10 Hidden Islands You Can Visit on a Cruise

by Donna Heiderstadt

10 Hidden Islands You Can Visit on a Cruise

by Donna Heiderstadt

Great things come in small packages — and that includes these 10 islands that are worth seeking out on a cruise. Not as well-known as the larger islands called on by the major cruise lines, these hidden gems are only included on select itineraries, and only accommodate small and medium-sized ships. That means you can enjoy their natural beauty, explore the fascinating history, and indulge in the local tastes without the crowds.

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Elba, Italy / iStock / StevanZZ
Elba's harbor
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1. Elba, Italy

This pretty island off the coast of Tuscany is notable for its most famous, if unwilling resident — Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled here in 1814. A stop on the island will include visit to his house, Palazzina dei Mulini, which will delight history buffs. The island's postcard-perfect beaches and wine tasting tours offer relaxation, too.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club, Star Clippers, and Regent Seven Seas

This pretty island off the coast of Tuscany is notable for its most famous, if unwilling resident — Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled here in 1814. A stop on the island will include visit to his house, Palazzina dei Mulini, which will delight history buffs. The island's postcard-perfect beaches and wine tasting tours offer relaxation, too.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club, Star Clippers, and Regent Seven Seas

Les Saintes
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2. Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

One of five islands in the Caribbean nation of Guadeloupe, Les Saintes is itself comprised of nine smaller islands (ships call on the one named Îles des Saintes). Les Saintes is quaint, quiet, and filled with French charm that brings a bit of the Continent to the Caribbean. The baked baguettes, cheeses, and affordably priced bottles of vin rouge make it a picnic lover’s delight. Take your basket up to Fort Napoleon and enjoy the view.

Who Goes There: Seabourn Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Star Clippers, SeaDream Yacht Club, Windstar Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises

One of five islands in the Caribbean nation of Guadeloupe, Les Saintes is itself comprised of nine smaller islands (ships call on the one named Îles des Saintes). Les Saintes is quaint, quiet, and filled with French charm that brings a bit of the Continent to the Caribbean. The baked baguettes, cheeses, and affordably priced bottles of vin rouge make it a picnic lover’s delight. Take your basket up to Fort Napoleon and enjoy the view.

Who Goes There: Seabourn Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Star Clippers, SeaDream Yacht Club, Windstar Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises

Madeira
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3. Madeira, Portugal

Located off the northwest coast of Africa, this mountainous Portuguese island is known as the Atlantic’s “floating garden.” Its beauty is best seen while walking along the terraced irrigation canals  known as levadas that zigzag high above the port of Funchal. The island's famous fortified port wine is also a fascinating footnote in American history — it was the Founding Fathers' drink of choice on July 4, 1776.

Who Goes There: Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas, Cunard Line, Oceania Cruises, and MSC Cruises

Located off the northwest coast of Africa, this mountainous Portuguese island is known as the Atlantic’s “floating garden.” Its beauty is best seen while walking along the terraced irrigation canals  known as levadas that zigzag high above the port of Funchal. The island's famous fortified port wine is also a fascinating footnote in American history — it was the Founding Fathers' drink of choice on July 4, 1776.

Who Goes There: Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas, Cunard Line, Oceania Cruises, and MSC Cruises

Taha'a
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4. Taha’a, French Polynesia

With the craggy silhouette of Bora Bora in the distance, this heart-shaped Society Island is a source of two of French Polynesia’s natural treasures: fragrant vanilla and lustrous Tahitian black pearls. You can visit farms on Taha'a to see how both are harvested, or take a trip to snorkel in the ridiculously blue lagoon.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises

With the craggy silhouette of Bora Bora in the distance, this heart-shaped Society Island is a source of two of French Polynesia’s natural treasures: fragrant vanilla and lustrous Tahitian black pearls. You can visit farms on Taha'a to see how both are harvested, or take a trip to snorkel in the ridiculously blue lagoon.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises

Lipari
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5. Lipari, Italy

Lipari, a volcanic archipelago located off of Sicily, is the largest of Italy’s Aeolian Islands. Its natural wonders are dramatic, including cliffs that drop off precariously into deep blue sea. It also has a pretty, pastel-hued port, Lipari Town, that is home to the 17th-century Cattedrale di San Bartolomeo as well as a 16th-century walled citadel and an archeological museum.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Star Clippers, Holland America Line, and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Lipari, a volcanic archipelago located off of Sicily, is the largest of Italy’s Aeolian Islands. Its natural wonders are dramatic, including cliffs that drop off precariously into deep blue sea. It also has a pretty, pastel-hued port, Lipari Town, that is home to the 17th-century Cattedrale di San Bartolomeo as well as a 16th-century walled citadel and an archeological museum.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Star Clippers, Holland America Line, and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Rovinj
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6. Rovinj, Croatia

