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Iceberg floats in Andord Bay on Graham Land by jo Crebbin

Everything you need to begin planning your luxury cruise

The evolution within the cruise industry has been amazing. We see our favourite cruise lines continue to improve and find more ways to develop eco-friendly ships while always improving the luxurious designs, amenities and offerings so as to provide a more personalised service each year.

Ultimate guide to planning your own luxury cruise in all corners of the world

The evolution within the cruise industry has been amazing. We see our favourite cruise lines continue to improve and find more ways to develop eco-friendly ships while always improving the luxurious designs, amenities and offerings so as to provide a more personalised service each year. Regardless of which major city you are in the world, there is a luxury cruise option waiting for you to explore and make your own.

In recent years we have seen many of the small to mid-size ships focusing more on the quality of the cruise experience, over the number of cruisers that can be packed onto a single ship. Several of these cruise lines have managed to create unique opportunities for a ‘cruise ship’ within the cruise ship, which provides an elevated level of services, and is often an excellent option for many travellers seeking all of the conveniences of a large ship, but with the personalized services of a bespoke luxury cruise experience. The Haven, for example, is a beautifully designed option with Norwegian Cruise Line and the Royal Class Suites with Royal Caribbean International brings all the elements of luxury and home together for this suite experience.

Arctic courtesy Quark
Arctic courtesy Quark

There is still something nostalgic about a transatlantic cruise, and while it might take a few days longer than a direct flight from New York to London, the experience on a ship like the Queen Mary 2 by Cunard provides cruisers with an unmatched level of luxury travel – upgrading to the Queen’s Grill provides guests with the ultimate in elevated services and excellence from start to finish. Those looking for a unique luxury cruise option in other parts of the world, consider one of the exciting opportunities with AmaWaterways in Africa that just gets better every year; or a river expedition cruise with Aqua Expeditions along the Amazon River onboard the Aria Amazon; or perhaps explore the bespoke itineraries with travel operators that take care of every detail beyond compare such as a barge cruise in Europe with Abercrombie & Kent, or a small ship cruise with Tauck.

Portal Point
Portal Point

Antarctica

When looking for an adventure cruise, along with the opportunity to get up close and personal with the local penguins and other wildlife, Antarctica is a dream come true. The luxurious elements of travel are always onboard these luxury cruise ships – allowing you to venture out in kayaks to truly experience this white continent by day, and savor an afternoon in the spa, followed by an elegant dinner and then putting up your feet and sipping your coffee in the comfort of your stylish suite in the evening.

While some may choose to focus on the luxury amenities and services on the ship, these expeditions are ideally suited for the cruisers who are fascinated by all the wonders of the outdoors, and looking for more ways to feel the thrill of skimming across the water in a custom Zodiak or putting on an extra layer of clothes before snowshoeing among the local seals.

The summer season here runs from October to February, and then the winter months are March through September – making December and January cruises the favourite time to venture into Antarctica. These expeditions are once-in-a-lifetime experiences beyond compare. With so many great options in this area, Azamara Club Cruises’ offers a 16-day Antarctica with a four-night post Iguazu Falls package onboard the Azamara Pursuit; Silversea offers the 22-day round trip itinerary out of Dunedin (South Sea) onboard the Silversea Explorer; and make plans for the Holidays next year with a 17-day Christmas and New Year cruise in Southern Lands with Ponant onboard the Ponant L’Austral.

Aurora borealis Lofoten islands by Denis Belitsky
Aurora borealis Lofoten islands by Denis Belitsky

Arctic

For the seasoned cruisers, a visit to the North is a must-do in their lifetime – the abundance of wildlife, breathtaking landscapes and a fascinating culinary scene provides a destination prime for the luxury cruise lines and small ship expeditions. The Arctic’s proximity to Europe, the United States and Canada make it reasonably accessible, and the influx of ships in recent years provide many quality options today.

The summer months are the most popular with the high summer months of July and August being the perfect time to view all of the wildlife enjoying these warm months, and the flora in full bloom. Additionally, with more ships being equipped to deal with the ice, we are also seeing an increase in itineraries during the more extended hours of darkness over the winter months to view the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) in all their glory. The larger cruise ships can undoubtedly provide some exciting excursions for those wanting the ‘local experience’ or the ability to get a closer look at the polar bears and whales, but for the true wilderness fans, the smaller expedition ships are the perfect solution.

