by John Wilmott, The Telegraph, November 19, 2018
Have we really got to wait another four or five months for those brighter, longer, milder days? Not if you book a cruise this winter.
Here are 10 of the best – including a couple of “cold” options that will warm your heart.
1. Family new year
Sailing on a schooner to see where Pirates of the Caribbean was made, riding on the West Indies’ only surviving railway, snorkelling around strange beach boulders… kids will love some of the possibilities on a Marella school-holidays voyage.
New Years’ Eve is spent sailing, after spending the day on the golden beaches of St Maarten. Guadeloupe, with tangled rainforest to explore, completes the itinerary.
Departs December 27, 2018, from £6,567 for a family of four sharing two cabins, including flights (0203 451 2682; tui.co.uk).
2. Uncrowded Mediterranean
Want to see some of Europe’s most alluring sights without fighting your way through the selfie-stick crowds? MSC is one of the few cruise lines to operate year-round in the Mediterranean.
Meraviglia runs in a continuous circle in the western part of the sea and you can hop on board at Barcelona, Marseilles, Civitavecchia (near Rome) or Genoa. Sicilian capital Palermo and Malta are the other destinations on the seven-night voyage.
You’re unlikely to enjoy sunbathing weather in mid-winter but the crystal-clear light and pleasant sunshine should make up for that. Another advantage is the price – from £399 per person (book low-cost flights yourself).
Departures throughout January and February 2019 (0203 426 3010; msccruises.co.uk).
3. Asian Odyssey
The Man with the Golden Gun may long have been disposed of by James Bond, but his hideout still exists in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay.
This dreamy seascape, with limestone pillars rising from an azure sea, can be indulged on a trip from Phuket – a port of call on Princess Cruise’s eight-night Malaysia and Indonesia round-trip from Singapore.
Unesco-listed colonial architecture is on display in George Town, Penang, while a walk across the 550ft high sky bridge linking the twin Petronas Towers will afford eagle-eye views of Kuala Lumpur. Sapphire also calls at exotic Bali for a choice between culture, wildlife or beach.
Departs February 28, 2019, from £1,289 per person excluding flights (0344 338 8663; princess.com).
4. Help after the hurricane
Dominica, dubbed the Caribbean’s nature island, was badly damaged by 2017’s hurricanes. If you want to do your bit to help restore this verdant isle, Fred Olsen has a rewarding excursion on its 14-night round-trip from Barbados on Braemar. Guests can assist in restoring one of the forest hiking trails for which Dominica is famed, using the same machetes and “weed-whackers” as the local volunteers along with moving debris.
Departs February 14, 2019, from £1,699, including flights (0800 0355 242; fredolsencruises.com).
5. Arabian Nights and Days
Guests on P&O Cruises’ good-value 10-night Dubai and Arabian Gulf voyage can opt to jump on a dhow sailing boat to explore these channels, looking out for dolphins splashing in the warm winter sun.
Overnight stays in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will allow an appreciation of the ancient and futuristic sides of these Middle Eastern powerhouses. Elsewhere, you could take an Arabian cooking class in Bahrain and view the wildlife on Sri Bani Yas island.
Departs February 9, 2019, from £926 per person, including flights (0344 338 8003; pocruises.com).
6. Madeira Fireworks
The bay of Funchal, Madeira, is a fantastic setting for one of the world’s most extravagant New Year’s Eve fireworks displays – you can listen as the rocket booms echo off the mountains.
Guests on Cunard’s stately Queen Victoria will have a grandstand view from the harbour. Before arriving in Madeira, the 14-night voyage from Southampton will have called at Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma in the Canary Islands, with opportunities galore to witness the volcanic scenery. Cadiz and Lisbon break the journey home.
Departs December 23, 2018, from £3,449 per person (0344 338 8650; cunard.co.uk).
7. Southern Sojourn
If you’re affected by post-Christmas blues and fancy a longer sojourn, how about South America? Viking makes it easy with a journey south from Miami just after New Year. Over the next 22 days you could hike in Puerto Rico’s rainforest, watch chocolate being made on Grenada and visit a former convicts’ island off French Guiana before arriving in Brazil.
Pastel-painted colonial buildings in Recife and Salvadore de Bahia beckon before flopping on one of Buzios’ idyllic beaches.
Going behind the scenes at a samba school in Rio and meeting Uruguayan cowboys are other possibilities before the trip winds up in Tango Town – Buenos Aires.
Departs January 3, 2019, from £6,990 per person, including flights (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).
8. Magical Mekong
Cambodia and Vietnam are at their best in our mid-winter, when there’s little rain and it’s not too hot.
A great time, then, to take a cruise along the Mekong that meanders through these two countries. Typically, such a trip involves a week or so on a plush ship and the remainder in various hotels.
APT’s 14-night package includes a cooking workshop in Ho Chi Minh City, rickshaw and sampan rides, a blessing by Buddhist monks and witnessing the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat at sunrise.
