Want to experience something really extraordinary on your next holiday? Deborah Stone selects 10 of the best cruise itineraries for wildlife lovers, culture vultures and thrill-seekers

The Bungle Bungle sandstone mountains in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia © iStock
The Bungle Bungle sandstone mountains in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia © iStock

1. Indonesia

Sail through the Java Sea – from Singapore to Western Australia via Indonesia – with Azamara Club Cruises. Visit the 9th-century Buddhist monument at Borobudur, situated on a remote hilltop in central Java, where 500 Buddha statues gaze over the surrounding lush vegetation ringed by volcanoes. Look out for the fabled dragons (they’re actually giant lizards) on the island of Komodo, and swim with whale sharks and sea turtles at Exmouth, off the north coast of Australia. Kimberley’s Pearl Coast, named after the mother-of-pearl shells found on its beaches, is the gateway to Purnululu National Park, where you can see the stunning Bungle Bungle mountain range – sandstone formations, millions of years old, striped in various shades of orange and grey. The cruise finishes with an overnight stay in Perth, the coastal capital of Western Australia, with its sandy beaches.

Amazing moment: Feeling overawed by Borobudur’s 500 Buddha statues, set among magnificent temples on a remote hilltop.

Azamara Club Cruises’ 16-night Java Sea & Western Australia cruise departs 16 December 2018, from £3,965pp, two sharing, cruise only (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk).

An emperor penguin in the Antarctic, which you can see on an adventure cruise
An emperor penguin in the Antarctic

2. Antarctica

Keep an eye out for black-browed albatross, snow petrels and imperial cormorants on Seabourn expedition cruises from Chile to the Antarctic – as well as humpback and minke whales, orcas, dolphins, sea lions and South American fur seals. And that’s not including the hundreds of penguins you can expect to see on zodiac expeditions to the South Shetland Islands and other landing spots. Snow-topped volcanoes and mountains give way to glaciers – most notably the spectacular Glacier Alley off Ushuaia in Argentina – and icebergs as you sail into the freezing heart of Antarctica. Such stunning vistas are part and parcel on Seabourn Quest, Seabourn’s Antarctica cruise ship, a truly luxurious expedition vessel offering top-class food and musical entertainment as well as experienced guides and lecturers for the duration of its epic 21-day cruise from Valparaiso in Chile to Antarctica and back to Uruguay’s capital Montevideo.

Amazing moment: Visions of vast glaciers and killer whales breaking the surface of the sea.

Seabourn’s Ultimate Antarctica & Patagonia cruise departs 28 November 2018, from £10,657pp, based on two sharing, cruise only (0800 1872 1872; seabourn.com).

Vast stone Buddhas at Angkor Wat in Cambodia © iStock
Vast stone Buddhas at Angkor Wat in Cambodia © iStock

3. Cambodia & Vietnam

The wonder of Cambodia’s extraordinary temples (dating from the 9th century) at Angkor Wat makes Siem Reap the natural starting point for a Mekong River cruise. Following a land-based stay, the ship sails past rice paddy fields and lush jungle into Vietnam and on to its fascinating capital Ho Chi Minh City. As you progress, you’ll feel the rhythm of life slowing to reflect the timeless rituals of those living in the rural villages beside the meandering waterways, places where you can see people working the land with ox-carts which are still a common mode of transport. Avalon Waterways’ Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia & The Mekong River Cruise also takes guests to the impressive Royal Palace at Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, where the Silver Pagoda has a floor made of silver tiles and its Buddhas are jewel-encrusted. The city’s National Museum has artefacts from Angkor Wat, and you can also visit the Killing Fields, where more than a million Cambodians were murdered by ruling Khmer Rouge communists in the late 1970s, as well as the unforgettable Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Crossing into Vietnam there’s the chance to meet local people in the market at Chau Doc, see cotton weavers at work in the village of Long Khong and find out how sampans are made in Cu Lao Gieng. The cruise finishes in Ho Chi Minh City with the opportunity for land-based stopovers and the chance to explore its iconic architecture.

Amazing moment: The ancient ruins of Angkor Wat.

Avalon Waterways offers an eight-day Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia & The Mekong River cruises departing 12 November 2017, from £4,012pp, based on two sharing
(0800 668 1843; avaloncruises.co.uk).

