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Start looking now for your dream winter cruise

By Newsday
McClatchy Newspapers
The island of St. Kitts is one of the stops on the Celebrity Reflection's Eastern Caribbean sampler cruise out of Miami.

When you haven't even dealt with Thanksgiving dinner, it may seem premature to focus on your pre- or post-holiday escape to the sun this winter. But it's not. The most popular cruises can sell out months in advance, and for many lines this is the best time to get deals for early reservations.

Here are our picks of 10 cruises to book now with something for everyone, sailing seas and rivers, near and far:

Caribbean

Celebrity Reflection, Eastern Caribbean sampler: If you like that new-ship smell, book a stateroom on the Celebrity Reflection, which just launched this month. The ship is the fifth in the Solstice class line and includes the signature Lawn Club and staterooms that start at a relatively generous 183 square feet. There are still rooms available on the three-night inaugural cruise departing from Miami on Dec. 5 and headed to the Bahamas, or you can opt for any of the seven-night cruises this winter, also departing from Miami and calling at ports in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and St. Kitts. Staterooms from $1,398. 800-647-2251, celebritycruises.com

Norwegian Epic, Miami to St. Maarten and back: Norwegian is attempting to change the world of cruising with its new Haven-class suites, a "ship within a ship." These staterooms with concierge services and balconies share their own courtyard with a pool, and a private restaurant and lounge. Of course, you are never confined to the Haven section of the ship, so you can enjoy all the amenities of a mega ship (20 dining options, Blue Man Group performances) while retreating from the crowds whenever you want. Haven suites on seven-night Caribbean sailings cruises start at $3,758; inside staterooms start at $958. 866-234-7350, ncl.com

Carnival Breeze, Caribbean's top ports: Carnival's latest ship launched in June, but while the ship may be new, the offerings are similar to those on its Dream-class sisters. It's all about "Fun 2.0" on the Breeze, and that means the signature abundance of fast-food options from burritos to burgers, a crowded lineup of comedy acts and the WaterWorks, with its slides and Power Drencher. Carnival's strength isn't fine dining or academic lectures, but instead nonstop entertainment at a bargain price. On their weeklong Caribbean trips, you also get three chances to stretch your legs on dry land, at Nassau in the Bahamas; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Grand Turk. Staterooms start at $698. 800-764-7419, carnival.com

Disney Fantasy, Mexico's Yucatan and western Caribbean: Disney Cruises kicked it up a notch when they launched the Disney Dream. While the line's first two ships had a capacity of 2,700 passengers, the Dream -- and now the new Fantasy -- have room for 4,000. The ship's design is inspired by the grand days of cruising, with art nouveau and art deco elements meeting Disney's state-of-the-art entertainment technology -- 3-D films and lavish productions of "Aladdin" (at a kid-friendly 45 minutes). Weeklong western Caribbean sailings departing from Port Canaveral call in Mexico, Grand Cayman and Disney's private Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. Staterooms from $2,526. 800-951-3532, disneycruise.disney.go.com

Silversea's Silver Spirit, Luxury in the eastern Caribbean: Luxury cruisers in search of an intimate atmosphere can opt for the 540-passenger Silver Spirit, the newest ship in the Silversea fleet. The ship has the largest staterooms Silversea offers -- 95 percent of them with verandas -- and a spa that measures an impressive 8,300 square feet. Silversea's definition of "all-inclusive" is as, well, inclusive as they come: drinks, mini bar and even gratuities are all included. This means, however, that their sailings have a higher price than some competitors. The Silver Spirit weeklong sailing to Barbados, with stops at some of the Caribbean's poshest ports (including Tortola, St. Bart's and Antigua) provides a taste of luxe life. Staterooms from $7,998. 877-276-6816; silversea.com

River cruises

Viking River Cruises, "Tulips & Windmills" itineraries: No area of cruising has seen as big an explosion of interest recently as river cruises, and Viking River Cruises' "Tulips & Windmills" itineraries illustrate the appeal. Unlike ocean cruises, where you may have several days at sea, river cruises generally take you to a new port each night and, because the ships are smaller, you'll call not only on big cities like Amsterdam and Antwerp, Belgium, but smaller towns far from the tourists (how about Nijmegen and Kinderdijk, both in Holland?). The 10-night cruise (offered on a number of Viking ships) begins on the canals of Amsterdam and makes a loop around Holland, with a stop in Belgium. The early-bird 2-for-1 discount for these cruises ends on Oct. 31. Staterooms from $5,199 with a 2-for-1 discount. 800-706-1483, vikingrivercruises.com

Uniworld's SS Antoinette, Rhine River: If the upcoming holidays and the prospect of shopping lists and shopping trips have you stressed already, call Uniworld. The eight-day Holiday Markets itinerary stops in three countries as the Antoinette sails between Basel, Switzerland, and Cologne, Germany, with a stop in Strasbourg, France, along the way. The ship itself is the pride of the Uniworld line -- launched last year with no expense spared and glittering with crystal and Venetian glass. The focus is on Germany's legendary and picturesque holiday markets, including Koblenz and Heidelberg. Leave plenty of room in your suitcase for nutcrackers and Lebkuchen. Staterooms from $4,898. 800-733-7820, uniworld.com

Trans-Atlantic

Crystal Serenity, Barcelona to Miami: Repositioning sailings -- when ships are moved from the Mediterranean after their summer season to the Caribbean for the winter, for example -- are bargains for cruise-goers who are happiest at sea. With fewer ports of call, you have more time to use the spa, linger over meals and attend onboard lectures. While you don't have as many days on land, you don't have to worry about feeling trapped aboard the Serenity, with restaurants from Nobu Matsuhisa and Piero Selvaggio and staterooms fresh from a $25 million renovation. The trans-Atlantic sailing on Dec. 9 stops in the Canary Islands and St. Maarten while the Artie Shaw Orchestra provides a live soundtrack on this big-band themed trip. Staterooms on the 11-night itinerary start at $5,240. 888-722-0021, crystalcruises.com

Galapagos

National Geographic Endeavor: If your kids have reached the age where they would rather swim with real-life sea lions than hang out with costumed mermaids and mice, the Galapagos "Family Odyssey" (offered for five sailings in July and August) will encourage budding naturalists. The cruise aboard the Endeavor, a 96-passenger ship (all cabins are outside ones) includes stops at the Darwin Research Center and another half-dozen of the archipelago's islands, chances to explore the coastlines of the islands by kayak and bird-watching opportunities. But the cruise also includes programming to engage younger travelers, from scavenger hunts to hands-on explorations of tide pools. Staterooms on 10-night itineraries from $11,000 with $400 in air credits per passenger. 888-966-8687, expeditions.com

Abercrombie & Kent's MV Eclipse: This line offers a 10-day Galapagos Family Adventure cruise aboard the 24-passenger MV Eclipse, with seven days sailing. Explore the shores and inlets of the islands on twice daily excursions. Finish up with a visit to Ecuador's charming colonial capital, Quito. Staterooms from $7,825. 888-611-4711, abercrombiekent.com


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