Many new cruise offerings will last a week or less — but these short itineraries won't skimp on the sights. Here are the 2021 cruise trips you need to know.

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Condensed cruises can still pack a punch with stops at some of the world's most exciting ports — even on itineraries of just a few days. Cruise lines are planning a comeback this year, after rethinking safety protocols and collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 onboard. Masks and social distancing will be standard practice, and the companies are working toward onboard bubbles. Guests will only be allowed to go on ship-sponsored shore excursions and will have to submit to frequent testing.

Helping the cause is a shift toward shorter sailings, with many 2021 trips slated to last a week or less. But these new micro-itineraries don't skimp on the cultural sites or unforgettable ports of call. Ponant, for example, will offer a four-night trip in August, sailing from Valletta, Malta, to Venice, with stops in Kotor, Montenegro, and Dubrovnik, Croatia. Thanks to a new partnership with the Louvre, curators from the museum will be aboard a July 13–20 sail through Greece's Cycladic islands, offering expert talks.

Outdoor dining option on board a Windstar cruise ship
Credit: Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

Azamara is also focusing on Greece, with six- and seven-night round trips out of Piraeus, the cruise port for Athens. These itineraries pack in islands including Mykonos, Patmos, and Santorini, as well as a stop at Ephesus, in Turkey. After canceling its Alaska cruises for 2020, Holland America was, at press time, preparing for a big return. This year, the line had planned to add seven-day trips between Vancouver and Whittier, on Prince William Sound, that would've included visits to Juneau and Ketchikan. Those trips were scrapped on February 24, but other Holland sailings around Alaska that depart from Seattle are still a go.

The newest Silversea ship, the Silver Moon, is set to make its debut in the Mediterranean this year. A series of six-night trips between Barcelona and Lisbon, scheduled for May and August, will focus on Iberian food and wine, with excursions dedicated to cava, tapas, and sherry. Windstar will also call at ports in Spain, with an October sailing aboard the Wind Star from Rome to Barcelona that visits both Mallorca and Menorca, as well as Corsica and Elba — all in just six days.

A version of this story first appeared in the February 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline If the Oceans Are Calling.