The Taj Mahal in India © iStock
The Taj Mahal in India © iStock

4. India

The Taj Mahal at sunrise and sunset, the palatial walled city of Agra Fort and the romantic City Palace at Jaipur are the essential sights of India’s Golden Triangle, and all are included in a land tour before Uniworld’s 13-day journey from New Delhi to Kolkata (Calcutta) sets sail down the Lower Ganges. This extraordinary trip starts with luxury hotel stays in New Delhi, and overnights in Agra and Jaipur before guests fly to Kolkata to board Ganges Voyager II. Kolkata’s British colonial buildings are highlights of a city tour, as is Mother Teresa’s former home and her final resting place. The Ganges is a holy river and Kalna its temple city, with 108 intricately-carved temples devoted to the Hindu god Shiva. In the Bengali town of Murshidabad visit Hazarduari Palace, famous for its 1,000 doors, while the 18th-century temple complex at neighbouring Baranagar is considered to be one of India’s best examples of Bengal terracotta art. Additional visits include the Hare Krishna Vedic temple at Mayapur and a tour of the French colonial buildings of Chandannagar.

Amazing moment: The extraordinary beauty of the Taj Mahal.

Uniworld’s 13-day India’s Golden Triangle & The Sacred Ganges cruise, departs 5 March 2018, from £6,799pp, based on two sharing (0808 271 5262; uniworld.com).

The midnight sun at Nordkapp in Norway © iStock
The midnight sun at Nordkapp in Norway © iStock

5. Norway

Bergen’s picturesque harbour with its colourful Hanseatic League warehouses, now transformed into restaurants and souvenir shops, is a reminder of Norway’s great seafaring traditions which began with the Vikings. On this cruise, guests can follow in their legendary Norse wake, calling at small towns in the maze-like fjords of the Inside Passage along Norway’s intricate coastline. One of the liveliest stop-offs is Tromsø, the starting point for countless Arctic expeditions as the town’s excellent Polar Museum reveals. It’s also one of the best areas for catching the Northern Lights from autumn to spring (but don’t fret if you miss them as Tromsø’s Meteorological Institute Planetarium has a 360-degree film of the lights, available to view year-round). Viking’s ocean cruise takes you even further north to Honningsvåg, where the sun barely sets in summer, before sailing south to the Shetland and Orkney Islands and on to the River Thames in London.

Amazing moment: Daylight that lasts almost 24 hours.

Viking Ocean Cruises’ 15-night Into The Midnight Sun cruise departs on 7 July 2018, from £4,490pp, based on two sharing, including flights (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).

Seals in the Falkland Islands
Seals in the Falkland Islands

6. The Falkland Islands

Visiting the Falkland Islands on a South America cruise is a special experience. Port Stanley is the world’s southernmost capital and the islands are home to several types of penguins, King, Rockhopper and Gentoo as well as many other types of birds and marine wildlife. You can see penguins and seals in 4×4 Land Rover tours available on Holland America Line’s 14-night South America Passage, that leaves Chile’s San Antonio and sails down through the Chilean fjords to Ushuaia, the continent’s southernmost city and through the Strait of Magellan to the Falklands. Here you can see the largest colony of King penguins outside South Georgia Island in the Antarctic and a variety of penguins at Bluff Cove Penguin Rookery. The Falklands’ long association with Britain (since 1765) has also left its mark culturally, and there are home-from-home pubs and red telephone boxes as well as tours to the three battle memorials from the 1982 conflict between Britain and Argentina. The cruise finishes at Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Amazing moment: Marvelling at different penguin and bird species at Bluff Cove on a 4×4 Land Rover tour.

Holland America Line offers a 14-night South America Passage cruise departing 3 March 2018, from £1,929pp, based on two people sharing (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).

Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa
Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

7. Africa

A three-night Winelands & Wildlife land tour including a 4×4 safari and tour of Cape wineries is available before or after Oceania’s 15-day South African Explorer cruise on board the good ship Nautica, a round trip from Cape Town. Begin your cruise with a day at Mossel Bay, where you can join a tour of the Garden Route, renowned for its amazing range of South Africa’s wild flowers. At Richards Bay there’s the chance to visit Hluhluwe Game Reserve, while excursions from Durban include a visit to the Zulus’ traditional homeland at the Valley of a Thousand Hills and wildlife watching at Tala Game Reserve. More game can be seen from Port Elizabeth, which is only a 30-minute drive from Kragga Kamma Game Reserve. Nautica also has an overnight stopover at Walvis Bay in Namibia, home to one of the biggest flocks of flamingos in South Africa. The cruise finishes with an overnight stop back at Cape Town, allowing guests to take a trip up Table Mountain or go shopping at
the Victoria & Alfred waterfront.

