10 best Caribbean cruise itineraries

The great thing about the Caribbean is that it's so close to the southern ports of the U.S. If you don't have a lot of time for your vacation, consider a short cruise. You'll definitely feel like you escaped the office without taking too many days off work. Celebrity offers a top-notch five-night cruise on the recently renovated Century. You'll depart from Miami for Jamaica and Grand Cayman, spend two days at sea, then return refreshed and tan from your short break.

Long Caribbean cruise

Retirees and other lucky folks with lots of vacation time can choose to explore the entire Caribbean on one two-week cruise. With so much time to sail, you can save money by departing from a U.S. homeport, yet still see a great deal of destinations. Holland America's14-night southern Caribbean cruise aboard the ms Veendam takes you to ports in the southern, eastern, and western Caribbean, as well as South America, with just four days to spend at sea. You'll depart Tampa for St. Thomas; Dominica; Barbados; Grenada; Isla de Margarita, Venezuela; Bonaire; Aruba; Grand Cayman; and the line's private island, Half Moon Cay.

Central America

Not every Caribbean destination is an island. Recently, cruise lines have been experimenting with their western Caribbean itineraries, adding more calls in Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, and Panama. These "exotic Caribbean" cruises, as they're sometimes called, give you the opportunity for more adventurous activities ashore. Try Norwegian'sseven-night cruise out of New Orleans with stops in Roatan, Honduras; Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. Or, for a few more days at sea, check out Carnival'seight-night itinerary from Ft. Lauderdale to Colon, Panama; Limon, Costa Rica; and Belize City, Belize.

Private islands

A favorite destination for many cruisers is their cruise line's private island. You can experience pristine beaches without the hassles of paying for lounges, changing money, and avoiding locals hawking their wares. Plus, the cruise line will set up barbecue lunches, water sports, and cabana massages for guests. Sound good? Now imagine an itinerary with two days devoted to one of these exclusive paradises. Disney Cruise Line has recently added a new voyage on the Disney Magic complete with two stops in Castaway Cay. The seven-night sailing departs from Port Canaveral/Orlando and also calls in Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico.

Short Bahamas cruise

OK, so the Bahamian islands are technically in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. But given the island nation's warm weather and oceanfront attractions, I think cruisers considering a Caribbean voyage shouldn't rule out a Bahamas cruise—especially if you're short on time. Several cruise lines offer three-night itineraries for the perfect long weekend or midweek escape. Carnival'sthree-night cruise on the Sensation departs from Port Canaveral, overnights in Nassau, and spends the final day at sea before heading home. You get a taste of both the Bahamas and onboard life before you have to return to your normal routine.

Long Bahamas cruise

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