Tuesday, September 22

Six of the best ways to cruise the Americas

You could spend a lifetime cruising in the Americas and never become jaded. The region’s landscapes encompass glaciers and snow caps, volcanoes and desert, vineyards and farmland, and shimmering coconut-draped archipelagos to encourage your every buccaneer fantasy. At the extremities of the continents you can see polar bears or penguins, while in Central America you’ll encounter toucans, sloths and monkeys.

All that is before you hit some of the world’s great cities, from New York to Rio. Ports offer colonial-era architecture and contemporary urban dynamism, cultural sights that include pre-Columbian ruins, great art museums and music trails, and cuisines that run from spicy Caribbean stews to the latest in chic Peruvian fusion food.

For true cruise fanatics, there’s always the opportunity to tick off three legendary routes: the Northwest Passage, Cape Horn and the Panama Canal. The happy news is that the diversity of the Americas is matched with myriad options in cruise styles. Here are six top ways to set sail.

LUXURY CRUISING

America might be the spiritual home of the budget megaship, but the Americas are rich in cruises aboard luxury ships that carry 1000 or fewer passengers, and sometimes just 200. Their advantage isn’t only comfort levels but their ability to dodge cruise crowds and sail into smaller ports and remote destinations. Many also have varied and well-considered shore excursions, some with privileged access.

Luxury cruises visit every cranny of the Americas, and provide an alternative experience in highly cruises regions such as Alaska and the Caribbean. Among operators are Crystal (crystalcruises.com), Seabourn (seabourn.com), Silversea (silversea.com), Oceania (oceaniacruises.com), Ponant (ponant.com) and Regent Seven Seas (rssc.com), on whose ships you can expect expansive suites, butler service, fine food and premium wines, and personalised service. Windstar (windstarcruises.com) and Sea Cloud (seacloud.com) offer luxury cruises under sail on tall ships.

OUR PICK

Patagonia is a great destination to explore by upmarket ship – there’s nothing like the contrast between luxury and wild landscapes. Crystal Cruises’ 12-night Buenos Aires to Ushuaia itinerary explores the Argentinian coastline, with detours into Chile and the Falkland Islands. You sail aboard Crystal Endeavor, which launches this August and carries helicopters, submarines, underwater scooters and jet skis. From $17,210pp, departs November 6, 2021. See crystalcruises.com

RIVER CRUISING

The mighty Columbia and Mississippi are the best-known river-cruise destinations in America, although you can cruise the Arkansas, Cumberland, Detroit, Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee rivers too, among others. Protectionist regulations mean the market is dominated by American Cruise Lines (americancruiselines.com) and American Queen Steamboat Company (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com), both of which are expanding their fleets. Blount Small Ship Adventures (blountsmallshipadventures.com) has interesting cruises on the Great Lakes and along the Intercoastal Waterway of America’s eastern seaboard.

The Peruvian Amazon is South America’s big eco-destination; ocean ships visit the Brazilian Amazon and sometimes the Orinoco River. Companies include Avalon Waterways (avalonwaterways.com.au), Lindblad Expeditions (au.expeditions.com), Oceania and Ponant. Aqua Expeditions’ (aquaexpeditions.com) new ship Aqua Nera that sets sail in August, offering cruises on tributaries of the Amazon and in Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.

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OUR PICK

Luxury brand Uniworld enters South America for the first time this year with two new itineraries in the Peruvian Amazon aboard Aria Amazon, which debuts in September. The 15-day Peruvian Amazon & Machu Picchu Exploration opens with a land visit to Lima, followed by a seven-night Amazon cruise, and ending with trips to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Cusco. From $21,399 double occupancy, six departures between September and October 2020. See uniworld.com

COLD CRUISING

North America’s chilly extremities offer mountains, fiords and glaciers in mostly remote, rugged destinations. True, some ports in Alaska see shore-excursion crowds, but take an expedition or small-ship cruise and you can sail into seldom-visited bays ringed by snow peaks and fringed with jagged glacial edges.

About 30 big ships service Alaska, as do luxury ships from companies such as Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea. Cunard (cunard.com) is spending its first full season in Alaska in 2020, more than doubling its program in the region. A host of small companies provide more adventurous itineraries.

If you want to get really remote, consider the Canadian Arctic with Chimu Adventures (chimuadventures.com), Poseidon Expeditions (poseidonexpeditions.com) or Quark Expeditions (quarkexpeditions.com). Mainstream luxury cruise lines such as Crystal and Regent Seven Seas now regularly sail the Northwest Passage.

