The best cruises to take overseas and in Australia next year

For most of us, this has been a year of limited options and shrivelled horizons. A year of little variety that has left us yearning for other places, other foods and other landscapes. And among all the forms of travel, few have seemed as out of reach as cruising.

Except that cruising never really went away. Some cruise ships have been operating for more than a year, while many have successfully returned to service since June.

Meanwhile, cruise companies have put their downtime to good use by revamping some ship interiors and itineraries, and working on issues such as their environmental impact.

Investment in new technologies, compliance with ever-more stringent international standards and more focus on energy and waste efficiency will see leaner, more sustainable ships in the post-COVID era.

Worldwide, the cruise industry has invested more than $23.5 billion in ships with new technologies and cleaner fuels, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

The issue of overtourism, which was beginning to beset the cruise industry before the pandemic, has become less pressing given fewer tourist numbers, and financially affected port cities may actually be hoping for a passenger bounce back.

Even so, in August this year, large cruise ships were finally banned from Venice and now dock at the industrial port, though a permanent solution is still being debated.

Announcements of new ship constructions and launches show further industry optimism. Here too some of the environmental news is good: Aurora Expeditions has announced it is now carbon neutral, while companies such as Ponant and Hurtigruten have launched LNG-powered and environmentally advanced expedition ships.

Cruise devotees seem more positive than ever, too. Demand for future cruises is stiff, with many selling out in days. And this comes as no surprise to those who love cruising.

Many of the things we’ve missed the most are amply provided on cruise holidays: variety, adventure, distant horizons, the chance to decompress, the opportunity for romantic or family holidays away from the daily grind.

Here, then, in a special refresher guide for cruising, are Traveller’s 10 ways you can set sail according to interest and at least rekindle the pleasures of travel.

FOR A TOUCH OF ROMANCE

Deluxe Veranda Suite, Silver Spirit
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nov13cover - Sea Change : Cruising in 2022 ; text by Brian JohnstonDeluxe Veranda Suite on Silversea's Silver Spirit credit : Silversea

A deluxe veranda suite on Silversea’s  Silver Spirit.

THE LOWDOWN

There’s nothing like lockdowns to kill off romance, and nothing like the right cruise ship to revive it. No household chores, no transport hassles, no map-reading arguments. Just sumptuous locations, sea, sunsets and serenity.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

The Love Boat was modelled on Princess Cruises, but smaller luxury ships have the romantic edge: SeaDream, Oceania, Scenic and (on rivers) Uniworld. If you want chic expedition sailing, try Ponant, Silversea or Crystal.

OUR CHOICE

A 19-day Silversea sail between Barcelona and Venice will surely bring the romance of travel back, not only because it features the new Silver Dawn – modestly sized and elegant, with eight up-market dining options – but because it visits ridiculously romantic places such as Saint Tropez, Monte Carlo, Corfu and Kotor.

DON’T MISS

A helicopter flight over the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii archaeological site, then across to the island of Capri for a boat ride through the famous Blue Grotto and lunch at a five-star hotel. Now that’s seduction in spectacular style.

SET SAIL

From $15,390 a person, departs September 14, 2022. See silversea.com

FOR WILD ADVENTURES

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nov13cover - Sea Change : Cruising in 2022 ; text by Brian JohnstonHiking in Antarctica with Ponantcredit : Ponant

In Antarctica with Ponant. 

THE LOWDOWN

If your great outdoors has been confined to a five-kilometre radius, you’ll be ready to explore the Earth’s far reaches, and only expedition cruises can take you with ease to destinations such as the Russian and Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, remote Amazon and isolated islands.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Expedition companies such as Aurora, Coral and Silversea offer Zodiac excursions for up-close wilderness encounters. Newer and smaller ships are more eco-friendly. Lindblad and Peregrine Adventures offer carbon-neutral cruising.

OUR CHOICE

Ponant’s newly launched Le Commandant-Charcot is a world-first hybrid icebreaker propelled by LNG. Sail on an 11-night Antarctica cruise round trip from Ushuaia in Argentina that visits the Weddell Sea and Larsen Ice Shelf for some of the most impressive icebergs, wildlife and Antarctic scenery.

