Which Cruise Destination is Right for You?


We dive into our favorite cruise destinations to find out the basics from the best time to cruise to what it’s like to cruise and even what type of traveler each destination is best for.



Whittier Harbor in Alaska

Who is it best for?

Anyone interested in an experience that focuses more on nature; excursions and activities take you on the water, over glaciers, hiking through rainforests, up close with wildlife and exploring the unique ports of Alaska. Adventure seekers, families and older adults frequent cruises to Alaska.

What is an Alaska cruise like?

It varies between jaw-droppingly beautiful and very adventurous. The Alaskan wilderness is rugged and dramatic, while towns are more bustling than you might expect.

Best time to go

Alaska cruise season is May through September. Temperatures are crisp but not icy, and ships can reach places that they can’t during the frozen months of the winter.

Cruise lines that specialize in cruises to Alaska

Un-Cruise Adventures and Alaskan Dream Cruises are regional small-ship lines that focus on the small, off-the-beaten-path cruise ports. Their ships can accommodate anywhere from 40 to 80 people, and they spend 10 to 12 hours in each port of call. Quark provides an expedition-ship experience with celebrity curators, under an international umbrella. Linblad is also a great option. Other cruise lines that frequently sail to Alaska include Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney, Holland America and Crystal Cruises.

Popular ports

Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Whittier, Sitka, Petersburg

Read the full Beginner’s Guide to Alaska 


Regions of the Caribbean: The islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean extend from 50 miles east of the Florida coast almost all the way to Venezuela in South America. To better define this vast area, cruise companies conveniently divide the Caribbean into three distinct regions: Eastern, Western and Southern.


Eastern Caribbean

Plane flying over Maho Beach in St. Maarten

Who is it best for?

The crystal-clear waters, underwater shipwrecks and colorful coral reefs of the Eastern Caribbean attract divers and snorkelers from around the world.

With the option of shorter sailings and reasonably priced options, it’s also great for anyone looking to get away for a long weekend, first-time cruisers who want to try cruising without committing to a full seven-day itinerary or anyone who doesn’t want to break the bank for a vacation. The Caribbean in general is a great destination for kids as you’ll find multiple excursion options for kids of all ages.

What is an Eastern Caribbean cruise like?

The great thing about cruising the Eastern Caribbean is that there’s a wide range of ship offerings — in terms of cruise length, price point and shipboard experience. The region’s busiest port is San Juan, Puerto Rico, which feels like Miami’s cousin with its sexiness, salsa soundtrack and wonderfully warm water. St. Maarten/St. Martin has two identities sharing one island: the more bargain-friendly Dutch side and the chic boutique French side. The BVIs and USVIs have more islands than you’ll have a chance to explore on one cruise. The Bahamas are not technically in the Caribbean, but a port of call to Nassau is on just about every Eastern Caribbean itinerary.

Best time to go

December through April has idyllic weather, with an average temperature of 81 degrees and few chances of rain. Cruisers who brave hurricane season (June to November) tend to get great summer/fall deals.

If you love marine life, consider booking a cruise that calls to Samana, Dominican Republic, from mid-January to mid-March. During this period, thousands of humpback whales migrate to the Caribbean to mate and give birth. Also, the Caribbean is big on their Carnival celebrations and the different islands celebrate them at different times of the year. So check to see which ports celebrate it throughout the year.

Cruise lines that specialize in cruising the Eastern Caribbean

Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian have ships in this region year-round, sailing mostly four-, seven- and 14-day itineraries. They offer the classic fun-in-the-sun large-ship experience. Carnival’s new voluntourism cruise line, Fathom, offers an entirely different way to experience the Dominican Republic. There are no beach-break days or snorkel excursions, but instead days are spent teaching English to locals or working side by side with locals in a women’s chocolate collective.

Popular ports and smaller ports

St. Thomas, St. Maarten/St. Martin, and San Juan, and private islands in the Bahamas, such as Castaway Cay and Princess Cay.

