Choosing where to cruise is one half of a successful vacation: The right ship plus a carefully selected destination that matches your overall interests typically equals an enjoyable cruise experience.
So, what are the best cruise destinations for every type of traveler?
That depends. With several dozen destination options around the globe to choose from — everything from popular locales you can cruise to from U.S. ports to far-flung regions known to top many bucket lists — it can take a bit of research to find your perfect match.
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That’s why we’re here. We’ve been around the block (and around the world) when it comes to cruises. We’ve explored the most captivating cities, waded into the surf on world-class beaches, hiked unspoiled landscapes and gazed upon treasured landmarks. So before you book your next cruise, have a look at our picks for the best cruise destinations for every type of traveler.
Best cruise destination for beach lovers: The Caribbean
When it comes to optimal sun, sand and surf, it’s tough to beat the Caribbean. It also helps that every major cruise line offers multiple itineraries in the region, most from November to March but quite a few year-round. You can cruise to the Caribbean from more than 10 U.S. cities — everywhere from New York to Galveston, Texas — although the majority of Caribbean cruises sail from Florida ports: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral and Tampa.
Which Caribbean islands have the best beaches? It’s impossible to choose since every island is fringed by talcum-soft sand and warm turquoise water and is home to lively beach bars offering music and tropical cocktails that will make your day in the sun all the more fun.
Cruises here are offered in three regions. Eastern Caribbean cruises visit ports including St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the British Virgin Islands. The Western Caribbean itineraries feature calls on Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico. The Southern Caribbean voyages sail to islands such as St. Lucia, Barbados, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
Many cruise lines also call on Nassau in the Bahamas and their own Bahamian private islands, where beach days are sublime. Some longer itineraries (10 nights or more) also combine Eastern and Southern ports of call with less-visited islands such as St. Kitts and Antigua.
Best cruise destination for history buffs: The Eastern Mediterranean
The Eastern Mediterranean, where it meets the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean seas, is home to century-spanning sites sure to tempt any history buff. Cruises in this region typically call on Turkey, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia and Italy, while some also visit Israel, Jordan and Cyprus. More than any other region, the Eastern Mediterranean offers cruisers the chance to step back in time simply by stepping off their ship.
For example, cruises often begin in Istanbul, home to the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the elaborate Blue Mosque, constructed between 1609 and 1616. Ports of call also in Turkey may include Kusadasi for the nearby Roman city of Ephesus and its wondrous Library of Celsus. In Greece, medieval and Venetian architecture are thoughtfully preserved in the islands of Rhodes and Corfu, respectively. Your cruise might end in Athens, site of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon and its antiquities.
Or you can cruise from Venice, with its splendid 11th-century Basilica of San Marco and palazzo-lined canals, across the Adriatic to the coast of Croatia. These sailings typically call on Split (home to Diocletian’s Palace, which dates to the 4th century) and Dubrovnik (with its postcard-perfect 13th-century walled Old Town), as well as the island nation of Malta (realm of the Knights of St. John).
If Israel and Jordan are must-visits, look for a cruise with Holy Lands in its title. These sailings often depart from Athens and also call on several Greek islands and Cyprus.
Best cruise destination for outdoor adventurers: Alaska
The 49th State is a vast 665,400-square-mile wilderness. It offers an incredible 46,600 miles of coastline (longer than the shorelines of all the lower 48 states combined) and a unique and plentiful mix of wildlife. An Alaska cruise offers true outdoor adventure.
In port, choose from hiking amid boreal forests to sea kayaking among seals and sea otters. You can fish for salmon (and have it shipped home), zipline above a landscape inhabited by black bears and gaze down at massive glaciers from a seaplane or helicopter (and even land atop one).
Have a less-adventurous travel companion? They can pan for gold, ride a vintage train and dog-sled (and afterward cuddle adorable husky pups).
The Pacific Northwest port cities of Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia are the gateways for the majority of Alaska cruises. Inside Passage itineraries are the most popular and cruise lines offer these sailings from May through September.
On a round-trip cruise, you’ll call on Juneau, Alaska’s remote capital that’s reachable solely by sea or air and offers access to Mendenhall Glacier. Other top ports are Ketchikan, known for wet-suit snorkeling and floatplane flightseeing; Skagway, where you can combine an invigorating hike and a relaxing river float trip; and Icy Strait Point, a top spot for sea kayaking and whale watching.
A highlight for many passengers is scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park. This 3.3-million-acre national park is home to more than 1,000 glaciers, including the accessible and photogenic Margerie Glacier, which extends 21 miles from the mountains to the bay. Have your camera ready to capture the action as huge chunks of Windex-blue ice calve off of its 250-foot-high face with a thunderous crack and crash into the frigid waters below.
