Exotic Escapes in January: Our Pick of Far-Flung Cruise Destinations

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With all the merriment of Christmas and the New Year behind us, January can be a rather depressing month. The cold has well and truly set in and dragging yourself to work on these dark winter mornings is less than inspiring.

If you’re feeling the New Year blues, the best cure is to escape to an exotic location and put the chills and spills of winter far behind you. Here is our pick of the best far flung cruise destinations to put a smile back on your face.

Australia

With the temperature hovering around the late twenties to early thirties, Australia is the perfect cruise destination at this time of year. Many cruise itineraries include Sydney where you can soak up the sun on dazzling beaches, enjoy numerous waterside attractions, ‘get your surf on’ in Bondi, wander through Darling Harbour or be blown away by the shows at the famous Opera House.

 

Sydney’s history, culture, art and cuisine, not to mention its dramatic skylines, give it a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most alluring and desirable cities. The best way to see the harbour and many of Sydney’s attractions is to take a ferry. Travel east from Circular Quay on to Taronga Zoo or Manly; or go west which takes you under the Harbour Bridge and towards Parramatta. If you’re pushed for time, there is a shorter route between Circular Quay and Darling Harbour that takes you under the Bridge and allows you to see the central area of the harbour. If you have a day or an afternoon to spare, take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly and walk from the ferry wharf along the Manly Corso to fabulous Manly Beach.  This is a world famous landmark in Australian and one of the best known beaches for surfing, but it has a lot more to offer with delicious restaurants, tempting cafes and plenty of sights to entertain you.

Brisbane is another popular destination on many cruise itineraries where you can swim, surf and shop in the excitement of Surfers’ Paradise, or ‘Surfers’ as it is more often known by. Walking through the shopping precinct, you’ll find the Cavill Mall and Cavill Avenue which is one of the liveliest shopping strips in Queensland.

 

Besides the sun, sea and surf, Brisbane has plenty to offer culturally. The Queensland Museum and the State Art Gallery are worth visiting – here you can see a fascinating selection of Aboriginal work on display. The Butterfly Sanctuary is another popular destination, offered as an excursion on many cruise lines. This is the biggest butterfly flight aviary in Australia, housing more than 1500 stunning tropical butterflies and a walk through the aviary’s rainforest gardens is a magical experience. Another great place to take a relaxing stroll is the Botanic Gardens – they are the original gardens and incorporate a number of attractions including ornamental ponds, noteworthy sculptures and the stunning river frontage.

Japan

Next on our list of favourite far-flung cruise destinations is Japan. Japan is not your run-of-the-mill cruise destination but cruising is an excellent and affordable way to see this captivating, culturally rich country. Japan cruises have many benefits: they are relaxing, they make sightseeing easy and they work out far less expensive than a regular vacation to this area. They are also very appealing in that they avoid the need to book and change through a number of hotels or navigate the local transportation, tasks that are not easy in a country where little English is spoken and signs tend to be written in Japanese kanji with no translation.

Lanterns in Nagsaki, Japan. Sourced from Creative Commons, credit: Ken FUNAKOSHI

Nagasaki is often a staple destination on Japan cruise itineraries and it is a real eye opener. Here in 1945, an atomic bomb was detonated and almost 75,000 people were killed. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum provides the history, reliving the horrors of the attack. It is certainly not the most relaxing tourist spot, but a must-see nonetheless.

The spa town of Beppu is worth visiting too, situate in the heart of an active geothermal area and offering hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots, and geysers that are known as The Hells. Although there are a lot of tourists here and a fair bit of the usual ‘tourist tack’, it is still well worthy of your time. The excursion to see the Chiran Samurai Houses is also worth taking if you have the opportunity:  Chiran was a stronghold of the Shimazu Samurai during Japan’s Feudal Era, and the warrior residences with their small gardens are fascinating.

China

A cruise that incorporates China will allow you to explore the rich and exhilarating culture of this amazing country in an affordable and enjoyable way.  Many cruises start at Shanghai where shore excursions typically cover some of the highlights of this illustrious city. The French Concession is a popular tourist spot and as you might expect, has a Parisian feel to it. You’ll find plenty of excellent shopping opportunities and tempting eateries amongst the sights.

The Bund (meaning  ‘embankment’) is another lively area along the waterfront of the Huangpu River. This stretch of just under a mile is worth a visit for its array of stunning buildings with an eclectic mix of architectural styles. The flood-control wall here is known as ‘the lovers’ wall’, and you’ll discover hollowed-out railings which tourists stand in for photo opportunities, capturing the Pudong Area and beautiful Huangpu River behind.

The Bund in Shanghai. Sourced via Flickr Creative Commons, credit: Loïc Lagarde

A cruise down the Huangpu River is an excellent way to see more of the area – the River is a symbol of Shanghai, dividing the city into east and west. As you travel down it, you’ll see the spectacular suspension bridges, Yangpu Bridge and Nanpu Bridge, which look as if they arch over the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and are said to resemble ‘Two dragons playing with a ball’. Other good places to visit include Yu Garden, Tianzifang art street and Zhujiajiao, a fascinating ancient water town.

Another popular stop on China cruise itineraries is Tianjin. This mega city boasts a broad mix of architecture, with traditional Chinese buildings blended almost seamlessly with looming skyscrapers.  There is plenty to explore in this city and the excellent transport system makes it easy to get around. The ancient cultural street of Jinmen Guli (meaning ‘old place’) is brimming with fascinating things to buy, including many traditional Niren Zhang clay figures and Weiji kites. You’ll also find plenty of antiques and an abundance of jade objects on offer. The Dagu Emplacement is also a popular tourist stop, where you can see the Dagu Fort Ruins Museum, the Monument and also the Wei and Hai forts. Here you’ll get a real sense of the devastating battle that once raged in this area. The Huangyaguan pass is also likely to be on offer as an excursion, and another of the ten most-visited places in Tianjin. The wall itself is thought to be a miniature version of the Great Wall of China and is situated in a spot of outstanding natural beauty.

What far-flung destination would you like to visit next? Share your thoughts below!

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Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: Sacha Fernandez, Ken FUNAKOSHI, Loïc Lagarde

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Sandra Conreen

Sandra has worked in the travel industry for over 20 years and has gained an extensive knowledge of the cruise industry. Sandra regularly writes for the Cruise 1st blog on a wide range of topics from destination guides to cruise line news.

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