1. Home
  2. Planning
  3. Best Cruises
  4. Great Cruise Destinations: 7 Classic Trips You Should Not Miss
Norwegian Fjords cruise (Photo: Marco Saracco/Shutterstock.com)
Norwegian Fjords cruise (Photo: Marco Saracco/Shutterstock.com)

Great Cruise Destinations: 7 Classic Trips You Should Not Miss

Certain cruise itineraries stand out as iconic. These are the classic sailings that take you to the great cruise destinations -- beyond the first-timer standards like the Caribbean and the Mediterranean -- and really show off what a cruise vacation has to offer. If you're an avid cruiser, these are the trips you can't miss. Experienced travelers would agree that these destinations are ones best explored via ship or riverboat.

Whether you want to cruise to places that aren't easily reached by car or train (think remote fjords) or take one of the ultimate ship journeys (through the Panama Canal or down the Nile), you will want to keep these seven great cruise destinations in mind when you're deciding where to go on your next vacation.

Updated August 21, 2018

1. Transatlantic Cruises

Queen Mary 2 cruising by the New York skyline

Why They're Great: Transatlantic cruises -- especially on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 -- evoke the steam ships of yesteryear, when your only option for travel from America to the Continent was by ship. With no or very few ports of call, these journeys across the sea truly let you unwind. You can spend hours gazing out at the vast ocean, thinking deep thoughts; get caught up on your reading; or spend your days playing bridge, listening to fascinating guest lecturers and making new friends.

Best For: Travelers who want to experience the ship more than a particular destination, or who need some forced relaxation.

When to Go: Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is the quintessential transatlantic cruiser and offers ocean crossings year-round, except from January through April when it's off on a world cruise. For the most choice of ships, look for sailings during the spring and fall when cruise lines are repositioning ships from Europe to the Caribbean or vice versa.

2. Norwegian Fjords Cruises

Norwegian Fjords

Why They're Great: Gorgeous fjords with scenic waterfalls -- accessible via your cruise ship or smaller boat tour once docked -- are the hallmark of Norway cruises. The villages at fjord's end are much more easily reached by ship than by road, and you can enjoy a mix of quaint towns and vibrant cities. While the dreamer in you is going gaga over the views, your inner accountant is doing the dance of joy because it's much more affordable to visit Norway by cruise ship than to pay local rates for hotels, restaurants and land-based transportation.

Best For: Shutterbugs and other travelers who want to drink in Norway's breathtaking scenery -- while getting a bit of culture on the side.

When to Go: Summer cruises are warmer and the days are filled with light till late -- just be prepared for the occasional rainstorm.

3. Nile River Cruises

Temple of Philae at Aswan, Egypt

Why They're Great: The River Nile is the heart of Egypt, and most of its ancient landmarks lay close to its shores. The classic way to pyramid-hop is via a river cruise, making the Nile a great cruise destination. If you loved "Death on the Nile," this is the cruise to try (just leave the murder and mayhem at home).

Best For: History buffs and travelers who want to see some of the great wonders of the world.

When to Go: Avoid the heat, and cruise between October and April.

Find a Cruise
Email me when prices drop

4. Panama Canal Cruises

Why They're Great: You can view one of the great engineering works of our time from shore, but to truly experience the Panama Canal, you must sail it. Panama Canal cruises will take you from the Pacific to the Caribbean in some of the largest ships that can squeeze into its many locks. Not only is the engineering intriguing but the itinerary takes you to ports in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico with plenty of options for communing with nature, soaking up the sun on island beaches and playing in the water.

Best For: Professional and amateur engineers make up a large fraction of Panama Canal cruisers, but the cruises are great for anyone wishing to combine a tropical cruise with a bucket list experience.

When to Go: Wait until the rainy season ends in November and sail during the winter or early spring before the temperatures get unbearable.

5. Danube River Cruises

River ship cruising past the Budapest Parliament Building

Why They're Great: The iconic river cruise is often most travelers' first river cruise. Danube River cruises might be entry-level but they are still high on our list of great cruise destinations. You'll combine visits to key Eastern European cities, such as Budapest and Vienna, and sail past historic castles, expansive vineyards and beautiful countryside. Plus, you'll have the opportunity to catch a concert in the homeland of classical music.

Best For: Culture vultures interested in a mix of quaint towns and bustling cities.

When to Go: May through September is the peak of the Danube cruise season, and the best time to go. If you want to experience the region's Christmas Markets and don't mind less-than-perfect weather, opt for a late November or December sailing.

6. Alaska Cruises

Humpback whale breaching Kenai Fjords National Park Alaska

Why They're Great: Alaska has become synonymous with cruise and travelers yearning to explore the northernmost state often choose a cruise, even if not avid sailors. That's because some destinations in Alaska's Inside Passage aren't accessible by car. You will see the best of the Inside Passage and the state's famous glaciers when traveling by ship, as well as be primed to spot whales, eagles and other wildlife along the way.

Best For: Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts who respond to the call of the wild.

When to Go: Summer cruises feature long days and warmer temperatures -- though be prepared for clouds, chilly weather and rain even in June, July and August.

7. Baltic Cruises

Cathedral Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

Why They're Great: Baltic cruises are like greatest hits tours of Northern Europe. Itineraries feature one major cultural center after another -- St. Petersburg, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki. You'd be exhausted trying to cram all these cities into one land trip, but on a cruise, you can enjoy a good meal, see a show and sleep in a cozy bed while the ship whisks you from one destination to the next.

Best For: Urban types who want to hit all of the world's great cities rather than wander about charming yet small villages and towns.

When to Go: Not surprisingly, June, July and August are your best bets for these northern destinations.

Popular on Cruise Critic

6 Cruise Ship Cabins to Avoid
You might expect loud noises, close quarters and crazy maneuvers in the dance club onboard your cruise ship -- but not in your cabin. Even if you don't plan to spend much time there, it should be a restful and private place so you can maintain that much-needed vacation stamina. To help you do so, we've compiled a list of cabins you'll want to avoid booking if closet-like dimensions or scraping chair sounds overhead aren't appealing to you. Heed our advice, and you might be feeling a bit less claustrophobic and a tad more refreshed come disembarkation.
8 Best Luxury Cruise Ships
The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalized service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your vacation style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive vacation experience, while Oceania draws travelers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.
How To Choose a Cruise Ship Cabin: What You Need to Know
Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel: Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview Balcony: a room featuring a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks It's the permutations (size, view, location, amenities and price, for example) of the four basic cabin types that can make choosing difficult. In addition to knowing your cabin options, you need to know yourself: Do you tend to get seasick? Do you prefer to nest peaceably on your balcony rather than hanging with the crowd around the pool area? Conversely, is your idea of a stateroom simply a place to flop into bed at 1 a.m. -- no fancy notions necessary? Are there certain amenities you are willing to splurge on, or can you simply not justify paying for unnecessary perks? The answers will help guide you toward selecting the best stateroom for your money. If you're feeling overwhelmed by choice, we'll help you get started with this guide to choosing the best cruise cabins for you and your travel party.