For those of us in the northern hemisphere winter can seem to go on for far too long. Frosty mornings, thick woolly jumpers and roaring fires are delightful, but by the time Christmas is over, it’s time to start counting down to some warmer weather and advent of spring. Which makes this one of the most popular times of the year to escape the cold and embark on a winter sun cruise. A week or two of travel, sunshine, culture, and pampering are the perfect antidotes to a long winter, and there are some tantalizing and much-loved destinations to choose from. Here we take a look at the top winter cruising destinations, and what it is that makes them so special.
We’ll start our list with one of the best-known and best-loved winter sun destinations. With year-round temperatures between 24C and 29C, impossibly turquoise waters and rich cultural heritage, the Caribbean is one of the most cruised waters on the planet. December to April is the high season when the risk of hurricanes has passed. But with 7,000 islands to choose from, where do you start?
Most Caribbean cruises cover eastern, western or southern island routes, each region infused with its own cultural flavor, cuisine, and history. Beaches are guaranteed wherever you go, so if it’s powdery white sand you’re after then you won’t have to look far – Barbados alone boasts 365 beaches. Choose an eastern route and you’ll be visiting countries such as The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the US, and the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and St Maarten. Western Caribbean routes can include Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Mexico’s Costa Maya, Belize and Honduras’ island of Roatan. For those venturing further south, usually on longer itineraries because of the extra distances involved, cruises can take in St Kitts, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Dutch Antilles.
Which route and which cruise ship you choose depends very much on what you’re looking for. For family, activities try the Cayman Islands, where snorkeling with stingrays or visiting the starfish at Starfish Point off Grand Cayman will delight children of all ages. You could be swimming with wild pigs (yes, you read that correctly) in the Bahamas one day, hiking in Jamaica’s lush jungles another, or driving through a volcano in St Lucia. Discover waterfalls, hikes, scuba diving, zip lining, jeep safaris as you wake up in a new destination each day.
To experience the rich colonial heritage of the Caribbean opt for cruises which take in Cuba’s fascinating capital of Havana, the plantation houses in Barbados, or Antigua where Nelson’s Dockyard National Park brings to life this colonial harbour which housed the British fleet during the Napoleonic wars. From French-inspired Creole cuisine in Martinique to Dutch colonial architecture in Curaçao, the Caribbean is a colourful melting pot of history and culture. Get this 160m Cruise Ship for Sale in Italy on rightboat.com
The Canary Islands
On the other side of the pond, the Canary Islands have a huge amount to offer winter sun-seekers. The group of seven main islands - belonging to Spain but situated just off the north African coast - are bathed in reliable subtropical sunshine, and are home to both white and black sand beaches, have a bizarrely fascinating volcanic landscape, and warm, clear waters filled with marine life. Add to that Spain’s legendary cuisine and plenty of shore-based excursions and you’ve got the makings of the perfect cruise.
The largest islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, and Fuertventura are better known than the smaller islands of La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro, however, all are frequented by cruise ships. For the most part cruise ships visit a selection of islands on each itinerary rather than trying to cram them all in. With 600 miles of coastline and over 500 beaches, there’s plenty to choose from.
Naval history, national parks, sweeping beaches, and a volcanic landscape create an itinerary that is ever-changing and surprising. Explore the pretty city of Santa Cruz de la Palma, where you’ll find a 17th-century fortress and a Naval Museum built as a full-size replica of Columbus’ ship Santa Maria. For a lovely day surrounded by nature head into the Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente for hiking trails, pine forests, and waterfalls.
On the island of Tenerife, the Teide National Park - where parts of Star Wars and Planet of the Apes were filmed – is home to Spain's highest mountain, a conical volcano 3,717 metres tall. Cable cars will whizz you to the top for spectacular panoramas. Lanzarote too, has beautiful volcanic terrain, great swathes of the beach and in the capital of Arrecife, you can discover the history of the Guanche, the island's original aboriginal inhabitants, in the Ethnographic Museum.
The Canary Islands offer magnificent coastlines, banana plantations, and volcanic craters aplenty. In miniature La Gomera, you can hike through one of Europe's last surviving laurel forests, where over 450 floral species have been recorded, or delve into Columbus’ history in the capital of San Sebastian. Over on El Hierro, wilderness prevails, with volcanic craters dotting untouched landscape. Whichever itinerary you decide on, the Canary Islands are bound to surprise and enchant you.
Sydney and the South Pacific
Heading Down Under during the northern hemisphere’s winter means one thing is guaranteed: it will be hot, hot, hot. Australia is the jumping-off point into the heart of the South Pacific tropical islands, and where better to start a cruise than in magnificent Sydney? Sydney needs little introduction, this cool, cosmopolitan city offering everything from clambering to the top of the Harbour Bridge, to cultured tours of the Opera House or surfing lessons in nearby Bondi Beach.
There are plenty of itineraries to choose from in this part of the world. Stay within Australia and visit the wildlife-laden national parks, spectacular beaches and teeming coral reefs of Cairns, Darwin, the Gold Coast, and Great Barrier Reef. Add Singapore into your itinerary for some Asian flavour in this modern, high-rise melting pot of cultures.
For an itinerary packed with dazzling swirls of turquoise, blindingly white beaches and coral reefs thrumming with fish then the South Pacific islands are the place to go. Within easy reach of Australia (and New Zealand) are New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Tonga, and Fiji. Names like Bora Bora conjure images of tropical perfection, where days are spent swimming and snorkelling in the bright blue lagoon, and lazing under coconut trees, while in Tahiti’s capital of Pape’ete, French flair, and excellent shopping add spice to an itinerary.
The Polynesian nation of Tonga exudes beauty and culture, where the history of James Cook is brought to life, and visitors can learn about the traditions of the local people. In nearby New Caledonia, secluded beaches and unspoilt islands await intrepid adventurers. Spend days venturing to remote atolls, learning to scuba dive in the fish-laden waters, and exploring a truly wild part of the planet on an expedition cruise to remember.
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