DON’T MISS

Any of several ways to immerse yourself in the landscape – quite literally if you dare to take the polar plunge, either with or without a dry suit. You’ll also have the opportunity to kayak, hike, snowshoe and take to a hovercraft.

SET SAIL

From $24,300 a person, departs November 26 and December 7, 2022. See au.ponant.com

FOR CULTURAL IMMERSION

THE LOWDOWN

Queue-skipping, behind-the-scenes tours, privileged access to festivals and concerts and lectures from experts are among the benefits of cultural touring by cruise ship. Almost all but expedition cruises have strong cultural elements, ranging from on-board enrichment programs and workshops to shore excursions. Themed cruises cover topics such as music, arts and fashion.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Cunard and Crystal have notable on-board enrichment programs. Regent, Azamara and Seabourn have varied culture-oriented shore excursions. Viking has an educational ethos. River cruises are particularly cultural, especially on the Rhone and Danube.

OUR CHOICE

A 15-day eastern Mediterranean jaunt between Rome and Istanbul (or reverse) takes you to ancient sites such as Knossos, Pompeii, Troy and Ephesus and culture-encrusted cities such as Naples and Athens aboard new ship Viking Venus.

DON’T MISS

The “Full Acropolis Experience” excursion in Athens, which provides an in-depth account of the Parthenon and other ruins, coupled with a visit to the Acropolis Museum for a look at its 4000 objects from classical antiquity.

SET SAIL

From $8195 a person, departs October 28 and November 11, 2022. See vikingcruises.com.au

FOR ENDLESS OPTIONS

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nov13cover - Sea Change : Cruising in 2022 ; text by Brian JohnstonViking Star in Dubrovnikcredit : Viking

Viking Star in  Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

THE LOWDOWN

Between budget behemoths and small, expensive luxury ships are vessels catering to those looking for the middle way, and keen to enjoy a little of everything – without going to extremes – after being COVID-deprived of choices.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Azamara and Viking both have mid-sized ships great for destination cruising rather than ship amusements. Holland America is a fine all-rounder, while Celebrity offers many big-ship advantages without the bling and rowdiness of mega-ships.

OUR CHOICE

Cruise the Baltic Sea on a 12-night Celebrity itinerary round-trip from Amsterdam and you’ll have four days at sea to experience the fabulous new Celebrity Apex, as well as visit seven cities that offer a wide range of culture, scenic beauty, contemporary life and active excursions.

DON’T MISS

Tallinn in Estonia, where a choice of 21 excursions keeps everyone happy: take old-town tours, a Soviet experience, shop, do a beer tasting, get walking or, if you’re a nature lover, seal spot in the Malusi Islands.

SET SAIL

From $3310 a person, departs May 26, July 8 and 20 and August 20, 2022. See celebritycruises.com

FOR FAMILY FUN

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nov13cover - Sea Change : Cruising in 2022 ; text by Brian JohnstonFamily fun on a Royal Caribbean ship credit : RCI 

Family fun on a Royal Caribbean ship. 

THE LOWDOWN

Family holidays can be fraught when everyone is trapped in a small holiday rental, or compelled to join the sightseeing. Cruising’s choice of activities, shore excursions, dining and on-board entertainment keeps families with diverse interests happy – and also allows everyone some alone time.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Look to big ships from Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, P&O and Norwegian for comprehensive kids’ clubs, family activities and shows, plus everything from ice rinks to surf simulators and water slides.

OUR CHOICE

Sail from Sydney on a nine-night Great Barrier Reef cruise that calls at Airlie Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas but also leaves ample time to enjoy the range of family-friendly activities aboard Radiance of the Seas, including minigolf, rock-climbing walls and an outdoor cinema.

DON’T MISS

Your chance to slip away into The Solarium, an adults-only indoor and outdoor retreat at the front of the ship, with swimming pools and whirlpools that gaze over the ocean. With so much to distract the kids, they won’t even know you’re gone.

