The Best Places to Go On A Cruise
From mountain peaks to shimmering reefs, cosmopolitan cities to little rural hamlets, the world of cruising and the options available to you are vast and can at first be a little overwhelming. Whether it be the joyous mosaic of the Caribbean islands, the culturally rich history of Europe or the idyllic lushness of the South Pacific how do you decide the best places to go on a cruise?
In the sections to the left Peter has broken down each area of the world, giving an insight into what you can expect from each area and the kind of cruises to be had. In the future, we will add more in-depth articles on these areas for you to enjoy. In the meantime, we hope this will whet your cruising appetite just a little.
Undoubtedly one of the best places to go on a cruise is the Caribbean. Very popular due to the sheer number of islands and ports available to the cruise lines. These numerous islands destinations provide umpteen options for beach activities which can include (but not limited to) water sports, snorkelling, diving, swimming or just relaxing on golden sands. Unsure what to take with you to the beach for the day. Never fear...visit our guide here.
However, if beach activities aren’t for you don’t discount the Caribbean as there are many other opportunities from sampling the local cuisine to exploring the major cities/towns and the local areas to discover the historic sites which they all have together with learning about the culture of each island.
Although many shore excursions will feature beach breaks, delve a little deeper and you will discover many hidden gems of things to see and do. Caribbean itineraries are usually described as Western, Eastern or Southern.
Check out the islands to be visited on each of these schedules to determine if there are places you want to see and experience. Invariably most Western and Eastern sailings commence in the USA from the major ports of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral. Other starting points can be New Orleans, Galveston or Tampa.
Southern Caribbean ports such as Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao (commonly referred to as the ABC islands) either require a longer sailing from the USA ports mentioned above or many do start from San Juan, Puerto Rico so invariably a flight will be required there to pick up your ship.
Another major starting point is Barbados with some cruise lines including the flights (especially from Europe) to and from the island and in some cases allowing you to add on a hotel stay pre or post-cruise.
For a more in-depth guide to Cruising the Caribbean then visit our article here.
Cruising around the Mediterranean provides a mind-boggling selection of places to visit and things to do by exploring the countries that surround the sea. Although there are many beach areas that can be enjoyed (seeing that most countries or islands have coastlines leading to the Mediterranean Sea) there is, even more, to be gained from sailing around this area. Generally, as the area is so vast, cruise lines split their itineraries into Eastern and Western Mediterranean sailings.
Let’s look at each in turn before we see what the whole of the area has to offer in terms of countries before we look at other activities.
Best for maybe starting a cruise in Italy and sailing to Greece and various islands that make up this country and also some of the largest islands in the area of Cyprus and Crete. However, don’t forget Malta which is also on the agenda for many sailings in this area. Also, cruises around here can include the countries of Croatia, Montenegro and maybe you could be sailing to Turkey to experience wonderful Istanbul. Some Eastern Mediterranean sailings could include Israel and Egypt on their itineraries.
The most popular departure ports for this area are either Barcelona, Spain or Civitavecchia or Venice, Italy. There are many other starting points depending on the cruise line you decide to sail with. As the itinerary suggests, cruises in this part of the Mediterranean will visit the countries of Spain, France, Italy including the larger Balearic Islands of Majorca or Ibiza and those of France such as Corsica and the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Some cruises may take in some of the North African coast stopping for example in Tunisia and again the island of Malta because of its location.
What does the Mediterranean have to offer?
With all the countries you can visit, the range of activities offered is enormous. Some of the famous cities that can be visited on a Mediterranean cruise could be: -
- Rome, Pisa, Florence, Venice, Naples, Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast in Italy for historical sights and wonderful food
- Barcelona, Cadiz, or Malaga in Spain for exciting days for sightseeing and culture
- Nice, Cannes, Marseille, or Toulouse on the French Riviera for a glimpse of life in France
Let’s not forget the principality of Monaco and Monte Carlo easily accessible from ports on the French Riviera
Athens in Greece is a must-do and then so are the islands such as Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos or Corfu to name a few that are great places to explore.
It is worth noting that many feel that Mediterranean cruises are very port intensive with all they have to offer in terms of sightseeing the famous cities and historical sites. As a result, these are not considered as relaxing as say a Caribbean cruise.
