Island Vibes: Luxury Lines Return to the Caribbean

Oceania Cruises’ Riviera will sail a 14-day “Caribbean Charms” voyage in January 2022. // Photo: Oceania Cruises

When it comes to cruise line deployment, the Caribbean rules with 32 percent of all global sailings, the highest for any region, according to Cruise Lines International Association’s “2020 Cruise Outlook.” For winter 2021-22 or beyond, Luxury Travel Advisor likes these pampering Caribbean voyages.  

From Miami

Ultra-luxury Crystal Cruises sails roundtrip or point-to-point from Miami on the 980-passenger Crystal Serenity. To celebrate the 2021 Thanksgiving holiday afloat, we’d suggest the line’s nine-night “Tropical Thanksgiving” voyage roundtrip from Miami on November 19, 2021. Port calls include Belize City, Belize; Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; and Key West, FL. 

Alternatively, if travelers prefer to cruise the Caribbean over Christmas, Crystal’s 14-night “Caribbean Holiday” voyage sails roundtrip from Miami on December 22, 2021. Luxury Travel Advisor likes this voyage for its overnight stay in Philipsburg, St. Maarten and the bonus of a double overnight and viewing of New Year’s Eve fireworks in Bridgetown, Barbados. Guests also will visit Basseterre, St. Kitts; St. John’s, Antigua; Castries, St. Lucia; and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

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During the St. Maarten call, maritime/yachting buffs should reserve a spot in the “Crystal Private America’s Cup Regatta.” They’ll board a yacht that once competed in the America’s Cup, “train” for competition and set sail — hoping for victory. The best part is that no previous sailing experience is required. 

Prefer to go underwater? In Barbados, Crystal’s guests can choose the “Barbados Submarine Adventure.” Cruisers will remain comfortably dry while their air-conditioned submarine Atlantis dives underwater for views of colorful corals, fish and other sea life. For an even more unusual experience, we’d opt for the line’s illuminated, night-time submarine adventure. 

With a 1-to-1.5 staff/crew to guest ratio, luxury guests can expect lots of pampering onboard and the ship had a multimillion makeover in late 2018. Crystal Serenity’s top suites are the 1,368-square-foot Crystal Penthouse with Veranda (CP category) suites, located on Deck 11. Stylish and elegant, they have a luxurious living area, separate dining area, master bedroom, sweeping veranda and such pampering perks as butler service. 

The new 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor, which joined Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ fleet earlier this year, sails a 10-night “Miami to Miami: Glimmering Shores” voyage roundtrip from Miami on December 7, 2021. Calls include Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; Roseau, Dominica; St. John’s, Antigua; and Gustavia, Saint Barthelemy.

There are three days at sea for pool play, spa treatments, enrichment lectures and cooking classes in the Culinary Arts Kitchen; we’d opt for the “Flip-Flop Floribbean” class, a fusion of Caribbean flavors and Miami style, and yes, rum too.

Seven Seas Splendor’s Regent Suite has 3,151 square feet of indoor space and 1,292 square feet of private outdoor space. It encompasses a spacious living room with sitting area, dining area, two bedrooms and private in-suite spa with sauna, steam room and jetted tub. We love the glass-enclosed lounge with wet bar and sea views, anchored by two private decks.Another option is the Master Suite with 2,108 square feet of space. 

For a shorter voyage, Seven Seas Splendor departs on a seven-night “Taste of the Caribbean” voyage roundtrip from Miami. Departing March 17, 2022, this cruise visits Costa Maya, Mexico; the company’s private island at Harvest Caye, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and Key West, FL. At Harvest Caye, fun activities include beach time, pedal boarding (perhaps viewing manatees), relaxing at a private cabana, fishing, visiting a spice farm or going jungle rafting, among others. 

We’d reserve one of Harvest Caye’s “Luxury Beach Villas.” On a secluded section of beach, these villas are self-contained private retreats with padded front-porch recliners, a sea-facing hammock, Bluetooth audio, an air-conditioned interior, mini-refrigerator and private restroom and shower. Plus, guests can tap into butler and concierge services.  

