Is Asia the new Caribbean? For thousands of experienced cruisers ready to visit exotic places -- such as China, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia -- the answer is a resounding "yes."
While some first-time cruisers set off for Asia, most are intrepid travelers who have already island-hopped in the Caribbean and sailed the familiar cruising grounds of Europe and Alaska. Now, they're venturing off the beaten path -- and cruise lines are delivering with more routes and better ports. Here's a peek at what's hot.
Hong Kong and Singapore are the jumping off ports for the lion's share of Asia sailings, so if you're looking at cruises in the region, it's likely you'll begin or end your trip in either city. Both have been busy in recent years, building or sprucing up their ports and passenger terminals. Singapore opened a $400 million cruise center in 2012, and Hong Kong's new billion-dollar cruise terminal opened just a year later.
Other Hot Spots
Whether you're into local culture, beaches or historical sites, Asia has a port for you. Up-and-coming destinations that cruise lines are embracing include Hainan Island's Sanya -- dubbed the Hawaii of China. Here, you'll find miles of beaches for swimming and snorkeling, plus rainforests for hiking. Shoppers also love hunting down locally cultured pearl, the must-find souvenir.
Further south in Malaysia, Malacca increasingly entices the history buffs, who are drawn to the Dutch and Portuguese colonial architecture as well as the ancient temples and palaces. Swinging up to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, the Cu Chi Tunnels continue to be an ever-popular attraction. Cruisers can disembark and take tours through this underground labyrinth traversed by Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam war.
Finally, South Korea's Busan attracts cruisers to its beaches, nature reserves, and hot springs. Located at the southern tip of the peninsula, the city is known as the summer capital of the country.
Cruise Lines to Watch
Most of the cruise lines that American consumers are familiar with, such as Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, and Holland America Line, offer a variety of Asia cruises. But a particular line to watch is Princess -- with five ships deployed in Australia, the line offers the best options to sail in Indonesia, another destination growing in demand by leaps and bounds. A 14-night trip in mid-April aboard Dawn Princess, for example, starts at $5,300 per person for an oceanview cabin. Cruisers will visit romantic Bali's legendary beaches and Komodo Island's famous Komodo dragons, the world's biggest lizards, on this trip from Fremantle.
On the luxury end, Silversea Cruises has also put together very interesting Asia itineraries. It takes passengers to mysterious Myanmar (formerly Burma) on cruises roundtrip from Singapore. See the Shwedagon Pagoda, the country's most sacred Buddhist pagoda, plus ancient monasteries. The 14-night sailing aboard Silver Shadow is priced from $7,750 per person in October.
On the Rivers
Ocean cruising isn't the only way to see Asia by ship. A handful of river cruise lines also ply the region's famous rivers, giving passengers a close-up look at the countryside and at local cultures. Viking River Cruises sails the Three Gorges region of the Yangtze on 12-night cruises that visit Shanghai and Beijing, with rates from $2,792 per person. Other lines, such as Avalon Waterways, focus on the Mekong River, which flows some 3,000 miles through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Seven-night trips through Cambodia and Vietnam on this luxury line are priced from $2,699 per person.
Like the Caribbean, Asia in summer is hot, hot, hot! Monsoon season runs from May to October, and most cruisers agree the best time to go is in spring or fall.