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12 Bucket List Cruises You Have to Take in Your Lifetime

Sure, Bermuda and Bahamas cruises pack in a lot of sun and fun in a short period of time, but these lesser-known cruises are the ones that offer serious bragging rights.

antartica cruisevia abercrombiekent.com

Antarctica

This is one of those trips people save for after they’re retired. After all, you may spot King or Emperor penguins, Leopard or Crabeater seals, and even Minke whales. So why doesn’t everyone hop on a ship this year to go? The sailings are about two weeks long, embark from Argentina, and can be expensive.

One to consider: Abercrombie & Kent’s luxury expedition trips start at 12 days, carry a mere 199 guests at the most, and include plenty of educational opportunities and exploration on land. You’ll have the vacation of your life when you take this trip, or one of these other all-inclusive cruises.

Malaga, Spain - March 27, 2018. Luxury cruise ship Symphony of the seas anchored in the harbor of MalagaRoberto Sorin/Shutterstock

Mediterranean

This is the cruise you should take this year. Southern Europe offers an amazing range of destinations that combine culture and sunshine. Board in, say, Spain, and you can cruise to France, Italy, and Greece without schlepping your luggage or figuring out train schedules.

One to consider: If you do decide to go this summer, consider booking Royal Caribbean’s new Symphony of the Seas, the biggest ship in the world. (How’s that for bucket list material?) If you’re traveling with kids, and you want serious bucket-list points, book the ship’s “Ultimate Family Suite.” Read on for 13 more of the best cruises for kids.

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA - MARCH 8, 2015: Silversea Expeditions ship in a port of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego island, ArgentinaMatyas Rehak/Shutterstock

Galápagos

This volcanic archipelago sits to the west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a natural wonder that’s full of giant tortoises, lizards, and blue-footed boobies, making it a gorgeous place to see animals—including endangered species—not found anywhere else in the world.

One to consider: Silversea Expeditions brings nurture to nature, with Frette linens and marble bathrooms, not to mention butlers and afternoon tea, as you sail around the isolated yet breathtaking islands.

Have you realized that cruise ships are always the same color? Here’s one explanation as to why. 

crystal mahler cruisevia crystalcruises.com

Grand European river cruises

Board in Amsterdam and you can cruise through to Vienna and even all the way to Budapest, crossing a whopping five countries—Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary—along the way. Watch as the scenery changes from tulips and windmills to castle-filled woods and fields of sunflowers, and explore some important capital cities along the way.

One to consider: Crystal River Cruises’ Crystal Mahler has its own six-person yacht, as well as electronic bikes for when you want to explore on your own. Find out the reasons river cruises are Europe’s best-kept secret.

Paul Gauguin CruisesCourtesy Paul Gauguin Cruises

French Polynesia

The spectacular lagoons off these tropical islands in the South Pacific are so clear, you can look down and watch the colorful fish dart between your legs without needing to put on a snorkeling mask at all. Need we say more?

One to consider: The Paul Gauguin cruises the South Pacific waters year-round, and even has a private Motu (a small islet off the coast) that cruisers have all to themselves. Plan to stay in Bora Bora for a few days after your trip so you can hole up in an over-water bungalow. (Yep, another check on the bucket list!)

Queen Mary 2 cruise liner docked at Port Melbourne pierAlex Cimbal/Shutterstock

Transatlantic crossing

Looking for a historic way to travel? A crossing on an ocean liner is unlike anything else—a celebration of time and space, during which you can sleep in, read a book, and unplug as you travel from New York City to Southampton, England, outside of London. It’s an old-fashioned way of moving between London and New York City, but still delivers something much needed in the modern world: Peace and quiet.

One to consider: Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is the world’s only ocean liner right now, and she’s designed to cut through the Atlantic smoothly all the way across “the pond.” (Plus, she has a very British pub and an unbeatable high tea.) Before setting sail, make sure you know the things you should and shouldn’t pack for a cruise.

Cruise ship Viking Star leaving Bergen harbor.Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock

Cuba

Cruising’s newest and hottest itinerary offers a glimpse at a place formerly unavailable to Americans. You can see a show at the Copacabana, check out the vintage cars, smoke a cigar, and sip a mojito.

One to consider: Viking Ocean Cruises’ Viking Star sails from Miami to Cienfuegos and Santiago, allowing you to explore Cuba from the comfort of a European-style ship with a Scandinavian-style spa.

Disney Magic on North Sea Canal.StudioPortoSabbia/Shutterstock

Norwegian fjords

Stunning fjords etch the country’s long coastline, and you’ll get to see white-capped mountains and waterfalls, too. This northern route travels to the land of the midnight sun in wintertime, and in colder months you may get to see the northern lights.

One to consider: Want to take your children to see this dramatic part of the world? Hop aboard Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic, a ship that caters to the little ones with Frozen-themed voyages that include (get this) meet-and-greets with Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff in Ålesund. Read on for more of the world’s best themed cruises.

Norwegian BlissCourtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Panama Canal

For a lot of people, this engineering wonder is brilliant to observe. Watch as ships go through locks as they pass from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean through a man-made waterway.

One to consider: The new Norwegian Bliss is the largest ship to go through the Panama Canal and serves families well with fun activities such as laser tag and a ropes course.

seabourn ovationvia seabourn.com

Asia

Of all the far-off lands you can explore by cruise, it’s hard to beat these. Board in, say, Singapore and disembark in Hong Kong, marking Thailand and Vietnam off your bucket list along the way. Check, check, check! Without a cruise, it would take a lot of flights to see this much of the region.

One to consider: Luxury line Seabourn’s new Seabourn Ovation sails this route, and they do it (get this) over Christmas and New Year’s. Check out these cruises with crazy-cool amenities you’ll totally want to book.

national geo questvia expeditions.com

Alaska

America’s northernmost state—the 49th to join the union—is home to whales, bald eagles, and adorable little sea otters that swim around on their backs. The scenery here is spectacular too, with calving glaciers and dense forests.

One to consider: There are plenty of small ships and expedition ships here, but consider the 100-passenger National Geographic Quest, the newest ship by Lindblad Expeditions, which offers excellent classes on nature photography.

Seven Seas Explorer - Regent Cruises on North Sea Channel, towards North SeaStudioPortoSabbia/Shutterstock

South America

A cruise from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires offers the best of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, complete with tango, caipirinhas, and gauchos. Look for an itinerary that’s rich in ports, so you get to see a lot of the region on one unforgettable vacation.

One to consider: Regent Seven Seas Cruises dubbed their latest ship, Seven Seas Explorer, the most luxurious ship in the world, an ideal vessel from which to see this gorgeous part of the world. (Bonus bucket-list points if you book the “most luxurious suite in the world,” the Regent Suite.) No matter which of these amazing cruises you choose, make sure you know the secrets experts wish you knew about booking a cruise.