Just when you’re really getting into the spirit of the Greek Isles — the olive oil, the fresh feta, and all those enthusiastic toasts of “opa!” — you go to sleep and wake up in Dubrovnik with its medieval wall and hearty Croatian cuisine. Going with the flow is part of cruising, right? But what if you could cruise just Greece or Italy or even Papua New Guinea? You can, on a single-country itinerary where the language, cuisine, and currency remain the same, but your knowledge and appreciation of the destination grows. Here’s what to expect.
What is single-country cruising
You’ll still unpack once, but rather than sample ports in multiple countries in a region— say, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Malta, and Rome in the Mediterranean — you’ll visit the key ports in a single country. Popular destinations include Japan, Italy, Cuba, New Zealand, Ireland, and French Polynesia. Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, says “Country Intensive” itineraries are the line’s hottest-selling future product (through 2020 sailings) and Azamara will soon offer them in 20 countries, from Scotland to South Africa.
Intrigued? There’s more to these cruises than just the ports. Single-country itineraries also often involve onboard enrichment — lectures, documentary screenings, cooking classes — that more fully immerse passengers in the local culture and lifestyle.
Who it’s best for
Single-country itineraries appeal to veteran cruisers who are happy to return to favorite destinations they visited for a day or two on previous sailings; they adored Rome and Venice and are excited to circle Italy and experience its coastal and island highlights. Some sailings — to countries such as Indonesia, Iceland, and Norway — are also ideal for cruisers seeking a convenient way to explore remote destinations.
But these itineraries are also attracting first-time cruisers because they offer more of the depth and insight demanded by travelers who refuse to cruise because they think one day in a place is not enough time. But dedicating a week or two to the sights and experiences of just one country, coupled with the inherent value of cruising, is a combination that many cruise naysayers are finding tough to resist.
Why it has an edge on land travel
Two factors give single-country cruising instant appeal: ease and convenience. Independent touring within a country can be physically taxing as you rely on public transportation (who loves lugging bags through stations and onto trains?), rental cars (driving when you can’t read the road signs can be intimidating), or a bus-based group tour (is a rigid schedule and lots of unpacking and repacking really enjoyable?).
Cruising removes a lot of the logistical hassles and allows guests to mix guided group experiences with moments of private exploration.
Cruising typically delivers great value — and depending on the cruise line, cruise length, and inclusions, that value can range from ultra-affordable to a bit of a splurge. But with a single-country itinerary in destinations where hotels and dining are notoriously high (Japan, Iceland, and French Polynesia, for instance), the cost of a cruise could be the better deal.
New itineraries to consider
Certain cruise lines — namely Azamara, Viking, and Windstar — have been at the forefront of single-country cruising, but the popularity of these sailings is expanding. Here are 10 itineraries in 2019 and 2020 that you can book:
13-15-Night Circle Japan Intensive Voyages on Azamara: The 690-passenger Azamara Quest has four roundtrip Circle Japan itineraries from Tokyo (Yokohama) in 2019, with departures on April 14, April 27, August 21, and September 4. Each of the trips calls on 10 or more ports — including Hakodate, Akita, Kanazawa, Sakaiminato, Busan (South Korea), Kitakyushu, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, Kobe (overnight with excursions to Kyoto), and Shimizu — and is priced from $4,999 per person.
8-Night Gaelic Glory Voyage on Oceania: To explore Ireland without having to drive (on the left, mind you), check out this Dublin-to-Dublin itinerary sailing June 19, 2019, aboard the 684-passenger Oceania Nautica. The ship calls on Waterford, Cork, Bantry, Galway, Londonderry, and Belfast (with 11 p.m. departures in the latter two), and fares start at $3,099 per person.
7-Night Cultural Cuba Cruise on Viking Ocean: There are 16 sailings of this 7-night roundtrip cruise scheduled from Miami: Eight in January and February 2019 aboard the 930-passenger Viking Star, and eight in January and February 2020 aboard the identical Viking Sky. The Cultural Cuba itinerary spends four days in Cuba, calling on Cienfuegos (with an overnight excursion option to Havana) and Santiago de Cuba. Fares start at $2,799 per person.
14-Night Classical Greece & Islands of the Aegean on Voyages to Antiquity: Specializing in history-based cruising (with shore excursions included), Voyages to Antiquity offers this roundtrip itinerary from Athens on April 21, 2019 on its 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey. It visits eight ports in Greece — Santorini, Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos in Crete, Karpathos, Rhodes, Nisyros, Delos, and Mykonos — with pre-cruise land tours in Athens, Delphi, and Nauplia. Fares start at $3,795 per person.
10-Night New Zealand Cruise on Royal Caribbean: This affordable itinerary — fares start at just $951 per person — departs from Auckland on January 24, 2019 and Sydney on March 5, 2019 (as well as future dates in late 2019 and early 2020). The 2,143-passenger Radiance of the Seas circles New Zealand, calling on Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Akaroa, and Dunedin — plus, scenic cruising on Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Milford Sound.
10-Night Gems of the Java Sea Voyage on Seabourn: Exploring Indonesia involves island hopping and you can do it in luxury aboard 600-passenger Seabourn Encore on this April 12, 2019 itinerary that departs Bali and visits Komodo Island, Java, Surubaya, and Semarang before concluding in Singapore. Fares start at $3,999 per person.
10-Night Tuscany and the Tyrrhenian Sea Cruise on Windstar: Departing May 24, 2019, this roundtrip itinerary from Rome aboard 310-passenger Wind Surf will immerse passengers in the beauty, history and cuisine of Italy as the ship circles the Tyrrhenian Sea and calls on Livorno; Santa Margherita; Alghero, Sardinia; Trapani, Sicily; Lipari; Messina; and Sorrento with a bonus of Ile Rousse on French-speaking Corsica. Fares start at $4,199 per person.
11-Night Papua New Guinea Voyage on Princess: Adventure-seekers can explore the culture and lush jungle landscapes of Papua New Guinea on this Brisbane roundtrip itinerary aboard the 2,000-passenger Sea Princess offered three times over the next two years (February 3, 2019; December 8, 2019; and January 12, 2020). The ship will call on five ports along this untamed archipelago — Alotau, Kitava, Rabaul, Kiriwana Island, and the Conflict Islands — with fares from $1,269 per person.
12-Night Norway and the Northern Lights on Cunard: Travelers can knock two things off their bucket list — the Northern Lights and the Norwegian fjords — on this itinerary sailing roundtrip from Southampton on the 2,100-passenger Queen Elizabeth on October 8, 2019 and again on November 16, 2019. The ship calls on Alesund, Stavanger, Narvik, and Tromso — with overnights in the latter two, located hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle — and fares start at $2,299 per person.
14-Night Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands on Paul Gauguin: It’s hard to get more comprehensive than this Tahiti itinerary aboard the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin, which cruises roundtrip from Papeete five times over the next two years (January 26, April 13, and November 13 in 2019; and August 19 and November 21 in 2020). It visits 10 islands, including four in the far-flung Marquesas: Fakarava, Fatu Hiva, Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Nuku Hiva, Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora, and Moorea. Fares start at $7,395 per person, including roundtrip flights from Los Angeles.