Not plain sailing: the world’s best cruising regions

Not plain sailing: the world’s best cruising regions

Despite the fact most cruise ships now resemble floating cities with high-speed wi-fi and virtual reality pods, there remains something pleasingly old-fashioned about travelling by sea, floating from one port to the next on a voyage of discovery.

The cruise industry, however, is forward-facing: itineraries are more varied than ever – from new takes on traditional destinations like the Med to trailblazing tours to Antarctica – and more operators are placing an emphasis on sustainable tourism.

Cruise ship passengers get a close-up view of the majestic glaciers as they sail in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska

A cruise ship offers the opportunity to see some of Alaska’s less accessible landscapes © lembi / Shutterstock

Alaska

Cruising in Alaska offers a window into a vast, primordial wilderness once only accessible to intrepid, highly-supplied explorers or fortune-hunters sick with gold fever. From the comfortable deck of the ship, you’ll be treated to a memorable feast of calving glaciers, daunting mountains, majestic wildlife and the atmospheric ruins of mines from the Klondike Gold Rush.

What’s the highlight? Alaska guards an estimated 100,000 glaciers covering an area approximately the size of Maryland. Glaciation isn’t just an Ice Age legacy here, it’s a process that’s still occurring on the grandest of scales. Massive ice floes such as the Hubbard Glacier gouge out U-shaped valleys on their journey to the coast where they jettison huge icebergs into the ocean. Cruise ships draw near some of these glaciers, but to get the chilliest of close-ups, jump on a jet-boat tour in Whittier, or take a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center near Juneau where you can snap on crampons and partake in a guided glacial hike.

  • Departs from: Seattle, Washington; Vancouver, BC; Anchorage, Alaska.
  • Season: Alaska cruise ships set sail early May and close in September.
The ancient fortified city of Senglea

Call into some of the world’s most beautiful ports on a cruise around the Med © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

The Mediterranean

From Istanbul and Rome to southern France and the Spanish coast, Mediterranean cruises cover it all. Part history tour, part beach and sun vacation, part culinary odyssey, this region offers a veritable feast, whether at a world-class city or dipping into the Greek islands.

What’s the highlight? Food on the Mediterranean is king: pesto in Genoa, souvlaki and baklava in Athens, halvah in Haifa, pasta… well, everywhere in Italy. Mediterranean food has been touted as one of the healthiest (and most delicious) diets in the world for a reason. Mediterranean cruises are now joining their riverboat counterparts by offering more interactive culinary excursions on shore: making ravioli in Italy, tasting cheeses in France and visiting wineries in Portugal. But finding a taste sensation doesn’t necessarily require an organised tour – just simply wander away from the port and into any restaurant that looks busy; chances are it’ll be a meal to remember.

  • Departs from: Barcelona, Spain; Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Season: Many Mediterranean cruises run year-round, or close to it.
Geiranger fjord, Norway, with cruise ship visible on the water

Norway’s magnificent fjords are best appreciated from the water © javarman / Shutterstock

Baltic and Norwegian coast

Since the beginning of the Viking Age of longships, Scandinavians have been at sea. Baltic cruises give an overview of this beautiful and culturally diverse region with stop-offs at big-name hotspots like StockholmCopenhagenRiga and Tallinn, while Norwegian cruises take you into some of the world’s grandest fjords and provide access to indigenous Sami culture.

What’s the highlight? Visitors almost always need a visa to visit Russia, and acquiring it can be quite expensive and time-consuming. One way around this visa is to take a Baltic cruise that stops in St Petersburg. Cruise lines cater to travellers who want to see Russia without the visa, and often spend one, two or even three full days in St Petersburg. The Hermitage Museum alone – the once-royal residence with its three million artefacts and pieces of art – needs an entire day. That’s not to mention the gilded palaces and residences, ballet and folkloric performances, and stately domed cathedrals. Just remember: this is one Baltic stop where you’ll need to book an organised tour, as passengers can’t enter the city without one.

  • Departs from: Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway; St Petersburg, Russia.
  • Season: Norwegian coastal cruises run year-round, but for cruising the Baltic Sea, the season is May to September.
The world renowned Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday's, Queensland

Natural wonders are not in short supply on a cruise around Oz and New Zealand © fletchie photography / 500px

Australia and New Zealand

Cruising “down under” offers an easy, enjoyable and cost-effective way to experience the best of Australia and New Zealand. Cruising Australia’s long travel distances is a pleasure rather than a chore and the colourful variety of ports offers travellers of all ages an irresistible mix of culture, adventure and outdoor fun.

What’s the highlight? Natural wonders are everywhere when cruising in Australia and New Zealand. Snorkel among jewel-bright fish on the Great Barrier Reef or take a walk through Australia’s World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Near Port Douglas you will find Mossman Gorge, the oldest continuously surviving rainforest on earth. In New Zealand, you can swim with wild Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa or see boiling mud in Rotorua. Soak up the sun on the pristine white sands of Whitehaven Beach or cool off in a waterhole outside Darwin at Litchfield National Park. The mighty waterfalls, misty fjords, lush rainforest and towering granite peaks of New Zealand’s Fiordland are beautiful, rain, hail or shine.