OUR PICK

Lindbald Expeditions’ new polar-class ship National Geographic Endurance embarks on its inaugural Arctic cruises this year. National Geographic Explorer is also Arctic bound, including a 17-day Exploring Greenland & The Canadian high Arctic cruise that visits the fabled Ilulissat Glacier and eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage. Zodiac excursions are accompanied by wildlife experts. From $21,620pp, departs August 7 and 15, 2020. See expeditions.com

EXPEDITION CRUISING

You’ll find expedition cruises everywhere in the Americas, but Alaska, the Canada Arctic and Greenland, the Amazon River, the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia in particular entice adventurous, active and outdoorsy cruisers with their rugged landscapes, abundant wildlife and quirky remote settlements.

Expedition cruises sail on small ships that carry Zodiacs and usually water-sports equipment, but you don’t have to sacrifice comfort thanks to luxury expedition companies such as Crystal, Ponant and Seabourn. This year, Silversea’s Silver Origin joins several recent new ships that have considerably raised the luxury bar in the Galapagos.

A more overlooked but growing cruise region is Central America, both on the Pacific and Caribbean sides, and especially in hot eco-destination Costa Rica, where companies such as Aurora Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, Peregrine Adventures (peregrineadventures.com) and UnCruise Adventures (uncruise.com) sail.

OUR PICK

Seabourn Venture, Seabourn’s first ultra-luxury purpose-built expedition ship, arrives in 2021 to sail worldwide cruises that include the Americas. Its 14-day Panama Canal & the Humboldt Route will takes guests from balmy Barbados to Peru, where sea lions frolic around the Guanape Islands. The cruise visits Colombia, Panama and Ecuador, and is accompanied by a 26-person expedition team of wilderness experts, scientists, historians and naturalists. From $15,000pp, departs October 12, 2021. See seabourn.com

CHILL-OUT CRUISING

Thanks to huge landscapes, throbbing cities and exotic cultures, few destinations in the Americas are entirely relaxed. Hawaii is more associated with Pacific than American cruising. That leaves the Caribbean, a fantastic cruise destination overlooked by Australians. It isn’t just a distant Queensland of beaches, coconut trees and coral reefs but offers a rich blend of cultures and cuisines, thousands of islands, and coastlines along Central America and Mexico offering ancient ruins, national parks and flamboyant festivals.

Big-ship companies sail out of Miami and are a good choice if you’re after family-friendly amenities and experiences. However, small-ship companies such as Crystal, SeaDream (seadream.com), Star Clipper (starclippers.com) or Windstar will take you to kick-back islands, cays and deserted beaches for your own castaway moment.

OUR PICK

Ponant’s seven-night Pearls of the Caribbean cruise on Le Champlain sails round-trip from the French island of Martinique and visits under-the-radar destinations in Guadeloupe, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada, and well as the Grenadines, one of the Caribbean’s most stunning archipelagos. Here volcanoes, tropical rainforest, coral reefs and rugged landscapes combine to provide quintessential Caribbean scenery. There are just 184 passengers, accompanied by a scuba-diving instructor. From $4110pp, departs February 13, 2021. See au.ponant.com

THEMED CRUISING

A steadily growing number of themed cruises provides a great way to combine a cruise holiday with a special interest. Among mainstream themed cruises in the America’s are bridge cruises from Oceania, culinary cruises from Silversea, photography cruises from Lindblad Expeditions and wines cruises from UnCruise Adventures.

Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com.au) offers the music-minded occasional Caribbean cruises themed on jazz, disco, electronic music and salsa, while an Azamara (azamara.com) cruise in November 2020 between Rio and Buenos Aires focuses on golf.

Beyond these, the range of choices is wonderful and occasionally weird, with independent companies chartering ships for Star Trek, poker, sci-fi, goths, singles, LGBTQ+, dance and other speciality cruises. And yes, last month a nude cruise on Carnival Legend set sail in the Caribbean.

OUR PICK

Though often not explicitly themed, autumn cruises in New England do focus on what Americans call leaf-peeping during a spectacular moment of seasonal flamboyance. Oceania’s Montreal to New York cruise takes in top leaf-peeping destinations such as Acadia National Park in Maine, Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the rural landscapes of which are associated with Anne of Green Gables. From $5,870pp, departs October 6, 2020. See oceaniacruises.com