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8 great winter cruise destinations

Lorna Cowan / 12 August 2016 ( 18 October 2018 )

Swap the winter blues for an exciting winter cruise with these 8 great destinations.

St Maarten beach
The white beaches of St Maarten welcome Caribbean cruises during the winter months.

Fancy going away somewhere special this winter, to enjoy sunshine, sights or some rest and relaxation? 

A cruise is the perfect holiday to let you do all this – and help you forget the winter blues. Here’s our pick of great winter cruise destinations.

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The Caribbean

Want to escape the British winter? Then head for the Caribbean. And when it comes to choosing a cruise in this part of the world, you’re spoiled for choice.

Do you want to visit Barbados, Tortola, St Maarten, Grenada and more? Each Caribbean island has its own distinct charm, offering holidaymakers a variety of experiences. 

However, they all share one important winter cruise criteria – sunshine, and often for nine hours a day. The average daytime temperature in Barbados throughout December is 29°C, and you can expect similar temperatures in January and February too.

The island of Barbados, full of coconut palm trees and smiling friendly faces, is on the itinerary of many Caribbean cruises, as is St Maarten, famous for its stunning white-sand beaches. 

Other stop-offs may include Montserrat, a quiet island almost destroyed by a volcano in 1995, which boasts amazing coral reefs and caves, and Grenada, the spice island, where you’ll smell the aroma of nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla in the air. 

Then there’s Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, the British Virgin Isles - the list goes on and on.

Cruise idea: Murder mystery in the Caribbean

The Canaries and Morocco

If you’re a regular cruise-goer, there's a chance you’ve already enjoyed a holiday in the Canaries, as it’s a popular all-year-round cruise destination. 

Rightly so, as the islands of Tenerife, La Gomera and Gran Canaria are not only beautiful, the weather here is reliable too. Apparently, Gran Canaria has over 2,800 hours of sunshine a year, making it one of the sunniest places in the world. 

Us Brits return time and time again to these Atlantic Ocean islands, but if you fancy something a little different on your next cruise, after visiting the Canary Islands, why not sail east and explore nearby Morocco? 

Stopping off at the port of Agadir, a city in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, you’ll find fantastic sandy beaches and a seaside promenade with restaurants, cafes and bars. 

It’s a modern resort, but you’ll still find plenty of colourful bazaars and spice-scented souks where you can test your haggling skills – don’t expect to win!

The next port of call is Casablanca, a fascinating destination with European, African and Arabian influences. French colonial and Art Deco buildings stand alongside distinctly Moorish mosques and labyrinth-like markets. It’s a treat for your senses.

Cruise idea: Morocco and the hidden Canaries


Okay, so Bruges isn’t the first place you’d think of as a winter cruise destination, but if anything is going to put you in the festive mood, it’s a visit to the Belgian city in December when the Christmas market is in full swing. 

Easily accessible by coach from the port of Zeebrugge, Bruges turns into a winter wonderland at this time of year. 

You can shop until you drop buying unique handcrafted gifts and stocking fillers for all your family and friends, or maybe some tree decorations for yourself – on a river cruise you don’t need to worry about your luggage allowance.

Indulge and enjoy some mulled wine and warm waffles as you wander around the wooden chalets with their twinkling lights. Or pop on some skates and glide across the ice rink. If you can pull yourself away from the Christmas market, it’s also worth taking some time to look around beautiful Bruges. 

The medieval city boasts a 12th-century church, numerous canals, and street after street of chocolate shops.

Cruise idea: Continental Christmas Markets

Central America

Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua – these three fascinating Central American countries ought to be on everyone’s holiday wish-list. And on a cruise, you can tick off all three on one break away. 

Even better, when it’s dark, cold and miserable in February in the UK, in Central America you’d be able to sit back aboard a cruise ship enjoying temperatures around a very pleasant 25°C. Really, what are you waiting for?

Ports in Mexico, popular with cruises, include the lively resort of Cabo San Lucas, with its distinctive rock formation arch, and Zihuatanejo, a traditional town that was once a sleepy fishing village, close to the cosmopolitan city of Ixtapa. 

When not off sightseeing, stay on deck and keep your eyes on the sea – during the winter months, pods of whales are known to frequent the waters. 

If you love watching wildlife, then a highlight of your cruise will be visiting Costa Rica, home to over 500,000 species, hundreds of which are indigenous to the country. 

