Nick Dalton selects some of the most alluring itineraries for the year ahead in this round-up of the best luxury cruises 2020.

There is surely no better way to explore the planet than on board a sophisticated ship, with impeccable service and gastronomic splendour. All this and more is possible on these luxury cruises 2020 heading to some of the world’s finest destinations.

Yangtze treasures

luxury-cruises-2020-Sanctuary

Sanctuary’s Yangzi Explorer prides itself on being a step above other ships of the imposing Chinese river. It is much smaller (only 124 passengers), has the largest rooms, all with private balconies, the highest crew-to-passenger ratio (one-to-one), and a two-deck theatre for local entertainment. Sanctuary Retreats – which has a small collection of river cruises and safari lodges – has four-night Yangzi Explorer cruises upstream from Yichang to Chongqing, and three-nighters downstream which can be combined. Excursions are included to the Three Gorges Dam, Shennong Stream (a tributary between huge rock walls) and Fuling (with its ornate Fuling Mausoleum).

Departs regularly from March to November 2020, combined cruises cost from $2,650pp (about £2,000pp), based on two people sharing, cruise only, including wine and beer and excursions (sanctuaryretreats.com).

French flair

luxury-cruises-2020-south-of-france

The 11-day South of France itinerary from all-inclusive specialist Scenic is one of those to make the neighbours jealous. From the gorgeous city of Lyon it heads north on the Saône to Chalon-sur-Saône, with a trip to acclaimed Château Meursault in the Burgundy wine region. Then it’s south all the way to Viviers on the Rhône in picturesque Ardèche. All excursions are included – and that means more wine (visiting the riverside wine mecca of Tain l’Hermitage), along with truffle hunting, cooking classes, cycling and a classical recital in Avignon’s Palais des Papes. Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond carry only 149 passengers and revel in French cuisine, including the Scenic Culinaire cooking classes. And there’s plenty of spare time to soak up the sun on the top deck, maybe sipping a nice glass of something, all included.

Regular departures from April to October 2020, from £3,685pp, including all-inclusive flights
(scenic.co.uk).

South Seas special

luxury-cruise-2020-tahiti.jpg

Here’s a voyage you’ll never forget – 16 nights from Colón in Panama to Tahiti. Things kick off with a daytime passage of the Panama Canal, taking in mountains, lakes and jungle, followed by a beach day at Chiriqui National Park. There’s a week crossing the lazy South Pacific enjoying the sweet delights of Europa 2. After that it’s the lush Marquesas, Rangiroa (a must for snorkelling among the reefs) and volcanic Moorea. And take relaxation to the limit with the IN2BALANCE theme, a team of fitness gurus offering relaxation sessions like yoga and t’ai chi. The ship, for only 500 guests, has seven restaurants, all included in the price, from sushi to French to the Yacht Club.

Departs 4 November 2020, costs from £5,890pp, based on two people sharing a balcony cabin, cruise only (hl-cruises.com).

Eastern promise

luxury-cruises-2020-Viking.jpg

A dream voyage that takes in the wonders of Asia followed by Africa and then makes it back to Europe for the start of summer. The new 40-day Passage to Ancient Treasures cruise starts in Singapore and finishes in Venice, ticking off your history list along the way – ancient sites and destinations abound. There’s Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India – southern ports Cochin and Goa before two nights in Mumbai. Then Oman, Jordan and an extended stay in Egypt (both the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and Luxor and its temples on the Nile). It keeps on coming: the Suez Canal, Cairo and the pyramids, Jerusalem, Kuşadasi in Turkey and the ruins of the Roman city of Ephesus, Istanbul (two days) and Athens. Plus, an excursion is included in most ports and it’s all on board one of Viking’s contemporary, stylish ships with free use of the spa, free dining in speciality restaurants and 24-hour room service.

Departs 5 March 2021, costs from £13,190pp, including flights and wine with dinner (vikingcruises.co.uk).

Polar quest

luxury-cruises-2020-antarctica

Polar cruises don’t come much cooler than the 21-day Ultimate Antarctica & Patagonia voyage in the exquisite confines of 450-passenger Seabourn Quest. It sails from San Antonio, near Chile’s capital, Santiago, and – after visiting Chile’s fabulous fjords – passes through the Beagle Channel at the foot of Argentina. Then it heads south for six days of Antarctic adventures: Paulet Island with its 100,000 pairs of penguins, the semi-dormant volcano of Deception Island, King George Island with its string of research bases and more with small boat landings. There’s a day in the Falklands too, with the ship’s cosseting luxury to return to. Gourmet restaurants include the Grill by Thomas Keller.

