This article titled “40 of the world’s best cruise holidays” was written by Gemma BowesJane Dunford Jamie Lafferty, Kevin RushbySara Macefield, for The Guardian on Saturday 27th February 2016 07.00 UTC
BEST FOR ADVENTURE
1 Greenland’s fjords
Several great cruises have started recently, touring the fjords and ice floes of Greenland with all the wildlife that can involve: polar bears, narwhals and walruses. Prices can be steep, however, and remember that a visit from a big ship can easily swamp a typical village: average population 200. More in the spirit of Nansen and Tilman is to sail into those fjords, the boat dwarfed by icebergs. Discover the World (seven nights from £2,259pp) takes its schooner into Scoresby Sound, an old haunt of the Whitby whalers, visiting the most northerly east-coast settlement. Access Arctic’s 15-metre steel ketch is sailed by an oceanographer couple doing similarly adventurous voyages to places no others reach (10 nights from €2,500pp).
2 Scottish wildlife
That pioneer of Hebridean cruises, Dr Johnson, did complain a lot about nasty landing places and bad weather, but the boats have come on a lot since 1773. What is the same these days is the incredible wildlife, beaches and gorgeous sunsets. The best adventure is out to St Kilda, the most spectacular and isolated island group off Britain with its massive population of birds, towering sea stacks and haunting ruins. Try Hebrides Cruises (10 nights £1,895pp). If 40 miles of open ocean is too much for your stomach, more sheltered routes exist: around Mull with the Majestic Line (from £1,880pp), or Gardens of South Argyll with Argyll Cruising (£1,320pp), both for six nights.
3 Classic Nile
With the Middle East crisis, Nile cruising is under pressure. Lines of boats lie idle in Luxor. It’s a great shame since this classic journey has not been affected by the problems and can give a real insight into rural Egyptian life. Wild Frontiers does a nine-day Slow Boat to Aswan trip that really exploits that possibility (from £1,845pp), with the chance to hop off its luxurious houseboat and explore rarely visited villages along the banks. Given the economic state and lack of visitors to Egypt, independent travellers should ask around in Luxor and grab a deal, but some organised tours are also affordable: Imaginative Traveller does a nine-day trip from £679pp.
4 Russia’s lost world
Kamchatka is a remote 780-mile-long peninsula in Russia’s far east, with few towns and fewer decent roads. For that reason its wildlife – onshore and off – thrives. Expect bears, beluga whales and sea lions, among others. Wildlife Worldwide does a 14-day trip on board its ice-strengthened, 50-berth vessel Spirit of Enderby (from £6,134pp) that combines marine-life watching with Zodiac excursions and landings for top-rate birdwatching. Further north is Wrangel Island, a 7,600-sq metre nature reserve, visited by 56 Parallel (from $11,200pp for 14 nights) – one for hardcore Arctic-lovers.
5 Coral seas
Warm turquoise seas, a sail above you, the cries of tropical birds in the air – drowned out by the relentless chatter of your 2,000 fellow cruisers as you line up for a shore transfer. But there is another way. Aqua Firma takes small groups island-hopping around the Seychelles on a schooner well-stocked with kayaks, bikes and snorkelling gear (six days from £685pp, or £575pp in a three-berth cabin). Belize has a wonderful barrier reef and Absolute Belize (from $547pp per day plus 10% tax) does explorations of it aboard fully inclusive catamarans, exploring uninhabited islands and rarely snorkelled reefs. Or get down to Sunda Kelapa, near Jakarta, Indonesia, and hire a Bugis sailing ship to take you over to Sulawesi.
6 Around the world
For a seriously long voyage, you could explore the whole world from Southampton to Sydney and back again on a 107-night Around the World Voyage with Fred Olsen, departing on 3 January 2017. The trip is on board Black Watch (one of its four ships) with just 423 cabins and a quintessentially British atmosphere. There’s a traditional pub, various restaurants and bars, a cinema, gaming tables, practice golf and tennis nets, as well as spa and sauna. The Caribbean, South America, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, the Maldives and Egypt are among stops. If 107 nights is too much, there’s a 43-night option, from Southampton to Auckland, or the 63-night trip back.