The regent suite on Seven Seas Splendor has a glass-enclosed lounge with wet bar and sea views. // Photo: Susan J. Young

For a voyage from Miami to the Caribbean and into the Pacific, Azamara’s 16-night “Colombia, Ecuador and Peru” voyage departs January 7, 2022. The 690-passenger Azamara Quest will call at Key West, FL; George Town, Grand Cayman; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; and Cartagena, Colombia; before transiting the Panama Canal. Then the ship calls at Manta and Guayaquil, Ecuador, as well as Salaverry (Trujillo) and Callao (overnight for Lima), Peru.   

While the Club World Owner’s Suite was unavailable at press time, Azamara Quest’s Club Ocean Suites (Decks 6 and 7) were available, offering guests a spacious living room, separate master bedroom, marble master bathroom, dressing room, two 55 inch TVs and more. 

CLIA’s Cruise Outlook report revealed that 65 percent of all passengers stay pre-cruise or post-cruise in destinations. Azamara taps into that trend with its post-cruise “Stay Local in Lima” program. Guests who book this will join Chef Penelope Alzamora and/or Brisa Deneumostier for a culinary tour in Lima’s San Isidro neighborhood. They’ll also visit Casa de Aliaga, Lima’s oldest Colonial mansion, the MALI Museum (which specializes in Peruvian art), and dine at the iconic Lima restaurant, Astrid y Gaston.

In Oceania Cruises’ robust Caribbean line-up for 2021-2022, we like the 14-day “Caribbean Charms” voyage. The 1,250-passenger Riviera sails roundtrip from Miami on January 14, 2022, en route to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Other calls are San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. John’s, Antigua; Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe; Bridgetown, Barbados; St. George’s, Grenada; Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Fort-de-France, Martinique; Castries, St. Lucia; and Gustavia, Saint-Barthelemy.

With an 11 p.m. departure from St. George’s, cruisers can venture ashore for cocktails and dinner. For American steakhouse fare and international dishes, one good fine dining option is Butch’s Chophouse on Pink Gin Beach, south of St. George’s; it serves yummy veal chops, Wagyu beef and crab cakes. For “down home” local cuisine, Patrick’s Local Homestyle Cooking Restaurant offers everything from breadfruit salad to curried pork, local greens soup, Creole fish and rum punch tastily seasoned with nutmeg.

In 2019, Riviera was updated in the line’s OceaniaNext program and has a new Aquamar Spa + Vitality Center with appealing holistic, wellness options. After a day ashore, we’d relax with the spa’s Himalayan Salt Stone Massage. Riviera’s top Owner’s Suite was wait listed at press time, but other categories were open, including the Vista Suite (VS), offering up to 1,500 square feet of space. 

Sometimes luxury guests want to take a short cruise getaway in addition to their annual, much longer luxury cruise. MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and other lines sail from Miami and other Florida ports on short cruises that often call at their private isle destinations. For example, between December 2021 and February 2022, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway sails five-night cruises roundtrip from Miami to the company’s private isle, Harvest Caye in Belize, plus Cozumel, Mexico. We’d opt for The Haven Deluxe Owner’s Suite with Large Balcony, offering 932 square feet of space, a 204-square-foot wraparound balcony and 24-hour butler service. 

From Fort Lauderdale 

Another popular Florida embarkation port is Port Everglades in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. Silversea Cruises sails many 2021-2022 Caribbean voyages from this port. On January 3, 2022, the 608-passenger Silver Spirit sails roundtrip from Port Everglades on an 11-day journey that will call at Key West, FL; Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Santo Tomas, Guatemala; Roatan, Honduras; and Progreso (Merida), Mexico, where it overnights. 

We like that overnight stay as cruisers can take an excursion and can still shop or dine ashore. Not far from the Progreso cruise pier is Bolom Balam (meaning “Jaguar, Jaguar” in the Mayan language), a small local leather shop with lovely, hand-crafted items, including leather purses and computer bags. 