Western Caribbean

Man holding stingray in Grand Cayman waters

Who is it best for?

Western Caribbean cruises are good for history buffs interested in visiting Mayan ruins along the coasts of Mexico or Belize; fun-seeking souls who want to dance in the streets of New Orleans; and beach bums who want to stretch out somewhere along Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman.

Like Eastern Caribbean cruises, Western Caribbean is also a smart choice if you’re on a budget or a time constraint; numerous bargains can be found on cruises shorter than seven nights.

What is a Western Caribbean cruise like?

This is a “beginner’s cruise” region, meaning first-time cruisers leaving from departure ports in Florida, New Orleans and Texas will most likely choose this region. That said, the destinations are bursting with culture, whether it’s the quirky hippie-yachtie vibe of Key West or the Mayan-jungle mystique of Cozumel. The snorkeling/diving is excellent in ports such as Grand Cayman, which is world-famous for Stingray City, and Grand Turk, where dive companies will pick you up 200 yards from the cruise pier and take you out to Grand Turks National Marine Park (Columbus Landfall National Park) and uninhabited Gibbs Cay.

Best time to go

December through April, and you might be able to find some great deals in May. Hurricane season (June 1 to end of November) is avoided by some people not only because of the threat of these ferocious storms, but because June through September tends to be hot and humid, with frequent rain.

New Orleans’s Mardi Gras Celebrations and the Jazz Festival are famous parties. Mardi Gras Celebrations start the first week of January and go through February (depending on when Lent starts); Jazz Fest follows in April. New Orleans is one of the departure ports many cruisers choose to spend a night either before or after their cruise. Challenging even Mardi Gras for the wildest street party of the year is Key West Fantasy Fest (October 23 to November 1), with its over-the-top NC17-rated pageantry and bacchanalian revelry.

For an unforgettable aquatic experience, book a whale shark encounter in either Cozumel or Belize. The peak season to see these gentle behemoths near Belize is April through July. They tend to show up off Cancun and Cozumel shores in May, with the most activity in July.

Cruise lines that specialize in cruising the Western Caribbean

The mass-market cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival, Celebrity and Norwegian, have perfected the one-week family-friendly Caribbean vacation, with bus excursions to popular landmarks and supervised beach breaks on premium patches of sand.

Popular ports

Ports in the Western Caribbean tend to be larger than those in the Eastern Caribbean, meaning you’ll have more options for shore excursions. Key West, Florida; Cozumel, Mexico; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Belize City; and multiple ports in Jamaica are all popular cruise ports.

Southern Caribbean

Beautiful Palm Beach in Aruba

Who is it best for?

The diverse and uncommercialized islands of the Southern Caribbean attract true adventurers. This is a world-famous sailing destination; enthusiasts who can’t keep their own yacht often book a two-week itinerary on one of the sailing yacht cruises every year, island-hopping and diving pristine waters around Bonaire, Martinique, Grenada and the Grenadines. Others prefer land-based explorations and will travel bumpy roads in search of a hidden waterfall or a dramatic mountain overlook.

What is a Southern Caribbean cruise like?

Anchored by the “ABC Islands” of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, this sub-region is the Caribbean’s most far-flung and foreign-flavored, and it is off the general radar. Cruising here will bring you into contact with European and South American cultural influences, plus unspoiled Caribbean nature. There are some massive ports, but there are additional little ones on exotic islands that some cruise lines stop at.

Best time to go

December through April. You can look for hurricane-season deals, with the awareness that the ABC Islands and a couple of others are outside the hurricane zone.

Cruise lines that specialize in cruising the Southern Caribbean

In addition to the large ships of Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland America and Carnival, which stop mainly at major ports of call, luxury cruise lines like Crystal and Oceania stop at more-exclusive ports like St. Lucia, St. Barts and Samana in the Dominican Republic. Small luxury ships like those of Silversea and Azamara mix up their itineraries, visiting some major ports and some yachtie havens.

