Ships based in Hawaii cruise the islands year-round, but itineraries that link the Hawaiian isles to North American ports are more likely to be in April, May, September, and October, often as part of a repositioning cruise between Alaska and the Caribbean. There’s also cruising year-round in French Polynesia the Pacific Islands that include Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, and many others with some occasional long cruises that combine the two island chains.
Mediterranean cruises are offered year-round, but the prime season is summertime, when the sea is warm enough to swim in and the beaches fill up with sunbathers from the north. (Note: In recent seasons, many cruise companies have been curtailing their Mediterranean operations see the box on p. 90 ). As for Northern Europe and The Baltics, summer offers the best weather and the significant bonus of midnight sun; you’ll find the vast majority of departures between May and September. A few cruise lines do offer winter itineraries through Norway, however, which reveal a land blanketed in snow and possible sightings of the Northern Lights.
Expedition cruises to Antarctica tend to take place from November to February, when the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing its summer. At that time of year, days are long, and temperatures on the Peninsula, where most cruises venture, are well above what New York City would experience during the middle of January.
Antarctica’s polar counterpart, the Far Arctic, is typically visited during July and August. Even then, however, temperatures in much of the High Arctic barely break the freezing mark. These expedition cruises, which generally head for Arctic Canada, Greenland, and Svalbard (formerly known as Spitsbergen ), send guests in search (safely) of ice and polar bears, not to mention the stunning array of wildlife that calls these chilly waters home.
Historically, more exotic itineraries including Asia, South America, and Africa tended to be part of longer, around-the-world sailings, which traditionally set sail in January. That’s no longer the case: At any time of year now, you can book a weeklong cruise on a mainstream line departing from Australia, and 10- and 12-day voyages now visit many parts of Asia and South Africa. Weeklong voyages are common all year around the Galapagos Islands, situated just off the mainland coast of Ecuador, and you can even circle Tahiti and other parts of the South Pacific in just under 2 weeks.