Look out for red-eyed tree frogs, black iguana, mantled howler monkeys and white-nosed coati – they’re all hiding somewhere.

Cruise idea: Central America and Mardi Gras

The Amazon

If watching the 2016 Olympics in Rio put you in the mood to visit Brazil, and challenged you to achieve great things, then why not set off on an adventure of a lifetime on a cruise along the Amazon, the world’s longest river? 

Winter is an ideal time to enjoy a cruise here, though you’ll need to pack your waterproofs. November through to March is the rainy season and when you’re in the rainforest, you’ll get wet. 

The reward? The Amazon water levels are much higher at this time of year – almost seven metres – so you’ll be closer to the forest canopy and the exotic birds and monkeys that live there. You won’t notice the rain.

Cruises to this part of the world usually depart from a Caribbean island. And you’ll be three days at sea before you hit (not literally!) Santarem, a Brazilian city that lies on the River Tapajos. 

This is where the Tapajos and Amazon meet, but the two rivers don’t mix, they flow together, creating two different coloured stripes.

Amazon cruises also stop at Manaus, with its golden-domed opera house; Devil’s Island, once a French penal colony; and Parintins, a township in dense rainforest that is only accessible by boat or plane. 

Cruise idea: Into the Amazon

The Far East

Imagine discovering a world completely different from your own - enchanting destinations with intriguing cultures and traditions, all waiting to be explored. 

On a winter cruise around the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea, you can make this a reality.   

Beaches and buddhas await cruise guests when they go ashore on the picturesque island of Ko Samui. 

In Bangkok (easily reached from the port of Laem Chabang), you’ll find sacred temples, grand palaces, pretty flower markets and winter daytime temperatures in the high 20°Cs.

Embarking a cruise in Singapore and catching a flight home from Hong Kong allows you to enjoy a couple of city breaks too - perfect.  

Then just when you think you’ve seen your quota of the marvellous sights, the cruise takes you to Cambodia and there is Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. 

And the breath-taking moments keep on coming – you may well gasp as you enter beautiful Ha Long Bay, which is known for its emerald waters and towering limestone islands – there are around 2,000 of them.

Holiday idea: Grand tour of Indochina

The Arctic Circle

You’ll need to wrap up warm and pack a woolly hat for a winter cruise up to the Arctic Circle, but it’ll be well worth it the moment you stand on deck on a crisp clear morning and take in the rugged mountains and sparkling fjords surrounding your ship. Suddenly you’ll feel very small, and very privileged to witness such a spectacular sight. Talking of which, the further north you sail, the better chance you have of catching a glimpse of the remarkable Northern Lights (the aurora borealis).   

Whether this natural phenomena will put on a grand display is down to Mother Nature, so nothing is guaranteed – except a wonderful winter cruise of course! A memorable destination on your itinerary will be Bergen on the west coast of Norway. 

The old wharf district here, Bryggen, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island of Tromsø, known as the Gateway to the Arctic, is another interesting stop-off and home to the Arctic Cathedral, with the largest stained-glass windows in Europe. 

Narvik, lying 140 miles inside the Arctic Circle, was once a Viking residence, and is one of the most northerly towns in the world with an average annual temperature of just under 4°C. It has, however, been known to plummet to -20°C in January. Best pack your thermals too.

Cruise idea: Bright lights of Norway

The Indian Ocean

Tell your friends that you’re off island hopping on your next cruise and they may not bat an eyelid. Explain that the islands are Madagascar, Reunion, the Seychelles and Mauritius, and you’ll probably need to lift their jaws back up off the floor.

A winter cruise around these stunning islands, located in the Indian Ocean, seems like a once-in-a-lifetime trip. 

However, it may be more affordable than you think, especially if you’re saving money on your central heating back home. Be warned though, after a while it’s easy to feel blasé when every morning you wake up on your cruise ship to discover it’s another glorious sunny day. 

And yes, you’re off sailing once again on crystal clear waters to yet another island paradise – secluded Praslin in the Seychelles was once a pirate hideaway. 

Then there’s the evenings as you sit on deck with a cocktail in hand watching the sun set, knowing neighbours back in Blighty will have scarcely seen that big yellow thing in the sky in days. Passing Silhouette Island, have your camera ready to snap this picture perfect tropical hideaway. 

Cruise idea: Island contrasts of the Indian Ocean

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.