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14 Cruises You Should Only Take in the Fall

Cruising in autumn brings cooler climates in the North and vibrant fall foliage colors on land, plus fewer tourists in Caribbean ports and onboard southbound journeys.

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Bermuda from Manhattan on the Carnival Sunrise

A fall cruise to Bermuda with all that glittering emerald blue water and those famous pink sand beaches adds more color to the autumnal palette and more summertime to your calendar. The newly revamped Carnival Sunrise, with the mouthwatering Guy’s Burger poolside and Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que overlooking the sea, offers both four- and six-day September sailings conveniently from Pier 90 in Manhattan. Visiting Bermuda after the summer season means you can shop in Hamilton, jump off a cliff into a secret lagoon, ride a moped, and have a few too many rum swizzles surrounded by fewer tourists, and locals who are even more chill than usual.

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New EnglandAR Pictures/shutterstock

The colors of Canada and New England

Visit the darling New England coastal towns of Newport, Rhode Island, and Bar Harbor, Maine, explore Acadia National Park during peak color-changing season, then go deep into Eastern Canada including a scenic Saguenay Fjord cruising for 12 memorable days on Holland America’s first Vista-class vessel, Zuiderdam. Additionally, enjoy an autumnal Quebecois overnight during this remarkable fall sailing. Onboard this refined cruise ship from New York City, discover more of our planet through the curated concerts and films of BBC Earth Experiences programming, amplify your culinary chops at a cooking show or hands-on workshop with America’s Test Kitchen, jam long into the night at B.B. King’s Blues Club, enjoy a stirring Lincoln Center Stage chamber music performance, and partake in wellness activities designed in partnership with Oprah and O Magazine.

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Bermuda from Manhattan on the Carnival SunriseCourtesy Jeff Bogle

A perfect fall day on Perfect Day at CoCoCay

Royal Caribbean’s new private island is a feast for the senses and even during peak season, never feels crowded due to some magical engineering and ultra clever design. During a fall cruise, when most kids are back in school and vacation season is long gone, you will truly feel like you’ve docked your private yacht at your very own Caribbean island—and maybe save a bit of cash too. This Bahamian outpost of chillin’ and thrills features Daredevil’s Peak, the tallest waterslide in North America, a trio of zip lines taking you all over the island, a tethered balloon giving views and Instagram-fabulous photo-ops from up to 450 foot into the sky, and most of the food is on-the-house, just like it is onboard the Anthem of the Seas. During these week-long sailings from Cape Liberty New Jersey, departing weekly from November 2nd through December 1st, you’ll also stop off in Port Canaveral for easy access to Disney, Universal Studios, or Sea World in Orlando, and Nassau Bahamas if you want to experience the dolphins at Atlantis. All this from Royal Caribbean makes suddenly losing out on the chance to step foot in Cuba on a cruise more bearable. Of course, Royal Caribbean isn’t the only cruise line with its own private island, but it’s definitely one of our favorites!

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Beautiful caribbean sight with turquoise water in Caye Caulker island, Belize.Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

Exotic autumn getaways from Texas

For a last-minute summer getaway to bask in the warm glow of the Caribbean Sea that won’t break the bank, climb aboard the Carnival Freedom or Dream from Galveston, Texas after splish-splashing around the Schlitterbahn Water Park in town for a budget-friendly four-, five-, or six-day jaunt to squeeze more beach time and snorkeling into your life before winter arrives. Or, book a seven-day cruise on the massive and stunning three-year-old Carnival Vista from the thoroughly amusing Texas port on the Gulf of Mexico to the Western Caribbean and explore the exotic ports of Belize where howler monkeys wait for you to feed them bananas, Mahogany Bay Honduras for zip lining or floating peacefully with a drink in your hand, and Cozumel where you can learn about the exhilarating Mayan Ball Game, taste local cuisine and watch a colorful dance celebration at the best cruise excursion in Mexico. Island life in the fall is nearly as stunning as the autumn leaves back home, and because the summer season tourists have returned to land, you will have more of these island ports to yourself.

