by Kyle Whitecotton
When most people think about taking a cruise, the first thoughts might include sandy beaches, coconut-scented tanning lotion, umbrella drinks and endless chains of tiny islands dotting the sapphire-colored horizon — the Caribbean.
Nearly half of the industry’s passengers travel there, and some of the world’s most popular cruise destinations call the Caribbean home. The Bahamas, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands are just a few of the area’s nearly 150 inhabited islands.
Clear, warm water and great reefs make the Caribbean a world-class snorkeling destination. Other draws to the area include classic sandy beaches, numerous large resorts and the prospect of a close-to-home vacation that won’t break the bank.
Virtually any time of the year is appropriate for a Caribbean cruise, but the peak season, mid-December through mid-March, offers the best weather, no hurricanes and a buzzing onboard nightlife. For the best prices, smaller crowds and still decent weather, try cruising the Caribbean during the shoulder season — mid-March through May.
But don’t start packing your bathing suit and planning your trip just yet. Not all cruises are created equally, and they are certainly not all Caribbean. You have a lot of options to consider.
One close-to-home alternative that breaks out of the typical cruising trends is an Alaskan cruise. That’s right, all the luxury of a cruise ship with some of the world’s most spectacular wilderness just off the deck of your ship.
Shore excursions on a typical Alaskan cruise include wildlife viewing — whales, orca, brown bears, moose and eagles; salmon and halibut fishing; sea kayaking; and sightseeing via helicopter or floatplane. And an Alaskan cruise is the perfect opportunity to visit unique places like Denali National Park, Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands.
Most Alaskan cruises embark from Seattle or Vancouver and stop off in ports like Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and Skagway. Although the five-month season runs from May through September, the peak season, offering the longest daylight hours, warmest weather and the best wildlife viewing, is mid-June through August.
But what if you want to step outside of the box that is the typical, close-to-home cruise? What if you really want to see the world while indulging yourself in the extravagance of a cruise ship?
The Mediterranean is not only a popular destination for cruisers but also one that adds a whole new intensity to choosing and planning your next vacation. It certainly amps up the sight seeing and onshore itinerary to an entirely different level and gives you something to talk about when you return other than your new tan lines.
Ports of call in the Mediterranean are vast and include countries like France, Italy and Spain in the western Mediterranean and Croatia, Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean. The port town of Civitavecchia, for example, is a one-hour train ride from Rome where you can visit the coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican and the Pantheon. Piraeus, another port on the Mediterranean, is roughly six miles from Athens and offers cruisers a chance to visit the Acropolis and the National Archeological Museum. Dock in Naples and visit Pompeii, stop off in Nice and visit Monte Carlo, or hop from one boat to another when you dock in Venice and tour the city via gondola.
Although cost is a factor when you add in airfare, the itinerary options are utterly unmatched and well worth the price. Peak season runs from June to August, but for thinner crowds and cheaper airfare, try booking a cruise during the spring or fall.
Not far enough outside the box? There’s more.
You may have never thought about it before, but the Baltic Sea is perhaps one of the most unique and unforgettable cruise destinations one could choose. Whether you start your cruise in Stockholm, Sweden or Copenhagen, Denmark — the two most popular locations to begin and end a Baltic Sea cruise — you are in for the trip of a lifetime even before you step onto the ship.
One of the many ports on this cruise includes St. Petersburg, Russia, where you will want to visit the Hermitage Museum, Catherine Palace and see the golden domes of Peterhof Palace. There is also Tallinn, Estonia, where much of medieval Europe survives in the old town wall, Toompea Castle, Town Hall Square and St. Olav’s Church and tower. Other great port towns you will visit on your Baltic Sea cruise include Helsinki, Finland; Visby, Sweden; Rostock, Germany; Riga, Latvia; and Oslo, Norway.
For the warmest, sunniest days, the calmest waters and the most daylight hours for sightseeing, try booking your cruise during mid-June through mid-August.
And finally, for one more cruise destination that surpasses the typical and leaves you wanting more, there is South America. Embark from Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires, two of the continent’s most popular cruise home ports, and enjoy some exceptional dining and nightlife before your cruise. From there, the possibilities are endless between the Panama Canal and Cape Horn.
Some sites you might encounter on a South American cruise include Machu Picchu, Iguazzu National Park and the City of Quito. Stop off in Montevideo, the Falkland Islands or the fjords of Chile before heading down to the mountainous Elephant Island off the coast of Antarctica. And if you plan your trip just right, you could experience the Amazon River deep into the heart of South America.
The continent stretches about 4,700 miles from the tropical to the cold, not-so-tropical, and since it is the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite those of the northern hemisphere. That means the warmest weather for cruising occurs from December through mid-March with the shoulder season taking up the spring and fall months.
In the end, it doesn’t matter when you go. With options like these, you can cruise all year round and see something new with each ship.
If you have never been, then head down to the Caribbean, but if you’re looking for something beyond the typical, head in the direction of a new horizon. The only drawback to any of these cruises is trying to see and do everything each destination has to offer. But don’t worry too much. The chances are pretty good that you will be planning your next cruise on the flight back from your first one.