Exotic Ports: Off-the-Beaten-Path Cruise Itineraries

As cruising as a vacation choice matures and more luxury travelers head to sea, they are increasingly looking for off-the-beaten-path itineraries with exotic ports. So what’s trending? Evaluating the latest research and trend data from such travel organizations as Virtuoso and Travel Leaders Group, among others, Luxury Travel Advisor likes these five international locales for cruisers in search of far-flung port experiences.   


Making three port calls in the “Land of Smiles” is Oceania Cruises’ 200-day “Global Quest,” an “around-the-world” voyage from Miami to New York. Departing January 8, 2020, the 684-passenger Insignia heads south through the Panama Canal to Mexico and the U.S. West Coast, then ventures around South America and across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa, the Indian Ocean and Asia. In Thailand, guests go ashore at Bangkok (overnight), plus Phuket and Ko Samui.

The latter two are less frenetic than Bangkok and many guests likely haven’t visited them. So what’s to see and do in those? In Phuket, we’d opt for the Oceania Exclusive “Highlights of Phuket” small group tour (minimum 10, maximum 16 guests) visiting an array of top island sites. Guests will visit a cashew nut factory; the Phuket Sea Shell Museum; Wat Chalong, an ornate Buddhist temple; Karon Beach; Patong Beach; and historic Phuket Town with its Sino-Portuguese-Thai buildings.

An idyllic, forested island, Ko Samui offers beaches, temples, cascading waterfalls, rubber trees, coconut farms and an elephant camp. Particularly appealing for wellness buffs is Oceania’s “Ko Samui Wellness Discovery” excursion as they will get to visit a coconut museum, practice yoga in a coconut plantation’s garden and visit Samui International Meditation Center, known for its Middle Way Meditation technique (designed to achieve inner peace in hopes that an enlightened state of mind will lead to world peace).

Insignia’s 322-square-foot Penthouse Suites (PH1, PH2 and PH3 categories) were available to book at press time. Guests in those suites enjoy 24-hour butler service; free laundry service; priority 11 a.m. ship embarkation, priority luggage delivery; a welcome bottle of champagne; priority online specialty restaurant reservations; unlimited access to Canyon Ranch SpaClub’s private Spa Terrace; use of a laptop computer with Wi-Fi access; free unlimited Internet; use of an iPad if desired; Bvlgari amenities and more.

For those sailing the full cruise, OLife Choice perks include free airfare, unlimited Internet and a choice of one of these complimentary perks: 78 shore excursions or a beverage package or a $7,800 shipboard credit per stateroom. Plus, an Exclusive Prestige Package adds more perks, including complimentary onboard medical care, a one-night, pre-cruise luxury hotel stay, roundtrip transfers and more.

Also calling at Phuket during its 108-night “New York Far East Roundtrip” is Cunard Line’s 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2, departing January 3, 2019. For the ultimate in pampering, reserve a Queens Grill Suite. Those top-end accommodations have private butler and concierge service as well as a complimentary bar stocked with the guest’s choice of spirits, wines and soft drinks. Guests in Queens Grill suites can access the exclusive Grills Lounge and Grills Terrace, where they can relax and savor afternoon tea or a cocktail.

The biggest perk for guests booked in those suites, though, is the fine dining and impeccable cuisine in the exclusive Queens Grill restaurant at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner entrees could include such choices as poached and roasted poulet de bresse and butter-poached Scottish langoustines tails, rissole potatoes, baby carrots and langoustine sauce; roast breast and confit legs of grouse, black pudding, salsify, beetroot, blackberries and toasted hazelnuts with a raspberry vinegar sauce; or wild mushroom agnolotti with a truffle and mushroom puree and marinated baby vegetables.  

While in Phuket, we’d pretend to be James Bond and book Cunard’s day trip to Phang-Nga Bay. Cruisers board a smaller boat for a cruise through dramatic limestone formations that rise from the emerald green sea. The goal is to reach Khao Phing Gun or James Bond Island, made famous in “The Man with the Golden Gun” movie. Cruisers also will visit Koh Panyi with its stilted Thai Muslim fishing village. Before returning to QM2, a Thai buffet luncheon will be served at a Phang-Nga Bay hotel. Alternatively, travelers can put their toes in the sand during a relaxing beach outing at a Karon Beach resort hotel.  

