5 fabulous destinations for luxury cruise fans
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
With free-flowing Champagne and supersised suites, luxury ships explore the coastal regions of all seven continents with cruise itineraries that go beyond the norm.
By nature of being smaller than the mainstream megaships, vessels in the luxury class sail off the beaten path, following the private yachting set to such dreamy destinations such as St. Tropez and St. Barths.
These ships do classic itineraries too, but at a slower, more relaxed pace and often with the bonus of overnights and even multiple overnights in iconic cities such as Melbourne, Monte Carlo and Singapore. There’s time to admire the sights and to enjoy dining and nightlife on shore.
For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter
Luxury cruise itineraries tend to focus in summer on Europe – the Mediterranean, the Baltic and Black Sea — saving the Caribbean and more exotic itineraries for the rest of the year. Some even explore such far reaches of the earth as Antarctica and the remote South Pacific.
Here are TPG’s picks for the five best destinations for luxury cruising.
Italian and French Rivieras
Cruising this region you will be reminded of the works of artists such as Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh who found near-sacred artistic inspiration in the views of oceanfront cities, hills and villages, especially at sunset.
Your cruise will take you to France’s Côte d’Azur, a place where you will find both style and substance, and to the glorious oceanfront cliffs of Italy’s Riviera. Visit legendary cities and towns such as Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez. After admiring the bikinis on the white sand beaches or swimming in clear azure water, dine on oysters and French wine at a waterfront café, peruse the European designer shops, and check out world-class art museums.
As you explore idyllic coastal scenes, your itinerary may take you to the tranquil island of Elba in the Ligurian sea, with its miles of sandy beaches, pine forests, mountains, and delightful fishing villages.
A stop in Monte Carlo affords opportunity to explore the glitz and glamour of tiny Monaco, from the royal palace that is home to Prince Albert II to Michelin-star dining. At the 19th-century Grand Casino, you may pretend you are James Bond in the high roller’s rooms.
Portofino, Italy, is an intimate place that makes a huge impression – its secluded blue-water harbour is filled with small boats, surrounded by colourful buildings, with green cliffs rising above. You may have a perfectly fine time sitting at a waterfront café admiring the scene, but there is also opportunity to hike the surrounds and head to Cinque Terre, the famed rugged coastline of small villages and castles.
Seeing the Caribbean en masse at popular destinations such as St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Cozumel, Mexico, can be a bit daunting. Even with crowds off the big ships dispersed to various beaches and sights, it’s a mob scene at times. Visiting small, laidback islands is something else altogether, and a speciality of the luxury lines.
With their carefully curated itineraries, luxury ships afford a chance for you to immerse yourself in the Caribbean way of life, to slow down and enjoy the scene – including at night during overnight visits.
Your luxury ship may bring you to an isolated beach in quiet Anguilla and on some of the British Virgin Islands, with stops at white sand beaches where you can enjoy an intense “painkiller” rum drink while sitting in a hammock and admiring the clear sea and gentle waves. Divers and snorkelers will want to explore The Dogs, the BVI’s prime marine area, with its colourful corals and plentiful sea life. It’s considered one of the best places to explore undersea in the Caribbean.
Other excellent luxury itineraries explore St. Vincent and the Grenadines, following the typical private yacht routing, for instance, to Bequia and Mustique, for a perfect day at the beach – or at a local watering hole.
Luxury cruises in the Greek Isles visit both popular islands and areas beyond the norm. You’ll have an opportunity to see the Acropolis and other ancient sights in Athens, then may choose a route that goes to Mykonos, with its picture-perfect, white-washed villages and trendy beach scene, and Santorini, with its sunken caldera and cliffside beauty.
Some luxury ships sail farther afield in the blue Aegean and Ionian seas. You may visit the spiritual island of Patmos, with its Byzantine monasteries and small fishing villages; visit Rhodes, with its Knights of St. John history; spend time in scenic coves of Kefalonia; or embrace the culture of Corfu or Crete.
Some luxury ships visit the Peloponnese, home of the treasured fortified town of Nafplio, modern Greece’s first capital (from 1823 to 1834), with its impressive walls, red-roofed neoclassical mansions and cobblestone streets.
Some luxury cruise routes go through the Corinth Canal, only accessible to small ships that float dramatically through the narrow four-mile pass cut through sheer limestone – a shortcut between the Aegean and Ionian seas.
All Greek Isles itineraries will have scenes that take your breath away and towns where, if you choose, there’s opportunity to dance with friendly locals or linger over a meal of meze (shared appetizers) and grilled meat or fish in an oceanfront café.
Seeing the “Great White Continent” on a small luxury expedition ship is about both creature comforts and intimacy. While some big ships, sailing at required reduced capacity, present views of magnificent white and blue icebergs as more or less a pass-by – passengers spend their time seeing glaciers and icebergs while staying on the ship – small luxury ships go to extraordinary means to make you feel a part of the cold and stark and ruggedly beautiful landscape.
It’s de rigueur on the latest luxury expedition ships – operated by lines such as Ponant, Scenic Cruises, Crystal Cruises and Seabourn – to have fleets of Zodiacs, and in most cases kayaks, for expert-led, up-close-and-personal experiences with towering white and blue icebergs, whales of various varieties (including orca and sperm whales) and elephant seal, as well as time walking among penguins the size of small humans.
Depending on the ship, you may have opportunity to camp overnight on the snow and ice, go diving, try snowshoeing, fly over the scene on the ship’s own helicopters, or see below the sea via your ship’s submarine – on its latest ship, Commandant Charcot, Ponant even offers a tethered hot air balloon experience.
On luxury ships, you can do your great adventure while enjoying suite accommodations with butler service, fine dining and imbibing experiences and relaxation time at the spa. Select lines will even outfit you for the trip, providing complimentary take-home jackets. And you can skip days getting to Antarctica through the notoriously rough Drake Passage, too, thanks to private air service provided by lines such as Silversea.
Luxury ships have you covered whether you are looking to circumnavigate Australia or New Zealand’s North and South Islands or spend time in remote tropical paradises, learning about extraordinary tribal traditions, diving in massive coral reefs and visiting pristine beaches where yours may be the only footsteps in the sand.
Some longer itineraries combine regions – you may be able, for instance, to do Tahiti and Tonga and Melanesia, including Fiji and Vanuatu, and stop by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on your way to Sydney. Or do a 30-day sail from Bali to Australia or New Zealand, stopping by sights that include the famous “dragons” on Komodo Island.
More focused itineraries include New Guinea, where you may be greeted by village men in loin cloths and dugout canoes combined with Indonesia’s spectacular Raja Ampat islands, with their legendary coral reefs and underwater caves.
On a cruise from Sydney to Auckland, sail through New Zealand’s breathtaking Milford Sound and visit such places as the Otago Peninsula, home to yellow-eyed penguins and the world’s largest breeding colony of northern royal albatross. Or focus on one country or area, such as the dramatic red cliffs, isolated gorges and towering waterfalls of Western Australia’s Kimberly region.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
- The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
- The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 15 ways cruisers waste money
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- What to pack for your first cruise
Featured photo by Cavan Images/Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!