Amazing moments: Seeing Africa’s big game animals up close and visiting the Zulu’s homeland at the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

Oceania Cruises’ 15-day South African Explorer cruise departs 6 December 2017, from £4,139pp, two sharing (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).

An Arctic fox on Spitsbergen, one of the islands of Svalbard, Norway © iStock
An Arctic fox on Spitsbergen, one of the islands of Svalbard, Norway © iStock

8. The Arctic 

The first time you see a polar bear in the wild you feel a mixture of fear and excitement, which is what makes a trip to Svalbard, Norway’s northern archipelago, so enticing. Sightings of walrus, whales, seals seabirds are also a certainty. On its 12-day Arctic cruise, Silversea’s luxury ship Silver Cloud takes passengers from Longyearbyen to Kristiansund, cruising into Magdalenefjorden to see old whaling stations and trappers’ huts, icebergs, and glaciers beneath soaring red mountains on the way. Guests can take a zodiac to get an even closer look at seabirds such as Atlantic puffins, black-legged kittiwakes and Brünnich’s guillemots. As the ship sails south, it calls at ports rarely visited on most Norwegian cruises. You can see the world’s northernmost medieval stone church at Harstad, hike past gigantic waterfalls at Tysfjord, sail among Vega’s 6,000 islands and kayak through UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord, before arriving at your destination of Kristiansund.

Amazing Moment: Seeing polar bears, whales and walrus in the wild.

Silversea’s 12-day Longyearbyen to Kristiansund Arctic cruise, departs 24 June 2018, from £8,010pp, based on two sharing (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).

Humboldt penguins swimming in the ocean © iStock
Humboldt penguins swimming in the ocean © iStock

9. South America

Sailing from Callao, near Lima in Peru, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Hanseatic hugs the west coast of South America on its 21-day Callao Ushuaia voyage, with excursions to some of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world. In southern Peru, you can take a flight over the geometric figures of the Nazca Lines, which are pre-Colombian geoglyphs etched into the desert floor more than 2,000 years ago –  and join the ship’s zodiac tours around Isla Pan de Azúcar to see pelicans, sea lions and the increasingly rare Humboldt penguins. You can follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin in La Compana National Park near Valparaíso, go white-water rafting on the Petrohue River in Chile’s Lake District, and enjoy scenic cruising through its fjords, passing the Garibaldi Glacier and sailing through the Strait of Magellan and Beagle Channel before arriving at Ushuaia in Argentina.

Amazing moments: Seeing the 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines and the astonishing wildlife.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 21-day From Callao to Ushuaia cruise departs 14 November 2017, from £6,570pp, two sharing, cruise only (0800 051 3829; hl-cruises.com).

A woman in costume during carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A woman in costume during carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

10. Argentina & Brazil

How does the prospect of an epicurean adventure on board a luxury cruise yacht with 10 dining venues to choose from sound? If you love sea days, standing out on deck scouring the horizon for whales or seabirds, and Latin American culture then Scenic’s The Coast of Argentina & Brazil cruise is for you. This unusual package starts with an overnight flight to the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires and a night in a luxury hotel. During the day you can visit the colourful artistic area of La Boca, admire the old colonial buildings around Plaza de Mayo and drop in at a tango parlour to watch local people performing the city’s signature dance. After a transfer to Scenic’s brand new ‘discovery yacht’, Scenic Eclipse, there are three full days at sea to enjoy its gourmet cuisine and luxurious facilities including all-veranda suite accommodation, before disembarking at Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro for your flight home.

Amazing moment: The tango parlours of La Boca.

Scenic’s eight-day The Coast of Argentina & Brazil departs 20 March 2019, from £3,195pp,
two sharing, including return flights, transfers and one night’s hotel B&B (0808 149 9463; scenic.co.uk).