June 8, 2004 -- A lot of people who cruise on the 2,000- and 3,000-passenger mega-ships are going for the ship ... not the itinerary. This is especially true in the been-there-done-that Caribbean. Typically, the megas ply the same path, hitting ultra-popular ports like Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel in the western Caribbean, and in the eastern, St. Thomas, St Martin and Nassau. On these itineraries, you'll visit three ports and be at sea for three days; sometimes a fourth port is part of the route, like Key West or the private Bahamian islands many lines have. Either way, the point is these well-worn itineraries are fine for new cruisers who haven't seen these ports before or for those who could care less where the ship's going. However, for anyone who has cruised to these evergreens before and has grown weary of shuffling through jewelry stores and t-shirt shops with shiploads of others (as many 8 or 10 megas often call at places like Cozumel and St. Thomas on the very same day), there are other options.

By their very intimate, anti-mainstream nature, small-ship lines like Star Clippers and Windstar, and high-end lines like SeaDream Yacht Club and Silversea, tend to steer clear of the well-charted course the megas take, focusing on less developed islands or those that can't accommodate today's floating resort vessels. But if you like the buzz and the variety of dining, entertainment and activities the big guys can offer, you don't have to resign yourself to mingle with the masses in Grand Cayman. Though below many people's radar, the fact is most of the big-ship lines have at least one or two of their megas doing more port-intensive itineraries that mimic a small-ship sailing. Here's a sampling:

  • Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com): The 2,100-passenger Serenade of the Seas sails roundtrip 7-night cruises from San Juan this winter, visiting St. Thomas, St. Martin, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados, with one day at sea.
  • Princess (www.princess.com) Through at least spring of 2005, the 2,600-passenger Golden Princess alternates this same itinerary -- sailing roundtrip from San Juan, visiting St. Thomas, St. Martin, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados, with one day at sea -- with roundtrip itineraries out of San Juan visiting St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Grenada, Isla Margarita (Venezuela) and Aruba.
  • Carnival (www.carnival.com) The 2,643-passenger Carnival Destiny is sailing 7-nighters roundtrip out of San Juan through 2005, calling on St. Thomas, Barbados, Aruba and Dominica, with two days at sea. There's also a similar one-off itinerary roundtrip out of Aruba in December, visiting Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Barbados and Dominica.
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