Cruisetours of the World: Seeing the Planet by Ship

Southeast Alaska from the stern of Cruise West's <em>Spirit of Endeavour</em> Photo by Matt Hannafin
By Matt Hannafin

Let's play a game and pretend you live in, say, Salina, Kansas, close to the geographic center of the United States. From Salina, Southeast Alaska is about 2,100 miles away, the Champs-Élysées is 4,650 miles, and the Great Pyramid of Giza is 6,700 miles. Point is, you're a long, long way from a lot of things, so if you take the time to go there, you probably want to stay a while and see everything you can. That's the basic idea behind cruisetours -- that and the fact that cruise ships aren't really good at going inland, where a lot of the world is located.

Cruisetours are no mystery in and of themselves: They're a cruise plus a tour, in either order. Mystery seeps in, though, when you start looking at all the cruisetour options -- dozens and dozens of them, listed one after another on the cruise lines' websites as if you really have the time and energy to sort through them all.

Here, then, is a primer, a short reference guide to both the most popular and most distinctive cruisetours in some of the world's most popular sailing regions, along with the most prominent lines that offer them. In addition to these tours, many lines also offer occasional pre- or post-cruise trips to other destinations, from India's Taj Mahal to the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Photo Caption: Southeast Alaska from the stern of Cruise West's Spirit of Endeavour.
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A bear in Denali National Park Photo by Izabela Skibinska
Sad but true: Even if you saw everything there was to see on your typical Inside Passage/Southeast Alaska cruise, you'd still only have experienced about one twentieth of the state. A full 550,000 square miles of it would still be terra incognita -- which is a shame because that incognita is pretty incredibilis, boasting some 5,000 glaciers and 17 of the 20 tallest mountains in North America.

Photo Caption: A bear in Denali National Park.
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Scenery from south of Alaska, Anchorage Earthquake Potter Marsh, bird reserve and Chugach mountains are in background Photo by Klimberon/Dreamstime.com
Lines: Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, NCL

The most popular cruisetour route typically consists of a 7-night Inside Passage cruise plus a 3- to 5-night excursion inland to giant Denali National Park, home to 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. Princess has the most mojo on this route, operating its own beautiful wilderness lodges and an exclusive rail link right from the pier at Whittier, which speeds your trip to the Alaskan Interior. Travelers spend a couple days at the park, gandering at scenery and trying to spot bear, moose, and other wildlife. Tours that stop in Fairbanks offer optional excursions like paddle-wheel day cruises on the Chena and Tanana rivers, jet-boat rides, and excursions to decommissioned gold mines and dredges. For families, Princess offers a version of this tour that ramps up the novelty and adrenaline to keep junior happy. For budget-conscious travelers, there's an a la carte version that provides transportation and lodging but leaves you to explore on your own at the destinations.

Photo Caption: Scenery from south of Alaska, Anchorage Earthquake Potter Marsh, bird reserve and Chugach mountains are in background.
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Mountain scene along Chilkoot Trail, near Whitehorse, Yukon Photo by Lindsay Conner
Line: Holland America

HAL's big niche in the Alaska cruisetour market is its 7- to 10-night tours of Canada's Yukon Territory. Travelers transit inland via Skagway's White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, then go on to destinations like Whitehorse, the territorial capital; Dawson City, a picture-perfect gold rush town; and the Yukon River, on which you take a 102-mile catamaran cruise between Dawson and the Alaskan gold rush town of Eagle. From here, you continue on by bus to Fairbanks, then by domed rail car to Denali and Anchorage. The tour can be taken in either direction.

Photo Caption: Mountain scene along Chilkoot Trail, near Whitehorse, Yukon.
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Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Lines: Princess, Holland America

These tours combine a 7-night cruise with visits to Denali and Fairbanks, plus a trip north to the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Travelers overnight in the towns of Coldfoot and Prudhoe Bay, where the Alaska Oil Pipeline begins its journey 800 miles southward, transporting the black stuff to Valdez and the lower 48.

Photo Caption: Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by rlhepler1/Frommers.com Community.
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Jasper National Park. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Lines: Celebrity

A 5-night Canadian Rockies cruisetour takes you into some of the finest mountain scenery on earth, visiting Banff and Jasper National Parks and overnighting in the cities of Calgary and Vancouver, all either before or after your cruise.

Photo Caption: Jasper National Park. Photo by michelle12345/Frommers.com Community.
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close up of a clock, Prague Photo by Debra Hunter
One could consider Europe the spiritual home of the cruisetour, the place where well-to-do Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries took their summer Grand Tours after sailing transatlantic on one of the great steamships. Today's European cruisetours are the antithesis of those offered in Alaska, concentrating less on the continent's bucolic countryside and more on its great cities.

