In-Depth Voyages: Exploring One Country by Cruise

Kings Park offers great views of the Swan River and the city of Perth, which will be visited by Regent guests during their “Circle Australia” itinerary. //Photography: Getty Images/Bruce Aspley

Everyone talks about “diving deeper” into the destination, but how can luxury cruisers do that? Certainly, they can choose a voyage that offers late nights and overnights in port. Increasingly though, there’s another different way: Cruise lines are developing new “country-intensive” itineraries that offer three, four or even more days of port calls within the same nation, giving travelers more time to delve into layers of a country’s culture. 

In-Depth Australia: During an Australia circumnavigation, cruisers can snorkel above the Great Barrier Reef, taste local wines, experience cities and small towns, explore the rugged Outback, visit world-class museums, and, of course, get up close to kangaroos and koalas. To do all that, we’d suggest Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new 36-night “Circle Australia” itinerary, departing January 23, 2020. 

Sailing roundtrip from Sydney the 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator will call at an amazing array of Australian ports, including Brisbane, Mooloolaba, Airlie Beach, Cairns, Darwin, Exmouth, Geraldton, Perth (Freemantle), Esperance, Adelaide, Penneshaw (Kangaroo Island), Portland, Melbourne (overnight), Phillip Island, Burnie (Tasmania) and Eden. This robust cruise also includes port time in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, several sea days and up to 59 included shore excursions.

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In Melbourne, we’d opt for Regent Seven Seas’ “Kangaroos & Koalas Sundown Adventure” for a chance to spot Eastern-grey kangaroos in the bush and wild koalas in the forested You Yangs Regional Park at sunset, followed by a casual meal in the wild with wine and champagne. When Seven Seas Navigator calls at Perth (Fremantle), one good option is the included “Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail,” to sample wines, beers and cuisine at three wineries / breweries in western Australia’s oldest wine region. 

We love that the line is offering an optional mid-cruise overland trip for guests to explore the Outback and see Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock); guests will leave the ship in Brisbane, visit a koala sanctuary, continue to Australia’s “Red Center” for several nights and then rejoin the ship in Cairns. Also, travelers can choose from three pre- or post-cruise stays; one covers Sydney, another Sydney-Blue Mountains and a third Sydney-Canberra.   

At press time, the 356-square-foot Penthouse Suites (with butler service), as well as Concierge Suites, Deluxe Veranda Suites and other accommodations were still available. All guests on this cruise will receive two-for-one all-inclusive fares, plus such complimentary perks as business-class air on intercontinental flights with transfers between airport and ship; unlimited shore trips and much more.  

In Cork, Ireland, Azamara Pursuit guests can choose to visit the Cobh Cathedral, which overlooks the Cork harbour. //Photography: Getty Images / Lukas Bischoff

In-Depth Tahiti & the Society Islands: For couples seeking romance in French Polynesia, a small-ship luxury cruise is a good way to stroll along remote beaches and swim or enjoy watersports in lovely coves and harbors that bigger ships can’t visit. Paul Gauguin Cruises offers an enticing seven-night “Society Islands and Tahiti Iti” itinerary on multiple 2020 dates. 

Elegant and luxurious, yet casual in ambiance, the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin sails roundtrip from Papeete to Vairao (Tahiti Iti), Huahine, Bora Bora (overnight), Taha’a and Moorea (overnight). A major draw for this itinerary is the chance to explore the wild coastline, ancient petroglyphs, marae (temples) and pockets of authentic Polynesian culture of “Little Tahiti” or Tahiti Iti, the smaller of two landmasses that comprise the island of Tahiti. 

Also, since the cruise line is owned by Pacific Beachcomber, during the ship’s call at Taha’a, guests can luxuriate for a day on Motu Mahana, the luxury hospitality group’s private islet with white-sand beaches, swaying palm trees, a barbecue lunch, drinks served in coconuts and a floating lagoon bar. Similarly, on Bora Bora, guests can take advantage of Pacific Beachcomber’s exclusive white-sand beach for relaxation or such activities as paddle boarding, volleyball, snorkeling or kayaking. 

Nearly 70 percent of Paul Gauguin’s suites and staterooms have private balconies; all feature ocean views. We particularly like the Owner’s Suites with private verandas between 534 square feet and 588 square feet of interior space; these accommodate up to three guests. The suites also have butler service and complimentary Wi-Fi.

