If you’ve come in search of Halloween themed cruise ship departures with costume parties, trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving, you’re in the wrong place and might be better trying your luck with Royal Caribbean or MSC Cruises.
However, if you’re interested in celebrating this Halloween on a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition where you can experience real creepy crawlies, mummies and vampire bats that may actually make you scream with fright, then check out our list of the 5 most authentic and scary Halloween Cruises around the world in descending order.
Scary movies and Halloween go hand in hand, but long before Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the Count in the 1931 film Dracula, it was Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel of the same name that created the vampiric legend. The character and his castle residence in Transylvania was inspired by a vampire myth mentioned in Emily Gerard’s 1885 essay “Transylvania Superstitions” and the violent reputation (and name) of Vlad Ţepeş, also known as Vlad Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, the infamous ruler of Wallachia.
One of Vlad’s strongholds against the Turkish enemies of the Ottoman empire was Bran Castle in modern day Romania. Its impressive clifftop profile and haunting features match the novel’s description to a tee, and it bears a startling resemblance to an etching in the book’s first edition, so much so that it has become known as Dracula’s Castle. It certainly looks every bit the quintessential location for a vampire movie.
How to get there: A 4D/3N Bucharest to Transylvania extension, including a visit to the castle, can be added to an 11D/10N Passage to Eastern Europe cruise (March – November) aboard the Viking Longship Ullur. If only they had called it the Demeter.
Bloodthirsty evildoers with fangs don’t just plague the nightmares of Western minds. Indonesia’s most famous urban legend is that of the kuntilanak (also known as the pontianak), the undead manifestation of a woman who died during childbirth who wreaks revenge on men by disemboweling them with her razor-sharp fingernails. The city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan on Borneo, is reportedly named after the apparition as the settlement was built on the eerie swamps where the spirit dwells according to the indigenous Dayak population.
As any child who’s seen Disney’s Jungle Book will testify, giant orangutans like King “of the Swingers” Louie who kidnaps Mowgli can also be rather scary, and whilst in Borneo, one of only two places on the planet where they can be found in the wild, it would be remiss not to witness one of the most incredible species in their natural habitat. Although local folklore may advise against looking one directly in the face for fear of bad luck.
How to get there: Extensions to West Kalimantan can be arranged in conjunction with a 4D/3N Dry Season (July – November) Orangutan & Dayak Village Cruise on the Kahayan and Rungan Rivers aboard the 12-passenger Rahai’I Pangun in Central Kalimantan.
So Halloween involves scary spiders and eating candy, right? Well have you ever thought of combining the two? At the small roadside market of Skun, located some 70 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, hungry souls can sample an array of deep-fried critters including crickets, cockroaches, scorpions and snakes, not to mention tarantulas.
Not too far away is Kampong Chhnang’s infamous Ghost House on National Road 5 whose haunted history inspired the 2005 movie “The Haunted House” which was shot on location at the property, but not before the cast and crew held Buddhist prayers before filming to ask any spirits to leave. Cambodians are very superstitious people and travel from all over the country to visit and pray at the house which remains empty to this day.
How to get there: The two locations can be visited as part of extensions that can be added to almost all High Water Season (mid-August – November) Lower Mekong River cruises. Why not try to time your visit with Pchum Ben (Ancestor’s Day), the 15th day of the 10th Khmer month (usually falling in October), which marks the start of a 15-day religious festival when the souls of ancestors are believed to be released on their journey through purgatory, their ultimate destination decided by their karma and offerings made by their living relatives during the festival.
Arguably the most mysterious and mystical realm of all, the Amazon Rainforest is home to the biggest black cats on the planet (Panthera onca), too many giant spiders to count, actual vampire bats and indigenous spiritual healers or shaman, experts in modern-day “witchcraft” with the ability to travel in spirit form and cast spells (and remove them, thankfully).
Deep in the Peruvian Amazon there are even living ghost dogs that haunt the Amazon. Scientists have been attempting to track one of the least studied canine species on the planet, the short-eared dog. This pointy-nosed, bushy-tailed creature is so rarely seen it has become more commonly known as the “ghost dog”.
How to get there: Head to the Peru’s Loreto department for an 8D/7N private Amazon charter cruise aboard the 8-passenger Spondias for a chance to spot the elusive black jaguar and short-eared dog, as well as witness a shamanic ceremony. Why not combine your cruise with a night time ‘fear tour’ of the Presbítero Maestro cemetery in Lima, Peru’s oldest, for some extra frightful fun from beyond the grave?
In the Tana Toraja region of the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, home to an indigenous group known as the Torajans who have one of the most fascinating and unique funerary customs in the world. A tradition dating back over 700 years, deceased family members are mummified, symbolically fed, cared for and remarkably taken out and about by their relatives, as if they are still alive!
Watch (maybe through your fingers?) the incredulous funerary traditions of the Torajans in Sulawesi. Please be warned these images may shock you.
Funeral celebrations last for 11 days, but incredibly may take place many years after the person has died to allow the family enough time to save for the expense involved. What’s stranger yet is that the corpses are also later exhumed from the grave, spruced up in new clothing and paraded so relatives can take pictures and videos with their ancestors.
How to get there: Customized 4D/3N tours to Tana Toraja can be arranged as an extension to cruises such as the 8D/7N Bali-Komodo (or vice-versa) itinerary aboard the 12-passenger Katharina.
The good thing about these eerie expedition cruises is that the majority aren’t just adult-only, but also suitable for your little monsters. Many of the smaller vessels are available for private charter, ideal for “Addams” families seeking privacy or exclusivity.
So why not forget the haunted houses this year and instead trick-or-treat yourself and your loved ones to one of these scary and authentic haunted Halloween cruises, if you dare.
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