For a Bangkok embarkation and Phuket overnight call, Windstar Cruises’ 33-day “Star Collector: Comprehensive Southeast Asia Exploration” itinerary awaits. Departing November 19, 2018, the 212-passenger Star Legend operates an in-depth Asian sailing between Bangkok and Singapore. Calls take guests to Vietnam (overnights in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Halong Bay for Hanoi), Hong Kong, the Philippines (Manila overnight), Brunei and Malaysia.   

While in Phuket, one fun night market is Chillva Market in Phuket Town with a cool, bohemian vibe, good selection of stalls and a local feel, or, alternatively, the Phuket Walking Street Market in Old Town, a cultural shopping experience amid Sino-Portuguese houses. During the day, we also like Patong Beach’s Banzaan Market, a modern Thai fresh market nicely displaying fresh seafood, vegetables, flowers, Thai sweets, meats, fruits and dried goods. A plus for shoppers is the nearby Jungceylon mega-mall.  

When picking accommodations on Star Legend, we’d suggest a 400-square-foot Classic Suite, forward on Deck 5 or a 277-square-foot Balcony Suite, mid-ship on Deck 6; some accommodations in both categories were still available at press time.


The newly acquired, 690-passenger Azamara Pursuit, Azamara Club Cruises’ third boutique vessel, is being updated / refreshed and will begin sailing in late summer. By acquiring this third vessel, upmarket Azamara can expand its global portfolio of itineraries. Case in point? On December 1, 2018, Azamara Pursuit will sail a 21-night “South America Voyage from Lima to Buenos Aires, Argentina” with many maiden calls including three in Peru — Callao (Lima), Pisco (San Martin) and Salaverry (Trujillo). This itinerary also features ports in Chile, Argentina, the Falklands and Uruguay.

The Inca Fortress with terraces and temple hill will be a major attraction for Azamara guests visiting Ollantaytambo, Peru. // Photo By Getty Images / davidionut

We’d definitely book the line’s pre-cruise, five-night overland journey to ancient Machu Picchu. It’s an in-depth program. Guests stay the first night at an airport hotel, then board a flight the next day to Cusco for Sacred Valley touring and a private lunch at the 17th-century Hacienda Huayoccari. They’ll learn about ancient pottery techniques at the Pablo Seminario Pottery Atelier before checking into the luxury resort and spa of Tambo del Inka for the second night.

On the third day, guests will explore the Moray Ruins, the Incas’ agricultural testing ground, the Maras Salt Mines and Maras where Teodosio Argandano, a traditional hat maker, will explain his techniques. Cruisers who are avid chefs or want to impress dinner guests should look for packets of local Peruvian pink sea salt, hand-harvested from the mines. These make nice gifts for family or friends, as do Peruvian textiles, alpaca clothing, an Andean-style chullo hat or a friendship bracelet.

The pre-cruise tour continues with a gourmet picnic lunch and visits to Chinchero village, a Peruvian weaver’s workshop and Ollantaytambo Fortress. Then guests board the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham train for the “climb” through the Andes to Machu Picchu. Upon arrival, they’ll visit the citadel, then overnight at the Sumaq Hotel, and return to Machu Picchu the next day for more touring. Guests can then choose afternoon high tea at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge or to stay a bit longer at Machu Picchu.

Then it’s back to Cusco via the train, an overnight at the Palacio del Inka Luxury Collection Hotel, a stroll around San Pedro Market, a Pachapapa cooking demonstration and a return to Lima for boarding Azamara Pursuit. For the cruise itself, we’d suggest the 603-square-foot Club World’s Owner’s Suite, which also has a spacious, 233-square-foot balcony; it was still available at press time.  

The 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, a new Scenic oceangoing small-ship sets sail this summer. On November 16, 2018, it will operate an eight-day “South American Coastline” voyage from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Valparaiso, Chile. One port day is spent at Salaverry, Peru, and five days at sea will appeal to those who love spa days, reading, lectures or soaking in the whirlpool. 