In-Depth Ireland / Northern Ireland: If cruisers desire to explore both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and visit eight different ports within the “Emerald Isle,” Luxury Travel Advisor suggests Azamara Club Cruises’ 12-night “Ireland Intensive Voyage,” one of many upscale, country-intensive voyages it operates worldwide.

On May 24, 2020, Azamara Pursuit sails roundtrip from Southampton, U.K. with calls at both Dublin and Belfast, but also at Donegal, Londonderry, Waterford, Cork (Cobh), Galway and Foynes. The voyage also has six late night stays and one overnight in Dublin, and we particularly like that some ports aren’t typical. Perhaps the best example of that is the ship’s call at Foynes village at the mouth of the River Shannon. 

A “must see” for aviation and maritime buffs is the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum, located within the former air terminal building used by 1930s-40s passengers boarding Pan-Am’s transatlantic “Flying Boats.” It’s a hoot to peruse old airline uniforms, navigational gear and the world’s only full-size B314 flying boat replica. Also, the museum’s 3-D holographic show recreates a night in 1943 when Chef Joe Sheridan invented Irish coffee in Foynes for weary passengers who’d returned to the airport restaurant after bad weather forced their New York-bound flight to turn back.

In Londonderry, Northern Ireland, guests can explore the historic walled city or perhaps take Azamara’s “Glenveagh National Park, Castle and Gardens” excursion into the highlands. From the Northern Ireland port of Belfast, we’d definitely choose Azamara’s excursion to Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed for its natural rock formation of tens of thousands of interlocking basalt columns. 

Because Azamara Pursuit overnights in Dublin, cruisers can do a shore excursion one day, perhaps dine ashore or enjoy the nightlife that evening, and still have time to explore independently the next day. In Dublin, a new Roe & Company Distillery opens for tastings this April. Cruisers desiring to dine at a 2019 Michelin two-star restaurant can make reservations at Patrick Guilbaud, 21 Upper Merrion St., Dublin. It’s nestled in an elegant Georgian house, and dishes combine classical French cooking with modern techniques. 

Azamara Pursuit’s largest suites are the 603-square-foot Club World Owner’s Suites, which include a living room, separate bedroom with a queen-size bed, marble master bath with shower, and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open to a private, 233-square-foot veranda. Guests are pampered with butler service.

In-Depth Spain: If travelers desire a Spain-intensive cruise on a new ultra-luxury ship and to extend that with a pre- or post-cruise Spanish land stay, we’d suggest Silversea Cruises’ nine-night cruise roundtrip from Barcelona, departing October 30, 2020. The new 596-passenger Silver Moon will call at the Spanish ports of Malaga, Cartagena, Palma de Mallorca, Cadiz (overnight) and Valencia. It will also spend a day cruising the Spanish coastline and call at Gibraltor.

Another good reason to choose this voyage? Silversea’s new S.A.L.T (sea and land tastes) program with “food as the means to the destination” will debut on this ship. Expect Bourdain-not-Michelin-style local food experiences, both ashore and onboard. For example, cruisers could visit a local chef’s home for a cooking presentation, taste signature cocktails at a local restaurant, listen to foodie enrichment talks and much more. The ship’s new onboard S.A.L.T Kitchen will showcase local dishes from the sailing region while the S.A.L.T Lab will be a spot for culinary research, hanging out with fellow foodies, talking with culinary experts and more.  

This Spain-intensive itinerary has a well-rounded grouping of Spanish ports so guests will enjoy the line’s portfolio of sightseeing, cultural, culinary, heritage and active experiences ashore. But sometimes, luxury cruisers simply have to shop. In Malaga, we’d head for the 19th-century, marble-lined pedestrian street, Calle Larios. It’s a shopping magnet for upscale clothing from Mango, Bimba, Women’s Secret, Lola and, most notably this year, the giant new Massimo Dutti store on the street’s south end. 

Top suites on Silver Moon are the Owner’s Suites and Grand Suites, which have butler service. The Owner’s Suite can be reserved in either a one- or two-bedroom configuration and can encompass up to 1,389 square feet including veranda for the two-bedroom suite. 

