From the magnificent scenery of Alaska to the beaches of California and the buzz of New Orleans, America offers amazing opportunities for cruises – with destinations including the Caribbean and Latin America. Deborah Stone selects the top 20 itineraries for the year ahead
Seattle and Alaska
Whether you’re watching the wildlife or marvelling at the power of nature in its full glory, Alaska is one of the most iconic cruise destinations. Most of its extraordinary sights – the turquoise blue and white twin Sawyer Glaciers in Tracy Arm Fjord and soaring snow-topped mountains – are best approached from the sea.
Whale-watching tours from Juneau are highly recommended and hikers can often see brown bears, although bald eagles are a safer bet. These soar above towns such as Ketchikan where an organised tour can help you spot them swooping down on salmon. And for history lovers, Skagway has a Gold Rush cemetery or you can follow the Gold Rush Trail of ‘98 to Klondike Summit on day tours. Cruises from Seattle in Washington State have the advantage of new direct flights from the UK and Ireland, and the cruise terminal is just 10 minutes from the city centre with its famous Space Needle viewing platform.
Princess Cruises’ seven-night Inside Passage return-trip from Seattle, departs 2 September 2018, from £1,591pp, two sharing, including return flights and transfers (0344 338 8663; princess.com).
New York to the Caribbean
There are few cities more exciting than the Big Apple, which makes it the ideal choice for a pre-cruise stay before sailing south to the Caribbean. Several cruise lines offer pre- and post-cruise extensions, which take the worry out of being late for check-in and give an opportunity to see the sights or shop. New York is just two nights’ sail away from Bermuda, which retains a surprising amount of British colonial charm as well as modern beach resorts. And the good thing about a Caribbean cruise from New York is that you’ll see a different set of islands than on other routes. Antigua’s scenery hasn’t changed much since Admiral Lord Nelson commanded the British fleet there in the 18th century; its English Harbour is UNESCO-listed. While French Guadeloupe, known for its fruit and spices, offers a different Caribbean flavour and St Maarten’s Philipsburg is full of Dutch cafés and shops.
Viking Ocean Cruises’ 15-night New York, Bermuda & the West Indies cruise to Puerto Rico, departs 24 October 2018, from £3,090pp, two sharing, including return flights and transfers. Pre-cruise New York city stay from £499pp for two nights (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).
Crossing to Cuba
Miami, Florida’s premier cruise port, is the ideal departure point for a cruise to Cuba. Increasingly cruise lines are circumnavigating the island to get a deeper insight into the Latin American culture, with a stop-off at Key West on the very southern tip of Florida’s 112-mile chain of tiny tropical islands. A full day and night in Havana will give you time to walk the cobbled streets of the old town, see the 1950s Cadillacs that brighten up the Malecon esplanade, visit a salsa club or catch a cabaret. The less touristy cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba offer a more authentic glimpse of the country’s Spanish colonial past, with ornate palaces at the fortress town of Cienfuegos while Santiago was the Spanish colony’s capital from 1522 to 1589.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ seven-night Cuban Paradise return-trip from Miami, departs 15 October 2019, from £2,929pp, two sharing, including return flights and transfers. Pre- and post-cruise stops in Miami are also available (0238 068 2280; rssc.com).
San Diego and California
California is often overlooked by British cruise fans who head straight for Florida but it’s the gateway to some of Mexico’s most fascinating coastal areas, especially Baja California. Despite its name, this slim peninsula is part of Mexico and has the Pacific on one side and Gulf of California on the other. The Gulf is rich in diverse marine wildlife and it’s UNESCO listed thanks to its dolphins, sea lions, turtles and impressive variety of fish. Previously known as the Sea of Cortez, the marine biologist Jacques Cousteau called it “the world’s largest aquarium”. It’s a real paradise for snorkellers and divers and perfect for an expedition cruise, with zodiac boat landings to unspoilt beaches and countryside.
Ponant’s 13-night The Sea of Cortez expedition cruise from San Diego to Puerto Quetzal, departs 10 September 2019, from £4,770pp, two sharing, cruise only. Pre- and post-cruise stops are available from 490 euros (+33 4 88 66 64 00; en.ponant.com).
Miami and the Amazon
Easy access to the Caribbean and South America makes a round trip from Miami especially enticing and the Amazon River in Brazil is so wide it can easily accommodate smaller ocean cruise ships. Santarém is one of the main destinations, best known for its local boat trips out to the Meeting of the Waters – where the Amazon is joined by the Tapajos River. The town has a large market and shops selling jewellery and beadwork, woven and leather goods. At Boca de Valeria there are no tourist attractions at all but you can see how villagers live in stilted houses – take plenty of change for tips. The main Amazon city is Manaus, which still has its Portuguese colonial architecture intact including the large opera house. There are also hiking paths into the edge of the jungle along a rainforest trail, with monkeys and toucans an added attraction. And Alter do Chão has white sand beaches in a large lagoon where you can canoe or take a river boat tour to look for crocodiles and sloths.
