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The best of Caribbean cruising

You don’t have to travel far to enjoy some of the world’s best beaches, sugar cane rums and distinctive island personalities.
A veranda suite, on the Silver Wind
A veranda suite, on the Silver Wind Lori Barbely
/ Source: Islands Magazine

You don’t have to travel far to enjoy some of the world’s best beaches, sugar cane rums and distinctive island personalities.

Four cruises we like

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises’ Panama and San Blas Islands
Loot-hungry pirates used the 365 islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast as a balmy home base, and this six-day cultural journey under full sail on the Mandalay highlights that history, explores Kuna Indian traditions and stops at deserted islands. Home base is the former private yacht of Wall Street mogul E.F. Hutton built in 1923. Departures through Nov. 3, 2007, from Portobello, Panama. From $1,200;

Silversea Cruises’ Caribbean Rhythms
In 12 days aboard the Silver Wind, you’ll discover unique aspects of 10 islands, including Barbados’ sugar plantation history, St. Lucia’s lush interior, Grand Turk’s colorful architecture and Key West’s Conch Republic. Dance to local music, tour abandoned forts and catch the scent of fresh nutmeg in Grenada for a firsthand lesson in island diversity. Departs Oct. 6, 2007, from Bridgetown, Barbados. From $6,695;

Smithsonian Journeys’ Gardens of the Caribbean
All aboard the Sea Cloud II, green thumbs! Smithsonian has obtained special access to private gardens across the Caribbean during this seven-night journey from Antigua to Barbados via Les Saintes, Dominica, Trinidad, Martinique and Grenada. Smithsonian experts lead private tours of restored plantations between rum samplings and snorkeling. Departs Feb. 24, 2008, from Antigua. From $3,995;

Azamara Cruises’ Bermuda
Test-float Celebrity’s luxurious Azamara brand on a seven-night jaunt aboard the Journey between New York Harbor and Bermuda. Experience Bermuda’s key ports, Hamilton and St. George, and taste the good life onboard before Azamara shifts its focus to South America and Asia in late 2008. Weekly departures from Cape Liberty port in Bayonne, New Jersey, until Oct. 20, 2007. From $1,049;

Ports not to miss

Nalunega, Panama(Windjammer)
Meet Kuna Indians, who will share their oral traditions, dances and handicrafts. Don’t leave without a brightly colored mola, an appliqué cloth decorated with elaborate geometrical patterns.

Fort-de-France, Martinique (Smithsonian Journeys)
Visit to Les Jardins de Balata, an expansive private botanical garden patrolled by purple- and green-throated carib hummingbirds.

Bequia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines (Silversea)
See pretty Elizabeth Harbor and Bequia’s tradition of model-boat making. Tour Moonhole, an unusual group of houses built in the 1960s out of stone.

Les Saintes, Guadeloupe (Smithsonian Journeys and Star Clippers)
Enjoy calm seclusion and quaint architecture. Fishermen don traditional salakos (wide-rimmed bamboo hats) while casting nets at sunrise.

Once-in-a-lifetime excursions

Montserrat (Silversea)
For a thrilling low-altitude sweep over Montserrat’s 3,000-foot Soufriere Hills volcano, hop a “flightseeing” plane while in port at Antigua.

San Blas Archipelago, Panama (Windjammer)
Be one of a privileged few divers to explore the reefs of the Kuna Yala territory. Only Windjammer passengers are permitted by Kuna chiefs to dive there.

A day on Silver Wind

  • Embark and disembark in whichever port you wish: Itineraries are flexible.
  • Drink Maison Pommery Brut Royal champagne: It’s included in your cruise fare (plus, there are no extra fees for 60 varieties of wine, any top-shelf liquor or even cappuccinos). All tips are covered, and there’s always free transportation to the town center at each port of call.
  • Save your calories for eating ashore by choosing the ship’s Zero Zero ice cream.

Each issue of explores the most beautiful island destinations in the world, from tropical island outposts to the sophisticated gems of the Mediterranean. Our top-rate photographers and writers discover the quiet beaches, boutique hotels, and unique cultural experiences that make island travel unique.