10 HOT SHIP STOPS
Throw down the anchor. These cruise destinations are all the buzz right now
1 TORRES STRAIT ISLANDS, AUSTRALIA
Western Australia’s Kimberley region has been captivating cruise visitors for years – but now the “next big thing” in Aussie cruising looks to be taking off. Expedition cruise operator Ahoy Buccaneers is making its first foray outside its base in the Kimberley to visit the Torres Strait, with its first cruise departing in October. Five more departures are planned next year. Scattered across a 150km stretch of ocean between Cape York and Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait archipelago is home to stunning blue waters, dugongs, dolphins, giant marlin and sea turtles. The round trip from Horn Island visits reefs to snorkel, fish and marvel at the beauty of nature, plus it’s a chance to enjoy a beer at Australia’s most northerly pub – the Torres Hotel on Thursday Island.
2 COCOCAY, BAHAMAS
Cruise company-owned private island ports are a growing trend and Royal Caribbean is upping the ante with its Perfect Day Island Collection of private island destinations. First is its existing private island, CocoCay, which is undergoing a $260 million upgrade to feature a massive waterpark, zip line, helium balloon attraction and beach club by the end of next year. It’ll have a 41m-high waterslide – the tallest in North America, says president and CEO Michael Bayley.
3 TAHITI ITI, FRENCH POLYNESIA
A little island with big surf, Tahiti Iti has been calling to surfers for years as the home of the Billabong Pro Teahupoo – and now cruisers are about to discover Tahiti Iti. The island is the smaller sister island of Tahiti Nui, and is the star of Paul Gauguin Cruises’ newest itinerary. In June this year, Paul Gauguin will become the first cruise line to visit Tahiti Iti’s port city of Vairao. The seven-night cruise departs from Papeete and visits Huahine, Motu Mahana off the coast of Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea. Cruising’s love affair with French Polynesia continues to boom, with 11 cruise lines already scheduled to call at Bora Bora in 2019.
It’s the destination on everyone’s lips and cruising – like the rest of the tourism industry – is booming in Japan. Princess Cruises is expanding its Japanese itineraries, with Diamond Princess to visit a record 41 ports in Japan next year, including six brand new destinations – Gamagori, Himeji, Matsuyama, Niigata, Miyako and Takamatsu. Princess Cruises Australia and New Zealand vice president Stuart Allison says Japan is the fastest growing in popularity for Australians over the past five years with 175 per cent growth in visits since 2011.
Cunard Line is also ramping up its Japan immersion with Queen Elizabeth to make five maiden calls across the country planned over the 2019-20 season, while Norwegian Cruise Line has recently launched its first Japanese cherry blossom season cruises.
Off the radar for years, Egypt is now having a celebrated return to the tourist scene – and cruising the Nile is one of the best ways to see the country’s top attractions. Stretching 6670km, the river is credited as the world’s longest and the bucket-list attractions of ancient Egypt are second to none.
Scenic’s first Egypt tour in five years departs this month, featuring a Nile cruise, and – thanks to “phenomenal” interest – the company is already adding new departures. It follows Viking Cruises’ launch of its elegant new Nile ship, Viking Ra, this month – with demand so strong that departures are already sold out for this year and next. Be quick if you’re keen to travel in 2020.
6 ALASKA, US
Alaska has skyrocketed up the charts in 2018 to be named the hottest destination among US
travel agents (up from No.5 last year). Premium cruise line Celebrity Cruises has recorded a 100 per cent increase in Australian travellers joining its Alaska cruises over the past five years – “a phenomenal increase” according to Celebrity Cruises Australia and New Zealand director Adam Armstrong, prompting the cruise line to step up its Alaska capacity by 20 per cent in 2019.
Within Alaska, cruise lines are finding new ports to explore – like the tiny village of Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island, preparing for its first cruise ship visit when Silversea’s luxury liner,
Silver Explorer, drops by in August. Fellow luxury line Seabourn returned to Alaska last year for the first time in 15 years and the highend Azamara Club Cruises will soon follow, visiting Alaska for the first time next year.
7 CONFLICT ISLANDS, PNG
P&O Cruises became the first cruise line to visit in 2016, and the Conflict Islands are set to reappear in several of P&O itineraries next year. One of the most remote island groups in the world, the 21 pristine, uninhabited islands – privately owned by entrepreneur and conservationist Ian Gowrie-Smith – span 375ha in the Coral Sea, and are home to one of the world’s most biodiverse reef systems. Kayaking, snorkelling and stand-up paddleboarding are popular pursuits.
Luxury cruise line Seabourn has also joined the race to be among the first to explore the islands with Seabourn Sojourn making several visits this year, while Cunard is set to follow suit, with Queen Elizabeth’s maiden call scheduled for 2020.
8 HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Taking a cruise on a ship that’s about to get refurbished mightn’t seem like your best bet for a top-notch cruising experience, but there’s a silver lining – the chance to check out new destinations. Carnival Spirit, usually based in Sydney, is headed for dry dock in Singapore next month, and passengers who join her final journey on May 3 will be on board for the ship’s maiden call to two Asian ports, Ko Samui and Ho Chi Minh City. With the ship booked to be in port overnight at Ho Chi Minh City, travellers can join the Vietnam bandwagon and explore the bright lights, great food and fascinating culture of the bustling city of Saigon.
It’s one of the hottest tickets in cruising, having opened up to tourism in the past few years, and this year the hottest vessel to take you to Cuba is Scenic Eclipse. The six-star luxury ship sets sail for the first time in August, with an in-depth tour of Cuba scheduled for October. Sure, the 14-day journey costs $15,000, but it’ll take you to some of Cuba’s most intriguing destinations, including the remote location of Antilla.
But if your budget doesn’t stretch to a berth on Scenic Eclipse, Norwegian Cruise Line has recently expanded its line-up of Cuban tours for 2018, and luxury line Regent Seven Seas is spruiking eight upcoming Cuba cruises between now and 2020.
From its Incan temples to its pisco sours, Peru is a tourist drawcard and cruise lines are catching on in droves. Dozens of ships are scheduled to visit Lima this year – with Celebrity Cruises’ new ship, Azamara Pursuit, set to make three maiden port visits in Peru soon after launching later this year, including the lesser visited port of Salaverry (Trujillo).
And if you thought Machu Picchu was Peru’s one big-ticket attraction, think again. From dining with a 17th-generation family member at Lima’s Casa de Aliaga – the oldest inhabited house in the Americas, built in 1536 – to participating in open-air yoga classes in the Paracas Desert on a tour from Pisco, Celebrity is making sure cruisers get a unique taste of Peru on its shore excursions.
From Jodogahama Beach’s rock formations in Japan to the colourful national independence celebrations of Peru, there’s not much of the world that cruisers can’t see.
TORRES STRAIT ISLANDS