Nothing can match the feeling of unalloyed joy at being at sea, or the excitement as your cruise ship slowly eases away from the dock. Even after more than a decade of writing about cruises, I still get that same thrill and sense of anticipation as I linger on deck to relish the romance of sailaway.
I’ll never forget sailing out of New York on Cunard’s ocean liner Queen Mary 2 as the band struck up the Rod Stewart classic Sailing. Knowing we wouldn’t see land for another seven days lent an extra resonance to our departure on one of the world’s great crossings.
It’s these experiences that lure devoted cruisers like me back to the water time and time again. A fact that is being borne out by a rising tide of cruise bookings, which have gathered pace since the start of the year.
Many operators have reported heightened levels of interest, with people treating themselves to extravagant voyages.
James Cole, managing director of Panache Cruises, said: “The further ahead it is, the more people are booking longer trips to faraway places and spending more money as they make up for two years of not cruising.”
Here’s our pick of the best cruises that you should be booking right now.
1. Boldly British
Celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with A Right Royal Cruise to all four home nations on a special circumnavigation of the UK’s waters. The sailing is a maiden season highlight of Ambassador Cruise Line, which emerged phoenix-like from the ashes of Cruise & Maritime Voyages – just one of many cruise casualties of the pandemic. Like CMV, Ambassador is based at Tilbury and Ambience, a 1,400-passenger ship, is aimed squarely at British cruisers.
How to do it: A Right Royal Cruise is a 12-night round-trip voyage departing Tilbury on May 26. From £1,139pp (0808 102 8159; ambassadorcruiseline.com).
2. Travel back in time
Nostalgic types will relish a special and historical Holland America Line sailing that turns the calendar back 150 years to the golden age of sea travel by recreating the maiden voyage of its first ship, Rotterdam I, in 1872. Departing from its namesake Dutch city, the company’s newest ship (also called Rotterdam), will spend a day at Le Havre, allowing for trips to Paris. It will then dock at Plymouth before the transatlantic crossing to New York.
How to do it: The 14-night 150th Anniversary Transatlantic voyage departs Oct 15 and costs from £2,359pp including flights, drinks, WiFi, a shore excursion and $100 onboard credit (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).
3. Get green fingers
Flower power rules on Arena River Cruises’ new flagship the Arena, which will spend its maiden season cruising the waterways of Holland and Belgium to visit the decennial Dutch horticultural extravaganza Floriade (April 14 to Oct 9). Bringing added bloom is gardening guru and television presenter Charlie Dimmock, who accompanies the May 11 voyage to attractions including De Kruidhof Botanical Garden (the largest in the country), and the Dutch baroque Het Loo Palace and gardens in Apeldoorn, which was built for William of Orange, who ascended to the English throne.
How to do it: The six-night Delightful Holland & the Floriade round trip sailing from Amsterdam departs May 11. From £1,199pp, including return UK coach travel, ferry crossing and Floriade entry (01858 435655; arenarivercruises.co.uk).
4. Go for longer
Coastal landscapes of craggy shores, candy-striped lighthouses and remote communities feature in a debut Fred Olsen Cruise Lines sailing along Canada’s underappreciated Atlantic coast. This itinerary is now possible only due to the longer range of Borealis, which joined the fleet (along with sister ship Bolette) in 2020, replacing the older ships Boudicca and Black Watch. The brand new voyage showcases natural highlights with rambles along Newfoundland’s coastal trails, a visit to Cape Spear lighthouse and trekking through the Gros Morne National Park.
How to do it: A 15-night Rugged & Rural Canada round-trip voyage from Liverpool, including calls at St John’s, Halifax and Louisbourg, departs Aug 9. From £2,299pp (0800 084 6546; fredolsencruises.com).
5. Be a trailblazer
Fast-expanding Italian line MSC Cruises is adding not one but two ships this year, with the New York-themed MSC Seascape being followed by futuristic MSC World Europa in October. Carrying nearly 6,800 guests, the latter will be one of the world’s largest ships and is being tipped as a trailblazer. Powered by LNG – one of the world’s cleanest marine fuels – it promises a swathe of innovative twists including a new dining concept and avant-garde designs. Even its maiden season is unusual, with Red Seas cruises featuring Saudi Arabia – a new addition to the cruise scene.
How to do it: A nine-night round-trip voyage from Doha, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Saudi Arabian port city of Dammam, departs Dec 20. From £1,169pp (020 3897 8569; msccruises.co.uk).
6. Go coastal
The azure waters of the Adriatic and jewel-like Dalmatian islands of Croatia will shine even brighter with a selection of new motor yacht cruises from touring and river cruise giant APT. It’s a new move for the Australian company, which tested the waters with two sailings on the 36-passenger Princess Eleganza last autumn. Departures run from May to September and a second yacht, the newly built 34-guest Lady Eleganza, will offer cruises between Opatija and Split to Dubrovnik with highlights including the Krka National Park and isles of Rab, Vis and Korcula. It’s the perfect option for anyone looking for a more intimate experience.
