En español | Feeling overwhelmed by cruising options? No problem. From white-sand beaches to snow-covered mountains, here are ten wonderful cruise-ship destinations around the world to consider for 2020.
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As climate change transforms this stark-yet-stunning landscape, you'll want to see the South Pole sooner rather than later. But here's another big reason to visit Antarctica, as well as Greenland. Starting in 2021, polar passenger ships will need to meet new, more restrictive structural and operational requirements (such as improved ice-breaking capabilities). Because of that, cruise companies are introducing a slew of new vessels this year and in 2020. “It's a dream for anyone who has longed to walk among penguins or see seals and whales,” says Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of Cruise Critic. Look for cruise lines that are members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators; those ships follow strict safety and environmental procedures.
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Located along Sognefjord, the world's second longest fjord, the tiny village of Flam (population: 350) features waterfalls, snow-capped mountains and green meadows. Highlights include the Flam Railway, which chugs 12 miles through the mountains near Myrdal and along Aurlandsfjorden, a deep, narrow fjord 18 miles long. Flam is also within day-trip distance of Naeroyfjord, a narrow, 11-mile-long fjord that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most Norway cruises run from May through September.
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Costa Maya, Mexico
The large cruise lines all call on Costa Maya, but compared to the overcrowded resorts at Playa del Carmen, Cancun and along the Mexican Riviera, it's still a well-kept secret, says J.D. Lasica, CEO of Cruiseable.com. In addition to its exquisite beaches, Costa Maya's port includes local artisan markets and saltwater pools. Chacchoben is the best-known site for Mayan ruins, but Lasica recommends less-visited Dzibanche — a huge Mayan compound that's “just a van ride away if you're willing to skip the usual tours and venture out a little farther,” he says. On a recent shore excursion from the Norwegian Jade, Lasica's wife and two other couples wandered there for hours with no other visitors.
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Stanley, Falkland Islands
If you know the Falklands only for the 10-day conflict between Great Britain and Argentina in 1982, you're missing out. This year, the islands and the capital city of Stanley were voted the best place to cruise in South America by Cruise Critic readers. “Stanley is more heavily populated by penguins and sheep than by people, but that's what travelers find so fascinating,” says McDaniel. Attractions include sea lions and birds such as the black-bowed albatross, as well as Stanley's 130-year-old Christ Church Cathedral, which is the world's southern-most Anglican church.
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If you love water activities, you'll love laid-back Bonaire, part of the southern Caribbean's ABC isles (along with Aruba and Curacao). “Bonaire has the absolute best snorkeling in the Caribbean, hands down, with no other destination even coming close,” says Deb Pfeifer, author of Cruising with Confidence. And you can leave your umbrella at home: The island, a municipality of the Netherlands, has no rainy season and falls outside of the peak hurricane belt. It's also a great locale for kayaking, diving, fishing and bird watching. (The island is known for flamingoes, which use Bonaire as a breeding site). Bonaire was named the southern Caribbean's top cruise destination by Cruise Critic readers in 2019.
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Unlike bustling French Riviera cities such as Monaco and Cannes, Villefranche provides a more relaxed experience, says McDaniel. Cruise visitors can stroll the old town's winding walkways, enjoy outdoor cafes, chill on the beach and gaze at brightly painted 12th and 13th century buildings. Cruise Critic readers named it the best place to cruise in the western Mediterranean in 2019. Another excellent French port is Avignon: This lovely 12th century Provence town is a frequent starting and stopping point for Rhone River cruises and an easy gateway to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region.
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Glacier Bay, Alaska
Here's a little Glacier Bay trivia: When cruise ships visit, they don't dock in port. Instead, they sail through Glacier Bay National Park, providing views of glaciers, fjords and wildlife. “There is nothing like it. I consider it the best day of any Alaskan cruise,” says Pfeiffer. Park rangers join the ships to provide commentary and answer questions, though the bay's star attraction is 21-mile-long Margerie Glacier. Most ships spend about an hour there, but don't worry — the bay is not packed with cruise ships. No more than two ships can sail in Glacier Bay on the same day.
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Sitting between Dominica and Antigua, these under-the radar French Caribbean islands are well-preserved: 77 percent of their territories are protected natural reserves. The main islands are Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, but Lasica recommends the “distinctive French flair” and beaches on smaller Îles des Saintes, also known as Les Saintes. “The waters were some of the clearest I've ever snorkeled in,” says Lasica, who enjoyed views of such colorful companions as triggerfish, butterflyfish and papillon. Another first-rate cruise stop is nearby Martinique, just south of Dominica.
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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Charles Darwin famously visited here in 1835, but you can arrive on a much nicer vessel than the HMS Beagle. Two new 100-passenger ships — the Celebrity Flora, which began sailing in May 2019, and Silversea's Silver Origin, debuting in summer 2020 — are both designed specifically for the Galapagos. Every space has an outward-facing design, including suites with floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize views, and the two ships also emphasize eco-friendly tech, such as a dynamic positioning system that eliminates the need for anchors, which can damage the seabed. As for the islands, the inhabitants include sea lions, blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises.
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Quebec City, Canada
Don't miss the city's Old Quebec area. From its French architecture to its unique attractions — Old Quebec is the only fortified city north of Mexico — this UNESCO World Heritage site offers cobblestone streets, fine dining and excellent shopping. Best of all for cruise visitors: The old town is a short walk from the port. Snap a photo of the Chateau Frontenac, an iconic castle-like hotel that overlooks the St. Lawrence River, and take a walk along Rue du Petit-Champlain. It's one of North America's oldest commercial streets, loaded with cafes, boutiques and art galleries.