21 amazing cruises for 2021, from up-close wildlife to tranquil paradise islands

After a year with little travel, 2021 could be the chance for the most memorable holiday yet – like an Antarctica cruise
After a year with little travel, 2021 could be the chance for the most memorable holiday yet – like an Antarctica cruise Credit: ANDREW PEACOCK

In this annus horribilis for travel you could be forgiven for thinking that cruise holidays are off the agenda. That those who dream-up itineraries, plan excursions and build ships have collectively shut the door and hung up the closed sign.

On the contrary. When they can, ships will sail – and not just the classic routes but on new itineraries, too.

Whether it's a pampered pootle along Italy's Po river, an expedition cruise to the Aleutian Islands or a jaunt around our beauteous British Isles, there are plenty of new itineraries. There are ship launches in the pipeline too, among them Celebrity Apex, which sailed into Southampton last week on her way to the US, Silversea's Silver Dawn, and the first of two new expedition ships from British cruise line Swan Hellenic, returning to service after a four-year hiatus.

It's clear that appetite for travelling abroad remains, and once restrictions are lifted cruising is well placed to ride this wave. Being surrounded by water is an advantage. Some of the world's most desirable cruising destinations are within reach of our home ports, including Norway's fjords and the Arctic Circle. Smaller ships sail to some of the most far-flung, crowd-free corners of the world. Escaping isn't difficult on a ship.

Over the past five months, the cruise industry has been working on a detailed plan for the safe resumption of cruise holidays. Earlier this month, the UK Chamber of Shipping and Cruise Lines International Association released their framework – a major step forward for the beleaguered industry.

Iona, which officially joined the P&O Cruises fleet this month, is one of the most exciting new ships to sail its maiden voyage in 2021

Travellers are "unquestionably optimistic" about the future, according to hotel barge specialist European Waterways. Advance bookings for 2021 are up 170 per cent year on year. Emerald Waterways, Titan Travel and Scenic have all seen a spike in demand for river-cruise itineraries. Sarah Lancashire, of Scenic, said: "Demand has come from those looking to book their dream trips further down the line and give themselves a luxury holiday to look forward to. We've launched our 2022 programme six months ahead of schedule and have seen an immediate influx."

Here are 21 cruises likely to tempt you in 2021 (prices include flights, unless stated).

Alaska

With glaciers, pods of orca, humpback whales and giant sea lions to look out for, Alaska is an incredibly exciting destination for a family cruise. For children who have spent months "learning" indoors without their classmates, the chance to join Holland America Line's Club Hal sounds like a well-deserved treat. There are Picasso painting lessons, themed treasure hunts, a "Dino-Mite" night and dedicated activities for "tweens" and "teens" (ages 3-17 years are catered for). A partnership with BBC Earth in Concert also means a musical performance featuring specially selected footage from the TV series, Wild Alaska. Ashore, there is kayaking through glassy waters, zip-lining and whale-watching.

Seven-day Alaskan Explorer fly-cruise on Eurodam from £7,149 for a family of four. Departs June 5 2021. Transfers and a pre-cruise hotel stay included (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).

It doesn't get much more classic than a cruise with Cunard between Southampton and New York Credit: BYELIKOVA OKSANA

Transatlantic

Stepping up to the rostrum on board Cunard's flagship Queen Mary 2 next year is the Grammy-nominated British conductor Anthony Inglis. During a rather special transatlantic crossing in the autumn, the esteemed conductor will be joined by the National Symphony Orchestra for two performances on board. If you'd like to flex your own vocal chords there is the chance to audition for the choir and practise under the tutelage of an NSO choirmaster ahead of a group performance. The crossing takes six nights – for a thoroughly memorable trip bolt on a couple of nights in New York.

The Anthony Inglis and the National Symphony Cruise from New York to Southampton departs Sept 12 2021. From £1,199pp (0344 338 8641; cunard.com).

Turkey

Swimming, snorkelling and stargazing sleepouts are among the highlights of a traditional gulet cruise in Turkey with Explore. Go sea kayaking above sunken ruins, canoe to the ancient city of Xanthos, explore ancient villages in the Taurus ­mountains and peer into a mind-­bogglingly deep canyon at Saklikent Gorge. The fully crewed gulet has four twin and four en-suite double cabins, and is suitable for those aged seven and over.

Week-long Turquoise Coast cruise from £770pp (11-year-olds and under from £695). Departs July 24 2021, Meals and transfers included; flights extra (01252 883761; explore.co.uk).

Japan

By next spring we'll be ready for a bit of floral cheer. For full blossom immersion there is only one place to go: Japan. Highlights from this cruise on board Nautica include an overnight in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, an overnight in the old imperial capital of Kyoto and a visit to the Nagasaki Peace Park and stirring Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima. From Kagoshima there is a short ferry ride to see the lava fields of the smouldering Sakurajima volcano (which incidentally is home to the world's largest radish). Included in the cruise fare are attraction entrance fees in Tokyo, bullet-train passes and a traditional kaiseki dinner at the ryokan.

Mount Fuji in bloom Credit: YUGA KURITA

A 14-night Japan in Bloom holiday departs April 11 2021. From £6,599pp. Most transfers and two hotel nights included (020 7084 6502; trailfinders.com).

France

Uniworld's new self-drive package means passengers can travel to the departure port in their bubble and see a bit more of the country to boot. On the Brilliant Bordeaux sailing, for example, guests travel by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, overnighting in the medieval city before either driving on to Bordeaux (375 miles), or opting to break the journey with a stop at Le Mans, Tours or Poitiers. The cruise, on board the new "super ship" SS Bon Voyage, traverses three rivers – the Garonne, the Dordogne and the Gironde. To make life even easier there is pre-booked car parking for the duration of the cruise.

The Brilliant Bordeaux self-drive package round-trip from Bordeaux departs April 18 2021. From £2,299pp. Excursions, drinks on board and tips included (0808 168 9231; uniworld.com).

Antarctica

Late spring, when penguins are building nests and sunsets are spectacular, is one of the best times to travel in Antarctica. In 2021 there's an added incentive to visit: a total solar eclipse. Launching next year, the expedition ship Sylvia Earle will be in the Weddell Sea on Dec 4, when the eclipse throws a shadow over the White Continent. With its beaked-shaped X-Bow designed for bounce-free journeys across the Drake Passage and opportunities for skiing, ­kayaking and camping, this could well be some of the most exciting cruising to be had in Antarctica.

The 16-day Solar Eclipse in Antarctic departs Ushuaia, Argentina, on Nov 23 2021. From £14,370pp, excluding flights (0808 189 2005; auroraexpeditions.co.uk)

The Danube, and a port of call in Budapest, remains one of the most popular elements of a river cruise itinerary Credit: GETTY

Europe

Sailing into the river-cruise arena next month are Skyla, Maya and Isla – three new adult-only river ships from Tui. The ships will sail the Danube, Rhine, Moselle and Main rivers, as well as the Dutch and Belgian waterways. Cruising from Amsterdam to Budapest, this European Icons cruise runs the gamut of river highlights, from Bavarian towns to buzzing capitals. Instead of built-in walking tours passengers are credited with £120 per person (per week) to spend however they wish - whether that's wine tasting in the Moselle Valley, opera in Vienna or an excursion to the Puszta to meet Cossack farmers.

The 14-night European Icons cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest via Germany, Austria and Slovakia departs May 7 2021. From £2,300 including transfers, excursion credit and tips (0800 975 4477; tui.co.uk).

Northern Lights

One natural wonder guaranteed to get passengers out on deck at 3am in below-freezing temperatures is the elusive aurora borealis. Next year, renowned astronomy writer and lecturer Ian Ridpath will be joining the Royal Astronomical Society for a northern lights cruise on the Queen Victoria. Ridpath, who has won awards for his outstanding contributions to the public's understanding and appreciation of space and astronomy will be running workshops and photography master classes on board.

The 12-night Northern Lights: Through the Lens cruise departs Oct 20 2021. From £2,094pp (0344 338 8641; cunard.com).

There aren't many natural phenomena that hold a candle to the aurora borealis Credit: FELIX PERGANDE

Mediterranean

Setting sail from Rome next April with a surf simulator, bumper cars, a trapeze school, virtual reality bungee trampoline, bonkers slide and a viewing pod that towers over ship and ocean, the all-new Odyssey of the Seas promises some of the best white-knuckle thrills in the Med. This is a Quantum Ultra-Class ship, Royal Caribbean speak for "no-expense spared super-hi-tech derring-do meets cutting-edge ship design". From pizzas to pasta and teppanyaki to tacos, the restaurants have every base covered - there's even a fancy spa for weary grown-ups. you'll want for nothing except boundless energy.

