Best world cruises that don't carry the ultra-luxury price tags

A style of cruising that Cunard made fashionable almost 100 years ago is once again booming. World voyages of 100-plus days open for bookings months in advance and in 2020 a dozen cruise lines are offering lengthy multi-country cruises – even if they don't literally circumnavigate the globe. If you can't afford the time (or fare) for a half or full world voyage, shorter "legs" or segments are available on many itineraries.

Here's our pick of world cruises that don't carry the ultra-luxury price tag, bearing in mind that the fares quoted are for inside cabins, which is not the ideal choice for anyone prone to cabin fever on such epic voyages. While the fares might sound staggering initially, when you look at the per-diem cost some people reckon it's cheaper than staying at home.

Bargain hunters in a hurry should check out Cruise and Maritime Voyages' (CMV) current offers, which are open until March 18. Fares for the 70-night sailing from Sydney to London, departing February 25, 2020, on board the 1400-passenger Columbus start from $9264 – that's $132 a day. There's also a raft of inclusions on the full 120-night London round-trip, which leaves Tilbury on January 6 and returns on May 5. Columbus has 150 solo cabins and discounts apply for a selection of single-occupied twin cabins. See www.cmvaustralia.com  

Cunard's grand liner Queen Mary 2 sets off from New York on its 113-night world cruise on January 3, returning to New York on April 25, or passengers can embark in Southampton on January 10 for 99 nights, returning to Southampton on April 18. QM2 will visit 26 countries on the full cruise but shorter segments, such as the 56-night Southampton to Sydney and 64-night Southampton to Fremantle, are also available. Fares for the New York round-trip start from $24,749 and from $11,439 for the Southampton to Sydney leg. See www.cunard.com 

P&O Cruises UK's adults-only Arcadia will embark on a 100-night round-trip from Southampton on January 3, returning on April 12. On its Western Circumnavigation cruise, the ship will transit the Panama and Suez canals and call at 27 ports. Several shorter segments are included in the voyage, including the 48-night Southampton to Sydney (arriving in Sydney on February 20) and 23-night Sydney to Singapore (departing February 20). Fares for the 100-night voyage start at $19,940; Southampton to Sydney, $10,780 (for a balcony cabin because inside cabins are sold out); and Sydney to Singapore, $5314. See www.pocruises.com  

Other premium cruise lines to look at for a lengthy sojourn at sea in 2020 include Princess Cruises (princess.com) and Holland America Line (hollandamerica.com). And for the best expert advice, you can find a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) agent at www.cruising.org.au  

SHORE THING

THE PORT Bratislava, Slovakia

WHO GOES THERE River cruise lines APT, Amadeus, Avalon, Crystal, Evergreen Tours, Scenic, Riviera, Tauck, Viking.

WHY WE LOVE IT The capital of Slovakia, part of Czechoslovakia until 1993, dates back at least 6000 years and only fairly recently popped up on river cruise itineraries. Cobbled streets wind around lovely 18th-century buildings in the Old Town, and the imposing Bratislava Castle overlooks the city and Danube river. Bratislava is a great place to shop for traditional Slovakian handicrafts.

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TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Most river ships dock on the north bank of the Danube, within 10 minutes' walk of Bratislava's main must-see sights in the Old Town. It is compact, pedestrianised and easy to navigate independently on foot, and the city's cafe culture, wine bars, and craft beer pubs and breweries are well worth exploring over a leisurely day. In summer you can board a sightseeing boat to Devin Castle, or walk or cycle there. Art aficionados shouldn't miss the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, about 20 kilometres south of the city and accessible by boat, bus and taxi – it is considered to be the best modern-art gallery in Eastern Europe.

MUST SEE Michael's Gate, the only gate that has been preserved from the medieval fortifications that once surrounded the Old Town; St Martin's Cathedral, built in the 13th century and restored between 1861 and 1880; the Jewish Museum; Bratislava Castle; the Slovak National Gallery; and the Christmas markets held in November and December.

MUST EAT The national Slovakian dish, bryndzove halusky, consists of potato dumplings with bacon, sheep's cheese and sour cream; ask your cruise director to recommend a traditional restaurant. Street snacks include lokse (potato pancakes served with duck or goose) and Bratislavske rozky (sweet crescent rolls with poppy seed or walnut fillings).

NEED TO KNOW Bratislava hosts numerous festivals between July and September, including theatre, jazz, classical and organ-music performances, international films and dance, staged at scenic spots around the city and in Bratislava Castle's beautiful open-air theatre.

ESSENTIALS  www.visitbratislava.com    

CRUISEFACT

Norwegian Cruise Line will introduce its 17th ship, the 4000-passenger Norwegian Encore, in November 2019. NCL has six more ships on order for delivery beginning in 2022.

NEWS

New ports for Star Clippers

Star Clippers' fleet of three tall ships will set sail for new ports in Europe and south-east Asia in the summer of 2020. In the Mediterranean these include Stintino in Sardinia, Propriano in Corsica, Vis, Krk and Zadar in Croatia; in south-east Asia Star Clippers has created new itineraries to include Koh Rong and Sihanoukville in Cambodia for the first time. Royal Clipper, the 227-passenger flagship, will cruise the western Mediterranean, while its smaller fleetmates Star Flyer and Star Clipper (both accommodating up to 170 passengers) will sail in the eastern Mediterranean and south-east Asia respectively. Royal Clipper and Star Flyer also sail in the Caribbean and make transatlantic crossings when the ships reposition in spring and autumn every year. See www.starclippers.com  

New-look Splendor

Carnival Splendor will be joining Carnival Legend and Carnival Spirit Down Under in December, fresh from a three-week refurbishment in Singapore. New and upgraded features on the 3012-passenger ship include a new waterpark, a bigger and better island-inspired Red Frog Pub and an extra-spacious adults-only Serenity Retreat. "Action-packed waterparks are what Carnival does best – so when Aussies told us it was a favourite feature on Carnival Spirit and Legend, we wanted to raise the bar when it came to designing a new WaterWorks for Carnival Splendor," said Jennifer Vandekreeke, vice-president of Carnival Cruise Line Australia. Carnival is offering a one-off, 15-night cruise from Singapore to Sydney, departing on November 25 and calling at Benoa (Bali), Komodo, Darwin, Airlie Beach and Moreton Island. See www.carnival.com.au  

Northeast Passage voyage

Crystal Expedition Cruises' luxury yacht Crystal Endeavor will set off on a 28-night expedition through the Northeast Passage in August 2021, starting in Anadyr, Russia, and finishing in Tromso, Norway. "The Northeast Passage is precisely the type of bold expedition for which Crystal Endeavor is designed, with her PC6 designation and ability to manoeuvre through medium first-year ice, as well as offshore dynamic positioning, zodiacs and virtually all other gear necessary for such intrepid exploration," said Tom Wolber, president and CEO of Crystal. During its maiden season between August 2020 and January 2021, the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor will sail 12- to 22-night itineraries to Japan and the Russian Far East, Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia, and Antarctica. See www.crystalcruises.com  

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