Once again, this area comprises of many countries that provide you with a plethora of opportunities to sample the lifestyle, culture, cuisine and history of the place.
A quick rundown of the major places that are available (this is not an exhaustive list).
Portugal – the capital city of Lisbon is a popular port and also Porto is worth a visit
Spain – the northern cities of Vigo, La Coruna and Bilboa are some of the places to see
France – Cherbourg (popular for excursions to Paris), Le Havre for trips to the WW1 beaches
U.K. – Southampton is the major port, but cruises around the country can provide the opportunity to visit places such as Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh as well as London
Belgium – Zeebrugge, Bruges and Brussels are the big draws here
The Netherlands (Holland) – Rotterdam and Amsterdam being the major places to visit
Ireland – Cork and Dublin are often included on cruise itineraries
Germany – Hamburg is a popular port with trips available to Berlin. We would recommend a walk through Planten Un Blomen if you have time. It's a pretty botanical garden with lakes and fountains.
Denmark – Copenhagen is a major starting point for our next areas – Scandinavia and the Baltics
Scandinavia & The Baltics
As mentioned above, many cruises start in Copenhagen to provide shorter sailings around the area. This doesn’t mean you can’t visit the area by boarding a ship in the UK, you can, it just takes a little longer to reach. The jewel in the crowns of these countries are the wonderful cities of Oslo in Norway, Stockholm in Sweden & Copenhagen in Denmark.
Most cruise lines offer the Norwegian Fjords as a big part of any cruise itinerary here. Western Norway's Fjords are steeped in rugged terrain and towering waterfalls are so utterly unique and so profoundly beautiful that many people rate them as among the most impressive landscapes on the planet. You’ll be amazed at the breath-taking scenery, the vast open stretches of water and the culture in Norway, taking in places such as Stavanger, Olden, Geiranger and Bergen to name a few. Longer itineraries might include Sweden visiting cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.
The cities of Riga in Latvia and Tallinn in Estonia are the major ports in the area and stop off points on your way to St Petersburg in Russia. Each offers very different experiences in terms of culture, history, environment and cuisine, and are beautiful places to visit. Helsinki in Finland is another port which will give you the opportunity to experience a different culture, environment, cuisine and scenery.
Obviously due to the weather in this area the cruising calendar may be shorter that somewhere like the Caribbean so you will need to check dates of operation with cruise lines.
Another popular area for cruises are these islands and the country of Morocco that are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean but noted for their generally pleasant year-round climate.
To experience this part of the world may require sailing from major ports from further afield such as the UK, Spain and Portugal but this could mean a few sea days before arriving in this area.
Some cruise lines will start and end sailings here, but that will mean flying to one of the major islands such as Tenerife or Gran Canaria which if you are travelling internationally could most possibly mean changing en-route in a major city such as Madrid, Spain.
On many of these islands, in addition to glorious beaches, there are volcanoes to explore and aspects of traditional island life even though as with the Canary Islands they are linked with Spain and Madeira with Portugal.
The Middle East
Another area to consider is the Middle East which is concentrated around Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
The area is noted for so many activities and the weather helps! Although in the summer months, please bear in mind the temperatures for those unfamiliar with hot climates could be too much. The peak time for really hot weather is June – September where temperatures often reach 40 – 45 degrees C (103 – 113F). So, the main travel season is usually October to April.
Most cruises depart from Dubai or Abu Dhabi and visit many places around the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman such as Muscat, and Khasab.
Ashore there are the sights of Dubai including the Burj Al Arab, The Palm Jumeirah and the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world – at the moment!) and the Dubai Mall, a treasure trove for shoppers!
In Abu Dhabi you will have the opportunity of visiting the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which is stunning.
Khasab overlooks the Gulf of Arabia and the Straits of Hormuz and from here you can take a traditional Dhow and explore the Fjords of Musandam spotting dolphins as you sail through the region.
The one thing to bear in mind in this area is the local laws relating to behaviour and dress. Some countries are stricter than others, especially when visiting religious sites such as the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. It is essential to observe the rules for the area and cruise lines will offer advice to ensure their guests are not flouting any regulations.
