9 Circumnavigation Cruises You Shouldn’t Miss

For those who’ve cruised the Med and have sailed the Caribbean too many times to count, prepare for something different: a circumnavigation voyage. Small ships offering destination-immersive voyages sail around landmasses like Cuba, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Newfoundland, and even Japan’s Hokkaido island. If you’ve got the inclination and the time—most circumnavigations are 10, 14, or even 30 days—book your voyage now. Onboard enrichment focuses on your destination and every shore excursion will help you get to know the region intimately. Read on for the 10 most interesting circumnavigation cruises that are on sale now.

Insider Tip: If you see an itinerary you like, book it ASAP. These voyages are not always offered and there’s no guarantee your preferred ship will offer another circumnavigation in the future.—Andrea M. Rotondo

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Sail Around Japan’s Northernmost Island

Plan ahead for Zeagrahm’s May 2018 departure of Hokkaido: Japan’s Wild Island. This 16-day voyage circumnavigates Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido. You’ll visit some of the most beautiful parts of the country—be sure to have your camera handy as you walk through the wildflower fields of Rebun Island, part of the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. Bird-watchers will be in paradise at Teuri Island, home to a variety of birds including Eurasian bullfinches, red-crowned cranes, white-tailed eagles, and Japanese pygmy-woodpeckers. In between nature explorations you’ll visit a few morning markets, like the ones at Abashiri and Hakodate, and you’ll explore bustling cities like Otaru and Sapporo. The highlight of the trip for many will be a call at Shikotsu-Toya National Park, where passengers will explore hiking trails to get a glimpse of caldera lakes and geothermal hot springs under the shadow of Mount Yotei.

Insider Tip: If time allows, take advantage of Zegrahm’s pre-trip extension to Kyoto, the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. Tour the city’s palaces, gardens, and temples before doing a bit of souvenir shopping.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hokkaido Travel Guide

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A New Option in the Caribbean

WHERE: Cuba

Save the date in April 2018 for a full circumnavigation of Cuba aboard the Hebridean Sky with adventure outfitter, Zegrahm Expeditions. This round trip out of Havana introduces you to Cuban culture, historic sites, traditional Cuban cuisine, indigenous music, and more. With nearly a dozen port calls around the island, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the coastal regions as well as travel inland to discover places like Pinar del Rio, where Cuba’s famous tobacco grows, plus Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its dramatic karst outcroppings that punctuate the landscape. Opportunities for snorkeling and sunbathing present themselves at Cayo Guillermo and a full-day trip to Cayo Saetia, an island nature preserve, is considered a high point of the voyage.

Insider Tip: Due to the visa requirements of a Cuba cruise, passengers can’t deviate from the group itinerary; no exploring on your own.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cuba Travel Guide

Michelle Valberg

Our Neighbors to the North

Sailing around Newfoundland this June, Adventure Canada promises a voyage where you’ll spy whales breaching, seabirds breeding, and maybe even majestic icebergs. It’s perhaps the most exotic voyage you can find close to home. You’ll travel with onboard naturalists that will share their deep knowledge of the region with you. You’ll visit the only Mi’kmaq village in Newfoundland and view a reconstructed Viking settlement (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) that dates to 1000 AD, at L’Anse aux Meadows. Passengers will explore Gros Morne National Park and see the most remote areas of Newfoundland and Labrador in resplendent bloom. The circumnavigation begins and ends in St. John’s, a fishing community that was established in 1498. This itinerary balances active pursuits like hiking and Zodiac excursions with museum visits, community activities, and archaeology workshops.

Insider Tip: Ocean Endeavour, a 198-passenger exploration ship, is home base for this circumnavigation. It’s equipped with 20 Zodiacs to allow passengers to get close to wildlife and coastal habitats.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Western Newfoundland Travel Guide

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An Ode to Lava Fields and Glacier Rivers

WHERE: Iceland

Circumnavigating Iceland is a relatively new itinerary for many cruise lines but traditional cruise lines like Windstar offer voyages alongside those from expedition companies like Zegrahm, AdventureSmith, Quark Expeditions, and Lindblad. Itineraries are generally 10 or more nights, take place during the summer months, and start and end in the capital city of Reykjavik. Located just shy of the Arctic Circle, expect wildlife sightings like razorbills, puffins, Arctic terns, fulmars, and Icelandic horses. Most lines offer an excursion to the famed Blue Lagoon thermal baths but the crystalline blue icebergs you’ll witness during Zodiac excursions may be even more breathtaking.

