As part of our Destinations to Watch series, all week we’ll be profiling noteworthy destinations to keep on your radar this year. Whether it’s a hot emerging destination or an established location that’s been given new life, keep your eye on these places this year. 

As more Americans board cruise ships across the globe, cruise lines seek new ports of call. They also look for ports with new or updated cruise facilities. And they plan itineraries based on ports that offer highly desired activities for cruisers, such as those with eco-adventure, culinary diversity or wine tasting. Here’s a look at five ports “to watch” for 2018.

Akureyri, Iceland: Nicknamed “The Capital of North Iceland,” the fishing center of Akureyri lies just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle within Fjord Eyjafjordur. While it’s Iceland’s second largest urban area, its population is just 20,000 so it seems a bit more akin to a town than a city. What’s nifty? The destination offers cool cafes, artsy attractions and the Akureyrarkirkja (a spectacular Lutheran Church), Akureyri Botanical Garden, Akureyri Museum and the Icelandic Aviation Museum. The pedestrian-friendly Gongugatan is home to shops and cafes.

Avid golfers can head home with “bragging rights” after playing at the Akureyri Golf Course (Jadar), the world’s most northerly 18-hole course and home to the Arctic Open Golf Championship. Nature surrounds Akureyri with Salur Mountain looming over the city, and the nearby Kjarnaskógur forest offers hiking trails. River rafting is popular with cruisers, while skilled divers might head for Arnarnesstrytur where hydrothermal chimneys deliver 79-degree warm water streaming from a cone.

For 2018, Silversea Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, Costa Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Ponant, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Hurtigruten, MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises, Cunard Line and a slew of other cruise lines plan Akureyri port calls.

Rendering by the Port of Newcastle

Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia: New port facilities are expected to boost cruise tourism in Newcastle, where construction is under way on a new $12.7 million cruise terminal (see drawing below) at the Channel Berth. When completed later this year, it will allow the destination – along the Hunter River less than 75 miles north of Sydney -- to accept more ships and larger vessels in the future.

The port is expected to receive 10 cruise ship visits this prime cruise season (October 2017 through April 2018), double the number for last year. Norwegian Cruise Line is scheduled to call for the first time on February 21 with Norwegian Jewel. Top goal for the port? It hopes to position Newcastle as a home port or to eventually align cruise calls with such major local events as the V8 Supercars. The largest cruise ship to ever visit Newcastle, Celebrity Solstice, will make two calls this year, but an even bigger ship is on the way; Royal Caribbean International’s 3,300-passenger Explorer of the Seas will call in February 2019.

So what’s to do ashore? Cruisers can head for “tastings” at Hunter Valley wineries, bask on local beaches, view Australian wildlife at Blackbutt Reserve, head out on a pub crawl or sand dune adventure, take a dolphin spotting cruise or shop at downtown markets and shopping centers.
Most notably, Bathers Way, a pretty coastal walk between Nobbys Beach and Merewether Ocean Baths, offers a chance for cruisers to stop at Bogey Hole, an ocean bath created by Colonial-era convicts, and the 1880s-era Fort Scratchley, a museum and superb perch for city views or whale spotting.

Ishigaki, Japan: Home porting in Japan, Princess Cruises has tapped Ishigaki, the commercial center of Japan’s Yaeyama Islands for a robust series of port calls. Throughout the year, such lines as Costa Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Holland America Line, Viking Ocean Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises and others will also call to explore a destination with touches of both Japanese and Taiwanese culture.

Ishigaki is famed for beaches, snorkeling, surfing and diving, including a chance to view rare blue coral in Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park. Kabira Bay’s turquoise waters are legendary, and a glass bottom boat tour is a great way to see the marine life. Active travelers can kayak on mangrove-lined rivers or climb up Mt. Nosoko. Culture buffs can visit the Yaeyama Museum or the Miyara Dunchi, a samurai-styled residence.

While ashore, many travelers opt to dine on Ishigaki Beef, quite expensive but considered among the world’s best. Other local (more affordable) specialties include the local “Yaeyama soba” (which tastes different than other Japanese soba); dishes made with Okinawa’s bitter-tasting goya vegetable; and the island’s sweet pineapple.

Montserrat: Cruise ships left en masse after this Caribbean island’s 3,000-foot Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted in 1995 and a few years later destroyed Plymouth, the former capital. Today, Brades is the “de facto” capital but Little Bay, where small cruise ships anchor, is a newly developed port town and the potential new capital. In addition, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) recently approved a $19.5 million grant to develop the port at Little Bay with a breakwater and quay.

Montserrat is slowly regaining a bit of cruise tourism. For example, Windstar Cruises’ Star Pride calls at Little Bay this fall, with Silversea Cruises’ Silver Wind calling in 2019. The still-active volcano is monitored closely for visitor and resident safety. Approximately half the island (the southeastern portion) is a designated Volcano Exclusion Zone (with highly restricted access), but shore excursions will take cruisers to good vantage points for volcano views. Many cruisers also head for uncrowded beaches or snorkel along coral reefs.

In addition, aerial tours of Montserrat are offered from Antigua by SeaDream Yacht Club, Azamara Club Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, among others. Helicopter flights do enter the Volcano Exclusion Zone’s air space, giving cruisers good volcano views, plus travelers will see aerial views of lush scenery and beaches.

Quebec City, Quebec: At the confluence of the St. Charles and St. Lawrence Rivers, Quebec City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is becoming a hot cruise commodity – with 201,000 cruise passengers arriving in 2017, a 30 percent increase over the previous year. That included 118 port calls and 14 turn-arounds by 132 different vessels. Ships of Ponant, Norwegian Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises also had maiden calls at Quebec in 2017.

Québec City is prized by cruisers for European style and culture, historic and cultural draws and nearby eco-activities. Certainly, fall foliage season cruises to Canada/New England are popular, but Quebec City is also becoming popular for cruise visits throughout the year. One reason is the port’s multi-year infrastructure and port development projects, making it easier for lines and more comfortable for guests.

In May 2017, the port inaugurated Place des Canotiers, a $39 million signature park for cruise passengers at Pier 22, adjacent to the Ross Gaudreault Cruise Terminal. The port also has new berthing options for lines at Quai Paquet, which is on port territory and just a quick ferry ride away on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence River; the locale offers spectacular views of the iconic Chateau Frontenac.

Cienfuegos, Cuba: Cienfuegos, known as the “Paris of Cuba” or "Pearl of the South,” nicely merges Cuban influences with a pretty European touch and a neoclassical lay-out. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and cruisers will discover a main square with grandiose, European-styled buildings and a Triumph Arch.

Top things to do? Travelers can stroll through Jose Marti Park, view Government Palace (City Hall), the early 20th century Ferrer Palace or admire Tomas Terry Theater’s lovely ceiling paintings, interior walls, murals and balconies, the works of artist Camilo Salaya Toro. Another part of Cienfuegos is Punta Gorda, a pretty seaside suburb with lovely mansions. It’s on a narrow strip of land south of the Bay of Pigs – yes, the same one made famous for the 1961 failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro.

Cuba cruising continues to boom. Pearl Seas Cruises plans Pearl Mist voyages roundtrip from Port Everglades, FL, that circumnavigate Cuba this year; calls include Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Casilda, El Cobre and Santiago de Cuba. Also circumnavigating Cuba with a Cienfuegos call is Celeystal Cruises. Bigger lines also call there including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, and many more lines in every segment.

Stay tuned to for more Destinations to Watch in Central and South America, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe. 

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