Unlike big ships, small luxury cruise ships can call on ports that big ships simply can't. While megaliners line up three and four abreast to dock in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, smaller vessels might anchor over on the French side of the island, near Marigot, Sint Martin. Ditto for St. Lucia – big cruise ships will tie up in Castries, while small ships will anchor under the shadow of the marvelous Pitons, situated next to the small and unassuming port of Soufriere.
Does the small-ship Caribbean lifestyle appeal to you? Here's a quick rundown of what a handful of dedicated small-ship lines have on-tap for the Caribbean for the coming year:
It's tough to call Crystal a small-ship line, because there's little that's physically small about the elegant Crystal Serenity and her fleetmate, Crystal Symphony. They're the largest of the ultra-luxury vessels in the Caribbean, yet Crystal leaves nothing to chance with these pampering beauties. Both ships have been heavily refurbished over the years, and they look more modern than their ten-to-twenty-year-old build dates might suggest.
Crystal rolls out the red carpet when it comes to cruise fares, which include all but the most premium beverages onboard and all gratuities. These are the ships for those who like their cruises to be luxurious, but appreciate the features and amenities of big-ship cruising.
In 2016, Crystal sends both vessels to the Caribbean. That's no surprise. What is surprising, however, is just how diverse and varied the line's voyage lineup is. Have you ever sailed from San Juan, Perto Rico to Miami? How about Valparaiso, Chile to Miami, or Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans? You can experience them all with Crystal's 2016 lineup.
Voyages tend to be longish in length, with most cruises clock in at around two weeks in length. A handful of seven-day voyages are available, along with a small selection of cruises spanning 20 or more days in length. With that kind of selection, there's sure to be a Caribbean cruise on Crystal that's right for you.
Oceania Cruises' intimate Regatta and her newer fleetmate, Riviera, reign supreme in the Caribbean next year. Like the line's luxurious contemporaries, Oceania's voyages are as interesting as they are varied; you won't find any weeklong trips out to Nassau here.
Most voyages tend to be 10 days in length, with more than a few cruises that hit the three week mark and keep going. Only a handful of voyages are seven days in length, and they're not all that plentiful: A 7-day Miami-to-Miami sailing on Riviera on March 13, 2016 is clearly targeting customers who can only take holidays during Spring Break.
For the rest of us, Oceania offers a chance to explore the "hidden Caribbean" on exotic voyages that are just the right length and that are priced favorably when compared to their contemporaries.
The nimble Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Navigator do double-duty for Regent Seven Seas Cruises in the Caribbean this coming year, with a multitude of sailings departing roundtrip from Miami, Florida.
Regent's customers like to sail for longer than your typical weeklong voyage to the Caribbean, and Regent's Caribbean itineraries meet their desires. The vast majority of Seven Seas Navigator and Seven Seas Mariner sailings are comfortable 10-day journeys that explore the best that the Western, Eastern and Southern Caribbean have to offer.
For those who are crunched for time, a handful of weeklong voyages are available, like the March 10, 2016 departure of Seven Seas Navigator. Clearly though, longer voyages reign supreme in Regent's calendar lineup: Seven Seas Mariner departs on March 25, 2016 for a spectacular 26-night voyage through the Caribbean, and those with an itch for exploration (and a transit of the Panama Canal) can sail aboard Seven Seas Mariner from Miami to San Francisco on April 20, 2016 as she makes her way to her summer homeport of Vancouver, Canada for her first Alaska season in several years.
While Regent also includes all beverages and gratuities in its cruise fares, the line also throws in all excursions ashore; something that can really sway prospective cruisers looking at their bottom line.
If you're a fan of Seabourn's contemporary blend of ultra-luxury cruising, sadly, you're out of luck: The popular line doesn't return to the Caribbean until January of 2017. Fortunately, the intimate Seabourn Odyssey returns on January 24, 2017, when she operates a massive 12-day voyage between Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Bridgetown, Barbados that can be booked as an even larger 27-day voyage that operates roundtrip from Port Everglades.
These sailings may be a full year off, but Seabourn is offering so few of them that it's best to book now – or be left out in the cold.
Silversea's Caribbean voyages are perhaps some of the line's most accessible. Most voyages span just one week in duration and are a considerable bargain when compared to premium voyages in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. For the Upper Premium cruising aficionado who is looking to get a taste of the good life, Silversea's 2016 Caribbean voyages are as alluring as they are plentiful.
Many of Silversea's Caribbean sailings depart conveniently from Fort Lauderdale, Florida's Port Everglades Cruise Terminal. Silversea offers an extensive array of both roundtrip and one-way voyages, with terminating ports of call that include Bridgetown, Barbados and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Silversea's 540-guest flagship, Silver Spirit, performs most Caribbean itineraries, assisted by her slightly smaller fleetmate, the 1995-built Silver Wind. The season is a decent length, running from January through March of 2016, and resuming again in October for the 2016-17 Caribbean season.
While all of Silversea's itineraries have something to recommend about them, Silver Spirit's Western Caribbean itineraries are particularly noteworthy for a luxury line, with calls on Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Key West, Florida.
If you like your cruises warm and close to home but aren't willing to compromise on luxury and the spaciousness of a small ship, there's plenty to like about the Caribbean in 2016.
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