En español | When Rob Mason and his wife finished a four-month world cruise with Crystal Cruises in 2015, they immediately booked another — before they'd even left the ship. “You spend four months with people, and at the end there's tears and hugs and you wind up saying, ‘We have to do this again,'” says the Houston-based Mason, 65, who took his second world cruise with the company in 2018. “It's like going back to college, but with better food and someone cleaning up after you."
World cruises typically last from three to six months, and no, they're not cheap: Fares can range from $12,000 to $200,000. But with their bucket-list mix of comfort, adventure and superlong, exotic itineraries — from South America to the South Pacific to the Middle East — world cruises usually sell out.
A few more facts about world cruises — and some extra long ones to consider for 2021:
1. World cruises don't always circle the world. But even when they don't, they cover some serious territory. In August 2019, Viking's Ultimate World Cruise departed London for a 245-day, 53-country journey, which Viking boasts is the longest continuous world cruise ever. The trip includes overnight stays in 22 cities, from Rio de Janeiro to Bangkok. When Holland America's 128-day Grand World Voyage leaves Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Jan. 20, 2020, it will explore not only the Amazon but the Antarctic region. Many cruise lines also allow guests to book a portion of a world cruise rather than the entire trip.
2. Itineraries vary considerably. Regent Seven Seas Cruise's 131-night Navigate the World cruise, for example, will depart San Francisco in January 2020 and spend three months in the Pacific, visiting locations such as Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia. Seabourn's world cruise — named “best luxury cruise with an Africa focus” by Afar magazine — offers safaris in the Serengeti during a three-day stay in Mombasa, Kenya, on its 140-day journey. (Note that itineraries change from year to year: In 2020, Regent's two world excursions will be round-trip journeys from San Francisco and Miami, but in 2021 the trips will end in Europe.)
3. Some world-cruise passengers take these trips all the time. A large portion of people book world cruises as once-in-a-lifetime celebrations of retirement or a milestone birthday. Regent estimates that 31 percent of its world-cruise guests are first-time cruisers, and many of the others are first-time world cruisers. But you're also likely to meet regulars. “Some people buy new cars, we save for world cruises,” says Mason. Keith Steiner, 64, of Georgetown, Texas, has sailed on nine Crystal world cruises with his wife, and each trip, he says, is like a family reunion. “On a typical world cruise we will see easily 100 to 200 guests we know from prior world cruises,” he says.
4. The on-ship vibe is super laid-back. Unlike a one- or two-week cruise, time is plentiful, so passengers aren't racing to experience every onboard activity or stuff themselves with food. “The atmosphere on the ship is very different,” says journalist Jane Archer, who writes frequently on cruising. “People are more relaxed."
5. That big price tag usually includes plenty of perks. Some world cruises are all-inclusive and cover expenses such as your airfare, onboard medical services, taxes and tips, as well as unlimited Wi-Fi. Viking's Ultimate World Cruise provide guests with a complimentary shore excursion in each port. On most cruises, the crew also will handle immigration and visa applications for the countries you visit. And you'll reach daunting, widespread locations — Saudi Arabia, Fiji, Myanmar — without ever leaving your floating hotel. “If you tried doing this on your own, I think you'd spend a third of your time in and out of airports or train station, and moving to hotels,” says Mason.
6. Crossing oceans isn't speedy. Many first-timers aren't prepared for the long sea days. “A lot of itineraries don't show the sea days, so it's easy to think you're at a port all the time,” says Archer. On Oceania's world cruise, the ship spends five days sailing from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and then four days from Hawaii to French Polynesia. Yet many veteran world cruisers view the sea days as a chance to relax, recover and enjoy the ship's many activities, amenities and lectures.
How spectacularly long can these cruises get? Here are four of the longest trips scheduled for 2021. They all require a hefty bank account — though shorter, less-expensive versions of each trip are also available.
