One of the Caribbean's biggest draws is its predictability, offering almost constant sun and endless beaches to cure your 9-to-5 hangover. Even the hurricane season cooperates, ending just as the northeast winter begins to bite.
A lot of cruise lines go with the flow, sailing the same itineraries year in and year out, but every once in a while it's good to shake things up.
Disney Cruise Line (tel. 800/511-1333; www.disneycruise.com), which has had its two ships on the same routes since they launched in 1998 and '99, is shaking up its offerings this year with a three new routes. In September, 1,754-passenger Disney Wonder will offer a pair of 10- and 11-night sailings to the eastern and southern Caribbean, marking a big break from the ship's usual 3- and 4-night Bahamas routes. The 10-night cruise will visit St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and the line's private island, Castaway Cay. The 11-night option will add a call in St. Kitts.
Sister-ship Disney Magic, meanwhile, is now offering an alternate to its usual seven-night western Caribbean route, substituting a stop in Costa Maya, Mexico, and an extra day at Castaway Cay for the usual calls at Grand Cayman and Key West. Like other private islands owned or managed by the cruise lines, Castaway Cay offers a laid-back resort feel, with acres of pristine beach, nature trails, barbecue dining, and a variety of watersports and spa options, including private ocean-view cabana massage.
Magic sails its alternative route every fourth week.
Carnival (tel. 800/227-6482; www.carnival.com) is also spicing things up this year, adding a series of year-round 4- and 5-night cruises from Port Canaveral, FL, aboard the 2,040-passenger sister-ships Sensation (through Oct. 19) and Elation (for all sailings beginning Oct. 23).
Though the 4-night Bahamas sailings are nothing special (visiting Nassau and either Freeport or Half Moon Cay, the line's private island), the 5-nights add a call at Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a new cruise destination known for its white-sand beaches and excellent diving. Elation is also set to visit the island on its new seven-night cruises from Miami (sailing April 30 through October 15) and several other lines are also sending ships Caicos-way in '06, including luxury lines Crystal, Silversea, and Radisson Seven Seas and premium line Oceania.
At Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com), the island is a feature on 10-night cruises aboard the brand-new 1,848-passenger Noordam, which is set to begin its inaugural season February 22. Sailing from New York Feb-April and again from Oct-Dec, the vessel will visit Grand Turk, Tortola (British Virgin Islands), St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and San Juan (Puerto Rico). An 11-night version, offered in alternate weeks, visits Tortola, St. Thomas, Dominica, Barbados, St. Maarten, and San Juan, sailing in March and again in Oct-Dec.
Another new vessel, the 3,100-passenger Crown Princess of Princess Cruises (tel. 800/774-6237; www.princess.com), is set to debut in May and offer 9-night eastern and western Caribbean sailings June-Oct, all from New York. Western Caribbean routes will visit Grand Turk, Ocho Rios (Jamaica), Port Canaveral (Florida, for access to Orlando and Cape Canaveral), and Grand Cayman. Eastern Caribbean sailings will stop at Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Bermuda's West End.
Round-trip Caribbean sailings from New York got rolling in 2003 when Norwegian Cruise Line chose the city as the year-round homeport for its 2,224-passenger Norwegian Dawn. For 2006 seven vessels will be sailing south from the Big Apple, including Dawn, Noordam, and Crown Princess, plus NCL's Norwegian Spirit (year-round), Carnival's Legend (April-Oct), Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas (May-Oct), and Celebrity's Constellation (Sept-Oct).
At Windstar (tel. 800-258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com), the 308-passener motor-sail megayacht Wind Surf is sailing two new seven-night itineraries sailing round-trip from Barbados. The northbound itinerary visits Nevis, St. Martin, St. Barts, Guadaloupe, Iles des Saintes, and Pigeon Island (St. Lucia); the southbound (which the crew refers to as "the nature run") visits Tobago, Grenada, Bequia, Roseau and Cabrits (Dominica), and Mayreau (Grenadines). With no repeated ports between the two itineraries, they're ideal for passengers wanting a back-to-back 14-day intensive on the eastern and southern Caribbean.
Also hitting some of the smaller ports is ultra-luxe small-ship line SeaDream Yacht Club (tel. 800/707-4911; www.seadreamyachtclub.com), whose twin 110-passenger yachts are set to visit La Romana (Dominican Republic), Saba (Netherlands Antilles), Bequia and Union Island (Grenadines), Port Antonio (Jamaica), and Portsmouth (Dominica) on various itineraries between now and April. Next year SeaDream will only have one vessel in the Caribbean, SeaDream I sailing instead in South America.
And then there's insurgent cruise line easyCruise (www.easycruise.com), whose small, bright-orange, 170-passenger easyCruiseOne is currently in the midst of her first Caribbean season. The ship sails a consistent itinerary around the southern Caribbean through April 26, visiting Bridgetown, Barbados (Saturday and Sunday); Kingstown, St. Vincent (Monday); Fort de France, Martinique (Tuesday); Bequia, in the Grenadines (Wednesday); St. George's, Grenada (Thursday); and Castries, St. Lucia (Friday). Barbados, Martinique, Grenada, and St. Lucia all have international airports with a selection of direct flights from the U.S., London, Paris, and other destinations. Unlike other cruise lines, on easyCruise you just pay ahead for your cabin; everything else -- including food -- costs extra. That explains why the line can get away with such low prices, starting around $30 to $35 per person, per night, double occupancy.
Head to our Cruise Message Boards to join in the discussions with fellow Frommer's travelers.