11 Reasons You Need to Take a Cruise This Year
Who doesn't love a good cruise? There's something magical about being out on the open sea, cocktail in hand while you lounge by the pool, or sailing along one of the world's great rivers, as picturesque villages and towns pass you by. And there's never been a better time to get on a cruise ship than this year, as the industry continues to roll out new itineraries in far-flung places, from French Polynesia to Patagonia, and groundbreaking concepts such as a river-cruise line that caters to milennials. Here, Travel + Leisure editors share the 14 reasons why you should choose to set sail right now.
You Can Even Have the Boat All to Yourself.
Though there's plenty to love about sailing on a large ship (casinos! waterslides!), there's also something magical about being on a smaller vessel — especially when it's with only your friends and family. This spring, Belmond Afloat in France is launching two new barges, each accommodating eight passengers and available strictly for charters. The Pivoine will navigate the Marne, in the heart of Champagne, while the Lilas will travel the Marne–Rhine canal in Alsace. Both boats feature spacious, earth-toned suites and an open-air top deck that feels like a grand living room, complete with a plunge pool (six nights from $7,390, all-inclusive).
The Amenities Will Blow Your Mind.
Cruise ships are adding lavish features, some never before seen in the industry. Each of Ponant's four Explorer-class ships will offer underwater lounges below sea level. Passengers can sip cocktails while looking at screens that project images of the surrounding waters. Look for the first lounge on the Le Lapérouse, setting sail in June. Submarines? Talk about a cool toy. Crystal Cruises started this trend with the Crystal Esprit, and its forthcoming Crystal Endeavor will also feature a submarine when it launches in fall 2019. The Scenic Eclipse, an expedition vessel debuting in August, will also have a sub. The Celebrity Edge will have six two-story suites with verandas and outdoor plunge pools when it debuts in November. On the first Ritz-Carlton yacht, coming in 2019, there will be 12 duplex suites. The bottom level will house the bedroom; the upper, the living room.
You Can Tack on an Over-the-top Land Stay.
Silversea's new Couture Collection, a series of nine trips ranging from six to 10 days and limited to no more than 16 passengers, takes the pre- or post-cruise land tour to a whole new level. Before an expedition sailing along the east coast of Africa, for example, passengers can venture inland and spend two days gorilla-tracking in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, then four days on safari in Tanzania. In some cases, Silversea is bringing folks to tented camps in end-of-the-earth settings. An Asia cruise that visits ports in Japan and China can be paired with a journey to the plains surrounding Lake Khuvsgul, Mongolia, where passengers meet nomadic reindeer herders and sleep in traditional gers. Tours $14,000–$78,000 per person, all-inclusive.
A Cruise Is Like a Safari on Water.
In Alaska, on Lindblad Expeditions' 100-passenger sister ships, the National Geographic Quest and the National Geographic Venture (debuting in October), you'll spy orcas and humpbacks from the observation deck, while naturalist-led tours let you glimpse bears catching salmon (seven nights from $5,990). In Southern Africa, the new 16-passenger African Dream from CroisiEurope sails the Chobe River through Botswana's Chobe National Park. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, you won't have to worry about missing that elephant drinking from the river (eight nights from $6,319). In Patagonia, the 210-passenger Ventus Australis, operated by Australis, travels between Punta Arenas, Chile, and Ushuaia, Argentina, through the region's spectacular fjords and past its islands. Expect to see Andean condors and elephant seals (four nights from $1,440).
The Luxury Vessels Are Getting Sexier.
Top lines have been on a building spree, and their new oceangoing ships offer more bells and whistles than ever before. The 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer, which launched in July 2016, was Regent's first new vessel in more than a decade. With a price tag of $450 million, it's also one of the most luxe ships ever built. A world-class art collection and Art Deco–inspired décor give the Explorer the feel of a grand liner from the early 20th century. The 596-passenger Silver Muse, the largest in Silversea's fleet of nine, is all about understated luxury. Think soothing neutral tones and occasional soft pastels. The number of restaurants — eight in total, ranging from a sushi bar to a casual outdoor pizza spot above the pool — is astounding for a ship of this size. The 600-passenger Seabourn Encore and its sister ship, Seabourn Ovation (launching in May), are part of Seabourn's larger, next-generation class of vessels. The company brought in designer Adam D. Tihany to give the ships a clubby, yachtlike feel, with graceful, curving walls and lots of nautical tones.
They Ships Will Hook You up With a Hot Ticket.
