On our search for the best places to cruise in 2018, we went global, selecting destinations on every continent, and suggesting sailings that range from river and expedition, to your typical Caribbean cruise. It's a list for the adventurous -- taking you beyond the Outback, into the heart of Asia's Mekong, to new cities from a familiar European country, and to a place that's technically European…but also Canadian.
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Why: This relatively small country is the next big thing in Asia river cruising. Touching Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and the southern tip of China, Laos is at the epicenter of Southeast Asia. Its capital, Vientiane, is located along the Mekong River and showcases French colonial architecture alongside revered Buddhist temples and relics. Most riverboats call nearly 200 miles north in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which offers natural caves, waterfalls and shrines.
How: Pandaw River Cruises offers itineraries in Laos and on the Upper Mekong, with 10-night sailings upstream or downstream. The line will add Sabei Pandaw, its third ship in the region, in November 2018. Avalon Waterways also offers Cambodia/Vietnam cruises that end in Luang Prabang.
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Why: After you've safari-ed on an Africa cruise, what's next? Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, is a cosmopolitan city on the country's southern tip that blends Portuguese, Bantu and other influences in its architecture and culture. While parts of the city might seem underdeveloped, Maputo offers an invigorating mixture of modern Africa, European history, beautiful beaches and an artistic spirit, set among a backdrop of acacias. Don't let its music -- especially the jazz scene -- pass you by.
How: You can visit Maputo on a few cruises plying the Indian Ocean in 2018. Luxury lines like Crystal and Silversea call on Maputo -- either on a world cruise or a round trip from Cape Town, respectively. MSC Cruises also serves this East African capital with short cruises from Durban in South Africa. Oceania Cruises spends over a month sailing from Cape Town to Singapore or Dubai to Cape Town; both with Maputo on the schedule.
Photo: Tonis Valing/Shutterstock
Saint Pierre and Miquelon
Why: Visit France without leaving North America -- really. Many consider Montreal or Quebec City to be the embodiment of French Canadian spirit, but the islands that make the tiny archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, in Atlantic Canada, are the real deal. This lesser-known Canada/New England cruise port near Newfoundland is technically a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France. And that means an authentic French atmosphere from the boulangeries and patisseries to the museums and cathedrals; albeit with Canadian touches from a lagoon with seals to an abandoned fishing village.
How: Get there in April or May on a unique Princess Cruises itinerary from Fort Lauderdale to Dover; an Oceania cruise from Miami or Montreal to London; or a handful of Silversea cruises in September. Other cruise lines, including British line Fred. Olsen, call as well.
Photo: Erika J Mitchell/Shutterstock
Why: The Kimberley is the northernmost region of Western Australia, and while its isolation makes it an unchartered territory for most travelers, its stunning and wild beauty makes it well worth the trek. Encounter an abundance of precious flora and fauna, with dramatic landscapes like beehive-shaped rock formations, incredible waterfalls (including horizontal falls), towering cliffs and islands with ancient Aboriginal origins. If you're craving a cruise somewhere far-flung in 2018, this is most definitely it.
How: To really see The Kimberely inside and out, take a small expedition ship that will sail its length, from Broome to Darwin. Try Zegrahm Expeditions (two weeks) or Coral Expeditions (10 nights). Princess Cruises includes scenic cruising along the Kimberley Coast on select Australia voyages.
Photo: Kimberly Boat Cruises
Why: Antigua has always been a pleasant escape in the Eastern Caribbean, but in the wake of the 2017 hurricanes, many cruise lines rerouted ships to the island while other destinations were still recovering. The influx of tourists hasn't slowed the tropical island's splendor. In fact, its resilience makes it shine even brighter, as demonstrated by its people, who are as warm as its climate. Mesmerizing blue seas lend to fantastic snorkeling and diving, and a mix of public beaches and private clubs makes Antigua the perfect vacation for celebrities like Oprah (who owns a home here) as well as your family.
How: It's easy to find a cruise to Antigua; nearly all mainstream and luxury cruise lines offer sailings that call here. Try a Southern Caribbean sailing on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises.
Photo: V.J. Matthew/Shutterstock.com
Why: Most cruisers who have sailed an Eastern Mediterranean itinerary upon the Adriatic know the charms of Dubrovnik, but heightened interest in the country means that the whole of Croatia's famed Dalmatian Coast is now open for cruising. More than 1,000 miles of coastline means that you can uncover the pebble beaches of fishing port Rovinj; the summer resort city of Hvar, with its interior lavender fields; and ample offshore islands, like Korcula, with their own inviting beaches and coves. Plus, many scenes in "Game of Thrones" were filmed in Dubrovnik -- get your fix in 2018 while the show is on hiatus.