Calle Marqués de Larios, a pedestrian shopping street in Malaga, will attract Silver Moon guests when they visit the port in 2020. //Photography: Getty Images / ivotheeditors

In-Depth New Zealand: One ultra-luxury voyage to New Zealand that offers both multiple port calls and stunning scenic cruising is Crystal Cruises’ 13-night “New Zealand Natural Wonders” voyage on Crystal Serenity. Sailing February 19, 2020 from Auckland to Sydney, Australia, the ship first calls at Rotorua (Tauranga), New Zealand, where it has a late-night stay. Rotorua’s eclectic shore options range from a Mamaku Forest zipline experience to a Hobbiton movie set visit and from a Maori-guided forest walk to a Top Gun fighter jet experience or a country estate gourmet lunch by helicopter. 

Next, the ship spends two days in Napier, New Zealand, where Crystal’s guests can head out for golfing, a “Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safari,” a sheep station visit or the rejuvenating “Mangarara Eco Lodge Yoga Retreat.” But Napier is wine country, so Crystal also offers diverse wine tasting excursions; these include wine tasting and lunch at Mission Estate, a combination cycling-winery excursion, a visit to two Hawke’s Bay wineries, Abbey Cellars and Black Barn or “Art Déco & Wine Tasting by Road Train.” 

Crystal Serenity’s other New Zealand port calls are Wellington, Picton, Akaroa and Dunedin; plus, it sails within Doubtful Fjord, Dusky Sound and Milford Sound. The ship also spends two port days in Tasmania, Australia and two days cruising the Tasman Sea. Crystal offers a pre-cruise stay at Auckland’s SKYCITY Grand Hotel

At press time, the 1,368-square-foot Crystal Penthouse with Veranda suite category was still available as was the Deluxe Stateroom with Veranda (P2 category); other categories were “call for availability.” 

In-Depth Japan: Small-ship, boutique-luxury Ponant has unveiled a new eight-night “Immersion in Japanese Culture” departure on May 30, 2020. Operated from Osaka, Japan to Maizuru, Japan by the 264-passenger Le Soleal, this voyage calls at many Japanese ports — Tamano, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Uwajima (famed for its 17th-century castle), Kagoshima (with a highly visible active volcano, Mount Sakurajima), Nagasaki and Sakaiminato — as well as at Busan, South Korea. Cruisers can also add a two-night pre-cruise visit to Kyoto.

Designated as a “Quintessential Collection” voyage, this itinerary taps notable speakers and shore experiences to spotlight the local culture. Providing insight for guests on shore trips and onboard will be Timon Screech, author /professor of art history, the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London; Holly Shimizu, former executive director, U.S. Botanic Garden, and former host of PBS’ “Victory Garden,” and Osamu Shimizu, a contemporary Japanese gardens expert.

Throughout the cruise, guests will delve deeply into Japanese culture via gardens, tea ceremonies, holy shrines, traditional dance performances and fine art. One highlight? It’s an included private, exclusive audience for all guests with the abbot of Nagasaki’s Kofukuji Temple, the birthplace of the Obaku school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Guests will be greeted by the abbot and guided through the temple. They will also witness a service with music and enjoy a private reception featuring Zen cooking. 

Separately, all passengers can participate in an “included” and exclusive, private tea-making ceremony. Optional experiences include a special performance of Kagura dances at Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto holy place; a private visit to Sakaiminato’s Yuushien Garden; and a cooking class demonstrating how to cut and plate deadly puffer fish. 

While the Owner’s Suite was wait-listed at press time, all other accommodations, including the luxurious Prestige Deck Suites were still available; the latter have private balconies, either a king or twin bed configuration, iPod players, butler service and 24-hour room service.  

Crystal Cruises’ New Zealand voyage will call at Rotorua, where guests can ride a cable car to take in the scenic views of the city. //Photography: Getty Images / kapukdodds

In-Depth Indonesia: For travelers desiring an in-depth Indonesia cruise experience and a pre-cruise Bali stay, we’d check out Windstar Cruises’ 14-night “Uncommon Indonesia” itinerary, operated by the 148-passenger Wind Spirit, a sleek, four-masted sailing ship (also motorized) with wide, open teak decks and an upscale, boutique-style onboard product. 