Oceania 2021 Around the World Cruise
Length of trip: 180 days
Number of countries: 43
Departure point: Miami
Cost: Starts at $38,499
After stops in Key West, Florida, and Colombia, the ship will slip through the Panama Canal; explore Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico; then arrive in Los Angeles 15 days later to pick up more passengers (fares start at $35,899 if you depart from L.A.). Other exotic stops include Japan, Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Oceania is known for its cuisine — Jacques Pépin is the cruise line's executive culinary director — and all of the food on the 684-passenger Insignia, including the ice cream, is made fresh. To help build lifelong passenger friendships, Oceania offers bonding activities such as a (voluntary) plunge in the pool with staff after visiting the trip's last port and a private post-voyage Facebook group.
Silversea: The Uncharted World Tour
Length of trip: 167 days
Number of countries: 30
Departure point: Ushuaia, Argentina
Cost: Starts at $133,000
Want to visit the Arctic and the Antarctic on the same trip? This is the ship for you. On Jan. 30, 2021, the 254-passenger Silver Cloud will leave Ushuaia to cross the Drake Passage for five days along the South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Sound and the Antarctic Peninsula. There's a good chance you'll see not only massive icebergs but also penguins, seals and whales — and because this is an expedition cruise, you'll go ashore with the ship's naturalists on one of Silver Cloud's 18 zodiac boats. As you head back north, the 107 ports include stops in Chile, Tahiti, India, Greece, Iceland, and the final destination, Tromso, Norway. The ship underwent a $40 million refurbishment in 2017, so it's sleek and offers upscale amenities — from a spa to a photo studio to, yes, white-glove butlers for every passenger.
Viking World Cruise
Length of trip: 161 days
Number of countries: 33
Departure point: Miami
Cost: Starts at $59,995
The 930-passenger Viking Sun leaves Miami on Dec. 20, 2020, and visits 75 cities on six continents, with overnight stays in 13 cities, including Istanbul; Sydney; Auckland, New Zealand; Mumbai, India; Bangkok; and Venice, Italy. The trip also includes Viking's first-ever visits to the Hawaiian Islands and French Polynesia before ending in London. While aboard, you can enjoy amenities such as a Nordic spa (where you can switch from an ice-cold plunge to a hot sauna), cinemas, an indoor pool with a retractable roof, and frequent lectures and discussions from the ship's onboard historians. If you want to join only part of the voyage, you can book the 140-day Viking World Discoveries, which leaves Los Angeles on Jan. 4, 2021, and stops in 27 countries.
Seabourn's Extraordinary Oceans World Cruise
Length of trip: 140 days
Number of countries: 32
Departure point: Miami
Cost: Starts at $69,069
The 458-passenger Sojourn will visit six continents as it heads east to Central America, South America, the islands of the South Pacific, Australia, Indonesia and Africa, before ending in Barcelona, Spain. The trip will include 10 overnight stays and 16 port visits that last late in the evening, allowing passengers ample time to explore. Highlights include visits to Machu Picchu in Peru and an overnight stay at Easter Island. The Sojourn skips Europe and instead sails around Africa's east coast with stops in South Africa and Namibia, then heads north to visit locations such as Ghana; Gambia; and Dakar, Senegal. On the ship you can enjoy top-notch food (the menu was created by celebrity chef Thomas Keller), and relax with a mindful-living program featuring sessions on yoga and meditation.
Other world cruise options for 2021 include:
Costa Cruises: 116 days; round trip from Venice, Italy; starts at $14,449
Crystal Cruises: 139 nights, Miami to London, starts at $59,199
Cunard Line: 108 nights; round trip from Southampton, England; starts at $16,999
Holland America Line: 128 nights; round trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida; starts at $22,499
MSC Cruises: 118 nights, round trip from Rome, starts at $15,349
Princess Cruises: 111 nights; round trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida; starts at $20,999
Regent Seven Seas Cruises: 117 nights; Miami to Barcelona, Spain; starts at $61,999