How to do it: A one-week Croatian Island Adventure between Dubrovnik and Split departs on several dates with prices from £1,995pp, including flights and tours (0800 012 6683; aptouring.co.uk).
7. Explore your ancestry on the Rhine
If you’re fascinated by family history, dive into the depths of Europe’s grand cities on a themed Rhine cruise with AmaWaterways. Experts from genealogy specialists Ancestry will take passengers back in time to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers as they visit Cologne, Heidelberg and Strasbourg. All guests will be given a five-hour consultation with Ancestry prior to the sailing, followed by another consultation on board with the accompanying genealogist, who also leads an excursion to Antwerp’s historic Red Star Line Museum. A must for all fans of a family tree, and the fascinating movements of families across Europe.
How to do it: The one-week Heritage River Journey departs from Amsterdam to Basel on July 30. From £4,240pp, including flights and Ancestry package (0800 520 2250; amawaterways.co.uk).
8. Live life luxuriously
Be among the first to revel in the jet-set lifestyle when the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection unveils its swanky new super-yacht, Evrima, in May. Fans of the upscale hotel brand have waited a long time for this much-delayed arrival, whose rarefied confines will accommodate 298 guests in 149 lavish suites. On board you’ll find a sprinkling of dining venues as well as a spa, fitness centre and water sports marina. Evrima will spend its maiden season cruising the western Mediterranean’s hip hotspots, exploring the Adriatic and pootling through the Greek isles.
How to do it: A one-week cruise from Athens to Istanbul, including Patmos, Kusadasi and the Turkish island of Bozcaada, departs Aug 13. From £5,565pp (0800 048 8667, ritzcarltonyachtcollection.com).
9. A Carnival for kids
Anyone looking for an all-American party flavour can find it close to home this summer as Carnival Cruise Line returns to Dover after nearly a decade, offering sailings to northern Europe, Scandinavia and around the UK. As 2022 marks the line’s 50th birthday, the fun factor on the family-friendly Carnival Pride will be ramped up, adding extra pizzazz to the splashing thrills of the onboard water park and kids’ clubs parades, plus a feast of speciality dining spots with burgers and sushi alongside steaks and Mexican.
How to do it: A nine-night round-trip Norwegian fjords cruise from Dover, including Stavanger, Alesund, Olden and Bergen, departs June 10. From £748pp (0808 234 0680; carnival.com).
10. Find a new sense of freedom
Slip into the steamy waters of Budapest’s famous hot baths, savour skyline views from Bratislava’s UFO observation restaurant and explore Vienna’s classical streets by bicycle on a new Riviera Travel Cruise & Explore sailing on the Danube. What makes these sailings most appealing, however, is that guests will be able to steer their own path on three new flexible half-board sailings. Unlike conventional cruises, this allows for the scope to arrange your own transportation, dine locally and book excursions independently or via Riviera’s tour partners, meaning that you can contribute to the local economy and experience more of each destination. The new-style – and lower-priced – sailings have been implemented in response to an increase in customer demand for more independence, with Rhine and Rhône departures also offered.
How to do it: A one-week Danube cruise from Budapest to Passau departs Nov 4. From £799pp (01283 523431; rivieratravel.co.uk).
11. Once-in-a-decade bragging rights
It’s a big year for Viking Cruises as the company marks its 25th anniversary by plunging into expeditionary cruising with its first two purpose-built explorer ships, two more ocean vessels and three new river craft on the Mississippi, Mekong and Nile. In Europe, the once-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play, staged in the Bavarian village of the same name and recounting the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, takes centre-stage on Viking’s Danube sailings.
How to do it: Nine-night packages, including overnights in Munich and Oberammergau and one-week cruise from Regensburg to Budapest, are offered on selected sailings between May and September. From £4,195pp, including flights (0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk).
12. Embark on a superyacht-sized adventure
Escape to the balmy surroundings of the Red Sea while becoming among the first to sample Emerald Cruises’ first coastal voyages. The river cruise line is dipping its toe into salty waters with a new custom-built “superyacht.” Emerald Azzurra will accommodate 100 passengers, and will feature a pool and water sports platform – just the craft for exploring this coastline with world-class diving around Sharm el Sheikh, the pink-rose Nabatean city of Petra near Aqaba and historic Bedouin tribe lands around Nuweiba.
How to do it: A seven-night round-trip sailing from Aqaba departs March 11. From £3,625pp, including gratuities (0808 252 0580; emeraldcruises.co.uk).
13. Go viking anytime
Feast like a chieftain at a Viking banquet in a traditional-style longhouse; speed across Norway’s frozen Arctic landscapes on a snowmobile to snare gargantuan king crabs; and race along snowy tracks on an enchanting husky dog-sledding escapade. Such adventures abound on new Norwegian coastal voyages with Havila Voyages, whose first ship started sailing last month (December 2021). Three more ships will follow and all are battery-powered and emission-free.
How to do it: Voyages between Kirkenes and Bergen are year-round, call at 34 ports, and include a variety of trip lengths from six or seven-day one-way sailings to 12-day round-trips. Prices from £947pp (03455 280026; havilavoyages.com).