• Inside cabins (from £9,999pp), have sold out for 2017, but outside cabins are available from £11,446pp. The shorter trip costs from £5,899pp including flight to or from UK, fredcruises.co.uk
7 Island hopping in the Adriatic
The sheer clarity of Adriatic waters is always a surprise to first-timers and the Croatian islands are an easy entry point. A number of cruises weave through the 1,000-plus islands off the coast. One enticing backpacker option is to catch a boat between Dubrovnik and Split. There are plenty of options but check TripAdvisor carefully: adventure on many boats is limited to waking up with a thumping hangover and your valuables missing. Avoiding the “party” boats can be achieved, however: try Huck Finn, which offers five-day private catamaran voyages around Mljet national park and the Elaphiti Islands for €620pp. Also try Adriagate for seven nights at €380pp.
8 Gently down the Ganges
For culture and history, few regions can match the Indian sub-continent and the rivers offer great opportunities. The Ganges has the chaotic and colourful city of Varanasi. Assam Bengal Navigation runs a flat-bottomed boat, the Rajmahal, from here in August and September from $195pp per day. Downriver you have Patna and Bodhgaya which a few UK companies cover. Try Ampersand which sails from Patna down to Calcutta (17 days from £3,795, including flights from London). The giant Brahmaputra river is another favourite, lined with good wildlife sites. Evaneos is a good website to check for all types of cruises; for example, a 10-day trip down the Brahmaputra from £1,425pp.
9 Ultimate adventure in Antarctica
Perhaps the ultimate cruising adventure is getting close to the polar zone; it is highly recommended for those with that Shackleton spirit (and deep pockets). Discover the World has a two-week trip on an ice-strengthened yacht (from £15,722pp). A three-day crossing of the tempestuous Drake Passage should get you in the mood before a week of calmer exploration along the edge of the white continent. More affordable is Wild Frontiers’ 11-day Antarctic Peninsula Adventure trip (from £4,885pp).
10 Cargo ships
Slow boats to China don’t exist, at least not as they did in Gavin Young’s day. But his classic book might be good reading on a container ship. Many lines cater for a few passengers and it’s a way to cross the oceans while staying off the tourism radar. Modern ships run tight schedules on set routes, so it’s just a matter of working out what you want. Maris does a huge variety from about €100pp per day. Freighter Expeditions lists a marathon 140-day voyage from Singapore to Italy via the Panama Canal (from AUD$12,000pp – about £5,900pp). Closer to home, Strand can arrange passage on the Trinity House vessel that tends all offshore UK lighthouses from £1,540pp per week.
11 In the footsteps of North America’s frontiersman
For Huck Finn-style cruising, build your own raft and just set out: perhaps reading Wes Modes’s accounts of “punkrafting” down US rivers for inspiration. Failing that bold step, North America can still set the pulse racing with some intrepid voyages. Holland America does a seven-day round-trip cruise out of Seattle, heading up to Glacier Bay national park and Juneau from £900pp. (Jonathan Raban’s Passage to Juneau will be required reading). In the spirit of American frontiersmen, Aqua Firma does a John Franklin trip up the Northwest Passage, which is much more accessible these days and given added zest by the discovery of Franklin’s ship, Erebus, in 2014 at Victoria Point. The nine-day cruise (from $5,895pp) takes in all the significant locations. Frozen in Time by Geiger and Beattie is the classic read.
BEST BOUTIQUE CRUISES
12 Star Clipper tall ship, various
With four masts, 16 sails and capacity for 170 guests, Star Clipper is a romantic tall ship, complete with teak and mahogany interiors. Facilities include two swimming pools, a piano bar and an Edwardian-style library. Destination choices range from Greece to Thailand and the Caribbean. A seven-day itinerary taking in the Leeward Islands, on a round-trip from St Maarten, visits some of the smaller Caribbean islands like Dominica, Nevis and Guadeloupe en route, with excursions ranging from snorkelling with rays to nature hikes.
• From £1,255pp for seven nights, excluding flights, starclippers.co.uk
13 Vintage cruising, West Sweden
For vintage fans, M/S Wilhelm Tham is a traditional vessel that launched in 1912 and now offers cruisers a chance to step back in time in an elegant lounge and dining room. There are just 24 cabins, all with a porthole or window. Designed to navigate canals and locks, she’s usually found on the Göta Kanal but this June and August she’ll be cruising the scenic islands of the Bohuslän Archipelago, between Gothenburg and Grebbestad, for the first time. The islands are dotted with villages of wooden houses, built close together as protection against winter storms. Seal spotting is likely; orcas are rarer but not out of the question.