Another plus is this voyage’s Santo Tomas call, not found on most Caribbean itineraries. Archaeology buffs should consider Silversea’s Quirigua Archaeological National Park excursion for a tour of the magnificent ancient Mayan city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quirigua has the highest “stela” (or “stele”), an ancient stone monument, in the Mayan world.

If traveling with family members or another couple, we’d suggest the two-bedroom configuration of Silver Spirit’s Owner’s Suite. In the one-bedroom mode, it’s a stylish 915-square-foot apartment with a spacious living room, separate dining area, master bedroom, marble master bath, one guest bath and large private balcony. Adding the adjacent Panorama Suite with a second bedroom, bath and another living area creates a two-bedroom 1,227-square-foot enclave. Private butler service is a pampering perk. 

From San Juan, Puerto Rico

Combining a Caribbean cruise with an Amazon River journey is Viking’s new, 13-day “Amazon and Caribbean Adventure.” With an itinerary that begins February 25, 2022, the 930-passenger Viking Sea overnights in San Juan on embarkation day, then sails to Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados in the Caribbean before calling at French Guiana. Then the ship sails the Amazon to Santarem, Parintins and finally to Manaus, Brazil.  

The Owner’s Suite (OS category) is Viking Sea’s largest suite at 1,448 square feet, including an expansive private veranda. Among the suite perks is a complimentary shore excursion with private car and driver (for up to four guests) in the port city that guests choose. Unusual? This suite has a 12-seat boardroom, a great base for family group or catered events with onboard friends. Plus, the suite’s private library, wine and music collections were curated by Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen.

To start the vacation in San Juan, we’d suggest Viking’s “Local Life” excursion, “Mojito, Mofongo and Salsa.” Cruisers walk into Old San Juan, learn about the island’s gastronomy, culture and rum industry, and then enter a traditional restaurant to learn how to make a mojito cocktail, while snacking on appetizers. Next a dance instructor will teach stylish Salsa dance moves and then a chef will show how to make “mofongo,” a Puerto Rican culinary specialty; cruisers will mash a mound of plantains, add chicken fricassee, and sample their tasty dish.   

Many lines also turnaround at San Juan. For a robust eastern Caribbean experience, Crystal’s 17-day “Grand Journey: Caribbean Collection” itinerary will depart from San Juan to Miami on December 5, 2021. Crystal Serenity will call at Philipsburg, St. Maarten (overnight); Gustavia, Saint Barthelemy (on two separate calls); Pointe-a-Pitre, Grande-Terre, Guadeloupe; Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; Miami, FL; Road Town, Tortola, BVI; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; Castries, St. Lucia; Philipsburg, St. Maarten (for the second time in this sailing). 

At Grand Turk, Crystal’s guests might choose Crystal’s “Grand Turk Snuba Experience” to don a Snuba helmet (providing breathable air) and go underwater for views of colorful fish and other marine life. It’s a fun way to explore without scuba tanks, yet a different experience than snorkeling. 

The cruise industry offers many Caribbean embarkation options, but wherever guests embark, the region beckons with swaying palms, soft beaches, eco-adventures and eclectic ports of call.

From Los Angeles

For a West Coast embarkation and combination Mexican Riviera and Caribbean itinerary, Seabourn sails a 29-day “Panama Canal & Caribbean Odyssey” on October 8, 2021. The Seabourn Odyssey sails from Los Angeles to Bridgetown, Barbados. On the Pacific Coast, it calls at Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, plus Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala and Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Costa Rica. Following a Panama Canal transit, the ship heads into the Caribbean and calls at Cartagena and Santa Marta, Colombia; Port Antonio, Jamaica; West End, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands; Key West and Miami, FL; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Marigot, St. Martin; Carambola Beach, St. Kitts and Nevis; and St John’s, Antigua, before arriving in Barbados.