Best cruise destination for honeymooners: French Polynesia
Lagoons that shimmer in a mosaic of the purest blues imaginable, palm-fringed islets comprised solely of pristine white sand, and Polynesian culture steeped in heart-pounding song and dance make a cruise through the islands of French Polynesia ideal for honeymooners. Tahiti and the other Society Islands — Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Huahine and Taha’a — offer a setting for celebratory romance that’s scenic and sensual.
Most cruises through the Societies are seven or 10 nights, with mornings spent exploring an island’s lush landscape by 4×4, visiting vanilla or black pearl farms or venturing into the lagoon for snorkeling excursions or shark and stingray feedings. In the afternoon, laze by your ship’s pool or give stand-up paddleboarding a try. Diving here is also superb, so couples who are certified can experience the thrill of underwater life beyond the lagoon.
On a cultural level, couples cruising through the islands of Tahiti can try new foods such as breadfruit and poisson cru (raw fish marinated in coconut and lime juice), melt into a state of blissful relaxation with traditional taurumi massage, and experience the soul-stirring drumbeats of Polynesian dance. Be sure to pluck a plumeria blossom and place it behind your left ear — to signify that your heart is spoken for.
Best cruise destination for city explorers: The Baltic
The sophisticated capitals of Scandinavia — Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki — plus other coastal cities such as Tallinn, Estonia and Gdansk, Poland, are each compelling in their own right. So, imagine the rush of urban euphoria you’ll feel while exploring all of them on a Baltic (or Northern Europe) cruise from May through September.
While itineraries range from seven to 14 nights and the ports visited vary by cruise line, most sailings call on Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn. The Danish capital is a fascinating blend of imperial palaces, photogenic landmarks (including the vibrant waterfront of Nyhavn and the Victorian-era Tivoli Gardens) and modern culinary and design innovations.
Equally captivating is Stockholm, where a stroll through Old Town (Gamla Stan) will take you back to medieval times. A visit to the one-of-a-kind Vasa Museum offers a fascinating glimpse at a doomed 17th-century wooden warship, and a few hours in the ABBA Museum will have you humming the band’s hits for hours afterward.
Then there’s Helsinki. Expect to be charmed by this quirky city with its unpronounceable street names, elegant Esplanade and cache of unique churches (among them the red-brick Uspenski Cathedral and the Temppeliaukion Church, aka the Church of the Rock). And Tallinn? The city’s remarkably intact medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site encircled by red-capped storybook-style towers. Easily explored on foot, it’s home to architectural landmarks that include Gothic-spired churches, Hanseatic merchant houses and a Pseudo-Russian cathedral.
Best cruise destination for the culturally curious: Japan
A single-country cruise itinerary gives you a chance to enjoy a deeper dive into local culture. One of the most popular destinations for this type of immersive experience is Japan. As an island nation, it has a wealth of ports that can be explored on 12- to 14-night circle-island sailings offered by both large-ship and small-luxury cruise lines.
From the bright lights and youthful energy of modern Tokyo, an itinerary will visit 10 or so Japanese cities. Your ship will also call on Busan, South Korea as required by maritime regulations.
Kobe is your access point for Kyoto, with its temples and gardens, while Shimizu is your gateway to scenic Mt. Fuji. Visit the moving Peace Memorial Park honoring the tragedy of WWII in Hiroshima and historic Hirosaki Castle in Aomori. In Kanazawa, explore the well-preserved samurai and geisha districts. Don’t miss Sakaiminato, famous for its seafood and the Izumo-taisha Grand Shrine.
Along with enjoying Japan’s top sights on guided excursions, you’ll also have a chance to experience the country’s traditional music and dance, visit museums filled with centuries of art and soak in thermal hot springs. Be sure to sample culinary specialties, from udon noodles and sake to elaborate kaiseki multi-course feasts. Even better — you can do it all while only having to unpack once.
Best cruise destination for nature lovers: Panama Canal & Central America
Yes, the Panama Canal is manmade, but it cuts across 82 miles of Central American jungle on the isthmus of Panama to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A transit of the circa-1914 original or the 2016 extension takes a single day. The remainder of the cruise will be spent calling on ports in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia (historic coastal Cartagena), Mexico and the Caribbean.
That means there’s plenty of nature to appreciate. Some ships will spend a day in Colon, Panama, which offers access to Chagres National Park and the Gamboa Rainforest Preserve. Both are home to indigenous species such as toucans, coatimundis and monkeys.
During a visit to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, the volcanic landscape and surrounding rainforest and cloud forest offer opportunities for hiking, kayaking and spotting native species such as howler monkeys, sloths and crocodiles. Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala is known for its coffee plantations and access to the historic city of Antigua. The region also offers the chance to hike the Pacaya Volcano or visit the ancient Mayan site of Iximche.