The sailing yacht lines like Windstar and Island Windjammers specialize in small ports and a leisurely “barefoot luxury” pace, for which the journey is as important as the destinations. Windstar introduced its “Secrets of the Southern Caribbean” itinerary in 2016; it goes to the “deep south,” with two stops in Colombia and one in Panama.

Popular ports

The Southern Caribbean extends eastward into the Atlantic Ocean as far as Barbados and southwest toward Venezuela, with dozens of diverse islands in between. Among the biggest and busiest ports of call are beach-casino paradise Aruba, colorful Curaçao, Rihanna’s home island Barbados, and British beach-getaway Antigua. You’ll find smaller ports in the Southern Caribbean like St. Barts, Nevis and Anguilla that are frequently visited by celebrities. For incredible underwater sights, aim for Bonaire and St. Eustatius. Bequia (St. Vincent and Grenadines) and Guadeloupe each has its own brand of unspoiled Caribbean charm. And Martinique and Montserrat have active volcanoes!


Capitol building in Havana, Cuba

Who is it best for?

Anyone with a sense of adventure who wants to get to know not only the island of Cuba but the people, their culture, their food, their music and their history. Unlike other cruises in the Caribbean, a cruise to Cuba will not be focused on zip lining, snorkeling and lounging on the beach. As a people-to-people cruise, the activities will include meetings with artists, musicians and business owners, as well as dance classes and guided tours and many other things.

What is a cruise to Cuba like?

A cruise to Cuba is the hottest ticket of the moment, because it has been more than 50 years since U.S. citizens and Cuban-born people have been able to visit the island. You can only cruise to Cuba under the people-to-people guidelines so the options are small. The off ship activities are focused on getting to know the people of Cuban and the island. While Cuba is technically part of the Caribbean, most cruise lines sailing there are treating the nation as a destination in itself, stopping at multiple ports of call in Cuba.   

Best time to go

While we typically say you should cruise to the Caribbean between December and April, this does not apply with Cuba. It just opened its doors and waterways to the U.S., so we recommend going as soon as you can to see this world that feels (and looks) frozen in time. Fathom is the only cruise line right now that sails to Cuba year round and allows American passengers. There are a few other cruise lines such as Celestyal Cruises and International Expedition that cruise to Cuba with Americans but only during specific times of the year.

Cruise lines that specialize in cruising to Cuba

Fathom Line (owned and operated by Carnival Corp.) sails to Cuba year round. Celestyal Cruises and International Expedition sail to Cuba from December to April.

Popular ports

Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba


Beautiful blue waters in the Bahamas

Who is it best for?

Depending what cruise line you’re on, it can be great for families or packed with aforementioned Spring Breakers. As a regular stop on Eastern Caribbean itineraries, the Bahamas also gets lots of ocean and adventure junkies.

What is it like to cruise the Bahamas?

If you’re cruising the Bahamas, you’re likely doing one of two things: 1) doing a short sailing to see if you like cruising or 2) cruising with one of the larger lines and making a stop at a private beach somewhere in the Out Islands, owned by one of the cruise lines. Maybe you’re doing both. Either way, you’re looking for sun, rum and beach time.

Best time to go

Cruise to the Bahamas from December through April to avoid hurricane season and before March to avoid Spring Breakers. Christmas holiday is a peak time for Bahamas travel, and Bahamians have their own famous festivity, Junkanoo. It’s a loud, festive street parade with costumed dance troupes and live island music. Junkanoo happens on many islands, but the largest event is in Nassau.

Many people know the Bahamas for its fishing, which is year-round, but the big-game fish (marlin, sailfish, wahoo, blackfin tuna) proliferate February through May.

Cruise lines that specialize in the Bahamas cruises

Disney, Norwegian, Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean all have their own private island in the Bahamas.