Departing March 23, 2020 from Benoa (Bali), Indonesia, Wind Spirit sails to the Indonesian ports of Lembar, Celukan Bawang, Probolinggo, Pulau Menyawakan, Semarang, Krakatoa, Pantara Island and Pulau Bintan, before the voyage ends in Singapore. One “must do” for many guests visiting Semarang is a shore excursion to Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Alternatively, during the Semerang call, cruisers might explore Gedung Batu, the city’s oldest Chinese temple complex, and then chow down on a great Chinese meal. For those who want to spend most of their time ashore touring, but grab a quick, delicious meal, we’d suggest Kedai Beringin, a relatively large, efficient eatery with tasty Chinese, Asian and Indonesian dishes, plus vegetarian and vegan options. We’d order the crispy, tasty barbecue pork. 

As for bragging rights on this itinerary, amateur volcanologists can tell their friends back home they’ve seen Mount Bromo near Probolinggo on Java, Gunung Rinjani on Lombok, Mount Batur near Benoa and the infamous, still-active Krakatoa, which erupted in the late 1880s and was the subject of a best-selling Simon Winchester novel, “Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.” 

Off-the-beaten-path beaches and good snorkeling / diving waters are also easy to access on this country-intensive cruise. On Celukan Bawang, cruisers can lounge and swim from the black-Lovina Beach, while remote Pulau Menyawakan’s biodiverse reef system is home to dozens of species of corals and sponges. Wind Spirit’s aft watersports platform also provides plenty of water toy diversions.

All Wind Spirit staterooms have ocean views, queen beds, flat-screen TV with a DVD player, and Bose SoundDock speakers for Apple iPods. Wind Spirit’s top suite is the 220-square-foot Owner’s Suite with a separate sitting area. For a Bali pre-cruise stay, guests can choose either the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa or the Fairmont Sanur Beach.

In Durban, Oceania guests will be drawn to the Golden Mile beach area, Juma Masjid and the Victoria Street Market. // Photography: Getty Images / filrom

In-Depth South Africa: Oceania Cruises’ 14-night “Accent on Africa” cruise on January 6, 2020 is one immersive South Africa option. Sailing roundtrip from Cape Town, the 684-passenger Nautica calls at Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Richards Bay, all in South Africa, as well as Walvis Bay, Namibia and Maputo, Mozambique. Because the ship overnights in Cape Town on the evening prior to disembarkation, guests have free time ashore for evening activities and dining. Cruisers can also add on safari lodge stays with game drives within South Africa.   

During the East London day, cruisers will explore lovely beaches, the city’s aquarium and the East London Museum. One quirky fact? Did you know that the museum is home to the world’s only surviving dodo egg? The dodo bird was declared extinct in the late 17th century. In Durban, cruisers will head ashore to see British colonial architecture, the Golden Mile beach area and Juma Masjid, the southern hemisphere’s largest mosque. 

To dive deeper into the local Durban culture, why not stroll through “The Vic,” or Victoria Street Market, with several hundred stalls, a downstairs fish market and an exotic spice aroma? Cruisers will also find a nice selection of Indian saris, arts and crafts, ceramics, dolls and hand-made baskets for sale in the market but be prepared to bargain.

Oceania has many pre- or post-cruise add-ons, including game drives and wine country visits. Its pre-cruise, four-night “Kruger and Ngala Safari Lodge” package begins in Johannesburg and includes exploration of Ngala Private Game Reserve, which shares an unfenced boundary with Kruger National Park; guests enjoy game drives and also spend one pre-cruise night in Cape Town. Post-cruise, the three-night “Garden Route-Sanbona Dwyka Lodge” package offers a chance for travelers to view South Africa’s only free-range white lions.

The 322-square-foot Penthouse Suites (PH1, PH2 and PH3) with a private veranda and 24-hour butler service were still available at press time, as were concierge level, deluxe veranda, oceanview and other staterooms.  

