Not Your Mama’s Boat: 7 Cruise Vacations That Will Change Your Mind About Open Water
You might have thought you knew what a cruise vacation entailed, but there are several lines attracting diverse crowds, enticing travelers with good food, adventurous excursions and destinations that are slightly off the beaten path. Whether you want to take a yacht to the Galápagos or venture through the Norwegian fjords on a luxury ocean cruiser, there is a cruise out there that will convince you it’s not boring to be stuck on a ship for a week or two.
1. Viking Cruises
Two words: unlimited sushi. Of course, there’s much more to a Viking ocean cruise than just the food, but the impressive array of sushi in the World Café should be enough to get you to consider booking a cruise. All of the ships are the same, both in layout and in offerings, so don’t get hung up on the particular ship. Instead, look for an itinerary that hits up the Norwegian fjords, especially the port of Flam. The ships' staterooms, complete with private balconies, make the perfect base for exploration. While some of the crowd can be older, the cruises appeal to young travelers (no kids allowed) with a high-end spa, nightly musical entertainment and foodie offerings like special poolside BBQs and 24-hour included room service. Skip the shore excursions, which are often confined to a bus, and explore on your own, especially in the big city ports. For something extra special, splurge on a spot in the Kitchen Table, a private chef’s table dining experience that showcases ingredients from local markets. Viking, which sails to basically every known country, also offers river cruises, in case you want something more intimate.
2. U by Uniworld
Targeted to those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, U by Uniworld is like traveling in a cool boutique hotel. The ships cruise (ha) along European rivers like the Seine and the Danube, stopping in five countries: The Netherlands, Germany, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.
The ships boast four types of cabins, which all have river views and are set up so you can bunk with friends or as a couple (book a studio triple if you’ve got a group). With a maximum of 120 travelers per ship, it’s easy to get to know your fellow passengers—and not feel overwhelmed by crowds. It’s not technically all-inclusive, although food, non-alcoholic drinks, onboard entertainment, some excursions and gratuities come with the fare. The details are particularly impressive, like onboard bicycles you can borrow to explore the ports, yoga classes and complimentary Wi-Fi. There is also a silent disco, mixology classes and the option to camp out on the ship’s deck under the stars. The vibe is happily casual, with no dress code—as long as you’re wearing some actual clothes.
3. Disney Cruise Line
You don’t have to be a kid to be obsessed with Disney, especially now that the brand owns Marvel and Star Wars. Disney Cruise Line is popular with families, but solo travelers, couples and groups of friends can find just as much magic in the experience. The ships head to numerous destinations, from the Caribbean to Alaska to the Panama Canal, and there are several options to depart from the U.S. if you’re on a budget. A lot is included, too, like onboard entertainment, numerous dining options and private beaches when your ship visits the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The entertainment is the main reason to book, and Disney fans will find Broadway shows, 3-D movie screenings of Disney films and even fireworks (just like in the theme parks). The adult crowd will find a lot of bars and nightclubs onboard, as well as a spa, fitness center and shopping. Opt for one of the warm-weather cruises if you’re just looking to relax, but the Alaskan cruises are best for adventurous travelers hoping to catch a glimpse of remote areas of wilderness you might not otherwise see.
4. Hurtigruten Cruises
Explore destinations like Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Canadian arctic with Hurtigruten Cruises, a cruise line that focuses on natural beauty and wildlife in remote places. You can even follow the trail of famous explorers by cruising through the Northwest Passage. The ships themselves have modern amenities like a gym, swimming pools, a Young Explorer’s program for kids and numerous dining options. The cabins can be small, but you’re not really here to lay around in bed (or you can opt to splurge on a suite). Consider adding a “Land Adventure” on to your cruise, either before or after the sea journey, to more fully experience iconic cities or far-off spots like Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego National Park. Whatever you book, you’ll feel like an intrepid explorer as you scout out areas of the Earth that are only accessible by water.
5. MSC Cruises
Head to all corners of the globe with MSC Cruises, including South America, India and Northern Europe. The cruise line is all about customized experiences, so you can book a cruise package that’s right for you (and doesn’t include stuff you don’t want or need). There are several restaurants, including a sushi eatery and teppanyaki spot from chef Roy Yamaguchi, and the ships have a lot to do right onboard. Check out Cirque du Soleil at Sea, enter a dance contest or hit up some karaoke before testing your luck in the ship’s casino. The cruise line is particularly welcoming to families, with activities and areas tailored for young travelers, although MSC is great for couples and solo travelers as well. Off the ship, look for the excursions intended for active passengers, which include snorkeling and bicycle tours.
6. G Adventures
Travel company G Adventures offers numerous types of tours, but some of the best are their marine ones, which head to destinations like the Galápagos and Thailand. A Galápagos tour, all of which take place on small yachts, should be your priority. The tours, which can include Peru as well, range from 14 to 27 days, and take you to see amazing wildlife like giant tortoises, sea lions and marine iguanas. Because the boats are small (most with less than 20 passengers), it’s easy to get up close and personal with the destination. Think less luxury and more fun adventure with new friends. G Adventures also offers boats expeditions to the Arctic, Norway and Antarctica, and river cruises along waterways like the Amazon. Or, if you prefer to sail, the tour company will pop you on a sailboat to the Greek Islands, Cuba or the Maldives, among other far-flung destinations. It’s perfect for travelers who want to plunge themselves into a new place, rather than just lay out by the pool.
Focused on destination immersion, Azamara is all about introducing travelers to the local areas and ensuring that you get more than just a few hours in each port. There are tons of excursions available at every stop, and passengers can opt to more fully experience the destinations by adding on a pre- or post-voyage excursion that lasts for several nights. The cruises sail all over the world, some offering routes that fully traverse one destination (look for the 14-day Japan cruise, which encircles the entire country). There’s a lot included in the Azamara price tag, from evening events to alcoholic drinks to gratuities, and guests can elect to book a balcony or suite room for even more amenities (think personal butler service). There’s also a spa, fitness center, live music and several restaurants, including steakhouse Prime C. Some of the excursions can be pricey (like, seriously pricey), but the cruise line does offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like an overnight experience at South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve.