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The Best Caribbean Cruise for Every Type of Vacationer

Whether you want to island-hop, sample the rum or simply soak up the sun, these are the best Caribbean cruises to book today

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Cruise Ship at Philipsburg
Danny Lehman/Getty Images

Get ready to set sail in the Caribbean

It’s no wonder cruising in and around the Caribbean is so popular. But with so many ships—50,000 yearly—offering up exciting itineraries from a variety of departure ports, not to mention the number of islands the ships call on, finding the best Caribbean cruise can seem downright overwhelming! We’re here to help by breaking down the options with all the best Caribbean cruises. Whether you want an affordable warm-weather family cruise, a luxury couples getaway or a solo cruise to meet new people, we’ve got the scoop.

If you’re in the market for the best deal on a Caribbean cruise, there are two seasons to be aware of. Between January and March is what’s known as “wave season.” This is when the cruise lines promote deeply discounted fares for the best Caribbean cruises. Or you can choose to shop around for sailings during the fall, when prices tend to be low because of hurricane season. Don’t worry, though—the captains of the ships are well-versed in avoiding stormy weather.

How we chose the best Caribbean cruises

Not only did I rely on my own personal experiences at sea (I’ve taken eight cruises in the past year alone, and I’ve been cruising for about a decade), but I also scoured websites to find the best cruise lines based on the many different types of travelers, from those who want to snorkel every day to cruisers who want nothing more than a sunny deck chair by the pool. Now, all you need to do is brush up on all the things you can’t do on cruises, discover the many hidden cruise features, decide if you want to add on a stay at one of the most glamorous all-inclusive Caribbean resorts before or after your cruise, and then book your vacation!

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Best overall

Celebrity Cruises
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Celebrity Cruises

With a breathtaking mix of elegant ship design, gorgeous cabins, delicious restaurants and luxurious outdoor spaces—including a rooftop garden, martini-glass hot tubs seemingly floating in mid-air, the adults-only Solarium and the thrilling Magic Carpet lounge jutting out over the water on the Edge-class ships (Beyond, Edge, Apex and the forthcoming Ascent)—Celebrity is our choice for the overall best Caribbean cruise. Plus, the Edge-class ships feature a unique main dining room concept that not only soars above other cruise lines’ complimentary dining options but also the majority of the fee-based specialty restaurants that I’ve dined at. Each of the four main dining destinations has stunning, regional-specific design elements, shared and individualized menus and top-notch service.

Additionally, the Celebrity spa and its thermal suite are the best at sea for affordable luxury and ultimate relaxation while island-hopping. If you’re looking for the best cruises for couples in the Caribbean, it’s hard to beat the affordable elegance and sheer class of these ships.

Pros:

  • 11-day southern Caribbean itineraries with a port of call in Cartegena, Colombia
  • Three top-notch complimentary main dining rooms
  • Eden, the live entertainment venue that’s home to more than 5,000 live plants
  • The spa’s SEA Thermal Suite is the apex of relaxation

Cons:

  • Lack of outdoor activities like waterslides and rides for families
  • The theatrical stage shows sometimes disappoint

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Best budget

Carnival Cruise Line
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Carnival Cruises

For decades, Carnival “fun ships” have been the premier choice for cruisers looking for ways to travel on a budget. Carnival is still competitively priced, still hosts hairy-chest contests and a St. Jude charity dance party, and still ranks as one of the best Caribbean cruises you can book for less. Better yet, the newest ships in the fleet have added a touch of class thanks to the Brass Magnolia, a cool, new jazz club. Overall, we love the fact that you can have a ton of fun on board Carnival cruise ships in the Caribbean, not just in the most exciting ports, like Nassau in the Bahamas, Ocho Rios in Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico. On the ships, you’ll find colorful water parks with twisty waterslides, the Bolt roller coaster and the Red Frog brew pub. While the ideal time of year to cruise the Caribbean is usually from January to April during the Caribbean’s dry season, Carnival makes visiting the islands fun any time of year.