Popular Ports

Nassau is a big and busy port of call on every Bahamas and most Caribbean itineraries with Freeport coming in as the next biggest. Then there are the cruise-line-owned stops on Eleuthera (Princess calls at Princess Cays), Castaway Cay (Disney), CocoCay (Royal Caribbean and Celebrity) and the new Ocean Cay (MSC Cruises).


Cruise ship docking in Bermuda

Who is it best for?

New Englanders rely on Bermuda as a quick getaway. As a posh, heavily British Colonial-influenced destination, it tends to draw a more affluent crowd, although there are plenty of family-friendly attractions and things to do. Note: if you prefer longer port stays, Bermuda is known for overnight and even two-night stays.

What is it like to cruise Bermuda?

Because of its odd location (closer to New England than the Caribbean, yet still sub-tropical), Bermuda is often the only non-domestic destination on a short sailing. Even after only three days people feel like they know this beachy, posh, tourist-friendly British colony quite well — and some fall in lifelong love with it. Sometimes it will get tucked into longer New England or trans-Atlantic itineraries, wherein its pink-and-green island ambience provides a palate cleanser after many days of Atlantic coastline scenery.

Best time to go

Though cruises begin in April, cruise travel doesn’t start to peak until June, when the Caribbean heads into hurricane season. Avoid the crowds and go early in the season.

Cruise lines that specialize in Bermuda cruises

Celebrity has been successful with regular Bermuda sailings. Royal Caribbean is the line for families. A lot of luxury lines call here as part of a longer itinerary — Regent Seven Seas most frequently. Norwegian Breakaway out of New York calls to Bermuda; it spends two nights in port, allowing cruisers to get to know the island.

Popular ports

Bermuda has three main ports: King’s Wharf, Hamilton and St. George. Most ships call into King’s Wharf.

Canada & New England

Picturesque street in Quebec City

Who is it best for?

Generally not a first-time cruisers’ pick, this region draws the travel savvy, and dedicated scenery chasers who live for leaf-peeping and lighthouse snaps.

What is a Canada and New England cruise like?

There are a lot of pleasant surprises: the unspoiled and epic beauty, the small-town charm, the absolutely outstanding seafood, and yes, the beaches. Canada and New England cruises offer an interesting contrast between bustling cosmopolitan capitals, picturesque port towns and majestic isolation.

Best time to go

Late summer and early fall. The autumn leaf change is a major annual event — and make no mistake, it’s gorgeous. However, if you enjoy water activities and sun, you’ll possibly enjoy a summer sailing more.

Cruise lines that specialize in Canada/New England cruises

American Cruise Lines and Pearl Seas specialize in the small-ship experience. Holland America, Seabourn, Crystal and Cunard offer multi-week itineraries and cater to the well heeled and mature demographic. For shorter, family-friendly sailings, consider Carnival and Norwegian.

Popular ports

Boston; Bar Harbor, Maine; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Quebec City; Montreal; Baltimore


Regions of Europe: Cruise lines treat Europe the same way they do the Caribbean and divide it out into distinct regions: Western Europe, the Mediterranean and the Baltic.

Western Europe

The Louvre is an iconic cultural landmark in Paris

Who is it best for?

Enrichment/cultural tourists will love the endless offerings of art, dance, classical music, shipboard lectures and historic tours. Their less-avid companions will be content just seeing the big landmarks. As a general rule, Western Europe is better for adults than children, because all of that iconic culture (the Louvre in Paris, the Vienna State Opera, the Auschwitz memorial in Amsterdam, the Vatican in Rome) does not keep the younger cruisers as engaged and interested. Also, as with any crowded group-tour experience, you’re expected to listen to a detail-packed lecture on an earpiece; it’s great for adults but not so much for kids.

What is a Western Europe cruise like?

Heavy on culture and UNESCO World Heritage sites but balanced by fantastic food, wine and shopping, Western Europe can be a nonstop museum-and-monument marathon or a multi-day pub crawl.

