Christmas cheer on a Caribbean cruise

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iol travel nov 13 caribbean cruise REUTERS Join Celebrity Eclipse on her 13-night transatlantic journey from Fort Lauderdale to her summer base in Southampton.

London - Christmas is just over six weeks away. And if the prospect of turkey followed by more turkey, darkness before teatime, and all those sitcom specials on television makes your heart sink, then it isn't too late to plan your escape. Book a cruise now and, rather than peeling sprouts on Christmas morning, you could have a leisurely breakfast in the sunshine and then do only what you want to all day long.

In the Caribbean, there's a variety of ships to choose from in winter, and, at first glance, some bargain-basement prices. However, a word of caution: American websites tend to quote prices excluding unavoidable extras such as port taxes and charges, and are invariably cruise-only.

Booking flights separately has its problems. Firstly, seats on flights to Barbados and Florida, where most cruises start, are scarce and expensive over the Christmas period. There is also another peril. Andrew Davies of Go Cruise (01952 402301; gocruise.co.uk) warns: “Booking your cruise and flight separately could mean missing the ship with no compensation if your UK airport is closed by snow. It is really worth seeking out a fly-cruise package. Or avoid airports altogether. There are at least half a dozen ships sailing out of the UK with cabins still available.”

* For example, sail from Southampton on 16 December on a 22-night round-trip to the Caribbean aboard P&O's Aurora (0843 374 0111; pocruises.co.uk). You'll visit Barbados, Antigua, Tortola and St Maarten, with the Azores and Madeira thrown in. From £1,899pp (about R25 000).

* Also sailing from Southampton is an 18-night cruise to the Cape Verde islands aboard traditional ship Braemar departing 19 December (01473 742424; fredolsencruises.com). From £1,839pp.

* You can spend Christmas Day in the Grenadines and New Year's Day in Puerto Rico on a 14-night cruise aboard Riviera sailing from Miami on 20 December (0845 505 1920; oceania cruises.com). Other stops include Nevis, Grenada and St Barts. From £2,312pp including flights and soft drinks.

* There's a 10-night, all-inclusive Mysteries of the Mayans cruise aboard Navigator of the Seas from Miami (023-8068 2280; rssc.com). Ports of call include Roatá* in Honduras, Cozumel and the Mayan Riviera in Mexico and Belize City. The cost, from £4,039pp, includes flights, a hotel night in Miami on 17 December, gratuities and drinks.

* A week's cruise of the eastern Caribbean aboard Norwegian Epic departs from Miami on 22 December (0845 201 8900, ncl.co.uk). The ship arrives in St Maarten on Christmas day and St Thomas on Boxing Day. From £1,540pp including flights and one night pre-cruise in a hotel. - The Independent on Sunday

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