Pros:

  • Affordable prices starting at under $500 per person for a week in the Caribbean
  • Guy’s Burger Joint and Smokehouse offer some of the best free food at sea
  • Superb live music and theatrical entertainment
  • Exciting kids camp partnership with the Kennedy Space Center on Carnival Celebration

Con:

  • Low prices make Carnival one of the best cruise lines for kids as well, which means couples and seniors may find these ships too loud and busy

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Best for kids

Disney Cruise Line
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Disney Cruises

The best cruises for kids and families will naturally be focused on the joys of childhood and the unique needs of children from start to finish. That’s definitely true on Disney cruises, which pay as much attention to the bright and fun design of the staterooms as they do to the interactive restaurants, bars and lounge experiences that call on Marvel, Star Wars and Disney’s famous animated characters. (These are all exclusively on Disney Wish.) In my experience, the kids clubs—with Marvel superhero school, Jedi training camp and never-ending arts and crafts—are where Disney truly excels. In fact, your elementary-school-aged kids may never want to leave!

Another high point are the Broadway-caliber shows, including Aladdin, Frozen and The Little Mermaid. So put on your mouse ears or grab your lightsaber, check out these Disney cruise tips, and book a magical Caribbean cruise with Disney.

Pros:

  • Character meet-and-greets and multiple interactive dining experiences
  • Themed sailings for Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars fans
  • First-run Disney films premiering in the onboard movie theaters (think: the live-action Little Mermaid)
  • Access to Castaway Cay, a private Caribbean island

Con:

  • Cost-prohibitive for many families

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Best for luxury lovers

Scenic cruise
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Scenic Cruises

The world’s first discovery yacht, the Scenic Eclipse, which spends part of the year exploring the Arctic and Antarctica, is now bringing guests to some of the most exotic small ports of the Caribbean. Scenic is one of the best Caribbean cruises for the traveler who wants to experience remote escapes for a more culturally authentic vacation in well-traveled waters. You will visit ports such as Darby Island, Egg Island and Long Island in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico’s Isla de Culebra, Grenadine’s Mayreau and Colombia’s Isla de Providencia, as well as have the opportunity to make a full Panama Canal voyage.

And the joy of cruising the Caribbean on this luxury small ship isn’t limited to the destinations—you’ll enjoy extraordinary onboard experiences too. Let’s start with the fact that there are private butlers for each cabin and suite, and just 228 guest maximum on any given sailing, with almost a 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio. You’ll also find 10 dining options, premium beverages and all airport transfers and gratuities included in the price. Plus, once-in-a-lifetime immersive excursions and enrichment experiences, like floating through mangroves and small caves in glass-bottom kayaks, are all complimentary. With everything covered and handled on a Scenic Caribbean cruise, the only thing you’ll need to worry about is figuring out what to pack.

Pros:

  • Private butlers and a nearly 1:1 guest-to-crew ratio
  • Remote ports of call accessible only on a small ship
  • Truly all-inclusive, with even excursions included in the price

Con:

  • Lack of diverse activities and entertainment on board

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Best for LGBTQIA+ travelers

Virgin Voyages
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Virgin Voyages

Virgin took to the Caribbean Sea a few years ago with the aim of disrupting the cruise industry. Its cruises feature cabins that convert to social spaces thanks to beds that become seating areas, and swing hammock chairs on private balconies, and nearly everything is rolled into the main price—including restaurants, Wi-Fi, group exercise classes and gratuities. In short, Virgin comes the closest to offering affordable all-inclusive cruises. With no kids under 18 allowed onboard, the upstart cruise line was and still is a breath of fresh air for cruisers looking for adults-only cruises.

The most exciting thing about Virgin Voyages, however, just may be the “come as you are” vibe on their cruise ships. Crew members are allowed to show off their tattoos and piercings, and the ships have unisex bathrooms, sexy shows, raucous parties and a genuinely welcoming atmosphere for LGBTQIA+ cruisers, making them feel safe and seen in the sunshine of the Caribbean.