On many days, there’s a choice of included activities. Premium economy flights on selected dates are an added bonus.
Various departures in January and February, from £4,850 per person (0800 012 6683; aptouring.co.uk).
9. Sail and Ski
Your partner has always wanted to see the Northern Lights but you want to spend your winter break on the slopes…
Saga has come up with a cruise on which you can get your skiing fix while seeking out the aurora in north Norway. The 15-night round-trip from Dover on Sapphire calls at Narvik, where the ski centre is just a five-minute drive from the port.
Plenty of chances to see the Lights occur, especially during a two-night stay in Alta, which has several good viewpoints nearby.
Dogsledding, snowmobiling, meeting indigenous Samí people and visiting a wildlife park are other appealing diversions.
Departs February 27, 2019, from £2,768pp (0800 505030; travel.saga.co.uk).
10. Gifts galore
Germany and France are pretty chilly in December – but their Christmas markets will give you an inner glow. What makes CroisiEurope’s four-night cruise on the Rhine from Strasbourg stand out is an included visit to the Musée Lalique.
René Lalique’s exquisite glassware and jewellery became internationally famous, especially in the early 20th century, and his family continues to nurture the brand. Its products make wonderful Christmas gifts.
Browsing cute wooden stalls for handmade toys, decorations and gingerbread in the picturesque towns of Rudesheim and Mainz is another highlight, as is helping to make Alsatian cookies on board l’Europe.
Departs December 2, 6 and 10, 2018, from £662 per person excluding flights (0208 328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk).
11. Salsa and cigars
Despite some restrictions being re-imposed on those travelling to Cuba via the USA, this huge and fascinating Caribbean island remains a bucket-list favourite.
Azamara’s 10-night round-trip from Miami visits three Cuban cities, with an overnight stay in each. In the capital Havana you can view those crumbling colonial buildings and rumbling 1950s cars – a ride in the latter is a must.
Salsa music and the perfume of cigars will also permeate the streets of Cienfuegos and Santiago, before Journey calls at the private Haitian resort of Labadee for some beach R&R on the way back.
Departs January 5, 2019 (other dates available), from £2,730pp, excluding flights (0844 493 4016; amazaraclubcruises.co.uk).
12. Ahola Hawaii
Crumpled, verdant landscapes, steaming volcanoes, a vibrant culture… who wouldn’t like to spend a winter break in Hawaii?
Holland America’s 16-night round-trip from San Diego is pleasingly comprehensive, visiting four of these dramatic isles. Getting up close to a volcano with a park ranger will be high on any wishlist, as will a tour to Waimea, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.
In Honolulu, you could party on the beach or pay your respects at the Pearl Harbor memorial.
You may not be familiar with Mexican wine but you can fill that knowledge gap with a visit to the Baja winelands near Esenada on the return journey.
Departs February 3 or 30, 2019, from £1,799 per person excluding flights (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).
13. African Diversity
Namibia is hot right now. Not just in terms of temperature but because the country’s wildlife, vast coastal desert and cultural diversity have pushed it towards the top of many must-visit lists.
Voyages to Antiquity’s 29-night journey from Cape Town to Malaga includes a visit to a Namibian ghost town and a drive past enormous sand dunes to the lunar-like Namib Naukluft National Park.
Aegean Odyssey will also stop at Angola, tiny Bom Bom island, Cape Verde, Gran Canaria and three ports in Morocco on a highly varied – and sunny – itinerary.
Departs March 15, 2019, from £3,995 per person, including flights (01865 566540; voyagestoantiquity.com).
14. Lure of the Nile
For some years now, Egypt’s magnificent archaeological treasures have brooded in silence as tourists stayed away due to security concerns.
Now visitors are finding the lure too strong again so if you want to see the likes of the Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel, now is the time before the throngs reappear.
Regional specialist Discover Egypt is launching seven-night cruises on the new MS Tulip, which has 40 cabins, a pool, sauna and fitness suite. The round trips from Luxor include 10 guided excursions to the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, Karnak and Luxor temples, Aswan High Dam and the Unfinished Obelisk.
Departs January 7, 2019, from £1,097pp including flights (020 7407 2111; discoveregypt.co.uk).
15. Panoramic Panama
Yes, you can “do” the Panama Canal – through which ships glide under a dry-season sun in our midwinter – without breaking the bank.
Norwegian Cruise Lines has a 14-night trip from Los Angeles to Miami on Star that transits from the Pacific to the Atlantic in daylight, so you can admire this gargantuan engineering feat and look out for scarlet macaws and even crocodiles.
Two ports in Mexico and one each in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Colombia appear on the itinerary. Drinks and tips are included and if you don’t mind an inside cabin, the voyage is keenly priced.
Departs January 4 or February 1, 2019, from £1,229 per person excluding flights (0333 241 2319; ncl.com).