Choosing the right cruise ship can be daunting. After all, with a cruise, a lot of your vacation is determined in that one choice. As with hotels, each ship is different--and even on a short Caribbean sailing selecting the right one is critical. Sure, the itinerary may be similar and the in-port activities can be comparable--expect beaches, sunshine, palm trees, and umbrella drinks, as well as hikes to rainfalls and tours of old sugar mills and banana plantations. In fact, even the hallmarks of the fantasy may be the same across all sailings, from the allure of sand between your toes to a frozen drink in hand and the appeal of tropical breezes when it is cold back home.
While suggesting that, like snowflakes, no two ships are alike is overstating it, the differences in experience between ships--even in the same region--can be vast. On a Carnival Cruises ship, for example, you may find DJs playing top 40 hits for larger millennial crowds on the at-sea days, while on a Crystal Cruises ship you may find an elaborate seafood buffet on the pool deck with a small band and plenty of couples reading in the sunshine instead. Entertainment offerings are also markedly different from ship to ship--Norwegian Escape stands out for its water slides, multi-level Sports Complex, and Broadway-style shows, while Fathom's Adonia will offer Spanish language lessons and cultural films about Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The size of shore excursion groups, the level of service, and the attention to detail in the main dining room can also vary between price points on cruises, as will what's included in the cost of the cruise itself.
In addition, the choices are constantly changing--and later this year a variety of lines will introduce exciting new ships in this part of the world, with all sorts of new amenities and restaurants in a wide range of price points and ship sizes. Here, a few of our favorite cruise ships sailing in the Caribbean this year, including the best of the class of 2016:
--By Sherri Eisenberg