Which Cruise is for You?

23 itineraries for every type of adventure and every type of traveler, on every continent.

The railing and side of a cruise ship sailing Antarctica.

Whether travelers are hoping to take a walk on the wild side or to simply relax, there’s a cruise for that.

Photo by Pia Riverola

The most memorable cruises don’t just ferry travelers to destinations on the water, they create connections to the cultures and people that make those places special. In this collection of cruise inspiration, we spotlight itineraries on luxury small ships, expeditions vessels, and river boats that buoy travelers into meaningful experiences, including cultural interactions, culinary explorations, outdoor adventures, and simply making time to marvel at the world’s most beautiful scenery.—Billie Cohen

Two cruisers admiring the ice in Antarctica

Guests take in Antarctica from the deck of the Sylvia Earle.

Photo by Sebastian Modak

Cruises for Those Seeking Adventure

1. Antarctica

As I kayaked in a remote bay where I was greeted by six humpback whales, I was glad to be traveling with Aurora Expeditions. The Australian company is committed to protecting Antarctica’s fragile environment, and it leans heavily into adventure without sacrificing comfort. Its new ship, the 132-passenger Sylvia Earle, is climate neutral and features an onboard citizen-science center so that passengers can join investigations into polar plankton, local geology, and more. On our 23-day “Antarctica Complete” cruise, we made stops at South Georgia Island, where we watched king penguins compete for real estate with SUV-size elephant seals, and in the Falklands, a paradise for birders.—Sebastian Modak

For the full story from Sebastian Modak, read Thinking About Going to Antarctica? This Cruise Gets it Right.

2. Beneath the Antarctic Ocean

  • Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tour
  • From $19,235
  • Book now

Many people have walked with penguins along the shores of Antarctica in recent years. But few have gotten to see the sea life that lives just a few meters under the water. Enter luxury outfitter Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, which offers passengers on its new discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse, submarine rides in Antarctica’s coastal waters—the first upscale expedition ship to do so. Passengers can choose a 20- or 40-minute dive, which may bring sightings of the occasional diving penguin or seal.


Photo by Kendal Bower

3. Southern Africa

  • Natural Habitat Adventures
  • From $14,995
  • Book now

On Natural Habitat Adventures’ “Southern Africa Riverboat Safari,” guests participate in wildlife viewing from both land and water. The 11-day, small-group trip includes three days on a riverboat, motorboat excursions in the Chobe River, game drives in Hwange National Park, a visit to Victoria Falls, and meetings with local villagers.

4. Australia

In summer 2024, Seabourn will start cruises to the sparsely populated Kimberley region on its Seabourn Pursuit (with 132 all-veranda, all-oceanfront suites). Excursions include Zodiac rides to spot sharks and rays, helicopter flights to the waterfalls of Mitchell Plateau, and trips to the rock formations of the Bungle Bungle Range.

A village near the Amazon River

Aqua Expeditions’ Amazon cruise includes a visit to a village lodge in Peru.

Courtesy of Aqua Expeditions

5. Peru

Launching from Nauta in the northeast, Aqua Expeditions’ new 20-suite Aqua Nera takes travelers into the Peruvian Amazon for three, four, or seven nights. The rain forest is full of opportunities to kayak, swim, and spot wildlife on trips led by four guides. A fleet of all-terrain bikes is also at the ready for side trips.

Fiji tf-0716-02.jpg

Photo by Michael S. Nolan

6. Fiji

  • Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic
  • From $13,790
  • Book now

On Lindblad’s “Rites and Relics” cruise, travelers can walk a black-sand beach, dive to a WWII shipwreck, or hike to find waterfalls, volcanic pools, and parrots in Fiji’s Bouma National Heritage Park. On other days they can witness—and potentially experience—Fijian firewalking and taste kava made by island residents for special celebrations.

7. Oceania

Avalon Waterways’ series of “Active & Discovery” river cruises combine the relaxation of meandering along Europe’s storied waterways with the adrenaline buzz of energetic outings. On the nine-day Lower Danube cruise, excursions include hiking through Djerdap National Park and biking through the port city of Vidin, Bulgaria. On the eight-day Moselle cruise through Germany, guests can paddle a canoe on the Moselle River, hike up to Landshut Castle in Bernkastel-Kues, or take an open-air cable car over Rüdesheim and then hike through vineyards. Every Avalon ship carries free bikes, and an onboard Adventure Host offers fitness classes as well as gear such as Fitbit trackers and yoga mats.