Best time to go

June through August is when Western Europe becomes an outdoor culture, with the old town squares full of patio cafes and street performers, farmers markets and outdoor theater performances. Every city and town is on holiday; in fact, the residents themselves often are. It is very common, in the peak of summer, to excursion to a historic French or Italian village and find oneself surrounded by European tourists.

Fall is not without its charms, most of which are rather boozy. Wine regions all over France, Germany, Italy and Portugal go all-out during early-autumn grape harvest season. Germany also has Oktoberfest (the name is a bit of a misnomer, as this annual folk festival always starts in mid-September).

The European version of leaf-peeping is spring garden season. Of course, everyone always thinks of Holland’s tulip season (March to May), but England, France and Sweden also enjoy a glorious spring flower peak in late spring.

Cruise lines that specialize in Western Europe cruises

In itineraries and with the onboard experience, Ponant is uber-French, and Viking is very German. Fred Olsen is popular with the British crowd. MSC is a lively mass-market Italian line. For an ultra-luxe experience, choose Oceania and Regent Seven Seas — or, of course, Cunard, which makes legendary trans-Atlantic voyages from Southampton or Hamburg to New York City.

Popular ports

Southampton, England; Paris, France; Vienna, Austria; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Lisbon, Portugal; Rome, Italy; Dublin, Ireland; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The Mediterranean

Beautiful architecture in Santorini, Greece--a popular Mediterranean cruise destination

Who is it best for?

If you want to combine a sun holiday with some culture, the Mediterranean is a no-brainer — at any age, on any price point.

This is the original, and some say the best, yachtie region in the world. Ultimate island-hopping draws people to the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Adriatic, for a holiday or a lifetime.

The yachtie lifestyle is not the same as that of the jet-set, but there is some overlap. If you enjoy the ultra-luxe Euro-haunts like Monte Carlo, Antibes and Portofino, you’ll want to look for an itinerary on a luxury cruising yacht.

What is a Mediterranean cruise like?

This is the classic version of cruising: hearing Romance languages at every port, scouting out Michelin-starred restaurants and touring gorgeous wineries, visiting royal haunts and James Bond film locations. It can be as mass-market or as small-ship exclusive and glamorous as you like.

Best time to go

Summer is peak season, but if you’re looking at the Southern Mediterranean and you’re sensitive to high temperatures, go closer to spring and avoid August.

Cruise lines that specialize in Mediterranean cruises

MSC, Viking and Ponant are all based in Europe and offer European flavor on board, albeit of different types. MSC is big and family-oriented; Viking is more mature. Small-ship luxury line Silversea has great itineraries that combine iconic ports like Rome and Barcelona with jet-setter haunts including Amalfi and Portofino. Crystal is a larger line, but equally luxe. For a French-flavored small-ship experience, Ponant plies the coastal waters around the Dalmatian Coast, Baltic Sea and northern Med. For barefoot luxury aboard a sailing yacht, check out Windstar or Star Clippers.

Popular ports

Venice, Italy; Ibiza, Spain; Santorini, Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Portofino, Italy; Nice, France; and Monaco.

Read the Full Beginner's Guide to the Mediterranean


Who is it best for?

This is a good adventure for people who have been to and loved Western Europe, possibly cruised a river, and are curious about the unseen part. Also, if you love Scandinavia, this can be a more cost-effective way to see some of the pricier cities like Oslo.

What is a Baltic cruise like?

A Baltic cruise combines the Viking heritage and epic seascapes of Scandinavia, the uncommercialized and quirky cities of the former Soviet Baltic states, and the majesty of St. Petersburg.

Best time to go

Summer is the best season — specifically, as close to the summer solstice as you can manage. Days go on forever, or close to it, especially as you get farther north. The locals forget about work and spill out into the parks, markets and tiny islands where they have vacation homes. There are endless traditions and reasons to celebrate: crayfish season in Sweden, “White Nights” in St. Petersburg, Viking Market in Malmo, Talinn Old Town Days, and outdoor rock festivals galore.

