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Spectacular Bora Bora: Built to navigate the narrow inlets of French Polynesia, the Paul Gauguin can maneuver from open ocean to shallow lagoon as nimbly as a yacht.

Courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises

Spectacular Bora Bora: Built to navigate the narrow inlets of French Polynesia, the Paul Gauguin can maneuver from open ocean to shallow lagoon as nimbly as a yacht.

12 extraordinary cruises to take in 2017-18

Exotic getaways to the South Seas, Africa, Antarctica & more

National Geographic has just published a selection of the 21 Best Cruises in the World, ranging from river cruises on the Amazon, Nile and Danube to ocean cruises to the Galapagos, Baltic Sea and Antarctica.

We decided to narrow that down to 12 sailings and to add context and background information about each of the cruise itineraries, as well as photos and videos, to help you decide which ones to knock off your bucket list.

Here, then, are 12 exotic & extraordinary cruises to take in 2017-2018.

 

Wake up to a spectacular view of the Amazon when you sail aboard Aria on an Avalon cruise.
Courtesy of Avalon WaterwaysWake up to a spectacular view of the Amazon when you sail aboard Aria on an Avalon cruise.

Conquer the Amazon's Peruvian rainforest

1

The experience: There’s serenity, romance and a measure of adventure when cruising the Amazon River aboard Aria. Sailing the northern stretch of the river in Peru, Aria brings you up close to the wildlife and natural beauty of one of the world’s great rainforests.

The ship: The petite, 32-guest Aria is fitted with onboard amenities that promise sailing in comfort, including an air-conditioned suite and outdoor whirlpool. Dining options include gourmet Peruvian cuisine prepared with fresh, local ingredients.

Where: Aria sails the northern Amazon River. The 11-day cruise includes guided tours of Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco and other renowned sites. On the Amazon, cruisers can take naturalist-guided panga rides through the river tributaries and visit native communities.

Getting there: Avalon WaterwaysAria

 


Christine Loomis: “I love this shot. Once the turtle starting swimming toward shore, all I had to do was lay on a rocky beach for a while and wait. The Galapagos are just zillions of photo ops waiting to happen.”
Christine Loomis / Special to CruiseableChristine Loomis: “I love this shot. Once the turtle starting swimming toward shore, all I had to do was lay on a rocky beach for a while and wait. The Galapagos are just zillions of photo ops waiting to happen.”

Admire exotic species in the Galapagos 

2

The experience: Given the fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, the area is off-limits to large cruise ships. But you have a lot of options among the smaller expedition vessels. Cruisers explore the islands from designated landing sites in groups of no more than 16, led by licensed naturalist guides. You should be able to carefully walk right up to giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and other exotic wildlife.

The ship: You have a choice of many cruise lines. National Geographic Endeavour II (which partners with Lindblad Expeditions) launched in December 2016 after a $10 million makeover, carrying 96 passengers. Your experience will be enriched by a National Geographic naturalist. Celebrity Cruises launched two ships dedicated exclusively to the Galapagos in March: the 48-passenger Celebrity Xperience and the 16-passenger Celebrity Xploration.

Where: Excursions to the Galapagos typically involve flying into Ecuador, often followed by a flight to Baltra Airport on the Galapagos and then excursions to some of the remote islands.

Getting there: Lindblad ExpeditionsNational Geographic Endeavour II |SilverseaSilver Galapagos | Celebrity CruisesCelebrity Xpedition, Celebrity Xperience, Celebrity Xploration | G Adventures: several ships 

 


Take a river safari aboard the Zambezi Queen to see wildlife and take in the rustic vistas along Africa's Chobe River.
Courtesy of AmaWaterwaysTake a river safari aboard the Zambezi Queen to see wildlife along Africa's Chobe River. (Click to enlarge.)

Take a river safari through the heart of Africa

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The experience: These short two- or three-day cruises will give you a taste of Africa with a river twist. Your cruise takes you down the Chobe River, passing by Botswana’s Chobe National Park, known for the greatest concentration of elephants in Africa. 

The ship: The 28-passenger Zambezi Queen, with 22 crew members, features contemporary, air-conditioned balcony staterooms up to 300 square feet, a dining room, lounge, bar and pool area. AmaWaterways, with its emphasis on wine and food amid comfortably stylish details, has carved out a niche in the river cruise arena. Expect a full English breakfast each morning. 

Where: The Zambezi Queen cruises the River Chobe, with excursions to Chobe National Park and Kasenu village. Because the Chobe River is brimming with wildlife, the show comes to you. 

Getting there: AmaWaterways: Zambezi Queen

 


Passenger make use of Paul Gauguin's water sports marina in French Polynesia.
Courtesy of Paul Gauguin CruisesPassenger make use of Paul Gauguin's water sports marina in French Polynesia. (Click to enlarge.)

Sail to French Polynesia on Paul Gauguin

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The experience: There's a reason French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea) has captured travelers' imaginations for generations: It really is one of the most magical destinations on the planet. The experience aboard the Paul Gauguin reflects the beauty and rich cultural heritage of the islands she calls upon. On land you'll visit a private motu (islet), and on the larger islands you can frolic in the surf, snorkel or rent a vehicle to explore inland.

