As 2023 draws to a close and Cruise Critic prepares to sail into the exciting year that is 2024, our very own editorial staff decided to take a look back and highlight their favorite cruise moments of 2023.
From traveling with family to discovering our passions, these were the cruise memories, moments and events that stuck with us over the past 12 months.
Colleen McDaniel, Editor in Chief: "When you cruise for a living, it's usually tough to pick just one experience that stands out. This year, though, the moment that still makes me smile months later is one I had on a vacation with AmaWaterways and Backroads.
"The river cruise line and brilliant active travel company have had a years-long partnership, where passengers book through Backroads and enjoy a river cruise that has them biking (or hiking) each day, then onboard for relaxation each night.
"My husband and I took a trip on AmaDolce through the Bordeaux French wine region. I am active and had been preparing for this trip on my Peloton and with my road bike for months, but I still was a little nervous I wasn't in "biking shape" to keep up with our fellow guests. Less than a mile into our first ride, my fears melted away. This would be an amazing active adventure.
"That "ah" moment hit near the end of the cruise, when our team of 16 biked 39 miles from Cadillac to Bordeaux, while the non-Backroads guests stayed onboard as the ship was scheduled to meet us and pick us up. We arrived to the meeting point before the ship did, and Backroads, as always, had set us up with amazing snacks and drinks. And then the music started, through someone's phone and a Bluetooth speaker.
"By the time AmaDolce showed up, we were dancing and singing our hearts out, wringing all the joy we could from this fantastic wine and biking voyage, that had us pedal a total of 202 miles over the course of a week. I can't wait to do it again!"
Chris Gray Faust, Executive Editor, U.S.: "There’s nothing like a cruise to bring a family together. But how about if you barely know them? That’s the situation I found myself in onboard Paul Gauguin, when four of my adult cousins joined my husband and I on a 10-day work trip through French Polynesia. Before the cruise, I stressed a bit. After all, I had only seen these cousins at a handful of weddings and funerals over the years. Were they fun?
"It turns out that blood can be thicker than water. I was amazed at how much we all had in common. Over the course of the trip, I uncovered fun similarities – a dark sense of humor with one, a sense of adventure with another, a penchant for long hugs with a third.
"With the ability to do our own thing during the day and gather together at night, a cruise proved the perfect opportunity for us to reconnect; a move made particularly poignant as we all had lost our parents in recent years. I came away from the cruise not only having explored a fantastic destination, but discovering family I didn’t know I had. Priceless."
Adam Coulter, Executive Editor, U.K.: "Visiting the monasteries in Metora, Kalampaka, in April with my son Rafferty on Celestyal Crystal stood out for a number of reasons.
"First, Meteora was a place I had heard about and seen pictures of and always wanted to visit, especially after watching "Avatar" and hearing that the floating rocks in the sky were inspired by the monasteries.
"It did not disappoint: The monasteries perch atop almost sheer rocks, which jut out of the landscape like old teeth. Monks started settling here from the ninth century, slowly constructing the monasteries atop with a series of weights and pulleys. Steps were not carved into the rock till the 1920s.
"And they still live here, living an ascetic life of prayer and penitence, and I suppose putting up with the bus-loads of visitors who make their own pilgrimage here daily.
"And second, it was a chance to say goodbye to one of my favorite ships. I first sailed on Crystal when it was part of Cuba Cruise in 2015, and operated intensive round-Cuba itineraries on the Canadian line.
"I loved the ship for its old-school design (it was originally a ferry, built in 1980, and has wide corridors and mahogany fittings), it’s extraordinary history (sunk, destroyed by fire and traveled on by George H. W Bush and Sweden’s Royal Couple!) and the fact that it just kept on going – that is until this year, when it finally left the Celestyal Cruises fleet.
"My kids have virtually gown up on that ship – Rafferty has been sailing on it almost every summer (bar pandemic years), since he was seven (he’s now 13), and although he’s probably grown out of it, it still holds many fond memories, particularly the lovely crew.
