The surface of our planet has more water than land, and wherever there’s a liquid byway you’re bound to find a boat. Still, when most people picture a cruise, they think of big ships sailing the ocean blue, invariably on a weeklong course set for the Caribbean. While that’s a great place to start, there are lots of other options.
Imagine everything from tropical escapes on large boats that feel like amusement parks to polar expeditions on small ships that strike a studious vibe. There are long voyages and short, action-packed and laid-back, and often from convenient Northeast ports.
If you need a nudge to experience one of the many seafaring possibilities, here are a few different types of cruises you can try.
For the Spontaneous
Big Boat Cruises
The largest megaships from Royal Caribbean and Carnival carry nearly 7,000 passengers. These splashy, ocean-going leviathans tout over-the-top attractions – think water parks, roller coasters, ziplines and even ice skating rinks – as well as multiple restaurants, sprawling spas and lively nighttime entertainment. There’s something for everyone, from singles to seniors. Supervised programs for kids make them family-friendly, and cabins come in all sizes. Aboard such spectacular ships, the destination almost becomes secondary.
Forget airport hassles and airfare. Cruise from a nearby port in Massachusetts, New York or New Jersey. Homeport cruises are perfect for impromptu escapes, and some provide last-minute deals. The rugged coast of Canada, Bermuda’s pink beaches and the Caribbean beckon, all easily accessible on round-trip voyages from various lines, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess and Disney Cruise Line.
For Mellow Explorers
Built to duck under ancient bridges and slip through narrow locks on Europe’s inland waterways, riverboats host about 150 passengers in a style drastically different from big ships. Riverside scenery always remains visible, alleviating open-water anxiety, and destination-focused itineraries as well as included tours reveal the history of riverside hamlets. Viking’s scenic river cruises sail year-round on the Rhine, which is adorned with castles.
My top tip for river cruising is fly to the port city the day before to explore the city and shake off the jet lag. It’s great to start your trip exploring instead of– Marie Kwash, AAA travel advisor
stressing. I always do this!”
Catering to 20 passengers or fewer, tiny barges have big personalities. Most glide at a snail’s pace through the canals of the French countryside, sourcing culinary delights like earthy wines, silky cheeses and flaky pastries along the way. Guests hop off whenever they want to stroll or bike nearby towpaths. It’s a bespoke affair, perfect for couples, groups looking to charter an entire boat, or anybody interested in traveling off-grid. Barges also favor the Scottish Highlands, where the Caledonian
Canal links several lochs.
Ready for a dose of Americana while rollin‘ on the river? Watch the big paddle wheels keep on turning (and turn back time) as Riverlorians spin tales – equal parts lore and history – about life along the arteries of America’s heartland. American Queen Voyages operates the world’s largest steamboat, the 417-passenger American Queen, which plies the mighty, muddy Mississippi. Out west, the 221-passenger American Empress roams the Columbia and Snake rivers, where wineries, canyon waterfalls and the echoes of Lewis and Clark call visitors.
For the Adventurous
Expedition and Adventure Cruises
If you dream about discovering remote destinations, you should be on an expedition ship. These eco-friendly small cruise ships explore the most extreme (and pristine) places on the planet, while onboard experts help you digest the unfolding wonder. Spot polar bears in the Arctic or sail past glistening glaciers in Antarctica with Viking, which even boasts science labs on its polar-class ships. For warm-water expeditions, Celebrity exposes the isolated Galapagos Islands, where giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies reign.
On adventure cruises, the academic aspect gets dialed back, but you’ll still learn about nature, wildlife and local culture, while having plenty of sporty fun. Destinations aren’t as far-flung, favoring places such as Alaska and the Sea of Cortez.
A dreamy travel mashup, you’ll head to sea either before or after a multi-day land tour, effortlessly linked and facilitated by the cruise line. Cruisetours with Holland America and Princess are popular in Alaska, where inland attractions such as Denali National Park are accessible via scenic train travel and stays at wilderness lodges.
A trip around the world is the holy grail of a life well-cruised. Unpack once and let the parade of world wonders begin. The ship becomes your global ambassador. Circumnavigating the planet takes at least 100 days, plus significant funds. Cunard launched the first world cruise and still offers these epic voyages from its Northeast homeport, but many lines, including Royal Caribbean, feature world cruises now.
World cruise segments, called Grand Voyages by lines like Holland America and Cunard, sail from the U.S. and can be shorter, letting guests choose to participate in certain legs of the journey instead of the full trip. Imagine going on safari in Africa or surveying Australia’s outback, minus the international flights.
World cruises have always been popular with retirees who have the free time to explore. But they are becoming more popular with younger travelers who can work remotely and experience the world in their spare time.”– Wendy Marley, AAA travel advisor
For Savvy Travelers
Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises
A rite of passage for many travelers, transatlantic crossings hark back to the golden age of ocean liners. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, with weekly service linking New York and Southampton, England, is the only liner operating a traditional transatlantic route. The itinerary contains no port calls. You’ll get that “king-of-the world” feeling at the bow, as well as from white glove service at afternoon tea and evening galas in the largest ballroom afloat.
Repositioning cruises may involve transatlantic travel, but the purpose differs, and ports are included. Logistic byproducts, they are exactly as billed: one-way cruises to reposition ships. Notably, many Caribbean-based ships migrate to the Mediterranean for summer and return in winter. Repos tend to be bargain-priced and feature numerous sea days.
What kind of cruiser are you? Tell us in the comments.
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Featured image: ©2023 AMERICAN QUEEN VOYAGES