Cruise alternatives for Caribbean holidays – 8 Mar 2007

If you’ve got customers who are interested in visiting the Caribbean, but not sure where to go, why not suggest a cruise?

Rather than being restricted to one island, a cruise will open up the whole of the Caribbean. As long as they’re sold the right ship, they can have the holiday they planned but take in several islands instead of one – without the hassle of packing and unpacking a suitcase.

Most ships visit at least four islands on a seven-night cruise, which can always be combined with a seven-night land-based holiday. Sell them a two-week cruise and they could visit eight or nine destinations.

We look at some of the options for clients in search of variety.

All-inclusive family hotel with lots of facilities

Cruise alternative: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl.

Bowling pins - the NCL vessel Norwegian Pearl boasts the first bowling alley on a cruise shipWhy? If you’re looking for facilities, this is a good time to get to know the NCL Freestyle concept, which is based on the idea of a floating resort.

There’s lots to do, and the ship has adjoining family cabins. Traditional fixed dining has been replaced with numerous places to eat, just like at a land-based resort. New ship Norwegian Pearl has the world’s first bowling alley at sea and NCL’s first rock climbing wall. It also has 12 restaurants, ranging from a steakhouse to Asian, French or Italian cuisine.

The catch is that it isn’t all-inclusive – for that you have to leave the kids behind and move into the luxury market. Although clients will have to pay for drinks, the kids’ club is free until 10pm and clients only pay extra to dine in three of the speciality restaurants.

Sample product: An 11-night Southern Caribbean flycruise from Miami in October 2007, with port calls including the Dominican Republic, Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua, costs from £1,099 per person including flights and transfers.

A couples-only honeymoon hotel

Cruise alternative: SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream I.

Why? What could be more romantic than gazing into each other’s eyes as your ship sets sail into the sunset? Even better, as SeaDream will tell you, these are yachts, not ships, although sadly there are no billowing white sails to add to the moment.

However, there are Balinese beds on the top deck where newlyweds can cuddle in comfort – even sleeping out under the stars if they feel so inclined – and al fresco dining, also on the top deck.

Because the yachts are small, there will never be more than 54 other couples on board to share the moment, and they are big enough for honeymooners to hide away if so inclined. Although kids are not banned, this is not a good choice for them.

Sample product: A seven-night round-trip cruise from San Juan in December 2007, with calls including Esperanza in Puerto Rico, St John, St Martin, St Barts and the British Virgin Islands costs from £2,631 per person cruise-only.

Luxury retreat, such as a colonial plantation house

Cruise alternative: Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Voyager, departing on an 11-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on November 2007.

Why? With up to 698 other passengers on board, this isn’t really a retreat but it’s really hard to fault the luxury.

All drinks are now included in the cruise package, there is a sumptuous spa, and some of the best food at sea is served at the Le Cordon Bleu restaurants and Latitudes, which serves Indochinese cuisine. Be warned – they are both so popular that those in the know book online before they leave home. Seven Seas Voyager is also one of only two all-balcony, all-suite ships in the world.

Sample product: An 11-night Eastern Caribbean round-trip from Fort Lauderdale in November 2007, with calls including St Thomas, St Martin, St Barts and Grand Turk, costs from £4,727 per person cruise-only.

Value-for-money family holiday

Cruise alternative: Ocean Village’s Ocean Village Two.

Why: This is the cruiseline ‘for people who don’t do cruises’, so they have to appeal to people who like full-board land-based vacations with free places for kids and charter flights to keep the price down.

Ocean Village has done this so well it is taking on a second ship next summer. Ocean Village Two will have more balconies than any other ship of this class and a large spa area, but it will continue to offer a lively kids’ club and buffet dining – with no formal dress required – morning, noon or night. Passengers pay more to eat in James Martin’s bistro.

Sample product: A seven-night round-trip cruise from Barbados in November 2007, with calls including Isla Margarita, Grenada, St Lucia, Martinique and St Vincent, costs from £849 per person with flights and transfers.

Island with lots of adventure activities

Cruise alternative: Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas.

Why? Launching in April, this is the sister to Freedom of the Seas, the world’s biggest cruise ship, which debuted last summer. Like Freedom, Liberty is packed with onboard activities such as rock climbing and ice skating. You can even try your hand at bodyboarding or surfing on the FlowRider – the first surf park on a cruise ship – while kids can play in the water park, which has waterfalls, fountains and a lazy river.

There’s also plenty for adventure-lovers at the ports of call, such as mountain biking around the Mayan jungle in Cozumel, swimming with stingrays in the Cayman Islands or horse riding in Jamaica. On Royal Caribbean’s private island of Labadee you can jet ski or kayak around the coast.

Sample product: A nine-night Western Caribbean flycruise in July, calling at Labadee, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, costs from £1,199 per person including flights and transfers.

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