These Cruises Take You Where Roads Can't

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Mar 23, 2017

by AKASH ARORA, Features Editor

Journey to some of the world’s most isolated and fascinating locations, where roads don’t go but ships do.

Alaska

Seabourn Sojourn

A labyrinth of waterways and scattered islands, the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska is remarkable for its groaning glaciers, towering cliffs, snow-covered mountains and thunderous waterfalls. There’s also the wildlife: grizzly bears, majestic bald eagles and breaching humpback whales. Wind your way through this landscape – often referred to as the last frontier on Earth – aboard the all-suite Seabourn Sojourn. There are several nooks from which to soak up the spectacle, including a Veranda Suite with separate living area or the Sun Terrace with day beds. But our preferred spot is the forward-facing Observation Bar on Deck 10 with 270-degree views of the upcoming attractions.

Cruise line: Seabourn
Vital stats: 458 passengers, 335 crew
The journey: Vancouver to Seward over 11 days (departs June 1)
Ports of call: Eight Alaskan towns, including Ketchikan, Wrangell and Sitka
Wining and dining: Two restaurants, poolside grill, six lounges and bars
Wellness: Two pools, spa, gym
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑ 

Amazon River

Aria Amazon

If South America’s largest river is the stage and its untamed inhabitants the players, then Aria Amazon‘s 16 suites, each with floor-to-ceiling windows, must be the dress-circle seats. Enjoy Mother Nature’s impromptu theatre at its best – pink river dolphins devouring catfish, squirrel monkeys prancing about in trees and three-toed sloths hanging from the branches – as the vessel navigates the river. There are three-, four- and seven-night itineraries in the high-water (December to May) and low-water (June to November) seasons. Opt for the eight-day cruise for the most immersive experience during the high-water season when, surprisingly, it rains less. On guided excursions, wade through dense forest, visit sleepy villages and even fish for piranhas.

Cruise line: Aqua Expeditions
Vital stats: 32 passengers, 26 crew
The journey: Iquitos (north Peru) round trip over eight days (departs year-round)
Ports of call: Several stops along the Amazon River’s three tributaries: Marañón, Ucayali and Puinahua
Wining and dining: One restaurant, two lounges
Wellness: Small workout space
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑ 

Arctic Circle 

Le Boréal 

Remember the fairytales about “a land far, far away”? Where the days went on for months and the nights were just as long? They were surely inspired by the Arctic Circle – or, specifically, Longyearbyen, the Norwegian town where the sun doesn’t set for more than four months during summer. Let this storybook settlement, complete with pitched-roof houses, be the starting point of your journey, which includes Jan Mayen Island (marked by a volcano more than 2000 metres high) and Greenland (the home of musk ox and reindeer) and ends in Iceland’s striking capital city, Reykjavik. Daytime temperatures, even at the peak of summer, hover around 10°C in this part of the world. But you needn’t worry – Le Boréal offers plenty of cosy spaces, from balcony staterooms to a luxurious spa with a steam room.

Charter provider: Abercrombie & Kent
Vital stats: 199 passengers, 142 crew
The journey: Svalbard to Reykjavik over 15 days (departs July 17)
Ports of call: Volcanic island of Jan Mayen, east coast of Greenland and Iceland’s west coast
Wining and dining: Two restaurants, two lounges, pool-deck bar
Wellness: Pool, fitness centre, spa
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑

Caribbean islands

Seven Seas Explorer

As coastal getaways go, the Caribbean ticks all the boxes. Waters so clear that you can see schools of fish without diving in. Forests and skies so vivid that you could share them on social media without any filters. Beaches so white that they hurt your eyes. Despite their commonalities, the Caribbean islands – about 7000 – are all unique. Consider the Dutch island, Curaçao, where historic pastel-coloured buildings flank sparkling blue marinas, or the coastlines of Dominica, which act as a full stop to some of the world’s most dense rainforests and impressive waterfalls. Take in this passing riot of natural and man-made wonders from your private balcony on the ultra-luxurious Seven Seas Explorer. There are guided tours at every port so you can throw yourself into the thick of it and a host of splendid offerings on board – from fine-dining restaurants to indulgent spas – to help you kick back and relax, too.

Cruise line: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Vital stats: 750 passengers, 552 crew
The journey: Miami round trip over 15 days (departs December 20)
Ports of call: Curaçao, Bonaire, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Dominica and St Maarten
Wining and dining: Nine restaurants and cafés
Wellness: Spa, fitness centre, jogging track
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑

South America

Sirena

Rio de Janeiro isn’t the only South American city with a larger-than-life monument. In the Chilean town of Coquimbo, the Third Millennium Cross is more than twice the height of Christ the Redeemer and impossible to miss as your ship nears the port city. Discover this lesser-known destination as well as big-ticket attractions such as Valparaiso – with its colourful buildings perched on the hills – on a 21-day voyage, aboard Sirena, that skirts almost half the South American coastline. Opt for a Veranda Stateroom with teak balcony, 1000-thread-count linen and Bulgari amenities and relax in the Terrace Café with a glass of earthy Argentinian malbec as daylight fades and twilight takes hold.