SET SAIL

From $1716 a person, departs December 28, 2022. See royalcaribbean.com

FOR WONDROUS WATER WORLDS

THE LOWDOWN

Cruises excel in linking islands that are otherwise difficult or time-consuming to hop around. Ships’ decks showcase inaccessible coral lagoons and isolated coastlines, and provide novel new angles on flamboyant harbours and port cities.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Small luxury lines Windstar, SeaDream, Seabourn and Paul Gauguin are standouts for water sports, but large cruise ships will also have you swimming, water sliding and spa-soaking while onboard.

OUR CHOICE

Check out the new Holland America ship Rotterdam on a 21-day Caribbean sailing round-trip from Florida. It provides a comprehensive visit to a classic cruise destination little frequented by Australians but big on awesome islands and dazzling waters. Take catamaran and submarine excursions, enjoy beach bashes, sea treks, snorkel over shipwrecks, and have encounters with turtles.

DON’T MISS

The windblown and exhilarating experience of sailing on a multi-million-dollar America’s Cup racing yacht in Sint Maarten; you can either let the crew do the work or have a go at grinding winches and trimming sails yourself.

SET SAIL

From $4339 a person, departs November 30, 2022. See hollandamerica.com

FOR THE THRILL OF VARIETY

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APT Mekong Serenity Asia 
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APT’s  Mekong Serenity which will cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia.

THE LOWDOWN

The monotony and narrow horizons of recent life have challenged us all. For those who thrive on variety, cruises deliver by providing short samples of multiple destinations. Simply fling back your cabin curtains each morning and a new adventure awaits.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Pick a cruise that covers a small geographical area, since ports are closer together and you’ll spend more time ashore. Avoid expedition and transoceanic cruises. River cruises are ideal, since they offer both passing scenery and multiple port calls with very varied activity options.

OUR CHOICE

APT’s 13-day Mekong River cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia covers big-city bustle and village life, history both ancient and 20th-century, monuments and markets and two countries undergoing rapid change. Passing river landscapes are always lively with local activity.

DON’T MISS

Phnom Penh’s royal palace complex of blinding white buildings, topped by sweeping golden roofs in a glittery show of 19th-century Cambodian architecture. The gilded Throne Hall and ornate Silver Pagoda with its diamond-studded Buddhas are highlights.

SET SAIL

From $5795 a person, multiple departures from July 22, 2022. See aptouring.com.au

FOR FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD

Cuisine, Oceania Cruises
sunmar15cruisefood cruise ship food shopping ; text by Brian Johnston ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; Jumbo shrimps in zucchini from Oceania Cruisesnov13cover

Dinner aboard an Oceania cruise.

THE LOWDOWN

Hands up those who want to escape the last 18 months of being confined to the kitchen. Cruise holidays provide a smorgasbord of food choices without the shopping, cooking or washing up – or the enervating travel chore of finding decent restaurants daily.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are the best big ships, but gourmets should really board a luxury small ship. Regent runs excellent cooking classes, Seabourn has tasty shore excursions while Oceania has the best food afloat.

OUR CHOICE

Take a 14-day Sydney-to-Bali cruise with Oceania and avoid the biggest catering chore, Christmas. You’ll have plenty of relaxation time as you meander the Queensland coast and visit Darwin and Komodo aboard Regatta. Shore excursion options include visits to wineries, tropical fruit markets and a cattle station for a lunch prepared with Indigenous ingredients.

DON’T MISS

Oceania’s classic steakhouse Polo Grill, where you can tuck into prime aged steaks, Kobe beef with truffle, and steamed lobster tail. And yes, surely you can squeeze in a seven-layer Belgian chocolate fudge cake too.

SET SAIL

From $5300 a person, departs December 12, 2022. See oceaniacruises.com

FOR A WALLOW IN WELLNESS

THE LOWDOWN

If you want to get mind and body in order, then a cruise provides the benefits of a wellness retreat without its static scenery or lack of adventure. Many ships have comprehensive wellness offerings, such as exercise classes, fitness programs, spa treatments and active excursions, which you can blend with sightseeing and the natural serenity of the sea.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Most cruise lines have fitness and spa centres, but for the holistic experience think luxury mid-size ships from the likes of Crystal and Regent. Seabourn and Celebrity have comprehensive wellness programs.