• From £1,065pp, including return flights, two nights’ B&B on shore and two nights’ full-board on the ship with Simply Sweden, simplysweden.co.uk
14 Small and luxurious, Azores
Adventurous travellers who want creature comforts should step aboard the MS Hanseatic, a high-class expedition ship – voted best boutique ship in the 2016 Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships guide. There’s plenty of space for 175 passengers and some unusual itineraries, from an Amazon expedition to a tour of Great Britain. The Azores and Channel Island tour, starting from the Azores, takes in all the major islands of those groups plus La Coruna and Honfleur before ending in Hamburg. Shore activities include hikes to crater lakes, excursions to Santiago de Compostela and Rouen.
• The 15-day Expedition Azores and Channel Island tour from €5,990pp, departing 24 May, hl-cruises.com
15 Meander down the Mekong, Southeast Asia
A thriving trade route for thousands of years, rich with wildlife and dotted with small towns and incredible historic sites like Angkor Wat, the Mekong makes for idyllic cruising. G Adventures has a 10-day trip through Cambodia and Vietnam, from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, on board the Toum Tiou 2, a classic riverboat sleeping just 28, with colonial decor and a big sun deck. From visiting floating markets to cycling through paddy fields to remote communities, there are some great excursions too. The trip includes seven nights on board and two in hotels.
• From £1,299pp for 10 days, gadventures.co.uk
BEST FOR SPECIAL INTERESTS
16 Use the force, Caribbean
Reportedly, Disney paid George Lucas $4bn for the Star Wars franchise, so there’s still a fair way to go before it turns a profit. But, as with this cruise, it can integrate the iconic characters into an already winning formula. A limited number of its one-week Caribbean itineraries from Florida’s Port Canaveral will include a Star Wars day, with screenings of all seven films, and appearances from Darth Vader, Chewbacca and battalions of Stormtroopers. There’ll also be a Jedi Training Academy, where adults and kids can learn to wield a lightsaber.
• Offered on 5 and 19 March and 2 and 16 April departures, from $1,470pp full-board, disneycruise.com
17 Knit wits, Scotland and Scandinavia
You might think there’d be enough distractions on a 12-day tour of Scotland, Denmark and Norway, but Craft Cruises adds a full programme of knitting classes, lectures and workshops to visits to Copenhagen, Oslo and the Shetlands. Fans of Danish noir will be thrilled at the chance to make jumpers like those worn by The Killing’s Sarah Lund. There’s also a chance to make a Fair Isle hat while sailing past that island.
• Departs Copenhagen 17 May, from $1,899 full-board, craftcruises.com
18 Cheers to craft beers, Pacific Northwest
Now that America is finally interested in good beer, it seems there’s no escaping the crafty craze. To that end, Un-Cruise Adventures has added a craft beer element (alement?) to its week-long Washington state cruise, with guests learning from brewers and experts about barley, hops and food pairings. There’ll also be visits to breweries, bars and bottle shops. If it’s possible to see through the beer goggles, this is also one of the world’s most reliable areas for spotting orcas.
• Beer experts will join Washington and San Juan Islands cruises departing on 9 and 30 April, 8 and 22 October, from $1,795pp full-board, un-cruise.com
19 Murder on the high seas, Southampton-Lisbon
It may or may not descend into a massive game of hide and seek, but the Murder Mystery Cruise is unlikely to be boring under the stewardship of eccentric “chief inspector” Jack Pachuta. This cruise heads down the coasts of France, Spain and Portugal while guests try to work out whodunnit. Pachuta also hosts workshops on murder mystery writing. And if you fancy trying a bit of actual crime, the ship has $8.5m-worth of art in its public spaces …
• Departs 21 May, eight nights from $1,425pp full-board, mysteryboat.com
20 Zombies ahoy, Caribbean (maybe)
The public may never know how close US network AMC came to axing now-popular series The Walking Dead during its abysmal second series, but it “lived” on and there’s now a themed cruise. The first edition, in January this year, saw over 2,000 fans cramming onto the ship in the hope of meeting the nine series regulars who were on board too. The three-day event also included costume competitions and hordes of the undead feasting on the flesh of the living – in lots and lots of zombie films.