Cruise line: Oceania Cruises
Vital stats: 684 passengers, 400 crew
The journey: Buenos Aires to Lima over 21 days (departs November 11)
Ports of call: Montevideo, Falkland Islands, Chilean towns Punta Arenas, Valparaiso and Coquimbo
Wining and dining: Eight restaurants and cafés
Wellness: Pool, sports deck with nine-hole putting green
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑

Northwest Passage

Crystal Serenity

Ilulissat Icefjord, on the west coast of Greenland, has fascinated explorers and scientists for the past two centuries. It is, after all, the home of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the world’s most active and fastest-moving glaciers (it shifts about 19 metres a day). Drift through this ethereal land – where mountain-sized icebergs quietly float on frigid waters – on an epic 32-day voyage that spans the entire Northwest Passage, the sea route connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Crystal Serenity, your home for the month, has a soaring sky-lit atrium, a theatre, a casino, paddle tennis courts and some of the most decadently furnished staterooms and suites at sea.

Cruise line: Crystal Cruises; crystalcruises.com
Vital stats: 1070 passengers, 655 crew
The journey: Anchorage to New York City over 32 days (departs August 15)
Ports of call: Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and Nome in Alaska, Canadian Arctic islands, western Greenland, Bar Harbor, Boston and Newport
Wining and dining: Two cafés, nine restaurants, five bars
Wellness: Spa, pool, gym, paddle tennis courts
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑

Baltic Sea

Viking Sky

Chic capital cities such as Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen. The cultural meccas of Berlin and St Petersburg. Medieval towns in Estonia and Poland. Explore all facets of Northern Europe as this cruise makes its way around the Baltic Sea. The constantly changing scenery could not be more dramatic – from the majestic fjords of Norway to the cobblestoned streets of Tallinn – on this journey between Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and the North European Plain. When you’re not exploring historic fortresses and cathedrals, take refuge in a veranda stateroom aboard Viking Ocean Cruises’ newest vessel, Viking Sky. For the ultimate indulgence, make your way to the spa with its Nordic-inspired menu.

Cruise line: Viking Ocean Cruises
Vital stats: 930 passengers, 545 crew
The journey: Between Stockholm and Bergen over 15 days (departs May to August)
Ports of call: Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdańsk, Berlin, Copenhagen, Alborg, Stavanger and Eidfjord
Wining and dining: Four restaurants, one café, one pool grill, six lounges and bars
Wellness: Gym, spa, pool, sports deck
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑

African wildlife 

Le Lyrial

Its southern coast is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Africa. But dotted with isolated beaches, sweeping valleys and lush national parks that are home to some of the world’s most spectacular wildlife, this part of the continent is easily explored on a Ponant cruise. The adventure is bookended by two of South Africa’s most dynamic cities and includes calls at Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth, where organised shore excursions enable you to get into the thick of the African bush, spotting all sorts of wild inhabitants such as hyenas, cheetahs, zebras, elephants and red hartebeest. The itinerary also includes a couple of days at sea, meaning you can enjoy some downtime aboard the elegantly designed Le Lyrial, which features comfortable staterooms and suites, swanky dining rooms and a stunning observation deck with a pool.

Cruise line: Ponant
Vital stats: 244 passengers, 140 crew
The journey: Cape Town to Durban over nine days (departs March 25, 2017 and March 24, 2018)
Ports of call: Port Elizabeth and Richards Bay
Wining and dining: Two restaurants
Wellness: Gym, spa
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑

Northern Lights 

Oriana

Every year, between August and April, the Northern Lights stage their dance in the Arctic, casting curtains of vivid greens, blues, yellows and pinks across the dark skies. It’s one of the world’s most magnificent natural phenomena but also quite elusive. To catch a glimpse, you have to position yourself far from urban lights, in the middle of nowhere, for several nights – and, even then, the show, is not guaranteed. That said, your best bet is this adults-only 13-day cruise of Norway’s vast coastline aboard Oriana. It’s not exactly luxe (tip: opt for a Balcony Cabin or Mini Suite) but once the aurora borealis takes centrestage, you’re unlikely to want for anything more.

Cruise line: P&O Cruises
Vital stats: 1880 passengers, 760 crew
The journey: Southampton round trip over 13 days (departs February 25, 2018)
Ports of call: Åndalsnes, Tromso, Alta and Stavanger in Norway
Wining and dining: Seven bars, six restaurants, one café
Wellness: Three pools, spa, gym, sports deck
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑ 

Russia

River Victoria 

Yes, you’ll see the onion-domed cathedrals of Moscow and the imperial palaces of St Petersburg but this cruise aboard River Victoria also takes in some of Russia’s lesser-known attractions, including quaint towns on the Volga (the longest river in Europe) and Kizhi Island, renowned for its World Heritage-listed wooden pogost built without nails. The church complex, which rises above the marshlands of Lake Onega, offers a rare glimpse into centuries-old Russian ingenuity. Back on board, settle into your beautifully appointed stateroom with picture windows, fine linens and a flatscreen TV.

Cruise line: Uniworld
Vital stats: 202 passengers, 110 crew
The journey: Between Moscow and St Petersburg over 13 days (departs May to July 2017 and May to August 2018)
Ports of call: Russian towns Uglich, Yaroslavl, Goritsy and Mandrogi, and Kizhi Island
Wining and dining: One restaurant, one bar
Wellness: Gym, spa
Our luxe rating: ⭑⭑⭑

SEE ALSO: A Wild Cruise Adventure to the Galapagos Islands