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Fisherman on Snake River, Grand Teton National Parkloneroc/Shutterstock

Columbia and Snake River Riverboat Cruise

How enticing is the idea of cruising on a small ship with only 190 guests in total on a scenic river past many cascades and waterfalls along one of the most visually stunning landscapes in America during the prettiest time of year? That’s what riverboat cruising on the Columbia and Snake Rivers along the Lewis & Clark Trail in Oregon offers in the fall on board the American Song, the first modern riverboat ever in the United States.
The new ship has lounges rising 40-feet above the water with three times the windows of other riverboats, meaning the photogenic vistas are nearly everywhere you look, all day long. American Cruise Lines’ American Song also has a four-story glass-enclosed atrium with a large domed skylight and a new suite design which maxes out with a whopping 900-square foot space complete with a pair of glass walls and a wraparound private balcony. This kind of luxury cruise costs money and requires advance booking, but it is out there waiting for you every fall. This Pacific Northwest cruise is one of the best riverboat cruises in America.

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Beautiful beach in Costa Rica (Caribbean Sea)Inga Locmele/Shutterstock

A 12-Day Panama Canal journey

If you want an affordable cruise, on a newly refurbished ship, that will have fewer children clogging up the fun waterslides and tranquil hot tubs, this off-season October 2020 Carnival Journeys sailing from NYC to Fort Lauderdale on the Carnival Sunrise is for you. Stops in exotic Limón Costa Rica and Cartagena Columbia bookend a partial Panama Canal transit allowing you to experience a portion of this engineered man-made wonder of the world. A Carnival Journeys cruise is extra special because there are additional cultural experiences to enjoy, each based on the specific port destinations visited, plus crew member meet & greets, 1950’s dance classes, a glee club waiting for you to add your voice, and an ’80s throwback sea day in which all of the activities are recreated to resemble the way they were played back in the day. Add this Panama Canal Journey with Carnival to your bucket list cruises!

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Chateau Frontenac in autumn, Quebec City, CanadaVlad G/Shutterstock

A 10-day Canadian adventure at sea

This 10-day autumn adventure with Royal Caribbean still has availability at a reasonable price for this fall foliage season (at the time of writing) so don’t delay for the chance to leave New Jersey’s view of the Manhattan skyline and end up in the French-speaking storybook land of 16th-century Quebec City. In between, peep the colors of New England and Canada during port stops in Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. With average temperatures in the high-60s and low-70s, a cavalcade of colors, and Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Sea Flowrider surfing, ice skating rink, three-story waterslides, rock climbing wall, memorable theater shows, and mouth-watering food, these are ten fall days at sea and on land that you’ll never forget.

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Panoramic view of Montego Bay, Jamaica on a stunning spring day.Dean Fikar/Shutterstock

An amplified week in the Western Caribbean

Be the first to experience the newly amplified Oasis of the Seas when Royal Caribbean begins her new, elevated life cruising from Miami to Haiti, Jamaica, and Cozumel during fall’s last gasp in December before winter blows into town. Being “amplified” means that a ship has been brought up to date with all the modern entertainment, attractions, and culinary delights that Symphony of the Seas offers guests today. On this weeklong fall cruise, you will get to test your nerve by falling down ten decks on The Ultimate Abyss (the tallest slide at sea), chow down on some tasty BBQ at Portside, Royal Caribbean’s first foray into barbecue, play a glow-in-the-dark game of laser tag, solve the puzzle to emerge from an all-new Escape Room challenge, and then at night delight (or horrify) your fellow cruisers with your karaoke chops with a drink in your hand from a robotic bartender at the Bionic Bar. This fall cruise is going to be perfect but here are the best cruises for every month of the year.

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Sunset from Kitsilano promenade, Vancouver CanadaExFlow/Shutterstock

Seven sunrises in New England and Canada

This is the classic cruise you should take in the fall, and lucky for you it still has availability for the October 2019 sailing from Manhattan’s Pier 90! Relax onboard the remodeled and renamed Carnival Sunrise up to Halifax, St. John’s, Portland, and Boston this autumn to see the color of the leaves contrasted with the blue of the ocean. You will experience the majesty of the chilly season from the top deck of this fine ship during the day, witness the natural wonder that is the Bay of Fundy, and then take in stellar Playlist Productions musical theater shows in the evenings after one scrumptious dinner after the next, at restaurants like Bonsai Sushi and Cucina del Capitano. Book soon and get up to $1000 in onboard credit to use in the spa and at premium dinner spot like the Steakhouse.

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Southern California vineyards on a hillside, with hazy mountain backgroundLux Blue/Shutterstock

A perfect Pacific coastal week

The colors of New England get all the press but don’t sleep on the year-round beauty of the Pacific coast and the northwest! This still-affordable-even-for-last-minute-bookings Holland American cruise on the mid-sized Amsterdam delivers the best of Southern California through Santa Barbara and Monterey, after giving you a taste of the delightful Victoria, British Columbia’s exquisite capital city in the fall, and starting in the progressive metropolis of Vancouver. There you will see skyscrapers rubbing elbows with lush forests and be able to explore this delightful big city, bike through Stanley Park, and photograph Vancouver’s vibrant autumnal color palette from the top of Grouse Mountain, during the perfect time of year, when average temperatures are in the mid-60s Fahrenheit and most of the tourists have come back home to work and school.

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The length of the Atlantic Coast in 11 fall days

You’ll start out speaking French while eating flaky croissants in Montreal and finish in Fort Lauderdale 11 days later on the smaller, elegant Holland America ship Zaandam which houses a mere 1,400 guests. With ports of call including the original 17th-century fortifications of Quebec City, Bar Harbor’s lobster bakes and Acadia National Park, and the darling small town of Charlottetown PEI, along with the chance to cruise on the picturesque Gulf of St. Lawrence, all during the most visually appealing time of year, this expansive journey is one of the greatest fall cruises available on Earth. Plus, if you want, you can sneak in a few hours at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando while docked at Port Canaveral, Florida on your second-to-last day! Packing for an 11-day excursion can be a challenge, here are 17 travel hacks for your next cruise.

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St. John's, capital of Newfoundland Labrador, NL, Canada, harbor and downtown seen from signal hillPi-Lens/Shutterstock

Escape to Canada and New England from New York

Imagine this: taking your hot coffee outside in the cool, crisp morning air to view magnificent fall foliage from onboard an equally magnificent cruise ship that is gently hugging the Atlantic coast. Remarkably, at the time of writing, all classes of cabins are still available for both September sailings onboard the Norwegian Escape to Canada and New England from New York City, and it includes free open bar, shore excursions, WiFi, and more. During the weeklong cruise, you’ll enjoy a pair of days each at sea, in Canada (Saint John and Halifax), and in Maine (Bar Harbor, Portland) giving you the chance to experience the glory of Acadia National Park just as the leaves begin to turn, as well as the wondrous reversing rapids of the Bay of Fundy. Pizza, ice cream, and all those mixed drinks don’t have to impact your health negatively, here’s how to stay fit on a cruise and still have a great time.

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View of Inner Harbor area in downtown Baltimore Maryland USAf11photo/Shutterstock

Fun in the Bay of Fundy from Baltimore

You don’t have to travel to New York City or Miami to score a remarkable fall cruise in the Atlantic Ocean, but you will want to book this one in advance because as the fall dates approach, the prices rise due to demand for the bright, autumn colors visible as you sail up north from Baltimore. The Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas ship’s name is appropriate as ‘grandeur’ is exactly what you can expect as you experience New England and Eastern Canada during the fall foliage season. After a historic port of call in Boston, you get a double dose of Maine (Portland and exquisite Bar Harbor), before tackling the extreme high tides of Bay of Fundy and spying the stunning “flowerpot” rock formations during a day in Saint John New Brunswick, and then Halifax Nova Scotia. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the cooler Canadian temperatures in October (highs in the mid-50s!) for hiking, biking, and sightseeing in these idyllic northern communities.

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La Jolla cove beach, San Diego, California.kan_khampanya/Shutterstock

Halloween on the High Seas with Disney

From trick-or-treating onboard to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing and Scream, and haunted storytimes to adults-only costume parties, cruising in the fall on Disney often means experiencing the one of a kind Halloween on the High Seas. Disney kindly makes all four ships available for this annual autumnal event, several different ports including San Diego, New York City, and Port Canaveral Florida, and on cruises of different durations spanning two-day jaunts in the Caribbean, five days to Bermuda, and weeklong vacations down to Cabo and Baja California. No matter where you cruise from or to during the spooky season, Disney guarantees playful mischief to go along with their famous white-glove service at sea. All of the activities are consistent across ships, so pick the itinerary and departure port that works best for you and turn Halloween into something truly magical this year or next. Can’t cruise in the fall? Here are the cruises you should take during the winter.

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.