Seabourn has their 15-day scenic voyage of the majestic fjords and enchanting towns of Norway’s western coast, including the North Cape onboard the Seabourn Ovation; Hurtigruten sets out on an actual expedition on their 15-day voyage from the Northwest Passage to Greenland as they route their course as the ice allows with MS Fram; and Quark Expeditions offers a 14-day journey with the world’s most powerful nuclear icebreaker (50 Years of Victory) leading to the unique opportunity to stand on top of the Earth at the North Pole.

Polar bear walking between ice floats in the Arctic Circle by DonLand
Polar bear walking between ice floats in the Arctic Circle by DonLand

Mediterranean

There is so much to love about cruising the Mediterranean, and being able to visit all of the amazing ports of call, while knowing that you only have to unpack once is ideal – allowing you to return home at the end of every day spent taking advantage of all the local culture and activities at every port of call. Regardless of your travel motivations, the ancient Mediterranean is an eclectic mix of opportunities for art-lovers, history buffs, sun-seekers, savvy shoppers and gourmet foodies. From Millennials to Baby Boomers, there are vast adventures to be enjoyed in the Mediterranean.

For the cruisers looking for an extended itinerary, you can even find some cruises that include a visit down into northern Africa, or reposition in the Canary Islands. While there is officially never a wrong time to visit the Mediterranean as many work this into their schedules during the summertime heat, the perfect time to avoid larger crowds at the ports and take advantage of milder temperatures, try to schedule your Mediterranean cruise during the early spring or late fall.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has been a strong force in the Mediterranean market in recent years, and offers their 16-day cruise from Venice to Monte Carlo onboard Seven Seas Voyager, inclusive of a host of excursions and amenities; Sea Cloud is a step back into time onboard one of the greatest windjammer legends of all time with a 19-day cruise in the Mediterranean and ends in Morocco; and Viking Ocean Cruises is offering a new journey – Iconic Adriatic Antiquities from Venice to Rome over the course of 15 days onboard the Viking Star.

Cityscape view of Venice from cruise ship at Grand canal by Littleaom
Cityscape view of Venice from cruise ship at Grand canal by Littleaom

Caribbean

The Caribbean provides opportunities for all ages, and while many cruises are only three to five nights, there are longer journeys available for those with the ability to extend their cruise to include a more significant number of ports of call to fully experience more of the individual islands. Many of the smaller luxury cruise ships can manoeuvre around the islands with ease compared to the larger ships; ships dedicated to kids of all ages and unique sailing yachts throughout the Caribbean make this a very desirable cruising destination.

With the hurricane season being exceptionally active in recent years, it is not advised to schedule a calming island getaway during September and October. The summer months can be hot and humid, but the cool waters make it work for many travellers – for those with the ability to make their own schedules, the late winter and early spring months are perfections in the islands.

SeaDream Yacht Club gives us another reason to re-visit Puerto Rico with their nine-day round-trip journey out of San Juan, which also features nine additional ports of call; Disney is a favourite for families as they have done an excellent job of making these cruises enjoyable for the kids and adults, and this featured six-day journey includes some time at sea, along with a visit to Cozumel and Castaway Cay onboard Disney Magic: and set sail with Windstar’s iconic sailing ship (Star Breeze) on an eight-day cruise from Bridgetown to St. Maarten celebrating the saints of the Caribbean.

Beautiful view of El Morro by Venturelli Luca
Beautiful view of El Morro by Venturelli Luca

European Rivers

The sheer fascination and pleasure of cruising the rivers of Europe has led to a surge of travellers, and fortunately, even more luxury options that are setting the standards of hospitality. Large staterooms with balconies are perfect for a leisurely going cruise along the stunning landscapes and romantic villages throughout Europe. While most of these journeys focus on Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, we are discovering opportunities to explore Russia, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Ukraine.

