6 new cruise itineraries you should book right now
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It's going to be a big year for cruising.
The coming months will bring the long-awaited arrival of the first vessels from Richard Branson-backed Virgin Voyages and Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection (the new cruising arm of The Ritz-Carlton). There's also a crazy-big megaship on the way from cruise giant Carnival.
But it's not just exciting ship launches that are making waves in the cruise industry this year. There's also a wide range of notable new itineraries becoming available for booking. In some cases, these are itineraries no other cruise line has done before, while others are a first for a particular line. Other itineraries had disappeared for several years and are now returning.
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As you might expect, many of the most interesting new itineraries are in off-the-beaten-path corners of the world such as the Russian Arctic. But we're also seeing alluring routes appear in more common cruise destinations such as the Mediterranean and Australia.
Read on for our picks for the six most notable new itineraries. While two start up later this year, the remainder aren't until 2021. But what they all have in common is that they're available to book right now and — given their rarity — could book up far in advance.
If any of these pique your interest, we'll be definitive with our advice: Don't wait long to book.
The Northeast Passage with Lindblad Expeditions
There's almost nowhere in the world more remote than the Arctic islands above mainland Russia. But that could be about to change, thanks to adventure companies like Lindblad Expeditions. The expedition cruise pioneer will operate its first two voyages deep into the Russian Arctic in 2020. Two more are on the schedule for 2021.
Lasting 26 days and covering more than 4,000 miles, Lindblad's new sailings will be complete crossings of the Northeast Passage, the icy Arctic sea route at the top of Russia. It's a very rare trip, something that only a handful of expedition cruise specialists such as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises have ever attempted (I was on what was only the fourth-ever sailing through the Northeast Passage by a non-Russian expedition ship, in 2018 — since then, only two more such vessels have made it through).
For Lindblad, the voyages only are possible due to the development of a new, hardier expedition ship specifically built for polar travel. Arriving in March, the 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance will have the highest ice-class rating (PC5, Category A) ever for a purpose-built passenger ship — one reason it made our list of the year's most exciting new cruise vessels.
Lindblad's Northeast Passage trips will be one-way voyages between Tromsø, Norway, and Nome, Alaska, that take in such hard-to-reach places as polar bear-filled Franz Josef Land, the world's northernmost archipelago, and the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. The latter set of islands only was discovered in 1930. The ship also will push through pack ice to the North Siberian Islands, home to large numbers of walruses and seabirds. A visit to Wrangel Island, another polar bear haven, also is on the schedule.
The details: As is typical for expedition trips to polar regions, fares for the voyages aren't inexpensive. They start at $34,750 per person, including taxes and fees. The good news is you can avoid the massive cash outlay by using World of Hyatt points, thanks to a relatively new partnership between Lindblad and Hyatt. You'll just need a ton of the points (more than 2 million!). If your World of Hyatt points balance isn't quite that robust, you can instead earn 5 base points per dollar spent on the trip (excluding incidentals), plus the standard bonuses for Hyatt elite members, as well as elite tier-qualifying night credits. And all members — regardless of status — will enjoy a $250 onboard credit to use on incidentals. For more information, call 866-537-5099 or visit Lindblad's cobranded Hyatt site.
The Turkish coast with Viking
Yes, cruises to the Turkish coast finally are making a comeback. Viking recently announced new seven-night sailings between Istanbul, Turkey and Athens, Greece, that will include stops at Canakkale, Turkey (for a visit to the ruins of Troy), and Kusadasi, Turkey (for the ruins of Ephesus). The Greek island of Rhodes, just off the Turkish coast, also is on the itinerary, as is the nearby island of Crete.
Kicking off in April 2021, the trips will include an overnight stay in Istanbul, allowing for extended time exploring such iconic sites as the Blue Mosque and Ottoman-era Topkapi Palace.
The itinerary is of a sort that has almost completely disappeared over the past four years. Nearly all of the world's cruise lines pulled out of Istanbul after a string of terrorist attacks in 2016.
