This tropical region rules the waves for the British market after being the only sector to notch up an increase in 2014.
The Caribbean continues to reign as the undisputed queen of the global cruise industry, accounting for more than a third of total capacity, despite growing competition from other destinations across the world.
Its winning combination of beautiful surroundings, year-round tropical climate and ease of access from US ports continues to help this exotic playground ride high, encouraging cruise lines to introduce more varied itineraries and invest in new facilities.
Last year, the Caribbean enjoyed something of a success story from the UK with a 12% rise in passengers to 205,000 – making it the only region to notch up an increase during a year when the total British cruise market fell by five per cent to 1.64 million.
This year, hopes are high that the growth will continue due to a reduction in the controversial Air Passenger Duty following amendments to the charging bands.
Families, in particular, are set to benefit as children under 12 have also been exempted from the tax, and this is being extended to under 16-year-olds from March 1, 2016.
This is expected to give a shot in the arm to fly-cruises from Caribbean departure ports, such as Barbados, Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico, which are increasingly being offered for cruise departures.
Norwegian Cruise Line business development director for the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia, Nick Wilkinson, said the company had seen strong demand for the Caribbean with its newest ships, while its New York departures were also proving popular.
“The Caribbean is looking extremely positive,” he added. “We’ve had a lot of success with bookings through agents thanks to our Freestyle Choice campaign which has given guests more benefits and a greater ability to customise their holidays with packages such as free unlimited premium drinks, free speciality dining or free shore excursion credits.”
Tall ship line Windstar Cruises is offering its first series of sailings from Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan in 2016, while Norwegian is offering new itineraries from there. Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines also have regular departures from the island.
New York is being increasingly twinned with Caribbean sailings as the prospect of a city-beach combination finds favour with passengers.
Norwegian and Carnival offer regular sailings from the Big Apple to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, while RCI departs from nearby Bayonne in New Jersey.
In October 2016, Disney Cruise Line returns to the city for a series of sailings to the Bahamas and Florida, enabling passengers to visit Walt Disney World – an hour’s drive from Port Canaveral.
Florida’s so-called Space Coast port is also gaining a higher profile for cruise departures, something that is likely to be fuelled by the arrival of RCI mega-ship Oasis of the Seas, which moves to the port in winter 2016/17, as new sister ship Harmony of the Seas shifts to Fort Lauderdale for its maiden season.
However, Miami continues to rule the roost when it comes to cruise departures for the Caribbean and this is where Norwegian’s newest, and largest, ship Norwegian Escape will sail from when it launches this October.
The 4,200-passenger vessel will be based at the port year-round for Eastern Caribbean itineraries. In late 2016 it will be joined by Disney Cruise Line for its debut season of Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages from Miami.
MSC Cruises will also be returning in 2016 when it deploys MSC Divina for year-round sailings and has recently announced that its 2,120-guest MSC Opera will homeport from December this year in Havana for the winter 2015-16 season. Sixteen Caribbean cruises will be on offer including visits to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico, with two nights and two and a half days in the Cuban capital.
When it comes to cruises with a difference, the Caribbean has been chosen as the testing ground for Carnival Corporation’s new voluntourism voyages with its new brand Fathom.
The seven-night “social impact” sailings from Miami to Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic are due to start in April next year, using P&O Cruises’ vessel Adonia. And if the concept takes off, it will be expanded through the Caribbean.
Celebrity Cruises is also changing its Caribbean offering by introducing extra overnight stays on more than 40 sailings from January 2016, which it claims will give it more overnights in the region than any other cruise line.
“Guests and travel agents love our overnight programme in Europe, Asia and around the world and this demand led us to revisit our Caribbean itineraries and add even more overnights,” explained the line’s president and chief executive Lisa Lutoff-Perlo.
She promised that guests would now be able to enjoy evenings “like a local” in a string of destinations including St Maarten, Aruba, Curacao and Barbados.
Boutique line Paul Gauguin Cruises is adding a new itinerary for 2016 aboard Tere Moana which stays overnight in each port on three stops in the British Virgin Islands, plus Anguilla, and St Barts.
Meanwhile, Oceania Cruises is debuting the Dominican Republic resort of Punta Cana on three of its autumn 2016 sailings, while Windstar Cruises claims to be the first line to call regularly at the tiny outpost of Montserrat since its Soufriere Hills volcano first erupted in 1995.
Among UK lines, this winter represents the final Caribbean fly-cruise programme aboard P&O Cruises’ boutique ship Adonia before it moves across to Fathom next spring.
Sister ship Azura’s winter 2015 fly-cruise programme of 14-night sailings from Barbados includes the newly-opened private retreat Amber Cove on the Dominican Republic. In December 2016, it debuts a 14-night Caribbean itinerary visiting islands including Antigua, St Kitts and Tortola before finishing in New Orleans.
Cruise & Maritime Voyages is upping its Caribbean coverage following the addition of new flagship Magellan which has joined the line’s other ship Marco Polo by offering round-trip West Indies sailings from the UK.
The line is also one of the few to visit the region’s more off-the-beaten-track spots such as Iles du Salut in French Guyana, Kingstown in St Vincent and the Grenadine isles of Bequia and Mayreau.
Thomson Cruises is building on the popularity of its Cuba sailings with a new Cuban Revolution itinerary this winter which includes two new ports, Santiago de Cuba and Holguin, in addition to an overnight stay in Havana.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, which is sailing its first Scottish-Caribbean voyage from Greenock on November 10, also reports strong demand for Caribbean fly-cruises this winter with two of the voyages among its top five best-sellers.
The Caribbean is the only cruising region in the world where cruise lines lease or own so many desert island-style retreats.
In all there are six such destinations, but this tally is rising with the addition of two more hideaways.
Norwegian Cruise Line, which is claimed to have started the trend after its predecessor, Norwegian Caribbean Line bought Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas, is adding a second offshore retreat off the coast of southern Belize.
Harvest Cay is a 75-acre eco-friendly hideaway situated on two adjoining islands and NCL has invested $50 million in a water sports lagoon, an island-style village and other attractions.
Carnival Corporation is adding Amber Cove, a new private retreat near Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
It welcomes its first ship – Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Victory in October – and will also host calls from other Carnival brands such as P&O Cruises and Carnival’s new social impact brand, Fathom.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a nine-night Eastern Caribbean fly-cruise on its new ship Norwegian Escape comprising a one-week round-trip sailing from Miami to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and Bahamian capital Nassau. From £1,475pp, departing on January 29, 2016, and including flights and an overnight hotel stay pre-cruise.
0845 201 8900
Thomson Cruises offers a seven-night Cuban Fusion fly-cruise from £937pp. The round-trip sailing from Montego Bay to Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Havana (where it overnights), and Georgetown on Grand Cayman, departs on February 9, 2016.
0871 230 2800
Celebrity Cruises offers a 12-night fly-cruise package from £1,759pp which comprises a 10-night round-trip sailing from Fort Lauderdale to St Kitts and St Thomas, Barbados, Dominica and St Maarten. It departs the UK on March 3, 2016, and includes an overnight hotel stay pre-cruise.
0844 493 2092