From Alaska to the Panama Canal: Here are 9 of TPG’s favourite autumn cruise itineraries
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In a normal fall season, we would be raving about the joys of sailing up the New England Coast to Canada, including the glory of leaves changing colours, pigging out on lobster and the thrill of spotting whales. And we would talk about dozens of ships sailing these routes. But due to the pandemic, Canada is closed to cruisers.
So, this year, turn your vacation thoughts elsewhere. Options abound in other parts of the world where autumn is a great time to set sail.
You can have the Greek Islands practically to yourself this fall while enjoying ancient sites and crazy-beautiful views of the sparkling Aegean.
Since it got off to a late start, the Alaska season has been expanded until November, meaning in addition to seeing glaciers thunderously shed house-sized chunks into the sea, you can also stay up to the wee hours for a chance to spot the northern lights. The season in sunny Bermuda has been extended as well, and the Caribbean has several exciting new ships to choose from, including the U.S. debut (finally!) of Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady.
And one consistent thing this fall that cruisers can cheer about: bargain fares. A week in Alaska for $450 per person (£326) on Norwegian Cruise Line, anyone?
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Here are our top picks for fall cruising.
The Alaska cruise season typically ends in September, with most ships heading south by mid-month. But with the season getting a late start this year due to the pandemic, some lines are pushing the bounds – including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line — and sailing in October.
The sailings will show off Alaska from a perspective that cruise guests don’t typically see. Ports such as Juneau and Ketchikan will have fewer visitors, with more locals getting back to their regular lives post-tourist season. The air will be brisk, with short days. If you’re lucky, the northern lights will be visible in the late-night sky.
Wildlife will be preparing for winter: bears filling up on silver salmon, moose looking for berries, bald eagles flying overhead. You may spot humpback and grey whales. Fishermen will still find rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, along with salmon. Fog or clouds near blue glaciers will make for some exciting photos, the ice really popping.
Plus, the fall cruises have some enticing bargain fares.
Bermuda is a popular summer destination. This year, thanks to a late start by some lines, the season is continuing into November. That has its advantages.
Temperatures on the island typically remain in the mid-20s in October and are in the low 20s in November, so you can still hit the famous pink-sand beaches and comfortably pursue such activities as hiking the historic Railway Trail past cottage, farms and gardens.
Elite guests with homes on the island return from the Hamptons and other summertime spots to partake in fall traditions that include golf, tennis and rugby tournaments and food festivals. Bonus: The Bermuda Spiny Lobster (also known as rock lobster) season begins in September with the treat appearing on menus around the island.
The Norwegian Breakaway returns to Bermuda with one-week sailings 26 September through October, while the luxurious Crystal Symphony is sailing one-week cruises to Bermuda from Boston before switching to sailings from New York beginning 24 September through November.
As cruise lines move their ships out of Alaska after the summer season, some linger in California, affording the opportunity to view the coast from the sea and – in the case of sailings that spend time in San Francisco – to do a shore excursion to the Sonoma Wine Country or Napa Valley in the height of the grape harvest.
In Sonoma, visit wineries and sample the Chardonnays, Cabernets, Merlots and Rieslings. In Napa, shore excursions include a ride on a Napa Valley Wine Train. Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises visit San Francisco on coastal sailings this fall. The Celebrity Millennium sails eight-night itineraries from San Diego in October that include an overnight in “The Golden City” as well as calls on Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico.
Fall cruises in the Caribbean include fewer children (except at Thanksgiving), reduced fares, cooler temperatures (but still beach weather) and the opportunity to get on some of the newest and most exciting ships. Hurricane season is through November, so you are taking a chance that your itinerary may change, but the good news is that cruise ships can reroute to avoid storms.
Among the new ships this fall season is Virgin Voyages’ adults-only 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, making its Caribbean debut in October (after a season in Europe), with such unusual features as a tattoo parlour, sex workshops, drag brunches and Rockstar suites. Celebrity Cruises 2,900-passenger Celebrity Apex will show off highlights including a cantilevered open-air Magic Carpet platform that rides the outside of the ship. On four October sailings, in partnership with Gwenyth Paltrow’s “goop” brand, Apex will feature special wellness and mindfulness programming – you might, for instance, mingle with an energy healer.