• Details of the 2017 cruise tba, walkerstalkercruise.com
21 Meditation and more, Caribbean
Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, with its all-inclusive resorts and spring break parties, is not known for its peace and quiet, but that doesn’t deter the Zen Cruise. Sailing from Florida to the island of Cozumel, it offers a chance to ease your troubled mind, with yoga classes, spoken word events, or lectures on mindfulness. It’s not all po-faced cymbal-bothering though: much like any other cruise, it has cocktail nights and musical performances too.
• Departs 3 March, three nights from $1,099pp all-inclusive, thezencruise.com
22 (Star) ship enterprise, Destination unknown
As well as dressing up as your favourite characters, there will be games of Star Trek Risk, ST Trivial Pursuit and ST chess … and actors from the show’s various incarnations will also be there – including William Shatner, of course. As though to underline its futuristic credentials, Star Trek. The Cruise has boldly gone and sold out for 2017, but that gives fans plenty of time to save for the 2018 event. This year the ship sailed to Cape Horn; next year it will spend six days and nights in the calmer waters of the Caribbean.
• Only those who can beam themselves aboard can join the next Star Trek cruise, leaving Miami on 9 January 2017 (members paid $975-$7,500 for the six-night voyage), keep an eye on startrekthecruise.com for 2018 dates
BEST FOR MUSIC AND PARTYING
23 Dance festival, LA-Mexico
Forget the tan. Forget sleep. Forget ballgowns and the captain’s table, and get ready for a different kind of noise on the Groove Cruise, a 72-hour party boat. Presumably because the organisers are recovering from the Miami edition, which took place a few weeks ago, details of the autumn LA cruise aren’t available. Suffice to say it’ll be three days and nights of non-stop dance music. Past DJs have included Paul Oakenfold, Benny Benassi and mega-headed knob-twiddler Deadmau5.
• Departs October, details and pricing (from about $679pp), to be announced on thegroovecruise.com
24 Goth revival Pacific, Northwest
This year’s edition of the Gothic Cruise is named Hell Freezes Over and heads up to Alaska from Seattle. The scenery on the way is unlikely to be hellish, with the chances of seeing whales and orcas very high. Will that make passengers crack a smile? Who can say, but assuming they can be roused from their cabins, there’ll also be live performances from Portland doomsters Stoneburner and the Gothsicles, makers of the best music video of all time.
• Departs 16 August, seven nights from $1,210pp full-board, based on two sharing, gothiccruise.com
25 Ship happens, Singapore and Miami
It’s The Ship and Holy Ship are two cruises united in a love of weak puns and debauched parties at sea. The former is based in Singapore and sails to Langkawi before returning three days later. Details of this year’s event have still to be confirmed, but in 2015 it set sail in November. Holy Ship usually offers 72 hours of partying to dance music, this year from Miami to the Bahamas.
• Dates to be confirmed, 2016 prices from $589pp based on four sharing, itstheship.com, holyship.com
26 Rock the waves, Caribbean
Fronted by the fearless Hayley Williams, alternative pop-punk rockers Paramore have signed up to host a second Parahoy cruise – and it, too, has already sold out. The three-piece suffered a setback in December when Jeremy Davis left … or did he? The bassist is scheduled to be on the ship to take part in gigs, karaoke and, presumably, a non-stop party all the way to Mexico. Chvrches, New Found Glory and Lights are in the line-up.
• 5 March departure sold out (join the waiting list, or check website for a 2017 sailing) 2016 prices from $750pp full-board, parahoy.com
27 Don’t stop raving, Caribbean
For more eating, sleeping, rave repeating – OK, just raving – there’s Inception at Sea, a 72-hour dance music blast. From Miami, the ship heads for the Bahamas, where the party continues on white sand beaches. There’s a bar that never closes, non-stop DJ performances and, for anyone still awake, a dawn rooftop pool party to end the cruise. Bassjackers, Brody Jenner and Cash Cash are among 20 acts who’ll be playing over the three days and sleepless nights.