The Far East & India
Moving eastwards the next area to consider is the Far East and the Indian Ocean which takes in places such as Sri Lanka and India, then moving ever more eastwards towards Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Japan.
As you work through this list of countries you can only imagine the number of places to visit, the sights to be seen and the cultural experience.
There is so much to sample you may not get the opportunity to experience it all on 1 sailing. Many cruise lines have repositioning sailings that start say in Singapore, visit the countries close by and head towards the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. These only take place at certain times of the year, going in the other direction as well.
Think of the cities you could visit, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Mumbai India, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, Bangkok in Thailand, Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Shanghai China, Busan in South Korea before moving onto Japan possibly visiting Osaka and Yokohama for Tokyo.
There are more than mentioned above, so have a look at all the destinations offered by the cruise lines.
One word of advice, to visit a lot of the countries mentioned above, visas are mandatory, can be costly and take a lot of time to obtain, so it is essential to plan accordingly.
This isn’t to say all the other regions mentioned in this article do not require visas or travel authorities, they do, so it’s essential that you research the travel documentation required before booking any cruise to ensure that you are eligible and will be able to obtain the necessary approvals to travel. This should not really be an issue if you plan your cruise well in advance.
Another major cruising destination is Oceania which comprises of Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.
What countries or islands are considered part of these regions? Here’s a brief breakdown.
Australia, New Zealand and Melanesia are considered part of Australasia
The main countries and islands that are grouped as Melanesia are New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Kiribati, Caroline and the Marshall Islands are some of the places included in Micronesia.
The largest grouping of countries and islands make up Polynesia. New Zealand to the south-west, Hawaii in the north, Easter Island to the east, Tonga and Samoa to the west and the Cook Islands to the centre are all considered part of this group amongst others.
The Hawaiian Islands
Although considered part of Polynesia as mentioned earlier, many people consider the islands that makeup Hawaii as a major cruise destination due to the variety of experiences available from exploring the volcanic landscapes, seeing dramatic waterfalls, taking part in numerous active adventures to enjoying the exciting nightlife.
Hawaii comprises of six major islands, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii.
The most well-known city is, of course, Honolulu and this in fact is located on the island of Oahu which is the 3rd largest Hawaiian island and home to the majority of Hawaii’s population.
Of course, beaches and surfing are a huge part of life here but that’s not all. You can visit sea caves, state parks, go zip lining and explore the stunning scenery. One of the main historic sites is Pearl Harbor but there are many more to inform and educate.
In addition to the above, there are many cultural and culinary experiences for you to enjoy too.
Several cruise lines include Hawaii on their itineraries from the west coast of the USA with sailings of varying lengths depending on the initial port of departure. These are in addition to the transpacific sailings (see Ocean Crossings).
Norwegian Cruise Line is the only major company that offers exclusive Hawaiian island cruises that depart from and end in Honolulu so return flights are required to Oahu if this is the type of cruise that appeals to you.
From the number of places listed above, this area has so many places to visit. The major departure point for many of these is Australia, be that from Sydney, Brisbane or Perth (Freemantle) amongst others.
There are cruises just around Australia (maybe not all in one cruise though) and these will enable you to visit all the major cities and states of the country (Sydney in New South Wales, Brisbane and Cairns in Queensland, Darwin and the Northern Territories, Perth over in Western Australia, Adelaide capital of South Australia, Melbourne in Victoria and Hobart in Tasmania).
For cruises that depart from Australia, many visit the regions mentioned above.
As you can see from the numerous places included in this area, the sheer amount of experiences on offer is huge. These range from breathtaking sights such the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge (which you can climb) to the New Zealand fjords, but not forgetting the magic of numerous islands which could be considered as the ‘Caribbean’ of the South Pacific.
There are so many cultures, cuisines and beach activities to take in that it could be tempting to try them all, but due to distances, it may not be possible to achieve them all in on one sailing.
One of the main things to consider if you are not resident in this area is the actual time it will take to get to say Australia. For example, from London, UK to Sydney, the travel time can be a minimum of around 23 hours or around 17 hours from Los Angeles (with 1 stop).
