When sunshine, frozen pina coladas and steel drums call, you know it's time for a Caribbean cruise. Luckily, you can choose from a wide variety of ships and itineraries throughout the Eastern, Western and Southern regions. Whether you're keen on visiting a particular port (scuba diving in Grenada, anyone?) or are simply in need of some vitamin D, we make it easy to decide which option is best for you. Compare everything from onboard activities to price tags in our breakdown of the 12 best cruise ships in the Caribbean.
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Updated January 24, 2019
1. Allure of the Seas
Size matters, and if you have a "bigger is better" mentality when it comes to cruise ships, Allure of the Seas is a perfect choice. The 5,400-passenger behemoth (along with island-hopping sister ships Oasis, Harmony and Symphony of the Seas) feels more like a floating resort than a ship, thanks to its Coney Island-style boardwalk; array of restaurants, bars and activities; and double the fun with two rock climbing walls and surf simulators.
Sailing from:Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
- Zipline that soars above nine decks.
- High-diving aerial performances at the AquaTheater.
- Main theater puts on production of Broadway's "Mamma Mia!".
- Families with tons of adrenaline.
- Active couples.
- Those who don't want to feel like they're on a cruise ship.
2. Carnival Vista
Carnival Vista (along with sister ship Carnival Horizon) offers an innovative twist on the line's popular "Fun Ship" concept. In fact, if you've sailed on a Carnival ship before, you might not even recognize it as part of the fleet. Public spaces are more contemporary and boast a toned-down color scheme, contrary to Vista's flashy fleetmates; there's also a wider variety of restaurants, bars, entertainment and places to unwind. (Don't worry: It's still got Carnival favorites like Guy's Burger Joint, the Alchemy Bar and adults-only Serenity deck.) Even on rainy days, the fun continues with indoor attractions like a Caribbean-themed brewery and IMAX theater.
Sailing from: Miami and Galveston.
- A "floating" bicycle ride that soars above the ship's top deck.
- RedFrog Pub & Brewery offers tours and tastings of Carnival's own beer.
- Havana Bar serves up fabulous mojitos and ocean views.
- Families who want a nice balance of action and relaxation.
- Couples who prefer trendy bars, with microbrews and crafted cocktails.
- Those on a budget, who don't want to sacrifice fun.
3. Norwegian Escape
If Jimmy Buffet had a favorite cruise ship, we bet it would be Norwegian Escape. The 4,248-passenger floating resort has two Buffett franchises onboard, 28 restaurants and 21 bars, so you'll never have to wait for it to be 5 o'clock somewhere. It also has myriad activities for all ages, including a waterfall grotto, ropes course and some of the fastest water slides at sea.
Sailing from: Miami and New York.
- Oceanfront promenade offers alfresco dining and bars.
- Broadway entertainment includes Tony Award-winning musical "After Midnight".
- Spa features snow room and salt room.
- Families with picky eaters.
- Couples who love to bar-hop.
- Active solo travelers, who like Escape's Studio cabins for one.
4. MSC Seaside
The winner of Best New Ship in Cruise Critic's 2017 Editors' Picks Awards, MSC Seaside was made for sailing the Caribbean. Sun lovers will enjoy features like a chic pool surrounded by daybeds, a boardwalk that wraps around the ship, glass-bottom bridges and lots of deck space. Indoors, the 4,132-passenger ship is full of sophisticated panache, thanks to unique touches like a Swarovski crystal staircase and a massive atrium with a wall of LED screens that showcase naturescapes throughout the day.
Sailing from: Miami.
- Yacht Club offers more exclusive suites and secluded pool deck.
- Adults-only pool offers soothing views from the back of the ship.
- Wide variety of dining, including Asian venue by renowned chef Roy Yamaguchi.
- Families who can take advantage of MSC's kids-sail-free policy.
- Couples who want to relax by day and let loose at night.
- Foodies keen on Italian cuisine.
5. Anthem of the Seas
With innovative features like a skydiving simulator and London Eye-inspired ride perched on the top deck, Anthem of the Seas is unlike any other ship in the Caribbean. The 4,180-passenger ship spoils cruisers with an array of dining options (including readily available gluten-free and vegetarian options), activities and cutting-edge extras you have to try at least once. Ever thought you'd get to order a drink from a robot bartender or ride bumper cars at sea?
Sailing from: Bayonne, NJ (Cape Liberty).
- Multipurpose sports complex with roller skating, bumper cars and trapeze lessons.
- Broadway musical "We Will Rock You" headlines main theater.
- Whimsical "Alice in Wonderland"-inspired restaurant specializes in molecular gastronomy.
- Active families who have "been there, done that".
- Adrenaline junkies.
- Multigenerational groups, thanks to two-story suites and interconnecting cabins.
6. Celebrity Equinox
Celebrity touts itself as a "modern luxury" cruise line, and Celebrity Equinox is a shining example. The 2,850-passenger ship is bold, chic and sophisticated -- from its decor, such as a live tree adorning the atrium, to its features, which include some of the best dining in mainstream cruising as well as a wide variety of suites. On sunny days, head to the Lawn Club for a game of bocce or a picnic with wine and cheese.
Sailing from: Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
- Grass-covered sun deck, great for sunbathing, grilling and picnics.