Oceania Cruises’ 25-day Amazon Interlude round trip cruise from Miami also visiting
Cuba and several Caribbean islands, departs 23 November 2019, from £4,809pp, based on two sharing, including return flights and transfers (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
Alaska and Rocky Mountain railway
A ride aboard the Rocky Mountain railway will take you past icefields and waterfalls high in the mountains. It’s one of the most spectacular experiences to enjoy before or after a cruise to Alaska. But the real WOW moments come after you board your cruise ship. The Russians who sold this unspoilt wilderness to America for just over $7million in 1867 did not realise they were giving away such natural treasures. Glacier Bay National Park is particularly awesome, with more calving glaciers than anywhere else in the world. The UNESCO-listed mountain-ringed fjord has huge icebergs and is a haven for bird spotters. There are also Russian relics in Sitka, such as the onion domed St Michael’s Cathedral, and the Sitka National Park is a good place to see bald eagles and brown bears.
Titan’s 17-day World’s Most Spectacular Rail Journey, including a seven-day cruise on Holland America’s MS Eurodam, seven nights in hotels and three days on the superb Rocky Mountaineer train, from £4,849pp, departs 26 August 2018, based on two adults sharing, including return flights and transfers, meals and Titan’s excellent VIP door to door UK travel service (0808 274 8026; titantravel.co.uk).
Panama Canal from LA
Heading south from Los Angeles you have your pick of classic Mexican resorts and some of Central America’s most fascinating destinations before you get to the Panama Canal – long regarded as a top bucket-list cruise experience. Bing Crosby and Desi Arnaz were among the Hollywood A-listers who invested in Cabo San Lucas back in the late 1940s to create a sophisticated holiday paradise that is now a thoroughly modern Mexican beach resort. Mazatlan has also had a makeover and its old town and beach promenade now has a modern retro feel. Calls at Costa Rica give you the chance to go hiking in the wonderful rainforest, white-water rafting or zip-lining in one of the world’s most ecologically diverse countries. And then there’s the Panama Canal itself, a miracle of engineering and recently widened so that even the biggest cruise ships like Norwegian Bliss can squeeze through this 40-mile short cut to the Caribbean.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s 21-day Panama Canal cruise from Los Angeles on Norwegian Bliss including Caribbean islands and finishing in New York, departs 3 November 2019, from £2,669pp, two sharing, cruise only (0333 241 2319; ncl.com).
So familiar yet so exciting, that’s how it feels when you sail out of New York city down the Hudson River past the Empire State Building and numerous glass high-rises glinting in the sunshine. After your ship skirts Ellis Island, the gateway to America, and nearby Liberty Island, with its Statue of Liberty, you pass under the Verrazano-Narrows and your New England adventure begins. Boston is a major highlight of a cruise along America’s east coast. Follow its 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to find out about the American Revolution, as you pass buildings that look like they’ve been lifted from an historic part of London. But there’s also an energetic buzz to the city, especially around the Waterfront where Boston Harbour Walk links parks, cafes, galleries and museums. Newport, Rhode Island, is another must-see: a millionaires’ playground of fabulous mansions now open to the public set among the Atlantic cliffs.
ROL Cruise’s seven-night Canada New England return trip from New York on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 departs 30 June 2019, from £1,799pp, based on two sharing, including return flights and transfers (0800 204 4680; rolcruise.co.uk).
You get to the real heart of American life and culture on a river cruise down the Mississippi – especially on the authentic paddlewheel steamboat American Queen. As you sail from Memphis, Tennessee, to New Orleans, Louisiana, you can visit the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville and tour Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion near Memphis. The city is also home to Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded some of his greatest hits, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music on the site of Stax Records studio. There are also American Civil War sites near the river, such as Vicksburg where the Old Court House is now a Civil War museum. And New Orleans, the home of jazz, is a melting pot of music, food, architecture and fun.
Titan’s 16-night Journey on the Mighty Mississippi including a seven-night cruise on American Queen and seven nights in hotels, departs 29 May 2019, based on two sharing, including return flights and transfers, meals and VIP door-to-door UK travel service (0808 274 8026; titantravel.co.uk).
