The Ombak Putih in Rinca, Indonesia.
Hazy Jenius

Top New Cruises in Asia

How to See Asia by Sea
By Heidi Sarna

As more Asian travelers discover cruising and as more world travelers visit Asia, the number (and size) of ships based in the region is growing. From Royal Caribbean's megaships to Holland America's mid-sized liners, cruising in Asia offers more options than ever.

Photo Caption: The Ombak Putih in Rinca, Indonesia
Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Cruising in Asia: What to Expect
From the gilded royal palaces of Bangkok and gorgeous natural attractions like Vietnam's Halong Bay, cruisers can easily see some of Asia's top sights and then return to the comfort of a cruise ship.

Star Cruises, Costa Cruises, and Royal Caribbean base ships in Asia year-round, catering to a mostly Asian clientele, though all nationalities are welcome and English is always one of the languages spoken on board. Meanwhile, other lines (including Holland America and Seabourn) are in the Far East seasonally between about November and April. These lines tend to attract a mixed crowd of North Americans, Europeans, Australians, Asians, and others.

As the winter months are the rainy season for much of Asia, expect frequent but short rain showers. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia are hot all year-round, with temperaturs often hitting the low 90s. Northern Vietnam, China, and Japan are further north, so they're much cooler; you'll need a jacket or a sweater when traveling in these parts.

Photo Caption: Halong Bay, Vietnam
Mini-golf course aboard Mariner of the Seas.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean
Earlier this year, the largest cruise ship to ever hit the Far East was Royal Caribbean's 3,144-passenger Voyager of the Seas, which joined the 1,804-passenger Legend of the Seas. Cruises leave mostly out of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Baoshan/Shanghai or Tianjin.

Royal Caribbean has had a year-round presence in Asia for a few years now, but they're increasing their footprint even more in 2013. Look for not one but two giant ships slated to sail around Asia: Voyager and sister-ship Mariner of the Seas. Both ships are loaded with activities, from rock-climbing walls and to ice-skating rinks, mini golf courses and basketball courts.

Caters to: Mostly Asian passengers

Photo Caption: Mini-golf course aboard Mariner of the Seas
People on the back deck of Celebrity Solstice at the Sunset Bar.
Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Cruises will be in the Far East for its first full season in Asia, with the 1,950-passenger Millennium doing 14 -night itineraries from December 2012 through April 2013 between Singapore and Hong Kong, Hong Kong and Baoshan/Shanghai, and round-trip from Singapore. Land-based tour options can be added before the cruises in Beijing, Xian, or Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, for the first time, the 2008-built 2,850-passenger Solstice is spending November through April doing 12- and 13-night cruises between Sydney and Auckland, New Zealand, with calls in Singapore before heading down under. Winter 2012/2013 is the first time Celebrity will have two ships in the Asia-Pacific region simultaneously for an entire season.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: People on the back deck of Celebrity Solstice at the Sunset Bar
Lido deck and Solarium aboard the Costa Atlantica.
Costa Cruises
Costa Cruises
Beginning May 2013, Costa Cruises will position a second ship in Asia. The 2,680-passenger Costa Atlantica joins the 2,394-passenger Costa Victoria, which started sailing out of Shanghai in Spring 2012. Both ships are larger and newer than the vessels that Costa had based in Asia over the past six years. Each ship has modern Italian-inspired d├ęcor and offers multiple dining and entertainment venues, spas, and lots of outdoor deck space. Victoria and Atlantica both cater to a predominantly Asian clientele, though Europeans are also part of the diverse passenger mix. Both Victoria and Atlantica offer a variety of short and longer itineraries departing from Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tianjin, China.

From November 2012 through January 2013, Victoria will be based in Singapore and from May to June 2013, Costa Atlantica will be based in Singapore. Both offer seven-night cruises to Malaysia and Thailand, and three- or four-night cruises to Malaysia. For most of 2013, Victoria will be based in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tianjin for short cruises to Taiwan or South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, while June through October next year, Costa Atlantica will cruise out of Shanghai on short voyages to South Korea and Japan.

Caters to: Mostly Asian passengers

Photo Caption: Lido deck and Solarium aboard the Costa Atlantica
The Seabourn Odyssey caters to refined travelers looking for an elegant sea experience on travels to the Caribbean.
Seabourn Cruise Line
Seabourn Cruise Line
High-end Seabourn is also raising its stakes in Asia with two of its posh all-suite ships this winter. Look for its largest vessel, the 450-passenger, 2009-built Seabourn Odyssey. The 208-passenger Seabourn Pride is doing mostly 14-night sailings between Singapore and Hong Kong (with the Legend assuming this run next winter for the 2013/2014 season). The Odyssey will run longer sailings deep into the archipelago of Indonesia and to Australia/New Zealand this winter and next winter.

Seabourn's fares include unlimited wines, spirits and soft drinks as well as tips. The ships are all-suite, with cabins boasting walk-in closets as well as marble-clad bathrooms with double sinks and separate tub and shower.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: The Seabourn Odyssey
A stateroom with an ocean-view on the Sun Princess.
Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises
Beginning in Spring 2013, the 1,990-passenger Sun Princess will launch a series of voyages from Japan, the first time Princess Cruises is spending so much time there. Between April and July, the ship will do seven mostly 9-night sailings round-trip from Yokohama (Tokyo), or between Yokohama and Kobe.

The ship will visit ports in Japan as well South Korea and Taiwan, and will predominant cater to cruisers from Japan. In total, Sun Princess will spend March through September in Asia, also cruising out of Singapore, Hong Kong and ports in Australia. The Diamond Princess also spends several months per year in the Far East.