Pros:

  • A “come as you are” vibe
  • Sexy, adult-oriented entertainment, dances and parties
  • Private Bahamian beach experiences and parties that go late into the night
  • All food, many beverages, Wi-Fi and gratuities included in the cost
  • Vegan dining at Razzle Dazzle

Con:

  • Families, even those with worldly teens, aren’t able to cruise on Virgin Voyages

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Best for Texans

Norwegian Sky Ta Listings
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Norwegian Cruise Line

The brand-new Norwegian Prima is an amazing Caribbean cruise for families—both because of its features and its accessibility to different parts of the country. Those family-friendly features include go-kart tracks spanning multiple decks, virtual reality games, an escape room, thrilling dry and wet slides hanging off the edge of the ship, and a neon sports area featuring mini golf, dart rooms, pickleball courts and so much more. And thanks to departures from both Galveston, Texas, and New York City, the Caribbean has never been more accessible to so much of the country. From Texas’s south coast, Prima easily reaches southern Caribbean ports like Roatán and Belize, while travelers departing from New York can cruise all the way down to St. Kitts, the Dominican Republic and the British Virgin Islands, with a stop in Bermuda on the way back, without having to get on a plane first. Whether your family is in the Midwest or the Northeast, Norwegian puts the Caribbean right at your doorstep.

Pros:

  • Departs from Galveston, Texas, and New York City
  • Access to a private Caribbean island for exclusive beach time
  • A go-kart track spanning three whole decks, and a massive virtual reality gaming room
  • Studio staterooms for solo travelers

Con:

  • Go-kart drivers must be under a set weight, which means some family members may not be able to drive

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Best for action lovers

Royal Caribbean Oasis Class
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Royal Caribbean Oasis Class Cruises

Like a thriving city at sea, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships offer up more fun, entertainment and activities than most people can even see and do during a typical weeklong cruise! It is nearly impossible to be bored on an Oasis-class ship. That’s why these vessels are the best Caribbean cruises for anyone who wants to try new things like ziplining or simulated surfing, feel nostalgic riding a carousel on a boardwalk, or see Broadway-caliber theatrical shows inside and out.

While they are some of the biggest cruise ships at sea, these vessels were cleverly designed to make it not feel like you are surrounded by upwards of 6,000 other passengers. There’s so much to see and do on Royal Caribbean in the Caribbean, you may not even have time to ponder those strange white balls on cruise ships, but if for some reason you do get bored, know that you’ve got Perfect Day at Coco Cay to visit. This is arguably the best private island in the Caribbean, and you can spend a day here ziplining, riding in a hot-air balloon, chilling out by one of many pools or playing in an incredible waterpark that features North America’s tallest waterslide.

Pros:

  • Multipurpose deck that serves up ice skating and ice shows, then transforms into a laser-tag arena
  • The tree-lined Central Park neighborhood in the center of the ship is literally a breath of fresh air at sea
  • Interior rooms have balconies and views of “Central Park”
  • Every itinerary includes a trip to Perfect Day at Coco Cay, a private island paradise

Con:

  • Oasis-class ships may feel too big for some cruisers

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Best for cultural explorers

Windstar Cruises
via tripadvisor.com

Windstar Cruises

Thanks to departures from Caribbean ports like San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Bridgetown, Barbados, Windstar allows you to spend less time in transit and more quality time in places like St. Barts, Montserrat, St. Maarten, Barbados and the British Virgin Islands. Not only are these budget-friendly luxury smaller ships fabulous, but the excursions also offer the opportunity for you to make deep dives into the history and traditions of some of the most culturally rich islands in the Caribbean. You’ll meet locals who will invite you into their homes, teach you to cook with their herbs and spices, and provide you with experiences that showcase why travel is so important in the first place.

There are itineraries covering two distinct sides of the Caribbean: Eastern and Western. The Eastern side is where you’ll find more cultural and historical ports of call, with some great shopping too. The Western side is better known for water sports and fun in the sun on white-sand beaches.

