You probably couldn’t get a more dramatic departure from the traditional blue-rinse image of cruising than a rock-themed voyage on which 2,300 fans of the Warped music festival will be united at sea.
As cruising becomes ever more popular, cruise companies plying both the world’s oceans and its rivers are striving to create more adventurous itineraries that come with bragging rights for passengers aboard their ships. And there are cruises for every conceivable tribe, from Trekkies (die-hard Star Trek fans) to vegans, who can fill their boots on a vegan river cruise.
Predilections aside, there are cruises that thrill simply by putting passengers in the right place at the right time, whether it is a front-row seat at Sydney’s New Year fireworks spectacular, access to a major sporting or one-off cultural event, or timing an itinerary to coincide with a spectacular natural phenomenon.
As with any special holiday, planning holds the key – and the cruise lines have done most of the work for you. From trackside seats with Formula One teams at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, to a “mystery cruise” whose itinerary is revealed once passengers board the ship, here’s our pick of cruise experiences that are unlikely to be repeated.
1. Solar eclipse cruise
This summer sees the first total solar eclipse of the sun in America this century, and you can view it from the comfort of your balcony cabin with Royal Caribbean’s Total Eclipse Cruise on board Oasis of the Seas. The seven-night bucket-list cruise departs in August from Port Canaveral and visits Phillipsburg the capital of St Maarten, Charlotte Amalie (St Thomas), and Nassau in The Bahamas. There will be dance parties and lectures, as well as a gig with chart-topppers DNCE of Cake by the Ocean fame.
From £1,156pp departing August 20, 2017 (0844 493 4005; royalcaribbean.co.uk)
2. Three-for-one French river cruise
Set sail along the Seine, Loire and Gironde on Voyages to Antiquity’s one-off Three Rivers of France cruise sailing from London to Lisbon in August. As well as the opportunity to visit three rivers on one cruise, most of the destinations have a strong wine or port theme, and Nancy Gilchrist, who is one of only 365 masters of wine in the world, will be on hand to tell you all about the tipples on offer in each port. The 15-night cruise calls at Rouen, Honfleur, Nantes, Bordeaux (all France), San Sebastián, La Coruña (both Spain), Oporto and Lisbon (both Portugal).
From £2,695pp, departing August 20, 2017 (01865 302550; voyagestoantiquity.com)
3. Cruising with England cricketers
Cricket lovers are sure to be bowled over by this addition to Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ Medieval Cities & River Seine six-night itinerary sailing from Tilbury in October. The cruise includes some of the top names in the sport with the likes of former England captains David Gower and Chris Cowdrey fending off questions from television’s Nick Hancock at one session. Other guests include Alan Wells, John Lever, Ray East and Don Topley, while voyage stops in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Rouen and Honfleur are sure to knock passengers for six.
From £2,555pp, departing October 24, 2017 (0844 998 3877; cruiseandmaritime.com)
4. Cherry blossom viewing in Japan
Asia is now the second most visited destination for UK passengers sailing with Princess Cruises, so jump on board Diamond Princess in April for the chance to see cherry blossom near Lake Kawaguchiko, in the scenic Five Lakes area. This one-off Spring Flowers cruise will sail from Kobe in Japan, visiting ports including Kōchi (on the island of Shikoku), Hiroshima, Miyazaki and Kagoshima, plus Busan in South Korea.
Spring Flowers cruise costs from £878pp departing April 6, 2018 (0843 374 2401; princess.com)
5. Moorish jazz cruise
Sample a jazz concert by Joja Wendt, a renowned pianist, in the art deco surrounds of Malaga’s Automobile Museum on this eight-night Jazz Cruise from Valencia to Casablanca. As well as the concert, Joja will be tinkling the ivories on two at-sea nights, and if that’s not romantic enough for you, the cruise is on the three-masted barque Sea Cloud II, a classic windjammer with all the facilities of a modern cruise ship. Stops in Spain include the Moorish citadel city of Granada, the charming port town of Cádiz, and Jerez de la Frontera, well-known for its selection of sherry and wine cellars.
From €3,755pp (£3,361), departing November 6, 2017 (+49 4030 95 9250; seacloud.com)
6. Danube mystery cruise
Roll up, roll up, step right this way… if we’ve reverted to quoting lyrics by the Beatles it’s because there’s not much we can tell you about this cruise – where the itinerary and potential excursions are revealed on a day-to-day basis. What we do know is that Saga’s nine-night Mystery Cruise next March is aboard the Johannes Brahms on the Danube and will include five shore excursions.
Saga also has a “pop-up” opera cruise in summer 2018. The 19-night cruise from Dover offers singing lessons and performances on board and will include a visit to Puccini’s favourite haunt, Torre del Lago, in Italy.
