yes, the Caribbean, starting in late 2023. Departing on November 3, 2023, Explora I’s “Inaugural Caribbean Journey: A Yachtsmen’s Paradise” voyage will sail from Miami to San Juan. Along the way, the ship will call at Key West, FL; Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, B.V.I.; Falmouth Harbor, Antigua; and Road Bay, Anguilla. 

Other seven- to 14-day Explora Journeys departures for winter 2023-2024 will sail roundtrip from Miami; between San Juan and Miami; from Miami to Bridgetown, Barbados (and in reverse); roundtrip from Bridgetown; and from Miami to Cartagena, Colombia. One luxury itinerary that should appeal to scuba divers, windsurfers and nature lovers is Explora Journeys’ 10-day “UNESCO Treasures Both Above and Below the Sea,” roundtrip from Bridgetown, Barbados on November 27, 2024.

Explora I
Explora I’s “Inaugural Caribbean Journey: A Yachtsmen’s Paradise” voyage will set sail from Miami to San Juan on November 3, 2023.  (Explora Journeys)

Another new development? Upmarket Azamara will launch its first, five-month-long World Cruise in 2024. One segment, “Central American Tapestry,” calls at select Caribbean ports. Operating that 155-night voyage is Azamara Onward, which will join the Azamara fleet this spring as its fourth ship. Setting sail on January 5, 2024, from Port Everglades, FL, the full World Cruise will call at 75 destinations on six continents with 22 overnights in ports and 27 late night stays.  

Azamara Onward’s initial World Cruise segment will call at Cozumel, Mexico. One enticing option is a flight over the Mayan Riviera’s tropical jungle to ancient Chichén Itzá. Leading travelers through the ruins, an expert tour guide will provide insight about the ancient Mayan way of life. Then Azamara Onward will sail southward and call at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, prior to a Panama Canal transit. After Ecuador and Peru port calls; the segment will end in Callao (Lima), Peru. 

Heading to La Romana

As part of its new “Voyage Collection,” ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas Cruises plans a Caribbean maiden call at La Romana, Dominican Republic later this year. The 684-passenger Seven Seas Mariner will call there during the 65-night “Circle South America” itinerary, departing November 3, 2022, from Los Angeles to Miami. At La Romana, guests will stroll cobblestone streets, visit the Church of St. Stanislaus and peruse pre-Columbian Indigenous artifacts at the Regional Museum of Archaeology. 

Guests choosing the line’s “Altos de Chavon” shore excursion will wander the narrow streets of a replica 16th-century Mediterranean village, learn how Dominican artists built the site using local materials, and see a Roman-style amphitheater where Frank Sinatra, Sting and other notables have performed. Or, guests can book “The Dominican Countryside” excursion, hopping aboard an open-air safari vehicle for a rural scenic drive, and to learn how sugarcane is processed, stroll through a tropical nursery, and watch Dominican cigars being “rolled.”

Cruisers traveling on two shorter segments within that lengthy Seven Seas Mariner voyage also will visit La Romana. Those segments include the 28-night “Delights of Brazil & The Caribbean,” departing Buenos Aires for Miami on December 10, 2022, and the 18-night “Holiday Zing & New Year Zest” sailing from Rio de Janeiro to Miami on December 20, 2022.

Oceania Cruises’ Sirena will call at La Romana during a 12-day “Charismatic Caribbean” voyage from Miami to Oranjestad, Aruba. ​​​​ (Oceania Cruises)

Also calling at La Romana is Oceania Cruises. Departing February 19, 2023, the 684-passenger Sirena will sail a 12-day “Charismatic Caribbean” voyage from Miami to Oranjestad, Aruba. The itinerary’s draw is two-fold—a sizable number of calls at diverse ports and navigation deep into the Caribbean. First up is La Romana, where guests have many excursion choices. 

On Oceania’s full-day “Santo Domingo Express” excursion from La Romana, travelers will explore the city’s Colonial Zone where Santo Domingo was founded in 1496. They’ll visit Diego Columbus’ former house (where he entertained explorers Hernando Cortés and Ponce de León), see the National Pantheon’s eternal flame honoring fallen heroes and have free time for shopping and dining in Santo Domingo.

Sirena then continues to Tortola, B.V.I.; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy; Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe; Castries, St. Lucia; Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; St. George’s, Grenada; Willemstad, Curacao; Kralendijk, Bonaire and Oranjestad, Aruba.