"And the third reason was being able to travel with Raff, for some much-needed father-and-son bonding time."
Aaron Saunders, Senior News & Features Editor: "One of the great joys of this year was getting to take my daughter aboard Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 on a cruise from New York to Canada and New England.
"We were fogged in and rained-out for most of the voyage, but that didn't matter. The real draw for me was to introduce my daughter to Queen Mary 2, a ship I've sailed on many times and absolutely adore.
"Not only did we discover that Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is remarkably kid-friendly (Cunard kids clubs are spectacular), but we also learned our daughter loved it, too -- from dancing along with the folk duo in the Golden Lion pub to sinking into the plush couches in the Chart Room and relaxing, our daughter embraced the ship as much as her Dad did.
"Of course, when she's older, a transatlantic crossing will have to be in her future. Until then, I'll relish the seven days we had aboard Queen Mary 2 with our youngest little Cunarder."
Jorge Oliver, Editor: "The past 12 months have provided me with no shortage of memorable cruise experiences. But looking back, I can’t help but pick out the trip I took in April with my father on Emerald Cruises, exploring the Dutch and Belgian waterways.
"The privilege of spending quality time with my dad is reason enough to call this river cruise an unforgettable experience. The week-long voyage aboard Emerald Luna was not only the first time either of us had been on a river cruise; it was the first time we had been on a voyage together, just the two of us.
"The journey brought countless joyful moments of discovery – from marveling at the seemingly endless colors, shapes and sizes of tulips at Keukenhof Garden to getting lost in the genius of Peter Paul Rubens’ Baroque masterpieces.
"But the biggest discovery was witnessing my dad’s incandescent passion for all things travel and realizing the enormous influence he’s had on me and my career."
Marilyn Borth, Assistant SEO Editor: "Cruising in Alaska has always been a childhood dream of mine, a dream that finally came true in June 2023. My entire cruisetour through Alaska and the Yukon in Canada with Holland America Line was memorable -- my hundreds of saved photos can attest this -- but just one moment that stuck out to me was sailing through Glacier Bay.
"While standing on my cabin's balcony with one of my best friends, I stared out at Margerie Glacier in complete awe at its natural beauty, taken aback by its roughly 4,000-year-long existence, and the serene quiet surrounding the scene. To top it off, we saw otters dipping in and out of the water next to our ship playfully. And sharing two glasses of champagne with one of my good friends made commemorating the moment even sweeter.
"It was one of those moments that, while it's happening, you know that it will sit profoundly in your mind forever. The peacefulness of this glacier, present for thousands of years before me and thousands after, was a humbling experience -- and reminded me just how fortunate we are to be able to cruise at all."
Kyle Valenta, Senior SEO Editor: "As a queer man, sailing on Virgin Voyages' Resilient Lady was one of the most naturally inclusive travel experiences in recent memory. That truth crosses over to their entertainment offerings, which range from burlesque and dinner theater to all-around-you immersion and existential game shows.
"On my first night aboard Resilient Lady's May 2023 Mermaiden Voyage in the Greek Islands, I saw "Persephone." This immersion show based on the Greek myth of Persephone, Demeter and the creation of the seasons set the tone for my sailing in all ways.
"The cast read as visibly diverse in all ways: body shapes, sizes, races, gender identities, sexual identities. That was perhaps outshown by the talent on display and sheer spectacle of dancers, actors and acrobats dancing, twirling, jumping and belting all around you. All while a hyperpop Greek chorus blazes bright on LED screens behind the live action.
" "Persephone" was only one of the many entertainment highlights on Resilient Lady. And few skew to the type of entertainment you'll find on most mainstream lines. Virgin's shows blaze exceptionally bright, from the shipwide Scarlet Night to Fringe Festival-sourced acts in the Red Room. Sorry canned Broadway reboots, but your days are numbered."