Photo Caption: Astronomical Clock detail in Staromestske Square, Prague.
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Michelangelo's David draws throngs of admirers to the Accademia. Photo by Georgios Makkas
Lines: Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Azamara

This 3- to 6-night "great cities" tour visits some combination of Venice, Florence, and Rome. In Venice, travelers see sites like St.Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace, and the Bridge of Sighs. In Florence, the Accademia Museum, Cathedral Square, the Duomo, and Santa Croce Cathedral. In Rome, the Forum, the Trevi Fountain, and the Colosseum. This tour is usually paired with a 7- to 12-night eastern Mediterranean or Greek Isles cruise, and occasionally with cruises that venture as far as Egypt and Israel.

Photo Caption: Michelangelo's David draws throngs of admirers to the Accademia.
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The Eiffel Tower at dusk. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Lines: Celebrity, Royal Caribbean

On this 4-night tour, travelers spend two days apiece in Americans' favorite European cities, visiting Parisian sites like the Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame Cathedral, then taking the Chunnel under the English Channel to visit London sites like Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. The tour is usually combined with Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Canary Islands, or British Isles cruises from Southampton, UK.

Photo Caption: The Eiffel Tower at dusk. Photo by AlphaProject/Frommers.com Community
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The Ring of Kerry's unspoiled beaches, mountains, and lakes draw droves of outdoor enthusiasts. Photo by Anthony Woods
Line: Princess

A 4-night tour that takes in some highlights of Ireland's southern counties and Atlantic Coast, including the towns of Shannon, Killarney, and Cork, the dramatic Cliffs of Moher, historic Muckross House, and the picturesque drive known as the Ring of Kerry. Princess offers this tour is an add-on to British Isles cruises from Southampton.

Photo Caption: The Ring of Kerry's unspoiled beaches, mountains, and lakes draw droves of outdoor enthusiasts.
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Mosaic of Mary from Kapnikarea, Athens Photo by P Narayan/www.agefotostock.com
Lines: Azamara

Azamara Club Cruises offers this 3-night Greece package as an extension on its 8- to 13-night eastern Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruises. Starting in Athens, travelers visit sites like the Acropolis, Hadrian's Arch, and the Theater of Dionyssos. From there, you travel by bus to Delphi, site of the ancient oracle and Sanctuary of Apollo. Overnights are spend in Athens and Itea, near Delphi.

Photo Caption: Mosaic of Mary from Kapnikarea, Athens.
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Parliament, as seen from the Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest-Hungary Photo by Sarah Haden
Lines: Princess, Azamara

A great add-on to Baltic Sea cruises, this 8-night land tour takes in the great cities of Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and Berlin, Germany. In Vienna, travelers might tour the Schoenbrunn Palace or take in a Mozart concert. In Prague, you might see a falconry demonstration at Rosenburg Castle. In Berlin, you can see the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, and the famous Checkpoint Charlie, the heavily guarded gateway between East and West Germany during the Cold War.

Photo Caption: Hungarian Parliament, as seen from the Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest.
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The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road-Australia Photo by Andrew Akeroyd
Australia and New Zealand are almost the definition of "faraway places that I should see a lot of while I'm there." Cruises to this neck of the world visit cities like Sydney and Melbourne (New South Wales), Hobart (Tasmania), and Dunedin, Christchurch, Tauranga, and Auckland (New Zealand), while cruisetours tend to concentrate on one or another of the neighboring countries.

Photo Caption: The Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road outside of Melbourne, Australia.
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View of the Opera Bar's outdoor terrace and the Sydney skyline. Photo by Jason Clampet
Lines: Princess, Royal Caribbean

Using Sydney as both a beginning and end point, these 5- to 7-night tours give you a better picture of the immensity that is Australia. Travelers journey by plane into the Outback to visit iconic Ayers Rock; visit Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, with its ancient Aboriginal rock paintings and wildlife-rich natural landscape; visit Barron Falls and tour the rain forest village of Kuranda near the northeast Queensland coast; and take a full-day catamaran tour of the Great Barrier Reef.

Photo Caption: View of the Opera Bar's outdoor terrace and the Sydney skyline.
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Milford Sound, New Zealand Photo by Pippa Heath
Lines: Royal Caribbean

Traveling between Auckland and Sydney, this 6-night tour takes in a range of New Zealand's remarkable natural beauty and culture, from sheep farms and wineries to the fjords of Milford Sound, the geysers and hot springs of Rotorua, and the resort of Queenstown in its gorgeous mountain setting. The tour includes a flight between Queenstown and Sydney.

Photo Caption: Milford Sound, New Zealand.
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Boats along the shoreline, Ko Samui Photo by Jonatha Borzicchi/Dreamstime.com
Asia, as you might expect from the fact that some four billion people live there, is big. From Beijing, the Chinese capital, to Singapore at the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula, is about 2,782 miles -- some 200 mile farther than the distance from San Diego to Anchorage. Ships ply that stretch in long, 12- to 18-night cruises, visiting ports such as Bangkok and Koh Samui (Thailand), Kampong Saom/Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Ha Long (Vietnam), Hong Kong, and Shanghai (China), Nagasaki (Japan), and Pusan (South Korea) -- but that's only the tip of the Asian iceberg. To get to some of its greatest treasures, you have to go inland ...

