Atlantans can easily sail to dream destinations

Choice of ports available without too much fuss

Cozumel, Mexico; Belize; Key West, Fla. Those are just a few of the sunny, palm-lined destinations available to cruise ship travelers who set sail from one of the Southeast’s ports of call.

While Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., rank among the world’s busiest ports, smaller ports in Charleston, S.C., and Mobile mean that cruise travel is never more than a day’s drive away for Atlantans eager to sail the seas.

For an idea of the range of cruises available from the Southeast, here’s a look at select itineraries from each port. Keep in mind that cruise prices fluctuate. The rates reflected here were current at press time. Prices vary depending upon sail date (holidays are more expensive) and point of purchase (travel agents can still reel in a good rate to compete with those on cruise consolidator websites).

Charleston, S.C.

Ports of call: Freeport, Bahamas; Nassau, Bahamas; Key West, Fla.

Cruise line: Carnival Cruise Lines

Ship name: Carnival Fantasy

Ship amenities: One of the older vessels in Carnival's fleet, Carnival Fantasy recently underwent a major dry dock upgrade and now sports a water park, flat screen TVs in the cabins and expanded dining options.

Trip length: six nights

Highlight: A full day taking in the sights, sounds and eccentricity of Key West, then catching a Gulf sunset on your way out of port.

Cost: $339-$1,339

Next sailing: Oct. 4

More info: www.carnival.com

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Ports of call: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, St. Maarten

Cruise line: Celebrity Cruises

Ship name: Celebrity Solstice

Ship amenities: The top deck of Celebrity Solstice contains a half-acre of real grass abutted by a large patio. Also on board: a state-of-the-art Internet cafe called iLounge.

Trip length: seven nights

Highlight: Picturesque port town Charlotte Amalie offers something for everyone, from the history buff seeking historical sites to the shopping fanatic in need of more boutiques.

Cost: $599-$4,999

Next sailing: Oct. 3

Info: www.celebritycruises.com

Miami

Ports of call: Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras; Cozumel, Mexico

Cruise line: Norwegian Cruise Line

Ship name: Norwegian Epic

Ship amenities: Freestyle cruising aboard a soaring new ship that has been dubbed "a floating Las Vegas" and features the first ice bar at sea.

Trip length: seven nights

Highlight: Snorkeling or scuba diving in the crystal emerald waters of the world's second largest barrier reef system just off Roatan island.

Cost: $629-$4,499

Next sailing: Oct. 2

Info: www2.ncl.com

Jacksonville

Ports of call: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Nassau, Bahamas

Cruise line: Carnival Cruise Lines

Ship name: Carnival Fascination

Ship amenities: New 12,000-square-foot spa facility, a miniature golf course, a teen lounge and three pool areas. A good option for families on a first-time cruise.

Trip length: five nights

Highlight: Horseback riding across the sands and through the surf on privately owned Half Moon Cay.

Cost: $239-$1,298

Next sailing: Sept. 23

Tampa

Ports of call: Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Panama Canal, Panama; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Acapulco, Mexico; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; San Diego

Cruise line: Royal Caribbean

Ship name: Radiance of the Seas

Ship amenities: Much of this ship's exterior is glass, including floor-to-ceiling windows in some sections, making it a good choice for a Panama Canal cruise. It even has glass elevators facing the sea, and was the first cruise ship to have self-leveling pool tables for billiard games.

Trip length: 15 nights

Highlight: Making a trans-continental-dual-oceanic journey through the Panama Canal.

Cost: $1,699-$3,899

Next sailing: April 30

Info: www.cruiseroyal caribbean.com

Mobile

Ports of call: Progreso, Mexico; Cozumel, Mexico

Cruise line: Carnival Cruise Lines

Ship name: Carnival Elation

Ship amenities: Another recently upgraded vessel in the Carnival fleet, including an overhaul of outdoor recreation areas and an adults-only deck.

Trip length: five nights

Highlight: Docking at the world's longest pier in Progreso, Mexico, strolling through the town's marketplace and touring Mayan ruins.

Cost: $249-$1278

Next sailing: Sept. 30

New Orleans

Ports of call: Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico

Cruise line: Norwegian Cruise Line

Ship name: Norwegian Spirit

Ship amenities: Refurbished in 2008, Spirit is a family-oriented ship with a day care center for younger kids, a teen disco, a water park and plenty of bar and nightclub options for adults.

Trip length: seven nights

Highlight: A day on the island of Cozumel, with its duty-free shopping, multiple watersports and sublime beach-combing and jungle-roaming options.

Cost: $399-$3,079

Next sailing: Nov. 7