European river cruises
Cruises on rivers such as the Danube and Rhine are back in swing, if not full swing – Viking River Cruises is operating 45 of its 75 ships – and the sailings continue throughout the fall. AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld, Scenic, Tauck and other lines have ships back on the rivers as well.
A big advantage of a fall river cruise in Europe is opportunity to visit vineyards brimming with grapes. If you’re sailing the Danube between Germany and Budapest, take advantage of the cooling weather to hike, bike or otherwise visit Austria’s wine-growing Wachau Valley in late September or October. If you’re on the Rhine, have your camera ready to catch shots of hillside vineyards. In France, Viking has two ships cruising the Rhone River between Lyon and Provence, featuring experiences such as hiking a vineyard (near the small town of Tain-l’Hermitage) to learn about Syrah. Bordeaux cruises focus on the famous reds and whites; you may visit the spectacular multi-sensory Cité du Vin wine museum. On cruises from Porto, Portugal, you may witness the harvest along the Douro River.
If you talk to a Greek you will likely hear that fall is the best time to visit the islands. Summer temperatures reach well into the 90s, but come September they begin to cool and by October they are in the very pleasant 70s. And in a typical year, there are summertime crowds to contend with, especially at such must-see sights such as the Acropolis in Athens, the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, the expansive archaeological site of Delos (off Mykonos) and the hilltop villages of Santorini.
By fall, you can have these places practically to yourself. This year, some lines started their Greece itineraries later in the season and they are lingering into the fall – in some cases into November. These include the Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Jade, the Azamara Journey and the ultraluxury Regent Seven Seas Splendor.
New England and Canada
The stunning fall colours of New England are startlingly beautiful from the sea. This year, with a ban on visiting Canada (ending Nov. 1), the only ship doing fall New England itineraries is American Cruise Lines, with its 100-passenger Independence sailing from Portland, Maine, in September.
But now is the time to book for 2022. With no season in 2020 or 2021, there will be pent-up demand next year among ships from mainstream to ultraluxury, small ships, and expedition vessels that afford the opportunity to explore the coast from New York or Boston up to eastern Canada. In addition to leaf-peeping, there are lighthouses, lobster, whales and lessons in American history. More than a dozen lines have New England and Canada on their fall 2022 roster – from Carnival Cruise Line to Silversea and including Disney Cruise Line with an October sailing. Popular port calls include Bar Harbor, Maine; St. John, New Brunswick; and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The Columbia and Snake rivers are a beautiful place to cruise in the spring and summer but are particularly mind-blowing in the fall. The basalt cliffs and waterfalls of the deep Columbia River Gorge are enhanced with the addition of big-leaf maples ablaze in red, Oregon ash in yellow and cottonwood in orange.
River ships, including paddle wheelers, and small ships from lines such as American Queen Steamboat Company, UnCruise Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic and American Cruise Lines follow the path of Lewis & Clark in Washington State and Oregon from September to mid-November, on sailings ranging from five to 11 days. While you are in the neighbourhood, sample the local wines on visits to Washington State wineries.
Typically, a cruise right of fall is ships repositioning from Alaska to the Caribbean through this century-old manmade engineering wonder. This fall, while there are fewer opportunities than is typical to do the once-in-a-lifetime trip between the Pacific and Atlantic, there are still some impressive options.
Holland America Line, on the Nieuw Amsterdam, and Princess Cruises, on Emerald Princess, have full ocean-to-ocean experiences in October. HAL’s is a 21-day sailing from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale, while the Princess cruise is 15 days between Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale. During your time in the Panama Canal, you’ll experience both jungle views and your ship manoeuvring through a series of locks. If you just want a dip in the Canal to say you did, the Crown Princess has a series of 10-day partial crossings from Fort Lauderdale in November and early December (bargain-priced from $648 – £478 – per person). Other lines in the Canal this fall include Viking Ocean.
Featured photo by Michael Dunning/Getty Images.
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