Photo Caption: Boats along the shoreline, Koh Samui.
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Terracotta warriors in Xian, China. Photo by Jodi Bratch
Lines: Princess, Azamara, Oceania

This 5- to 7-night tour is typically taken along with a 12- to 16-night Asia cruise that may visit ports in China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Beginning and ending in Beijing, it takes travelers to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City (the former palace of the emperor), the Summer Palace and Imperial Gardens, and Tiananmen Square, and includes a rickshaw tour of the city's old alleys. A further two days are spent in the city of Xian, south of Beijing, which is known for the 6,000 Terra Cotta Warriors unearthed in 1974 at the burial site of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).

Photo Caption: Terracotta warriors in Xian.
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The Three Gorges on the Yangtze River. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Line: Princess

Basically the tour above, plus a 3-night cruise on the fabled, 3,915-mile Yangtze River, Asia's longest.

Photo Caption: The Three Gorges on the Yangtze River. Photo by JerrycAZ/Frommers.com Community.
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Ruins next to the Elephant Terrace, Siem Reap, Cambodia Photo by Marco Garcia
Line: Princess

Southeast Asia in a nutshell, this 6-night tour visits the great Cambodian temple complex of Angkor Wat, spends two nights in helter-skelter Bangkok, and finishes with two nights in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. Along the way, travelers visit Bangkok's Emerald Buddha Temple and Chiang Mai's night bazaar, enjoy a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River, and take a morning ride at an elephant camp.

Photo Caption: Ruins next to the Elephant Terrace, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
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Pyramids, Giza-Egypt Photo by Michael Alvares
Lest we forget, the Middle East was the Cradle of Civilization, where agriculture, architecture, and trade were first conceived and nurtured, and where art, music, and science flourished while Europeans were mired in the deep funk of the Dark Ages. Today, cruises in the region take in the Ottoman grandeur of Istanbul, Turkey (which straddles the border between Europe and the Middle East); the ancient wonders of Egypt; the historical and religious sites of Israel; and the modern wonders of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

Photo Caption: The Pyramids of Giza outside Cairo.
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Ballooning over Goreme, Turkey. Photo by Frommers.com Community

Lines: Royal Caribbean, Azamara

Traveling between Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey's landlocked capital, this 4-night tour takes in sights such as the Mausoleum of Ataturk (the founder of the modern Turkish state) and Istanbul's Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Grand Bazaar, and spends two days in central Turkey's Cappadocia region, famed for its moon-like volcanic landscape, chimney rocks, and underground cities, homes, and churches.

Photo Caption: Ballooning over Goreme, Turkey. Photo by Mickey Bo/Frommers.com Community.
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View from Souk Medinat Jumeirah, Dubai Photo by Isabelle Moreau
Line: Royal Caribbean

This 4-night tour gives you two nights in Dubai to explore its bizarro mix of modern architecture, theme-parky wonders (skiing in the desert? true, if indoors), golf courses, beaches, and shopping opportunities. You'll also have on day in Fujairah, known for its beautiful, mountainous landscape and its seaside location on the Gulf of Oman, and another in Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost of the emirates.

Photo Caption: View from Souk Medinat Jumeirah, Dubai.
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Street tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by Frommers.com Community
There are wonders down south -- the splendors of long-lost Inca civilization, the gaucho cowboy culture of the Pampas, the heady cosmopolitan vibe of Buenos Aires, and the astounding natural beauty of Iguazu Falls, on the Argentina-Brazil border.

Photo Caption: Street tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by rgrossman/Frommers.com Community.
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Iguazu Falls Photo by Neil Beer
Lines: Celebrity, Princess

This 4-night tour can be done from either Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's vibrant oceanside metropolis. Besides those cities' attractions -- the bronzed bodies and beaches of Rio, the neo-European vibe of Buenos Aires, "the Paris of South America" -- the main destination is Iguazu Falls, taller and about twice as wide as Niagara, with cascades spread in a horseshoe over some two miles of the Iguazu River.

Photo Caption: Iguazu Falls.
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Machu Picchu Photo by Ashley Brown
Lines: Celebrity, Princess, Oceania

Less than 600 years old but looking timeless as the sun, Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti during the 15th century. Nestled on an 8,000-foot ridge among the Andes Mountains, it was abandoned after only a century and forgotten by history until its rediscovery in 1911. A major attraction today, it can be visited on a 2- to 5-night cruisetour from either Lima or Cuzco, Peru.

Photo Caption: Machu Picchu in Peru.
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