No matter how many times he steers the 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn through Norway's Lofoten Islands, captain Hamish Elliott eagerly anticipates his favorite point — when a fairytale-like landscape comes into view.
"The entrance to Trollfjord is hidden until the last moment before the ship arrives, and then all of a sudden you have towering cliffs to either side," Elliott says. "It doesn't take much imagination to believe you can see the fabled trolls."
Scenic views are the most priceless part of the amenity-packed cruise experience. And, as savvy travelers seek more adventure opportunities, cruise lines are responding by charting a course to ever more beautiful — and remote — corners of the map.
The world's most scenic cruises include the Kimberley, a gorgeous coastline of rugged red cliffs and white sands in northwestern Australia. In this outback, where the Indian Ocean meets the Timor Sea, remote islands proliferate, and rivers and inlets — accessible only by small ships — lead to isolated gorges, towering rock faces and waterfalls. With their shallow drafts, these small cruise ships can get close to the sights, and they come equipped with inflatable Zodiacs that allow for intimate coastline exploration.
But big ship lines, too, are bringing passengers to ocean-accessible scenic wonders like Alaska's Inside Passage, where the roar of calving glaciers is best experienced from the vantage point of a ship's deck. Even Carnival Cruise Lines, with its strong base in the Caribbean, is positioning a ship year-round in Sydney, beginning in Fall 2012. It's easy to see the reasoning: the South Pacific, South America and Africa are all hot cruising destinations, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's top marketing group.
Whatever the size of your ship, you don't need to rough it; small doesn't mean no-frills. On the 92-passenger Celebrity Xpedition in the Galapagos, you can start your day spotting blue-footed boobies and end it in a hot tub; on the Clipper Adventurer in Antarctica, you can follow mountaineering with a massage.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but on the world's most scenic cruises, Mother Nature serves up views that will please the most jaded traveler — and may even change the very way you look at the world.
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