10 Unexpected Cruise Destinations

This summer, why not swap your typical Caribbean cruise for something a little out of the ordinary? From Bordeaux wine country to bustling Bahrain, some of the world’s most exciting cruises can be found in the places you’d least expect.

By: Kris Fordham
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Photo By: Viking

Photo By: Silversea

Photo By: Viking

Photo By: The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda, Kerala

Photo By: Princess Cruises

Photo By: Viking

Photo By: Silversea

Photo By: Celebrity Cruises

Photo By: MSC Cruises

Photo By: Uniworld

Australia

Though it's famous for its pristine coastline, The Land Down Under isn't a destination most travelers explore on a cruise ship. But Viking's Komodo and Australian Coast cruise offers a leisurely—and convenient—way to experience the best of Australia's legendary coast. Kicking off in Bali, you’ll sail down to Darwin, the gateway to the sprawling Kakadu National Park and some of Australia’s most beautiful landscapes, and then onto sleepy but picturesque Thursday Island, off the northernmost tip of the Cape York Peninsula. Then, you’ll stop by the Instagram-worthy white-sand beaches of the Whitsunday Islands, before cruising down the Western coast of Australia and finishing up in Sydney, home to the country’s most famous beach of all, Bondi.

Africa

Though Africa is best known as a safari destination, its coastline and islands are well worth exploring, too. On Silversea's 14-day Africa and Indian Ocean cruise, you'll embark in Mombasa, Kenya, sail over to Tanzania to explore the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar, and then stop in Madagascar and Mozambique, where you can snorkel in glittering turquoise waters or explore the jacaranda-lined streets of its capital, Maputo. The cruise ends in buzzy Cape Town, where you can shop, drink some delicious local wine or even tack on a safari.

Bordeaux, France

A cruise isn't the most obvious way to do French wine country, but it might just be the coolest. On Viking River Cruise's eight-day Bordeaux cruise—which starts and ends in Bordeaux—you can visit legendary wineries in the iconic wine-growing regions of Saint-Emilion, Médoc and Sauternes, hunt for truffles in Périgord, enjoy France's finest oysters at Arcachon Bay, and soak in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed region's stunning landscapes and architecture. Best of all, you get to retire each evening to your luxurious quarters aboard the beautiful Viking Forseti as it floats peacefully down the Gironde.

India

With 12 ultra-luxurious properties across India, it comes as no surprise that The Oberoi's sole cruise ship basically doubles as a floating five-star hotel. With just eight deluxe cabins—each with its own 24-hour private butler, naturally—the Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda takes guests on relaxing two- or three-night sailings down the lush, palm-fringed backwaters of Kerala in South India. Highlights of the cruise include the 16th-century Mattancherry Palace, one of the oldest and grandest palaces in Kerala, the idyllic Pathiramanal Island, and the Jewish Synagogue in Cochin, the oldest synagogue in any Commonwealth country. Guests will also enjoy nightly traditional Kathakali and Mohiniyattam dances, as well as authentic South Indian cuisine—think Malabar-style curries, hearty stews and plenty of dosas—onboard.

Japan

With so many of Japan's must-see attractions located inland, it's generally not the first cruise destination that comes to mind. But cruising is a great way to explore some of the more under-the-radar parts of the country, particularly if it's a repeat visit (though first-timers will get to soak in plenty of traditional cultural experiences as well). Though Princess Cruises offers a whopping 43 sailings in Japan alone, the standout is its 12-day Southern Islands cruise, which starts in Kobe, ends in Tokyo, and features stops in the stunning islands of Okinawa, Kagoshima and Ishigaki, which some travel insiders have tipped as the next Bali.

Russia

Starting in Moscow and ending in St. Petersburg, Viking's 13-day Waterways of the Czars cruise is a convenient way to see two of Russia's greatest cities, as well as explore its smaller, picturesque villages and soak in the country's striking, densely forested landscape and fairytale-like architecture. In addition to the obligatory tourist attractions—Red Square, the Kremlin, the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum—you'll also get the chance to soak in traditional Russian banya, dine with a local Russian family and indulge in plenty of caviar and vodka (naturally).

Morocco

There's more to Morocco than just souks and savannahs. On this 16-day Silversea cruise on the ultra-luxe Silver Cloud Expedition, you'll experience the desert and the ocean, and see parts of the country most tourists don't see. From kite surfing in a desert lagoon in Al Dakhla to shopping for pottery in the bustling, colorful port town of Safi, you’ll get a taste of the real Morocco beyond its tourist attractions. Added bonus: Safi is just two hours' drive from Marrakesh, making it an easy day trip to Morocco's most popular city.

South Korea

Though it kicks off in Hong Kong, this 10-day itinerary by Celebrity Cruises is an excellent, if rather unexpected, way to get a taste of South Korea. First, you'll stop in Busan for its famous temples, spas and markets, followed by the tropical paradise of Jeju Island, known for its volcanic landscapes and beautiful white-sand beaches. Finally, you'll dock in Seoul, where soaring skyscrapers and pop culture meet ancient Buddhist temples and tranquil gardens.

Middle East

Though Italy-based MSC Cruises is best known for its Mediterranean cruises, they also boast some of the most comprehensive Middle Eastern itineraries around. You'll spend 15 days on the ultra-luxe MSC Splendida, stopping in Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Khasab, Bahrain and Doha, with an impressive menu of excursions that will take you from Muscat's markets and mosques to the historic forts of Bahrain. Conveniently, the cruise ends in action-packed Dubai, where you can spend the night in a seven-star hotel, or simply stroll along buzzy Dubai Marina.

China

In addition to its countless cultural treasures, China also boasts the world's third-longest river, the Yangtze, which is well worth exploring in its own right. Thanks to Uniworld's China Highlights cruise, you can get the best of both worlds, starting off with obligatory stops to the Great Wall and Forbidden City in Beijing, followed by the Summer Palace in Xi'An, before embarking on a relaxing cruise down the Upper Reaches of the Yangtze. Here, you'll sail past The Three Gorges, a 120-mile stretch of dramatic and meandering gorges that make up the most scenic section of the Yangtze. Conveniently, your journey ends in skyscraper-studded Shanghai, China's largest city, which gives you a taste of modern-day China.

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