Read our guide to the best new cruise ships and the best itineraries for 2016, plus the most interesting guest speakers

Five top cruise lines 2016

Having ruled the rivers for years, Viking Cruises launched its first ocean cruise ship, Viking Star (left), to critical acclaim this year. With all-inclusive fares, free spa and internet access and Scandi-chic decor, it’s our newcomer of the year (www.vikingcruises.co.uk). The hot ticket for 2016 is Regent Seven Seas Explorer: due to sail from Monte Carlo on July 20, she’s already trademarked the title of ‘Most Luxurious Ship Ever Built’, with promises of a 3,875sq ft suite, a Culinary Arts Kitchen and an infinity pool (www.rssc.com).

Not new, but consistently excellent, the Paul Gauguin sticks to what it does best: ushering guests around the turquoise seas of Tahiti, Fiji and the South Pacific in five-star comfort with authentic Polynesian flair (www.pgcruises.com). With three freshly renovated sailing yachts and three new motor yachts, as well as imaginative private events, Windstar Cruises is setting new benchmarks for luxury smallship cruising, so get in quick (www.windstarcruises.com).

Finally, it’s hard to beat Oceania Cruises for its range of comfortable ships, diverse itineraries, superb cuisine and excellent value for money (www.oceaniacruises.com).

Five best cruising itineraries 2016

Kick-start your spring with a 16-night voyage from Bali to Kyoto aboard the all-inclusive Azamara Quest. Departing from Bali, you’ll call at Komodo plus Malaysia and the Philippines, with two days in Manila, stopping in Taiwan and Okinawa, Japan, before spending two days in Kyoto (from £2,198pp, cruise only, departing March 1, 2016; www.azamaraclubcruises.com).

For something closer to home, step aboard Minerva in Portsmouth for the fortnight-long Glorious Gardens and Chelsea Flower Show voyage. After visiting France, Guernsey and the Netherlands, you’ll moor at Greenwich for three days—tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show are included (from £2,642, departing May 14; www.swanhellenic.com).

New for 2016, Uniworld’s Ganges Voyager II sleeps 56 guests in luxury previously unknown on India’s rivers. The 14-day India’s Golden Triangle and the Sacred Ganges itinerary combines a week’s cruising, three nights in Delhi and Agra and a five-night Delhi to Kolkata land tour (from £5,449pp, including flights and transfers, departing in September, October and November; www.titantravel.co.uk).

If you prefer your summers cool, take a six-day Arctic Adventure voyage in Spitsbergen aboard the elegant 1950s MS Nordstjernen. Sailing above the Arctic Circle beneath the midnight sun, you’ll explore Northwest Spitsbergen National Park, spotting glaciers, minke whales and, hopefully, polar bears (from €2,249pp, cruise only, departing June– August; www.hurtigruten.com).

As the year draws to a close, explore remote pockets of Africa aboard Silversea’s plush Silver Cloud. Departing from Mombasa, you’ll visit Zanzibar, Mamoudzou and Maputo before calling at Richard’s Bay, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town in South Africa (from £3,450pp cruise only, departing January19; www.silversea.com).

Best guest cruise speakers this year

The inspirational athlete Dame Kelly Holmes will be speaking aboard Queen Mary 2 during her voyage from Dubai to Southampton (from £3,389pp, cruise only, departing April 18; www.cunard.co.uk).

Gourmets can pick up tips from Alexis Gauthier, the Michelin-starred chef patron of London’s Gauthier Soho, during Crystal Symphony’s Istanbul to Rome voyage (from $3,745pp (£2,442), including flights, transfers and gratuities, departing May 1; www.crystalcruises.co.uk).

Woman’s Hour fans can hear Gaynor Vaughan-Jones speak aboard Aegean Odyssey as she sails from Venice to Nice (from £2,795pp, cruise only, departing May 18; www.voyagestoantiquity.com).

Best River Cruising

Bewitching Burma

Evolved from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, Pandaw River Cruises is the master of Burmese river exploration. Its colonial-style ships navigate the Irrawaddy beyond Mandalay and sections of the Chindwin River. With 7–20- night voyages, Pandaw takes in lush teak plantations, gilded temples, remote tribes and busy ports. From $1,550pp (£1,011) cruise only (www.pandaw.com)

La Douce France

While away the summer days on France’s Canal du Midi. With two en-suite cabins, a sundeck and four crew, the Belmond Alouette is a barge with a difference. Sailing from Carcassonne to Béziers, you’ll visit monasteries, enjoy wine tastings and shop for delicacies with your chef in local markets. From £4,900pp, cruise only (www.belmond.com)

Cruising – did you know?
** 1.64 million UK residents took a cruise in 2014
**Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is 129ft longer than The Shard (below) is tall
** Passengers cruising in 2014 spent £10 per night less than they did during voyages taken in 2007
** During a 116-day cruise with Seabourn, passengers consumed 3,720kg (8,200lb) of beef tenderloin, 145kg (320lb) of caviar and 1,700 bottles of Champagne

Best cruising books

Sail Away: How To Escape The Rat Race And Live The Dream by Nicola Rodriguez (www.sailawaybook. com; £19.99)

Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below The Waterline by Brian David Bruns (£8.99)

** Read more from Country Life Travel