A view of Petit France from a bridge in Strasbourg, France

AmaWaterways’ “Captivating Rhine” cruise takes in views of Strasbourg, France.

Photo by Christoph Haiderer

Cruises for Those Seeking Cultural Connection

1. The Rhine River

What distinguishes AmaWaterways from the seemingly endless array of Rhine River cruises is its wellness program and active excursions. It’s no secret that river-cruise passengers tend to be older, but this company is a go-to for those who like to start the day with vigorous bike rides and cap it off with a vineyard-side wine tasting. To that end, each ship has an onboard wellness instructor who organizes daily activities, including yoga, cardio workouts, and dance classes. Passengers can borrow bikes at no charge for use on land. AmaWaterways also offers shore excursions, ranging from a gentle cable car ride over vineyards to a Black Forest hike. The cruise line’s seven-night “Captivating Rhine” cruise is no exception: It sails from Amsterdam to Basel on the company’s newest ship, the 156-passenger AmaLucia, which offers a spa, a walking track, two restaurants, and complimentary beer and wine.—Mae Hamilton

For the full story from Mae Hamilton, read This Rhine River Cruise Took My Breath Away. But Not in the Way I Expected.

2. France

Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours’ 11-day “Spectacular South of France” itinerary on the Saône and Rhône rivers features truffle hunting, wine tasting, and a cooking demonstration at a three-star Michelin restaurant. But the pièce de résistance, to crib a French phrase, is the option to meet the owners of a family-run olive farm, tour their property, and learn their family recipes in a hands-on cooking class. Back on the 149-guest Scenic Sapphire, the last night of the trip is celebrated by bringing a local pâtissier on board.

3. Madagascar

On Ponant’s “Adventure in Madagascar” trip, guests learn about endemic species and meet the people who call the region home. Highlights include the opportunity to spot lemurs and a visit with the Vezo people, some of the last “sea nomads” in the world. The 15-night expedition cruise docks at the Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Réunion.

Two people walking on a sidewalk near the Taj Mahal.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a stop on the “Sparkling Sand & Cities” cruise.

Photo by Tasneem Alsultan

4. The Gulf States

Windstar’s “Sparkling Sand & Cities of the Persian Gulf” cruise spends 10 days in the region. Travelers can stay comfortable aboard the all-suite Star Legend, which added two new dining venues during its recent renovation. Shore excursions include a 7th-century monastery in the UAE and a souk in Bahrain. Formula 1 fans can book the Prix du Monde add-on in Abu Dhabi, which includes premium seats and race analysis from F1 sports broadcaster Bob Varsha.

5. United States

Viking’s “Grand Mississippi Voyage” takes a leisurely 22 days to float from the delta of New Orleans to St. Paul, Minnesota. The 386-guest Viking Mississippi has sleek staterooms and airy public areas, and excursions include Cajun feasts and Civil War battlefield tours.

6. Canada

  • Maple Leaf Adventures
  • From $2,250
  • Book now

Operating solely in British Columbia and Alaska, Maple Leaf Adventures runs three boats that are not only small but unique: a 119-year-old schooner from Vancouver (holding eight guests) a 111-year-old tugboat from Victoria (12 guests), and a catamaran (24 guests). Each of its itineraries thoughtfully connects travelers with the water, wildlife, and cultural traditions of the region, as well as with the crew, who are almost all coastal citizens. Destinations include Haida Gwaii, the Great Bear Rainforest, Vancouver Island, and Desolation Sound, and all Canada trips are regulated by the First Nations in whose territories they operate. Maple Leaf also collaborates with the Nations on cultural interactions: For example, a Haida elder storyteller travels as one of the crew on all trips in Haida Gawaii.

A lush peninsula in the Galapagos.

The Silver Origin brings guests close to nature.

