Ready for the winter yet? No, neither are we. Sure, it’s been a pretty mild (and positively clement) October so far, but we know the howling gales, grey skies and icy pavements of the true British midwinter are just around the corner.
That always sets us thinking about some of the obvious cruise bolt-holes to ponder at this time of year, and it also answers a question we were posed online recently about the best time to visit the Caribbean for some peripatetic down-time. And, happily, the answer is the immediate coming months, when we will almost certainly be looking for a blue-sky getaway come January and February.
It is a welcome quirk of the Weather Fates that the worst of the meteorological effects Over Here are offset by the best of them just across the Atlantic, and that the Caribbean, Bahamas, Central America and northern South America are all at their most favourable for visitors from November to April.
Take Barbados for example. For much of the year, this former British colony is pretty consistent for weather year-round, with the thermometer rarely dipping below 26C. But it does often go north of 30C from July to October when it has the humidity – and heavy rains – to match. There is also the little matter of August to October being the height of Hurricane Season in that part of the world, and, while these big storms are still relatively rare, they can certainly spoil your holiday fun for up to a week at a time. In winter, the seas are often calm, ensuring care-free sailing for even the smallest ships.
If that sounds still a touch on the hot side, consider the Bahamas. Here, things drop off to the 21-24C range from December to April and rain becomes a real rarity, hence the chance for blissful blue skies and the requisite sun-kissed beaches is extremely high.
Looking further west, the key Mexican cruise port of Cozumel is another ultra-reliable holiday hot-spot right through the winter, where you’re unlikely to feel cooler than 20C at any stage and the highs can still be in the 28-29C region. Rainfall also all but dries up from February to April, ensuring that grey skies will not be a worry while you indulge in that Caribbean vibe. All together now: “Perfect!”
Even better, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to the array of cruise lines and ships on offer throughout the Caribbean region, while embarkation ports include Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas and even Cuba, as well as Barbados, Aruba and Jamaica. You can choose to cruise in the typical western Caribbean area, from Jamaica and Grand Cayman down to Cozumel and the Central American destinations of Belize and Honduras; the eastern sector, including the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the French West Indies, St Kitts, Nevis and Antigua; or the southern region, with the Dutch Antilles of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, plus St Lucia, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Barbados.
These days, the biggest island, Cuba, sits right in the middle and is fast becoming a destination in its own right, with nearly all the lines featuring this one-time Spanish colony, while a handful – notably Ocean Cruises, Azamara and Pearl Seas – even offer it as an intensive full circumnavigation, with up to six ports of call (and an essential overnight in Havana).
Cuba’s weather is at its optimum from December to March, ensuring your time there will definitely take off the winter chill without adding too much heat (unless you over-indulge in the mojitos!).
Winter is also peak season for Panama Canal cruises, either a partial transit from the Caribbean side, up into Gatun Lake and back, or a full transit, usually going from Florida to Los Angeles or vice versa. This part of the world is notoriously hot and humid year-round, with the mercury frequently rising to 35C and beyond, plus 90 per cent humidity. But, from October to January, the temperatures actually ease off a bit so that it is not quite such an energy-sapping proposition.
Those looking for an adventure with a difference in this part of the world can also look out for a handful of voyages that take in the Amazon as well as the Caribbean. This kind of mega-cruise will take up to a full three weeks or more, but it covers most of the eastern Caribbean islands, French Guiana and the Amazon as far as Manaus, ensuring a thrilling adventure as well as, possibly, the ultimate winter escape.
Viking Ocean Cruises feature this itinerary over 21 or 22 days this November and December, sailing round-trip from San Juan, while Regent Seven Seas have a 24-day version from Miami (and back) departing November 25, and Silversea features a round-trip from Barbados over just 16 days with a November 10 departure.
Another alternative is sailing in the New Year with Crystal Cruises on a novel itinerary from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro, taking in Grand Cayman, Curacao, Grenada, Guiana and the Brazilian coast, including Recife and Salvador, before arriving in one of the most iconic cruise ports of the world. It lasts a delightful 19 days and departs on January 6, just at that moment when the New Year blues are likely to be at their deepest (and the UK weather at its iciest).
Now how’s that for a proper winter warmer?!
Have you cruised in the Caribbean? What were your experiences and what did you enjoy most about the region? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.