Exploring the Grenadines

One enticing way to get off-the-beaten-path in the Caribbean is to spend time in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the southern Caribbean’s Windward Islands. On January 13, 2023, SeaDream Yacht Club’s 112-passenger SeaDream I sails an eight-day cruise roundtrip from Bridgetown, Barbados to many remote isles. After an initial call at Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, the yacht calls at four Grenadines ports — Mount Wynne, Bequia (overnight stay in Port Elizabeth), Tobago Cays, Union Island and Mayreau. 

Then it’s on to St. George’s, Grenada, and Man-O-War Bay, Trinidad and Tobago. One stellar eco-experience? SeaDream’s guests can swim with turtles in a nationally protected area off the uninhabited Tobago Cays. For a tropical gourmet outing, though, Luxury Travel Advisor suggests SeaDream’s “Firefly Plantation and Sea Salt Tasting” experience. Cruisers will stroll the lush gardens of the 18th-century Bequia estate, walk with the head gardener to learn about local history and the estate’s tropical trees and plants, and taste the estate’s naturally harvested Grenadine Sea Salt. 

SeaDream II was completely renovated in January 2022, and SeaDream I will receive the same updates starting in March 2022. Look for completely renovated staterooms sporting new hardware, soft furnishings, 55-inch LED TVs and techie upgrades (USB/USBC charging ports, Wi-Fi and sensor lighting). 

Bequia, St. Vincent
In Bequia, St. Vincent, Silversea has planned a number of shore excursions, including “Scenes of Bequia,” “Sailing Bequia,” “Bequia Heritage Tour” and “Bequia Beach Indulgence.”  (Getty Images)

On January 16, 2023, Ponant’s 184-passenger Le Dumont-D’Urville departs roundtrip from Fort-de-France, Martinique for a nine-day “Pearls of the Caribbean” cruise; multiple dates are available. First, the ship will call at Port Elizabeth, Bequia. Excursion choices include a catamaran sunset sail or a catamaran snorkeling cruise. At Mayreau, Ponant’s guests will go ashore for sunbathing, relaxing in the shade or snorkeling. 

After port calls at Grenada and Barbados, the ship will anchor in Tobago Cays National Park, where green turtles are among the “marine residents.” Ponant’s experienced diving instructor will assist guests with swimming and scuba diving. Then Le Dumont d’Urville sails to Pigeon Island (linked via a sand causeway to St. Lucia) and back to Fort-de-France. One onboard fun element? This Explorer-series vessel offers Ponant’s undersea “Blue Eye Lounge.” Through underwater portals shaped like whale eyes, guests can peer outside to the marine world while sipping a cocktail. 

If enrichment is the traveler’s passion, on February 25, 2023, Le Dumont d’Urville will depart Vieux Fort, St. Lucia on a “Cruising the Caribbean’s Windward Islands — with Smithsonian Journeys” itinerary. Tailored for English-speaking travelers, the voyage includes onboard discussions with two Smithsonian Journeys experts; transfers pre- and post-cruise, and an included excursion/activity during each port call. 

Ultra-luxury Seabourn also will sail Caribbean waters between November 2022 and January 2023. The 458-passenger Seabourn Sojourn will operate three 11-day “Gems of the Leeward Islands” voyages and one 16-day “Holiday Caribbean Sojourn,” all roundtrip from Miami. In addition, the 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation will offer several holiday cruises and then a series of seven-day or 14-day cruises from either Barbados or St. Maarten.

Seabourn Ovation
Seabourn Ovation will sail a series of seven- or 14-day cruises from either Barbados or St. Maarten. Shown here is the Seabourn Square on the ship. (Seabourn)

Cruisers can expect the line’s popular “Caviar in the Surf” experience and “Marina Day” at select ports on both ships. Flexibility in voyage length and combination of voyages without repeating ports is a focus of Seabourn’s itinerary design. Here’s a good example. On January 7, 2023, Seabourn Ovation will depart on a 14-day “Exotic Caribbean In-Depth” voyage roundtrip from Barbados. 

On the same day, guests will also board for the seven-day “Classic Caribbean Yacht Harbors” itinerary. Guests on both itineraries will visit Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Trois Ilets, Martinique; Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe; Charlestown, Nevis, St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Johns, Antigua and Barbuda; Carambola Beach, St Kitts and Nevis; and then Philipsburg, St. Maarten. There guests on the seven-day voyage will depart the ship. 

