We’re willing to bet, no matter what you might think about cruising, that there is A Perfect Cruise out there for you. After all, the nearly 22 million people who took a cruise last year can’t all be crazy, can they? And, with new ships popping up across the world’s oceans and rivers like the daffodils in our hedgerows, travellers have a greater range of ships, destinations and options to choose from than ever before. While exciting and liberating, this flourishing cruise world can also be bewildering, particularly to the uninitiated. Should you select a voyage based on the cruise line, the ship, the ports of call or what’s included in your fare?
Do you appease your teenagers with a Mediterranean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s all-singing, all-dancing Quantum class mega-ships or surprise your husband with a journey to the Antarctic aboard the plush Regent Seven Seas Explorer, due to launch next summer? You could treat yourself to a girlie spa and shopping break in the United Arab Emirates aboard Celebrity Cruises Constellation or a romantic river cruise along the Danube on Uniworld’s brand new supership SS Maria Theresa. Engage your inner Française with a Mediterranean jaunt aboard Ponant’s chic new ship Le Lyrial or fly the Union Jack with pride aboard P&O’s new Britannia, a celebration of the best of British with chefs James Martin, Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar and wine buff Olly Smith all delivering a culinary punch.
Go on, admit that you’re impressed… Next year will see even more new ships hitting the Seven Seas, from the launch of Royal Caribbean’s third 5,400-passenger Oasis class ship to Uniworld’s 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II. This wave of new ships is not only ushering in unprecedented levels of luxury and opening up niche destinations but is also making cruising ever easier and more appealing for families, active types, the culturally curious and solo travellers. Whether you’re a veteran or virgin cruiser, you can’t fail to find a voyage that will tempt you out onto the water over the coming months, particularly as we’ve done the hard work for you, picking out the very best cruises for each month of the year.
Why not start the year as you mean to go on: exploring some of the planet’s most remote and dramatic shores. For just a few fleeting weeks each year, during the Austral summer, over 5,000 acres of sea ice melts in the Antarctic Circle, making it the only time the waters are navigable by ship. Sailing in January 2016, your 16-day adventure starts with a night in Buenos Aires before you fly to Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina, where the Andes meet the Southern Ocean, to board the expedition ship MS Fram. From here you’ll navigate the notoriously treacherous Drake Passage (cross fingers for Drake Lake rather than Drake Shake), learning about Antarctica’s extraordinary wildlife and history from the expedition team as you sail. With a full week to discover this pristine Antarctic environment there’ll be kayak trips to bond with penguins and seals, snowshoeing expeditions across the great white desert and even the chance to sleep ashore in a tent. You’ll fall under the spell of the South Shetland Islands, marvel at the icebergs that clog the narrow Errera Channel and spot Minke whales in Neko Harbour.
Joining a maiden voyage always makes for a thrilling ride, with bags of pomp and circumstance, but the launch of Holland America Line’s 2,650-guest MS Koningsdam in February 2016 promises to be truly unforgettable. Recognised within the industry for its old school glamour and beautiful cabins, the first ever Pinnacle class MS Koningsdam is poised to up the ante. There’ll be 14 new Signature suites, each a whopping 400 square feet with a veranda, fresh flowers and personalised stationery, specially designed family staterooms, which sleep up to five guests with two bathrooms, plenty of single cabins and even spa bunny staterooms (complete with yoga mats) close to the Greenhouse Spa & Salon. To top it off, MS Koningsdam will make her week-long inaugural voyage, and a series of ‘Premiere’ sailings afterwards, close to home in the Mediterranean, sailing amidst great fanfare from Civitavecchia to call at Dubrovnik, Kérkira (Corfu), Katakolon (Olympia) and Naples.