Top digs are the Two-Bedroom Penthouse and the Owner’s Penthouse, both on Deck 9. While Scenic Eclipse isn’t a big ship, it has multiple lounges and bars, 10 dining experiences, a Spa Sanctuary and several pools. Guests receive unlimited complimentary beverages, participation in the Scenic Epicure culinary school program, daily entertainment and wellness activities. All tips / gratuities both onboard and ashore are included in the fare.

On March 17, 2019, Ponants Le Boreal sails a 12-night “Cordillera & Andean Secrets” itinerary from Valaparaiso, Chile to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The vessel calls at Coquimbo, Iquique and Arica, Chile plus Matarani, Pisco, Callao (overnight) and Salaverry, Peru. What’s special? Ponant has “Overlands” at certain ports. At Pisco, there is an Overlands air flight over the Nazca Lines, a vast expanse of archaeological enigmas — in the shape of spiders, lizards and monkeys — only visible from the sky.

At Callao, an Overlands option will transport guests via airplane to Cusco, where they’ll overnight in a hotel before visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu. Top suite on Le Boreal is the 484-square-foot Owner’s Suite plus a private balcony. We also like the 398-square-foot Prestige Suites, each with a private balcony. Suite amenities include flat-screen satellite TV, iPod players, French bath products, 24-hour room service, a minibar and more.

For a diverse Peruvian experience, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 500-passenger Europa 2, operates a 13-day voyage from Colon, Panama, to Valparaiso, Chile on January 17, 2020, with four Peruvian port calls, or alternatively, if guests desire, one port call for touring and a multi-day overland journey to Machu Picchu. The ship’s first stop in Peru is Salaverry for touring the Moche Valley, home to the ancient Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun’s ruins.

Then during the Callao call, guests can either disembark for the journey to Machu Picchu, or take a Lima highlights tour. During the next day’s Paracas (Pisco) call, those who stayed with the ship can take a flight over the Nazca Lines and visit Incan ruins at Tambo Colorado. All guests rejoin the ship at Matarani, an exotic desert-like locale.

Europa 2 is an “international cruise” product (both English and German are spoken). English-speaking passengers should feel comfortable as all documentation, menus, announcements, lectures, the safety drill and Zodiac instruction are in English; one shore excursion per port is also in English. Most luxurious accommodations? That’s the 1,066-square-foot Owner Suite with a 161-square-foot private veranda; we love its stunning master bath with an ocean view.  


More luxury lines are heading “down under.” For example, in 2019, Crystal Cruises has a maiden call at Port Arthur, Tasmania during its 16-day “New Zealand Grandeur” itinerary. Operated by the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony, that itinerary begins March 23, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand and concludes in Sydney, Australia.

Port Arthur, Tasmania was a mid-1800s prison site. Crystal will give its guests a chance to learn more about the prison’s notorious past, when Crystal Symphony makes its maiden call in 2019. //Photo By Getty Images / Stefan Keet 

Initially a timber settlement, Port Arthur was a notorious mid-1800s prison site. Today, though, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and despite its harsh past, the prison along the water almost appears to resemble a chateau, castle or fortress. In addition to hearing the tales of life in that prison, cruisers will discover much natural beauty surrounding it.

For accommodations, we’d opt for the 491-square-foot Seabreeze Penthouse Suite with a queen-sized bed or two twins, and a third berth too. Guests can relax in a spacious living area or their private veranda. They’re also pampered with butler service, large luxury showers and body jets, ultra-thin 43-inch interactive HDTVs, complimentary soft drinks, beer and bottled water in the suite, as well as complimentary wine plus a choice of liquor from a set menu upon embarkation. This suite has both a refrigerator and a washer / dryer combination, a nice perk. This suite was available to book at press time.


Mombasa’s culture is a mix of African and Arab influences. For centuries, ancient dhows from Egypt and the Middle East sailed into Mombasa to establish trade routes. European powers also journeyed here. Winding through narrow alleys, Mombasa’s Old Town has buildings of ornately carved Arab architecture while the aroma of fresh spices wafts through the air. Standing guard is the 16th-century Fort Jesus, a Portuguese fortress that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nearby Nyali Beach is a good spot for fun in the sun and those desiring to see pachyderms should visit Shimba Hills National Reserve.