There are numerous airlines with various options available, so you will have plenty of choice. Remember though, due to the distance, it could take the equivalent of 2 days to get there, so plan accordingly if you are flying in to board a ship.
Alaska & Pacific Coast
The western coast of both the USA and Canada offer numerous departure ports including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco in California, Seattle in Washington, Juneau, Seward and Wittier in Alaska. Canada offers Vancouver as the main port on the West Coast.
There are many itineraries offered up and down this coast. Destinations include Mexico with stops in Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Acapulco to name a few.
To the south-west you have the Hawaiian Islands as mentioned previously.
From San Diego, Los Angeles or San Francisco you could take an itinerary that takes some, if not all, of Catalina Island, Monterey, Santa Barbara or all the way north to Seattle.
Alaska is a huge destination, although access is strictly controlled and seasonal so you may find repositioning sailings from California for example to Seattle or Vancouver in Canada.
Sailings to Alaska have numerous stops where you can look in awe at the glaciers (Hubbard for example) or visit the ports of Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Seward or Icy Strait Point to name a few. Check out the cruise lines itineraries to see the vast options available.
From the destinations mentioned above, you can see that the opportunity to experience a vast number of excursions is immense. From sight-seeing the glaciers and ports in Alaska to whale watching and beach activities in California and Mexico, notwithstanding the historical, cultural and culinary options offered at each destination.
The Panama Canal
For ships repositioning from the east coast of the USA to the west or vice versa, cruise lines offer sailings that traverse the Panama Canal that connects the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean.
The Panama Canal journey spans nearly 51 miles (82km) complete with 3 locks large enough to accommodate cruise ships. The 1-day transit (approximate due to waiting time to pass through the locks) between Colon and Panama City is a cruise experience in itself.
The Panama Canal cruise season typically runs from October to April. The best time to go is after November when the rainy season is over.
Most of the major cruise lines offer these sailings with ports added on either end of the canal so there are various durations available.
The canal runs due south from the entrance at Colón on the Atlantic through the Gatún Locks after rising ships 85 feet up into the Gatún Lake and turns east following a southeasterly course to the Bay of Panama on the Pacific coast. To reach the Pacific coast ships pass through the Pedro Miguel Locks descending by 30 feet to the Miraflores Lake and onto the 2 stepped locks at Miraflores where the vessels are lowered to sea level.
The experience of raising and lowering a cruise ship is something to behold and will be a memory to remember for years to come.
There are several countries where you can cruise from or to in South America. Many repositioning cruises arrive or leave from here and head to other areas such as Europe.
The main countries included in cruising calendars on the east of South America are Brazil with Rio De Janeiro and Santos being the main ports, Argentina having the ports of Buenos Aires and Ushuaia to choose from and Uruguay with Montevideo the major port.
On the western side of the continent, you have Chile (San Antonio and Valparaiso being the main ports), Peru utilising Callao for Lima and Columbia. However, the main cruising port of Columbia is actually to the north and on the Caribbean coast at Cartagena.
In terms of Ecuador, the main destination will be the Galapagos Islands which will normally involve taking a cruise with a specialist cruise line or a company that has ‘expedition’ type ships specifically designed for this type of trip. Guest numbers will be very small, possibly only around 100 cruisers onboard.
Most cruises will involve a flight from say Quito via Guayaquil in Ecuador to Baltra in the Galapagos and then sailing from there. Many expeditions package trips like this with stays in maybe Peru prior or post-cruise, so you could end up flying to Guayaquil from another country before heading to Baltra.
As the terminology suggests, these are very specific types of sailings with emphasis on flora, fauna and wildlife. An experience of a lifetime for those of you out there that enjoy exploring something completely different.
For the rest of South America, you can see from the countries that can be visited there are a vast range of cultures, cuisines, environments and areas to experience.
One of the most spectacular regions is The Andes, running along South America's western side. It is among the world's longest mountain ranges. Its varied terrain encompasses glaciers, volcanoes, grassland, desert, lakes and forest. The mountains shelter pre-Columbian archaeological sites and wildlife including chinchillas and condors. From Venezuela in the north, the range passes through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.