Why not kick-start your spring with an indulgent, fortnight-long cruise from Miami to Barcelona? If you’re feeling impulsive, leap aboard this March or, if you’d rather savour the anticipation (and create a killer cruise wardrobe), wait for March 2016. Sailing aboard the all-suite, all-veranda and all-inclusive Regent Seven Seas Navigator, you’ll have nine blissful days at sea to luxuriate aboard as you cross the Atlantic and cruise the Med. With one crew member to pamper every two guests, each of the Navigator’s 700 passengers is guaranteed to be spoiled rotten. If you can drag yourself away from the Canyon Ranch spa, tempting duty free boutiques or your sun-drenched balcony, you’ll find Smithsonian-approved lecturers and speakers aboard, on-hand to provide in-depth talks and Q&A sessions across a variety of subjects. But you won’t find yourself all at sea: there will also be two full days to explore Bermuda, with the vibrant town of Hamilton as your base, and a day each on Madeira and Gibraltar. Expect to return home relaxed, bronzed and rejuvenated, as well as cleverer
Grab spring 2016 by the collar and give it a good shake with a remarkable voyage from Crystal Cruises next April. Over the course of 23 days you’ll sail from Tokyo along Japan’s eastern coast to Russia, cross the International Date Line before reaching Alaska and then travel down America’s west coast to San Francisco. It’s set to be one of the most diverse itineraries of the year, taking in the cultural traditions of Japanese towns like Aomori and the prospector heritage of Juneau in Alaska as well as the natural spectacles of the Kamchatka Peninsula, surrounded by 68 active volcanoes, and Alaska’s ‘Emerald Isle’, Kodiak Island. You’ll find yourself at the feet of towering glaciers as you sail through Glacier Bay and past Hubbard Glacier and navigate the sheltered Inside Passage from Alaska to Canada. With only 10 days at sea, there’ll barely be time to exhaust the facilities of the 1,080-passenger, virtually all-inclusive Crystal Serenity. In addition to a Creative Learning Institute®, she offers a vast spa, wine tastings and flamboyant evening shows, and a restaurant and sushi bar from the celebrated chef Nobu Matsuhisa
May 2015 will see cruisers quivering with excitement as river cruise specialist Viking Cruises launches its first ocean ship, Viking Star. So excited was the cruise world about this latest addition that Viking Star’s inaugural voyage sold out before she was even built. So, as the saying goes, that ship has sailed. However, there’s still availability on subsequent voyages as Viking Star retraces her inaugural voyage from Venice to Istanbul in November 2015. Alternatively, bag a cabin on a maiden voyage aboard Viking’s second and third ocean vessels, Viking Sea and Viking Sky, due to launch next year following the exceptional demand for Viking Star. Like their big sister, they’ll offer their 928 passengers bags of Scandi style, a restaurant lined with windows that open in balmy weather for al fresco dining, a tranquil Wintergarden, hip Aquavit bar and a Nordic spa complete with snow grotto. What we’re most excited about, however, is the glass-backed infinity pool that’s cantilevered off the stern. Set against the backdrop of the Norwegian fjords or Stockholm archipelago and it’s all rather scandilicious.
The ship of choice of HRH the Queen, the 50-passenger Hebridean Princess is an unashamedly posh country house party on water. As she ushers her guests sedately around the ruggedly beautiful Scottish and Irish coast, onboard entertainment comes in the form of champagne by the inglenook fireplace, cocktail evenings hosted by lairds in castles and frog racing after black tie dinners. Days are spent going for windswept walks along the coast and around pristine lochs, visiting historic houses and lush gardens, and enjoying languorous afternoons fishing or cycling. June is the only month when conditions are right for the plucky Princess to sail to the remote island of St Kilda, the westernmost outpost of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. The UK’s only double UNESCO World Heritage Site, St Kilda was inhabited by seriously hardy islanders right up until 1930 – the eerie ruins of their village remain intact today. Making two voyages to St Kilda, the Princess will also call at ports such as the Isle of Skye, Lewis, Rum and the uninhabited Shiant Isles, delivering a blend of rugged natural beauty and pretty towns.