We like the Port Antonio call, not common on Caribbean itineraries. Seabourn’s “Essence of Port Antonio” shore excursion provides a good overview. Cruisers travel through the Titchfield Hill area, famed for Georgian architecture; view Navy Island, purchased by actor Errol Flynn in the 1940s; drive by Folly Estate, built by heiress Annie Olivia Tiffany; and view Monkey Island, a wooded area that’s home to a rare monkey species, brought here in 1912 by explorer Hiram Bingham after he “rediscovered” Machu Picchu.

Seabourn Odyssey in Port Elizabeth, Bequia. Seabourn will sail a “Panama Canal & Caribbean Odyssey” on October 8, 2021. // Photo: Seabourn

Travelers will also view the “bottomless” blue lagoon of San San; Port Antonio’s famous Trident Castles; Prospect with its 1840s-era Anglican Church; and St. George’s village with medieval, Tudor and Gothic architecture in a complex built by a German baroness. Alternatively, Seabourn guests could opt for a shore excursion to the Reach waterfalls, take a two-person bamboo rafting trip, head for Frenchman’s Cove beach or shop for arts and crafts in Port Antonio. 

Among Seabourn Odyssey’s many high-end suites, we like the Signature Suites (No. 700 and No. 701), forward facing and nicely sized at 859 square feet inside and a 493-square-foot private veranda. Guests staying here have expansive ocean views, dining for four to six, a bathroom with whirlpool bathtub, guest bath, pantry with wet bar and more. Plus, this suite can connect to the adjoining veranda suite.

From Bridgetown, Barbados

Many luxury lines use Bridgetown, Barbados in the southern Caribbean for “turnarounds.” Oceania Cruises’ 10-day “Crystalline Caribbean” itinerary sails roundtrip from Bridgetown on the 684-passenger Sirena (refurbished in 2019), with departures on November 11, 2021 and November 21, 2021. Calls include Gustavia, St Barthelemy; St. John’s, Antigua; Iles de Saintes, Guadeloupe; Roseau, Dominica; Fort-de-France, Martinique; Castries, St. Lucia; Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 

At Port of Spain, cruisers can hike and climb during Oceania’s “Explore Gasparee Caves” excursion. After a short boat ride to Gaspar Grande, tour goers will discover a limestone isle that’s naturally sculpted into caverns, caves, tunnels and sinkholes through erosion. Lighting accentuates the limestone formations, many named after their shapes such as Dinosaur Head. A saline pool at the bottom of one grotto is illuminated by natural light from a sinkhole above. 

Back onboard, we’d relax in one of Sirena’s 1,000-square-foot Owner’s Suites, with 24-hour butler service, unlimited access to the Aquamar Spa Terrace and an iPad for guest use onboard.

On February 5, 2022, Silversea’s Silver Spirit sails a nine-day roundtrip from Bridgetown, Barbados for those who’ve always desired to visit the Netherland Antilles’ “ABC” isles; the ship calls at Oranjestad, Aruba, Kralendijk, Bonaire and Willemstad, Curacao. Other ports include Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; St. George’s, Grenada; and Castries, St. Lucia. In Bonaire, we’d suggest Silversea’s “Double Dip Snorkel Trip,” which takes travelers via a small boat to two different snorkel sites.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises also sails to/from Barbados on several cruises, among them is the 12-night “Caribbean Warmth” itinerary on the 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator, departing February 22, 2022. On that voyage’s Castries call, culinary buffs should consider the line’s “Island Spices and Cooking Tour” to visit the Castries market with the ship’s chef and then the exclusive Cap Estate residential area for a hands-on cooking class to prepare St. Lucian cuisine with Creole, French and West Indies influences.

Also, sailing a seven-day “Caribbean Spice Islands” roundtrip from Bridgetown on November 6, 2021 is Seabourn’s Seabourn Odyssey, with calls at Rodney Bay, St. Lucia; Roseau, Dominica; Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe; Carambola Beach, St. Kitts and Nevis; Trois Ilets, Martinique; and Saint George’s, Grenada.