Of the countries themselves, you have Brazil which not only has stunning beaches (think Copacabana in Rio De Janeiro) there is the Amazon rain forest and river and the country’s passion for soccer!
Argentina, the birthplace of the Tango, the stunning Iguazú Falls and Ushuaia (considered the ‘end of the world’) as it is the southernmost city in the world.
Chile is the longest country in the world from north to south at 2,647 miles but is only 93 miles wide. The Andes trace the entire length of the country covering around 80% of the land and is home to some of the largest and most active volcanoes.
Peru’s capital city Lima is one of the few capital cities of the world located on the coast and has stunning beaches, but it is located in a desert too so activities such surfing, and sandboarding are popular. One of the other tourist destinations is Machu Picchu in Cusco an ancient Inca site that was built over five centuries ago.
Finally, Colombia and Cartagena on the Caribbean coast. This country is known for its natural beauty, scenic mountains, tropical rainforests, and beaches. It is also known for its biodiversity, rich cultural history, and heritage. One of the main things produced is obviously coffee!
Ocean crossings are, as the name suggests, where cruise liners cross the vast stretches of open ocean from one continent to another. The attraction of these ocean crossings is the number of sea days for which some people enjoy instead of sailings with intensive port stops.
The length of these sailings can vary from 7 nights on the Queen Mary 2, which is considered a true ocean liner, with no port stops to 94 nights! Invariably those longer than say 15 nights are part of longer cruises that visit numerous ports prior to crossing the Atlantic or are part of a ‘World Cruise’ itineraries which are offered by several companies.
The majority of transatlantic sailings range from 10 – 18 nights duration.
Most have a few port calls either at the start before they head across the Atlantic or towards the end of the crossing, or both! Invariably there will be at least 1 stop mid-Atlantic and the most popular are Ponta Delgada in the Azores, Funchal in Madeira and Santa Cruz in Tenerife (Canary Islands).
Generally, the majority of sailings are from West to East for redeployment in Europe in March and April (not set in stone) with ships returning from East to West in October/November.
The European ports of Southampton in the UK, Barcelona, Spain, Civitavecchia, Genoa and Venice in Italy, and northern ports of Hamburg, Germany and Copenhagen in Denmark are the major destinations. There are many more and as cruise lines create new itineraries, additional ports can be included in this type of sailing.
Similarly, those returning from Europe from East to West are generally heading for the major ports in the USA, Brazil, Argentina and the Caribbean. Again, it depends on the itineraries created by the cruise lines. So, if you are considering one of these crossings, check the cruise timetables to give you a list of the number on offer and where they are departing from and heading to.
Routings can vary from a North Atlantic crossing heading towards Canada and heading down the east coast of the USA (and vice versa) to a more southernly crossing visiting some of the mid-Atlantic islands such as the Canary Islands, Madeira or the Azores.
Once reaching Europe, if these are not the final destination, then ports stops could range from Lisbon in Portugal, Le Havre in France, Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Malaga and Valencia in Spain to name a few.
In the West stops can include places such as Halifax, Nova Scotia, Boston, New York, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale or Miami in the USA to Bermuda, The Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados and Puerto Rico.
The main selling point of these sailings is the reasonable fares charged for the length of cruise. However, due to this, they are popular and there is always a flurry of bookings as soon as the itineraries are released, sometimes as early as 2 years prior to the departure date!
Onboard you will find lots of activities that are organised for the number of sea days such as ‘progressive trivia’.
As the name suggests, these are sailings that cruise line use to reposition their ships to and from different areas, especially for Australasia.
So, at specific times of the year, you can find sailings that either head ‘down south’ to Australia for example, or head back north towards primarily the USA.
During these sailings, many more of the islands can be visited, especially those that are normally out of reach of cruises departing from say Australia due to the sheer distance from those ports.
In most cases, these will include a stop in Hawaii which is a major draw for many cruisers.
These sailings are long with several consecutive days at sea and sometimes the cruise lines break the sailings down into more manageable sectors. So, you could find a sailing from the west coast of the USA to Hawaii, then another sailing commences down to Australasia or vice versa.
If you like sea days to relax and take advantage of the facilities and entertainment offered by the ship itself, then this type of sailing could be for you.