Where To Cruise In 2017: 5 Lesser-Known Ports

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For Condé Nast Traveler, by Cynthia Drescher.

While some of the world's most popular destinations are flat-out telling tourists to stay home, cruise ships have actually expanded their itineraries with even more destinations this year. The desire to go somewhere your neighbor hasn't gone (or at least hasn't Instagrammed) is strong onboard. "Guests delight in being able to visit places they are not familiar with and truly experience the destination. We also look for places hard to get to via land...parts of the world that would otherwise be very difficult to visit outside of a cruise vacation," says Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. Below are several destinations seeing more cruise ships now than ever before—try to visit them before the word gets out.

1. Khasab, Oman

For the first time in its history, Celebrity Cruises is set to base a ship in the Middle East. Leaving from Abu Dhabi, the Celebrity Constellation sails to "iconic destinations" such as Dubai and Mumbai along with less-trekked spots like Khasab, Oman, "with its beautiful fjords and cliffs and exotic history,” says Lutoff-Perlo. Khasab, on the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the U.A.E., tempts visitors with palm dates in Sikkit Market, dhow day cruises among the fjords, and tours of a 17th-century castle built by the Portuguese. Azamara Club Cruises and MSC Cruises are also becoming regular visitors.

2. Monemvasia, Greece

It’s been dubbed the “Gibraltar of the east” for its rocky plateau profile, but this port in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region is quickly making a name for itself as a highlight of the Mediterranean. Seabourn, ranked the best small ship line in the 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards, visits the community of barely 1,500 residents, as do Silversea and Wind Star. Rhiannon Taylor, photographer and founder of lifestyle site In Bed With, recently sailed to Monemvasia on a Seabourn cruise and, while the itinerary from Athens to Venice stopped at the usual favorites like Dubrovnik and Corfu, this tiny rock island emerged the unlikely favorite. “It’s a quiet seaside town that remains largely unaffected by tourism," says Taylor. "You can walk from the mainland to the island by a short 200-meter causeway and there you will find crystal clear swimming holes that you rarely have to share. Gyro prices haven’t changed in years, and the white-washed town is full of Byzantine churches.”

3. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

It’s the largest city on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and yet its business has been more with fruit cargo than cruise ships. That may soon change as cruise lines discover it’s an easy access point for two national parks—Tortuguero and Cahuita—as well as the Veragua Rainforest, a Dole banana plantation, and a sloth sanctuary. Puerto Limon offers a literal boatload of travelers a quick taste of Costa Rican eco-tourism and cruise lines like Holland America, Celebrity, Princess, and Norwegian have added it to beloved Panama Canal trips and other Central America itineraries.

4. Kornati Islands, Croatia

This dense archipelago of 140 islands off the coast of Zadar, Croatia, is mostly preserved as a national park. As such, it’s become a popular “scenic cruising” region for ships traveling down the Croatian coast toward popular ports Split and Hvar. Some ships, like those of Viking Ocean Cruises, stop in nearby Šibenik, Croatia’s oldest coastal town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the architecture, food, and music reflect multiple influences, from Byzantine to Venetian to the Habsburgs.

5. Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

Located on the north coast of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is outside the typhoon belt but within easy cruising distance of more popular ports like Singapore and Palawan in the Philippines. It’s holding its own of late, though: The region is one of the world's best spots to explore rainforests and orangutan sanctuaries. Offshore, scuba divers, and snorkelers can also enjoy legendary underwater Borneo—aim for the reefs around the five islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.

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