(12:30 p.m. EDT) -- U.K. Caribbean fly-cruising suffered yet another blow this week after Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines announced that it was pulling the 927-passenger Braemar out of the region after next winter's season. The ship, which has operated out of Barbados since 2001, moves its winter season to the U.K. starting in 2012.
It's fast becoming a problem for Brits who want to spend a winter holiday in the islands on British-orientated ships. Here are some of the most recent casualties:
Ocean Village once offered affordable winter cruising in the Caribbean out of Barbados. It was absorbed into P&O Australia in 2010.
P&O Cruises used to have a decent-sized Caribbean programme, but in 2012/2013, it will offer just eight fly-cruises on Ventura.
Thomson has two ships offering fly-cruising in the Caribbean this winter, Thomson Dream and Thomson Destiny -- but only Thomson Dream will sail the region in winter 2011/2012.
Voyages of Discovery's 698-passenger MV Discovery is in the Caribbean this winter, but in 2011/2012 it will sail to Australia instead.
So why is Fred. Olsen pulling out? According to a statement from Lol Nichols, the line's general sales manager, it's the cost of getting there. "This was not an easy decision to make, as our Caribbean fly-cruises have always been popular," he said, citing escalating air fares and the increasingly higher cost of Air Passenger Duty, which is levied on passengers flying out of the U.K.
Of course, there's no shortage of ships operating in the Caribbean in winter, but the mainstream lines almost all sail out of U.S. ports such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale. And while many Brits are quite content with this, it does nonetheless mean applying for and paying for the ESTA (the U.S. visa waiver); overnighting in an hotel on arrival; spending most of the last day hanging around the airport; and taking a day or two at sea to reach islands favoured by Brits -- including Barbados and Antigua -- in the Eastern or Southern Caribbean.
The bottom line: Flying straight to Barbados was much simpler.
Cruises to the Caribbean on Fred. Olsen and P&O ships (in addition to Ventura) will still operate after the fly-cruise options come to an end, but passengers will have to sail from a U.K. port -- and not everybody relishes the idea of two transatlantic crossings in January or February for the sake of a week in the sun. Plus, not everybody has the time: Typically, these ex-U.K. Caribbean cruises take three weeks or more.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor