Want to explore the South Pacific, Cape Town or Shanghai? An ocean or river cruise puts exotic locations within easy reach, says Deborah Stone

Kabuki-Cho district, Shinjuku,Tokyo, Japan © iStock
Kabuki-Cho district, Shinjuku,Tokyo, Japan © iStock

If you’ve dreamed of seeing the cherry blossom or autumn colours of Japan, sailing under Sydney Harbour Bridge, climbing Angkor Wat or floating around Tahiti, it’s never been more attainable. In fact, according to figures from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), nine per cent of British cruisers will be able to fulfil those dreams.

“One of the growing trends in our industry is for guests to use cruising to explore parts of the world that are completely new to them, including the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Australasia,” says Andy Harmer, SVP Membership and Director of CLIA UK & Ireland. “A cruise gives guests the chance to explore multiple ports on a stress-free and hassle-free holiday to some of the most exciting destinations in the world.”

Some countries can be complicated to travel to but on a cruise, not only are the arrangements made for you, but you always have a safe haven to return to every day. For example, with more places in China opening to international cruise lines you can now visit Shanghai, walk the Great Wall of China in Beijing or see its Forbidden City on an ocean cruise, rather than a land-based holiday – although there are also excellent Yangtze River cruise options for those who want to see much more.

“Viking has been operating cruises to China for many years,” says Neil Barclay, Head of Sales at Viking Cruises UK. “Wuhan and Chongqing continue to be our gateways to the Yangtze River, which gives guests a true glimpse into local life and culture.”

Japan is also much easier to explore by ship these days. You can call at Tokyo to see the Imperial Palace, Hiroshima for a visit to the Peace Memorial Park or see dolphins along the Shiretoko Peninsula when you sail around the islands. With cruises starting at £858pp for a seven-day round-trip from Tokyo with Princess Cruises, it’s easy to see the appeal of exploring the Land of the Rising Sun by ship.

Tony Roberts, Vice President of Princess Cruises UK and Europe, says: “Cruising in Asia has significantly grown in popularity and, with such a strong demand, Asia is now the second most popular destination for Princess Cruises UK.

“Asia is an exotic and beautiful part of the world, too, very different to the traditional cruising destinations such as Europe. One main reason that there is a growing appeal to cruise to Asia is because guests are able to take in the new cultures and explore the region from the comfort of their cruise ship and through organised tours.

“This means it’s extremely easy to travel as guests can visit many fantastic destinations in a number of countries without having to worry about booking a hotel in each place and what transport to use when they get there.”

Before the Chinese boom, Australia was considered the fastest-growing cruise market in the world, which has led to more cruise ship calls to places such as Cairns and Port Douglas near the Great Barrier Reef, laid-back Melbourne and must-see Sydney, as well as the intriguing island of Tasmania.

While new ports of call continue to emerge, some of the old favourites are simply getting better. Singapore continues to be a pivotal port for the Far East, with its number one tourist attraction the futuristic Flower Dome and 22 metre-high Skyway walk around Gardens by the Bay.

On Singapore’s doorstep is Malaysia, with Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar within easy sailing distance – all countries that increasing numbers of travellers want to see.

Lisa Harris, Head of Communications, Saga Group and Holidays, explains that increased availability of new flight routes has made Southeast Asia easier for discerning travellers who want holidays in “unspoilt and authentic” destinations, and cruise companies are now catching up with land-based tours. She adds: “Whether these are shorter fly cruises or longer world cruises, a cruise will really allow you to explore a whole variety of different destinations on the one trip.”

Tourism in Myanmar is still relatively new, although Irrawaddy River cruises are well established and more ocean cruises are calling there for excursions to Yangon (formerly Rangoon) to see the diamond and gold-covered Shwedagon Pagoda and other temples.

The languid countryside of Vietnam and Cambodia is more accessible on a Mekong River cruise, with land-based trips to the extraordinary Angkor Wat temples complex at Siem Reap.

David Binns, Head of Product at river cruise company Avalon Waterways, says: “Demand for our Vietnam and Cambodia river cruise is coming from customers who have experienced European river cruises and want to travel further afield to discover different cultures and regions of the world.”

Also gaining popularity in Southeast Asia is the Lower Mekong from northern Thailand to Laos, while Vietnam’s French colonial Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the sculpted limestone rocks and islets of Ha Long Bay are on many ocean itineraries. Silversea has a 14-day cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore in October that visits Ha Long Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Koh Samui from £4,940pp.

Read part two of Exotic Cruises 2017.

If you’ve been inspired to take a cruise, use our Cruise Finder to find your perfect voyage.