The great Vietnamese poet and statesman Nguyen Trai called it the "rock wonder in the sky." In designating it a World Heritage Site, UNESCO describes it as "spectacular seascape of limestone pillars." It's name translates as "Descending Dragon Bay." Geologists call it karst topography, and say it's what happens when soluble bedrock wears away over millions of years. Halong Bay, located on Vietnam's northeast coast, is otherworldly no matter what words you choose. About 2,000 limestone islands stipple the vast bay, most of them rising hundreds of feet sheer from the sea. If, as you cruise along, you find words fail to capture the beauty of the place, be at ease. They never do.
This is Hong Kong have you rested? City-state, deep-water harbor, darling of empires, engine of global finance, shopper's paradise, cinematic trend-setter, world's most vertical city. Whew. Cruise to Hong Kong and join the parade into one of the city's countless markets. Watch the hardworking world of Aberdeen's junks and sampans. Rise above it all on the tram ride to the top of Victoria Peak. Hong Kong is where ancient herbal remedies mix with designer fashions, Buddhist monks mingle with businessmen, and Chinese traditions meet modern international capitalism.
Looking at the water, the palms, and the plants, you might think the color green was invented on Koh Samui, and then reinvented. Everywhere you look are shades of celadon, smaragdine, and viridian. Located in the Gulf of Thailand about 400 miles south of Bangkok, Koh Samui is an island of towering coconut trees, generous sun, and powdery white beaches. Cruise visitors will enjoy the Big Buddha, an important symbol for the locals, the Na Muang waterfall, and the beaches. Chaweng is the island's high-energy beach. Lamai is less busy. Maenam is quiet, and closest to port.
Nagasaki was for centuries Japan's chief point of contact with the rest of the world. It was founded by the Portuguese. It became a national center of European scholarship. It was a center of Japan's heavy industry. Trade with China flowed from its wharves. It is the setting for "Madame Butterfly." Cruise visitors come to see the ghost town of Battleship Island, the European architecture of Glover Garden, or the Former Dutch Factory, an island for containing foreigners. They come to shop at Youme Saito or Nishi-Hamanomachi. They come to slurp a bowl of champon. They come to visit Nagasaki Peace Park and remember August 9, 1945.
It's the capital of the world. It's the biggest city. It's the busiest port. It's a center of technology and transport, commerce and capital, fashion and finance. Shanghai sits astride the Huangpu River, daring you to try and take it all in. The Yuyuan Gardens are an island of serenity in the Old City. The old buildings and boutiques of the Bund evoke the Shanghai of the 1920s. And the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center are the architectural giants of the Pudong District. Best for cruise visitors to pick a destination, any destination and go. Or, just visit a tea house and let the day carry you where it will.
It's an island city-state, a World War II battleground, a global economic superstar, and a crossroads of the world. Cruise to Singapore in the space of a few hours you can relax in a Chinese teahouse, purchase a colorful sari in Little India and visit the gold-domed Sultan Mosque.
Tokyo will overwhelm a cruise visitor unless never mind. It's going to overwhelm you no matter what, so you best just go with the flow. Tokyo is a sensation: Walk out of Shinjuku Station some evening and into a neon canyon peopled with shoppers, professionals, and gawkers. Tokyo is a cadence: The Yamanote Rail Line threads through the city and trains arrive every few minutes. Systole, diastole, systole, diastole. Tokyo is a rhythm: Shop the ritzy Ginza. See the temples at Asakusa; the gardens of the Imperial Palace; or the Meiji Shrine. Duck into a funky boutique along Takeshita-dori or applaud the angel-headed hipsters at Yoyogi Park. Tokyo is a state of mind.
Beijing is ancient, older almost than imagining. The first human habitations date back some 700 millennia, to the very dawn of the human species. 24 emperors called it home. Today, it is the center of culture, education and politics in China. It is a leading city of the world. And it is a hive of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are places in and around the city so potent they've become touch points of our global psyche: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and since the 2008 Olympic Games, the National Stadium (aka the "Bird's Nest"). Everywhere cruise visitors go they touch history.