Caters to: Mostly Asian passengers

Photo Caption: A stateroom with an ocean-view on the Sun Princess
Holland America's ms Voldendam at sea.
Holland America Line
Holland America
For years now, Holland America has been basing a ship in Asia for several months and another in Australia and New Zealand during the same period. This winter, the 1,440-passenger Volendam is stationed in Asia, while twin sister Zaandam will take her place next year. Look for mostly 14-night cruises between Singapore, Hong Kong and Kobe, Japan, with a few interesting twists to keep the increasingly popular cruising region fresh for passengers.

In April, 2013, a new 14-night itinerary sails round-trip out of Kobe, Japan, calling on ports in three countries: Nagasaki, Japan; Pusan, South Korea; and Dalian, Xingang/Beijing, and Shanghai, China. Because of the great sightseeing opportunities, the ship will stay two full days in both Xingang/Beijing and Shanghai.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: Holland America's ms Voldendam at sea
The recently-refurbished Crystal Serenity.
Heidi Sarna
Crystal Cruises
For the first time in five years, Crystal Cruises will be positioning two ships in Asia. Between January and April, 2014, the activity-packed 1,070-passenger Serenity and 922-passenger Symphony are doing a dozen sailings across the region, including a 12-nighter from Yokohama to Hong Kong and a 16-night sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore aboard Serenity. Symphony's offerings include a 12-night sailing from Bali to Singapore, a 14-nighter round-trip from Singapore, and several cruises between Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo. Fares include unlimited wine, spirits, soft drinks, specialty coffees, and gratuities.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: The recently refurbished Crystal Serenity
The MSY Katharina in the bay in Komodo, Indonesia.
Hazy Jenius
Off the Beaten Track in Indonesia
Bali-based Seatrek Sailing Adventures has been exploring the islands of Indonesia for three decades. Like adventurous explorers did centuries ago (sans the roughing-it part), traverse the remote waters east of Bali on 12- and 13-day voyages aboard luxury schooners that anchor off islands such as Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Lembata, Timor, and many others. Trek along volcanic mountain trails, see komodo dragons, explore local markets, and witness ancient tribal rituals in places where time has stood still and tourism infrastructure is virtually non-existent.

Starting in 2013, Seatrek is offering a series of expert-led cultural tours, including the "Wallace Cruise" through the Raja Ampat Islands that will retrace the footsteps of the great British naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace. National Geographic writer Simon Worrall will lead the "Maritime Silk Route Cruise" from Singapore to north Java, tracing the cultural and religious legacy of this ancient trade route. These and other itineraries are offered aboard the 1990s-built Katharina and Ombak Putih, which measure just over 100 feet long and have 7 and 12 cabins respectively, all with private bathrooms. Each vessel has a dining area, a lounge/bar, and a sun deck. Though the gorgeous wooden schooners sail on wind power alone when conditions are right, they also rely on engine power.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: The MSY Katharina in the bay of Komodo, Indonesia
Grand Suite on Silver Shadow.
Silversea Cruises
Silversea Cruises
Between now and April 2013, the posh 388-passenger Silver Shadow is offering 7- to 14-night sailings between Tokyo, Tianjin (Beijing), Shanghai, Hong Kong, Laem Chabang (Bangkok), Bali, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. New for this season is a 24-night "Grand Asia and Australia" voyage departing Dec. 11, 2012, from Hong Kong to Sydney, calling on five ports in Vietnam, plus Singapore, Bali, and five calls in Australia. The elegant Shadow has four restaurants and multiple lounges and entertainment spaces. Cabins have walk-in closets, marble bathrooms, and down duvets. Fares include unlimited spirits, wines, soft drinks, and gratuities.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: Grand Suite on Silver Shadow
The Queen Elizabeth is the newest ship in the famous Cunard line.
World cruises are a time-honored tradition for Cunard, with three-month-long voyages offered between January and April each year. In January 2013, both the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria will be passing through Asia on their world voyages.

In early 2014, Cunard's 2010-built, 2,068-passenger Queen Elizabeth will be doing a 118-night circumnavigation of the globe and for the first time, it will be calling on ports in Japan--Kochi, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki. You can book segments of the world cruise, such as a 15-night sailing from Sydney to Yokohama and a 19-night sailing from Yokohama to Singapore, with overnight stays in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: The Queen Elizabeth is the newest ship in the famous Cunard line.
The Pool Deck on the Seven Seas Voyager.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas
Departing in December 2012, the upscale 708-passenger Seven Seas Voyager is doing an 87-night Asia/Pacific Grand Voyage from Bali to Tianjin/Beijing. The long cruise is offered in segments as well. Choose cruises as short as 15 nights and cruise between Bali, Tianjin/Beijing, Auckland, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Singapore. On this Grand Voyage, Seven Seas Voyager will be making maiden calls at two ports: Hiroshima, Japan, to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and museum, and to Huangpu (Canton), China, where top sites include a 6th-century Buddhist temple and orchid gardens. Fares include spirits, wines, soft drinks, gratuities, and shore excursions.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: The pool deck on the Seven Seas Voyager
The Prime C Steakhouse offers a classic steakhouse experience on board the Azamara Journey.
Azamara Cruises
Azamara Cruises
The 694-passenger Azamara Journey is doing 11 Asia cruises this winter (ranging from 11 to 14 nights) mostly round-trip out of Singapore or between Hong Kong and Singapore. After its third cruise in the region, Azamara Journey will spend a week in dry dock in Singapore in early January 2013 for one-week-long facelift. Passengers on the next eight Asia cruises will enjoy new carpeting, upholstery, plus enhancements to dining. Fares include wine at lunch and dinner, soft drinks, bottled water, and coffee, plus crew gratuities.

Caters to: International crowd

Photo Caption: The Prime C Steakhouse offers a classic steakhouse experience on board the Azamara Journey.