In the Caribbean, some Panama Canal itineraries call on one of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire or Curacao) while others visit Grand Cayman, where stellar snorkeling and diving (and interaction with the playful residents of Stingray City) are top activities. On Mexico’s Pacific Coast, ports might include Huatulco, offering access to an iguana sanctuary and ecological park, or Puerto Vallarta, where you can enjoy a snorkel trip to Los Arcos de Mismaloya.
Best cruise destination for food and wine aficionados: Western Mediterranean
Italy, France and Spain are all celebrated for their distinctive cuisines and award-winning wines, which makes a Western Mediterranean itinerary perfect for culinary enthusiasts.
The fact that the region’s top cruise ports are the birthplaces of foodie favorites such as paella, pizza, spaghetti alla carbonara and moules-frites makes a cruise here a delicious indulgence. You can eat your fill of local cuisine in places such as Barcelona and Valencia in Spain, Marseille and Saint-Tropez in France, and Livorno (for Florence and Pisa), Rome and Naples in Italy.
Add in the Western Med’s top island ports, and it’s impossible to cruise here without enjoying some of the world’s most memorable foods and flavors. Olives and olive oil are an art form on the Spanish island of Mallorca, while wild boar is a rustic favorite on the French island of Corsica. The Italian island of Sardinia is known for its strong Cannonau red wine, and Sicily is the birthplace of the famous cannoli.
Some cruise lines are especially attuned to offering their guests local culinary experiences. These take the form of shore excursions (cooking classes, market visits and farm and winery tours) and onboard dinner menus that highlight regional specialties and local wines. FYI: Cruise ships also have fully equipped fitness centers where you can work off all the extra calories you’ll consume.
Best cruise destination for bucket-listers: Antarctica
When travelers dusted off their bucket list post-pandemic one of the places they most wanted to visit was Antarctica. The seventh continent, a place that belongs to no single nation but hosts research stations from almost 30, has fascinated adventurers for decades. But the swift expansion of luxury expedition cruising over the past five to seven years has made this frozen polar frontier the “It” destination of the 2020s.
What’s the experience like? On an expedition cruise, generally roundtrip from Ushuaia, Argentina, you’ll first have to cross the Drake Passage, a notoriously rough and windy body of water. Safely on the other side, you’ll arrive at landing points in the South Shetland Islands along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Whether viewing regiments of gleaming icebergs from your ship’s deck or photographing parades of waddling penguins against a surreal landscape of ice while ashore, the experience is like no other. Some expedition itineraries also venture farther south to the continent while longer sailings call on South Georgia Island and/or the Falklands.
Antarctica requires two things of visitors. The first is a healthy budget. Expedition cruises generally start at around $12,000 per person, although some major cruise lines offer scenic cruising in Antarctica — with no landings — for under $3,000 per person. The second is a moderate fitness level to be able to venture ashore in Zodiacs and explore the rugged landscape.
The cruise season spans just five months, from mid-November to March, and you’ll want to book far in advance so you have time to prepare.
Best cruise destination for travelers without a passport: Hawaii
If you’re passport-less or have let yours expire, you can still enjoy a tropical island cruise that’s exotic and yet reassuringly familiar. We’re talking Hawaii, where a seven-night inter-island itinerary visiting four islands doesn’t require that you have a passport. These itineraries are offered year-round aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America.
Since you’ll be cruising in U.S. territory, you don’t have to worry should you need to leave the cruise early and fly back to the states because of illness or a family emergency. This can be a concern for passengers on round-trip, closed-loop sailings from Florida to the Caribbean or Bahamas who board only with a driver’s license and birth certificate.
Beyond the practical, a Hawaii cruise that begins and ends in Oahu and spends two days on each of the other main islands — Maui, Kauai and the Island of Hawaii (aka the Big Island) — offers plenty of time to enjoy the sights and even experience a cultural evening activity, such as a sunset luau. You’ll also avoid all the inter-island flights required for hotel stays.
Highlights of a Hawaii itinerary include a pre- or post-cruise visit to the historic sites of Pearl Harbor and perhaps even an overnight stay in Waikiki. On Maui, you can enjoy active thrills, such as biking down a switchback road on the volcanic slopes of Haleakala or snorkeling the offshore Molokini Crater.
Kauai is the place to admire the 50th State’s lushest rainforests and to cruise past the scenic cliffs of the Napali Coast. And with two ports of call on the Island of Hawaii, you’ll enjoy the waterfalls of Hilo (along with access to Volcanoes National Park) and the sunny Kona coast, where snorkel trips and coffee farm visits are popular.
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