(Photo: Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar via Shutterstock)
With cruise ships adding so many bells and whistles, it's easy to forget that one of the best parts of cruising is getting off the ship. In 2013, the best ports of call follow some exciting trends.
Caribbean destinations might still be the most visited, but multiple new sailings offer a wide array of unique, eclectic stops in other exciting destinations. Think riverside metropolises, Down Under adventures, and explorations in the East, both Near and Far.
Rudyard Kipling said it was "quite unlike any land you know about," but thanks to recent democratic reforms and the easing of U.S. sanctions, Myanmar (formerly Burma) is slowly becoming more accessible to Western travelers.
While organizing independent travel may still be difficult, a river cruise offers the convenience of a planned itinerary. Orient-Express, Pandaw, and Azamara Club Cruises all have itineraries that include a call in former capital Yangon (Rangoon). Here, in this city of some five million people, you can explore bustling open-air markets and the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda that rises over the vibrant, frenetic city, then float up the Irrawaddy River toward modern Mandalay.
(Photo: Copyright Tourism Australia)
Australia is one of the fastest-growing destinations in the cruise market, and Tasmania may be the most tranquil spot to dock. Harbor town Hobart, on the southern half of the island, took a top spot on Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2013 list, and it's not hard to see why. Equal parts artsy and outdoorsy, Hobart offers museums, shops, and seaside cafes for cruise passengers to explore before taking off for Tasmania's slate of adventure activities. Many major cruise lines stop in Hobart; check out excursions from Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity.
Marina Bay, Singapore
With the official completion of the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore last year, there's an uptick in cruise service to, from, and stopping in Singapore in 2013. The Southeast Asian city-state has some of the best-developed infrastructure the world over and has become a transportation hub for many cruises that depart for China, Malaysia, and beyond. But the port itself shouldn't be missed: From the retail-heavy Orchard Road to the actual orchids (over 3,000 of them, in fact) in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the massive, modern city is an urbanite's dream. Take advantage of new excursions from Royal Caribbean's recently revitalized Mariner of the Seas and see for yourself.
Asia continues its ascendency as an upmarket cruise capital, with Hong Kong's new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal opening in Kowloon in June. Royal Caribbean has three ships scheduled to use the terminal regularly (including the aforementioned Mariner of the Seas), and other major cruise lines are expected to follow suit. Step off the boat and explore the nearby fishing village of Lei Yue Mun, where visitors can buy fresh seafood at the market stalls and take it to a restaurant to be cooked. Farther away from the new port, Hong Kong's adventurous street eats or one of the countless shopping-mall meccas await.
Mississippi River Cities
River cruising has long been a popular way to traverse the planet, especially in Europe, but this year, it's experiencing a rebirth in the U.S. along the wide, rolling ribbon of the Mississippi. American Cruise Lines christened its new Queen of the Mississippi riverboat mere months ago in Nashville, while other providers, including Avalon Waterways, offer homeports across the country in Chicago, St. Paul, Nashville, New Orleans, and so on. The sheer accessibility of a Mississippi River cruise makes it an economical option for many stateside travelers, and these cruises come with a host of genteel Southern cities (think Baton Rouge and Vicksburg) to explore.
Sochi marries a palm-tree-laden beach-bum town with customary Russian opulence. Undiscovered by most North Americans, the seaside escape is popular with locals for its surprisingly temperate climate. (In fact, the Black Sea is warm and swimmable well into fall.) Adventure enthusiasts can take to the nearby Caucasus Mountains for Olympic-level skiing, while history buffs can spy into Stalin's dacha, just a short trip from downtown. Expect prices to skyrocket and cruises to be booked solid next year, when the 2014 Winter Olympics roll in. For 2013, however, cruise lines are ahead of the curve, with Azamara featuring a 12-night itinerary that docks in Sochi on its Quest.
Saint John, Canada
Caribbean destinations continue to welcome over half of the world's cruise passengers, but North America has taken a big bite out of that number. Maritime Canada, and especially Saint John in the province of New Brunswick, continues to see a surge in cruise traffic. This year, sail into Canada via the tides of the Bay of Fundy on Carnival, Cunard, and other major cruise lines. Once docked, check out the quaint uptown area, filled with Victorian charm, before experiencing the famous Reversing Falls via jet boat. Almost everything in Saint John revolves around the water—a perfect destination for seafaring travelers.
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