14. Be pampered like an Ancient Roman
Silversea’s new ship Silver Dawn casts new light on pampering with a new Otium wellness programme inspired by the Ancient Romans’ love of indulgence. Guests will be cocooned whichever way they turn, be it bathing, dining or spa therapies. Explore Spain’s wealth of cultural sights, from the Silk Road legacy of Valencia’s Old Town and melting pot of Cartagena – which bears the imprints of contrasting cultures since its founding by the Carthaginians in 227BC – to the New World riches of Cadiz, from where Columbus set forth to discover the Americas.
How to do it: A nine-night round-trip cruise from Barcelona departs May 16. From £4,700 including flights (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).
15. Family frolics with a lower footprint
Eco-friendly cruising is promised on the Rhine aboard new A-Rose Sena which, thanks to technology enabling it to switch to battery power, is claimed to be the greenest cruise craft on Europe’s rivers. The 280-passenger vessel not only be one of the largest river ships around, it’s family-friendly too with a kids’ club, children’s pool and cabins sleeping up to five people.
How to do it: A one-week Rhine Discovery Amsterdam and Rotterdam round-trip cruise from Cologne, which also includes Dordrecht and Antwerp, departs July 23. From £4,366 for a family of four (0344 984 0828; flexidirectholidays.com/cruise).
16. Rail, romance and a touch of the Gothic
Sink your teeth into a new Uniworld cruise and rail adventure that breathes life into Dracula country on a luxury train trip through Transylvania. Kick things off with a cruise of the Danube that includes biking and hiking trips in Passau, a foodie tour of Budapest and a private classical concert in Vienna. Guests will board the Golden Eagle Danube Express to explore the vampire’s legendary haunts, with a walking tour of Dracula’s rumoured birthplace in Sighisoara.
How to do it: The 11-night Enchanting Danube & The Castles of Transylvania, comprising a one-week cruise from Passau to Budapest and four-night train journey, departs October 9 & 23. From £11,799pp, including flights (0808 273 6468; uniworld.com)
17. Visit somewhere remote
Since being revived, venerable British favourite Swan Hellenic has morphed from its cultural roots into an expedition line with three new Polar-class ships designed to delve into the world’s most inaccessible regions – perfect for the cruiser that has done everything. The first 152-passenger vessel, named Minerva in tribute to Swan’s original ship, ventures into Russia’s Far East and the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire where active volcanoes dominate a remotely-beautiful landscape that blends with an intoxicating mix of Russian and Japanese cultures.
How to do it: A 10-night Russia’s Ring of Fire round-trip voyage from Otaru in Japan, including the Kuril Islands of Yankicha, Atlasov and Sarychev, departs June 5. From £9,001pp (020 7846 0271, swanhellenic.com).
18. Where two worlds meet
It is possible to combine a love of cruising with a love of safari – and gazing across the African savanna as thousands of grazing antelope are silently stalked by prowling lions is an unforgettable sight. On an African safari trip with CroisiEurope, lodge stays are mixed with water safaris to showcase the natural bounty of Botswana and Zimbabwe. The tour begins with an overnight stay in Johannesburg, before guests fly to Botswana for a three-night lodge stay. They then transfer to the new 16-passenger Zimbabwean Dream for a four-night cruise through man-made Lake Kariba’s unique landscape of drowned trees. The trip finishes on a high as guests encounter the “smoke that thunders” at Victoria Falls.
How to do it: The eight-night trip, from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, departs on various dates. From £5,007pp (020 8328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk).
19. Paradise found
After the woes of recent years, we could all do with some exotic escapism and the little-known Indonesian isles of Raja Ampat and West Papua offer it in abundance. Aurora Expeditions promises a castaway existence of diving among bright corals teeming with rainbow-coloured fish, paddling kayaks past ponderous manatees grazing on seagrass and carefree hours spent beachcombing along solitary strips of shining sands. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover the archipelago’s evocative spice trading history, tales of European explorers and fascinating remains of Second World War skirmishes.
How to do it: A 13-night package from Bali, including 12-night sailing from Biak Island to Darwin, departs September 21. From £7,560pp (0808 189 2005, auroraexpeditions.co.uk).
20. Return of the Black Sea
Following the unrest in Ukraine that led to a halt in cruises, the Black Sea is finally back. This once popular cruising region is making a return and a sailing on Azamara’s new ship Azamara Onward opens up the region’s wealth of historic and cultural glories. See where Russia’s brutal leader Stalin lived at his dacha perched in the lush hills above the seaside resort of Sochi; discover the Jewish heritage of Odessa, famous for its wide boulevards filled with grand European-style architecture; and submit yourself to the vigorous rigours of a traditional Turkish bath experience in Istanbul.
How to do it: An 11-night round-trip Black Sea voyage from Istanbul departs July 30. From £2,383pp (0344 493 4016; azamara.co.uk)
Cruises exclude international flights unless otherwise stated.