Who goes there: Costa, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises.
Cruisers like: The influences of traders and colonists – Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Malay and British – all come together here. An easy way to see the old town is in one of the colourfully decorated pedicabs waiting outside the rose-pink Christ Church in the main square. Drivers pass the main sights – the Stadthuys, Cheng Hoon Temple and the riverside and can drop you back to the tender wharf. The Portuguese Fort A Famosa is nearby and up the hill behind the Stadhuys is the Dutch St John’s Fort offering a good view of the entire area.
Best for: Families, food lovers, history enthusiasts.
Getting around: Ship tenders drop passengers almost in the centre of the city. There are lots of cyclos and taxis. Bargain for your fare.
Who goes there: Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Silversea Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises.
Cruisers like: Popular for its beaches and food, there is also mall shopping and lots of history. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed area of Georgetown (Penang’s capital) has old shop-houses and traders making everything from shoes to cookies. In this multicultural town, Chinese temples, mosques, churches and Hindu temples are often close together. Nearer the waterfront, a trendy new cafe and bar scene is growing.
Best for: Food lovers, families.
Getting around: Cruise passengers will often be tendered into the city centre. Hiring a taxi will cost about US$14 an hour.
KELANG, KUALA LUMPUR
Who goes there: Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises, Windstar Cruises.
Cruisers like: Malaysia’s sleek, modern capital is often simply called KL. Take the lift to the observation deck of the Petronas Twin Towers, although the best city views are from Menara KL, the telecommunications tower on Bukit Nanas. The stunning collection of commercial buildings (KLCC) near the towers are the place for shopping and dining. KL has everything from high-end malls to ethnic markets. Nature-lovers should go to the KL Bird Park in the Lake Gardens. For religious and historical interest, visit the nearby Islamic Arts Museum. Thirty minutes out of town, climb the steep steps to Batu Caves and Hindu shrines, home to monkeys.
Best for: Families, food lovers, shoppers.
Getting around: Port Kelang is about 50 kilometres from the city centre and 75 kilometres from KL International Airport. Taxis are available from the terminal in a limited number. There is no public transport from the port.
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH
Who goes there: Crystal Cruises.
Cruisers like: Mount Kinabalu, two hours east of the city, is worth a visit to enjoy cooler air at 2000 metres and stunning views. Much of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital, was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt with wider streets. There are several large shopping centres, as well as restaurants and cafes, many serving excellent local seafood. Nearby islands have resorts. Diving, whitewater rafting, jungle trekking and river cruises are also on offer.
Best for: Families, nature lovers.
Getting around: The port is only a couple of kilometres from town, and taxis are available. Tour buses leave from the port, but there is no public transport to the centre of town.
Who goes there: Crystal Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn.
Cruisers like: The largest of more than a hundred islands off Malaysia’s north-west coast, Langkawi has the most to offer. Pantai Cenang’s long beach offers white sand, bars and restaurants, plus the interesting Rice Garden Museum. Water sports include parasailing, snorkelling and scuba diving. There are also mangrove tours and jungle trekking. The Seven Wells Waterfall tower has 360-degree views. The duty-free shopping has Malaysia’s best prices. If there’s time, explore one of the three UNESCO-listed World Geoparks. There’s rich wildlife at Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and Pirate Lagoon is stunning. Underwater World at Pantai Tengah beach has a variety of marine life.
Best for: All ages, couples, shoppers, nature lovers.
Getting around: The tiny island has no public transport so the only option is to use a taxi or rent a car or scooter. Tour buses meet passengers at the dock. For taxis, walk to the far end of the pier and negotiate.
Who goes there: Lindblad Expeditions (National Geographic), Oceania Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises.
Cruisers like: Kuching, on the Sarawak River, offers a peep into the past. Many guests visit the Sarawak Cultural Village, a living museum, and 19th-century castle-like Fort Margherita. Old meets new with kampong (Malay village) houses north of the river and Chinese businesses (and a thriving Chinatown) to the south. To see tropical rainforest and monkeys, visit Bako National Park. Gardeners will be impressed with the Sarawak Orchid Garden. For the more active, there is kayaking and canoeing, caves and jungle treks. Explore the many souvenir shops on the South Bank riverside promenade, visit museums and sample the local cuisine (rice-based and spicy). Or take a cooking class.
Best for: All ages, wildlife enthusiasts.
Getting around: The port is about six kilometres from the city centre and there are a number of buses to town. There are also taxis.
Who goes there: Royal Caribbean, Star Cruises.
Cruisers like: A young, rich Malay culture is appearing in this traditional east coast city, with new resorts at some of Malaysia’s most famous yet tranquil beaches. For food lovers, there is great street food as well as restaurants on Jalan Besar; the local tom yam soup is spicy and delicious. The Teruntum Complex, Kuantan Parade and Berjay Megamall are good for shopping, as are the riverside and other night markets. The heart of Hindu culture is at Kuli Sri Maraimman temple in the city’s centre, and the State Mosque’s blue dome and four minarets is worth seeing. Families enjoy the waterpark, a safari park and the Crocodile Farm, which has more than 2000 reptiles. A little out of town, Gua Charah and its caves are a respected Buddhist sanctuary. Nearby is the Pandan waterfall.
Best for: All ages
Getting around: The port is about 25 kilometres from the city centre. A taxi will cost about US$80 for a round trip plus US$10 waiting time.
Who goes there: Azamara Club Cruises, Holland America Line, Silversea Cruises.
Cruisers like: Nature lovers will appreciate Sabah’s ecotourism focus and its work with many native animals, including an orangutan sanctuary. Military historians will be interested in WWII links such as the site of the Japanese airfield that was built with the forced labour of locals and prisoners of war, the Sandakan Memorial Park, and the Japanese Cemetery. All are sobering and moving. In town, there’s also the World Heritage site of St Michael’s and All Angels Church built in 1897, Kampung Buli Sim Sim, a fishing village built on stilts, temples, mosques, and the bustling Sandakan Market.
Best for: All ages.
Getting around: The cruise port is right in the centre of town so there are plenty of options.
Vote in this year’s special Readers’ Choice Awards
No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.