Whether it’s an ageing population in the US and in other developed countries, or just a wide array of choices appealing to more people than before, there’s no denying that cruising as a holiday option is more popular than ever.

Statistics recently published by Cruise Market Watch predict a 4.8% growth in the cruise market, up to US$36.2B worldwide. Just in the last decade the number of passengers taking cruises around the world has gone from 8.6M to 19.3M. The report predicts this will climb again to 20.9M in 2013.

This growth is against a background of continuing difficult economic conditions in the US and elsewhere and what the report refers to as a ‘once a century ship incident’ – the Costa Concordia accident last year. And it’s not just the cruise companies that make money out of cruising – direct spending by passengers and crew at destination ports is estimated globally at $17.5B.

So, where should you go? (and remember you can always get a leisure loan from Aussie Leisure Loans for your trip). The BBC and Lonely Planet have come up with a shortlist of four cruises, depending on what floats your boat (excuse the pun):

1) Antarctica – almost on our doorstep here (well compared to Europe and the US anyway). If you’re looking for wilderness and wildlife, this is the trip, with opportunities to see gentoo and chinstrap penguins, southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals. In February and March whales can be seen in the waters, coming south to fee on the krill.

2) Scottish Highlands & Islands – the craggy Scottish coastline is surrounded by innumerable islands and incorporates everything from amazing rock formations to mild microclimates on the West coast (benefiting from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream) allowing pampas grass and cabbage palms to grow next to Scots pine trees. It’s a varying landscape, where pretty fishing ports like Oban and gentle bays of golden sand give way to Highland mountains.

3) The Caribbean – the archetypal cruise holiday is of course the Caribbean cruise. The only problem is it’s now a little overcrowded with cruise liners, dubbed ‘floating hotels’ by the locals. Another option is to cruise the Caribbean on a slightly smaller vessel, which can get dock in smaller harbours that the big cruise liners can’t get into. One such ship is The Star Clipper, a four masted sailing ship with 16 sails and a traditional brass and mahogany fit out. It sails from St Martin to Anguilla, which boasts 35 beaches and beautiful coral reefs below the waves. From there it sails to the British Virgin Islands, stopping at Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke island, which has some of the most amazing beaches in the Caribbean.

4) The Dodecanese Islands – for a bit of history. You can’t go past the Greek Islands if history is your thing. If you’ve seen Shirley Valentine you’ll get the picture – narrow alleyways winding steeply down to the glistening Aegean from whitewashed mountaintop villages. Almost every island has evidence of the great civilisations of the Greek and Roman eras, as well as more recent medieval buildings and ruins. Again one of the options here is to cruise on a traditional Turkish wooden ‘gulet’ which hoists the sails from time to time.

If you’ve never tried cruising before and would like to dip your toe in the water (can’t help it sorry), there are many more local options. You could for example take a 7 day cruise from Brisbane to Noumea on New Caledonia and experience the French Caribbean feel of this South Pacific island.