Seven of the best cruise itineraries for every type of traveller

A host of new ships and destinations means adventure cruising now caters to every type of traveller, from nature-lovers to spa aficionados.

By Sarah Barrell
Published 20 Jan 2023, 08:00 GMT
Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas is the largest cruise ship ever built.

Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas is the largest cruise ship ever built.

Photograph by Royal Caribbean

Since travel resumed in earnest in 2021, our thirst for adventure knows no bounds. Travellers are increasingly seeking trips with a purpose — perhaps to see that once-in-a-lifetime destination or remote spot — and the cruise industry is responding with more itineraries than ever. A host of new ships has launched in the expedition and adventure sector (the fastest-growing in the travel industry), taking people to remote places, often on compact vessels that enable excursions to engage with nature and local culture with minimal disruption. More operators are also offering no-fly itineraries with departures from the UK, notably Southampton, which is fast becoming a key hub for European cruises. Whether the deciding factor is staying close to home or venturing as far away as possible, there’s a cruise out there that’s bound to whet your appetite. 

1. Best for a first-time Antarctic adventure

There’s been a boom in demand for ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ expedition voyages, notably to Antarctica. Scenic recently expanded its offering of voyages across the White Continent aboard luxury Discovery Yacht, Scenic Eclipse. Its 16-day Antarctica in Depth expedition offers a packed itinerary of polar greatest hits for first-timers, making a roundtrip from Buenos Aires around the Antarctic Peninsula. Cruise through the Beagle Channel, backed by the snow-capped Andean Mountains of Tierra del Fuego, and experience seeing an iceberg for the first time.

Traverse the seven-mile Lemaire Channel, where cliffs hem in an iceberg-filled waterway, and make shore visits, including to a derelict former whaling station, and hike to the rim of a volcanic crater. Excursions are aboard rigid inflatable boats and kayaks and on paddle boards, which allow encounters with wildlife, with the chance to paddle up to icebergs teeming with penguins, follow seals and watch whales feeding. Conditions allowing, the ship will also cross the Antarctic Circle 66 degrees south of the Earth’s equatorial plane. 

How to do it: Prices start from £14,785 based on a 4 December 2023 departure.

The Scenic Eclipse sailing in Antarctica.

Photograph by Roger Pimenta

2. Best for an expedition close to home 

The increased demand for UK-departure cruises has led to ever more inventive itineraries — a burgeoning number not even leaving UK shores. Scotland’s pristine coastline, Hebrides and Orkney Islands make for a fascinating cruise experience, with the chance for whale-watching and Northern Lights-spotting. Northern Light Cruising Company has sailings that weave around Scottish shores, with some of its most popular taking travellers to the site of what was once Britain’s most isolated communities, St Kilda. 

Set 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, a landing on this windblown island is never guaranteed. Weather depending, sailings include the Shiant Islands, home to the UK’s second-largest UK puffin colony after St Kilda and its largest razorbill colony, as well as guillemots, shags, kittiwakes and great skuas. Step ashore on the rocky beaches of The Uist islands to spot otters playing, while the Small Isles’ big attractions include a puffin colony on Canna and An Sgùrr, a gnarly peak that looms dramatically over the island of Eigg. 

How to do it: Nine nights, departing 1 May 2023, costs £2,385 per person.

3. Best for transatlantic travellers 

It’s a little known fact that all-inclusive resort franchise Club Med also operates a five-masted sailing yacht. Previously the realm of those lucky enough to have a trip included in a booking at one of the famed French brand’s Mediterranean hubs, the ship has recently undergone a major renovation. Launched anew in December 2022, Club Med 2 has revamped restaurants and bars, a space for culinary demos, plus a new Club Med Spa by French beauty brand Sothys. There’s also a kids’ club, two pools, windsurfing and paddleboarding gear, plus trips aboard mini sailboat Hobie Eclipse. The beautiful, teak-decked schooner also offers 184 cosy cabins. And she’s equipped to make some epic journeys, including various translatlantic voyages, sailings around some of the more exclusive, less-visited islands in the Caribbean, plus a 21-day cruise to Cuba and Colombia, with a stop to take in the spectacular carnival in Barranquilla in northern Colombia. 

How do to it: A 13-day transatlantic sailing from Fort de France via the Cape Verde Islands, to the Canary Islands costs from £2,267 per person, departing 31 March 2023.