• Departs 11 March, from $499pp all-inclusive, inceptioncruise.com
28 Country club, Caribbean
Promising real country music and a “real good time”, the Country Music Cruise leaves Tampa for Mexico early next year. In order to fit in, carry-on luggage should include a Stetson, and most cases will be full of plaid shirts, denim and excellent boots. On board good ol’ guys and gals can learn to two-step, take in Southern cooking demonstrations and, of course, listen to hour after hour of country music. The 2017 cruise will feature Vince Gill, Charley Pride and the Oak Ridge Boys
, among many others.
• Departs 27 January 2017, from $1,975pp full-board, countrymusiccruise.com
29 Sea symphonies, Norway
Shimmering strings and classical music seem the perfect soundtrack for a midnight visit to the Arctic Circle. Sailing from Dover to Nordkapp, the northernmost point of mainland Europe, this 13-night cruise spends six nights inside the Arctic Circle, with the Carducci String Quartet along for the ride. The nights will all be long, but after the Black Watch ship crosses the Arctic Circle, the sun won’t set at all. The summer solstice will be spent in a very bright, very lively Tromsø.
• Departs 12 June, from £2,495pp full-board, kirkerholidays.com
30 Boats that rock, Caribbean
They may be as old as the average cruise-ship passenger, but in a bid to prove they can still make a boat rock and roll, Kiss are hitting the high seas later this year on a cruise from Miami to the Cayman Islands. Playing hits from their 1982 Creatures tour, Gene Simmons and the boys will appear for four nights in November. (The seventh edition of relative youngster Kid Rock’s Chillin’ The Most cruise, sailing from Miami to Jamaica, is sold out for 2016, but check the website for the waiting list or news of an eighth version – bearing in mind his reputation for fast living.)
• Kiss Kruise departs 4 November, from $830pp full-board based on four sharing
31 Gay departures, various
Some of the wildest parties on the seas are perhaps those on all-gay cruises. This is a growing market, with many companies chartering boats in destinations from the Caribbean to the Med. The biggest brand in gay cruises is Atlantis, which offers departures on ships from the likes of Celebrity Cruises and Holland America for between 1,500 and a whopping 6,000 people, with massive parties on deck (though there’s plenty of sightseeing too). New for this year is a 10-day trip from Barcelona to Athens on Celebrity’s Equinox.
• Departs 15 August, from $1,899pp. For lesbian-only trips check out Olivia women-only cruises.
BEST FOR CULTURE
32 Douro history and wine, Portugal and Spain
For a river cruise that combines a good dose of culture with time to kick back on board, AmaWaterways’ Enticing Douro itinerary ticks lots of boxes. The seven-night trip starts in Porto and takes in the ancient city of Lamego, the palace and gardens of Mateus to the north (with dinner at a centuries old monastery) and the Unesco world heritage site of Salamanca over the border in Spain.
• From £1,399pp including flights, all meals and wine, beer and soft drinks included, amawaterways.co.uk
33 World history, India, Middle East and the Med
For those with the time (35 days) and the cash (from £5,050), Voyages to Antiquity’s Grand Voyage to the Aegean takes in some of the world’s greatest cultural sites, from the Taj Mahal to the rose-red city of Petra in Jordan and the Acropolis in Greece (via the manmade wonder of the Suez Canal). Flying first to Delhi, passengers take a land-based tour of India’s golden triangle, then board the 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey ship at Mumbai, and take in ports in Oman and Cyprus on the way to the final port of call, Athens. Along the way there are guided tours and lectures by experts.
• Departs from the UK, in March, voyagestoantiquity.com
34 Cultural immersion, Baltic Sea
Azamara Club Cruises prides itself on getting under the skin of the destinations it visits. Its 686-passenger ship, Azamara Quest, spends longer in each port than many cruises do sometimes staying overnight, too. On most cruises, passengers enjoy a complimentary Azamazing Evening cultural event on land, along with behind-the-scenes tours and other local experiences. A 10-night Baltic voyage from Stockholm to Copenhagen includes two nights in St Petersburg, with a private concert by the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra. The cruise also includes an overnight stop in Stockholm and calls at Tallinn, capital of Estonia, and Helsinki.