Windstar CRUISEs’ “Uncommon Indonesia” itinerary in 2020 will give cruisers a chance to see four volcanoes, including Mount Bromo near Probolinggo on Java. Photography: Getty Images / lkunl

In-Depth Vietnam: While ocean lines don’t typically sail only to Vietnam, for those seeking a country-intensive approach, we’d opt for something Luxury Travel Advisor experienced earlier this year. Spending four full days in Vietnamese ports is Seabourn’s 14-day “Vietnam and Thailand” voyage on the ultra-luxury Seabourn Ovation. Sailing between Hong Kong and Singapore on multiple 2020 dates, this ultra-luxury ship spends two full days in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon), one full day at Ha Long Bay (for Hanoi) and another day at Da Nang (Hue and Hoi An). 

In Ho Chi Minh City, we took Seabourn’s “Soul of Saigon” excursion. At the history museum, we admired exhibits, Cham sculptures and a water puppetry performance. Other tour stops were frenetic Ben Thanh Market, the Reunification Palace (the former South Vietnam Presidential Palace), Paris Square for views of Notre Dame Cathedral and the French Colonial-styled Post Office and Chinatown for a historic temple and lacquerware shop. We’d recommend the tour as an excellent overview. 

In Da Nang, one popular option is Seabourn’s Hoi An tour, a guided walk through that UNESCO World Heritage Site, plus a local village walk to a kindergarten, small temple compound and one family’s home and garden. At Ha Long Bay, we selected the Ha Long Bay boat tour to see dramatic, hauntingly beautiful rock formations amid the water seascapes. Definitely, the scenery lived up to its reputation. 

For two couples traveling together on this Vietnam-intensive Asia voyage, we’d select the Grand Wintergarden Suite with 1,292 square feet of interior space plus two verandas. These suites have large windows, dining for six, a glass-enclosed solarium with tub and day bed, two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a whirlpool bath), a pantry with wet bar, guest bath and more. Pampering perks include butler service and complimentary Internet / Wi-Fi.

One thing is clear: More lines are creating new itineraries that focus on multiple ports of call within one country — as they try to satisfy guest demand for “diving deeper” in a country’s culture and heritage.  

More Intensive Voyages 

In-Depth Cuba: On multiple dates in February 2020, SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream I sails a six-night cruise from Cienfuegos (overnight), Cuba to Havana, with calls in Trinidad, Cayo Largo, Isla de Juventud and Maria La Gorda. A reverse voyage is also available in February 2020 from Havana to Cienfuegos.

In-Depth Greece: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 500-passenger, ultra-luxury Europa 2 is targeted at the English-speaking / international market. Check out its eight-day “Fascinating Greece” itinerary departing August 30, 2020 roundtrip from Piraeus (Athens) to Naxos, Simi, Rhodes, Delos, Santorini, Mykonos, Volos and Skopelos. It’s fun for cruisers to go ashore in Skopelos to see locations from the hit film “Mamma Mia!” 

Alternatively, for “under sail” thrills, cruisers can board Sea Cloud Cruises’ luxurious, five-masted Sea Cloud for a nine-night voyage between Thessaloniki and Piraeus (Athens), Greece. It departs July 3, 2020 and calls at Skiathos, Mykonos, Agia Anna / Naxos, Syros, Karavostasis / Folegandros. Or, for casual, boutique-style, small ship cruises, Celestyal Cruises, Star Clippers and Variety Cruises also offer Greece-intensive itineraries.  

In Vietnam, Seabourn will offer a guided walking tour of Hoi An, a city which has a well-preserved Old Town recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. //Photography: Getty Images / quicksnapphoto

In-Depth Alaska: America’s 50th state is massive and a sailing region unto itself (so we’ve included it here). Dozens of lines offer hundreds of Alaska voyages each summer, but we like Viking Ocean Cruises’ 10-night “Alaska and the Inside Passage” voyages in summer 2020. Sailing between Vancouver, BC, and Seward, AK, the 930-passenger Viking Orion will call at Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Valdez and Seward (overnight), plus cruising Yakutat Bay, fed by the Hubbard Glacier; seven guided tours are included in the cruise fare. A six-night “Pristine Alaska: Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks” is among Viking’s many add-ons. 

In-Depth Canary Islands: For a luxury holiday voyage with many sea days to relax and four days in the sun-soaked Canary Islands, Cunard Line’s “Canary Islands Celebration” on Queen Victoria sails roundtrip from Southampton on December 23, 2020. Canary Island port calls include La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, plus two Portuguese calls.

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