Florida Keys and Cuba
Spend a few days at Orlando’s amazing theme parks including Universal for Harry Potter fans and Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars – then take a short cruise from Port Canaveral in Orlando to recover. There are regular four-day hops down to Florida Keys and Cuba. You can spend the day in Key West and visit Ernest Hemingway’s Home & Museum, where he wrote novels such as Farewell To Arms, then carry on to Cuba for an overnight stop in Havana. Hemingway was a frequent visitor to Cuba, where he wrote The Old Man And The Sea, and there’s an Ernest Hemingway Museum in Havana in the villa he bought in 1949 – Finca Vigia. You can also take a tour of his favourite bars, such as La Floridita – once a celebrity hang-out – and La Bodeguita del Medio in the centre of town.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s four-day Cuba Overnight & Key West return-trip cruise from Port Canaveral departs 13 August 2018, from £629pp, two sharing, cruise only (0333 241 2319; ncl.com).
A cruise can be a brilliant add-on to a longer holiday and that’s true of the short round-trips available from US cruise ports such as Galveston, in Texas. After touring the Lone Star State or neighbouring Louisiana, a few days relaxing on a resort ship such as Carnival Valor will set you up for a taste of Mexico. Cozumel island has perfect soft sand beaches. There’s an eco park, home to dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. And Progreso, on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, offers the Mayan ruins and restored pyramids.
Cruise Direct’s five-night Western Caribbean from Galveston round-trip cruise on Carnival Valor departs 6 August 2018, from £447.26 two sharing, cruise only (0808 271 8993; cruisedirect.co.uk).
Boston to Canada
Boston is a fascinating alternative to New York for a pre- or post-cruise stay on a New England itinerary. It’s very compact for an American city and the underground trains, buses, land and water taxis make it easy to see the sights. Many of these are around Boston waterfront and only a couple of miles from the cruise terminal. Looking back on Boston as you sail away the high-rise buildings that dwarf the many historic buildings take on a new elegance – especially if a massive band of sunset orange engulfs the city. Most New England cruises will dip into Canada and one of the most interesting ports is Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has the world’s best collection of Titanic memorabilia. But most people who take an autumn New England cruise go to see the spectacular woodland foliage. Bar Harbor in Maine, on the edge of Acadia National Park, is the best place to see it. Take a coach tour, bike or hop on-hop off bus – it’s too far to walk up into the hills. By September there will be a hint of colour but traditionally Columbus Day, around October 12, is the best time for leaf peeping.
Cruise Nation’s 13-night American Heritage cruise and stay holiday including two nights in Boston, a return New England trip on Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas and two nights each in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, departs 9 September 2018, from £1,799pp, based on two sharing, including hotels and flights (0800 073 0757; cruisenation.com).
Fort Lauderdale to Panama Canal
From its upgraded airport and revamped cruise terminal, Port Everglades, to its improved beach facilities and growing cultural attractions – The Broward Center for the Performing Arts has touring Broadway shows – Fort Lauderdale is becoming the Florida departure point of choice for discerning cruise fans. And like Miami, 25 miles away, cruise ships leaving here will get you to the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Central America and back to the US in just a matter of days. Apart from transiting the Panama Canal, highlights include a day in Colombia’s Cartagena where there is a gold museum – Museo de Oro – featuring exquisite gold artefacts from the Zenu people who lived there before the Spanish Conquest. Cartegena also has some of the best-preserved Spanish colonial architecture within its walled city.
Barrhead Travel’s 15-night Westbound Panama Canal cruise from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego, California, on Celebrity Infinity departs 24 September 2018, from £1,169pp, two sharing, cruise only. Flights and pre or post-cruise stays also available (0808 250 1823; barrheadtravel.co.uk).Miami to the Caribbean
A round-trip from Miami to the Caribbean is a sun-drenched getaway even in the depths of our winter. After a couple of days around the ship’s pool to get the tan started there’s a different island to visit every day, such as the particularly beautiful British Virgin Islands, where the sea is so clear and calm that it’s a snorkeller’s dream destination. The lush mountains are good for hiking and the port town of Road Town, on the main island Tortola, is safe and welcoming. St John, in the US Virgin Islands, is equally inviting, with fabulous beaches and its pristine national parks. Both islands were affected by the 2017 hurricanes but are rebuilding better facilities and, like many other parts of the Caribbean, need tourist dollars to help them.
Bolsover Cruise Club’s 10-night Caribbean, Cuba & Antilles return trip from Miami on MSC Divina departs 29 November 2018, from £649pp, based on two adults sharing, cruise only (01246 819819; bolsovercruiseclub.com).
LA and Hawaii
America’s west coast is the main departure point for cruises to Hawaii, which became the 50th state in 1959. The distance from Los Angeles is almost as far as sailing to Boston, which is why all cruises to Hawaii start with four or more sea days. Once you reach the islands, though, you find a land of legend and outstanding natural beauty. Honolulu, on the Hawaii Five-O island of Oahu, is the state capital and home to Pearl Harbor, with the wreck of USS Arizona and Second World War memorials, as well as world-famous Waikiki Beach where you can body board, surf, rent an outrigger canoe or just enjoy Hawaii’s famous sunsets. Kauai, Hawaii’s “Garden Island” is the least developed and has hiking or scenic drives to waterfalls as well as unspoilt beaches. Lanai Island was once a massive pineapple plantation, and Kona has shops, restaurants, nightlife and coffee farms.
