In a previous post, I surveyed the cruise itineraries that are the biggest favourites with North American cruisers. But what about some alternative cruises for those who’ve already been to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean? One of the dangers of cruising is that after you’ve done a few cruises, it’s hard not to retrace your steps. So let’s go looking for something different.
Happily, there’s no shortage of alternative cruises in the wide world of cruising. Even the major cruise lines now ply almost every part of every ocean. There are cruises that choose one region to explore, and others that cover thousands of nautical miles to show you an entire part of the world — or even the whole world.
Here’s a look at five of the most interesting alternative cruises offered by the big cruise lines:
Canada and New England
A few years ago, not many people thought of this area when they were planning a cruise. But the northeast has its charms, both in the summer and in the autumn, when the fall colours can be spectacular. Cruises start in U.S. ports like New York, Cape Liberty in New Jersey and Baltimore, or from Montreal and Quebec City on the Canadian end. You can do seven-day cruises or 10-to-14 nights, either round-trip or one-way.
Highlights of these cruises include Boston, Newport, R.I., Halifax and Quebec City, so there’s lots of history and culture: these are some of the oldest settlements in North America. But there are also places like Bar Harbour, Maine and the St. Lawrence River for natural beauty and whale-watching. You can walk into town in many of the ports, and there are great excursions, like Boston’s Freedom Trail, speedboat rides in the Bay of Fundy, the Theodore Tugboat cruise in Halifax or a visit to the Citadel fortress in Quebec City.
The Pacific is one of the most beautiful parts of this planet, and the Hawaiian islands boast some of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes in the Pacific. So if you like natural beauty and have never seen this part of the world, a Hawaiian cruise could be a great choice.
You can cruise Hawaii at any time of year, though the offerings vary with the seasons. All the major cruise lines sail here, from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver. But many of the sailings are in spring and fall, when they’re repositioning their ships from one home port to another (it takes a lot of sea days to get to Hawaii). Norwegian’s Pride of America sails year-round from Honolulu, so it’s the best bet if you want a one-week cruise.
Ports include Honolulu, for a look at Pearl Harbour and Diamond Head crater; Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii, for Volcanoes National Park; Maui, for the five-kilometre Kaanapali Beach and Haleakala National Park; and Kauai, for a look at Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. But anywhere you go, the islands are beautiful, with sparkling beaches and volcanic mountain peaks. You may even get an extra stop somewhere like Ensenada, Mexico, since regulations require foreign-owned ships to stop in at least one port outside the U.S.
Taking a cruise can be a good way to see some of South America. With 14 countries, it’s a big place, and it’s easier to see a lot of the highlights on a ship than by land. As well, not much English is spoken in some places, so it can be better to take guided tours than to wander on your own.
There are a few different kinds of South American cruises:
Around the Horn
These are the classic South American cruises. Most start in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and sail around Cape Horn, the legendary southern tip of South America, before heading up the other side to reach Valparaiso, Chile (some do it in the other direction). It’s a long way, so the itinerary usually takes 14 days or more. You’ll get a wide variety of landscapes, plus a wide variety of weather: it can be hot in Buenos Aires but cold and rainy by the time you get to Cape Horn.
Buenos Aires itself is worth a few days – it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America. And rest of the cruise is equally fascinating. Some cruises stop at Port Stanley in the Falklands, for some penguin watching; then it’s on to Ushuaia, “the city at the end of the world”, for a first-hand look at the Patagonian countryside; next is Punta Arenas, Chile, for more penguins, and a cruise up the Chilean fjords to see sights including the Amalia Glacier. Some cruises stop in the German-looking town of Puerto Montt on their way to Valparaiso, a pleasant city with a charming neighbourhoods on the hilltops.
There are lots of other ways to cruise the coastlines of South America. Lines like Norwegian run seven-night cruises from Buenos Aires up the east coast to Rio de Janeiro, while Celebrity cruises from Fort Lauderdale through the Panama Canal to sail the western coast. You can even find cruises lasting more than 40 days that combine South America with trips across the Pacific to Australia. Wherever you want to go, you can probably find a cruise that takes you there.