  • Departs from: Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, Australia; Auckland, New Zealand
  • Season: Cruises are available year-round with the biggest and best choice of ships during peak season, which runs from October to April.
A group of penguins standing on an icy beach, ship in the water in the background, Antarctica

Spot penguins on an Antarctic cruise © Stewart Cohen / Getty Images

Antarctica

The Antarctic is a naturalist’s dream. Untouched by humans, visitors can truly disconnect from civilisation as they experience an environment sculpted by nature’s powerful forces. Whales, penguins and seals live happily in the shadow of craggy peaks while magnificent icebergs drift through glassy waters.

What’s the highlight? Quite simply, the joy of escaping into a pristine world of blue-white ice that glistens in the summer sun. Marvel at the rocky peaks stretching to the sky and reflected in the perfectly glassy surface of the ocean below. Listen to sounds of penguins singing, ice calving and whales surfacing – there’s nowhere else like this in the world… well except maybe the Arctic (an alternative intrepid cruise option).

  • Departs from: Ushuaia, Argentina; Punta Arenas, Chile; Invercargill, New Zealand.
  • Season: Travel is only possible during the Antarctic summer from November to March.
Royal Caribbean cruise ship Allure of the Seas docked at port with a sea iguana in the foreground

With amazing wildlife and blissful beaches, the Caribbean is the world’s most popular cruise destination for a reason © Nathan Bai / Shutterstock

The Caribbean

The Caribbean is the world’s leading cruise destination, outpacing every other region in passengers. It’s not hard to guess why. Nestled in a warm and sunny climate, with over 30 distinct ports, the region is rich in colonial plazas and beaches. Each of the western, eastern, or southern cruises offers a different and specialised selection of balmy delights.

What’s the highlight? Southern Caribbean cruises stopping in Bonaire give scuba divers a luxurious taste of one of the world’s best reefs. Bonaire National Marine Park has been protected since 1979 and offers incredible biodiversity. Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, even offer PADI certification on board. Heading to the western Caribbean? You can find great diving off the coast of CozumelMexico.

  • Departs from: Miami, Cape Canaveral and Ft Lauderdale, Florida; Galveston, Texas; San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Season: Best in the winter months, December to March, as temps are warm and balmy but not over-the-top hot.
Luxor on The River Nile is a popular place for tourist boats to moor prior to cruising the River Nile, Egypt

A cruise on the Nile River is a must for any history buff © paula french / Shutterstock

Africa and Egypt

Africa is an entire world unto itself. Colourful and chaotic, breathtaking and humbling, its range of experiences span from intimate wild animal encounters to stunning beaches and buzzing urban areas. Not for the faint of heart, but for those with a bit more of an adventurous soul, this melting pot of cultures, cuisines, religions and history is guaranteed to amaze.

What’s the highlight? Cruises in Africa cover a wide gamut, from voyages along the Suez Canal to wildlife spotting on the Chobe River and conventional cruising out of South Africa. But for ancient-history buffs, a cruise along Egypt’s Nile River is an absolute-must, bucket-list item. These cruises are often coupled together with a cruise tour of Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza and provide the opportunity to see some of the most important ancient Egyptian relics, such as Luxor, the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Kom Ombo, in one fell swoop.

  • Departs from: Alexandria and Luxor, Egypt; Tunis, Tunisia; Algiers, Algeria; Casablanca, Morocco; Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Season: Avoid Northern Africa in summer and remember that South African seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere.

Thanks to: Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet Writer


Most Beautiful European Cruises Destinations

Put yourself in an explorer’s shoes ! Come discover the most beautiful European cruises destinations ! Enjoy their cultures, landscapes, tourist offerings and make life changing encounters ! Book your hotel, guesthouse, apartment, B&B at the best price guaranteed and discover the best destinations for a cruise in Europe.

Madeira - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright Pawel Kazmierczak - European Best Destinations

Madeira

Portugal

Welcome to the most beautiful island in EuropeMadeira is a perfect destination for nature lovers, for bird watching lovers, hiking enthusiasts, gastronomy lovers, wine lovers, history buffs, shopping fans or those who love sumptuous palaces. This is the trip of a lifetime, a paradise island. Book your best activities in Madeira and discover the dolphins or visit the Funchal Botanical Garden or the traditional Santana houses.

Book your accommodation in Madeira at the best price in our selection of over 1000 hotels. Madeira will take a big place in your heart.

Dubrovnik - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright welburnstuart - European Best Destinations

Dubrovnik

Croatia

Like Hillary & Bill Clinton, get the best of Croatia with a stopover in Dubrovnik. This medieval city is an example of the beauties and richnesses of Croatia, one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

Take time and treat yourself to unique activities like a visit to  Montenegro with a day trip to Sveti Stefan or to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is so much to discover in Dubrovnik : we advise you guided tours of the old town or if you are athletic, a guided sea kayaking tour around Dubrovnik. Book your hotel, apartment, in Dubrovnik at the best price.

