If you're looking to cruise to the places that are generating buzz, or want to be among the first to sail to cutting-edge destinations, we've got your wish list. The hottest cruise destinations for 2019 span the planet, from a Caribbean port you might think you know to a remote coral atoll in the South Pacific that we bet you do not. Asia is having a definite moment, but you might be surprised by a few of our top picks.
In no particular order, Cruise Critic presents some of the best places to cruise this year.
- The Mekong
- The Great Lakes
- Conflict Islands (Papua New Guinea)
- St. Maarten/St. Martin
Photo: Noppasin Wongchum/Shutterstock
More cruise lines than ever are sailing the Mekong, which makes it a great time to experience the sensory circus that is Vietnam, from the chaotic capital of Hanoi to dreamy Halong Bay. Most sailings on this itinerary also call on Cambodia, so you get a few shades of Southeast Asia in one trip. Avalon Waterways debuted a new ship on the river late in 2018 -- Avalon Saigon, which sails from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap. Emerald Waterway's Emerald Harmony launches on the river in 2019.
The Upper Mekong, which runs from Laos and Myanmar (Burma) to China, also continues to increase in popularity with river cruisers. Pandaw remains the only line that sail this stretch; experience a voyage aboard Champa Pandaw. The entirety of Southeast Asia has been named Destination of the Year by Conde Nast Traveler, and for good reason: The whole region is experiencing a surge in tourism due to relatively low pricing and abundant culture.
Photo: Pushish Images/Shutterstock.com
The draw of the pyramids, the ancient allure of Egypt, is too much to keep tourists away for long, and we're happy to report the overdue comeback of Nile River cruising. Reports from river cruise lines heading into 2018 were that bookings had exponentially increased -- up to fivefold -- into Egypt. Viking Ra debuted here in 2018, Celestyal will also sail in 2019 and Uniworld has announced a dedicated ship for 2020.
The Arab Spring uprising, which began around 2011, rippled the region's tourism significantly. But safety concerns have dramatically tapered off in recent years, as we report from a recent Sanctuary Retreats cruise on the Nile. If that's not enough to convince you, a pristine 4,400-year-old tomb of a royal priest was just uncovered -- Egypt might be old, but it knows how to keep it interesting.
The Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are the next frontier of U.S. cruising. Cruise lines are beginning to recognize these itineraries as relatively unchartered territory, and cruisers want to explore their own backyard. You can travel throughout the five Great Lakes, the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world, on voyages so diverse that they might begin in Detroit and end in Halifax.
See Niagara Falls and Montreal in the same trip, or Milwaukee and the Mackinac Islands of Michigan on another. Discovering the small towns of America is a treasure that many cruisers have yet to unlock. Plus, these voyages are unique in the sense that they traverse both rivers and the open ocean, navigating the scenic St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic coast.
Small-ship cruise lines that sail here include Pearl Seas Cruises (owned by American Cruise Lines) and Victory Cruise Lines (recently purchased by competitor American Queen Steamboat Company).
Photo: Ginger Dingus
Conflict Islands (Papua New Guinea)
Some might argue that the world is running out of "pristine" or undiscovered destinations. Carnival Corporation is answering that challenge with the introduction of the Conflict Islands, a privately owned coral atoll off the coast of Papua New Guinea. In 2018, cruisers were invited to discover this exotic port of call aboard a P&O Australia cruise.
Luckily, if you're looking to go off the grid in 2019, you can manage to do it on a mainstream U.S. line: Holland America Line is sailing to Australia and Melanesia throughout the year as part of its EXC In-Depth Voyages program. Select itineraries aboard Maasdam are scheduled to visit the Conflict Islands -- a haven for snorkelers, scuba divers and anyone who appreciates white sand and a cerulean sea. Cunard will join the Carnival brands making this exotic call in 2020.
St. Maarten/St. Martin
If you've cruised to Dutch and French St. Maarten/Martin in the past, the island is not what you'll remember, but that's OK. In the short time the highly trafficked port was closed after Hurricane Irma, improvements were made, adding shopping, dining and even landscaping to the terminal facilities. The shore excursion program in port is robust, featuring the world's steepest zipline in a new eco-park called Rainforest Adventures that was developed in conjunction with a historic estate.
Positioned as a great jump-off point to other islands, the Port of St. Maarten is moving forward with its homeport facility in 2019, hosting lines like Seabourn, Windstar and Star Clippers. While generations of islanders won't forget the impact of September 2017's hurricanes, the recovery and resilience of the Eastern Caribbean tourism sectors prove their unwavering determination to give visitors the best possible welcome.
To be fair, Baltic cruises have been "hot" for a while as cruisers tick off visits to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg or the Nobel Museum of Stockholm from their bucket lists. But Baltic capitals are giving cruisers new reasons to visit or revisit in 2019.
Port cities that might have once been viewed as itinerary fillers are becoming full-fledged cultural centers. Namely, you'll want to make sure Tallinn, Estonia, is a stop on your cruise. A beguiling blend of history (its Old Town was untouched by war) and modernity (Skype was born here), Tallinn is unexpected and easy to explore. Cultural festivals like World Music Days (celebrating its 40th anniversary) line the calendar, while cheap beer can still be found throughout the Estonian pub scene.
Meanwhile, Lonely Planet has named Copenhagen its top city in the world to visit in 2019, citing the completion of its city metro line slated for summer 2019 and an emerging street-food scene that has turned an old shipyard into a food and craft market called Reffen.
Photo: De Visu/Shutterstock
In 2019, cruise lines will return to Turkey, home of Ephesus and Istanbul, in earnest. After an attempted military coup in the summer of 2016, it's been slow sailing for the country's cruise ports. But following consultation with top security experts, lines like Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Windstar, Azamara, Oceania and Star Clippers will once again call on Turkish cities rich with bustling markets and incredible ruins. We visited on a Celestyal cruise this past July and found Kusadasi to be as welcoming as ever.
Istanbul is gearing up for an expansion of its cruise terminal, expected to make progress by late 2019.
Photo: OPIS Zagreb/Shutterstock
More accessible than Greenland but less saturated (and able to accommodate the influx of tourists better) than Iceland, Norway is a happy medium for cruisers seeking the northern lights. Omnipresent in our social feeds, but elusive depending on time and place, the northern lights have been seeing a lot of love lately.
During the lush summer months, the Norwegian fjords come alive, and cruising is the best way to experience the landscape. However, cold-weather sailing in the region has increased. Local expert Hurtigruten sail during the dark and cold winter months (prime for viewing), as does Viking Ocean Cruises in 2019, from January through March, and from London to Bergen (or reverse) on an itinerary aptly named "In Search of the Northern Lights."
Asian metropolises are seeing an uptick in luxury travelers, which means these days Singapore is as popular as Paris or London. The city-state south of Malaysia is already well-known by Asian cruisers and the jet-set crowd, but the popularity of the book and film "Crazy Rich Asians" has millennials everywhere looking to exchange armchair travel for a plane ticket.
Consider a cruise fare in 2019; lines including Royal Caribbean, Princess, Seabourn and Silversea depart Singapore on a rich abundance of itineraries, allowing visitors to spend time exploring -- and shopping -- before their sailing.
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas families much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.