Those on the two-week voyage will sail on to Soper’s Hole (Frenchmans Cay), B.V.I.; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Gustavia, Saint Barthelemy; Terre-De-Haut, Iles Des Saintes, Guadeloupe; Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia; Saline Bay, Mayreau, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and finally, Bridgetown. 

Luxury Travel Advisor suggests heading for Seabourn Ovation’s top-deck Retreat with its central whirlpool. Relax on sun loungers, order healthy spa menu bits, or pull up a bar stool or take a table seat for champagne and cocktails. Even better, reserve one of the Retreat’s 15 private cabanas. Each is an individual luxury living room with a large HD flat-screen television and refrigerator stocked with a personalized selection of beverages. 

Bequia is also a call on several 2023 Caribbean itineraries for Silversea Cruises’ 596-passenger Silver Dawn, the ultra-luxury line’s newest ship. One plus is the line’s new S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste) programming, focused on authentic, local foods and drinks. Among Silver Dawn’s Caribbean voyages is a nine-day sailing from San Juan to Bridgetown, departing January 30, 2023. Guests will visit St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy; Basseterre, St. Kitts; St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda; Fort-de-France, Martinique; Castries, St. Lucia; St. George’s, Grenada and Bequia. 

Nicely included in Silversea’s cruise fare is a choice of one of three Bequia shore excursions, either “Scenes of Bequia,” “Sailing Bequia” or a “Bequia Heritage Tour.” We’d also recommend Silversea’s optional “Bequia Beach Indulgence” excursion. During a one-hour, narrated sightseeing tour, guests will learn about island history, view Port Elizabeth’s vegetable and souvenir market, and peruse model boats at Hamilton before heading to the Atlantic coast. A photo stop is made at Mt. Pleasant for sea views. 

Sea Cloud
Sea Cloud Cruises’ 64-passenger ship  (Sea Cloud)

Following a welcome cocktail at the Bequia Beach Resort, cruisers will enjoy an à la carte lunch at the resort’s beach restaurant. After lunch, they can swim, sunbathe on a provided beach chair and admire views of Petit Nevis and lovely Mustique. Best of all, this tour includes a pampering, 15-minute back massage.  

We also like the “Mustique Retreat,” which gives cruisers a chance to savor the good life with this exclusive, half-day, private catamaran excursion to Mustique, known for its exclusivity, idyllic nature and celebrity residents (Mick Jagger, among them) and VIP guests (think Prince William).

Also calling at Bequia is Windstar Cruises during multiple 2022-2023 winter season departures of the seven-night “Windward Islands Surf & Sunset” itinerary. Operated roundtrip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, it combines a few marquee ports with small or less-visited ones too. On January 21, 2023, for example, the newly updated/stretched, 312-passenger Star Pride sails to St. George’s, Grenada before arriving in Bequia, where we’d suggest climbing aboard a power boat and heading out snorkeling. 

Or, Windstar’s guests can book the line’s around-island Bequia tour to Fort Hamilton, Mount Pleasant and the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. Alternatively, certified scuba divers can head underwater for a one- or two-tank dive.  After the Bequia call, Star Pride sails to Pigeon Island in St Lucia, Les Saintes in Guadeloupe and Philipsburg, St. Maarten, before returning to San Juan. 

What’s nice is that this same cruise also comprises the first week of a 14-day “Star Collector: Lovely Leewards” itinerary. But if guests book the two-week itinerary, they’ll also visit St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy; Little Bay, Anguilla; Philipsburg, St. Maarten (the only repeated port in 14 days); Jost Van Dyke, B.V.I.; and Virgin Gorda, B.V.I.

Turtle at Tobago Cays
Green Turtles at the Tobago Cays National Park will be a top attraction for guests sailing on Ponant’s Le Dumont-D’Urville in January next year.  (Studio PONANT/Margot Sib)

For something a bit different, Sea Cloud Cruises’ upscale, historic, 64-passenger Sea Cloud offers a 14-night voyage, roundtrip from Philipsburg, St. Maarten on December 20, 2022. This four-masted sailing ship will call at North Sound, Virgin Gorda (overnight), spend a day at sea and then visit both Terre-de-Haut/Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe and Soufriere, St. Lucia. Following another day at sea, the ship will call at Carriacou and St. George’s (overnight), Grenada; Chatham Bay, Union Island and Port Elizabeth in St. Vincent and Grenadines; Cabrits, Dominica (overnight) and Gustavia, St. Barthelemy (overnight). 