Departs 29 November 2020, costs from £10,000pp, based on two sharing, including wine with dinner but not flights (seabourn.com).

Musical interlude

luxury-cruises-2020-Mykonos

Cruising’s something to sing about, and no more so than when there’s opera soothing the soul. Silversea’s ‘Enhanced’ voyage from Barcelona to Athens – 12 days of glorious Mediterranean sunshine – features onboard performances by soloists from Milan’s fabled Accademia Teatro alla Scala along with lectures and interview sessions. Calls include Sicily and Sardinia, two days in Malta, the Greek islands of Mykonos and Santorini as well as Kuşadasi in Turkey. Silver Spirit, which has almost one crew member to every guest (there’s a butler for everyone) is the epitome of modern Italian style with eight included restaurants, not least the volcanic stone cooking of the Grill, the pizzas of Spaccanapoli and the delicious Italian specialities of La Terrazza. Drinks are included (even in your room) and the public areas are among the most elegant at sea.

Departs 17 October 2020, costs from £4,140pp, including flights (silversea.com).

Taste of the Danube

luxury-cruises-2020-danube.jpg

Avalon Envision is the latest ship from Avalon Waterways and a thing of contemporary beauty. Wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling windows retreat to turn each suite into an open-air enclave. There’s a choice of dining – in the glass walled main dining room, the laid-back Panorama Bistro and the al fresco Sky Grill. There’s a whirlpool and a pleasing shaded area on the Sky Deck, and a collection of bikes to borrow, even though excursions are included in each port. Try the Danube’s golden stretch between Vienna and Budapest, but with a difference: a four-night cruise, taking in Bratislava, bookended by two nights in each city.

Departs regularly from May to November, costs from £1,922pp, based on two people sharing, including flights and two nights in a hotel in both Budapest and Vienna (avalonwaterways.co.uk).

Mekong discovery

Vast stone Buddhas at Angkor Wat in Cambodia © iStock

Sleek and modern Emerald Harmony, which entered service last summer, is the new and exciting way to sail on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia. And it’s not just the chance to lap up Asian-inspired food (as well as gourmet five-course dinners). This space-age vessel has been designed so it can travel from the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City via fascinating backwaters to the Mekong River. Asian-meets-contemporary décor makes every room a calm sanctuary, there’s a palm-fringed sun deck with a pool, and wine and beer are included with lunch and dinner. Among the excursions are an evening tuk-tuk tour of Phnom Penh – the Cambodian capital – a Cambodian circus, and a tour of the Cu Chi war tunnels. The 15-day trip heads up to Siem Reap for the Angkor Wat temple complex; there’s two nights in a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and three in Siem Reap.

Regular year-round sailings cost from £3,395pp, based on two sharing, including flights (emeraldwaterways.co.uk).

European icons

Luxury-cruises-2020-european-icons

There are many cruises on the Rhine and Danube but few that do them from A to B – Amsterdam to Bucharest – and at such leisure. Viking’s 23-day European Sojourn takes in eight countries as well as the Main-Danube Canal and the Main River. The splendid Longships with their Nordic styling (including the wall of windows at the front-of-ship bar opening onto the Aquavit Terrace and with even a herb garden on the sun deck) call at a host of iconic destinations uniting east and west Europe. There’s Kinderdijk in Holland with its windmills, the grandeur of Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and an array of grand monasteries, fortresses and castles – and 19 included guided tours.

Regular sailings from May to October 2020, costs from £5,695pp, two sharing, including flights and wine with dinner (vikingrivercruises.co.uk).

African adventure

luxury-cruises-2020-africa

Not many get to circumnavigate Africa. And few get the chance to do it on a 74-day trip. The Grand Africa Voyage on Holland America Line’s very posh Amsterdam starts and finishes with an Atlantic crossing (from Boston, with various US calls including New York and Fort Lauderdale). Then it’s east along Africa’s north coast – Agadir and Casablanca – a touch of the ancient world (a visit to Petra) and the Gulf (Muscat) before far-flung names such as Mombasa, Zanzibar and Richards Bay. There’s a night in Cape Town and more than a dozen African nations, including The Gambia and Namibia, with plenty of safari options. The ship, for 1,380 guests, combines classic styling with modern technology and is the perfect setting for a grand voyage.

Departs 3 October 2020, costs from £12,539pp (hollandamerica.com).

