Updated January 8, 2020
Ready to book your first cruise? Choosing where to go is one of the first steps -- and sometimes trickier than it seems. Maybe you want an affordable, tropical getaway that takes you to top beaches -- but should you go for the Eastern or Western Caribbean? Or perhaps you're on the fence about cruising, but don't know which cruise regions offer shorter sailings (two to five nights), so you can see if you like it without making a big commitment.
A number of itineraries cater to newbies with varying lengths, easy accessibility and tourist-friendly ports. To help you choose wisely, we've selected the seven best itineraries for your first cruise.
Why we love it: A Bahamas cruise is one of the most affordable and easily accessible cruise vacations. Located only 50 miles off the coast of Florida, the islands are visited year-round by nearly every major cruise line -- including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney. For those who want to dip their toes into cruising without a huge commitment, shorter sailings ranging from two to five nights are a great way to sample cruising that's easy on the wallet. Seven- and eight-night itineraries (the lengthiest options) generally include visits to Nassau or Freeport, Key West and one of the cruise line's private islands.
Itinerary highlights: Nassau's Atlantis Paradise Island resort and the cruise line private islands, with exclusive beaches and plenty of water sports
Learn more about the Bahamas.
2. Eastern Caribbean
Why we love it: Encompassing ports like San Juan and St. Maarten as well as the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the Eastern Caribbean offers an array of award-winning beaches and friendly, colorful villages. It also has a great dining and shopping scene. Cruises are offered from convenient homeports like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York and New Orleans by most major lines. First timers may prefer weeklong cruises to longer sailings.
Itinerary highlights: Puerto Rico's Old San Juan; "The Baths" in Virgin Gorda; St. Thomas, where you can stroll through its duty-free shopping mecca, soak up some sun on Magens Bay or take a ferry to St. Johns for a snorkeling adventure
Learn more about the Eastern Caribbean.
3. Western Caribbean
Why we love it: Western Caribbean cruises generally cost less than the Eastern Caribbean -- which makes them a great deal for first time cruisers looking to test the waters. The popular itinerary is known for its adventurous "must try" excursions and beaches for every type. Go cave tubing in Belize City or hike waterfalls outside Montego Bay. When it's time to unwind, head to Smith Cove beach in Grand Cayman or savor ceviche and cervezas on Playa del Carman's main strip.
Itinerary highlights: Stingray City in Grand Cayman and Mexico's Mayan ruins, which can be accessed from the ports of Cozumel, Costa Maya and Progreso
Learn more about the Western Caribbean.
Why we love it: The 49th State is a bucket-list destination that convinces many travelers to take their first cruise. Revered for its otherworldly scenery, history and abundance of wildlife, Alaska makes it easy to choose your own level of adventure. Big ships provide a scenic sailing experience that typically include a visit to one of the most popular glaciers and tours such as floatplane rides and dog sledding. Small expedition ships visit smaller ports the big ships can't get to, offer more immersive tours and almost always guarantee you'll get your hiking boots dirty. Whichever route you choose, rest assured you'll get to see a glacier (we recommend itineraries that include Glacier Bay). And if you don't see any whales, eagles or bears from the ship, there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with wildlife on the excursions.
Itinerary highlights: Glacier Bay; Skagway's White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad; and Juneau, where you can kayak, canoe or hike to get a closer look at Mendenhall Glacier
Learn more about Alaska.
5. Western Mediterranean
Why we love it: If you want to explore Europe for the first time and could use some hand-holding, a cruise is a great way to sample the region's major tourist destinations. From Barcelona and Nice to Florence and Rome, the Western Mediterranean is full of visitor-friendly cities that offer a taste of the region's iconic art, history and culture. Whether your heart is set on visiting the Vatican and the Colosseum, or pleasing your palate at seaside cafes and local wineries, you'll enjoy the ease of exploring either with a cruise line excursion or on you own.
Itinerary highlights: Barcelona's bustling Las Ramblas, Rome's ancient sites, France's wine region and day trips to Italy's Cinque Terre or Capri
Learn more about the Western Mediterranean.
6. Mexican Riviera
Why we love it: West Coast residents are a stone's throw from the Mexican Riviera. If you live in California, you can even drive to one of the many cruise departure ports: Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. In addition to easy access, Mexican Riviera cruises range from short itineraries offering a taste of "Baja California" to longer itineraries that include the Sea of Cortez.
Itinerary highlights: Ziplining in Puerto Vallarta, deep-sea fishing in Zihuatanejo and wine tasting in Ensenada.
Learn more about the Mexican Riviera.
7. Rhine and Danube Rivers
Why we love it: River cruises are luring baby boomers off bus tours and onto cruise ships. Europe's Rhine and Danube Rivers are the most popular introductory itineraries due to their charming scenery, slower pace and bucket-list cities like Amsterdam and Budapest. Rhine River cruises afford a fabulous wine scene and must-see villages like Strasbourg and Rudesheim, while the Danube -- which includes stops in Nuremburg, Vienna and Melk -- is dotted with cities rich in art history. Fairytale castles, medieval influences and UNESCO World Heritage Sites give you a glimpse of each region's history and culture and allow you to venture at your leisure.
Itinerary highlights: Amsterdam, Basel and Rudesheim (make sure to try the gluhwein) on the Rhine; Budapest, Vienna and Melk (don't miss a tour of the monastery); and the Christmas markets during the late fall and winter on either itinerary.