Choosing the best cruise itinerary can be a tough decision. Some people focus on the best places to cruise from their nearest port; others try to match their travel style to a destination. Are you dreaming of a tropical beach holiday at sea, or a more cultural or adventurous experience?
Then there's the question of how long to cruise for; do you make this a longer trip of a lifetime, or limit your time to a few days? Fortunately, just as there are many ships to choose from, there are also plenty of different itineraries.
We recommend starting locally or tagging a cruise onto a longer holiday in Europe or Asia. Here's our pick of the seven best cruise destinations for Australians.
1. South Pacific
Why We Love It: For most Australians this exotic region is right on our doorstep; just hop on a cruise from Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne and you'll be in Vanuatu or New Caledonia in a couple of days. These lovely island nations are visited by every cruise line which plies Australia's waters; P&O, Celebrity, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Holland America among them. There's also the bonus of Carnival offering year-round itineraries to the South Pacific for the perfect excuse to escape from winter. As for itineraries, they range from a week to 10-days and longer, whether you're looking to test out your sea legs, or truly get away from it all.
Itinerary Highlights: The South Pacific is all about nature and the great outdoors, so top of your list should be snorkelling Oro Bay's natural "aquarium" on the Isle of Pines, sunbathing and swimming on Mystery Island, exploring the French-inspired neighbourhoods of Noumea, and taking to the air to flight see in Port Vila.
The Catch: Spending two days at sea can be daunting for a first-timer.
2. New Zealand
Why We Love It: It's another, if different, outdoor paradise conveniently located in our own backyard, two diverse islands across the Tasman Sea packed with epic landscapes, fascinating cultures, and plenty of laid back charm. For new cruisers there are many options to choose from across local and visiting cruise lines each summer between the end of October and end of March. They include Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Holland America, and plenty of visiting ships including Cunard's popular "Queens" and P&O Cruises Europe. New Zealand itineraries tend to be a little longer than local jaunts, ranging from around nine days for a one-way cruise, to around two weeks for a roundtrip.
Itinerary Highlights: Besides a historic crossing of the Tasman Sea, you'll also get to explore Auckland, art deco Napier, the scenic Bay of Islands, and the dramatic Fiordland National Park. Land-based activities include wine tasting in the Marlborough region, visiting The Lord of the Rings country, and swimming with rare Hector's dolphins in Akaroa.
The catch: The Tasman Sea can get rough, so it's wise to take anti-seasickness medication.
3. Cruises To Nowhere
Why We Love It: If you're short on time, worried about seasickness, or unsure whether cruising is right for you, "sampler" cruises to nowhere are a great way to test the waters. Ranging from one to three nights, these cruises have no ports of call, with the ship simply sailing slowly along the Australian coastline. Short cruises often have a theme, with activities you can opt into, or out of, as you wish. There are short cruises departing from Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, operated by lines including P&O, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and CMV (Cruise & Maritime Voyages).
Itinerary Highlights: Samplers offer an opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy "sea life" and the ship's facilities, while themed cruises appeal to a variety of tastes and hobbies such as food and wine, comedy, wellness, or music.
The Catch: If you're concerned about feeling "stuck" on a ship, the absence of any time on land may be a challenge.
Why We Love It: It's hard to look beyond our own backyard when it comes to cruising, as our homeland is blessed with diversity from its landscapes to its experiences. Easy options include a short cruise with one port of call, or a one-way cruise between two major ports such as Sydney and Melbourne. For anyone who wants to get away for longer, however, you can cruise north to Queensland, head south to the Great Southern Ocean, explore the west coast, or embark on a full circumnavigation of the continent. There's also lots of choice between cruise lines and ships, with Carnival and P&O having vessels based in Australia full-time. Seasonal lines include Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Holland America, along with a lineup of visiting international ships during summer.
Itinerary Highlights: Enjoy the best of our outdoor pursuits including a dolphin encounter on Moreton Island, swim, snorkel or dive in the exotic Whitsundays, experience the impressive national parks and wildlife of Darwin, immerse yourself in the history of Port Arthur, or explore South Australia's rugged Kangaroo Island.
The Catch: As opposed to a road trip, cruising allows only one or two days, or just a few hours, in each port.
Why We Love It: Cruising this iconic region of Europe is hard to beat for diversity. It presents new cruisers with so many potential experiences, appealing to everyone from history and art buffs, to foodies and beach lovers. Every day brings a different, alluring destination, stretching from France and Spain to Italy and Croatia. All major cruise line ply the Med's balmy waters -- you can choose from the big ships of Royal Caribbean and Princess, the luxury of Regent and Crystal, the yachts of Seabourn and Seadream, or the year-round itineraries of MSC Cruises. Durations range from four or five days, to indulgent voyages lasting two weeks and more.
Itinerary Highlights: See it all in week. On any given day you can be exploring Barcelona's Las Ramblas, wine tasting in France, sightseeing in Rome, swimming in Santorini, dining in Dubrovnik, or rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous in Monte Carlo.
The Catch: It's a long flight to the other side of the world.
6. Southeast Asia
Why We Love It: This fascinating corner of the world has it all, from sun-kissed beaches and tropical jungles, to ancient history and exotic cuisines. Exploring Asia by ship provides travellers with a unique perspective of the routes of the traders of centuries gone by, as well as an opportunity to enjoy warm weather and a wide range of cultural pursuits. A long cruising season is provided by the local Star Cruises and other major cruise lines including Norwegian (NCL), Costa, Princess and Royal Caribbean, and luxury visitors such as Ponant and Silversea. When it comes to itineraries take your pick from short hops between Hong Kong and Singapore, longer roundtrip or one-way cruises from China or Japan, or tropical stops in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Itinerary Highlights: Departing from Hong Kong or Singapore is a major drawcard of an Asia cruise, but the rest of the lineup offers widely varying experiences. Historic Ho Chi Minh City, atmospheric Halong Bay, steamy Bangkok, and the tropical fun of Phuket are just the beginning.
The Catch: With a day or two in each port, you'll only be touching the surface of this fascinating continent.
7. River Cruises
Why We Love It: People worried about seasickness or the bustle of big ships may prefer a river cruise. The classic itinerary between Amsterdam and Budapest is a top pick for Australians for good reason, and for new cruisers, exploring the Rhine and Danube is a great way to enjoy a first holiday on water. On this type of cruise you'll see and experience something new every day, as you travel from one side of Europe to the other on a vessel operated by APT, Travelmarvel, Avalon Waterways, Viking, Scenic or Evergreen Tours to name a few. There's something for everyone, including a wide choice of itineraries ranging from five days to two weeks, with the option to add extra time in some of Europe's most iconic departure and arrival ports of call. This is truly bucket list stuff.
Itinerary Highlights: Cruise through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary, enjoying a rich lineup of destinations featuring historic castles and palaces, lush vineyards and charming villages, and must-see cities including Amsterdam, Cologne, Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
The Catch: A river ship has fewer dining, leisure and entertainment options onboard, and less than 150 passengers to meet and mingle.
--By Joanna Hall, Cruise Critic contributor