Frozen lands

Luxury-cruises-2020-greenland

Sometimes the best cruises focus on small areas rather than the bigger picture. Scenic Eclipse, the new exploration yacht with a helicopter and submarine, takes an in-depth view on Arctic Islands: Svalbard, Greenland & Iceland over 15 days. The fantastic adventure starts in Oslo with a hotel night before flying to Longyearbyen, capital of the Svalbard Archipelago for three days of exploration to spot wildlife… walrus, reindeer and, of course, polar bear. Then it’s on to Greenland where the six-star ship hugs the coastline, with five days spent slipping into the world’s largest fjord systems, all icebergs, waterfalls and volcanoes, before reaching Reykjavík. With contemporary chic styling, the ship is as spectacular as the surroundings and all-inclusive, with Zodiac boat rides, kayaks, e-bikes, varied restaurants and even Champagne. The Grand Panorama Suite with a veranda curving around the front of the ship is the prime spot.

Departs 12 July 2020, costs from £11,695pp to £27,855pp for the Grand Panorama Suite, all-inclusive including flights (scenic.co.uk).

Desert jewels

Live like kings and queens of the desert with the 10-day Middle East Meandering voyage from Oceania Cruises – but make sure to add the pre-cruise Arabian Desert Extravagance package. The cruise itself is a round trip from Dubai (with an overnight stay) taking in Oman, Bahrain, Doha, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and the wildlife reserve of Sir Bani Yas island. The add-on involves three nights at Ritz Carlton’s Al Wadi Resort in the emirate Ras Al Khaimah. There’s a dune buggy safari through Al Wadi Nature Reserve, where spellbinding countryside is home to lithe Arabian gazelles. Stargazing follows a sunset camel trek. The next day is a dhow cruise in fjord-like Musandam Peninsula and lastly there’s a tour of Dubai – including a visit to the 124th-floor observation deck at Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Then you can sit back on Sirena, totally revamped in 2019, with its new Tuscan Grill steakhouse just one of the speciality restaurants included in the price.

Departs 11 December 2020, costs from £3,349pp, with flights (oceaniacruises.com).

Cherry-picked

luxury-cruises-2020-tokyo

Japan in spring is idyllic, the cherry trees in blossom and the air filled with their delicate scent. Sailing on one of the world’s finest ships makes it doubly delightful. Cunard’s newest vessel, Queen Elizabeth, makes its Japan Circumnavigation over nine glorious nights, sailing from Tokyo’s Yokahama and visiting five ports, including Nagasaki and Maizuru, known for its blossom and the Goro Sky Tower. The ship is a stylish masterpiece with Art Deco flair, flamboyant dinners in elegant settings and afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters. There are several expert talks and extravagant evening entertainment too. 

Departs 6 May 2020, costs from £2,175pp, based on two people sharing, including flights (bolsovercruiseclub.com).

Wine and castles

luxury-cruises-2020-bordeaux

There’s nothing like pottering about in the sun with a nice glass of wine or two. The eight-day Brilliant Bordeaux cruise on Uniworld’s elegant S.S. Bon Voyage explores southwest France on the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne. There are three nights on board in Bordeaux and two in Libourne, next to wine centre Saint-Émilion. Eight excursions include a Sauternes vineyard visit with a tasting at Château de Cazeneuve, a Médoc châteaux route tour, a German war bunker visit and and a Bordeaux bike ride. S.S. Bon Voyage is a French dream, from the exquisite main dining room to a bistro inspired by Paris’s Bouillon Pigalle.

Departs regularly from March to November and costs from £2,349pp, all-inclusive with Titan’s VIP door-to-door travel service and flights (titantravel.co.uk).

Fjord splendour

luxury-cruises-2020-Norway

Following a multi-million pound revamp, Celebrity Silhouette, one of Celebrity Cruises’ cool, contemporary ships, emerges this spring, more stylish than ever before. Experience the new luxurious rooms, most of them with a balcony, and the exciting public areas in the clear air of the Norwegian Fjords on a seven-night cruise from Southampton, visiting the historic city of Bergen, Olden, at the tip of Nordfjord, stunning Geirangerfjord and Stavanger (where you can hike up to Pulpit Rock, 1,800ft above the sea, for views of Lysefjord). On deck is the Lawn Club (with real grass), which now even has a barbecue – perfect for gazing over the snow-tipped mountains with a glass of wine.

Departs 9 May 2020, balcony rooms cost from £1,004pp (celebritycruises.co.uk).

Natural wonders

luxury-cruises-2020-galapagos.

