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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

8 cruises offer respite from the winter blahs



Among the ships sailing this season is the new Icon of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship. But you can go smaller on itineraries that range from the Caribbean to the South Pacific. (Rune Fisker/The New York Times)

By Ceylan Yeginsu


As winter sets in, cruise lines are offering a variety of warm weather escapes to the Caribbean, Mexico and far-flung destinations in the South Pacific and the Persian Gulf. This winter will see the launches of new ships and itineraries aimed at attracting a broad demographic of cruisers, particularly young first-timers.


Here are some of the most anticipated trips to sunny spots.



Icon of the Seas

(Eastern Caribbean and the Bahamas)


Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, the world’s largest new cruise ship, with a capacity to carry more than 7,000 passengers, is scheduled to set sail in January, with a seven-night eastern Caribbean and Coco Cay cruise departing from Miami. While the 250,800-ton ship makes stops at St. Kitts, St. Thomas and Coco Cay (Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas), it may be hard to choose between land excursions and the countless onboard attractions, from the largest water park at sea to an immersive entertainment space where athletes will perform acrobatics under a cascading waterfall. With eight different “neighborhoods” — including “ Thrill Island” and “the Hideaway” — the cruise line says it will offer guests “everything they have ever loved about every vacation — all rolled into one.” Twenty-eight accommodation categories include family-friendly cabins that sleep four people or more, and a special three-story townhouse complete with an en-suite slide and a cinema room. Despite its size and features, Royal Caribbean says that the ship is the company’s most sustainable ship to date, powered by liquefied natural gas and energy-efficient technology to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

Sailings from $1,577 per person.



Explora I

(Caribbean)


The new luxury cruise line Explora Journeys invites passengers to discover an “ocean state of mind,” characterized by “calm, unity, elegance and joy.” The Explora I, which set sail on her maiden voyage in August and has a capacity of up to 922 passengers, resembles a superyacht with the interior of a high-end boutique hotel. It is decked out with more than 400 oceanfront suites, four swimming pools and nine culinary experiences. The all-inclusive voyages aim to bridge the gap between luxury and lifestyle travel, targeting people who enjoy high-end resorts but may not have previously considered ocean cruising. From December, the Explora I will set sail through warm destinations in the Caribbean and America, offering excursions to rainforests, cocoa plantations, pastel-hued villages and coral reefs. The “Yachtsman’s Caribbean of Remote Harborages” journey, one of many trips offered this winter, departs Bridgetown, Barbados, in January for a six-night sailing that will take guests to lesser-known hideaways that are usually reserved for yachts in St. Lucia, Deshaies, Guadeloupe, and St. Barts, before ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Sailings from $3,600 per person.



Carnival Jubilee

(Western Caribbean)


Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship will set out from Galveston, Texas, in December, its first seven-day sailing through the western Caribbean, with stops in Mahogany Bay, Honduras, and Costa Naya and Cozumel in Mexico. The itinerary also includes two “fun days at sea” for guests to enjoy the ship’s attractions, which include a roller coaster and a three-story atrium full of dining options. The ship has 20 restaurants and 13 entertainment spaces in its “six zones of fun,” with activities for children, including a high ropes course, water park and mini golf course.

Sailings from $669 per person.



Norwegian Pride of America

(Hawaii)


While most Hawaii cruise itineraries last at least 14 days, Norwegian’s Hawaii Island tour visits the four main islands in just seven days. There are no days at sea, allowing guests more time to explore Honolulu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai with excursions that include tours of lava fields and zip-lining through tropical rainforests. The Pride of America, which has a capacity of 2,186 passengers, underwent a multimillion-dollar refurbishment in 2016. All the rooms were refurbished, the decks and entertainment spaces remodeled and all major features, including the spa and lounge areas, were upgraded. The ship has a range of specialty restaurants and a center dedicated to Hawaiian culture.

Sailings from $1,250 per person.



Azamara Quest

(Chilean Fjords)


Azamara is a small-ship cruise line that focuses on longer port stops, overnight stays and unique shore excursions. From January, the Quest, an intimate and stylish mid-size ship with a capacity of 700 passengers, will set sail from Buenos Aires, and make stops at Montevideo, Uruguay, and the seaside resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay, famous for its beaches, high-end restaurants and nightlife. Before cruising down the Beagle Channel, which is filled with marine life, including sea lions and penguins, the ship will make a stop at the Falkland Islands where guests will meet some of its 3,000 inhabitants. Then, en route to the Chilean Fjords, the Quest will stop at Puerto Chacabuco, in southern Chile, offering treks by foot and horseback through forests, rivers, waterfalls and wooded mountains. There are also opportunities to explore the snowcapped volcanoes of Puerto Montt, the capital of Chile’s Lake District, before disembarking on day 16 in San Antonio, Chile.

Sailings from $2,812 per person.



Celebrity Solstice

(Vietnam and Thailand)


While Celebrity just launched its newest ship, the Ascent, with itineraries in the Caribbean, the line’s Asia cruises are still among the most popular winter escapes for those willing to travel farther afield. Setting out from Hong Kong, the Celebrity Solstice’s 12-night cruise will sail to Hanoi, Vietnam, making an overnight stop at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay, to allow time to trek around the mountains of Sapa before exploring the rich culture of the country’s capital. The next stop is Hue and Da Nang, filled with temples, pagodas, palaces and tombs. During the second half of the sailing, the ship makes an overnight stop in Bangkok, followed by a visit to the tropical island of Koh Samui. The cruise ends in Singapore, which, beyond its skyscrapers and megamalls, has a rich cultural heritage and one of the best airports in the world from which to fly back home.

Sailings from $694 per person.



Oceania Regatta

(Auckland, New Zealand, to Papeete, Tahiti)


With so much to explore in the Pacific Ocean, it can be worth taking a longer cruise to cover more ground. The 36-day voyage on the Oceania Regatta, offers just that, embarking from Auckland with multiple stops at the country’s North and South islands, to Australia’s east coast and finishing in the sparkling waters of French Polynesia. The Regatta is a small, 684-passenger luxury ship that features a swimming pool, casino and spa. It has a fine-dining culinary program and aims to offer a refined cruise experience for people looking to escape the crowds.

Sailings from $12,295 per person.



MSC Opera and Virtuosa

(United Arab Emirates)


While several cruise lines have canceled or altered itineraries in the Middle East because of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, cruises to the Emirates, which are relatively far from the conflict, have not been affected. MSC offers a range of itineraries and a selection of three-, five- or seven-night sailings on its Opera and Virtuosa ships. From skyscrapers, luxury shopping and glitzy nightlife to turquoise waters and warm sand deserts, there are many offerings for young cruisers, families and couples. On the Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar seven-night cruise, the ships stop at Sir Bani Yas Island, known for its wildlife reserve, bird sanctuary and crystal-clear waters. The island offers a range of activities, including safaris, snorkeling, kayaking or mountain biking. There is also a children’s water park and play area. The MSC Opera is a mid-size ship with a 2,150-passenger capacity, and underwent a two-year refurbishment program in 2014, adding more than 90 rooms with balconies, a new spa and a water spray park. The Virtuosa is one of MSC’s newest and largest ships, complete with a “Himalayan Bridge” that spans more than than 260 feet, an aqua park and a Formula One simulator.

Sailings from $485 per person.

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