Seagoing vacations have come a long way since TV’s sunny Love Boat sailed across 1970s screens. These days, passengers can snuggle up to an ice bar, learn cooking with a Michelin-starred chef, or plummet down theme park–size waterslides, all from the comfort of stylish seagoing resorts.
More than 200 passenger vessels ply the world’s rivers and seas, and each year brings a new fleet of ships setting sail for new destinations and sporting new amenities. There truly is a cruise ship for every type of traveler. Families, for instance, will appreciate the 4,000-passenger Disney Fantasy, with its “enchanted’’ art that interacts with guests, over-the-top stage shows, and an adults-only zone.
The Oceania Riviera caters instead to foodies, offering Jacques Pépin–designed menus, hands-on cooking classes, and a Napa-worthy wine cellar. Action junkies got a new thrill this summer with the debut of the 3,690-passenger Carnival Breeze, featuring a full-size water park. Look out for the slightly larger Norwegian Breakaway, which will debut in April 2013 with a ropes course where passengers can walk the plank—yes, wearing a safety harness.
But cruising isn’t just about the ships themselves. For many travelers, what matters most is the places they take you. “You go to fabulous places you couldn’t get to by land because the travel is too difficult, or it would just take too much time,” says veteran cruiser and Miami banker Jose Valdes-Fauli.
New ships are indeed sailing far and wide, along the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia (Uniworld’s 60-passenger River Orchid), past historic castles lining the Danube River (the 190-passenger Viking Longships), and even to the Arctic Circle on Compagnie du Ponant's luxe mega-yacht Le Soleal, which departs on its maiden voyage in June 2013.
Wherever you go, whatever the ship, at some point you’ll likely find yourself standing on the deck, a glass of champagne in hand. You’ll pause to admire views of pirate islands and whales and icebergs going by. Or you’ll experience the thrill of sailing into Venice’s Grand Canal or Hong Kong’s futuristic harbor. And for the moment, at least, you’re the admiral of all you see.
Read on to find the ship that suits your cruise personality.