The ship: The five-star, 332-passenger Paul Gauguin — still small by cruise ship standards — offers unsurpassed service, a casually chic ambience, a complimentary water sports marina (for kayaking, windsurfing and paddle-boarding) and all-inclusive pricing. More than 70 percent of staterooms have private balconies. The food is some of the best at sea, with three upscale dining venues. Local singers and dancers perform on board. 

Where: The Paul Gauguin sails in and around Tahiti, the Society Islands, Cook Islands, Tuamotus, Tonga, Fiji and the Marquesas. 

Getting there: Paul Gauguin Cruises: Paul Gauguin

 


A 3-minute video about the "Treasures of the Mekong River" cruise.

Sail Southeast Asia in luxury

5

The experience: Scenic, which operates a fleet of luxury river ships, launched Scenic Spirit in January 2016. The Southeast Asia itineraries come with guided tours (such as a visit to the monastery in the old Cambodian capital of Oudong) and the ship features upscale, comfortable furnishings. 

The ship: The 68-passenger river ship Scenic Spirit features all-balcony suites and an almost 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio. She is equipped with a sleek swimming pool, a steam sauna and an open-air cinema. Scenic’s all-inclusive fares cover alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, butler service, guided tours from local experts and gratuities.

Where: Scenic Spirit features itineraries in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, including such destinations as the Mekong River, Halong Bay and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat).

Getting there: ScenicScenic Spirit

 


Edfu, Egypt, located on the west bank of the Nile. The town is known for the Temple of Horus, built from sandstone blocks between 237 BC and 57 BC, into the reign of Cleopatra VII, Wikipedia tells us.
Gerik Zayatz / Creative Commons BY-NDEdfu, Egypt, located on the west bank of the Nile. The town is known for the Temple of Horus, built from sandstone blocks between 237 BC and 57 BC, into the reign of Cleopatra VII.

Explore ancient temples along the Nile River

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The experience: Journey past date palms, ibis, ancient temples and other cultural sites aboard an upscale river ship. Wander through the Temple of Karnak, the Temple of Luxor and Temple of Hatshepsut. Follow in the footsteps of renowned scholars and explorers as you venture into the Valley of the Kings.

The ship: Several ships ply the Nile. If you opt for Uniworld's 82-passenger, all-suite River Tosca you'll find a stylishly adorned lounge with full-service bar, cozy library, restaurant, massage room and an expansive sun deck with shaded cabanas and a swimming pool.

Where: Each ship has slightly different itineraries. River Tosca's port calls include Luxor, Kom Ombo, Aswan and Edfu, Egypt. 

Getting there: Uniworld River Cruises: River Tosca | Viking River Cruises & Avalon Waterways: ms Mayfair | Avalon WaterwaysSonesta St George


The Parliament Building in Budapest, Hungary, built in a Gothic Revival style and opened in 1904, is a highlight of any river cruise along the Danube.
Gabriel Hess / Creative Commons BY-SAThe Parliament Building in Budapest, Hungary, built in a Gothic Revival style and opened in 1904, is a highlight of ms Joy's river cruise along the Danube. (Click to enlarge.)

Sail the Danube & waltz into history

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The experience: Tauck’s 130-passenger ms Joy, which launched just last July, has the same length but fewer guests than most of the ships on the timeless Danube River. On your all-inclusive vacation, Tauck arranges exclusive access to a number of venues, such as dinner at the private Akademia Club in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and tours of the Hungarian State Opera House, both in Budapest, and a tour of Engelszell Abbey, Austria's only Trappist monastery.

The ship: The Joy features the most large suites (300 square feet) of any European riverboat — a total of 22, each outfitted with two French balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, a pull-out couch, walk-in closet and a marble bathroom. All private rooms offer in-cabin movies, a minibar, luxury toiletries and plush bedding: 100 percent goose down pillows, 400-thread-count linens and pillow-top mattresses. Venues include two restaurants, a panoramic lounge, massage studio and salon and a sun deck complete with a putting green, plunge pool and outdoor seating. (See Cruiseable's ship overview.)

Where: The  Joy embarks on multiple Danube and “Christmas Markets Along the Danube” itineraries, some of which cater to multigenerational groups.

Getting there: Tauck River Cruisesms Joy

 


Adult Adelie penguins plunge into Antarctica's frigid waters during a Lindblad expedition.
Michael S. Nolan / Courtesy of Lindblad ExpeditionsAdult Adelie penguins plunge into Antarctica's frigid waters during a Lindblad trip. (Click to enlarge.)

Take that bucket list trip to Antarctica

8

The experience: How to describe the world’s highest, driest, coldest, windiest, emptiest, most isolated continent? Antarctica's allure comes down to its elemental beauty, its overwhelming vastness and its fragile purity. During an expedition you'll typically be treated to sightings of Adélie, chinstrap or gentoo penguins, sea lions, seals, sea birds, the occasional whale — and some otherworldly sounds you'll never forget. This is not a trip for the meek or fussy.