From New York 

Cunard Line’s 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2 sails roundtrip from New York on a 12-night “Eastern Caribbean” itinerary, departing November 21, 2021. While the roundtrip south means six total sea days, the good news is that QM2 offers everything from a planetarium at sea to a strong enrichment program, full-service spa, and a grand traditional ballroom, reflective of the 20th century’s Golden Age of Cruising. 

Once in the Caribbean, QM2 will call at St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Bridgetown, Barbados; Castries, St. Lucia; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten. This itinerary gives travelers a good mix of eastern and southern Caribbean ports. Or, guests can dive deeper into the Caribbean and Southern Hemisphere with Cunard’s 21-night “New York to Santos” (Brazil) itinerary or the 55-night “Caribbean and South America” sailing roundtrip from New York; both depart January 18, 2022. Those choosing the longer journey will stay on the ship in Santos and continue south to Cape Horn before heading back north to New York.

Small Ship Vibes

Small upscale ships also ply Caribbean waters, often embarking guests at ports within the region, thus avoiding days at sea traveling to/from the U.S. mainland. 

From Philipsburg, St. Maarten: The new 136-passenger Sea Cloud Spirit will sail a 10-night Caribbean voyage roundtrip from Philipsburg, St. Maarten on November 27, 2021. Sea Cloud Cruises’ guests will visit North Sound/Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; San Juan, Isla Culebrita and Esperanza/Isla Vieques, Puerto Rico; Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S.V.I.; Gustavia, Saint Barthelemy (overnight) and St. John’s, Antigua. One nifty feature? This new windjammer will have a spa with two treatment rooms, a steam bath, Finnish sauna and hairdressing salon.

From Colon, Panama: For those who desire to spend a few days independently in Panama, sail the Caribbean and end their vacation in Miami, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 500-passenger Europa 2 will offer a 14-day “Colon to Miami” cruise, departing March 21, 2022. Ports include Panama’s San Blas Islands; Willemstad, Curacao; Marigot Bay in St. Lucia; Roseau, Dominica; St. John’s, Antigua; Gustavia, Saint Barthelemy; and Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.

Ponant's Blue Eye Lounge. // Photo: Ponant

From Fort-de-France, Martinique: Luxury, small-ship Ponant’s new nine-day “Jewels of the Caribbean” itinerary sails February 28, 2021 roundtrip from Fort-de-France, Martinique. The 184-passenger Le Champlain sails to St. Kitts, Saint Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Saint Barthelemy, Guadeloupe, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda. An experienced diving instructor is onboard for this cruise, plus guests can look for marine life from inside the ship’s eerie Blue Eye Lounge by peering through whale-eye-shaped underwater portals.

From Oranjestad, Aruba: Beach-lovers can book Windstar Cruises’ pre-cruise “Easy Stays” package to soak up some rays in Aruba, before boarding the 342-passenger Wind Surf (renovated in late 2019), for a 17-day “Star Collector” voyage.” Departing February 5, 2022 from Oranjestad, Aruba, Wind Surf will call at Santa Marta, Cartagena and Isla San Andres, Colombia; San Blas Islands, Colon and Bocas del Toro (two calls), Panama; Puerto Limon/Moin, Costa Rica; and Costa Maya, Mexico, before the voyage ends in Cozumel, Mexico. 

From Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: SeaDream Yacht Clubs 112-passenger SeaDream II sails between Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and San Juan, Puerto Rico, on January 3, 2022. Port calls include Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S.V.I.; Saba, Netherlands Antilles; Gustavia, Saint Barthelemy; Soper’s Hole (Tortola), Norman Island and White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands. In 2022, SeaDream also operates Caribbean voyages from Puerto Rico, Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Martin. 

From Nassau, The Bahamas: Scenic’s 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, sails a 12-day “Caribbean Delight” itinerary from Nassau, the Bahamas to Cartagena, Colombia on October 5, 2021. Port calls include Great Inagua Island, Bahamas; Port Antonio and Port Royal, Jamaica; Isla de Providencia, Colombia; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; and Bocas del Toro, Colon and the San Blas Archipelago of Panama. Guests can get a bird’s eye view of the Caribbean during a Scenic Eclipse helicopter excursion. 

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