On our search for the best places to cruise in 2018, we went global, selecting destinations on every continent, and suggesting sailings that range from river and expedition, to your typical Caribbean cruise. It's a list for the adventurous -- taking you beyond the Outback, into the heart of Asia's Mekong, to new cities from a familiar European country, and to a place that's technically European…but also Canadian.
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Why: This relatively small country is the next big thing in Asia river cruising. Touching Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and the southern tip of China, Laos is at the epicenter of Southeast Asia. Its capital, Vientiane, is located along the Mekong River and showcases French colonial architecture alongside revered Buddhist temples and relics. Most riverboats call nearly 200 miles north in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which offers natural caves, waterfalls and shrines.
How: Pandaw River Cruises offers itineraries in Laos and on the Upper Mekong, with 10-night sailings upstream or downstream. The line will add Sabei Pandaw, its third ship in the region, in November 2018. Avalon Waterways also offers Cambodia/Vietnam cruises that end in Luang Prabang.
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Why: After you've safari-ed on an Africa cruise, what's next? Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, is a cosmopolitan city on the country's southern tip that blends Portuguese, Bantu and other influences in its architecture and culture. While parts of the city might seem underdeveloped, Maputo offers an invigorating mixture of modern Africa, European history, beautiful beaches and an artistic spirit, set among a backdrop of acacias. Don't let its music -- especially the jazz scene -- pass you by.
How: You can visit Maputo on a few cruises plying the Indian Ocean in 2018. Luxury lines like Crystal and Silversea call on Maputo -- either on a world cruise or a round trip from Cape Town, respectively. MSC Cruises also serves this East African capital with short cruises from Durban in South Africa. Oceania Cruises spends over a month sailing from Cape Town to Singapore or Dubai to Cape Town; both with Maputo on the schedule.
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Saint Pierre and Miquelon
Why: Visit France without leaving North America -- really. Many consider Montreal or Quebec City to be the embodiment of French Canadian spirit, but the islands that make the tiny archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, in Atlantic Canada, are the real deal. This lesser-known Canada/New England cruise port near Newfoundland is technically a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France. And that means an authentic French atmosphere from the boulangeries and patisseries to the museums and cathedrals; albeit with Canadian touches from a lagoon with seals to an abandoned fishing village.
How: Get there in April or May on a unique Princess Cruises itinerary from Fort Lauderdale to Dover; an Oceania cruise from Miami or Montreal to London; or a handful of Silversea cruises in September. Other cruise lines, including British line Fred. Olsen, call as well.
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Why: The Kimberley is the northernmost region of Western Australia, and while its isolation makes it an unchartered territory for most travelers, its stunning and wild beauty makes it well worth the trek. Encounter an abundance of precious flora and fauna, with dramatic landscapes like beehive-shaped rock formations, incredible waterfalls (including horizontal falls), towering cliffs and islands with ancient Aboriginal origins. If you're craving a cruise somewhere far-flung in 2018, this is most definitely it.
How: To really see The Kimberely inside and out, take a small expedition ship that will sail its length, from Broome to Darwin. Try Zegrahm Expeditions (two weeks) or Coral Expeditions (10 nights). Princess Cruises includes scenic cruising along the Kimberley Coast on select Australia voyages.
Photo: Kimberly Boat Cruises
Why: Antigua has always been a pleasant escape in the Eastern Caribbean, but in the wake of the 2017 hurricanes, many cruise lines rerouted ships to the island while other destinations were still recovering. The influx of tourists hasn't slowed the tropical island's splendor. In fact, its resilience makes it shine even brighter, as demonstrated by its people, who are as warm as its climate. Mesmerizing blue seas lend to fantastic snorkeling and diving, and a mix of public beaches and private clubs makes Antigua the perfect vacation for celebrities like Oprah (who owns a home here) as well as your family.
How: It's easy to find a cruise to Antigua; nearly all mainstream and luxury cruise lines offer sailings that call here. Try a Southern Caribbean sailing on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises.