From £1,679pp, departing March 19, 2018 (0808 250 6560; travel.saga.co.uk)
7. Masterchef cruise with John Torode
Join Masterchef host John Torode on a river cruise in Germany next May. The celebrity chef will be offering cooking classes, talks and Q&A sessions on the seven-night Journey down the Rhine with John Torode cruise aboard the AmaStella, launched by AmaWaterways last year. Ports include Cologne, Heidelberg and Amsterdam, and among the highlights is a gala dinner featuring a menu created by Torode.
From £1,995pp, departing April 16, 2018 (telegraph.co.uk/travel/tours)
8. Horse-racing in America’s Deep South
River cruises don’t come much more exciting than sailing on a paddle cruiser in the Deep South…unless you throw in the chance to watch one of the world’s classic horse races: the Kentucky Derby. The eight-day Derby cruise on the American Queen Steamboat Company’s brand new American Duchess sails the Ohio River from Louisville to Cincinnati, with other ports including Madison, Indiana; Brandenburg, Kentucky; Owensboro, Kentucky. On May 5, there’s also the option to attend the Derby, with a VIP Derby Day Premium Package ($999pp (£768) which includes VIP access and jockey meet-and-greets, plus trackside hospitality.
From £3,479pp, departing April 29, 2018 (01223 568904, lightbluetravel.co.uk)
9. Glastonbury at sea
Billed as a four-day “pop-punk party on the high seas” Warped Rewind at Sea is a rock-themed cruise based on America’s travelling music festival, Warped. The pop-punk-themed cruise is on Norwegian Pearl (chartered for the occasion) and sails from New Orleans to Cozumel over four nights, with headline acts including Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and The Starting Line. Bands will offer meet-and-greet autograph sessions and there will be a Hallowe’en fancy dress contest and even on-board tattoo artists. Rock on.
From $795pp cruise-only, departing October 28, 2017 (warpedrewindatsea.com)
10. VIP Grand Prix cruise
Get in pole position by securing a coveted VIP spot at one of the world’s most prestigious race events – the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit in November. Crystal Cruises’ Indian Ocean Discovery journey from Dubai to Port Louis in Mauritius calls at Doha, Abu Dhabi, Mahé (Seychelles), Nosy Be (Madagascar) and Saint-Denis (Réunion). The cruise also includes an invitation to the Team One Paddock Club, with the cruise highlight being the race itself. Various packages are available, from premium grandstand seating ($999) to Formula Team One Paddock Club access with either the Red Bull or Ferrari teams. The VIP package ($9,999) includes the chance to walk the pit lane, premium seating, an open bar and fine food.
From £4,255pp, departing November 22, 2017 (020 7399 7601; crystalcruises.co.uk)
11. Golfing in the British Isles
Golf fans who miss out on this cruise may be left feeling seriously under par. Luxury cruise company Azamara Club Cruises has teamed up with specialist tour operator Perry Golf to offer a 13-night British Isles cruise that includes access to Sunday’s final round of the 2018 British Open at Carnoustie. Sailing on the Azamara Journey, guests will have the chance to see every pitch and putt up close and personal aside, there are also six rounds of golf at some of Britain and Ireland’s top courses, including The K Club in Ireland, and Gleneagles Hotel and Castle Stuart Golf Links, Scotland.
From US$9,304pp, departing July 11, 2018 (perrygolf.com)
12. Music and theatre cruise to Bruges
Punk-pop not your bag? Indulge your musical tastes elsewhere. On Throwback, a three-night cruise to Bruges, passengers will find Eighties chart-toppers including OMD, Erasure’s Andy Bell and the Human League. The cruise, on Royal Caribbean International’s Navigator of the Seas, will pair live entertainment with opportunities to meet the stars. Seeking a West End and Broadway vibe? Stages cruise, a four-night trip from Southampton calling at Amsterdam will feature two-time Olivier Award winning Michael Ball, musical theatre group Collabro, Beverley Knight (The Bodyguard and Cats. Lee Mead (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wicked), John Owen-Jones (Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera) and Sophie Evans (The Wizard of Oz, Wicked).
Meanwhile Katherine Jenkins, Alfie Boe and Ruthie Henshall are headlining on Bravo! a seven-night performing arts-themed cruise on Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Silhouette departing Southampton on May 19, 2018 (cruise.co.uk).
Prices for Throwback from £599pp; Stages from £699pp, departing October 12 and October 15, 2018 respectively (floatingfestivals.co.uk; 0844 417 0320).