A seven-night Greece and Turkey cruise costs from £759pp excluding flights (0344 493 4005; royalcaribbean.com).

Douro Valley

This excursion through Portugal's lush Vinho Verde wine region offers a different perspective on the Douro Valley. Pedalling along a section of the Tamega Ecotrail (which connects the towns of Amarante and Cabeceiras de Basto), the path follows a former railway route through eucalyptus forests, historic villages and vineyards - most of which are involved in the making of the region's "green wine". Although much of the cycling is downhill it should still please experienced cyclists. Andorinha carries 84 passengers and has a small pool on the sundeck.

A round-trip from Porto departs April 17 2021. From £3,590pp. Excursions, a private dinner with wine pairings at a quinta and tips are included (0800 810 8020; tauck.co.uk).

Next year could be perfect for joining the riverboats that cruise though the dramatic gorges of the Douro Valley Credit: SHAUN EGAN

Iceland

In recent months British cruise line Fred. Olsen has been busy retiring older ships and launching new ones. For something adventurous the line's new flagship, Bolette, will be sailing to Reykjavik next year, from Dover. Passengers will spend a night in the Icelandic capital before visiting a handful of ports including Seydisfjordur (only accessible to smaller ships) and the 37-mile long fjord of Eyjafjordur. There is also a visit to the island of Hrisey off the north coast, renowned for its birdlife; don't forget the binoculars.

The 12-night Icelandic Wonders and Wildlife cruise departs on June 3 2021. From £1,799pp (0800 084 6134; fredolsencruises.com).

Aleutian Isles

Sounding every bit like fictional places in the next big fantasy blockbuster, Homer, The Triplets, Chignik and Unga Spit are in fact ports of call on an expedition cruise to the Aleutian Islands, which extend over 1,000 miles from the tip of the Alaskan peninsula. Aleut families inhabit several of the islands, sharing their home with puffins, murres, fulmars and crested auklets. The cruise is on the sumptuous 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, which has all-suite, all-balcony, butler-serviced rooms. Expeditions ashore are ramped up by a pair of helicopters and a submersible for deep-water exploration.

The 15-night Beyond the Aleutian Isles cruise departs Aug 4 2021. From £11,831pp including excursions, a one-way flight from Anadyr to Anchorage and transfers. Other flights not included (020 7399 7603; crystalcruises.co.uk).

Winter sun in the Caribbean beckons for the tail end of 2021

Caribbean

Hanging like a crescent moon off the island of Puerto Rico, the Leeward chain is every powdery beach, crooked palm and rum-fuelled bar you've been dreaming of. Cruising with Windstar is akin to cruising on a large yacht, which sounds ideal for a lazy sail in the Caribbean Sea. The ships carry no more than 350 passengers and can tuck into bays and beaches that are off limits to larger vessels. This round-trip island-hopping cruise – including stops at St Barts, Antigua, Guadeloupe, St Lucia, Grenada and Jost Van Dyke – is on the newly refurbished, all-suite Star Pride.

The Gems of the Leeward Islands cruise departs Nov 2 2021, returning Nov 14. From £2,845pp including transfers and a night ashore in Puerto Rico (020 7399 7670; mundycruising.co.uk).

The UK

This year has seen many of us seeking (and finding) inspiration in the rugged coastal beauty on our doorstep. This Hurtigruten itinerary offers the chance to explore the best of the British Isles while conveniently mopping up a host of "have always wanted to visit but somehow never got around to organising it" destinations, including the Isles of Scilly, Fishguard, the Outer Hebrides, Iona, Kilkenny Castle, the Isle of Man and Cornwall's Fowey estuary. The itinerary is on the refurbished Maud. An on-board science centre underpins the activity-based excursions.

The 15-day British Isles from Dover cruises depart next year on April 27, July 4 and Aug 1. From £3,119pp, Includes excursions and all equipment for activities (020 3993 1730; hurtigruten.co.uk).

Egypt

If there's one destination guaranteed to bring history alive, it's Egypt. Tut's dazzling death mask, jewels and ceremonial chariots will finally be moved to the state-of-the-art Grand Eyptian Museum next year and this hassle-free holiday includes three nights in Cairo before or after a round-trip Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan. The MS Tulip has a pool, interconnecting cabins and a ­rooftop sun deck.

