With so much variety in destinations, boats, themes, and types, cruises can be whatever you want them to be. While large cruise liners have become increasingly popular for vacations, smaller luxury and expedition ships have also attracted a growing niche crowd with their unique routes. Decide what’s right for you: a 3,000-person boat with floating restaurants, ice-skating rinks, and around-the-clock shows, or a 100-person yacht with particular themes and fewer amenities.
While planning your cruise, you should also consider how long you want to travel and where you want to leave from and return to (or if you want to do a one-way cruise). If you’re hoping to avoid plane or car trips, then you may want to depart from a port near you. Otherwise, you can incorporate the port cities into your trip.
1. Caribbean Cruises
Caribbean cruises are best known as the gateway cruise, ideal for couples and romantic getaways to secluded beaches. Fortunately, because of their dominance in the cruise world, Caribbean cruises come in a wide number of shapes and sizes. Opt for a small, exclusive ship with Silversea or Windstar. Or, go truly all-inclusive with Regent Seven Seas. (Your price includes airfare, onboard specialty restaurants, and shore excursions.) Or, stick with the tried-and-true Caribbean super liners like those offered by Royal Caribbean. Once there, swim through the world’s second-largest barrier reef off the coast of Honduras, go on dolphin encounters in the Bahamas, or take on-shore excursions to explore Mayan ruins and the rainforest. Many Caribbean cruise lines also stop off at their own private islands, such as Royal Caribbean’s paradise Labadee or Holland America’s Half Moon Cay.
Caribbean Cruise Lines: Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Silversea, Windstar, Regent Seven Seas, Norwegian, Carnival, others.
Cost: $54/night to $300/night
2. Alaskan Cruises
It used to be that an Alaskan cruise was a little wild, a little living-on-the-edge. But now, it’s possible to explore the glaciers and wildlife without missing out on any luxury. You can even bring the family. Princess offers a junior ranger program through the National Park Service, and you can’t go wrong with kids on Carnival or Celebrity ships. The key to your Alaskan adventure is deciding what you’re looking for: a naturalist wilderness experience or a relaxing, pampered boat ride with incredible scenery. Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic to offer daily explorations led by naturalists. Or, enjoy the slick luxury of the Silversea ships and the seawater therapy pools on Celebrity’s boats. Almost all Alaskan cruise lines will visit Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka. You can also travel to Denali National Park, helicopter to a dog-sledding camp, or go on a whale-watching boat to spot a pod of Orcas. And, Alaskan salmon and crab cakes are a staple in any ship’s dining room.
Alaskan Cruise Lines: Celebrity, Princess, Norwegian, Regent Seven Seas, Holland America, American Safari, Lindblad, Crystal, others.
Cost: $60/night to $900/night
3. Mexican Riviera Cruises
Stanley McDonald, the founder of Princess Cruises, has previously claimed that his cruise line coined the term “the Mexican Riviera.” Before that it was all just called Mexico. The Riviera is now considered to be made up of a number of beachfront cities along the country’s western coast. Cruise ships typically stop at Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa, Acapulco, and Manzanillo, as well as other ports. (Mazatlan can be a popular stop but was removed from the itineraries of Carnival, Disney, and Norwegian cruise lines in 2011 because of the increase in violence there.) Most Mexican Riviera cruises leave from San Diego, Los Angeles, or even San Francisco.
Mexican Riviera Cruise Lines: Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian, others
Cost: $80/night – $500/night
4. Mediterranean Cruises
While you may think of cruises as purely tropical trips, Mediterranean cruises are an extremely popular way to explore the coasts of the Mediterranean, with stops from Barcelona to Venice. High season, in the summer, can be crowded and full of kids, but it’s also the time when cruise lines run their most ships and itineraries. Cruising in the spring or fall can bring you the cheapest deals and some of the year-round ships offer unique schedules at these times that include places like Egypt, the Canary Islands, or Morocco. If you want to tick off Mediterranean cities, classic cruises from Princess, Viking, or Crystal will have you visit Monte Carlo, Florence, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Pisa, and Naples. Be sure to take in all the historical ruins and onshore sites. Paul Gauguin, Seabourn, and Sea Dream Yacht Club offer smaller boats with more of a focus on the history. Small boats can often slip into tiny ports and islands easily. For an off-the-beaten path route, visit Croatia and Slovenia on your trip.
Mediterranean Cruise Lines: Princess, Voyages, Viking, Crystal, Paul Gauguin, Seabourn, Sea Dream Yacht Club, Oceania, others.
