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9 Hot Cruises You Must Take This Summer

May 3, 2014

A gulet off the Amalfi Coast. (Courtesy: Peter Sommer Travels)

From small ships plying the waterways of Europe to luxury adventure boats on the Amazon, we’ve got the best cruises to take this summer. And can we talk about the convenience factor of a cruise? Let’s see—no worrying about buying train tickets in another language. No packing, no unpacking. And on many cruises, all your costs are included. Here, nine ways to sail that are trending right now.

What’s Hot: Gulet Cruising 

Why: An up-close-and-personal way to see the coasts of Greece, Italy, and Turkey is on a gulet (wooden Turkish ship) with Peter Sommer Travels, carrying two to 20 passengers, plus a captain and chef. Archaeologists and historians are also on board to bring ancient sites to life. 

Who: Our two favorite Peter Sommer Travels this summer are “Crusing Western Lycia, Turkey” (July 12-19) and “Cruising the Amalfi Coast, Italy” (Sept. 6-13).

A view of island of Symi off Turkey’s Carian Coast, which you’ll see on a gulet cruise with Peter Sommer Travels. (Courtesy: Peter Sommer Travels)

What’s Hot: Norwegian Fjords

Why: Traveling in über-expensive Norway becomes more affordable on a cruise. Glide into stunning fjords swirling with mist, visit coastal towns and earn bragging rights by crossing the Arctic Circle on some sailings. 

Who: Royal Caribbean offers offers multiple summer departures from Copenhagen, Oslo, or Great Britain. Keep on dancing at shipboard nightclubs as the Midnight Sun rocks on or sail with the postman: Hurtigruten, a local line has frequent weekly departures that glide into fjords, even dropping mail at tiny coastal towns.

Get off the ship and experience the fjords. (Courtesy: Hurtigruten) 

What’s Hot: Rhine River Cruises

Why: The river cruise industry is booming, especially along the Rhine, which has an enduring appeal for its fairytale castles, legendary ports—Heidelberg, Cologne, Strasbourg—as well as discoveries like Colmar, France, a made-for-the-movies dream of a half-timbered medieval city. 

Bookings are heavy on Viking River Cruises’ sail from Amsterdam along the Rhine, ending at Basel, Switzerland. This summer Viking’s Rhine route showcases a few of its new longships. New pretties include MS Baldur and MS Magni. Tauck recently launched MS Inspire, which has unique loft-like cabins with huge windows that take river gazing to a new level.

The deck on Viking River Cruises’ new Aquavit. (Courtesy: Viking River Cruises)

What’s Hot: Peru’s Upper Amazon River

Why: Traversing the muddy, piranha-infested Peruvian Upper Amazon once required croc-wrestling skills. Now, less hearty souls can drift along, pisco sours in hand, on air-conditioned small ships that balance comfort with adventure while they scan the jungle for capuchin monkeys, exotic birds. 

Who: Small ship experts AdventureSmith Explorations have tabs on the Amazon, with ships like Aqua, Aria, and Delphin II, which offer luxurious bed linens and the services of a trained chef.

(Courtesy: Aqua Expeditions)

What’s Hot: A Classic European Cruise

Why: Never been to Europe? A cruise is the perfect way to hit must-see cities. Plus, European cruises averages $170 a day—far less than what you’d pay for a hotel plus meals plus transport. 

Who: Norwegian Epic‘s June roundtrips from Rome call on Florence and Barcelona. Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas have itineraries in Rome, Florence, Barcelona—and sailings throughout summer.  

What’s Hot: Cat-in-the-Hat Sets Sail

Why: Books at sea—now that is hot. Carnival Cruises has forged a partnership with Dr. Seuss, bringing the author’s characters to sea. Look for a Bookville family reading venue, stocked with Dr. Seuss books, storytime, a life-size Cat-in-the-Hat running around, and Seuss characters stage a parade. But is that Green-Eggs-and-Ham breakfast a wise choice for rolling seas, Sam-I-Yam?

Who: Carnival Freedom and that crazy cat sail Eastern and Western Caribbean routes this summer. 

Carnival Cruises’ new Bookville. (Courtesy: Carnival Cruises)

What’s Hot: Chefs Battling on the Ocean

Why: Look for sharp knives at sea—the chef wars just keep getting hotter. Bravo’s “Top Chef” winners toughed it out on television, and now they’re getting their reward on Celebrity Cruises, dishing up cooking demos, private classes, and some new menus. 

Who: First round puts chefs Spike, Ash and Angelo in the ring on Celebrity Summit’s July 27 Bermuda sail. Four chefs warm up an August 15 Alaska cruise on Celebrity Solstice.

The Celebrity Solstice, in Alaska. (Courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)

What’s Hot: Land and Sea in Alaska

Why: Marine mammals are an Alaskan cruise highlight: gray whales, dolphins, and sharks, you’ll see them all. You’ll also get misty summer rains, reducing visibility, dashing some dreams so it’s Denali to the rescue! The highest US peak and national park is critter country—grizzlies, black bears, elk, moose, and bald eagles in wild reaches of vast park, with animal sightings almost guaranteed.

Who:Holland America’s land-plus-cruise tour with “Denali x 1, 2 or 3” departs daily from Anchorage or Seattle and gives you the best of both worlds in Alaska. 

The hues of Denali National Park. (Photo: Dhilung Kirat)

What’s Hot: Sailing US Waterways

Why: What a time the American Empress has had, enduring multiple disasters and ending with the owners declaring bankruptcy in 2008. New owner American Queen Steamboat Co. rescued and refurbished the historic riverboat which is now churning that red paddle-wheel once again along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. 

Who: Demand for the nostalgia sails is ever-growing, and bookings are brisk on the 223-passenger luxury ship American Empress. Sister ship American Queen sails the Mississippi River.

(Courtesy: American Queen Steamboat Co.)

Anne Chalfant is author of the app “Cruise: A Guide to Ships and Trips” on iTunes and “Cruise! Hands-On Guide” (Android) on Google Play.