Scenic views are the most priceless part of the amenity-packed cruise experience. And, as savvy travelers seek more adventure opportunities, cruise lines are responding by charting a course to ever more beautiful—and remote—corners of the map.
With their shallow drafts, small cruise ships can get close to the sights, and they come equipped with inflatable Zodiacs that allow for intimate coastline exploration.
But big ship lines, too, are bringing passengers to ocean-accessible scenic wonders like Alaska’s Inside Passage, where the roar of calving glaciers is best experienced from the vantage point of a ship’s deck. Even Carnival Cruise Lines, with its strong base in the Caribbean, is positioning a ship year-round in Sydney, beginning in fall 2012. It’s easy to see the reasoning: the South Pacific, South America, and Africa are all hot cruising destinations, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s top marketing group.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but on the world’s most scenic cruises, Mother Nature serves up views that will please the most jaded traveler—and may even change the very way you look at the world.
Located some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and virtually untouched by man, these islands have fostered hundreds of species found nowhere else on earth. Giant tortoises, curious iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and Charles Darwin’s famous finches are the main attractions. You’ll cruise past volcanic peaks and beaches, with opportunities to schmooze with land critters, snorkel with sharks, or watch the birds and contemplate the ongoing evolution in this wild spot.
Season: Year round.
Sample Itinerary: 7-day on the 92-passenger Celebrity Xpedition, from Baltra, Ecuador. From $3,499 per person, based on double occupancy.
The Kimberley, Australia
The rugged red cliffs and white sands of northwestern Australia make for one of the wildest, most beautiful coastlines in the world—and the best parts are accessible only by ship. In this outback, where the Indian Ocean meets the Timor Sea, remote islands proliferate, and rivers and inlets lead to isolated gorges, towering rock faces, majestic waterfalls (as high as 328 feet), and roving saltwater crocodiles.
Sample Itinerary: 10-day, from the frontier cities of Darwin or Broome, on the 50-passenger Coral Princess. From $7,337 per person, based on double occupancy.
Cruising the calm waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage delivers high-drama views — namely, the awesome sight of immense glaciers thunderously calving into the sea. But what may linger in your memory is the sheer vastness of the wilderness, icy and forested. Keep your binoculars handy to catch glimpses of whales, eagles, and, if you’re lucky, a grizzly.
Sample Itinerary: Weeklong Eastern Coves on the 68-passenger Wilderness Discoverer or 57-passenger Wilderness Adventurer, between Juneau and Ketchikan. From $1,795 per person, based on double occupancy.
Antarctica and the South Shetland Islands
The captain charts a course south from Argentina’s tip to the “Great White Continent,” where wild beauty comes in the form of spectacular glaciers, giant white and blue icebergs, and snowcapped mountains. In this stark setting, you can spot orca and sperm whales from the deck and observe penguins and elephant seals up close on island stops. What you won’t find is any sign of humans (beyond a smattering of scientific research stations).
Sample Itinerary: 11-day Antarctic Explorer, round trip from Ushuaia, Argentina, on the 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer. From $4,890 per person, based on double occupancy.
In the heart of the Malay Archipelago awaits the third largest island in the world, where ancient tropical rainforests support a zoological wonderland. There are interesting plants, and animal and bird life galore, and offshore, the reefs are full of colorful coral and marine life. Don’t miss the monkeys in the wild, particularly orangutans.
Sample Itinerary: 10-day Camp Leaky on the 100-passenger Orion II (includes a stop at the orangutan rehab center featured in the IMAX film Born to be Wild). From $6,930 per person, based on double occupancy.
As you island-hop across the Indian Ocean, passing Mauritius, Reunion, and the Comoros, you’ll be wowed by such sights as volcanoes (both extinct and active), dense forests, and some of the most pristine beaches and teeming coral reefs in the world. The East African cruise experience peaks at Madagascar, so big it’s been dubbed the “eighth continent,” which presents the added allure of lemurs—those spooky primates whose eyes make them look perpetually startled.
Sample Itinerary: 15-day East Africa, from Mauritius to Zanzibar on Zegrahm Expeditions’ 110-passenger Clipper Odyssey, one of the only ships that devotes more than a day to the remarkable island of Madagascar. From $12,480 per person, based on double occupancy.
Ancient architectural wonders combine with whitewashed towns, beaches, and abundant sunshine to make the Greek Isles a highly desirable cruising destination. The most magnificent scenery belongs to Santorini, where your ship sails into a bay that is actually a giant caldera, created when a volcano erupted in 1500 B.C. Multihued cliffs and the 1,000-foot-high town of Fira complete the view.
Sample Itinerary: 12-day Holy Land Cruise, round trip from Rome (Civitavecchia) on the brand-new 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette. From $1,599 per person, based on double.
Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound “the eighth wonder of the world,” and it’s hard to argue when you behold the ethereal beauty of a waterway little changed since the Maori people discovered it more than 1,000 years ago. In South Island’s Fjordland National Park, the sound cuts through steep cliffs carved by glaciers. Your ship may get close enough to a roaring waterfall for you to feel the spray.
Sample Itinerary: 14-day New Zealand, round-trip from Brisbane, Australia, on the 1,990-passenger Sun Princess. From $1,699 per person, based on double occupancy.
The colorful leaves that light up the Eastern Seaboard each fall are recognized worldwide as one of nature’s best shows. Seeing the red-and-gold display from the sea is a refreshing alternative to traffic-clogged roadways. Plus there’s the added delight of rugged coastline and sightings of humpback and minke whales. Cruises typically head up to Canada, and some seek out a route that includes the tree-lined fjord of the Saguenay, which cuts through what may be the oldest rocks on earth.
Sample Itinerary: 10-day Canada/New England, including Saguenay, on Holland America’s 2,100-passenger Eurodam from New York or Quebec City, from $1,499 per person, based on double occupancy.
The crystal-clear Norwegian Fjords serve up an embarrassment of natural riches. These stunning waterways cut right through 1,000-foot cliffs, revealing snowcapped mountains, glacier-fed waterfalls, and rolling lowlands. The spectacular views just keep on coming and continue well past dinnertime as you cruise with the midnight sun.
Sample Itinerary: 9-day Norwegian Fjords, round trip from Copenhagen on the Seabourn Sojourn. From $3,995 per person, based on double occupancy.
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