Fort Jesus, a 16th-century Portuguese fortress, draws tourists to Mombasa, Kenya. // Photo By Getty Images / FevreDream

Ultra-luxury Seabourn offers several cruises of different lengths that visit Mombasa. On January 30, 2019, the 458-passenger Seabourn Sojourn embarks guests in Mahe, the Seychelles for a 22-day “African Isles & Cape Coast” voyage to Cape Town, South Africa. The first port call is Mombasa, followed by Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and ports in the Comoros, Mozambique and South Africa.

Or, if guests wish for a longer voyage, the 48-day “African Isles and Cape Exploration” voyage begins in Singapore on January 16 and concludes in Cape Town; it, too, features Mombasa. In addition, a 128-day “Great Oceans Exploration” voyage embarks guests in Los Angeles and calls in Hawaii, South Pacific ports, Australia / New Zealand and the other ports mentioned above, including Mombasa.

For the 22-night sailing, Oceanview Suites were still available at press time, but higher level accommodations were “call for availability.” Veranda Suites were still available on the 48-night itinerary. Seabourn Sojourn’s 300-square-foot Veranda Suites also have a 65-square-foot exterior veranda. Inside, guests have a comfortable living area, a queen or two twin beds, dining table for two, walk-in closet, interactive flat-screen TV with music and movies, fully stocked bar and refrigerator, makeup vanity and a spacious bathroom with separate tub and shower.


Silversea Expeditions’ newly renovated and ice-strengthened, 254-passenger (or 200-passenger in polar regions) Silver Cloud Expedition offers a 14-day “Arctic and Greenland Expedition Cruise” from Reykjavik, Iceland to Tromso, Norway on June 18, 2019. Top option is the Owner’s Suite with either a one- or two-bedroom configuration. 

Pre-cruise, we’d opt for Silversea Expeditions’ three-night “Iceland’s Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon” package as it takes guests to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Blue Lagoon natural geothermal spa in a lava field. During the cruise itself, cruisers likely will “ooh” and “aah” at spotting tens of thousands of birds at the Latrabjarg Cliffs. Keep your eyes peeled for Atlantic puffins, northern gannets, razorbills and guillemots.

Husavik, Iceland, popular for whale watching and its early 1900s-era wooden church, will be visited by the Seven Seas Navigator in 2019. // Photo By Getty Images / bluejayphoto

On Vigur Island, Silversea Expeditions’ cruisers will see how life unfolds on a tiny, private Icelandic isle and how Icelanders collect eiderdown (soft feathers from the female eider duck), highly prized for bedding. Silver Cloud Expedition also will visit Dynjandi in the Westfjords region, home to one of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls at more than 330 feet high and 100 feet across. The name Dynjandi means, “the thundering one.” Carrying 16 Zodiacs, the ship also cruises along the Hornbjard Cliffs and calls at Akureyri, Iceland’s “capital of the north” with many late 19th-century wooden houses, before heading to Arctic Norway.

On June 29, 2019, Regent Seven Seas Cruises sails a 12-night “Iceland Summer Sojourn” cruise from Dublin to Reykjavik on the Seven Seas Navigator. In addition to calls in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland’s Hebrides and the Faroe Islands, Denmark, this itinerary features three Iceland destinations — Akureyri, Isafjordur and Reykjavik. At Isafjordur, guests can tour the scenic countryside, explore gardens or, perhaps take Regent Seven Seas’ “Kayaking in Onundarfjorour” excursion, allowing them to paddle along towering mountains, see the beauty of nature close-up, and perhaps even spot a seal or whale.  

For 2019, Regent also has debuted several new Grand Voyages, which provide a regionally immersive, extended experience with no repeating ports. One of those is the 77-night, “Grand Arctic Quest” from London to New York. Departing on June 18, 2019, Seven Seas Navigator will sail to destinations in the British Isles, Iceland, Scandinavia, Greenland and New England, plus the same three Icelandic ports mentioned for the line above.  

In addition, Regent will call for the first time at Husavik, Iceland in 2019. One itinerary calling there is Seven Seas Navigator’s 14-day “Norsemen to Royals”, departing July 11, 2019, from Reykjavik to London (Southampton). Husavik is famed for whale watching and its early 1900s-era wooden church.  For up to five guests, we like the ship’s Master Suite with a spacious living room, bedroom with European king-sized Elite Slumber bed, a master bath plus a half bath for guests, walk-in closet with safe and a private balcony.