Croatia's coast is dotted with historic ports, and one unsung jewel is Rovinj. The gorgeous coastline and medieval Old Town make for a picture-perfect view as you cruise in — be sure to have your camera ready. Once on land, it's easy to explore the tiny island city on the Dalmatian Coast on your own. The highlights are in the walled medieval Old Town, including the baroque church of St. Euphemia.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises, Star Clippers, SeaDream Yacht Club, and Silversea Cruises

Croatia's coast is dotted with historic ports, and one unsung jewel is Rovinj. The gorgeous coastline and medieval Old Town make for a picture-perfect view as you cruise in — be sure to have your camera ready. Once on land, it's easy to explore the tiny island city on the Dalmatian Coast on your own. The highlights are in the walled medieval Old Town, including the baroque church of St. Euphemia.

Who Goes There: Windstar Cruises, Star Clippers, SeaDream Yacht Club, and Silversea Cruises

Langkawi Sky Bridge
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7. Langkawi, Malaysia

This Malaysian island in the Andaman Sea is known for its beaches and luxury resorts, but its interior rainforest is where you should head to see flying foxes, macaques, and leaf monkeys. Those unafraid of heights can opt to ride the Langkawi Cable Car or walk across the curved Langkawi Sky Bridge, set at 2,297 feet above sea level.

Who Goes There: Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Star Clippers

This Malaysian island in the Andaman Sea is known for its beaches and luxury resorts, but its interior rainforest is where you should head to see flying foxes, macaques, and leaf monkeys. Those unafraid of heights can opt to ride the Langkawi Cable Car or walk across the curved Langkawi Sky Bridge, set at 2,297 feet above sea level.

Who Goes There: Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Star Clippers

Kos
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8. Kos, Greece

While not as famous as Santorini, Mykonos, or Crete, this verdant Greek Isle in the Dodecanese group has a lot to offer. Take an excursion to explore the mountainous landscape for maximum views, or take a trip to see the preserved ruins of the Asklepion (a hospital and place of healing that dates to 400 B.C.). If you want to do something way less active, several of the island's scenic beaches are also a short stroll from the port in Kos Town.

Who Goes There: Seabourn Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Silversea Cruises, and Star Clippers

While not as famous as Santorini, Mykonos, or Crete, this verdant Greek Isle in the Dodecanese group has a lot to offer. Take an excursion to explore the mountainous landscape for maximum views, or take a trip to see the preserved ruins of the Asklepion (a hospital and place of healing that dates to 400 B.C.). If you want to do something way less active, several of the island's scenic beaches are also a short stroll from the port in Kos Town.

Who Goes There: Seabourn Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Silversea Cruises, and Star Clippers

Îles de la Madeleine
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9. Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec

Located in the mighty Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec, Canada, these eight islands form a scenic archipelago that are visited by a handful of fall foliage cruises. With natural beauty — and the charms of locals known as Madelinôts — as their calling cards, these islands offer opportunities for scenic walking and cycling as well as sampling flavorful culinary traditions, such as smoked herring, salt cod, and sweet poutine aux raisins.

Who Goes There: Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises, and Crystal Cruises

Located in the mighty Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec, Canada, these eight islands form a scenic archipelago that are visited by a handful of fall foliage cruises. With natural beauty — and the charms of locals known as Madelinôts — as their calling cards, these islands offer opportunities for scenic walking and cycling as well as sampling flavorful culinary traditions, such as smoked herring, salt cod, and sweet poutine aux raisins.

Who Goes There: Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises, and Crystal Cruises

Isle of Skye
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10. Isle of Skye, Scotland

A row of pastel-hued 18th-century houses along the harbor in Portree welcomes passengers to this wild and windswept Scottish island. A visit in late August or early September reveals rolling hills carpeted in purple heather — but spring and summer are perfect too for sipping drams of peaty Scotch and sampling local salmon, lamb or — if you dare — haggis.

Who Goes There: Holland America Line, Silversea Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Cunard Line, and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

A row of pastel-hued 18th-century houses along the harbor in Portree welcomes passengers to this wild and windswept Scottish island. A visit in late August or early September reveals rolling hills carpeted in purple heather — but spring and summer are perfect too for sipping drams of peaty Scotch and sampling local salmon, lamb or — if you dare — haggis.

Who Goes There: Holland America Line, Silversea Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Cunard Line, and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

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