How: Embark on a Star Clipper sailing ship for 12 nights -- four of which go to different ports throughout Croatia. Small-ship line Voyages to Antiquity features stops along the coast of Dalmatia on itineraries that also call throughout Italy and Greece; Grand Circle and Tauck also offer small-ship cruises with multiple Croatia stops. Or, cruise on luxury line SeaDream Yacht Club, with some Mediterranean itineraries featuring up to five port calls in Croatia.
Why: The Polar Regions surround the North and South Poles, and span the Arctic Circle to the north (including countries like Norway, Finland and Greenland), and Antarctica to the south. Now is the time to go to these literal ends of the earth: an uptick in cruise lines building Polar Class vessels means your choices are better than ever to book the trip of a lifetime aboard an icebreaker, and you should do it soon before climate change forever leaves its mark on these frozen landscapes.
How: Sail in 2018 on Hurtigruten's newest polar vessel, launching in July (with another in 2019), that promises to be emission free due to new hybrid technology. The line has expertise in the region with numerous Arctic sailings each year. Silversea and Ponant are luxury brands that sail polar itineraries in the utmost comfort. Poseidon Expeditions' Sea Spirit was refurbished in 2017 and sails Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land in the Russian Arctic and Antarctica. Another four polar ships are expected to launch between 2019 and 2020.
Why: Single-country sailings give cruisers the chance to fully explore the many facets of one place. In this case, Japan is benefiting from increased attention on cruise ship itineraries -- big and small. Add in pre- and post-cruise land trips and travelers will not only have a taste of ports like Osaka and Nagasaki, but interior destinations like Kyoto and Nara. If you're not planning to attend the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, see Japan soon so you can make friends and family jealous with, "Oh, I was just there." For an even more off-the-beaten-path experience, book a cruise that explores Hokkaido, known as Japan's Wild Island.
How: Princess Cruises, Holland America and Norwegian all offer cruises in Japan, though Princess spends nearly two weeks at a time. Tauck, Azamara and Windstar offer intimate and immersive Japan experiences with less passengers and more ports; experiences might include three days on land before and after a seven-night cruise. Smithsonian Journeys charters Ponant ship L'Austral for special Japan sailings in 2018. Zegrahm Expeditions offers an itinerary with multiple calls in Hokkaido.
Why: Brazil is Rio and its infamous beaches, but it's also Salvador de Bahia, Iguazu Falls and the Amazon rainforest. As the fifth-largest country in the world, it's no wonder that this leviathan by the sea has so much to offer. Without a Panama Canal crossing, South America cruises don't seem to be as popular with American tourists, leaving the continent's largest country as an untapped source of culture, music, natural wonders and, of course, lively parties. Carnival is coming up quick (February 9–14, 2018), but a ship is arguably the best way to go.
How: For South America cruises with a focus on Brazil, check out Silversea, MSC Cruises, Norwegian and Viking Ocean, which in 2018 will offer a three-week voyage with four nights in Brazil and another four spent cruising the Amazon River. Celebrity and Azamara are among the lines docked in Rio this year for Carnival.
Photo: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock
Baja California Sur, Mexico
Why: Beyond the thrills of Cabo, the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, a southern outcrop along the Gulf of California, also serves as a jumping-off point for cruises focusing on wellness, nature and marine life. Expedition lines have sailed the Sea of Cortez from La Paz for years, but Lindblad is introducing short wellness vacations that create a peaceful getaway with yoga, Pilates, hiking and healthy cuisine.
How: Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic offers sailings in the Sea of Cortez, including wellness cruises. UnCruise Adventures also offers great Sea of Cortez sailings. Regent Seven Seas, Crystal Cruises, Azamara and Princess can also be found in this area of Mexico.
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The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalized service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your vacation style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive vacation experience, while Oceania draws travelers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.
Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel: Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview Balcony: a room featuring a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks It's the permutations (size, view, location, amenities and price, for example) of the four basic cabin types that can make choosing difficult. In addition to knowing your cabin options, you need to know yourself: Do you tend to get seasick? Do you prefer to nest peaceably on your balcony rather than hanging with the crowd around the pool area? Conversely, is your idea of a stateroom simply a place to flop into bed at 1 a.m. -- no fancy notions necessary? Are there certain amenities you are willing to splurge on, or can you simply not justify paying for unnecessary perks? The answers will help guide you toward selecting the best stateroom for your money. If you're feeling overwhelmed by choice, we'll help you get started with this guide to choosing the best cruise cabins for you and your travel party.