Seabourn’s 34-day Southern Cross Exploration from Los Angeles to New Zealand visiting Hawaii and many South Seas islands, departs 15 October 2018, from £9,999pp, two sharing, cruise only. (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com).
New York to Montreal
Although New England cruises are most popular in autumn, there’s more to see than colourful leaves. Newport, Rhode Island, has its jazz age mansions and links to the Kennedy Clan. John F Kennedy married Jackie in the Catholic St Mary’s Church and coach tours will take you past Hammersmith Farm where Jackie’s mother lived. It became known as the Summer Whitehouse when JFK was US President and spent holidays there. The Kennedy family’s powerbase was in Boston and if you get a chance to see the John F Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum at Columbia Point the photographs, documents and TV footage on show gives an extraordinary insight into events ranging from civil rights to space exploration that changed the world, not just America.
Oceania Cruises’s 11-day Colors, Coasts & Coves cruise from New York to Montreal departs 27 September 2018, from £4,929pp, based on two sharing, including flights, excursions and drinks (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
Florida and Central America
Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are Central American countries that are easy to visit on a cruise from Florida, America’s southern-most state. Belize City was once the capital of British Honduras and there are still colonial relics such as St John’s Cathedral, the oldest Anglican church in Central America, and the former governor’s home, Government House. There are also Mayan ruins at Altun Ha, 30 miles north, or you can take a boat trip in search of dolphins and manatees. Guatemala also has Mayan ruins, with some of the best at Tikal National Park where UNESCO-listed temples can be visited on excursions, while Roatan Island, in Honduras, is a Caribbean paradise with reef snorkeling and diving, deep sea fishing, kayaking and safe swimming.
Silversea’s 10-day Caribbean & Central America return-trip cruise from Florida departs 11 December 2018, from £3,150pp, based on two sharing, cruise only (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).
Sailing south from California’s San Diego will give you the chance to see Central America’s countries and dip a toe into South America. See the Panama Canal during a stop at Fuerte Amador in Panama, where you can take a local boat tour to Miraflores Locks, or visit Panama City. Its old town – Casco Viejo – is UNESCO listed. At Manata, Ecuador, you can buy Panama hats galore in the market while a day in Peru’s capital, Lima, will take you time-travelling back to the height of the Spanish Empire. Lima’s UNESCO-listed old town has architecture that combines indigenous designs with colonial craftsmanship as well as the later more Spanish-style buildings. Central Lima, on the other hand, is colourful and lively.
Holland America’s 19-night Inca Discovery cruise from San Diego departs 29 September 2018, from £1,749pp, based on two adults sharing, cruise only (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).
New Orleans was first nicknamed The Big Easy in the 1970s to compare it to life in the Big Apple (New York) and the former capital of the French colony of Louisiana still wins hands-down when it comes to a leisurely lifestyle. With its cruise terminals close to the historic French Quarter it also makes an ideal place to take a cruise after a few days exploring the ornate streets, sampling local seafood gumbo or jambalaya and enjoying the world-famous night life in Bourbon Street’s bars. A week sailing down the Western Caribbean and back will give you ample time to recover, soaking up the sun on the beach. Or there are eco-tourist options such as Harvest Caye in Belize, where you can hike through rainforest and jungle or snorkel among Belize’s Barrier Reef – the world’s largest.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s seven-day Western Caribbean return-trip cruise from New Orleans departs 17 March 2019, from £669pp, two sharing, cruise only (0333 241 2319; ncl.com).
A road trip along Highway 1 may be the classic way to experience California’s coastal cities and towns, but a much more relaxed and unique route is with a return-trip cruise from exciting San Francisco. You can combine a pre or post-cruise stay in ’Frisco – cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge, souvenir shopping, eating out in what is widely considered to be the world’s best Chinatowns, or riding the famous cable cars up and down the city hills – before boarding a floating hotel down the west coast of The Golden State. Santa Barbara grew up around its 18th century Mission, now a California Historical Landmark, but its wineries and laid-back lifestyle have transformed it into a foodie heaven, attracting people from around the world. Los Angeles has numerous attractions – Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive’s designer boutiques and Long Beach where you can visit the Art Deco Queen Mary cruise liner, and Santa Monica, with its pier, while San Diego has an historic district dating back to the original Spanish settlement and the smart seaside resort of La Jolla.
Princess Cruises’s seven-day Classic California Coast return trip from San Francisco departs
30 March 2019, from £600pp, two sharing, cruise only (0344 338 8663; princess.com).