The ship: Forty ships carrying six to 500 passengers conduct pleasure cruises in Antarctica each year. You can take a luxury ship, expedition vessel or large ship. One good choice is National Geographic Explorer, which features underwater video equipment that lets you peer at what’s going on below the surface. 

Where: You'll cruise from Argentina (or Chile) across the Drake Passage and then take a Zodiac to a landing on the continent. 

Getting there: Most ships depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. Nearly all cruises take place during Antarctica's summer months of December to February.

 


Cruise on Viking's new ocean ship, Viking Sea, for breathtaking views in the Baltic Sea region.
Courtesy of Viking Ocean CruisesCruise on Viking's new ocean ship, Viking Sea, for breathtaking views in the Baltic Sea region.

See the Baltic on a new Viking ocean ship 

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The experience: You'll have plenty of quality excursions to get a taste of the Baltic Sea region — and one excursion per port comes as part of your base fare. You might tour the charming streets of Tallinn, Estonia, tour the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, or take in a private performance at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm

The ship: Viking's three new 930-passenger ocean ships feature Scandinavian flourishes, classical musicians, theatrical productions on stage, enrichment lectures from scholars and experts, an onboard cooking school and multiple dining venues. All staterooms have private verandas, king-size beds, large showers and LCD TVs. Our favorite, though, is the steamy sauna and snow room in the spacious LivNordic spa — at no extra cost. 

Where: Cruises typically include port visits to Copenhagen, Tallinn, Helsinki, Stockholm and sometimes St. Petersburg, Russia. 

Getting there: Viking Ocean Cruises: Viking Sea, Viking Star or Viking Sky

 


The Northern Lights over the Norwegian fjords, as seen on a Hurtigruten cruise.
Ørjan Bertelsen / Courtesy of HurtigrutenThe Northern Lights over the Norwegian fjords, as seen on a Hurtigruten cruise.

See the Northern Lights in Norway

10The experience: If you really want to experience the Northern Lights, your best bet is to head to Norway. Stroll through charming coastal cities, snowmobile across the tundra or go on a nature hike before viewing the Northern Lights at night.

The ship: There are lots of ships that call on the dark fjords of Norway, which are a primo location for spotting an aurora borealis. Hurtigruten's ships are no-frills affairs without some of the amenities on traditional cruise ships, but they offer regional cuisine, lots of hearty companionship and a nonstop adventurous spirit. 

Where: The fjords of Norway. The best visibility for the Northern Lights is from November to February each year.

Getting there: Hurtigruten ships that sail along Norway's coastal routes include Finnmarken, Nordnorge, Nordlys, Nordkapp, Polarlys, Richard With and Kong Harald. 

 


Le Ponant, carrying only 64 passengers, sets sail for ports of call around the world.
Courtesy of Ponant Le Ponant, carrying only 64 passengers, sets sail for Corsica and beyond.

Sail the Mediterranean on a yacht

11The experience: Equal parts yacht and luxury ship, Le Ponant from France-based Ponant calls on some of the western Mediterranean's most sublime smaller ports in destinations like Corsica and the Amalfi Coast. Vacation like a jet-setter and meet an interesting group of worldly cruisers, then head on shore for some unexpected discoveries.

The ship: Get treated to Champagne and macarons while chatting up fellow guests on the romantic 64-passenger ship. Coastal navigation and “island hopping” are easily accomplished, and the image of several dramatic harbor entrances will last a lifetime. Staterooms (about 150 square feet) are all ocean-facing and include a private bathroom with shower, mini bar, multi-channel music system, individual climate control and a telephone with worldwide satellite access. Dining is al fresco when weather permits. 

Where: Le Ponant offers itineraries round-trip from Nice, France, to Corsica and elsewhere.  

Getting there: PonantLe Ponant

 


The paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi cruises its namesake Mississippi River year round.
Courtesy of American Cruise LinesThe paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi cruises its namesake Mississippi River year round.

Roll on the Mississippi River

12The experience: Queen of the Mississippi from American Cruise Lines, launched in 2012, was modeled after traditional riverboats of the late 1800s, and she was the first paddlewheeler built for the Mississippi River in nearly 20 years. Visitors are treated to visits to small riverfront towns and guided tours of historic landmarks and Victorian-era estates.

The ship: Queen of the Mississippi offers passengers modern amenities and comforts, including large staterooms with private balconies, hotel-style bathrooms, complimentary room service, Wi-Fi and more. Beneath this old-timey riverboat's historic décor, gleaming woodwork and brass fixtures is a framework of modern cruise ship technology.

Where: Queen of the Mississippi cruises her namesake Mississippi River year round. Winter cruises sail from New Orleans to Memphis, Tenn. Summer cruises feature the Northern Mississippi from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minn. 

Getting there: American Cruise LinesQueen of the Mississippi or America | American Queen Steamboat Company: American Queen  

— Hat tip: Sherri Eisenberg, editorial director at Shermans Cruise, provided National Geographic with her list of 21 dream river and ocean cruises. 

Interested in one of these cruises?

Interested in one of these cruises? Contact the Cruiseable Business Department to speak with a travel professional at 1-877-322-3773.

Cruiseable team
The Cruiseable editorial team consists of award-winning travel writers, cruise bloggers and journalists.

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