In addition to Viking, several other lines including Oceania Cruises, Crystal Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line have begun adding sailings from Istanbul back to schedules, but few of the trips are as Turkey-intensive as the new Viking routing. With pent-up demand for cruises to the region strong, the Viking sailings could book up far in advance (indeed, some cabin categories on some departures already are sold out).
The new Viking trips mostly will take place on Viking's 930-passenger Viking Sky, with one departure of the line's still-under-construction, 930-passenger Viking Venus.
The details: Viking has scheduled a dozen of the sailings between April 2021 and January 2022. Fares start at $2,299 per person, not including taxes and fees. Call 855-338-4546 or visit vikingcruises.com for more information.
The Mediterranean and Black Sea with Silversea
Not impressed with the typical seven- to 10-night Mediterranean cruise itinerary? If it's something longer you're after – way longer – you'll want to take a hard look at the epic new Mediterranean routing recently announced by Silversea.
The Grand Voyage Mediterranean, as it's being called, will be 59 nights in length (no, that's not a typo) and include dozens of stops from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. In a single trip, you'll be able to see everything from the iconic Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona and the Vatican in Rome to the Acropolis in Athens and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul — all without ever switching vessels or having to change hotel rooms.
There's just one big caveat with the itinerary, and it's the reason you might not want to wait long to book it: Silversea only plans one departure. It's a one-off sailing that's scheduled to kick off in Venice, Italy, on Sept. 8, 2021 and end Nov. 5, 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Despite its name, the itinerary isn't just about the Mediterranean. It includes a detour eastward through the Bosporus to the Black Sea for multiple stops. There's also a final leg west through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Atlantic Ocean for a visit to Casablanca, Morocco, and several stops in the Canary Islands.
In all, the trip will hit 15 countries in Europe, plus two more in North Africa.
The details: Fares start at $35,000 per person, not including taxes and fees. Yes, we know, that's almost as epic as the cruise. But that sort of pricing is par-for-the-course at Silversea, which is among the world's most upscale cruise lines (think: Four Seasons, but at sea). To avoid the cash drain, you could pay all or part of the bill with an “eraser” card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. You can then apply your miles at a 1 cent per mile ratio to statement charges that code as travel. It sure would take a heck of a lot of miles to cover the entire cost of the trip, of course. For information, call 888-980-0160 or visit silversea.com.
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Eastern Australia with Windstar Cruises
Small-ship specialist Windstar Cruises has been branching out in recent years with a wider range of itineraries around the globe, including its very first Australia-focused sailings, starting in December. The trips are so unusual for the line that, even in the wake of the recent bushfires in the country, we expect them to sell out quickly.
That's in part because, for now, Windstar has just two of the Australia-focused voyages on the books, leaving very little inventory. The trips will take place on Windstar's yacht-like Star Breeze, which has only 156 cabins.
Each of the trips has a different focus. The first of the two, starting Dec. 10 in Melbourne, Australia, and lasting 13 nights, brings stops along the southern shore of Australia and Tasmania. The second sailing begins in Melbourne on Feb. 17, 2021, and focuses on Australia's East Coast.
Of the two routings, we're most excited about the East Coast route, which stops at several remote places that aren't on the typical Australia cruise ship circuit. Among them: Middle Percy Island, a beachy spit of land that's well known in yachting circles but not normally visited by vessels carrying cruise passengers. Since there's no infrastructure, Star Breeze will anchor off shore and ferry passengers to the island by Zodiac boat.
The trip also includes a stop at Fraser Island, which is billed as the world's largest sand island. One of the shore excursions will bring a walking tour focused on native plants and the survival methods of the local Butchulla tribe. There's also time on the trip set aside for a full-day excursion to Australia's Great Barrier Reef (from Port Douglas) and an overnight stay in Sydney. Other stops include Mooloolaba and Airlie Beach in Queensland. The trip ends in Cairns, Australia.