• Departs on June 23 2016, from £2,309pp, including flights, selected drinks and gratuities, azamaraclubcruises.co.uk
35 Archaeology, Turkey
A leading company for brainiac-friendly archaeological cruises, mainly around Turkey, Peter Sommer has a range of gulet and cultural tours hosted by experts. Its Cruising the Carian Coast trip, led by Professor Julian Bennett, glides from the Med to the Aegean, along the coast that was historically an important interface between traders from different cultures. Starting in the resort town of Göcek on the gulf of Fethiye, passengers take in ancient Greek and Roman sites such as Knidos, Kaunos, the more remote Loryma and Lydae, and the crusader castle at Halicarnassus, accompanied by a narrative of these civilisations. There’s even a pre-cruise reading list to study.
• From £2,225pp for eight days full-board, excludes flights to Dalaman, departs 28 May, petersommer.com
36 Photography, Mexico
The Un-Cruise Adventures company offers a range of far-flung itineraries, most of which have at least one dedicated photography-themed departure date with a professional photographer on board to host workshops and accompany and advise passengers during excursions. For the Baja Bounty seven-night island-hopping cruise around Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, off Baja California, subjects might be rays, whales, and local rancheros. Alternative photography cruise companies include Tatra (tatraphotographyworkshop.com), and Silversea (silversea.com).
• Starts and ends in San Jose del Cabo, including transfers from Los Cabos airport, from $2,995pp, un-cruise.com, photography departures 28 January or 4 March 2017
BEST MAINSTREAM CRUISES
37 Teenager-tastic, Mediterranean
If you’re worried about your tribe getting bored at sea, Royal Caribbean International’s giant ship Independence of the Seas, carrying more than 4,350 passengers, comes with plenty of whacky attractions. When guests aren’t busy on port calls at Ajaccio (Corsica), Nice and Palma, there’s an ice-skating rink, rock climbing wall, surf simulator and even a water playground on board. With more than 15 bars and restaurants, too, there is enough choice to satisfy the fussiest young eaters. Oh, and did we mention the free ice-cream machines?
• A 14-night round-trip Mediterranean sailing from Southampton, departing on 30 July, costs from £1,449pp, royalcaribbean.co.uk
38 Budget-friendly, Mediterranean
Enjoy a slice of la dolce vita with unabashed Italian line MSC Cruises, which prides itself on its rich heritage – and competitive prices. Accommodating more than 4,360 passengers, MSC Splendida boasts a string of facilities that include four swimming pools, squash court and nightclub. There’s also a Balinese-influenced Aurea Spa on board, the perfect place to recover from all those exertions in stop-offs including Lisbon, Gibraltar and Barcelona.
• A one-week cruise from Southampton to Genoa, departing on 5 October, costs from £519pp, including flights back to the UK, msccruises.co.uk
39 Foodies’ paradise, Caribbean
On P&O Cruises’ newest ship, Britannia, passengers can dine in gourmet style from menus created by Marco Pierre White, or whip up their own culinary creations in the Cookery Club, under the watchful eye of celebrity chef James Martin. Other epicurean highlights aboard the 3,650-passenger ship – the largest in the P&O fleet –include exquisite sweet treats created by master patissier Eric Lanlard (though these come at a price!); Michelin-star chef Atul Kochhar’s Sindhu Indian restaurant; and The Glass House, where wines are selected by exuberant TV wine expert and foodie Olly Smith.
• A 14-night round-trip Caribbean cruise from St Lucia departs on 12 November, with calls at Antigua, Barbados and Grenada. From £1,329pp, including flights, pocruises.com
40 Solo travellers, Bermuda
If you’re young, free and single, jump aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s 3,963-passenger Norwegian Breakaway for its funky “Studios” – snug cabins housed in groups, with their own communal lounge to meet and mingle. There’s no chance of getting bored with around 20 dining venues, more than 10 bars and clubs (including a teeth-chattering ice bar) and countless shows and concerts. It’s just as lively on deck, thanks to the onboard waterpark with five waterslides and a sports complex with a tricky ropes course. You can even walk the plank – eight feet off the side of the ship into the sea!
• A one-week round-trip sailing from New York to Bermuda (where it docks for three days) departs on 11 September and costs from £1,739pp, including flights, ncl.co.uk
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