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Fireworks on Symphony of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Our Favorite Cruise Travel Memories

Fireworks on Symphony of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

April 06, 2020

Cruise Critic

(12 p.m. EDT) -- What do cruise fans do when they can't cruise? Daydream about cruising, of course! This week, Cruise Critic editors and their colleagues have been reminiscing about some of the best cruises they've taken over the years, from the wonder of that first time onboard to some of the more exotic places that cruising can take you. Here, we share our favorite cruise travel memories, so we can all sail virtually together.

I've had many incredible cruise experiences over the years, but the one that really sticks out these days is my first. I took my very first cruise on Carnival Inspiration, out of New Orleans in 2001. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I wanted a getaway somewhere warm. It was our first trip together, and we were looking for something that required little planning and took us to places we'd never been before. A cruise seemed like the perfect fit.

From the moment we stepped onboard, I knew we picked the right trip. We did everything: trivia, game shows, midnight buffets, shore excursions and pool games. We booked an inside cabin that we spent almost no time in. We fell in love with the long dinners and interesting tablemates, met a family of four who had us in stitches talking about their shocked reaction to their mid-cruise bill update and had a blast dressing up for formal night, something we had never done before.

It was romantic and exhilarating, and we tried new things every chance we could. In the years since, we've been on many more cruises and our tastes (and ability to stay up all night) have changed, but that first cruise lit a fire that still burns today.

- Colleen McDaniel, Editor in Chief

Sailing into New York Harbor on Queen Mary 2, June 2016 (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

I'd visited New York several times before, but this time was different; it was my first time arriving by cruise ship. My husband and I made the westbound transatlantic voyage on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 in June 2016 from Southampton, UK. We wanted to watch the sunrise over Manhattan from the ship's top deck, but the QM2 arrives in New York early, so we had to set our alarm for around 3:30 a.m. to secure a decent viewing spot.

We watched the twinkly lights of New Jersey and New York turn into towering skyscrapers as we approached the city on the Hudson River. It was our first glimpse of land in eight days. Most memorable of all was sailing beneath the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, which links Brooklyn with Staten Island -- and the ship just meters below. The sunrise and the view were definitely worth the missed sleep.

- Kerry Spencer, Editor

My favorite cruise memory is my most recent: sailing on the groundbreaking International Women's Day voyage onboard Celebrity Edge this past March. For the first time in maritime history, a cruise ship was helmed by an entirely female bridge crew, including Captain Kate McCue, the first American woman to become a cruise ship captain. Joining her were 26 other female officers and crew, running onboard departments from entertainment and hotel operations to guest services and food and beverage.

Initially I was concerned that it might turn out to be a publicity stunt for the line. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a sense of empowerment, encouragement and community that, until the IWD sailing, I hadn't ever experienced on a cruise. The positive energy was palpable and uplifting in a way that so many things aren't right now.

- Ashley Kosciolek, Senior Editor

Chris Gray Faust on a Russian waterways cruise (Photo: Chris Gray Faust/Cruise Critic)

If I had to pick my favorite, I'd choose the first exotic cruise I took: a river cruise through the Russian waterways, taken on Viking River Cruises, with my husband. Both of us are from generations who grew up during the Cold War, when it seemed unimaginable that we'd ever stand in the middle of Red Square.

What made the trip so memorable were the sheer number of interesting and educational experiences that we were exposed to during the cruise: a local Russian sauna, complete with birch bark "massages" (and a jump into the chilly Volga by my husband); a ballet performance and behind-the-scenes visit to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; a visit with a local family in the Russian countryside; a rousing vodka tasting onboard; and touring the Soviet-era subways in Moscow.

On one of our last nights, we had the concierge arrange opera tickets at the famed Bolshoi Theatre. As we walked through the storied facade, I felt the cultural weight of a venue that had seen premieres from Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and countless other talents. The opera itself, Turnadot by Puccini, left us a bit cold, but we'll never forget the once-in-a-lifetime visit.

- Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor

Pride of America in Kona (Photo: Cruise Critic)

In 2010, I sailed with my husband and then 2-year-old son on Norwegian's Pride of America to Hawaii, and it was one of our most successful family vacations ever. Onboard, my son enjoyed hanging out on the balcony, playing during pre-dinner toddler time in the kids club with a room full of new toys all to himself and dinners with coloring pages and guaranteed dessert. There wasn't much in the way of date nights or nightlife, but my husband and I enjoyed the family time together without having to cook or clean.

The destination really made the trip. We rented cars in every port, and explored the islands at our own pace. On a glass-bottom boat ride in Maui, the crew's scuba diver played with an outraged octopus who inked him while we watched, fascinated. At a luau in Kauai, my husband and I were impressed with the fire dancers, while my son adored the train ride around the old plantation, begging for more. We hiked around Hawai'I Volcanoes National Park, found all the sheltered beaches for plenty of water playtime and geeked out, as only a family with a toddler can, at the aviation museum at Pearl Harbor. We never could have pulled off this trip on our own; the cruise ship made all the fun possible.

- Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Joining any ship, let alone the largest cruise ship in the world, from the shipyard to its first port of embarkation is an experience difficult to match. Two years ago, in March 2018, I had the opportunity to travel aboard Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas when it left Saint-Nazaire in Nantes, France, ultimately bound to pick up its first official passengers in Barcelona a few days later.