Photo by Joao Canziani

Cruises for Those Seeking Relaxation

1. The Gálapagos Islands

Onboard Silversea Cruises’ elegant, 100-passenger Silver Origin, suites come with ocean-view showers, assuring no missed scenery of the Galápagos Islands. The ship also boasts walk-in closets, designer bathrobes, and fair-trade chocolates from the Ecuadoran Andes—and a butler is on call to bring you a cappuccino or the perfect martini, and launder your wet bathing suit by the next day. Anchorless technology allows the ship to hover rather than dig into the seafloor when it stops. (Silversea’s sister line, Celebrity Cruises, introduced this environmentally friendly technology in the Galápagos in 2019.) Once the ship is positioned, travelers can board Zodiacs for onshore experiences, such as walking among thousands of mating iguanas or hiking up a scenic volcanic peak. The ability to sip bubbly in the hot tub when you get back to the ship is a perk, but Silver Origin’s true differentiator is its 1:10 guide-to-guest ratio, which Silversea says is the highest of any ship in the Galápagos. —Fran Golden

For the full story from Fran Golden, read Dedicated Naturalists Help Guests Reconnect with Nature on a Galapagos Sailing.


Photo by Jack Hardy

2. The Mediterranean & Beyond

  • Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection
  • From $6,800
  • Book now

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will roll out its second ship, Ilma, in 2024. Offering what the company bills as one of the highest ratios of space to guest, the 224-suite vessel will have private terraces, outdoor showers, and personal concierges. The ship will also offer a lounge to enjoy cognac and cigars, plus classical and jazz performances, talks with local artists and historians, and a kids program. Its destinations include Italy, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, Israel, the Amalfi Coast, and Greek islands, the route depending on the season.

3. The Danube

  • Riverside Luxury Cruises
  • From $1,398
  • Book now

Riverside Luxury Cruises launched its first ship, the Riverside Mozart, in April. It is already the standard setter for ultra-luxury river cruises, with walk-in closets and double-vanity bathrooms in suites and butler service for every cabin. The Danube itineraries, ranging from 3 to 14 nights, deliver must-do moments in cities, like a backstage tour of Vienna’s Spanish Riding School and wine-tasting in a Slovakian castle. Travelers can choose their own level of activity, from lounging and sipping drinks on the deck to an adventurous balloon ride over Budapest.

4. Transatlantic

Atlas Ocean Voyages will add new itineraries to its yachting expedition cruises in 2024, including 12-, 13-, or 21-day transatlantic sailings. This allows plenty of time to indulge in the L’Occitane spa or the always-included meals, drinks, and cultural immersion activity.

Cruises for Those Seeking Enrichment and Immersion

1. Greenland

Quark Expeditions’ 10-night cruise launches in September 2024 on the 199-passenger Ultramarine. Two onboard helicopters will whisk guests to remote glacial lakes and landscapes, and passengers can visit a Greenlandic community or camp in the wild.

2. Colombia

Colombia’s Magdalena River is the new hot spot for river cruises, and AmaWaterways is the first major line to get there, starting in November 2024. Its eight-day sail will leave from Cartagena then head south to UNESCO-listed Palenque de San Basilio; the Magangué area, known for birding; and Barranquilla, known for its Carnival celebrations.

A person walking near a temple in Niigata, Japan.

Shimizu-en Garden is near Niigata, a city visited during the “Japan Intensive Voyage” cruise.

Courtesy of Azamara

3. Japan

Azamara’s two week “Japan Intensive Voyage” visits big cities Kobe and Tokyo plus smaller ports in the archipelago nation. Guests can see the gardens of Takamatsu and the Shirakami-Sanchi mountains, and excursions include sake tastings and hot spring soaks.

4. Polynesia

The freshly remodeled luxury cruise ship Paul Gauguin explores some of Polynesia’s more remote island destinations. The seven-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands” itinerary includes time at the company’s private white-sand beach on Bora Bora and its private islet off the island of Taha’a. It also stops at less-touristed Huahine, with its famous blue-eyed eels and archaeological sites.

5. Norway and the Arctic

Hurtigruten’s Norwegian Coastal Express is more than a cruising option: It has served the country’s seaside communities since 1893. On a 12-day journey, it sails through fjords, the picturesque Lofoten archipelago, and the Arctic Circle, stopping at 34 towns and villages to provide transportation to residents, procure produce, and offer excursions to guests.

Kelsey Lindsey is a writer and editor based in Denver, Colorado. She’s a former senior editor at Outside magazine and writes about travel, science, and food for a variety of publications.
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