Regent Seven Seas has two-for-one, all-inclusive fares covering these complimentary features: business class air on all intercontinental flights with transfers between airport and ship; unlimited shore excursions; unlimited beverages including fine wines and premium spirits; open bars and lounges; in-suite minibar replenished daily; prepaid gratuities; specialty restaurant dining; unlimited Wi-Fi; and more. Butler service also is included for penthouse suites and higher accommodations.

Tauck is expanding its oceangoing offerings with Ponant, the luxury small-ship operator. This summer and in the summer of 2019, Ponant’s new Le Laperouse will operate Tauck’s eight-day “Iceland: Land of Fire & Ice” itinerary; Le Laperouse is the first of four new Explorer series expedition ships launched by Ponant this year and next. While most of the voyages this summer are sold out, the line is offering a similar program for 2019, with about half the stateroom / suite categories sold out at press time, so space was still available.

Decorated by French designers, Le Laperouse’s staterooms will range from 204 square feet to 296 square feet, with suites going up to 484 square feet. Ninety-five percent of all accommodations will have private balconies. Most notable of the new vessel’s public features? The small ship will have a one-of-a-kind Blue Eye lounge, situated beneath the water line; it will offer both a multi-media experience and marine life viewing. 

The Blue lagoon natural geothermal spa, located in a lava field, in Iceland is famous for its mineral-rich water. // Photo by Getty Images / Gerardo Borbolla

Premium Lines Down Under

More premium lines are adding Australia voyages. On December 21, 2018, Holland America Line’s 16-day “Southern Ocean Holiday” voyage on the 1,200-passenger Maasdam sails from Sydney to Fremantle (Perth); it will call at such ports as Melbourne, Hobart (Tasmania), Port Arthur (Tasmania), Adelaide, Penneshaw, Port Lincoln, Esperance, Albany and Bunbury.

One new perk for Maasdam’s guests is a “lite” version of the line’s new EXC (Explorations Central) lounge; it’s been incorporated into the existing Crow’s Nest, where guests will find new touch screens with shore activity ideas based on their specialized interests and onsite EXC guides ready to help plan their day ashore. Taking that a step further, new exotic EXC in-depth voyages are being introduced on Maasdam. Starting in September, guests can expect Zodiac tours, and the ship is adding more guest lecturers and more in-depth lectures. In addition, Maasdam also now features updated culinary offerings created by the line’s Culinary Council of celebrity chefs.

During 2018-19, Celebrity Cruises is returning the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice to Australia and New Zealand. Most notable? The premium line plans more overnight stays in more cities than in the past, as well as more daytime stays of more than 12 hours. Calls include Wellington, Tauranga and Milford Sound in New Zealand, along with Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns in Australia, among other ports. 

Back by popular demand is Celebrity’s “Great Barrier Reef” itinerary round-trip from Sydney on October 29, with two days in Cairns. We particularly are interested in Celebrity’s new shore excursion from Cairns that’s an “overnight” on the Moore Reef Pontoon boat in the midst of the Great Barrier Reef. During this 23-hour adventure, guests will view colorful corals, fish and marine life; dine on a traditional three-course Australian barbecue dinner; and, best of all, sleep under the stars on a stable pontoon boat for an unforgettable adventure.

For those who may want to see Australia by land, but then hop on a short cruise for a few days or perhaps head to Tasmania for a different “down under” perspective, Princess Cruises has three- and four-night cruises on Sun Princess from Sydney, plus a six-day Tasmanian sailing roundtrip from Sydney on February 17, 2019; the latter spends two days at sea and has port calls at Burnie, Port Arthur and Hobart (overnight).

One Princess shore trip from Hobart is the “Richmond Bonorong, Barilla Bay Oysters and Wine” excursion. It includes visits to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, Richmond’s historic village and the Barilla Bay Oyster Farm, where cruisers will taste freshly shucked oysters and view the interpretation center before dining on fresh Tasmanian produce and wine tasting.

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