With the boatloads of cruise vacation offerings out there this year, we’ve waded through the ocean of possibilities to bring you the very best trips on ships for 2013. Set sail into new horizons with cruises touting intriguing itineraries across the seven seas or boasting buzz-worthy new boat amenities. Plus, ensure that you’re in the same boat with like-minded travelers, with the very best options for families, first-timers, foodies, and more.
Best Cruise for Families
Norwegian Cruise Line is launching its much-anticipated 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway come May. The ship will operate year-round weeklong runs out of New York City, hitting up Bermuda this summer, followed by autumn and winter jaunts down the coast to Florida and the Bahamas, where family-fun encounters with Mickey Mouse and dolphin pods await.
Why they will love it: The Breakaway is brimming with features the whole family will love, including an open-air boardwalk, trio of Broadway shows, three-story sports complex, and the cruise line’s largest water park at sea. The young’uns will dig the Nickelodeon-themed Kids’ Aqua Park and the line’s largest youth- and teen-dedicated facilities, while grown-ups get the Second City improv comedy troupe, an expansive spa featuring the first-ever salt room at sea, and the très cool Ice Bar.
Best Cruise for Romance Seekers
Turquoise lagoons, white-sand beaches, idyllic islets, vibrant villages, spectacular sunsets—French Polynesia is Eden rediscovered. Book a getaway aboard Paul Gauguin Cruises’ intimate 332-guest m/s Paul Gauguin, with weeklong itineraries primed for amorous adventurers.
Why they will love it: Grab your main squeeze and set sail to the South Pacific, taking in picture-perfect ports in Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti, and more—including the cruise line’s own private beach in Bora Bora and islet in Taha'a. Fresh from a sweeping renovation, the m/s Paul Gauguin features ocean-view staterooms (most with private balconies); a casino, piano bar, lounge, and spa (with couples’ massages on the menu); fine dining and free-flowing wines; an onboard watersports marina; and comped amenities for honeymooners (like a French Polynesian blessing ceremony).
Best Cruise for Seniors
Mississippi River cruising is experiencing a renaissance of late, with a fresh crop of cruise offerings primed for seniors in search of a laid-back, close-to-home escape, served up with a side of old-fashioned Americana. First-rate European-focused river cruise line Avalon Waterways is making its stateside debut in ’13, with chartered cabins aboard the 436-passenger Victorian-style paddle wheel steamboat, the American Queen.
Why they will love it: Explore America’s heartland on a fully escorted Avalon Waterways itinerary, where one all-inclusive upfront rate gets you lodging on the elegant steamboat, daily guided excursions, lectures from onboard river historians, evening showboat-style entertainment, and savory Southern-style cuisine. Try the fall foliage itineraries between Chicago and Minneapolis, taking in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, St. Louis Arch, boyhood home of Mark Twain, and more.
Best Cruise for First-Timers
Celebrity Cruises scores high marks for their sexy Solstice-class ships, which rank high for sleek design and hip public spaces, while coming in comfortably low on price. Their final addition to the Solstice fleet, the 3,030-passenger Celebrity Reflection launched in Europe this fall and just arrived stateside for a series of first-timer friendly 7-night Caribbean sailings out of Miami.
Why they will love it: For would-be cruisers looking to get their sea legs wet, the Celebrity Reflection delivers all of the key ingredients for a winning cruise vacation: plenty of onboard diversions to suit all tastes (including an expansive spa, live grass-coated deck, and a craft beer bar), crowd-pleasing itineraries (to fun-in-the-sun ports in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and more), and wallet-friendly rates.
Best Cruise for Budget Crunchers
Carnival’s “Fun Ships” are known to pack a budget-friendly punch with oodles of onboard offerings on their priced-to-sell sailings, which regularly embark from easily accessible U.S. home ports. The line’s 2,974-passenger Carnival Glory has emerged fresh from extensive renovations this fall, adding a bevy of new value-oriented onboard spaces.
Why they will love it: Skip out on the more popular (and pricey) fall foliage itineraries and book a fun-in-the-sun summer sailing to Eastern Canada (to Saint John and Halifax) instead. The Carnival Glory sails 4- and 5-night itineraries from a duo of well-connected Northeastern cities (NYC or Boston). Onboard, enjoy myriad new value-add establishments, like the fee-free Guy’s Burger Joint (developed with Food Network's Guy Fieri), the BlueIguana Cantina (serving up Mexican fare), and the Punchliner Comedy Club (presented by George Lopez).
Best Cruise for Big Spenders
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa is very likely the best cruise ship that you’ve never heard of, with the German cruise line’s über-luxury vessel catering largely to a German-speaking clientele. Not to fret, dear Anglophones: The line is rolling out Europa’s sister ship—the 516-passenger Europa 2—this May, with a series of fully bilingual itineraries (operating in the Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula, and Southeast Asia) geared towards an English-speaking market.
Why they will love it: Each plush cabin aboard the all-suite Europa 2 comes with a private balcony, free-of-charge minibar, and high-tech trimmings (including the usage of tablet PCs)—big spenders can upgrade to splurge-worthy higher category suites for extras like whirlpool baths, steam saunas, and butler service. Onboard, expect eight restaurants (touting high gastronomic standards with dishes like rabbit cassoulet or chocolate-coated champagne mousse), six bars, original production shows, a cooking school, and spa. For the ultimate big-spender itinerary, try “The Legendary Riviera” itinerary, calling on high-rolling ports like Monte Carlo and St. Tropez.
Best Cruise for Foodies
France is the world’s foremost foodies’ mecca, and Burgundy stands at the core of the country’s gastronomic ingenuity. Discover the bounties of Burgundy firsthand from along its countryside canals, with a sailing aboard upscale French Country Waterways’ intimate 12-passenger Nenuphar barge. Onboard, fine French dining takes prime billing and free-flowing wine is par for the course: It’s an epicurean’s decadent dream come true.
Why they will love it: The Nenuphar’s leisurely weeklong itineraries are immersed in the region’s food and wine culture, featuring masterly crafted market-fresh fare prepared daily by the skilled onboard chef (along with generous cheese plates, perfect pastries, and generously poured Burgundies, naturally), visits to area Côte d'Or vineyards for private wine tastings and cellar tours, forays into colorful local farmers’ markets, and even an onshore dinner at a rare three-star Michelin restaurant.
Best Cruise for Nature Lovers
Combine the experts at National Geographic, an eco-minded Lindblad Expeditions voyage, and the natural wonders of Alaska for a nature lover’s cruise vacation that Mother Earth practically stitched together herself. Cruise the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird or National Geographic Sea Lion for an unforgettable expedition-style sailing to the Last Frontier.
Why they will love it: Lindblad’s small ships have been providing access to Alaska’s off-the-path channels and hidden coves for 30 years. Come face-to-face with Alaskan fjords, glaciers, and old-growth forests; set out on hiking, kayaking, and Zodiac excursions; and expect wildlife encounters with whales, bears, eagles, and more. Benefit from the insights of numerous naturalists, scientists, and even a Lindblad-National Geographic-certified photo instructor who accompany the sailings, and be wowed by Lindblad’s new Undersea Alaska program, offering real-time glimpses of the marine wonderland in the waters below.
Best Cruise for Off-the-Path Explorers
For intrepid seafarers eager to uncover uncharted cruise ship ground, set sail on Australia-based, expedition-meets-luxury Orion Expedition Cruises this fall. Their 106-passenger Orion will bring guests to the South Pacific’s little-visited Forgotten Islands (aka Indonesia’s Maluku Islands), rife with ancient culture and pristine reefs.
Why they will love it: This one-off island itinerary is a boon for nature and photography lovers with a penchant for off-the-path adventure. The route embarks from the beaches of Bali, on to Komodo (home of the infamous dragons), and follows fabled trade routes to lesser-known locales like the Maluku Islands and Australia’s Thursday Island, before disembarking in Cairns (gateway to the Great Barrier Reef). Document the photogenic locations with the guidance of professional onboard photographers and get closer to the action via guided kayak and Zodiac excursions.
Best Cruise for Culture Vultures
Dedicated to highlighting the history and culture of ancient civilizations, Voyages to Antiquity debuted in 2010 to the delight of culturally minded cruisers in search of enriching adventures on the high seas. New for the line’s winter cruise season, the 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey has branched out from its Mediterranean roots to feature more far-flung Far Eastern itineraries, taking in exotic Asian ports of call, including a multiday stop in burgeoning Myanmar, a bastion of Buddhist culture.
Why they will love it: Explore the Orient with a duo of Myanmar-inclusive itineraries in 2013 (embarking in February and November), with additional culturally intriguing port calls in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and more. Voyages to Antiquity combines special guest lecturers (professors, former ambassadors, historians, and more) with included shore excursions to ancient spice trade centers, old colonial capitals, and tucked-away ethnic enclaves.