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Miami is the cruise capital of the world, but San Juan is second. Unless you have never visited Miami and would like to include it as part of your extended Caribbean itinerary, there is justification in flying directly to San Juan by plane and beginning your cruise here. It puts you immediately in the Caribbean, which means you save a 2-day ocean voyage just to get here. Instead of sailing from Florida, you can spend the time getting to know Puerto Rico.

Consult a good travel agent for the latest offerings. Some of the most likely contenders include the following: Ambassador Tours, 50 First St., Suite 610, San Francisco, CA 94104 (tel. 800/989-9000 or 415/357-9876; www.ambassadortours.com); Cruises One, 1415 NW 62 St., Suite 205, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309 (tel. 800/832-3592 or 954/958-3700; www.cruiseone.com); Cruises of Distinction, 4557 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304 (tel. 800/634-3445); Cruises Only, 1011 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando, FL 32808 (tel. 800/242-9000 or 407/898-5353; www.cruisesonly.com); Kelly Cruises, 1315 W. 22nd St., Suite 105, Oak Brook, IL 60521 (tel. 800/837-7447 or 630/990-1111; www.kellycruises.com); and Hartford Holidays Travel, 129 Hillside Ave., Williston Park, NY 11596 (tel. 800/828-4813 or 516/746-6670; www.hartfordholidays.com). Any of these providers stay tuned to last-minute price wars brewing among such megacarriers as Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America, as well as such low-budget contenders as Premier.

Vacations to Go, 1502 Augusta Dr., Suite 415, Houston, TX 77057 (tel. 800/338-4962 or 713/974-2121; www.vacationstogo.com), provides catalogs and information on discount cruises through the Caribbean, as well as the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The Cruise Lines

Here's a brief rundown of some of the cruise lines that serve San Juan and the Caribbean. For detailed information, pick up a copy of one of our companion guides in this series, Frommer's Caribbean Cruises and Ports of Call, Frommer's Caribbean Ports of Call, or Unofficial Guide to Cruises.

  • Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 888/CARNIVAL, or 305/599-2200; www.carnival.com), a specialist in the maintenance of some of the biggest and most brightly decorated ships afloat, is the richest, boldest, brashest, and most successful mass-market cruise line in the world. Many of its vessels depart from Florida area or Caribbean ports -- including San Juan, Galveston, Miami, and Tampa -- as well as New York. If you prefer to depart from one of the ports of Florida (especially Miami), know in advance that many of the company's cruises make San Juan a focal point of their stopovers. Most of the company's Caribbean cruises offer good value, last between 4 and 8 days, and feature nonstop activities, lots of glitter, and the hustle and bustle of armies of clients and crew members embarking and disembarking at every port.
  • Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/647-2251 or 800/722-5941; www.celebrity.com) maintains eight medium-to-large ships offering cruises of between 7 and 10 nights to such ports as Key West; Grand Cayman; St. Thomas; Aruba, St. Lucia; and Cozumel, Mexico, among others. Passengers interested in maximum exposure to Puerto Rico usually opt to cruise aboard Galaxy, a 77,713-ton megaship that's based (Dec-Mar) in San Juan, and which embarks every week throughout the year for tours to such southern Caribbean islands as Barbados, St. Kitts, and Aruba.

    Despite a merger of Celebrity with the larger and better-financed Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity maintains its own identity and corporate structure within the larger framework. The niche this line has created is unpretentious but classy, several notches above mass market, but with pricing that's nonetheless relatively competitive.

  • Costa Cruise Lines (tel. 800/462-6782 or 954/266-5600; www.costacruises.com), the U.S.-based branch of an Italian cruise line that has thrived for about a century, maintains hefty-to-megasize vessels that are newer than those of many other lines afloat. Two of these offer virtually identical jaunts through the western and eastern Caribbean on alternate weeks, each of them departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Ports of call during the eastern Caribbean itineraries of both vessels include a stopover in San Juan, followed by visits to St. Thomas, Catalina Island (a private island off the coast of the Dominican Republic known for its beaches), and Cozumel. There is an Italian flavor and lots of Italian design onboard here, and an atmosphere of relaxed indulgence.
  • Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com) has a large and far-flung fleet that totals 12 mega-vessels. The ships cruise at various times of the year through Caribbean and Bahamian waters, sometimes with stops at San Juan as part of the itinerary. The Sun Princess sails from Fort Lauderdale on round-trip 10-night cruises that variously cover the eastern and the south Caribbean. Princess is one of the very few lines in the world to offer luxury accommodations and upscale service as a standard feature aboard its megaships. These usually carry a smaller number of passengers than similarly sized vessels on less elegant lines. The company's clientele is upscale, with an average passenger age of 55 or over. A respectable percentage of the staff is British.
  • Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 800/285-1835 or 954/776-6123; www.rssc.com) is noted for the level of glamour and prestige that permeates its cruises. It sends all three of its ships -- the Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Voyager, and Seven Seas Navigator -- into the Caribbean on a regular basis. The Mariner, carrying 700 passengers, is an all-suite vessel, and the Navigator carries 490 passengers on luxe cruises. The Voyager is a newer version of the all-suite Mariner. Cruises are relatively expensive compared to those offered by less prestigious lines, and roam freely, with less allegiance to a fixed home port than many other vessels.
  • Royal Caribbean International (tel. 800/327-6700 or 305/539-6000; www.royalcaribbean.com) leads the industry in the development of megaships. Marketed as a mainstream mass-market cruise line whose components have been fine-tuned through endless repetition, the line encourages a restrained house-party theme that's somehow a bit less frenetic than that found aboard the more raucous megaships of other cruise lines, including Carnival. Using either Florida ports or San Juan as their home port, RCI ships call regularly at such oft-visited ports as St. Thomas, Ocho Rios, Sint Maarten, Grand Cayman, St. Croix, and Curaçao. Most of the company's cruises last for 4 to 7 days. If Puerto Rico is the focal point of your itinerary, your best bet is Adventure of the Seas or Serenade of the Seas, offering 7-night cruises through the southern and eastern Caribbean regions, using San Juan as a base. Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line in the business that owns, outright, two tropical beaches (one in The Bahamas, the other along an isolated peninsula in northern Haiti), whose sands and watersports facilities are the focus of many of the company's Caribbean cruises.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.