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Best New Itineraries on Small Ships in 2021-2022

Roderick Eime

Apr 22, 2020

Read time
6 min read

Australians have envious access to enthralling destinations, which can be accessed only by small ships. Both in the boutique luxury and expedition categories, these smaller vessels off lots of new itineraries for travellers who are eager to sail to the more exotic locations on our planet.

Tropical islands, uninhabited coastlines and frozen continents are on the menu. Some modern ships are even offering submarine voyages, underwater lounges and other fun features to complement these esoteric options.

So if you're craving adventure and exploration, take a look at some of the latest and most innovative itineraries coming up.

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Polynesian Islands

The balmy South Pacific has always been a hotspot for romantic cruises, but some of the well-worn ports are getting, well, tired. Fortunately, some of the more creative cruise lines operating in these waters are responding to demand. Here are just a few ideas.

Aranui Cruises, by any account an expert operator in French Polynesia, has not only announced a new, dedicated 280-passenger cruise ship for 2022, AraMana, but has created new itineraries to some of most infrequently visited islands in its patch of the Pacific.

The cruise line will continue to visit regular haunts such as Bora Bora, Tahaa, Huahine, Moorea and Rangiroa, but will also add lesser-known locations such as Makatea, a tiny tropical paradise just 40 sq. km with a population of less than 100. Beyond that, the vessel will operate a new Cook Islands' itinerary with visits to French Polynesia's southernmost island group, the Australs, with regular calls to Raivavae, Rurutu and Rapa.

Also operating from Papeete is Windstar's glamourous sister ship, Wind Spirit, a svelte, 110m, four-masted sailing ship accommodating just 148 guests, which will expand its portfolio of tropical layovers with the 24-day ‘Beyond Polynesia' itinerary which includes the delightfully undeveloped Yasawa-i-Rara Island in Fiji as well as Vava'u Island in Tonga and a rare visit to the ‘Rock of Polynesia', Niue. All of this is part of Windstar's recently announced 50 new itineraries across Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Israel and Egypt.

Polynesian regulars, Paul Gauguin Cruises, recently announced it has become part of the Ponant family and will add two 230-berth expedition-style ships in 2022. Expect to hear about its expanded itineraries soon.

Several small ships will also visit historic Pitcairn Island, the redoubt of the Bounty mutineers as well as mystical Easter Island (Rapa Nui). These will include Silversea's Silver Cloud and Silver Explorer, Island Sky, Ponant's Le Boreal and Lindblad's National Geographic Orion. Intending visitors to Pitcairn should be aware that conditions often prevent landings, so keep your fingers crossed.

Spice Islands

This once overlooked region of Indonesia has enjoyed a resurgence of attention in recent years thanks to repeat visits from the world's fleet of small cruise ships. The so-called Spice Islands gained its name because of the abundance of valuable spices such as pepper, nutmeg, ginger, mace and cinnamon found there and exploited by the Dutch East India Company in the 16th century.

Lying west of New Guinea and to the north and east of Timor, our homegrown expedition cruise lines such as Coral Expeditions and True North Adventure Cruises are regular visitors to these exotic lands. Coral Expeditions, thanks to its rapidly expanding fleet, are spending more time in this region with such itineraries as its ‘Spice Islands & Raja Ampat', which explores for 12 nights aboard the new Coral Adventurer. As an added bonus, guests will benefit from explorer, historian and author, Ian Burnet's 30 years of experience as he conducts lectures during the expeditions.

With the addition of yet another vessel, Coral Adventurer's sister, Coral Geographer, the Cairns-based, Australian-flagged operator will venture to Zanzibar, Madagascar and Cocos and Christmas Islands during February, March and April 2021 as part of its Indian Ocean explorations. A happy by-product of this deployment will mean the former flagship, Coral Discoverer is free to journey beyond the regular Great Barrier Reef haunts to the more remote northern reefs and islands in June 2021.

South West Western Australia

Staying close to home, True North Adventure Cruises launched its new South West Western Australia itinerary to past passengers only. Best known as one of the foremost local operators in the Kimberley, the award-winning small ship company completes a circumnavigation of Australia every year with exciting sectors in West Papua, Papua New Guinea, Sydney (for New Year's Eve) and South Australia.

The new seven-night Adventure South West itinerary features visits to Esperance, Albany and Margaret River, all the while enjoying expertly-prepared local seafood and regional wines.

Antarctica and South Sandwich Islands

The homegrown Aurora Expeditions first started expedition cruises nearly 30 years ago and more recently started building its own Polar Class ships with an outlandish-looking bow design that makes for considerably smoother sailing in rough waters.

When the Aussie company launches Sylvia Earle, expected to be late 2021, it will venture to the South Sandwich Islands, near Antarctica. In December 2021, the ship is also headed on a 25-day South Georgia and Antarctica Odyssey to comprehensively explore these far-flung lands, typified by abundant wildlife and a lack of human influence.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Aurora will resume voyages to the lesser-visited parts of Britain and Ireland when the Greg Mortimer (with the namesake expeditioner Greg Mortimer aboard) embarks on the 13-day journey in May 2021. Passengers will see the wild peninsulas and fjords, soaring cliffs, crumbling castles and endemic flora and fauna on the hundreds of islands dotted along Ireland's West Coast.

Papua New Guinea & Solomons

If you are more familiar with the comforts of larger ships, Pacific Princess may be the ship for you. With just 670 passengers, it is significantly smaller than most mainstream ships, yet retains the onboard intimacy you get with non-mainstream ships. You may also find that fares onboard the world-cruising Pacific Princess come at a considerable saving over the specialist expedition vessels.

An example of one such adventurous itinerary is the 21-night Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands cruise, which visits such unusual ports as Wewak and Kitava in PNG as well as Gizo and Honiara in the Solomons. But be quick, these cruises are super popular!

Viking Routes

Viking burst onto the ocean cruising scene in 2015 with the first of its 900-passenger, 47,842 gross tonnage ships, Viking Star, and the Scandinavians have been going gangbusters ever since. The Norwegian-founded line has added four more vessels in this class, all of which conduct itineraries that take full advantage of their lack of size visiting such ports as Komodo in Indonesia and Thursday Island, near to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, which is otherwise off-limits to larger vessels.

While the marauders in horned helmets may not have sailed this far south in ancient times, the 21st century Vikings are making up for lost time in the Mediterranean, cutting swathes through these historic and culturally rich seas. Nowhere is spared as everywhere from Istanbul to Barcelona, through Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Monaco, France and Spain are up for grabs. Create your own modern odyssey with itineraries bearing such evocative titles as Ancient Mediterranean Treasures, Journey to Antiquities and Iconic Western Mediterranean.

More exciting still is the announcement that Viking will join the world's expedition cruising sector with two Polar Class 6, 30,000GT, 378-guest vessels expressly for polar voyages, beginning January 2022.

Viking's initial expedition voyages will be to the Antarctic, but will also include its own blend of unusual with visits to North America's Great Lakes as part of its newly-announced eight-night sailings. Not many of us can claim to have made port calls to Milwaukee, Thunder Bay and Mackinac Island. While these itineraries will primarily attract US and Canadian cruisers, there will doubtlessly be some Aussies and Kiwis keen to explore this untapped potential.

Updated April 22, 2020
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