If you want fewer crowds and better prices, look for a May itinerary. The festival calendar is full, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen is open, and the locals kick off bathing season early in the month. You, however, may still find it to be jacket weather.

Cruise lines that specialize in Baltic cruises     

Tauck and Scenic are both known for river cruises, but they offer a great small-ship Baltic Sea experience. Tauck has shorter itineraries focused only on the Scandinavian countries, or longer ones that also travel to Russia and former Soviet outposts. Scenic’s 27-day Jewels of Russia, which includes Berlin and the Baltic states, is perhaps the most thorough study of the lands formerly behind the Iron Curtain that a Western cruiser could ever take. Viking ships are slightly larger with a less intimate excursion experience, but the German-based line is very familiar with this region. Crystal and Cunard offer large-ship luxury and prime viewing of the most iconic landmarks and natural landscapes.

Mexican Riviera

Puerto Vallarta is a popular stop for Mexican Riviera cruises

Who is it best for?

These cruises are great for multi-generational groups, because there’s a mix of soft adventures, cultural activities, margarita bars and great beaches in nearly every port. No one will ever get bored, and that one person who just wants to sunbathe can lie on the pool deck day in, day out. Also, this is a popular region for bargain vacationers. The mass-market lines send their large ships to sail this coast, offering great rates on short cruises and even-deeper discounts on longer sailings.

What is a Mexican Riviera cruise like?

Siestas in the sun, soft-sand beaches, friendly locals and cheap margaritas. The charms of Mexico are fairly unchanging, though certain regions cycle in and out of popularity. This golden swathe of Pacific coastline harbored Mexico’s most glamorous resort destinations a generation ago. This region has become a less pricey standby since Cozumel and the Riviera Maya now have the “it spot” status.

Best time to go

Fall tends to have fewer cruises (and people), which makes it a good spontaneous getaway option, especially with the Caribbean still within hurricane season. Summer and school break times are always popular, even though summer temperatures get very hot.

Whale-watching season off the coast of Baja (mid-December through mid-March) is its own draw, especially for nature enthusiasts of a sporty mindset. You can see whales from any sort of ship, hypothetically, but the smaller, the better; high-speed adventures on small powerboats or rafts often provide the best up-close experiences.

Cruise lines that specialize in Mexican Riviera cruises

Basically, any first-time cruiser on the West Coast ends up on a Carnival or Norwegian quickie sail out of Southern California. It’s a vacation rite of passage. Among the small ships, Un-Cruise Adventures is a great choice. Azamara Club Cruises offers the mid-size premium ship experience, stopping at smaller ports like Loreto and Guaymas. This line also has a great itinerary that traverses the Panama Canal from west to east, starting in San Diego and doing the Mexican Riviera, Nicaragua and Costa Rica before making its Panama crossing and winding up in Miami.

Popular ports

San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta


Surfing on a beach in Hilo, Hawaii

Who is it best for?

Most West Coasters are lifelong visitors to Hawaii, where it falls as a bucket-list vacation for others in the U.S. Short cruises of the islands would be the family bucket list, saving the longer cruises to Hawaii and French Polynesia for those golden years.

What is a Hawaii cruise like?

Hawaii is the United States’ tropical island treasure. To tour all the major islands, from busy Oahu to rugged Kauai, from rainforests to beaches to mystical volcanoes — without island-hopping via plane — is the dream. And no passport is needed! The challenge is that you can’t sail round-trip from the U.S. mainland to the islands of Hawaii and back on a short cruise; it has to be two weeks or more. Most cruises either start or end in the Big Island of Hawaii, while seven-nighters begin and end in Honolulu.

Best time to go

Most cruise lines do not sail Hawaii year-round, so you generally would look for cruises in season, which is April through October. Some people choose to look for winter off-peak savings, but the rainy season is serious in December and February, and the Pacific Ocean gets rough in winter.