13. New Year in Sydney
Pip friends and family to the post by welcoming the New Year “early” as you gaze over Sydney’s historic harbour with fireworks lighting up the night sky. The event can be seen from the decks of Fred Olsen’s Black Watch on its 107-night 2018/19 Around the World trip. Other highlights of this epic voyage include seeing Indonesia’s Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat, relaxing on picture-perfect beaches on Bora Bora and visiting the Taj Mahal. The journey around the globe also includes transits of the Suez and Panama canals.
From £10,499 per person, departing November 12, 2018 (0800 0355 242; fredolsencruises.com)
14. An epic Old World odyssey
You can zip across the Atlantic in less than a week these days, but this National Geographic transatlantic crossing is done at a much more leisurely pace. Setting sail from Lisbon, the 25-night Mission 90°: An Atlantic Ocean Odyssey trip will venture to the tip of South America, Punta Arenas, visiting the island of Santo Antão in the Cape Verde archipelago and stepping ashore at Isla Magdalena, home to 120,000 nesting Magellanic penguins, along the way. A packed programme on National Geographic Orion includes talks from contributing editor Andrew Evans and oceanographer Jim Kelley along with cooking classes, wine tasting and even photography tuition.
From US$8,450 per person departing October 6, 2017 (expeditions.com)
15. Ballet dancing from Canada to the US
If you know your pliés from your pas de deux, you’re sure to love Silversea’s unique Ballet Cruise. Set on board the luxury Silver Whisper, the cruise sets sail from Montreal on a 10-day trip to New York, calling at Quebec City, Saguenay, Charlottetown, Sydney, Halifax, Portland, Boston and Newport. Along the way, there are special dance performances, including two by Jean-Sébastien Colau of L’Opéra de Paris. The high-end cruise also offers butler service for guests, and excursions including whale watching.
From £4,400 per person departing October 23, 2017 (0844 251 0837; silversea.com)
16. World Cup fever
An elegant cruise and a football match may seem like unlikely bedfellows – but they combine well on Azamara’s 12-night Baltic and World Cup voyage next summer. While the draw for the finals is still to take place, the cruise, sailing from London and visiting Antwerp, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Tallinn, promises the lure of a World Cup match as part of a three-night stay in St Petersburg. In addition to watching some of the best players in the world, passengers will be among the first to visit the city’s new Zenit Stadium. Designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, it’s been nicknamed the Spaceship thanks to its futuristic design.
From £2,904 per person departing June 17, 2018 (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk)
17. Cruise the world’s most remote islands
Seabourn returns to South Africa this year with a 19-night sailing from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Cape Town. The itinerary includes a visit to Tristan da Cunha, an archipelago of small islands in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean that are said to be the most remote inhabited isles in the world. The ship will take in the sister islands, Nightingale and Inaccessible Island, the latter an extinct volcano, active six million years ago and fringed with sheer sea cliffs and boulder beaches. The island has been a World Heritage Site since 1995 in recognition of its importance as a wilderness of international significance. Once in South Africa, there’s also the option of a bolt on Namibia safari.
From £5,600 per person departing January 23, 2018 (0843 373 2000; seabourn.com)
18. France, Germany and Switzerland on the Rhine
Set sail on the Rhine for a New Year’s adventure with a difference. Great Rail Journeys has a one-off, seven-night Rhine cruise on board MS Amadeus Princess III that will pass through some of Europe’s prettiest town, including Strasbourg, Mainz and Speyer, before spending New Year’s Eve in Basel where France, Germany and Switzerland all meet.
From £1,695 per person departing December 28, 2017 (01904 527 180; greatrail.com)
19. Strictly Come Dancing cruise
Guests on Scenic’s Dancing Down The Danube cruise in September won’t be getting a ‘ten from Len’ but they may get their dance moves analysed by former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips. First though, they’ll have to brush up on their steps – lucky then that fellow Strictly stars James and Ola Jordan will also be on board offering ballroom masterclasses to keep passengers on their toes. The couple will also perform at the Vienna Arsenal as the eight-day river cruise on the new Scenic Amber sails from Budapest to Nuremberg. Places are now limited but there is still availability.
From £1,820 per person departing September 27, 2017 (0808 252 5111; scenic.co.uk)
20. New York Fashion Week
Fashion doyenne Iris Apfel will be crossing the Atlantic for Cunard’s second Transatlantic Fashion Week cruise next month; but you’ll need to act quickly to snap up one of the few remaining balcony cabins. The seven-night cruise is on its flagship QM2 which arrives in Brooklyn for New York Fashion Week. As well as fashion shows, exhibitions, hosted dinners and audiences with guests including Julien MacDonald, the celebrity auction house Julien’s will be exhibiting highlights from the renowned Judy Garland Collection for passengers to view and purchase.
From £1,399 per person departing Southampton on August 31, 2017 (0344 338 8650; cunard.co.uk). Includes flights and transfers.
An insider’s guide to New York