Finding the perfect trip can be a challenge these days. With so many destinations and ships still struggling to reopen and start, finding the right cruise for you requires a lot more research than it used to.
Fortunately, several big-name, bucket-list destinations have reopened to cruise traffic this year -- and for cruisers with the itch and adventure to travel, these world-class destinations are sure to not disappoint.
The Galapagos Islands
There is nowhere on earth like the Galapagos Islands. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve famed for its abundance of natural wildlife and unique ecosystem, the Galapagos Islands are accessible only by ship, making a cruise around this memorable region a must.
Ships are strictly regulated in the Galapagos,with the largest vessels topping out at just 100 passengers. Vessels can only call on most ports once in two weeks, and two ships cannot visit the same port at the same time.
It's a natural bubble -- and it's perfect for the COVID-19 era.
The Galapagos has been welcoming tourists for some time now, and most cruises to the Galapagos restarted over the summer, with major players like Lindblad Expeditions and Metropolitan Touring leading the way; and both Celebrity Cruises and Silversea debuting their new purpose-built luxury vessels: Celebrity Flora and Silver Origin.
The White Continent was off-limits for a while, but several operators -- including Lindblad Expeditions, Atlas Ocean Voyages, and Silversea -- have all committed to running their 2021 expedition cruise seasons to the last frontier.
Some, like Silversea, are swapping Ushuaia for Punta Arenas to embark and disembark passengers. But it's no matter: once ships are across the Drake Passage and into Antarctica, expeditions can proceed according to weather and ice conditions.
The rewards for cruising to Antarctica are obvious. It is one of the most remote places on the planet; a land where many early explorers lived -- and died -- trying to conquer the South Pole. Few who came here during the Golden Age of Exploration a century ago -- men like Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen -- could have dreamt of the comfort available to average travellers. Champagne on deck, lavish suites, and inflatable zodiacs for ferrying passengers ashore for a look at the remote and beautiful shores of Antarctica.
Chalk South Africa up on the list of destinations now once again open to cruisers.
Both Azamara and MSC Cruises have committed to running itineraries from Cape Town for the 2021-2022 season, and that means passengers can now visit some of the most spectacular spots in the country on the comfort of the seas.
Highlights of sailing to South Africa include exploring Cape Town's V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain; visiting the country's famed wine-producing regions; and of course, taking part in wildlife viewing safaris to view the majestic "Big Five" game: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and the Cape buffalo.
But South Africa also offers plenty to see and do in ports like Durban, Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth, and many itineraries even swing all the way up to Maputo, Mozambique, where the 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio film "Blood Diamond" was shot in part.
The Panama Canal
Sailings through the Panama Canal are back on track for this winter, and a transit of this man-made marvel of engineering is the only way to fully appreciate it.
Panama Canal cruises come in two varieties: full and partial transits.
Full Transits involve traversing from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, or vice-versa, and typically sail between Miami and Los Angeles. They are the ultimate way to see the Panama Canal as they transit from one side of the world to the other in the span of one (likely very hot) day.
Partial Transits are popular with cruisers who don't have a lot of time. These sailings tend to be shorter, around 10 days in length. Typically operating only from the Caribbean side, they enter the Canal near the city of Colon and transit as far as Gatun Lake before spinning around and exiting the Canal the same way they came in.
Passengers are still treated to moving through several locks, but the full transit of the Canal isn't completed.
With prices looking good and international travel slowly opening up to vaccinated travellers, this could be the best time to see "the big ditch".
The Greek Islands
While not as exotic as Antarctica, there is no denying the appeal of the Greek Islands. Thankfully, this sun-splashed paradise has been one of the epicenter of the cruise industry restart, meaning cruises to Greece are now not only possible, they're numerous.
Most Greek Islands voyages depart from Piraeus, the port for Athens, and sail to a variety of islands. While itineraries vary greatly, you can bet your ship will call on mainstays like Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes, while longer or more intricate itineraries might see ships calling on other equally-interesting ports, including Heraklion, Patmos, and even Kusadasi, Turkey.
The Greek Islands season typically runs from early-spring to mid-November, so chances are good there's a sun-splashed voyage to the cradle of civilization waiting at the docks with your name on it.
Cruise Critic sailed to Greece earlier this summer aboard Norwegian Jade, and found Greece still never disappoints.