Cruise lines are making access to once-in-a-lifetime events a priority, and sports fans, especially, are feeling the love. Windstar Cruises gets passengers tickets to the final race at the Monaco Grand Prix in May (six nights from $6,899). And American Queen Steamboat Company now offers a weeklong Kentucky Derby–themed sailing along the Ohio River. The cruise will come with VIP passes to the race as well as a meet-and-greet with the jockeys. It proved to be so popular that it has already sold out for 2018, but will be running again in 2020.
You Can Dive Deep into a Single Destination.
When it has an in-depth itinerary, a cruise allows you to focus on learning the history and culture of one place. No one does French Polynesia like the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin, which visits Bora-Bora as well as Motu Mahana, a private island owned by the ship's operator, Paul Gauguin Cruises. In June, the vessel will make its first-ever call at Tahiti Iti, famous for its petroglyphs and temples (seven nights from $5,695, all-inclusive). Tourism is making a comeback in Egypt, and a new ship, from Viking, the 48-passenger Viking Ra, will sail the Nile this spring. The 12-day Pharaohs and Pyramids itinerary combines Cairo with a leisurely weeklong cruise, allowing more time to explore iconic sites like the Valley of the Queens (from $5,699). Sail Australia's most beautiful coastal destinations, including Tasmania, with Coral Expeditions. On a seven-day trek aboard the 72-passenger Coral Discoverer, you'll visit pristine Wineglass Bay and remote Maria Island. The all-Aussie crew even throws barbecues on deck (from $3,850).
The Food Rivals What You Can Find on Land.
Innovative chef partnerships, meals that speak to a destination, and healthy dining options are now de rigueur on many ships. In August, Azamara Club Cruises launched a breakfast menu that highlights local favorites: say, chicken congee on Hong Kong sailings and shakshuka with hummus on voyages that stop in Israel. On Crystal Cruises' Crystal Mozart, which plies the Danube, chefs can source fresh herbs from the deck-top garden. For those with dietary restrictions, Oceania Cruises serves more than 250 vegan dishes in its Grand Dining Rooms, fleet-wide, and just added raw-juice and smoothie bars on the Riviera and the Marina. Windstar Cruises and the James Beard Foundation are teaming up on six chef-led voyages in 2018. The line-up has yet to be announced (past luminaries have included Hugh Acheson), but chefs will host cooking demos, a dinner, and an excursion to a local market. And Seabourn has introduced the Grill by Thomas Keller, an elegant chophouse where passengers can order tableside Caesar salad and a Snake River Farms rib eye, now on all ships as of this month.
You Can Cruise to a Newer, Fitter You.
Today it's possible to have an active vacation at sea — and come home in better shape than when you left. MSC Cruises' Weight Watchers–themed sailings have meetings, cooking demos, and "points" listed on every menu. The next such trip is in the Caribbean (seven nights from $1,145 per person). AmaWaterways offers 10 co-branded itineraries with adventure company Backroads on the Rhine, Seine, Danube, and Douro rivers. Passengers can sign up for guided walking and hiking tours as well as cycling excursions on custom titanium or electric bikes (seven nights from $4,500). Sailing the Mediterranean suggests leisurely rosé-soaked lunches and long afternoons on the beach, but with Regent Seven Seas Cruises, you can now balance those indulgences with wellness excursions. Limited to 20 people each, the 11 activities include a tai chi class in Marseille and "laughter therapy" in Palamós, Spain; all finish with a Canyon Ranch spa treatment back on board ($299 per outing).
The Ships Are Getting High-tech.
Advances in technology are now making for a smoother experience. Both Princess Cruises and MSC have rolled out wearables designed to help you expedite check-in, keep track of your companions, and customize your voyage. Princess's program, launched in November on the Regal Princess, is called Ocean Medallion. It's a token that you can keep in your pocket, strap on your wrist, or wear as a pendant, then use as both a cabin key and a paperless wallet. It also monitors your preferences: walk toward the fitness center, and you may get a notification in the companion app recommending a yoga class you'd love. With the MSC for Me program, now on three ships, passengers wear a bracelet that works in tandem with an app for booking excursions and specialty restaurants. Royal Caribbean, Azamara, and Celebrity Cruises are stepping up their game, too: the companies will be integrating facial-recognition technology to allow for faster boarding in port.
The Crowd Is Getting Younger.
River cruising typically attracts older travelers. But U by Uniworld, launching in April on the Danube, Rhine, and Seine rivers, is geared toward the 21–45 demographic. The company's sleek, black-clad ships feature hammocks, DJ booths, and suites with bunk beds — a far cry from what's available on more traditional vessels. Instead of afternoon tea, onboard activities include silent discos and bartending classes, while off-ship excursions range from a street-art tour through Paris's emerging Belleville neighborhood to rock climbing in Bamberg, Germany (seven nights from $1,699).