See the Middle East by sea? Go for it. Cruise lines are adding more far-flung locales to their itineraries as they cater to younger travellers looking for more active vacations – two major trends identified by the Cruise Lines International Association this month. Here are five ports to check out.
With Dubai developing into one of the world's busiest air hubs, it's hosting an increasing number of cruise ships. The nearby sultanate of Oman with its green hillsides is a contrast to the high rises and deserts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Muscat is safe and welcoming to tourists, with a mix of Arab and Western influences. Highlights are mosques and palaces and the venerable Muttrah district near the port, with its colourful ancient souk and fragrance market.
Cruise lines that visit: Azamara, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, MSC, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea.
Government reforms, the lifting of many sanctions and restoration of international diplomatic relations have put Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) back on the tourist map. And a number of cruise lines are adding Yangon – the former Rangoon – to their itineraries. Cruising is still a good option as there are few hotels on land up to international standards. There's a timeless quality about the city and its temple complexes, including the vast, golden-domed Shwedagon Pagoda.
Cruise lines that visit: Holland America, Silversea and SeaDream.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
It's a sleepy fishing port on the Pacific Ocean near the border with Costa Rica that used to require passengers to make a wet landing on shore from a launch. Now, it's got a proper concrete dock and terminal, although it still requires tendering from a ship for shore excursions that include beaches, ecotours, live volcanoes and colonial towns that seem to have been left in a time warp during Nicaragua's long dictatorship.
Cruise lines that visit:Azamara, Princess, Star Clippers and Windstar.
This wildlife-rich island is far north of the Arctic Circle, and as far north as you can go in Norway. Until recently, it was only accessible by very small expedition ships. Demand for remote adventure (and a little help from global warming) sees mid-size cruise ships now visiting during the longest days of the year. The frontier mining town of Longyearbyen is an attraction, but the big draw here is expeditions to view polar bears, reindeer, walrus and whales.
Cruise lines that visit: Hurtigruten, MSC, Silversea and Princess. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania cruises continue on to Murmansk in Russia after their visit.
Smaller ships are discovering this sailboat harbour on the Turkish Riviera as an alternative to busy Greek ports. Tours aboard wooden boats take visitors past ancient burial temples carved into rocky coastal cliffs on the way to the ruins of Knidos, a Greek city dating to 350 BC that has a remarkably intact ampitheatre. Check the broad sands of Turtle Beach with areas set aside for sea turtles to lay their eggs.
Cruises that visit: Azamara, Holland America, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea.