You have just one life, and there is so much to see and do. Having seven continents and seven seas to explore, cruising is a great way to experience all the world has to offer. To help with this quest, we have created a selection of ten iconic cruises that every serious cruiser should experience at least once in their lifetime.
With ocean, river, and expedition cruises in the mix, there is so much more to enjoy beyond the perception that cruising is all about thousands of passengers and big ship cities at sea. From classic cruising in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and Alaska, and river cruising in France to more unusual destinations like Antarctica or the Galápagos, our bucket list cruises is a great start.
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Take a Luxury Transatlantic Crossing to New York
When and Where: While a transatlantic cruise may seem an unusual choice, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the iconic Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2 westbound to New York City is at the top of our bucket list cruises.
Why: Experience every single element of Cunard’s renowned White Star Service along the way on a ship that is not too big and designed to sail across the Atlantic, whatever the weather. Enjoy fabulous cuisine similar to that which you would expect to find in the world’s finest five-star restaurants, and then be entertained by world-class RADA performers and stay in some of the most luxurious suites at sea. We always try for a Princess Grill Suite or a special occasion; you could try a Queen’s Grill Suite.
After your 7-day Atlantic crossing on board the most famous ocean liner in the world, you will be greeted by the Statue of Liberty as you sail into New York. Make the most of crossing the Atlantic with a cruise to New York and ticking this off your bucket list, then celebrate with a couple of extra days in the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps.
Related: Essential Transatlantic Cruise Tips
A River Cruise in France
Why: If you are a wine lover and enjoy cruising, why not combine the two? There are several regions to choose from, including Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Rhone Valley. For us, Bordeaux is the holy grail of wine regions, home to Saint-Émilion and the surrounding sun-drenched slopes. A must for the serious wine and cruise lovers bucket list.
The Gironde, splitting into the Dordogne and the Garonne, slips through the chalky hills like a knife through foie gras, with cruises offering all manner of winery tours and tasting options, as well as the balmy warmth that you can only find in southwestern France.
Cruise from Bordeaux through France’s most beautiful rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne, and hop between the famous wine villages and chateaux of Margaux, Haut-Medoc, and Lafite-Rothschild with private excursions throughout, including private wine tastings of famous Médoc and Sauternes wines. Another highlight is Medoc, where some of the most notable red wines in the world are cultivated, and experiencing the wines in Saint-Emilion, the medieval underground city renowned for its catacombs. We have experienced Uniworld and loved every minute of this exceptional river cruise, and this is a firm favourite on our bucket list cruises.
When: The most popular time to travel is during the harvest months of September and October.
Cruise to Alaska
When and Where: Take one of the most popular cruise destinations and squeeze its season into a third of the year; that’s what you’ll find when booking a cruise to Alaska. Although Alaska sailings are only available from mid-May to mid-September, high demand means there is room for plenty of ships to fill during those four summer months. Almost every oceangoing cruise line, including luxury and expedition lines, offers sailings, so there are plenty from which to choose. Vancouver and Seattle are favourite starting points for round-trip Alaska cruises.
Why: Alaska is also known as the land of the midnight sun or the last frontier. The 49th state. Whatever you call it, Alaska is undeniably one of the most majestic destinations you can visit on a cruise ship and should be on every cruiser’s bucket list. You’ll be able to marvel at glacier-dotted fjords and see whales and bald eagles as you sail along Alaska’s magnificent shorelines.
Spectacular sights include Skagway’s scenic sailing through Glacier Bay, sailing through the ‘Inside Passage’, and making a call in Ketchikan (home to the Misty Fjords National Monument). Other must-do experiences include visiting the Klondike, a region of the Yukon in northwest Canada just east of the Alaskan border, during a shore excursion and taking a pre-or post-tour to Denali National Park near Anchorage. Combine it with a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer to or from Vancouver. We always suggest adding a few days pre-or post-cruise to get the full benefit of cruising in this magical part of the world.
Why: The Antarctic continent is utterly different from any other cruise you have taken. The beauty of its unparalleled landscape of towering icebergs, stark cliffs, and majestic glaciers can only really be undertaken on a proper exploration ship. Many of these will be equipped with helicopters, submarines, kayaks, and zodiac boats to enhance your experience even further.
The Galapagos Islands
When and where: Charles Darwin will forever be linked with the Galapagos Islands with his famous book “The Origin of Species“. His visit to the islands for just five weeks in 1835 and the wildlife he saw there inspired him to develop his theory of evolution.
There is no season for cruises to the Galapagos; cruise lines operate year-round to this remote archipelago, which is approximately 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Flights typically include flying via the capital, Quito. Several cruise lines operate different one-week itineraries in packages that include three nights in Quito with a day’s sightseeing. Many cruises offer a multi-day land extension to Machu Picchu to visit Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Urubamba. Suggestions for cruise lines offering Galapagos cruises include Silversea Cruises and Celebrity.
Why: The remote Galapagos Islands offer a wonderland for nature and animal lovers who make this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Cruising the islands is the best way to uncover their many scattered gems, and cruise visitors can do this in style with some of the newest luxury cruise ships based in the Galapagos. You can choose from two 7-night itineraries sailing round-trip from the island of Baltra year-round, focused on either the north-central or western isles.
