From the coral-fringed lagoons of French Polynesia to the majestic fjords of Norway, the best way to discover the world’s most beautiful places is by ship.
My love affair with cruising started when I took my first cruise in 1980 aboard the MV Jupiter of Epirotiki Line. It was a seven-day voyage through the Greek Islands and Turkey roundtrip from Athens, and while the ship was tired and old, the experience was spectacular.
Three and half decades later, I recently took my 64th cruise – this one across the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to New York. And in those 35 years, I’ve spent more than 550 days at sea, cruised with just about every major cruise line in the world, and sailed to some of the most beautiful destinations on the planet.
So to mark my 35 years of cruising, I thought it was time to look back over the decades and put together a list of my top 12 destinations by sea:
- Norwegian Fjords: The west coast of Norway is blessed with magnificent fjords that start many kilometres inland and meander past towering cliffs, gorgeous waterfalls, and tiny villages on their way to the North Sea. The area also features a number of beautiful towns with interesting architecture, history and culture, including Stavanger, Bergen and Alesund.
- Australia/New Zealand: In less than two weeks, you’ll see the beautiful coastal cities of Melbourne, Perth, Cairns & Sydney, and experience the jaw-dropping beauty of the countryside that was featured in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The Aussies serve up the big city culture, nature reserves with kangaroos and kola bears, the Great Barrier Reef, and wonderful vineyards, while the Kiwis deliver misty fjords, lush valleys and majestic mountains.
- South America: The scenery around the coast of South America between Buenos Aires, Argentina and Valparaiso, Chile is incredibly diverse and beautiful. You’ll see fjords, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, emerald lakes, volcanoes, penguins and whales as well as European-style cities, jet-set resorts, fishing towns and pristine
beaches. And you’ll get to make the once-in-a-lifetime sail around the infamous Cape Horn at the end of the continent.
- French Polynesia: If you want to see South Pacific islands in a natural setting, try cruising to the Society and Marquesas islands. They boast coral-fringed lagoons, swaying palms, out-rigger canoes, lush vegetation and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. End or begin your trip by staying in an over-water bungalow on the island of Moorea just across the channel from Tahiti.
- British Isles: In his book “The Kingdom by the Sea”, travel writer Paul Theroux describes the beauty of coastal Britain as he travels around the island by train. It’s even more magical by boat! Cruises typically start in London or Southampton, and circumnavigate Great Britain with calls in Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, the Orkney Islands, Isle of Sky, Isle of Man and Falmouth, and calls in Ireland at Derry, Dublin and Waterford.
- Greek Islands & Turkey: Poet Odysseus Elytis described the archipelago of islands that rest on the peaks of submerged mountains in this area as “The islands with their drinkable blue volcanoes.” Indeed, there is very little that can compare with the beauty, history, architecture, and culture set in the picture-perfect waters of the Aegean Sea – except maybe for the ancient city of Ephesus, the wooden boat-building city of Bodrum, and the magnificent city of Istanbul in Turkey. Try starting or ending in Athens, Rome, Venice, or Istanbul if you want to add an interesting land portion to the trip.
- Mediterranean: This is a great way to get a taste of southern Europe in a week to 10 day. Depending on your itinerary, you’ll get to experience the ancient ruins of Pompeii, the cliff-side village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, Antoni Gaudi’s amazing La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and much more. You’ll definitely fall in love with several of these ports and want to return for a longer land visit.
- Scandinavia/Baltic: This itinerary includes lots of interesting ports like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Estonia, but the reason everyone takes this trip is to see St. Petersburg. The city and surrounding area is a treasure-trove of palaces, historic buildings, art and museums including the spectacular Hermitage. Pick a cruise ship that stays at least two nights in St. Petersburg, as you’ll need at least that long to see most of the highlights.
- Hawaii: From verdant valleys to thundering waterfalls, the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii offer some of the most stunning scenery in the world. NCL offers 7-day inter-island cruises roundtrip from Honolulu, which provide a good overview of the major islands and plenty of time to see them. Several cruise lines offer 14-day cruises roundtrip from Los Angeles and Vancouver, which are great if you don’t like long flights.
- Panama Canal: If you’re intrigued by feats of engineering bravado, you’ll love seeing the gigantic locks at both ends of the canal and the spectacular cut though the continental divide that connects them. You can do a partial transit from Florida that goes through the Gatun Locks and then returns to the Caribbean, or you can do a full transit through the canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Either way, you’ll get to see one of the greatest engineering marvels of the modern world.
- Caribbean: There’s no better place to escape for sun and sand, especially when temperatures dip below freezing. The Southern Caribbean is my favourite itinerary in this region because it calls at more interesting islands such as Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Antigua, Martinique, and St. Barts. They’re also better protected in winter against the arrival of cold fronts. However, there are more Eastern and Western Caribbean departures to choose from.
- Alaska: The weather can be unpredictable, the ports are small, but the scenery is always spectacular. You’ll see beautiful fjords, colossal glaciers giving birth to giant ice bergs, and a cornucopia of wildlife including bald eagles, black bears, seals and whales. Some of the shore excursions are fabulous, including a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier. If you have the time, take a one-way cruise and extend your trip with a land excursion into the interior of Alaska.
While that’s my list of top 12 cruise destinations, I have to admit that I’ve yet to cruise in Asia, India, Antarctica and the Middle East. However, there’s always next year!