- AquaClass cabins offer perks like thermal suite access and a healthier room service menu.
- Cruise Critic award-winning restaurants and bars.
- Sophisticated couples.
- Discerning foodies and cocktail connoisseurs.
- Those who want a more upscale feel without breaking the bank.
7. Disney Fantasy
Disney takes the cake when it comes to family cruising. The 2,500-passenger Disney Fantasy wows little ones with character meet-and-greets, a watercoaster, action-packed kids' clubs and magical nighttime shows. But kids aren't the ship's only focus. Adults, even without kids in tow, have plenty of spaces to themselves. The District, for example, is a hub of multiple bars and lounges that enforces an "18 to enter, 21 to drink" policy after 9 p.m.
Sailing from: Orlando (Port Canaveral).
- Families whose kids want to feel like superheroes.
- Multigenerational groups willing to splurge.
- Couples who love Disney.
8. Regal Princess
Regal Princess is prime for those who seek a more refined atmosphere but don't want to sacrifice fun. The 3,560-passenger ship is glamorous -- with its sparkling fixtures, warm tones and contemporary touches such as the SeaWalk, a glass-bottom walkway with panoramic views. Meanwhile, passengers can still enjoy fun favorites like Movies Under the Stars on the pool deck (popcorn, blankets and ocean breezes included) and a bar-lined, high-energy atrium (known as the Piazza) that hosts activities, music and dancing. There's also the occasional pool game; just don't expect any belly flop contests.
Sailing from: Fort Lauderdale.
- Excellent pools, including one tucked away on the back of the ship.
- Piazza atrium offers restaurants, bars and entertainment.
- Adults-only pool and sun deck, with cozy loungers and cabana massages.
- Couples who love to sip and socialize.
- Multigenerational groups who don't need all the "mainstream gimmicks".
- Cruisers with disabilities who need large accessible cabins and wide decks.
It's all about tradition on Holland America's Koningsdam. The 2,650-passenger ship, one of the more relaxed options in the Caribbean, looks and feels like the ocean liners of yesteryear -- with a modern twist. Classic touches like a vintage navy-blue hull and afternoon tea comingle with high-tech features such as a 270-degree LED screen that projects optical illusions in the main theater. If your tastes are refined and you're content with peaceful sea days and far-from-wild nights, Koningsdam is a fitting choice.
Sailing from: Fort Lauderdale.
- "Main street" with live music venues, including B.B. King's Blues Club.
- Beautiful, two-tiered pool deck for daytime lounging and nighttime movies.
- Wine-making venue lets you blend and bottle your own creations.
- Couples who prefer a slower-paced vacation schedule.
- Those looking for a bigger ship (and more options) not overrun with kids.
- Foodies, thanks to quality restaurants and cooking classes.
Foodies in need of a tropical getaway should look no further than Oceania Cruises' Riviera. From its culinary-focused shore excursions to its cooking classes, the luxurious 1,250-passenger ship satisfies every craving. (Psst. One of its cooking classes teaches you how to throw the ultimate backyard bash, so you can take home your skills.) But it's not all about food. The ship visits more ports in a single week than the average mainstream cruise ship -- and offers a robust, unique selection of shore excursions -- so there are plenty of opportunities to explore the Caribbean's hidden gems.
Sailing from: Miami.
- Almost all specialty restaurants are free of charge.
- Menus accommodate various diets, including vegan.
- "Hidden" spa deck open late, for the ultimate stargazing.
- Die-hard foodies with an appetite for enrichment.
- Art lovers, thanks to a studio and professional-led classes.
- Those who want a taste of the high life without paying luxury cruise price tags.
11. Viking Sea
For those with a little more time (and cash) to spare, Viking Sea's pampering, destination-immersive itineraries are an excellent choice. The ship's small size (930 passengers) means you can expect a more intimate onboard experience, and get into ports the bigger ships can't reach -- a nice perk for those who've "been there, done that" in the Caribbean. The best part: Select shore excursions; beer, wine and soft drinks at mealtime; specialty restaurants; gratuities; internet; and more are included in the cruise fare. Note: While Viking Sea offers the greatest variety of Caribbean cruises, you can find a few more itinerary options on its nearly identical sister ships, Viking Star, Viking Sun and Viking Sky.
Sailing from: Miami.
- Nearly all-inclusive fare means passengers won't feel nickel-and-dimed.
- One of our favorite thermal suites at sea is free to use by all passengers.
- Thoughtful touches range from blankets in the theater to poolside heat lamps.
- Wanderlust-stricken travelers.
- Foodies who crave international flavors.
- Spa aficionados.
12. Royal Clipper
This five-masted sailing ship conjures up images of another era -- and is perfect for anyone who's turned off by the idea of a big ship. With a capacity for only 227 passengers, Star Clippers' Royal Clipper has a cozy feel, where everyone feels like family; a relaxed dress code also makes you feel at home. For a true bucket list experience, climb the mast or bowsprit netting to feel like you're flying over the ocean.
Sailing from: Miami.
- Onboard marina offers kayaks, paddleboards and other water toys.
- One day per cruise is dedicated to a beach barbecue.
- Bridge has an open-door policy for marine navigation geeks.
- Non-cruisers who love sailing.
- Active couples.
- Those who want to take a trip back in time.