Pros:

  • Intimate excursions that explore the culture and traditions of each island
  • Option for a 35-day grand Caribbean adventure
  • Windstar’s Signature Beach Party on a secluded beach with a buffet lunch and free water sports
  • Onboard poolside barbecues

Con:

  • Not a robust selection of onboard activities or entertainment

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Best for seniors

Princess Cruises
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Princess Cruises

If you’re of a certain vintage that fondly recalls the TV show The Love Boat, then Princess Cruises is the best Caribbean cruise for you! It was a Princess ship featured in that classic show, and they still call it The Love Boat, so nostalgic seniors will think that Princess Cruise Line ships are the bee’s knees! But Princess is one of the best Caribbean cruise options because the ships have a retro elegance about them, an old-fashioned level of class with shiny brass decorative elements, elaborate chandeliers, familiar tasty food, upscale wine tastings, cultural enrichment programs, Deal or No Deal games on the main stage, Broadway-style entertainment, and The Love Boat Piazza Party on one of your formal nights.

Additionally, seniors will enjoy knowing that on every Princess ship cruising the Caribbean, there are many ADA cabins with full wheelchair-turning space, roll-in showers with grab bars and a fold-down bench seat, as well as closets and desks that are both cleverly designed and highly accessible. Princess Cruises also offers one of the best Alaska cruise itineraries.

Pros:

  • Numerous ADA-accessible staterooms across all cabin types (from suites to interior rooms)
  • Old-school elegance

Con:

  • May feel too old-timey for some travelers

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Best for sailors

Star Clippers
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Star Clippers

These classic clipper ships have sails that aren’t just for show—they are actually powered by the wind whenever possible! When it’s time to sail away to a new island, the ceremonious hoisting of the sails, which is accompanied by the epic strains of “Conquest of Paradise” from the movie 1492, is a truly breathtaking sight to behold. And here’s an interesting fact: Star Clippers holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest full-rigged sailing ship. The five-masted vessel is a beauty and a throwback to another era of seafaring. While the big ships may have ziplines and ice-skating rinks, on a Star Clippers cruise you can lounge in a net suspended high above the sea and kayak or stand-up paddleboard off the marina platform at the rear of the ship.

Pros:

  • A working sailing ship that transports you to another era
  • Sailings start and end in the Caribbean
  • Access to small islands like St. Lucia and Martinique and Virgin Gorda
  • “Treasure Island” itinerary visits a host of small, intriguing Caribbean islands that you won’t get to experience on the bigger cruise ships

Cons:

  • Pirates don’t mind the rough seas on a sailboat, but you might on a Star Clippers cruise
  • Pirates also don’t need a lot of entertainment options on board, so don’t expect Broadway productions on these ships

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Best for LEGO fans

MSC Cruise Lines
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MSC Cruises

While we love the F1 simulators and the full-size bowling alley on MSC cruises, spending a week at sea on this Caribbean cruise is really all about LEGO for us. MSC and the LEGO Group have an exclusive entertainment partnership that gives kids the chance to play and build with LEGO bricks in colorful areas of the ship designed just for them in the Mini and Juniors clubs. But the LEGO (and Duplo) fun isn’t confined to the kids clubs. Once during every Caribbean cruise, there’s an entire day dedicated to LEGO activities for kids of all ages to enjoy, LEGO diplomas to earn, and parades to watch.

But, of course, it’s not really all about LEGO. For environmentalists and cruisers looking for a relaxing private island escape with miles of white-sand beaches with chairs, umbrellas and cabanas calling your name, MSC’s Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is a sheer delight. It’s a biodiverse and sustainable environment with coral reefs being relocated and saved, and you get to explore it on your trip.

Pros:

  • LEGO fun for kids, with loads of play areas and activities
  • MSC Meraviglia departs for the Caribbean from Brooklyn, New York
  • Late-night and overnight stays on MSC’s exclusive private island in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve

Con:

  • Not as many onboard activities for families as the other big cruise ships

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, cars and parenting. In addition to contributing to numerous publications, including the Washington Post, Esquire, Travel + Leisure and Fodor’s, he has written two parenting books. An award-winning photographer, he lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his wife, cats and an adorable dog named Ollie.