Either journey will lead you on myriad adventures by both land and sea, plus get you up close with an abundance of wildlife like giant tortoises, iguanas, sea lions, penguins, blue- and red-footed boobies, and Darwin’s famous finches. Silversea’s 100-passenger all-suite Silver Galapagos is the most luxurious ship based in the region and part of the Silversea Expedition Fleet.
The South Pacific & FRENCH PLOYNESIA
Why: The South Pacific islands always conjure up thoughts of dreamy isles like Tahiti, French Polynesia, Fiji, and the Cook Islands. They offer aquamarine seas, dazzling sand beaches and dramatic, rugged landscapes cloaked in lush terrain. What’s not to like?
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s French Polynesia Guide
Cruise the Mediterranean
Some exciting options when considering a Mediterranean cruise include the Western Med, Eastern Med, and the Adriatic. The western itineraries typically visit countries such as Italy, Greece, France, Spain, and Portugal, whilst eastern Med itineraries generally favour the islands of Greece, Turkey, and sometimes Egypt and Israel with visits to the Holy Land. The Greek Islands are the highlights of an Eastern Mediterranean itinerary, with historical ports like Santorini, Rhodes, and Mykonos and lesser-known places such as Corfu, Heraklion, and Katakolon.
Key ports of departure for these itineraries include Venice, Italy, and Piraeus (Athens), Greece.
When: The best time to cruise in the Mediterranean is between April and November, with May to August being peak season when some ports can be bustling with tourists.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Guide to Mediterranean Cruising
Japan & China
When: Springtime between March and May, and then during the autumn from September to November. This is a stunning time to visit Japan when it is at its most vibrant, with delicate cherry blossoms or bright red leaves adding contrast to the scenery.
Northern Europe & the Baltics
Featuring a kaleidoscope of ancient histories, cultures, artistic traditions, and languages, cruising is the ideal way to see it all at a sensible price, as Sweden, Finland, and Denmark are traditionally more expensive than other parts of Europe.
St. Petersburg, Russia, used to be the go-to destination in the Baltics but has now been replaced by ports like Gdansk in Poland, Visby in Gotland, Helsinki in Finland, and many more fabulous cities.
Your port stops on a Baltic cruise will expand your awareness of this region beyond its well-known fjords and capitals. Estonia’s Tallinn is a staple of itineraries now, and Latvia’s Riga is enjoying increasing popularity. Other ports that are often included on a Baltic cruise are Poland’s Gdansk, Sweden’s Visby on the Island of Gotland, and Germany’s Warnemunde, providing easy access to Berlin.
When: The prime Baltic season was once limited to July and August, but voyages now begin in late April and run through September. To witness the midnight sun, be sure to travel in June when the days are bathed in sunshine almost all day long.
Related: Guide to Cruising in Northern Europe
Australia & New Zealand
Visiting the Australasian region is a dream come true for many. You can experience miles of golden coasts and a full spectrum of colours in the water to delve deeper into the rich beauties of this famous continent.
Australia is regarded as one of the most beautiful countries in the world, featuring both natural and urban beauty, making it the top destination on many people’s bucket lists. Many Australian cruises will be of a longer duration as there is so much to explore; anything less than two weeks isn’t enough.
Choose an itinerary that includes some highlights as follows:
- The Great Barrier Reef—How can we start with anything else other than the world-famous Great Barrier Reef? The captivating reef is one of the most beautiful sights and is regarded as the world’s largest single structure created by living organisms.
- Perth and Australia Zoos: Many zoos are unique as you can walk among the animals and even get pictures taken as you cuddle and hold some friendlier species.
- Sydney – Often mistaken as the capital of Australia, this famous city is rich in culture and will never disappoint. Of course, you can’t miss the famous Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House; this magnificent city will leave you begging for more.
- Melbourne – Within Melbourne, there is the broadest range of cultures in Australia. With an amazing public transport network, you can appreciate stunning art, lively music, excellent cuisine, Federation Square, Flinders Street Station building, St Paul’s Cathedral, the glass-covered Deakin Edge Theatre and the exquisite Royal Botanic Gardens. Melbourne has won ‘most liveable city’ many times over.
New Zealand has a rugged and Wonderful Landscape. When people mention a cruise to Australasia, they mostly think of Australia, with its well-known phenomena.
However, a cruise around New Zealand is just as unforgettable, with some of the most famous landscapes in the world.
- Auckland – This fabulous multicultural city is known as the “city of sails’ as cruise ships are often spotted circling this city to take in all the spectacular views. The city, being on a volcanic field, has one of the remaining seven “atmospheric theatres” in the world.
- Milford Sounds. The most famous fjords in New Zealand are also an astonishing place to see and hear nature at its finest. Many cruises will allow you to take a kayak through the fjords as you hear nothing but the sounds of waterfalls crashing in the water and the bustling rainforest animals coming to life.
- Marlborough Sounds. Like the Milford Sounds, you can view spectacular crashing waterfalls, sheer granite cliffs, and luscious green forests during your New Zealand cruise. However, Marlborough Sounds allow you to swim with dolphins, an experience nearly everyone dreams of when they are young.
- Cook Islands – Halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, this paradise is home to some of the most breath-taking lagoons, filled with an expanse of marine life that you can meet up close and personal during a scuba dive.
To ensure your cruise to Australia and New Zealand is a full bucket list experience, you should always add pre or post-cruise stays and make it inland to visit Alice Springs and see Uluru at sunrise and sunset.
Bucket List Cruises – Final Thoughts
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Last update on 2023-12-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API