Cruise lines that specialize in cruises to Hawaii

Norwegian is the only line that sails Hawaii year-round; it offers short sailings on the newly refurbished Pride of America. Holland America offers many long (30+ day) sailings of Hawaii and French Polynesia. Among small ships, Un-Cruise offers seven-day island-hopping adventures.

Popular ports

Honolulu (Oahu), Lahaina (Maui), Kauai, Hilo (Hawaii), and Kailua-Kona

Panama Canal

Overlooking exit of Panama Canal

Who is it best for?

This is one of those great routes and iconic waterways that cruisers really want to experience at some point in their lifetime. Often considered as “the next leg” of adventure beyond the Caribbean and Mexico, it also appeals to people who don’t self-identify as cruise people because they naturally are inclined to go off the trusty tourist route.

What is a Panama Canal cruise like?

If Mexico is a regular destination for you and Caribbean island-hopping isn’t your cup of tea, it’s time to seek farther-flung Latin American destinations … such as the Panama Canal. It’s a man-made wonder and a cruising must-do. You’ll transit from North to South America by way of “The World’s Greatest Shortcut,” passing jungle-shrouded Mayan ruins and making stops in alluring Latin-Caribbean ports.

Best time to go

Mid-December through March tends to be less rainy, while April through July are prone to thunderstorms. The clouds disappear again in September and October, although hurricane season is still an issue on the Caribbean side

Cruise lines that specialize in Panama Canal cruises

If you want to see more and learn more, expedition lines like Lindblad Expeditions and International Expeditions will deliver, making the journey either on a smallish ship or a very small ship. Of the larger lines, Princess is a specialist. Its Coral Princess and Island Princess sister ships are “Panamax” (i.e., the largest that ships cruising the Panama Canal are allowed to be) but still much smaller than most Princess ships or other mass-market cruise liners.

Popular ports

Colon, Panama; Cartagena, Colombia; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Panama City, Panama

European Rivers

River cruise ship sailing on European waters

Who is it best for?

River cruising used to be for Boomers and older, but the market is exploding as more age groups catch on to river cruising as a convenient way to reach a dozen European destinations in one logistically perfect swoop.

What is a river cruise like?

Sailing on a European river cruise is an easy way to walk 10,000 steps a day. Sure, you can spend all day every day snoozing on the sun deck, but with an average of two shore excursions in two different locations daily — many of the excursion are inclusive in the cruise package — the norm is to be out and about from early morning until dinner. The traditional itineraries are packed with city tours, museums and major-landmark visits. Newer ones include more actual exercise, such as hikes and cycling tours of the countryside.

Best time to go

Summer is best for the French and German rivers, because everything looks better in the sunshine, which isn’t consistent until May. For the Douro, avoid July and August if you’re not used to scorching temperatures. Look for a September sailing; it’s cooler, and it’s harvest season.

Speaking of harvest season, the grape harvest extends cruising season a bit in wine regions. Wine-themed cruises are offered from September through November in France and all the way through December in the Douro. You can get great bargains at this time, though everywhere except Portugal will be chilly.

Cruise lines that specialize in European river cruises

Avalon Waterways is a leader in active and culturally immersive river cruising, especially on the Danube and Rhine rivers. AmaWaterways and Avalon are both expanding successful themed-cruise programming. Viking ships are proliferating in every European river, because its offerings have found so much interest among British, Canadian and American markets. Boutique luxury lines include Scenic and French Country Waterways.

Popular ports by rivers

·      Danube: Vienna; Passau, Germany; Nuremberg, Germany; Prague

·      Douro: Lisbon, Portugal; Porto, Portugal; Salamanca, Spain

·      Elbe: Berlin; Dresden, Germany; Saxon, Switzerland; Prague

·      Rhine: Dusseldorf, Germany; Bernkastel, Germany; Amsterdam

·      Rhone/Saone:  Avignon, France; Lyon, France; Arles, France

·      Seine: Paris; Dijon, France; Rouen, France; Normandy, France

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