With the nights already getting longer, sad to say that it won’t be too long before the ugly old spectre of winter comes back to haunt us.
If, like me, you regard that prospect with something less than unvarnished joy, chances are that you might be looking to escape somewhere warm, even if only for a week or so. My theory has always been that if God had meant me to spend winter at home, then why would he put two international airports within forty miles of my front door? And if your mind works along the same lines as mine (and may God help you if it does) then now might be a good time to look at some potential nice little areas for a winter cruise to lose the winter blues. Let’s see what’s out there…
The Canary Islands
The pros: Voyages can begin in Barcelona, or even Tenerife and Gran Canaria. So flight times are relatively short, from between two and a half to five hours. Temperatures are pretty much consistent, too.
As the islands are all Spanish and/or Portuguese, you’re working with one currency. That currency being the Euro.
The cons: Many of the islands seem- and are- pretty similar, with the notable exception of Madeira. And there’s also no disguising the fact that you are sailing in the often choppy waters of the Atlantic. If you’re worried about sea sickness, it’s worth taking precautions.
Who goes there? Costa, MSC, Thomson and Norwegian have ships based out there. From the UK, both Fred. Olsen and P&O Cruises have ships that make round trips to the Canaries and back.
United Arab Emirates.
The pros: More or less guaranteed sunshine, and a fantastic infrastructure that makes an eight hour flight not so much of an ordeal. Lots of places in very close proximity to each other means very little time actually at sea. Some of the best hotels in the world are perfect for a pre and/or post cruise stay. The shopping is world class, too.
The cons: Too little sea time; a big deal for some. Some ports are very industrial, with major attractions many miles away, and not always readily accessible independently. Many flights arrive early in the morning; you’ll need to check just how soon you can embark on your ship after arrival.
Who goes there? Royal Caribbean always have a ship out here during winters, but the big players are those two duelling Italian cousins, Costa and MSC.
The pros: Almost guaranteed sunshine, outstanding beaches, and a snorkeller’s paradise to boot. Fantastic sunsets, and an overall, laid back feel good vibe that really does chase the blues away. Duty free shopping is amazing, especially for diamonds and electrical goods. Plus, the good old U.S. dollar is fine pretty much everywhere you’ll pitch up at.
The cons: Flight times are typically around ten hours from London. Flying from a regional UK airport might involve two changes of planes. Miami International Airport is possibly the ante chamber to Hell. The islands are almost awash with thousands of other snowbirds from a glut of giant cruise ships. Everything takes longer to do because of the crowds, especially on almost all of the ‘greatest hits’ islands such as St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Jamaica, and Cozumel.
Who goes there? More like, who doesn’t. Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Costa, Holland America, Princess and MSC all sail round trip from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. For something a lot more special and upmarket (as well as pricey) choose from Seadream, Seabourn, Windstar, Crystal, Silversea, Regent and Oceania. Plus, from the UK, you might get the odd long, exquisite round trip sailing on Cruise and Maritime, P&O, and Fred. Olsen.
The Mexican Riviera:
The pros: Nowhere lifts your spirits like Mexico, The sheer happiness of the vibe could make a wooden dog jump. Beaches are stunning; prices are incredibly cheap, and Cabo San Lucas is somewhere everybody should see once in their lifetime, at least. It’s nothing like as crowded as the Caribbean. There’s great shopping, and at excellent prices, too. Did I mention how good the margaritas are?
The cons: It’s a twelve hour flight from London to your embarkation port in Los Angeles. Temperatures are not as consistent as the Caribbean, for sure. And security issues mean that many ships and lines will still not stop in at Mazatlan, or else are constantly monitoring the local situation. Be aware of that.
Who goes there?
Holland America, Norwegian, Carnival and Princess. More upscale? You might catch the odd, seven day cruise on Crystal just before and after Christmas.
And my personal choice is….. still the Caribbean. For all of the stuff above, it feels like home. I’ll put up with the uniquely welcoming charms of Miami International Airport, and grit my teeth and smile, safe in the knowledge that in a few days, I’ll be slumming in a hammock on Tortola, feeling the warm sand between my toes on any one of Antigua’s brilliant beaches, and kicking back with a strawberry daiquiri in a rocking chair on Grand Turk.