Then there are cruises that ply the famous Amazon River. Most cruise the Brazilian stretch of the river, sailing between Rio de Janeiro and Manaus, 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) up the river. However, there are cruises that combine the Amazon with a number of other South American itineraries, including Around the Horn. Holland America even runs cruises that start in Fort Lauderdale and do the Caribbean on the way down. Yes, large cruise ships can sail up the broad Amazon.
The main ports on the Amazon are Manaus, with its classic European-style buildings, and Santarem, another rubber port founded by U.S. Civil War refugees. Other stops include Parintins, home to the colourful Boi Bumba festival, and Boca de Valeria, a smaller town where locals live in houses on stilts and get around by canoe. The big attraction, though, is the wildlife. Monkeys, sloths, and brilliant parrots inhabit the forest along the river banks, and the waters are home to the unique pink dolphins and manatees.
Australia and New Zealand
Like South America, Australia is a big place, so cruising is a good way to get a glimpse of the continent. That said, the cruises that ply these waters show you a lot more than Australia. Many spend much of their time cruising the dramatic coastline of New Zealand, while others venture out to visit New Guinea and places as far afield as Samoa and Fiji. Most of the major cruise lines sail here, so there’s a good selection of cruises on offer.
You can find a few cruises that do a circumnavigation of Australia, but they’re in the minority. Most Australia-only cruises select a stretch of the coast, like Princess’s Northern Australia Explorer, which goes from Brisbane on the Gold Coast to Perth, with stops at Cairns to see the great Barrier Reef, Darwin, for some outback flavour, and Broome. Other cruises include ports like Kangaroo Island, Adelaide and Melbourne. And many start their journey in Sydney.
For those that leave Australia, the big destination is New Zealand. For example, Celebrity’s “12 Night Australia Cruise” stops in Melbourne before hitting New Zealand’s spectacular Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, plus Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland, with smaller stops along the way. But many others head off to places like Noumea in New Caledonia, Port Vila in Vanuatu and Suva and Lautoka, Fiji. This is a great way to see a little of the South Pacific.
Since you’re flying all the way to Australia, these cruise offer a good opportunity to stay a little longer and really see the place. Australia has many wonders, from the Blue Mountains near Sydney to the Red Centre. New Zealand is a land of wonder, and small enough to drive in a few days. From the thermal pools of Rotorua to the magical rain forests of the south island, it’s an amazing trip.
People used to join the navy to see the world. These days, all you have to do is book one of the many world cruises that circle the globe for one convenient price. At least 10 cruise lines offer these trips, including names like Holland America, Princess and Azamara. Most of them leave in January , so you still have time to get your booking, if you have $30,000 or so you’re not using. Of course, that’s for an inside cabin – take a suite and you could spend $200,000.
All world cruises are not created equal, however. The classic cruises do make a full circuit of the globe, like Cunard’s 120-night world cruise on the Queen Elizabeth, sailing from Southampton on Jan. 7. The itinerary includes 40 ports in 25 countries, with four overnight stays in New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Cape Town. Then there’s Oceania’s “Around the World in 180 Days”, which leaves Miami Jan. 6 before visiting Central America, the Pacific, Australasia, India, the Middle East and Europe.
If the full trip is a bit much for you, most of the lines will sell you a segment, from 11 to 40 nights or so, at a much lower price. That way, you can skip the parts you’ve already seen, or choose only the places you’ve always wanted to visit. As someone who finds cruising gets a bit old after a couple of weeks on the ship, it sounds like a better way to see the world. Imagine living that long with bad wi-fi …
Those are five of the more popular alternative cruises on offer. I’ve done the Around the Horn cruise of South America on my way to the Antarctic, but I wouldn’t mind trying the other four if I got the chance. If you’ve been on one of these cruises, leave a comment and tell us how it was. And if you have a suggestion for another alternative cruise that’s an undiscovered treasure, let us know about that. The world of cruising just keeps getting more interesting.