Photo: V.J. Matthew/Shutterstock.com
Why: Most cruisers who have sailed an Eastern Mediterranean itinerary upon the Adriatic know the charms of Dubrovnik, but heightened interest in the country means that the whole of Croatia's famed Dalmatian Coast is now open for cruising. More than 1,000 miles of coastline means that you can uncover the pebble beaches of fishing port Rovinj; the summer resort city of Hvar, with its interior lavender fields; and ample offshore islands, like Korcula, with their own inviting beaches and coves. Plus, many scenes in "Game of Thrones" were filmed in Dubrovnik -- get your fix in 2018 while the show is on hiatus.
How: Embark on a Star Clipper sailing ship for 12 nights -- four of which go to different ports throughout Croatia. Small-ship line Voyages to Antiquity features stops along the coast of Dalmatia on itineraries that also call throughout Italy and Greece; Grand Circle and Tauck also offer small-ship cruises with multiple Croatia stops. Or, cruise on luxury line SeaDream Yacht Club, with some Mediterranean itineraries featuring up to five port calls in Croatia.
Why: The Polar Regions surround the North and South Poles, and span the Arctic Circle to the north (including countries like Norway, Finland and Greenland), and Antarctica to the south. Now is the time to go to these literal ends of the earth: an uptick in cruise lines building Polar Class vessels means your choices are better than ever to book the trip of a lifetime aboard an icebreaker, and you should do it soon before climate change forever leaves its mark on these frozen landscapes.
How: Sail in 2018 on Hurtigruten's newest polar vessel, launching in July (with another in 2019), that promises to be emission free due to new hybrid technology. The line has expertise in the region with numerous Arctic sailings each year. Silversea and Ponant are luxury brands that sail polar itineraries in the utmost comfort. Poseidon Expeditions' Sea Spirit was refurbished in 2017 and sails Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land in the Russian Arctic and Antarctica. Another four polar ships are expected to launch between 2019 and 2020.
Why: Single-country sailings give cruisers the chance to fully explore the many facets of one place. In this case, Japan is benefiting from increased attention on cruise ship itineraries -- big and small. Add in pre- and post-cruise land trips and travelers will not only have a taste of ports like Osaka and Nagasaki, but interior destinations like Kyoto and Nara. If you're not planning to attend the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, see Japan soon so you can make friends and family jealous with, "Oh, I was just there." For an even more off-the-beaten-path experience, book a cruise that explores Hokkaido, known as Japan's Wild Island.
How: Princess Cruises, Holland America and Norwegian all offer cruises in Japan, though Princess spends nearly two weeks at a time. Tauck, Azamara and Windstar offer intimate and immersive Japan experiences with less passengers and more ports; experiences might include three days on land before and after a seven-night cruise. Smithsonian Journeys charters Ponant ship L'Austral for special Japan sailings in 2018. Zegrahm Expeditions offers an itinerary with multiple calls in Hokkaido.
Why: Brazil is Rio and its infamous beaches, but it's also Salvador de Bahia, Iguazu Falls and the Amazon rainforest. As the fifth-largest country in the world, it's no wonder that this leviathan by the sea has so much to offer. Without a Panama Canal crossing, South America cruises don't seem to be as popular with American tourists, leaving the continent's largest country as an untapped source of culture, music, natural wonders and, of course, lively parties. Carnival is coming up quick (February 9–14, 2018), but a ship is arguably the best way to go.
How: For South America cruises with a focus on Brazil, check out Silversea, MSC Cruises, Norwegian and Viking Ocean, which in 2018 will offer a three-week voyage with four nights in Brazil and another four spent cruising the Amazon River. Celebrity and Azamara are among the lines docked in Rio this year for Carnival.
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Baja California Sur, Mexico
Why: Beyond the thrills of Cabo, the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, a southern outcrop along the Gulf of California, also serves as a jumping-off point for cruises focusing on wellness, nature and marine life. Expedition lines have sailed the Sea of Cortez from La Paz for years, but Lindblad is introducing short wellness vacations that create a peaceful getaway with yoga, Pilates, hiking and healthy cuisine.
How: Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic offers sailings in the Sea of Cortez, including wellness cruises. UnCruise Adventures also offers great Sea of Cortez sailings. Regent Seven Seas, Crystal Cruises, Azamara and Princess can also be found in this area of Mexico.
Getting a deal on a cruise sailing that's not selling well requires some effort -- and usually a lot of flexibility. To take advantage of the opportunity empty cruise cabins present, you must understand how cruise lines go about filling them.