With mainly crew and construction workers onboard, it was like having a giant amusement park to myself; social distancing before that was a thing! I was able to wander the halls taking in the massive collection of art, go down the Ultimate Abyss slide as many times as I wanted, sneak peeks at show rehearsals or enjoy a serene glass of wine in a quiet Central Park. On top of that, I got to see the final touches go on some brand-new spaces like Playmakers Sports Bar on the Boardwalk. Not only do I wish I was back onboard, but I'll be thrilled when thousands of other cruise-lovers can join me.

- Brittany Chrusciel, Editor

Mark Patscher with his daughter Ky in Alaska (Photo: Mark Patscher/Cruise Critic)

Each year, I do individual trips with my kids so I can stay connected since they grow up so quickly. Usually, it's just long ski weekends or beach trips. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to take my 11-year-old daughter to Alaska for a week on Norwegian Joy. The best moments and memories came in quiet times, which you wouldn't necessarily expect on such a large ship. We did not take excursions with groups, but charted our own path and did some hiking and exploring. Instead of taking advantage of the abundant shows and entertainment, we played late-night board games in the beautiful and tranquil Observation Lounge.

Breakfast was spent on the balcony, and each dinner was a wonderful daddy-daughter night in the quieter spots with a focus on the views and conversation. Sitting next to my daughter, slowly passing the glaciers and watching pods of whales off in the distance, will forever be a cherished memory.

- Mark Patscher, Senior Director of Sales

Seventeen days onboard Carnival Legend, sailing from Honolulu to Sydney, is easily one of the best cruise experiences I've ever had. It was the journey of a lifetime for my husband and I, who were two of only about 100 non-Australian passengers on the ship. Talk about a friendly and rowdy -- in a good way -- crowd! The sailing was also a designated Carnival Journeys cruise, so there were more enrichment activities than you'd usually find on a Carnival cruise, and we tried our hand at ukulele lessons, listened to guest lectures and made arts and crafts.

The South Pacific ports offered natural beauty that is hard to beat; we swam with reef sharks in Bora Bora, spent the day with a local in Tahiti and hiked to a secluded waterfall and swimming hole in Fiji. Turns out 17 days was also perfect for disconnecting, as it usually takes me a good eight to 10 days to stop feeling like I need to be checking email! Arriving in Sydney, jetlag-less and ready to rock, ended the entire experience on a high note.

- Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor

My wife and I got married last year aboard Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam. We spent a week sailing from Vancouver to Alaska with over 20 of our closest family and friends. Most of our travel group had never been on a cruise before, and it was amazing to watch as they went from being skeptical about the whole thing to loving the experience. We ran into friends in the Greenhouse Spa, over at the Dive-In Burger place on the pool deck, or at happy hour in the Ocean Bar, where everyone had far too much fun. Seeing the cruise through their eyes was the icing on the cake for my wife and me.

- Aaron Saunders, Cruise Critic Contributor

Coron Philippines S.A.L.T. trip

As part of Silversea's S.A.L.T. (Sea & Land Taste) experience, I visited a village in the Philippines on the island of Coron where locals invited us to eat with them. They taught us their recipes (often handed down from their parents and grandparents), showed us their produce, invited us to eat with them and then put on a special dance, just for us. I felt overwhelmed at their generosity of spirit and being part of something that only travel can bring you -- experiencing another culture through the eyes of its people.

- Adam Coulter, UK Managing Editor

Cecilia Freeman's kids enjoying their first cruise on Norwegian Pearl (Photo: Cecilia Freeman/Cruise Critic)

One of my favorite cruise travel memories was taking my kids on their first cruise in 2011 on Norwegian Pearl. My boys were 2 and 4. They loved getting their own menu in the dining room, and made friends with every waiter who brought them their favorite foods. They had a competition to spot which elevator would open first (they had to put their hands in their pockets so they wouldn't push every button on the panel).

They thought so many things were made just for them because they were compact and small, like little shelves for extra storage and the beds that magically appeared from the ceiling. The best part was taking them to the kid's club. Every day they brought us a craft they had made, and several days they came back to the room with painted faces and hats made from construction paper.

The memories from this cruise are some of my favorites because I got to watch my kids discover my favorite thing: cruising.

- Cecilia Freeman, Assistant Community Manager

A Lone Polar Bear Walking Along Ice in the Arctic Circle (Photo: Don Landwehrle/Shutterstock)

Several years ago, I was sailing around Svalbard with Quark Expeditions. The ship had anchored at the edge of the pack ice and I was making my way down to lunch when an announcement came over the PA system: "There's a polar bear approaching on the port side." I looked out the window and saw that the bear was easily visible without binoculars -- by far the closest we'd gotten to one during the cruise.

The entire ship rushed up on deck to watch as she padded her way nearly all the way up to the side of ship, lifting her nose along the way to catch our scent. It was incredible to see a wild polar bear at such close range -- the thickness of her fur, the lumber of her gait, the way her paws sank a little into the slushy ice. It was a moment I'll never forget.

- Sarah Schlichter, Deputy Executive Editor at SmarterTravel

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