Insider Tip: If you want to say that you’ve been to the Arctic Circle proper, look for itineraries that include a visit to Grimsey island, which is smack dab on the line.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Iceland Travel Guide

Ponant

Take a Tour Down Under

If you’re going to travel all the way to Australia—Sydney is a 17-hour plane ride from the U.S.—you should consider seeing as much of the country as you can. That’s where Australian circumnavigation cruises come in. In one fell swoop, you’ll spend a month exploring the entire coastal regions as well as enjoying a fair number of sea days. Most itineraries are scheduled in either October or February and March when weather is pleasant. Remember that the “Top End” of Australia from Cairns to Darwin will be quite a bit warmer that points further south. Look to mainstream cruise lines like Princess Cruises, Holland America, Cunard, and Royal Caribbean—all of which sail full or partial circumnavigations of the country. You’ll generally begin and end in Sydney and visit cities like Darwin, Adelaide, Fremantle, Brisbane, and Melbourne.

Insider Tip: Most Australian circumnavigation voyages also include a stop at an international port. Look for Indonesian calls like Bali or Komodo Island to see the famed komodo dragon.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Australia Travel Guide

Noble Caledonia

The Land of the Long White Cloud

WHERE: New Zealand

Spend 19 nights, including Christmas and the New Year, circumnavigating New Zealand aboard Noble Caledonia’s 57-suite Caledonia Sky. The cruise fare includes all meals and beverages onboard (including wine and beer), shore excursions, gratuities, and even overnight accommodations pre-cruise in Hong Kong and Auckland. The itinerary hits all of the highlights with an overnight in Auckland and calls on a variety of ports including Bay of Islands, Dunedin, Akaroa, Lyttelton, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, and more. This tour has a bit of everything, from metropolitan cities to historic villages to botanical gardens to geothermal hot springs and mud pools.

Insider Tip: The itinerary includes three full days exploring Fiordland, some of the most beautiful wilderness in the Southern Hemisphere and the most remote region of New Zealand. You may board Zodiacs for touring Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Dusky Sound.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New Zealand Travel Guide

Stewart Cohen Pictures

Rule Britannia!

WHERE: England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales

Lindblad’s 19-day British & Irish Isles expedition features a circumnavigation of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It’s not an itinerary that many cruise lines offer, so seriously consider embarking this April. It’s packed with visits to places that highlight the region’s long history, from a Stone Age village with ruins dating back 5,000 years ago to destinations that were pivotal in World War II to modern cities as well as quaint little villages where you can grab a pint and listen to traditional music while getting to know the locals. You’ll embark in Edinburgh, Scotland, and visit dream destinations like the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara in County Galway, the Hebrides, the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, and more before disembarking in Bergen, Norway.

Insider Tip: Lindblad has arranged for former U.K. Prime Minster Gordon Brown to join the ship to discuss the world stage and Britain’s place on it.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales Travel Guides

Holland America Line

Patagonia Pièce de Résistance

WHERE: South America

South America is massive so you won’t find a full circumnavigation but there are plenty of voyages that sail partially around the continent and even make calls in Ushuaia for Antarctica. Look to Holland America for the widest range of sailings. There are plenty of 20- to 30-day options but the most encompassing itinerary may be the 42-day South America Odyssey aboard MS Zaandam in February 2018. It departs from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then sails around the continent and transits the Panama Canal before disembarking passengers in Fort Lauderdale. This “greatest hit” voyage calls on many alluring destinations, including Punta del Este and Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (for an overnight); the Falkland Islands; Valparaíso, Chile; and Callao, Peru (for Lima).

Insider Tip: This voyage devotes plenty of time to scenic cruising, including the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Glacier Alley, Cape Horn, and the Chilean fjords.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s South America Travel Guide

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The Ultimate Svalbard Expedition in the Arctic

WHERE: Svalbard, Norway

Offered twice this July, Hurtigruten’s 12-day round-trip voyage out of Longyearbyen circumnavigates Spitsbergen, an island of Svalbard, Norway. You’ll have tons of bragging rights considering that you’ll cross the 80th parallel, just 600 miles from the North Pole, and you’ll likely see polar bears as you explore the Land of the Midnight Sun. Each day, gorgeous scenery—from mountains and fjords to glaciers and the wilderness of the High Arctic—will greet you. The trip includes plenty of Zodiac cruises and expedition landings as well as opportunities to hike and kayak. You will be amazed at the diverse wildlife that thrive in Svalbard and you’ll respect the 2,000+ people that make the remote town of Longyearbyen home.

Insider Tip: The 335-passenger MS Spitsbergen is Hurtigruten’s newest ship. If you want the best accommodations onboard, book the Expedition Suite on the upper deck.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Longyearbyen, Svalbard Travel Guide