Cost: $90/night – $800/night
5. Bermuda Cruises
Bermuda is a tiny island 650 miles off the East Coast of the U.S. in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A cruise to Bermuda, then, is as much about the ship as the excursions, since you’ll be spending quite some time on the boat with stops just on the island’s beaches and its capital city, Hamilton. Royal Caribbean’s Bermuda boat includes a rock wall, ice-skating, and an onboard Johnny Rockets. Norwegian leaves from New York to spend two nights in Bermuda, with an aqua park, a ropes course, and three Broadway shows onboard. There are also themed cruises focusing on kids or centered around the Top Chef TV show. Some routes incorporate a stop in Bermuda with a Bahamas or Carribbean itinerary. Holland America, which spends three nights in Hamilton on its week-long cruises, and Regent Seven Seas will be heading to the island next spring and summer. Ultra-luxury line Silversea will also be returning to Bermuda in the spring of 2015, if you want to book your seat now.
Bermuda Cruise Lines: Royal Carribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, others.
Cost: $55/night – $450/night
6. New Zealand Cruises
In the last five years, the number of cruise ships touring New Zealand has grown almost three-fold. The breathtaking country is establishing itself as a unique and exciting cruise destination, with the boats offering a way to see everything New Zealand has to offer. On the North Island, sip local wines in Napier, experience Maori culture in Rotorua, see ancient kauri trees in the Waipoua forest, or sail through the Hole in the Rock. On the South Island, visit the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, go whitewater rafting, explore the Southern Alps, travel to the fiords of Milford Sound or explore Fiordland National Park to see penguins, dolphins, and seals. Unfortunately for American travelers, most New Zealand cruises start in Australia or the South Pacific (with some around-the-world and Antartic tours stopping there as well). So, you’ll have to get there first.
New Zealand Cruise Lines: P&O, Crystal, Costa, Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Zegrahm Expeditions, others
Cost: $200/night – $1,000/night
7. Hawaiian Cruises
If you can spare two weeks, cruising from the West Coast to Hawaii can be a relaxing vacation to the islands. Most of the bigger cruise lines stop at Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. Once in Hawaii, enjoy the beaches, snorkel with sea turtles, climb volcanoes, or helicopter over the rainforest. Norwegian also offers a seven-day inter-island cruise that leaves from Honolulu and is incredibly popular. Royal Caribbean and luxury lines like Silversea and Crystal only schedule a few Hawaii trips each year, so book ahead.
Hawaiian Cruise Lines: Norwegian, Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Crystal, Silversea, others.
Cost: $80/night – $900/night
8. South American Cruises
South American cruises can really be anything you want them to be. Take a cruise around Cape Horn to spot the Chilean fjords and stop in the Falkland Islands. Or, visit the Amazon either as part of a longer Brazilian cruise or as part of an expedition trip. Or, cut through the Panama Canal and combine multiple stops and coasts. The lush and diverse Galapagos Islands have even become more accessible to cruise-goers with trips offered by Silversea, expedition line Lindblad, and Celebrity’s unique Xpedition boat. And, South America can serve as a launching point for scenic Antarctic cruises. What’s new in the last few years is an increase in shorter trips, often around Brazil, with more amenities offered by Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Costa. If you have the time, though, try Regent Seven Sea’s month-long Circle South America cruise.
South American Cruise Lines: Celebrity, Regent Seven Seas, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Lindblad, Crystal, Silversea, others.
Cost: $90/night – $1,900/night
9. Tahiti Cruises
A number of high-end luxury and small ship lines have made French Polynesia and Tahiti their specialty historically, but this year larger lines like Princess, Oceania, and Regent Seven Seas are expanding their Tahiti-based trips because of the high demand for cruises in the region. Paul Gauguin has long been the go-to cruise company in the South Pacific, with luxurious small boats and itineraries that take you to exclusive private beaches on Bora Bora and Taha’a. Windstar also returned to French Polynesia this May with small ships that let guests swim or snorkel right off the back of the yacht – when it’s in port. Leaving from Tahiti, most of the ships visit Bora Bora, the Society Islands, Moorea, and even the far-away Cook Islands and the Marquesas.
Tahiti Cruise Lines: Princess, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Paul Gauguin, Windstar, others.
Cost: $200/night – $700/night
10. Baltic Cruises
Baltic cruises are not for those necessarily looking for high temperatures and sandy beaches. The Baltic Sea is north of Europe, stretching between Sweden and Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. A Baltic cruise, however, can be a stunning way to see a region that can be difficult (or expensive) to travel through on your own. The focal point of any Baltic cruise tends to be a stop in St. Petersburg, Russia. Itineraries also include exploring Scandanavia, Latvia, and the Norwegian fjords. Some of the luxury lines, such as Regent Seven Seas, offer extra days in the major cities, which can help slow the pace down on such a port-intensive cruise.
Baltic Cruise Lines: Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Seabourn, Norwegian, Princess, Holland America, P&O, others.
Cost: $150/night – $650/night