Street musicians in Santiago de Cuba.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Best for the Caribbean-curious 

If you fancy seeing more of the Caribbean than beautiful beaches and ports, then try a trip with luxury operator Emerald Cruises, which has expanded its programme in the region sailing to 15 new islands and countries in 2023-24 aboard its 100-berth yachts Emerald Azzurra and Emerald Sakara. Homeporting in the Caribbean during the winter of 2023 and 2024, the yachts will be finding their way to some excitingly off-the-beaten-track destinations. 

The 10-Day Coastal Adventures: Costa Rica & Panama itinerary will trace Costa Rica’s wild west coast, stopping to explore the rich biodiversity of Curú National Wildlife Refuge before snorkelling in the pristine waters around the white-sand shores of Isla Tortuga, and nearby Golfito Bay. Visit UNESCO World Heritage Site Darién National Park, the largest protected area in Central America and the Caribbean, and marvel at the diverse wildlife populating the 50-plus beaches of Panama’s Isla San José, from wild pigs to tropical birds. 

How to do it: The 10-day cruise sails from Puntaneras to Curú & Isla Tortuga, Quepos, Golfito, Isla Cébaco, Darién National Park, San José Island and Panama City. Prices start from £5,200 per person based on a 5 February 2024 departure.

5. Best for spa lovers

The fjords and mountains of Norway can now be viewed from the infinity pools and glass-walled sauna in the new outdoor spa aboard Prima and Viva, the new Prima Class vessels from Norwegian Cruise Line, which offer more outdoor deck space than any other new cruise ship. Onboard, guests can also make use of the industry’s first charcoal sauna at sea, as well as a two-story indoor spa waterfall and a wealth of treatments that entail elements as diverse as a water-filled cushion, nourishing sea plants and an essential oil wrap. 

The ships have 20 treatment rooms, thermal treatment areas (including an ice room and flotation salt pool) and hot-stone loungers, while the relaxation area and Pulse Fitness Center are forward facing allowing guests to enjoy sweeping views of those Nordic scenes. Kids in tow? These vessels offer oodles to keep them occupied, from the first three-level racetrack at sea to escape rooms, numerous VR rooms and multi-deck slides suspended off the side of the ship, plus kid’s clubs.

How to do it: The 11-day Iceland & Northern Europe cruise departs from Southampton June-September 2023 and makes nine ports 
of call, including three in Norway, from £1,801 per person.

Hamnoy village in Norway's Lofoten archipelago is the type of scenery guests can expect to see on board Norwegian Cruise Line's ships.

Photograph by Getty Images

6. Best for families

If you can embrace the notion that a cruise ship is essentially a giant, well-appointed playground at sea, then Royal Caribbean is the cruise line for you. And it plays the trump card when it comes to family fun, with a plethora of entertaintment options. Rock climbing, ice skating and zip-lining are among the highlights, and you’ll find these aboard the Anthem of the Seas, which also offers a skydiving experience, surf simulator and cocktails (or mocktails) shaken by a robot bartender. Cruises are all-inclusive, although shore excursions and wi-fi generally cost extra — but with such a wealth of things to do on board, the ship is very much the focus. It offers sailings around the Mediterranean, Iberian peninsula, across the Atlantic and into the Norwegian fjords but if you’re still not convinced, try dipping a toe into cruise waters with an easy weekend getaway sailing from Southampton, across the channel to Le Havre in Normandy, France, and back again, giving you just enough time to sample all those rides.

How to do it: A two-night cruise from Southampton to Le Havre, and back costs from £319 per person, with sailings from 12 May 2023.

7. Best for solo adventurers

With ‘big ticket’ adventures featuring at the top of many people’s wish list since the bounce back of travel post-pandemic, Galápagos Islands cruises are more popular than ever. But being up there with polar adventures for both wow factor and cost, the prices can put off many solo travellers. Responding to the rise in demand for Galápagos sailings and from would-be solo cruisers, in summer 2022 G Adventures added a custom-built catamaran to its fleet of vessels in the Galápagos. The Reina Silvia Voyager has 10 cabins split over two decks, including two spacious single cabins; they all have private bathrooms, artwork by local naturalist photographers and sail across the archipelago, with landings aboard eight kayaks and two rigid inflatable boats.

How to do it: Eight-day sailings from £3,184 per person, taking in the likes of Española Island, one of the oldest in the archipelago, Santa Fé Island to meet the dragon-like land iguanas, Darwin Bay and El Barranco where guests will encounter numerous bird species, including red-footed boobies, the red sand bays of Rabida Island, where it’s possible to swim with sea turtles, and to the dramatic volcanic landscapes of Bartolomé.

Published in the Cruise 2023 guide, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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