Once frequented by the silver generation, today’s river cruises are attracting the younger generation eager to explore the culinary and wine scenes along the waterways of New Europe; couples are keen to enjoy a romantic cruise along some of the most beautiful backdrops in the world; and all generations are obsessed with the smaller sizes of these ships that are able to provide world-class cuisine, enticing excursions, first-class amenities and services while at the same time providing access to the best of Europe. Though spring and fall provide cruisers with the ideal conditions, the summer months maintain their popularity, and holiday journeys are a favourite for many in December wanting to visit the magical markets at the ports of call along the way.

AmaWaterways has developed a great way to experience France with their eight-day Taste of Bordeaux Wine Cruise that is a must for anyone interested in the best of French culture, lifestyle, wine and cuisine. Crystal Cruises has an opportunity to cruise with their President and his wife from Amsterdam as they host this 10-day journey that provides the best of the local music, art, fashion and architecture while enjoying the fairytale views between the ports of call where you will be fully engrossed in the cultural offerings of Düsseldort, Koblenz, Bernkastel, Trier, Cochem, Bonn and then back to Arnhem and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Scenic is featuring an 11-day cruise that allows you to experience the beauty along the Rhône onboard Scenic Space-Ship, and begins with several days in Paris, and then includes unforgettable visits to Lyon, Tournon, Avignon and Tarascon.

View from Landshut Castle to the old town Bernkastel Kues with vineyards and river Mosel
View from Landshut Castle to the old town Bernkastel Kues with vineyards and river Mosel

Asia

When it comes to cruises that provide a cultural immersion unlike anywhere else in the world, cruising in Asia is unmatched. There are contrasting opportunities in Asia, as East Asia focuses on the urban centres that are complete with a mammoth to-do list in places like China, Japan and South Korea; and then there are the cruises in Southeast Asia, which can include areas of absolute serenity along the beaches in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam as ships move between Singapore and Hong Kong.

Throughout Asia, it is often the meshing of old and new that makes a lasting impression with some ports being in desperate need of repair, and others providing the latest technology and unmatched amenities and services. It is advised to avoid cruising during the summertime as it is the rainy season and humidity is supreme, with the best months being between November and March. When planning your time in Asia, also consider a river cruise along the Mekong River – these often begin in Ho Chi Minh City and end at Kampong Chan, Cambodia.

Oceania Cruises welcomes spring in April with their beautiful views of Japan in bloom during this 10-day cruise onboard the Oceania Nautica, which originates out of Tokyo; CroisiVoyages goes deep into parts of Asia with one of the premium 14-day cruises onboard the RV Indochine II in September that also provides priceless localised cultural and culinary excursions; and Uniworld has an exceptional land and water experience that takes you from Beijing to Shanghai with the cruise onboard the elegant Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer for this soul-enriching expedition.

View over beautiful turquoise lagoon of bungalows, island and boats by Mark Skalny
View over beautiful turquoise lagoon of bungalows, island and boats by Mark Skalny

South Pacific

When dreaming of a cruise in the South Pacific, many immediately gather mental images of French Polynesia – often referred to as one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Throughout the entire South Pacific region, beauty awaits among the richly coloured green mountain ranges, dazzling coral reefs and exquisite beaches. Popular destinations include Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu – all providing that quintessential South Pacific feeling of absolute bliss. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is considered as a divine being by one of the tribes in Vanuatu.

You want to avoid the cyclone season between November and April, with the three months of August, September and October being the high season due to optimal weather conditions. With such a vast area to explore in the South Pacific, you have options of the island life of French Polynesia, unforgettable fjords in New Zealand, lush shores along the Hawaiian Islands and the Australian bush – the opportunities are absolutely endless.

P&O Cruises has an excellent 17-day cruise during the high seasons in October that originates in Sydney on the Pacific Explorer and includes eight ports of call and time to enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches of the islands; delve into the history of French Polynesia and the marquee islands of the South Pacific with Lindblad Expeditions’ 17-day Azure Seas from Tahiti to the Marquesas onboard the National Geographic Orion; and savor every moment taking in the beauty of the white sand beaches and dense rainforests with Paul Gauguin Cruises’ 15-day journey from Marquesas to the Tuamotus and the Society Islands while enjoying the services that come onboard the m/s Paul Gauguin.◼

Ships on the Yangtze River by Daniel Doerfler
Ships on the Yangtze River by Daniel Doerfler

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© This article was first published in Dec-Jan 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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