A 10-night Classic Egypt holiday during the May 2021 half-term holiday costs from £1,595pp. Transfers, internal flights and 10 excursions included (020 7407 2111; discoveregypt.co.uk).

Cruises through the Norwegian fjords offer activities for the whole family (plus an abundance of beautiful landscapes) Credit: GEIR KRISTIANSEN

Norway

P&O Cruises' new flagship, Iona, will be Norway-bound from Southampton next summer, with her distinctive glass-roofed SkyDome, roll-call of celebrity chefs, several pools, children's clubs and stylish spa. Among the family- friendly excursions is a Viking Voyagers (£45pp) tour that takes in keen-edged swords, buckles, silver chests and even an Iron Age skeleton at Stavanger's archaeology museum before heading to Hafrsfjord to see three giant swords plunged into rock.

Seven-night Norwegian Fjords cruise round-trip from Southampton departs June 26 2021. From £729pp (03453 555111; pocruises.com).

Croatia

In conjunction with the Seabin Project, Croatian specialist Sail Dalmatia has launched a project to encourage the smaller Adriatic islands to become plastic-free. The first bin was installed in the World Heritage Site of Trogir earlier this year. The skippered catamaran Lagoon 42 Ginger is ideal for a friendship bubble, and can be chartered from Trogir (a 10-minute drive from Split ­Airport) for a relaxed pootle around the Adriatic. Among the highlights are the hidden bays and pebbly coves of the lesser-known island of Solta but your captain will doubtless have other aces under his hat.

Week-long charter of Ginger, which has four double cabins, from £6,185. Flights, a skipper, meals and mooring fees not included (0800 124 4176; saildalmatia.com).

Australia

Covered in wilderness, and separated from the mainland by the Bass Strait, Tasmania is one of Australia's best-kept secrets. World Heritage rainforest, curious wildlife including the Tasmanian devil, pademelon and Bennett's wallabies and a local larder producing notable cheeses and chocolate can be found here. This cruise on Coral Princess visits some of Tassie's choicest spots, including Great Oyster Bay, the Freycinet Peninsula, the former penal colony of Port Arthur and the pocket-sized city of Hobart, nestled in the foothills of Mount Wellington.

The 10-night Tasmania cruise departs from Brisbane on Nov 1 2021. From £1,019pp. Flights extra. (0344 338 8663; princess.com).

Tasmania – and it's spectacular wildlife – remains overlooked; a cruise can unlock Australia's island state Credit: GETTY

Italy

The Venetian lagoon is a maze of mudflats and marshes speckled with islands. From the canopied sun deck of the handsome Bella Vita barge you'll have plenty of time to admire its endless ­shallows. Carrying up to 20 passengers along Italy's Po River and Bianco Canal, the Bella Vita is more house party than cruise, making it a good choice for sociable solo travellers. With a private wine tasting and dinner with a countess at her 17th-century riverside home on the itinerary, there are plenty of opportunities to throw off the shackles of lockdown.

The six-night all-inclusive cruise from Venice to Mantua departs Oct 10 2021. From £3,591pp (01753 598555; europeanwaterways.com).

France

Michelin-starred dining and the quaffing of beaujolais help make this river cruise one big foodie blowout. Sailing round-trip from Lyon and calling at Mâcon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Tain L'Hermitage, Avignon and Viviers, Scenic's Tastes of Southern France cruise includes a meeting with a truffle farmer, a workshop at the Valrhona Cité du Chocolate museum and a cookery class celebrating Bresse chicken under the watchful eye of Michelin-starred chef Didier Goiffon.

The 11-day Tastes of Southern France cruise on Scenic Sapphire departs April 27 2021. From £3,645pp including transfers, personal butler, premium drinks and guided shore excursions (0808 250 8163; scenic.co.uk).

World cruise

Setting sail from Fort Lauderdale on Christmas Eve next year, the ship will transit the Panama Canal, cruise the Gulf of Thailand, the Caribbean and Arabian Seas, and visit destinations such as India, New Zealand, Hawaii, Colombia, Singapore and Istanbul. Conveniently, after wending its way back via the Mediterranean, this monumental journey concludes in London's Tilbury docks. Which means 136 days, 27 countries and one flight. Hurrah to that.

The Viking World Cruise departs Dec 24 2021. From £39,990 including visa service, most drinks on board, one excursion in each port, and a business-class flight (0800 298 9700; vikingcruise.co.uk).

Please check the latest advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advice before travelling.