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Off the Beaten Waterway: 5 Unique Cruise Destinations to Avoid the Crowded Seas

Passenger Enjoys The Sunset On The Deck Of A Cruise Ship With Snowy Mountains For A View, Unusual Cruise Destinations


Consider a cruise along the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Time it right and take in the Northern Lights.

En español | Are the world's seas becoming jammed with passenger ships? With more than 20 million passengers taking a cruise each year, you would think so.

But the great majority of these ships travel the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, which means that some other wonderful destinations remain uncrowded by cruising. Here are five unusual ports of call with lots to offer that are available on a variety of cruise lines with sailings coming up this season.

1. Île de la Réunion, France

As you might expect from a 980-square-mile island that's officially part of France, bakeries here turn out buttery croissants, goods are priced in euros and a museum shows works by Renoir, Rodin and Cezanne. But Réunion lies in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, nearly 6,000 miles from Paris, and among the sights here that you won't find on the French mainland are white-sand tropical beaches, an active volcano and plantations perfumed with vanilla-producing orchids.

2. Kirkenes, Norway

Located 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle, this town of 3,500 is the northern terminus of the Hurtigruten shipping line, which provides cargo and passenger service along Norway's remote and craggy coast. The ever-shining midnight sun of summer allows plenty of time for feasts of king crab hauled from the fjord minutes before. But many adventurous visitors also come during the dark winter to stay at a snow hotel, take a dogsled ride and experience the magical Northern Lights.

3. Hiroshima, Japan

Yes, it will be forever associated with the destructive power of the atomic bomb, and its must-see Peace Memorial Museum is a sobering plea for a world free of nuclear weapons. But modern Hiroshima is a thriving city of about 1.2 million and a far easier — and lovelier — introduction to Japan than massive, sprawling Tokyo. Stroll vibrant streets lined with small noodle shops, sushi joints and boutiques; eat a hotodogu (hot dog) as you take in a professional baseball game; or catch a ferry to nearby Miyajima, an island that's home to a pair of the country's oldest and most photographed Buddhist and Shinto shrines.

4. Ushuaia, Argentina

As a former penal colony and the current capital of an Argentine region known informally as Fin del Mundo — End of the World — Ushuaia may not sound promising. But this city, one of the world's southernmost, sits amid a stunning patchwork of lakes, bays, forests, waterfalls and glaciers. From-town excursions include the wondrous Tierra del Fuego National Park and an island rookery where you can walk amid thousands of Magellanic penguins.

5. Savannah, Georgia

The historic Southern city of gracious public squares, Spanish moss-draped oaks and evocative antebellum architecture recently nixed the idea of building a terminal to handle large cruise ships. The end of Savannah as a port of call? Not in the least.

Smaller ships that sail the network of bays and rivers known as the Intracoastal Waterway still call here. Wander on your own through the cobblestone streets of its National Historic Landmark District, the largest in the country, but for a richer experience consider a guided walk that makes Savannah's past — and its sometimes eccentric denizens — come alive.

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