Singapore to Sydney
January 4-February 10
By Kimberly Garza
Ethan Rohloff/Destination New South Wales
Seven nights aboard SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream II
Round trip from Singapore
Your round-the-world journey begins with a weeklong SeaDream cruise of Southeast Asian nations Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Climb aboard the SeaDream II, built to accommodate just 112 passengers on intimate, luxurious jaunts. Here, you can indulge in a session with a Thai massage therapist, dine in elegance in two restaurants or catch some sun and waves at the marina. Extending from the ship's stern, the large, retractable marina water-sports hub features glass-bottom kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, snorkeling gear and more. Count on more luxe touches in the staterooms, such as Belgian linens, Turkish cotton bathrobes and marble bathrooms.
The ocean adventure starts in Singapore, a tiny island (about 274 square miles) with big personality -- the cityscape claims everything from modern high-rises to verdant gardens, Victorian houses to cosmopolitan centers. Hit up high-end shops and boutiques on the 1.3-mile Orchard Road, a popular tourist destination, or pop into an eatery. Thanks to Singapore's rich multicultural heritage -- a blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian and more -- a plethora of cuisines is available.
With Singapore under your belt, you'll head next to Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia. Here, a variety of excursions is at your choosing; opt for a guided tour of a local rubber plantation and a sea turtle sanctuary, or perhaps spend the day teeing off at the Damai Laut Golf & Country Club. After that, it's three days of cruising Thailand, stopping to explore the sugar-white sand and coral reefs of Ko Adang, the resort hub Phuket and the rugged, mountainous island Ko Tarutao, where animals like flying lemurs and monitor lizards frolic. Circle back to Malaysia for two full days; this time around, admire the golden beaches and stunning bridge of Penang -- perhaps stopping at the Snake Temple -- and the colonial melting pot of Malacca before returning to Singapore.
***Fly to Cairns, Australia***
"Port Douglas & the Great Barrier Reef" with Trafalgar
Round trip from Cairns
The trip: Get to know our planet's largest reef system on a four-day jaunt along the coast of Australia with Trafalgar.
The gist: Start in the laid-back seaside village Port Douglas, which offers such sights as the pristine Four Mile Beach, shops, galleries and eateries. The next day, you'll head out to the legendary Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most diverse ecosystems. Gather at Agincourt Reef, at the edge of Australia's continental shelf; this coral ribbon teems with parrot fish, sea turtles, dolphins, eels, anemones and much more. Grab your equipment and view the reef and its inhabitants up close while diving or snorkeling, or keep dry and watch it all from within a Quicksilver semisubmersible craft (skimming about 3 feet below the surface). Observe a fish feeding from the Quicksilver's underwater viewing platform before heading back to shore. On land, you'll visit the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park to learn about Australia's indigenous people. Navigate from the lowlands to high above the tree canopy aboard the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway; in Kuranda, a rail journey lets you admire the region's scenery.
Points of interest: Port Douglas boasts two UNESCO World Heritage-recognized gems: the reef itself and the nearby Daintree and Cape Tribulation rain forest.
Don't miss: In Kuranda -- known as "the village in the rain forest" -- the Kuranda Heritage Markets have drawn visitors for more than 20 years. The markets are open daily, with local tradespeople selling their wares from traditional stalls. Handmade souvenirs include clothing, paintings, jewelry and more.
Did you know? The Great Barrier Reef stretches more than 1,400 miles. It's the only living thing that can be spotted from outer space.
JAN. 16-FEB. 5
"From the Outback to the Glaciers" with Collette Vacations
Cairns to Sydney
The vast scope of what Australia and New Zealand have to offer is staggering, but three weeks may be enough time to take in the highlights on a tour of the neighboring nations. Begin in Australia at Cairns, known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the state's scenic northern stretch. T-shirts and shorts are typical attire in this easygoing city, fringed with white-sand beaches and close to the world's oldest surviving tropical rain forest. You'll explore Cairns at your leisure for two days before heading to the Great Barrier Reef via high-speed catamaran. There, choose your own adventure: Take in the sights from a glass-bottom boat, stroll on easy walking trails or opt for diving or snorkeling equipment for more undersea exploration.
Then it's on to the Outback. You'll fly to Uluru (the Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock) and the nearby sandstone domes of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). These stunning landscapes were formed by erosion and upheaval and are sacred to Aboriginal culture. Witness the sunset's color-changing effect on Uluru over a Champagne toast. A drive through the Red Centre takes you to Alice Springs, where you'll spend a full day learning about the Aborigines and their lifestyle, mingling with members of the Warlpiri tribe. From there, it's back to the city with a trip to Melbourne and a viewing of the historic Fitzroy Gardens for one day before zipping off to New Zealand.
Start your tour of the island nation in Christchurch, a popular destination steeped in English culture. Wind your way past the spectacular Southern Alps, with snowcapped peaks and waterfalls en route to the Franz Josef Glacier to spot New Zealand's famous mountainous masses of ice. A Collette motor coach journey gives you a great view of the landscape before you arrive in Queenstown for two full days. Return briefly to Christchurch (where you'll sightsee at spots like a working sheep farm and the city's elegant park and garden district) before heading back to Sydney to wrap up the trip.
"Sydney" with Pacific Delight Tours
Round trip from Sydney
The trip: An expansive five-day tour of the capital of New South Wales, one of Australia's iconic hubs.
What's in store: Cruise past famous sights like the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. You'll also swing by world-renowned Bondi Beach, where the rest of the day is at your leisure. Day 3, hop aboard a luxury day cruiser at King Street Wharf to admire the skyline from the water. Guides will provide insightful commentary, and a buffet meal is provided. Then head for the hills at the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Site; at Featherdale Wildlife Park you can pet and feed locals like koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and emus. A walk introduces you to the region's diverse terrain, from blue-tinged forests to a tumbling waterfall. Round out the day with a trip to the Waradah Aboriginal Centre to watch a corroboree (Aboriginal dance ceremony).
The digs: Accommodations are provided at the Grace Hotel, a heritage-listed landmark in the heart of Sydney. Built in the 1920s, the Grace has been restored to its former self, displaying Art Deco architecture and a neo-Gothic exterior, with a heated indoor pool, rooftop gym and recreation center and an intimate restaurant.
Snapshot: Your city stay includes a visit to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a seat carved from a rock ledge on the eastern fringes of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Elizabeth Macquarie was the wife of Lachlan Macquarie, governor of New South Wales in the early 1800s; the seat was carved for her as she was known to frequent the spot for its panoramic views of the harbor. Today, the chair is considered one of the best vantage points in the city.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January/February 2014. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.