I’m a Gen Zer and I Found the Perfect Cruise

This nontraditional sailing was a perfect fit for me as a 20-something

Cruising is getting younger. As Millennials and now Generation Z become a larger share of the travel industry, cruise lines have focused efforts on younger travelers. The shift has been successful: In a recent survey, potential travelers aged 18–24 expressed more interest in cruising than any other group, with 69% being at least somewhat interested.

Case in point: I’m a Zillennial (between a Gen Z and a Millennial), and I’m a repeat cruiser. I’ve sailed past bright blue glaciers in Alaska and through craggy fjords in the Baltic. Both trips were breathtaking. But Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly emphasizing authentic experiences, local food and luxury wellness when they travel, and some cruises better address those than others.

As part of a family of expats and travelers, I’ve been lucky to visit 20 countries across five continents. So for my latest cruise, I wanted to try something a little different, more off the beaten track. Here’s why it was the perfect cruise for me as a 20-something—and why you should try this kind of cruise too, regardless of age.

My perfect cruise

Empty Room on Cruise Sarah Vincent/rd.com

My perfect cruise was a small-ship culinary cruise around Japan. I took Windstar’s Grand Japan tour, a 10-night cruise visiting nine cities, including a stop in South Korea. Japan is a nontraditional cruise destination, but it’s actually a great way to see the country; we explored three of Japan’s four main islands and got to try their regional specialties.

When they say “small-ship cruising,” they mean it: There were approximately 200 guests on board. And the cruise was a collaboration with the James Beard Foundation, which meant cooking demonstrations and special menus on board from James Beard–nominated chef Tracey Chang, owner of PAGU restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Local food, authentic experiences and a touch of luxury made this the perfect cruise for me as a Zillennial. I could adventure during the day, visiting shrines or exploring volcanic hot springs. When I tired out from the 90-degree heat and humidity, I came back aboard for a Japanese cocktail and to take advantage of my rainfall showerhead and fluffy robe.

Your perfect cruise doesn’t have to be in Asia, or exactly like mine. But if you want a similar experience, here’s what to look for in your next cruise.

Smaller ports with hidden treasures

On my small-ship cruise, we visited famous ports like Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Osaka. Watching Mount Fuji peek through the clouds while we dined al fresco, and wading into the warm Seto Inland Sea to see the vermillion “floating” torii gate tower over the horizon, were unforgettable.

But beyond these famous views, we also stopped in ports farther off the beaten track, many of which are closed to full-size cruise ships. We visited smaller fishing ports to sample the daily catch, and a quiet castle town to explore local history.

Fish MarketSarah Vincent/rd.com

These ports offered a more authentic look at daily life and an opportunity to connect with locals, who were excited to show off their town. Chatting with an elderly Japanese man while waiting for the fish market to open (then eating ruby red tuna sashimi for breakfast) was less picturesque but just as incredible as any of the larger ports we stopped at.

Quiet luxury meets DIY

Eggs BennadictSarah Vincent/rd.com

The shower goods were L’Occitane. Every day there was a lavender towelette. And don’t forget the onboard spa! This attention to detail and quality on board encapsulated the “quiet luxury” trend that’s a particular hit with Gen Z and Millennials.

As a Zillennial, it was important to me that I could enjoy some luxurious touches without sacrificing in-depth travel. One of my best cruise tips is that you get out of cruising what you put in. For me, that means DIY. We opted to do our own itinerary rather than follow the guided excursions, so we were able to jam-pack our schedule with local adventures during the day.

 Iced Cappuccino on CruiseSarah Vincent/rd.com

Nights were slower paced, so we could relax and recuperate. We enjoyed the food and wine, listening to live music or watching the full moon glow over the ocean. A little bit of pampering in the evening meant we were ready for another full day in the morning … just as soon as we finished our eggs Benedict and iced cappuccinos.

Local food

Seafood Dinner Sarah Vincent/rd.com

When I travel, I like scoping out the grocery stores and eating the street food. So if I’m eating on a cruise ship, I want it to be good! That’s why we picked a culinary cruise with an emphasis on local food and ingredients.

Because it was a James Beard cruise, much of the menu was signature dishes from award-winning chefs. And since the ship was small, the kitchens could use fresh local produce for the meals, picked up at nearby markets. At a live-seafood market in Busan, my dinner splashed me in the face as we purchased it!

Seafood served on table Sarah Vincent/rd.com

The dining room served some local dishes, like agedashi tofu or Korean baby octopus soup, alongside a more standard cruise menu. I also had a Japanese-inspired cocktail every evening: Sipping a yuzu sour at sunset as we sailed past Japan’s most active volcano while it puffed ash into a gauzy pink sky was an unforgettable way to see the country.

For me, this was my favorite cruise so far and really offered what I was looking for as a well-traveled 20-something. However, despite the growing interest of younger cruisers, I was still one of the younger people on board. So while this style of cruise is a great fit for Millennials and Gen Z, don’t be surprised if you find it’s still a well-kept secret.


  • CivicScience: “Younger Americans Are Leading the Cruise Industry Comeback”
  • CNBC: “More millennials are turning 40 — and they’re changing travel as we know it”

Sarah Vincent
Sarah is an Associate Editor at Reader’s Digest. Alongside writing and editing, she analyzes digital engagement and curates content for the RD.com homepage and partner platforms. She previously worked as a culture writer for America Media, where she contributed to award-winning articles and poetry. She also freelances, writing essays and reviews covering all things pop culture, books, food and travel. You can find her in print or online in publications like America, National Catholic Reporter and Sojourners. In her free time, she likes to study Japanese, cook and cheer for Loyola Chicago basketball.