A fascinating blend of modern-day development and intriguing history, Abu Dhabi offers a diverse array of experiences, from riding the world's fastest roller-coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi to visiting the world's largest indoor theme park. Spend an afternoon at the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, infused with the region's culture and religion. Enhance your Arabia cruise experience with a trip to the Oasis of Al Ain in the emirate's heritage heartland, or marvel at the peaceful Liwa desert, at the entrance to the famed Empty Quarter, home to some of the tallest sands dunes on earth.
Stretching along the southernmost shores of the Arabian Gulf, cosmopolitan Dubai is often described as a city of contrasts. Home to sparkling tall buildings, glitzy shops and the sun-soaked beaches of a glamorous seaside destination, Dubai is also rooted in tradition and history. Wander the narrow streets of the Bastakiya district, where you can take in the sights and sounds of bustling souks (markets) or the quiet wonder of local mosques. Hire an abra to cross Dubai Creek, a natural saltwater inlet that moves through the city center. Pause at the wildlife sanctuary and listen for the calls of migratory birds and flamingoes. Nearby, explore the archaeological sites of Al Ghusais or Al Sufooh, each one historically significant.
Seychelles is an archipelago of 158 islands in the Indian Ocean located northeast of Madagascar. Tiny Victoria is its capital city, located on Mahe Island.
At the market, you can sample juicy fruits and succulent vegetables. Wander the narrow streets in the old town, where crumbling colonial buildings and quaint alleyways await discovery. Or you might prefer the wide promenades and sumptuous gardens of the modern city center, home to a clock tower and two cathedrals. Check out the lush Victoria Botanical Gardens and the Victoria Natural History Museum.
The coastal port of Durban lies along the Indian Ocean in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa, where golden sand beaches meet warm blue-green waters. This stretch of pristine beach in the central area of the city is called the Golden Mile, but in fact stretches out for four miles, making it a beachcomber's paradise. If surfboards and sunbathing are not your thing, the promenades fronting the beach are a haven for flea markets and shops.
Jump into a three-wheeled 'tuk-tuk' for a unique look at the city. Head to the Victoria Indian Street Market, where you can visit temples, shop and sample local flavors. Amid British colonial buildings, a variety of historic museums and quiet parks await your exploration. Nearby, enjoy the lush Umgeni River Bird Park, home to more than 3000 bird species.
Once dubbed the "Tavern of the Seas," Cape Town is now more sedately known as South Africa's "Mother City." Here, a cable-car ride to the top of Table Mountain is in order, or a visit to the wineries and Cape Dutch buildings of Stellenbosch. If your African experience would be incomplete without a safari, head for Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.
The apricot-colored sand dunes behind Walvis Bay are populated by gemsbok, springbok, ostrich, brown hyena, the rare, long-legged desert elephant, and sometimes even cheetah-amazing for such an apparently inhospitable environment. Inching ever closer is the relentless Namib Desert.
Quiet and inviting, this capital city boasts colorful markets, lush gardens and open-air cafés. Lush green banana plantations give way to pine forests, then a jumbled landscape of volcanic rock. Further afield: black sand beaches and the cable car to the top of 11,000-foot-high Mount Tiede. When Columbus stopped by in 1498, Tiede was erupting, but it's now sedately dormant.
A study in beauty and history, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of the island, is set amidst magnificent scenery composed of two bays and their beautiful beaches. Founded in 1478, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria boasts an important historical and cultural heritage, much of which can be found in the district of Vegueta, the oldest quarter of the town, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. Originating from a Castillian military encampment on the hillside of the ravine Barranco de Guiniguada where the San Antonio Abad chapel is located today the first settlement expanded towards the banks of a ravine. Today, Las Palmas' major highway, Calle Juan de Quesada, separates Las Palmas into two historic quarters.
UNESCO has declared Lanzarote a World Biosphere Reserve. Here, fields of melons and grapes contrast with the bleak volcanic expanses of the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya.
The best time to take a cruise vacation is from January till October, and then for a short while at the end of December of any given year.