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The Gauguin (Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises)
The Gauguin (Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises)

5 Dreamy Cruise Experiences You Might Not Know Exist

Exotic destinations? Yes, please. Complimentary wine, beer and cocktails? If you insist. Luxury cruises sure know how to give us everything we desire. As if it couldn't get any better, some lines up the ante with experiences so remarkable, you might not have dreamed they were even available on cruise vacations. Indulge in some cruise fantasies with our five favorites.

Updated April 2, 2019

Champagne and Caviar Beach Parties

Seabourn butlers serving caviar and Champagne at the Caviar in the Surf event

Popping bottles and nibbling on caviar while standing waist-deep in the water might sound like something out of a hip-hop music video. But it's how luxury small-ship lines like Seabourn and Seadream Yacht Club throw a beach party.

Known as Caviar in the Surf and Champagne & Caviar Splash Party, respectively, the popular activity involves the ship's officers floating out Champagne bottles, caviar tins and other accoutrements on surf boards to passengers wading in the sea. The group sips and schmoozes, while a barbecue lunch and drinks await them on shore. If this isn't living the high life, we don't know what is.


Onboard Marina

Aerial view of the Watersports Platform on Wind Spirit

OK, so small ships don't have rock climbing walls or multiple swimming pools. That doesn't mean they don't know how to indulge adventurous spirits. A few lines, including Windstar, Seabourn, SeaDream and Paul Gauguin Cruises, are equipped with onboard marinas that house kayaks, paddleboards, snorkeling gear and other recreational toys. Passengers are free to use the equipment at their leisure, weather-permitting, as long as the ship is anchored or in some cases docked.

The onboard marina is not open on every itinerary, so choose your cruise carefully if it's high on your list.


Climb the Mast

Passenger climbing the mast on a Star Clippers ship

Traditional masted sailing is not a thing of the past. A handful of lines pay tribute to the golden age of sailing, with tall ships that run on the power of ocean winds. One of them, however, takes channeling your inner sailor to the next level. Star Clippers offers its passengers a chance to climb the mast for unbeatable views, the ultimate sense of accomplishment and of course, bragging rights.

How it works: You get strapped into a safety harness, climb more than 60 feet up a rope ladder and end at the crow's nest (a small lookout platform). Unless you've got the heebie-jeebies, don't rush to come back down. Soak up the scenery, and document your bravery with a selfie.


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Nights in Private Places

Bottle of Champagne, chocolate covered strawberries and candles beside the hot tub for the Nights in Private Places Experience on Azamara Journey

Nothing says "romance at sea" quite like butler service, dinner on your own personal deck and sleeping under the stars. Azamara's Nights in Private Places is a package just for couples, in which the ships' spa terrace is closed off to other passengers and transformed into a sensual hideaway. Lovers canoodle in luxurious robes, over Champagne and canapes, a saltwater whirlpool and freshly grilled meals paired with wine. At the end of the night, retreat to your outdoor canopy bed with privacy curtains for a long night of passionate … stargazing.

Psst: Seadream also offer an opportunity to sleep under the stars on its Balinese Dream Beds, though extras like dinner and Champagne are not included in the experience.


Private Submarine Ride

Partial underwater shot of Crystal's submarine, with Crystal Esprit on the water in the background

Riding in a submarine -- who didn't dream of that as a kid? On Crystal Cruises' Crystal Esprit, you can finally satisfy your childlike curiosity on a three-person submarine that travels up to 300 meters under the sea.

Helmed by the ship's captain (or his first mate), the sub -- which looks more like something out of "Transformers" than your stereotypical military watercraft -- features a Plexiglas bubble that offers 360-degree views of the marine life below. It's kind of like scuba-diving, except you're fully clothed in a cozy, protective capsule and never actually get wet.

Even more expedition yachts will offer onboard submarines when they debut, including Scenic Eclipse (launching 2019), Crystal Endeavor (2020) and Seabourn's new expedition ships (2021).

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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.
What to Pack for a Cruise: A Beginner's Guide
There once was a not-so-savvy seafarer who didn't feel right unless she took two steamer trunks crammed with outfits on every cruise. This, she learned, was not a good idea. Besides incurring the wrath of her male traveling companion, who pointed out that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage through airport terminals and beyond, she quickly tired of cramming her belongings into tiny closets. The now savvy seafarer follows this packing rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated cabin storage space. Following that advice is getting easier because, for the most part, cruising has become a more casual vacation with relaxed dress codes. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags, it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.
Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.