During their cruise, guests will experience fine dining and crew pampering. If they desire, they can even help unfurl the ship’s sails. Sea Cloud was built as a magnificent private yacht (called Hussar V) for General Foods’ heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband, E. F. Hutton. In grand style, the ship set sail with gold taps, French antiques and marble fireplaces. Sea Cloud’s guests often say they feel part of something special, given the storied history.

Beyond the Marquee Ports 

The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, particularly Nassau and Grand Turk, are popular cruise calls, but the countries have many remote, less-visited ports too, as do many Caribbean Sea countries. In Jamaica, for example, cruisers may have visited Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, but not Port Antonio or Kingston (Port Royal). 

Debuting next year, Scenic’s new 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse II will sail a nine-day “Caribbean Sunsets: Turks & Caicos Islands to Jamaica” itinerary, departing October 23, 2023. Beginning and ending in the tourism hot spots of Nassau, the Bahamas, and Montego Bay, Jamaica, respectively, the voyage also visits Providenciales, the Turks & Caicos’ tourism hub. But there’s much more to the line-up—the less visited Bahamian isles of Egg Island, Harbour Island, Long Island, Little Inagua Island and Great Inagua Island, plus laid-back Port Antonio on Jamaica’s northeastern coast. 

Fit travelers can climb to the top of Great Inagua’s 1800s-era, 113-foot-high lighthouse for panoramic views of Matthew Town and surrounding scenery. Birders will love Grand Inagua and Little Inagua for their 146 species of birds including 80,000 flamingos. Port Antonio shore options include local beaches, Frenchman’s Cove where a river flows into the sea, the Blue Lagoon or spending the day on the water in a traditional wooden vessel. 

Throughout the cruise, Scenic Eclipse II’s specialist Destination Team of up to 15 experts will lead enrichment sessions and shoreside activities. Cruisers can go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, book Scenic Enrich experiences and pursue personalized Scenic Freechoice activities.  

One up-and-coming cruise destination is Kingston (Port Royal), Jamaica. Once a strategic jewel on New World trade routes, Port Royal also was a 17th-century bastion for British pirates and buccaneers including Captain Henry Morgan, Calico Jack (John Rackham) and Blackbeard (Edward Teach). However, a 1692 earthquake and tsunami plunged much of Port Royal into the sea. Today, this area has only a few cruise calls. But it’s one port to watch for future Caribbean itineraries. Cruisers can discover evidence of Port Royal’s swashbuckling past at the Fort Charles Museum, while offshore are shipwrecks and undersea archeological sites.  

Union Island
Union Island will be one of the ports of call on Sea Cloud’s 14-night voyage, roundtrip from Philipsburg, St. Maarten on December 20, 2022.  (Susan Young)

More Caribbean Options

Many of today’s consumers desire both longer cruises and “easy-to-get-to” U.S. departure ports. During winter 2022-2023, Viking operates a 14-night “Panama Canal and Central America” itinerary on multiple dates. The 930-passenger Viking Star will sail roundtrip from Port Everglades, FL, which Viking recently added as a new U.S. home port.    

Port calls include Key West, FL; Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; Colon, Panama and Montego Bay, Jamaica. The trip includes a day of scenic Panama Canal sailing, five sea days and seven “included” shore excursions per guest. For those who prefer an adults-only sailing environment, Viking does not accept guests under age 18. Virgin Voyages is another line with an adults-only policy.

Other lines, big and small, offer diverse 2023 Caribbean voyages. Cunard Line’s 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2 will operate a holiday “Caribbean Celebration” roundtrip voyage from New York on December 22, 2022. Many cruise lines also offer private island experiences. At Royal Caribbean International’s Bahamian “Perfect Day at CocoCay,” cruisers can zip down North America’s tallest waterslide, soar 450 feet into the air in a helium balloon, or, in contrast, relax on the beach or reserve a floating cabana for the day. Plus, a new adults-only Hideaway Beach is slated to open later this year. 

For luxury travelers who are Caribbean cruise “repeaters,” it’s clear that taking a second look may reveal new appealing options for a trip back to the region and voyages closer to home.

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