Athens - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright milosk50 - European Best Destinations

Athens

Greece

Athens is one of the most incredible cities in Europe. It has influenced your culture, your way of thinking and living whether European or not. Some people use to think that a clear horizon and blue sky allowed thinkers to let their ideas escape and develop philosophy! Come and discover the Acropolis or Delphi near Athens. If you want more, treat yourself to a 3 day cruise in Aegina, Poros & Hydra or one of our best activities to do in Athens.

Enjoy an unforgettable experience and book your hotel  at the best price.

Kotor - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright Darko Vrcan - European Best Destinations

Kotor

Montenegro

Kotor is the tourism “jewel”. Situated in the middle of a preserved natural site, the city seems to have been invented for the pleasure of your eyes. Kotor was voted  one of the best destinations in Europe.

Come discover this incredible city and you will have only one wish:  return to the place as soon as possible. We advise you to visit Kotor in summer during the International Summer Carnival which hosts many carnival groups from various European countries. Book your hotel in Kotor at the best price.

Barcelone - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright Santiago Cornejo - European Best Destinations

 Barcelona

Spain

Barcelona is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe. It owes its success to the fact that it is suitable for all audiences. Whether you are 7 or 97 years old, Barcelona has all you need : tapas bars, wine bars, beaches, sunshine, incredible architecture, one of the best shopping destinations in the world ; Barcelona has everything to please you.

Discovering this city during a cruise is an incredible experience but if you want to avoid the traditional circuits we advise you to choose among original activities during your stay in Barcelona. There is the traditional  guided tour of the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell as well as a Day trip to Montserrat ; that monastery was built in the mountains of Catalonia.

Enjoy your stay in Barcelona and book your hotel at the best prices.

Lisbon - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright Mikadun  - European Best Destinations

Lisbon

Portugal

Let yourself be lulled by the beautiful light on the sumptuous buildings of Lisbon throughout the day. The sweet River Tagus  will amaze you. Lisbon is definitely one of the most exotic cities in Europe; you will feel like you are in San Francisco with the Golden Bridge and in Rio with the famous statue of Cristo Rei.

You will feel the pleasure of being in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The best way to discover Lisbon is to stroll around and get lost in the narrow streets. To make the most of Lisbon, book a room in a hotel and have a look at our selection of the best activities in Lisbon;  a  Fado concert or a 2 hour sunset cruise along the Tagus River.

Enjoy your stay in a 5 star destination while booking your hotel, apartment at the best price in Lisbon.

Zadar - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright paul prescott  - European Best Destinations

Zadar

Croatia

Named the best European destinationZadar is breathtakingly beautiful. This city is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Croatia. It combines history, preserved nature, leisure activities, gastronomy and shopping.

Zadar will please families, singles, young and less young people. Discover the beautiful islands that face Zadar. Treat yourself to a visit of the Plitvice National Park or the Krka National Park or a tandem jump for a unique skydiving experience above Zadar.

Discover our selection of the best activities in Zadar as well as the best hotels and enjoy one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.

Monaco - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright ostill - European Best Destinations

Monte-Carlo

Monaco

Monaco is the most exclusive destination of the Riviera. It is chic and dazzling. You will feel like you are on a James Bond film set. You will be amazed by luxury cars, prestigious hotels, casinos, the Royal Palace, yachts. But Monaco is more than that : the Principality is turned both towards its past and  its future. It is a pioneering city regarding ecology.

If you want to put yourself in James Bond’s shoes, treat yourself and book a helicopter sightseeing tour or a Ferrari Driving Experience and book your hotel at the best price in Monaco.

Nice - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright LiliGraphie - European Best Destinations

Nice

France

Nice is one of the most beautiful cities in France. It is both chic and traditional. Its mediterranean art of living will seduce you. Come  discover this beautiful city !

Do a stopover while cruising in Europe or take advantage of one of the busiest and biggest international airports. Nice will not disappoint you with the offer and quality of its hotels. They areamong the best hotels in Europe. We recommend the sumptuous Negresco Hotel. It iss dog friendly; its owner loved them so much that her dogs inherited the palace ! Discover the history of Nice and make up your mind among our selection of the best things to do in Nice.

Rome - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright TTstudio - European Best Destinations

Rome

Italy

The beautiful city of Rome in Italy is really the only big city in Europe to compete with Paris. Immerse yourself into the history of one of the most important civilizations that has left its mark throughout Europe. Visit the Colosseum, the Vatican, St. Peter Basilica, the Borghese Gallery, or treat yourself to a visit to Pompeii during a full-day trip from Rome.

Rome is breathtaking and unforgettable. Book your best activities in Rome as well as your hotel at the best price for exciting holidays in Italy.

Santorini - Best Cruises destinations in Europe - Copyright Korpithas - European Best Destinations

Santorini

Greece

Welcome to paradise on earth. Do not leave your cameras or phones at home! Santorini is very photogenic and you will never stop taking photos. Discover Santorini while cruising in Greece or stay there for several days! Book your hotel at the best price on this Aegean island.

Santorini is an exciting place! There is so much to do: a Catamaran Sun Cruise for example. Treat yourself to a dream holiday in the blue waters of the Aegean.


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