Europe and Alaska remain top, the Middle East is creeping up fast, South America is sizzling and Vietnam is hot - and getting hotter.
We're talking cruise destinations in 2012 as holidays on the waves grow in popularity with first-time Australian cruisers already testing the waters from home ports as international cruise lines deploy more ships Down Under.Our 2012 Guide to Cruising:
Exotic new ports and a vast array of shore excursions have been added to overseas itineraries with many new activities on board. Some cruise ships are turning into ocean-going holiday resorts replete with adventure parks, roving characters from blockbuster films, upmarket restaurants and onboard classes in all manner of skills. With so much going on above and below deck it is a wonder passengers find time to go ashore.
Royal Caribbean Cruises' Adam Armstrong says that as more Australians go cruising we will see a higher quality and a more varied range of ships Down Under.
"Next year, Australians will have the opportunity to cruise locally on newer and larger ships with an unprecedented range of onboard features that passengers previously went to Europe or the Caribbean to experience.
For example, Voyager of the Seas, the biggest ship ever to call Australia home, comes with a long list of 'firsts' including an ice-skating rink and in a new alliance with DreamWorks, kids will enjoy special events with characters from films such as Shrek, Madagascar and Puss In Boots."
Voyager of the Seas' maiden arrival will be in Fremantle in November 2012.
Carnival Australia's Ann Sherry says Australians will be lapping up P&O Cruises' short summer breaks in local waters with a "quick cruise fix" and are likely to take a longer cruise later.
She says the strong Australian dollar is providing significant growth in cruising as Aussies head off to Europe.
Meanwhile, on the home front, cruises to New Zealand, South Pacific islands, Bali and Asian ports, and to northern Australia and the Kimberley, are all favoured by first-time cruisers.
Silversea's Karen Christensen says the company's high ratio of repeat guests has seen many new destinations and smaller ports introduced. She says the trend is to head to Europe or North America in the Australian winter, with Alaska and Baltic cruising set to be the "taste of 2012".
Silversea's new cruises along the west coast of Africa are selling fast, as are those to the Arctic and Antarctic on the expedition ship Silver Explorer.
A drawcard on many cruise ships now is the all-inclusive fare as passengers appreciate not having to sign for every wine, coffee or afternoon tea. In some cases this all-inclusiveness also extends to service tips on board.
Classic International Cruises' Grant Hunter says its ship Athena, based in Fremantle for part of every summer, will offer extended voyages in 2012 including a 38-night round voyage in March from Fremantle to Japan and other Asian destinations. When Athena sails back to Europe from Fremantle in April she will go via South Africa, visiting Mauritius, Reunion Island, Ascension Island, the Canary Islands, St Helena Island and Morocco.
Some cruise lines also offer land touring options at the start or end of a cruise, and sometimes flexibility is built into the itinerary so passengers leave the ship for a few days to go touring. For example, a new option from Vancouver starts with a five-day Rocky Mountaineer rail journey through the Canadian Rockies before joining a Holland America cruise to Alaska's Inside Passage.
Cruise ships are fast becoming like supermarket shelves, with a wealth of choices onboard and onshore as cruise lines go all out to woo more passengers.Evergreen favourites
Alaska's Inside Passage is the cruise every traveller wants to cross off their list after watching glaciers calve (ice breaking off in big chunks) and whales breaching while sailing past snow-covered peaks. Added attractions are the small fishing ports en route that are straight out of a classic film set from yesteryear. Some cruises will sail on from the Inside Passage to Anchorage where passengers disembark to explore wilderness areas.
Cruise guests also get a slice of adventure on day trips (at extra cost) with flights that land on glaciers, or join a husky dog team for a sleigh ride.
Also with a cool edge are cruises to the Arctic where the highlight is sighting polar bears, and Antarctica where huge icebergs and giant penguins are star attractions.Enticing Europe
In the wake of the global financial crisis, Australians are heading to Europe while the Aussie dollar still has a good exchange rate against the euro.
Must-see cities like Nice, Rome, Athens, Venice and Barcelona are favourite departure ports for ships that hug the Mediterranean's shores.
At the same time Baltic cruises are fast emerging in popularity with Finland's Helsinki, Estonia's Tallin, Norway's Oslo and Sweden's Stockholm key ports for fjord-like scenery and cities steeped in history.
Many cruise ships now sail further east for exotic places such as Istanbul and to explore the idyllic Croatian coastline.
In Europe, too, cruises on iconic rivers such as the Rhine and Danube are in demand as an easy way to see cities such as Paris, Vienna and Budapest with side trips to Berlin and Prague. The beauty of such cruises is the diverse mix of traditional villages and cities along the river banks that give a great feel for the country the ship is sailing through.Asia on a plate
Asia continues to show double digit tourist growth that has seen cruise lines head there in increasing numbers. As leader of the pack, Vietnam is booming and river cruises are making a huge impact there with itineraries that also take in Cambodia and Laos.More Arabian nights
While there has been a cooling off in cruises to Egypt and some other Middle Eastern countries as a result of recent civil unrest, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and nearby Oman are in demand for a taste of a very different lifestyle amid rolling deserts and crowded souks (traditional market places) where gold, frankincense and myrrh can still be purchased.South of the border
Music and passion for life is evident across Central and South America, with cruising considered one of the easiest, safest ways to get around. Australians were among the first to latch on to the great value there and are booking cruises to Mexico, Costa Rica, the Amazon, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. The Caribbean islands are also in favour.Rising on the horizon
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