The details: Fares start at $3,999 per person, not including taxes and fees. Note that if you pay with The Platinum Card® from American Express, through the card's American Express Cruise Privileges Program, you can get an up to $300 shipboard credit plus such onboard amenities as a bottle of Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. Both of Windstar's Australia sailings are among the voyages bookable at the dedicated Cruise Privileges Program booking site. For information on the trip, call Windstar at 855-389-7736 or visit windstarcruises.com.
Antarctica and the Ross Sea with Crystal Cruises
Lindblad isn't the only cruise operator unveiling a major new polar itinerary for the coming year. So is Crystal Cruises. The well-known luxury line will run its first-ever expedition voyages to Antarctica in early 2021, and it's doing the continent in a relatively unusual way.
Instead of traveling to Antarctica from Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the main hub for Antarctica trips, Crystal's soon-to-debut Crystal Endeavor will set off for the continent from Australia and New Zealand. The 22-day trips (there will be two of them) start on Jan. 6, 2021 and Jan. 28, 2021 from Hobart, Tasmania and Christchurch, New Zealand, respectively, and include extended time exploring Antarctica's lesser-visited Ross Sea area.
The trips will include several days around Ross Island, which was the base for many of the best-known early Antarctica expeditions. It's still home to the explorer huts used by Ernest Shackleton and Robert Scott. Other destinations on the schedule include Cape Hallet, which once was home to a scientific base run jointly by the U.S. and New Zealand, and Terra Nova Bay, which is home to active Italian and South Korean research stations.
Scheduled to debut in August, Crystal Endeavor is one of the most notable new cruise vessels of the year (like National Geographic Endurance, it made our short list of the most exciting new ships launching in 2020). Designed to carry up to 200 passengers, it's Crystal's first-ever expedition ship, and it's being built to be as tough as it is luxurious. In addition to a fleet of Zodiacs for exploring, it'll have two helicopters and a submarine.
Note that Crystal also will offer more traditional Antarctica trips out of Ushuaia, Argentina, starting in November of 2021.
The details: Fares for the voyages start at $33,449 per person, not including taxes and fees. That's high, for sure, even for Antarctica sailings (which always are expensive). But the rarity of the voyages means that even at that price, they are likely to sell out quickly. Indeed, all but one cabin category on the first of the two sailings already is sold out.
Related: How to plan a cruise with points and miles
Greenland with Holland America
Greenland is the frontier when it comes to cruise tourism (or, any sort of tourism, for that matter; it only draws about 100,000 travelers a year). But a growing number of cruise lines, including Holland America, are scheduling at least a few stops a year in the Danish territory.
Just announced this month, Holland America's new Greenland, Newfoundland and New England Discovery itinerary is one of the more unusual of these tours. For starters, it's a round-trip voyage from an easy-to-reach U.S. city (Boston). Many cruises that stop in Greenland are one-way, transatlantic voyages that require at least one long flight to reach and an open-jaw ticket. Others require first traveling to Greenland itself to board a vessel.
Kicking off in July of 2021, the 17-night sailings (there will be three of them) also include a number of stops in Newfoundland and Labrador — another place that simply isn't widely visited by cruise ships.
The trips will take place on Holland America's 1,404-passenger Rotterdam, one of the line's older vessels. During each of the voyages, Rotterdam will make three stops along the Greenland coast, each at a small town: Paamiut, Qaqortoq and Nanortalik. Shore activities will include fjord tours, boating around giant icebergs, hiking, food tasting and walking tours.
There are four stops in Newfoundland and Labrador on the itinerary: St. John’s, Red Bay, St. Anthony and Corner Brook. Other stops along the Canadian coast include Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia, and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. A visit to Bar Harbor, Maine also is on the schedule.
The details: Fares start at $2,699 per person, not including taxes and fees. For more information, call 855-932-1711 or visit hollandamerica.com.
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