OUR CHOICE

Regent Seven Seas’ 24-day cruise from Lisbon to Cape Town won’t only have you feeling fabulous but brings you to unusual cruise destinations such as Senegal, Ghana and Namibia on Seven Seas Voyager.

DON’T MISS

The shore excursion to Playa de Las Teresitas in Tenerife for yoga by the sea, with an instructor adjusting your breathing and flexibility techniques as the sun drifts down towards the Atlantic Ocean to sizzle out on the balmy horizon.

SET SAIL

From $19,190 a person, departs November 12, 2022. See rssc.com

FOR WINTER WONDER

THE LOWDOWN

It may seem counterintuitive for an industry that follows the sun, but you can cruise in chilly climes, and not just in polar destinations (which are actually visited in summer). The cold-but-cosy northern festive season sparkles, and allows an escape from the Christmas kitchen and other fatiguing family obligations.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT

Viking and Hurtigruten offer winter cruising to admire the Northern Lights in Norway, but European river cruises create the best Christmas experiences. Crystal has wonderful on-board decorations, Disney suits families, Uniworld features top food and Viking is culture oriented.

OUR CHOICE

Germany has the best festive ambience, so sail the Rhine. Scenic’s eight-day journey from Amsterdam to Zurich takes you to several bedecked old towns and Christmas markets, combined with sightseeing and a concert in a baroque palace.

DON’T MISS

Strasbourg’s Christmas market is one of Europe’s largest and France’s oldest. Its decorated chalet stalls, which spread around the magnificent cathedral, sell wooden toys, ornaments, handicrafts and gingerbread, plus French market produce.

SET SAIL

From $4895 a person, departs December 5, 2022. See scenic.com.au

THE NEW 10 MUST-KNOW BEFORE YOU CRUISE

DON’T DILLY-DALLY

Many cruise companies have reported record sales for 2022-23, with some itineraries – even long world cruises – already sold out. European, Alaskan and polar cruises are in particular demand. If you’re keen to cruise, act soon.

GO SWELL AND GO WELL

The cruise industry is now one of the world’s most COVID regulated, mostly following stringent guidelines from the CDC, America’s public-health body. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) also has its own health guidelines.

PUT YOURSELF TO THE TEST

Cruise passengers are required to provide health declarations, COVID-negative test results and/or vaccination certificates. The latter depends on both cruise line and destination, with many national health regulations requiring proof of vaccination.

… AND TO THE TEST AGAIN

As part of the new travel deal, Cruise passengers can expect to have to submit to regular temperature checks and COVID testing throughout cruises. You’ll also have to accept that you will be tracked and traced for a minimum of 30 days after disembarkation.

MIND THE GAP

Life on board feels different. Social-distancing applies to public spaces such as restaurants and theatres, buffets are no longer self-service, and mask wearing is obligatory on some ships and some public areas in others.

BE SURE WHEN ASHORE

Shore excursions may be restricted or heavily managed in destinations with low vaccination levels and will be more staggered. You must comply with the health regulations of onshore venues.

TAKE YOUR TIME

Don’t rely on finely judged transit times. Arrive in port the day before embarkation. Expect more time-consuming queues at immigration, and be prepared for unexpected flight cancellations.

ACCEPT THE RISKS

Cruising carries a risk. Since cruises resumed, many ships have delayed or cut short cruises, or removed guests after positive COVID tests. However, early detection and reliable protocols have meant no major incidents.

READ THE SMALL PRINT

Australian travel insurers are working with underwriters to develop cruise coverage. Unvaccinated passengers who contract COVID will likely be excluded, and some may exclude COVID altogether. The insurance situation may change for the better, especially by the time you depart, but do have a fall-back plan should you test positive for COVID. Note that, even in normal times, many policies don’t automatically cover cruising, which must be added on.

EXPECT SOME CHOPPY WATERS

Travel has become even more complicated and onerous than it could be pre-pandemic. Check and double check regulations at all your destinations, and with your cruise line, right up to departure, as things change frequently.

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