Cruises seem to be an acquired taste among travelers, especially for those of us who feel that bigger is not always better. But if you know where to look for ships that are more like a boutique hotel than a massive city on the water, then the prospect of spending your vacation days aboard a cruise becomes a lot more enticing. So with this in mind, we decided to round up the best companies in the industry for every kind of traveler. Not only do these cruises offer more guidance and structure than your average vacation, but they also offer one-of-a-kind adventures without skimping on luxury amenities, well-designed suites, and gourmet meals.
Some only accommodate up to 32 passengers, while others can have up to 1000, and some head to the high seas in ships, while others venture through backwaters and hidden rivers in yachts. So without further ado, scroll through our five favorite cruise lines that are worth booking, regardless of the destination. And then at the end of our water-bound travel bucket list, find out how to pack for a cruise by clicking through our list of 24 items to bring on board.
This luxury cruise company has everything you could possibly want on a vacation: adventure, comfort, scenic views, and chic, photogenic décor. Its ships are more like sophisticated boutique hotels than large-scale, all-inclusive resorts, and the design is much more modern and sleek than the average cruise ship. Since all the accommodations are complete with en suite bathrooms, air conditioning, and floor-to-ceiling windows, you'll get the perks of an intimate experience without feeling claustrophobic.
Right now, it offers cruises in the Peruvian Amazon River and Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam. Its trips are also much shorter than most, ranging from three- to seven-night stays. If you hop aboard the 32-passenger Aria Amazon, you'll swim and kayak in hidden black water lakes, spot giant water lilies and sloths, tour a flooded forest, and cross suspended jungle bridges. If you decide to board the indulgent 40-passenger Aqua Mekong, you'll explore ancient temples and ruins, relax on picturesque beaches, snorkel, swim in the outdoor pool, and tour Saigon and Ho Chi Minh.
Crystal has a huge range of experiences you can choose from, so you just have to decide whether you want to travel by yacht, cruise ship, or riverboat and where you want to go. The one commonality? They're all incredibly luxurious with glam interiors. For a more traditional experience on a larger boat, the Crystal Symphony has about 850 passengers, while the Crystal Serenity accommodates almost 1000 guests at a time. Its yacht, Crystal Esprit, is more like a boutique hotel on the water with just 62 guests allowed on board and Etro products in the en suite bathrooms. The fleet of river cruise yachts are a similar size and are a great way to experience Europe by waterway.
The company offers expeditions in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, New England, Canada, the West Indies, the Pacific Coast, the Mexican Riviera, the Panama Canal, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and there's even a cruise that goes all the way around the world.
If you're not quite sure about going on a full-blown cruise but love spending time on the water, start out with a sailing trip, or look into a private charting service. Dream Yacht Charter is the perfect resource for this. It's sort of like Airbnb except on water, and you can choose to have a crewed charter (21 boats have this option), so the price ranges and accommodations vary greatly, but there's also much more flexibility to customize your trip. With over 961 boats to choose from with destinations around the globe, you'll definitely find a trip that fits your needs. Just choose the destination that speaks to you, and then browse the monohulls and catamarans available in each location.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is another larger company, so there's a lot of room for flexibility when it comes to planning your trip, except you should expect to stay a little longer. The shortest duration on board (with shore excursions, of course) is nine days. Its larger ships, the Seven Seas Explorer and the Seven Seas Navigator, venture out to places like the Antarctica and the Galapagos. There's a card room, a library, a pool, an infinity plunge pool, boutique shops, a casino, a theater, cooking lessons, a spa, and more, so there's never a dull moment on board or off. And then the Seven Seas Marina, which is smaller, goes throughout Africa, India, and Northern Europe.
Much like the former, Silver Sea offers longer journeys on larger boats, but with all the amenities of a five-star hotel. With a fleet of nine ships that go pretty much anywhere in the world, this is a great option for anyone who wants to experience a serious adventure without sacrificing high-end, gourmet meals and a spacious suite. If you choose to go somewhere remote like Antartica, you'll want to pack some extra gear. The company will give you a thorough packing list with all the information you need, plus a complimentary parka.
And speaking of packing, scroll through our list of 24 essential items to find out how to pack for a cruise with both form and function in mind.
For more packing tips, here's how to pack light and still have everything you need.
This post was originally published on September 29, 2017, and has since been updated.