Galápagos cruises are, by their nature, exotic. Only small ships are allowed and the unspoilt islands are breathtaking. In summer 2020 Silversea offers some of the most luxurious voyages yet with the launch of 100-passenger Silver Origin. Designed so there are views to either side from most of the public spaces, it features glass walls that open to turn each room into an open-air delight. There’s Ecuadorian-inspired cuisine in two restaurants, local entertainment and drinks are included (butlers too). There are expert guides and the Basecamp room links to the inflatable landing boat dock. Silver Origin is also one of the greenest ships ever built. 

Weekly seven-night cruises start on 1 August 2020 and cost from £7,470pp, including flights and a pre-cruise hotel night in Quito (silversea.com).

Caribbean celebration

luxury-cruises-2020-Caribbean.jpg

New Year on a cruise in the sun? Perfect. Virgin Voyages’ first ship, Scarlet Lady, tempts like no other. The seven-night New Year’s Ahoy! cruise from Miami heads for the Caribbean with calls at Puerto Plata, a beach heaven in the Dominican Republic, a late night at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a final night bonfire beach party in Bimini in the Bahamas. There’s also a New Year’s party mid-ocean. Celebrate with the Fab Rock Star Suite, only £29,770 for two, including drinks and an outdoor shower. There are free group fitness sessions should you feel up to it, and the ship is a homage to design, whether it’s the rooms, the fancy restaurants or even the staff uniforms.

Departs 27 December 2020, costs from £1,880pp, all-inclusive but not including flights (virginvoyages.com).

Gallic gems

luxury-cruises-2020-ponant

The Atlantic Shores and Andalusia cruise from upmarket French company Ponant is a new itinerary and on a new ship, Le Bellot, debuting in April. The 180-guest vessel sails under the French flag, so gastronomy is a major theme, with a panoramic restaurant looking over the stern. A hydraulic platform opens up for Zodiac boat trips, swimming and paddle-boarding. There’s a pool and bar, and charming rooms, all with a sophisticated Gallic flair. The voyage heads from medieval Honfleur in Normandy to glitzy Nice on the Riviera, hugging the coast and taking in France, Spain and Portugal… lovely Saint Malo, the city of Lisbon, the island of Menorca, beach resort Málaga and Spanish city Almería. 

Departs 18 September 2020, costs from £3,733pp, two sharing, all-inclusive, not including flights (ponant.com).

Grand voyage

luxury-cruises-2020-Regent-Seven-Seas

Experience the good life from start to finish on one of the inaugural cruises from Seven Seas Splendor, the latest ship to join Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The 10-night mellow autumn voyage, from Venice to Rome, takes in the likes of hillside Kotor in Montenegro, the walled city of Dubrovnik and Italian seaside resort Sorrento. All excursions are included – a trip to the glittering isle of Capri, tours of Tuscany and getting up close to volcanic Mt Etna. But the journey to Venice is old-time grand too – a seat on the Belmond British Pullman from London to the coast with breakfast and, of course, a Bellini. Then the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express across Europe overnight with dinner and breakfast. And even after this you’re whisked to the grandiose Hilton Molino Stucky with lunch, a splendid afternoon tea and breakfast. As for the ship, it’s one of the most luxurious and elegant afloat – every room is a suite and every suite has a balcony.

Departs 22 October 2020, costs from £7,299pp, including a 10-night all-inclusive cruise, trains and hotel (rssc.com).

Southern charm

luxury-cruises-2020-American-Queen

Sit on the front porch in your rocking chair (help yourself to coffee and giant cookies) and cruise through the heart of America. As the sun sets, sip a bourbon in the ornate Victorian-style Engine Room bar, the light flickering through the timbers of the giant wheel itself. American Queen is the biggest paddlewheeler to ever sail the Mississippi and is the grandest, with an exquisite dining room (there’s wine with dinner) theatre and rooms. The 16-day Journey on the Mighty Mississippi does it in style, kicking off with three nights in Nashville before even reaching the huge river and two nights in Memphis. Then the seven-night cruise through the Deep South takes in the charm of Vicksburg and Natchez, all the way to New Orleans (with a two-night stay). There are tours included at every stop (not least Elvis’s Graceland home).

Sailings all year round, costs from £5,589pp, including flights, hotels, all meals on the cruise, drinks with dinner and Titan’s VIP door-to-door travel service (titantravel.co.uk).  

For more travel inspiration, check out the best places to cruise to in 2020 and new cruise ships for 2020.