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5 Great Caribbean Cruises

Aerial View Of A Cruise Ship Deck And Cabins Flanking Left And Right, 5 Great Caribbean Cruises

Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images

A peek inside Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas.

A Caribbean cruise is a classic. White-sand beaches and balmy breezes set the scene for one of the world's most popular destinations — for travel and leisure in general and for cruises in particular. Ships of all styles and sizes cruise among two dozen palm-fringed Caribbean islands. Read on to discover five top Caribbean cruises.

1. Crystal Symphony: Miami to Costa Rica via the Panama Canal

Crystal Cruises' 922-passenger Crystal Symphony is noted for its lecturers, including oceanographers and fighter pilots, as well as for its onboard classes — everything from website design to Spanish lessons. Its tiered stern decks are perfect for sunbathing and gazing at the Caribbean scenery. Enjoy a day in Key West, then a series of visits to Central American ports such as Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize City and Roatan before you cruise through the Panama Canal and learn how its locks and lakes were created to join the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

2. Allure of the Seas: Western Caribbean

When you're not kayaking in the bay off Haiti's lush Labadee resort, exploring Jamaica's plantations or browsing Cozumel's silver shops, you can roam through the Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's cavernous 5,400-passenger floating city, and catch an ice-skating performance or high-diving show. Hit the fitness center and spa and stroll through the outdoor garden before refueling in a steak house, a 1950s-style diner or one of the other 20-plus restaurants. At night, see a Broadway musical or head to one of the many bars for live music.

3. Eurodam: Eastern Caribbean

Holland America's 2,104-passenger Eurodam combines classic Caribbean cruise style — think wraparound promenade deck and traditional dark-blue hull — with cutting-edge amenities such as culinary arts demos and a high-tech Internet cafe-cum-library. On the adults-only sundeck, you can rent tented cabanas equipped with iPods, bottled water, champagne, chilled grapes and chocolate. The Caribbean ports of call offer a mix of scenery, from San Juan's cobbled streets and 16th-century fortress to the picture-perfect beaches of Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk and St. Thomas.

4. SeaDream I: British Virgin Islands

Caribbean cruises on SeaDream Yacht Club vessels really do feel more like cruises on a private yacht. You and 111 other passengers can choose from more than 30 different Caribbean voyages to small islands, sipping complimentary wine and spirits along the way. Onboard diversions include loaded iPods, a golf simulator and sun beds up on deck. (You can also sleep under the stars.) In port, borrow the ship's mountain bikes; at anchor, you can snorkel or sail from the SeaDream I's retractable marina. The week's highlight is a decadent beach party, during which the waiters float in on surfboards to serve you champagne and caviar.

5. Royal Clipper: Grenadines

Star Clippers' stunning, fully rigged, five-masted Royal Clipper is a 227-passenger reproduction of an early-20th-century sailing ship that hits just the right notes for cruise comfort and soft adventure. You'll feel like a pirate on deck with all the brass bells and chunky anchor chains. Your wood-paneled cabin and marble bathroom are all about comfort with a nautical flair. Cruise to offbeat Caribbean ports in Bequia and other islands in the Grenadines — where larger Caribbean cruises can't go — as well as to St. Vincent, Martinique and St. Lucia.

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