Think you’ve seen all the world’s cruise lines have to offer? Think again.
Each year, more and more hard to reach and seldom visited destinations are opening up ports to cruises small and large. If you’re bored of the same spots in the Caribbean and Bahamas, then dare to dream a little bigger and see where else a cruise can take you.
These destinations offer you the opportunity to get a bit outside your comfort zone and experience something truly unique.
Perhaps you can check off a bucket list item like seeing the Northern Lights or heading all the way south to Antarctica. You could also tap into your inner Darwin in the Galapagos Islands.
Try an Expedition
Doesn’t the word “expedition” just ratchet your curiosity up a notch right away? It inspires your inner explorer. You’re no longer just a cruiser, you’re Magellan, plotting a course toward the horizon and sailing on toward new land.
Only your course is completely, thoughtfully, painstakingly planned out and you’ll be in trusted, experienced hands the entire way. Yet still, when a cruise calls itself an expedition, you know you’re heading for a real adventure, especially when you see the name behind them: National Geographic.
National Geographic’s expedition cruises have a wide range of options to choose from. You could stay domestic and spend a week treading down the Columbia and Snake Rivers or sail down from Patagonia to Cape Horn. National Geographic expeditions venture to both poles, to the coldest reaches of the planet as well as some of the most tropical destinations on earth.
From Alaska and Antarctica to Tahiti and the Galapagos. From Iceland and Norway to Belize and French Polynesia. National Geographic expeditions can take you to some of the world’s most remote and untouched destinations.
As the ‘expedition’ tag would suggest — these voyages go well beyond what you see in a postcard, but that doesn’t mean they skimp on amenities. National Geographic partners with Lindblad Expeditions to put on the cruises and provide a premium level of service on each expedition. You certainly won’t be roughing it out there.
Each expedition comes with an expert expedition team, including professional wildlife and travel photographers, marine biologists, historians and/or naturalists, and even a National Geographic-Lindblad certified photo instructor to help capture incredible images of the remarkable sights on your journey.
National Geographic expeditions also don’t require you to be a seasoned adventurer or to have any outdoorsman skills or prerequisite fitness levels. All itineraries are rated as light or moderate activity levels. And best of all — they are highly flexible.
You won’t have to worry about being on a rigid cruise schedule like you’re used to. This allows for spontaneity, which is a true luxury on a cruise. When wildlife is putting on a show or other opportunities arise, you won’t need to break away from the action to reach your next port by a certain time. You’ll have the ability to soak in the moment.
National Geographic expeditions are on smaller ships, which makes them more nimble and able to venture into harder-to-reach places that large cruise ships cannot make it into. You’ll navigate narrow waterways, cruise into port at smaller harbors, and These expedition vessels also are equipped with gear like kayaks, paddleboards, snorkels, underwater cameras, and more, to help you get close to the action.
You can cruise for a week or over a month for a true expedition — the choices are numerous and all yours. But if you’re looking for a little bit of a different cruise experience, there is no better place to start.
The Final Check Off Your Bucket List: Antarctica
Many people dream of setting foot on all seven continents, but not many actually do. That’s mainly because of the elusive seventh continent that lies all the way south — Antarctica.
You can get there by taking a few of the National Geographic expeditions mentioned above, but you might be surprised to learn that there are actually numerous different cruise lines offering trips to Antarctica. And while the coldest, driest, and windiest place on our planet might not be what comes to mind when you think of a cruise destination — the allure of Antarctica’s hidden beauty and remoteness are drawing more cruises to trade their swimsuits for parkas.
Antarctica is much more than just an elusive place to reach to check off the bucket list too — you’ll be amazed at the remarkable giant blue icebergs and massive glaciers. You’ll never forget the vast landscapes of snow and ice.
And don’t forget — things actually live here too! And thrive, even. Massive populations of penguins and seals call Antarctica home. There are also numerous species of whales who pass through the surrounding waters
If you’re eco-conscious, you’ll also be able to see climate change in action. We don’t mention it to be a downer, but seeing is believing, and witnessing our planet change before our eyes is fascinating.
You’ll find a variety of options to reach Antarctica, from ultra-luxury to basic accommodations. Some will offer land and sea excursions, while others will simply sail into port and offer you a chance to step off and check that list before returning from whence you came.
But for those who want more, you can hop in a kayak, Zodiac, or (eek!) head out on a paddleboard through the glacial waters, navigating through towering icebergs. There are Antarctic cruises that will offer scientific lectures so you can learn more about this still largely unexplored continent, and for the bold, some even offer snowshoeing and mountaineering adventures and have a tented overnight on the Antarctic snow. How’s that for adventure?
A Domestic Adventure: Cruise the Great Lakes
While the sailing season on America’s Great Lakes might be short, these small ship cruises are becoming more popular as interest in domestic travel continues to rise. The summer months are the best times to visit cities like Chicago, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Duluth, Milwaukee, and Quebec City, and all can be done via a Great Lakes cruise.
Some itineraries offer stops on all five Great Lakes and visit charming towns like Sault St. Marie, St. Lawrence, and Mackinac Island, a town trapped in time with Victorian homes and hotels and without motor vehicles. You can even dabble in history along the U.S.-Canadian border.
The lakes, including Ontario, Michigan, Superior, Erie, and Huron, collectively make up the world’s largest body of freshwater and offer a remarkable variety of sights along their hundreds of miles of shoreline. You’ll see densely forested islands, massive sand dunes, remote beaches, rocky peninsulas with towering cliffs, while always keeping your eyes out for wildlife sightings.
On a Great Lakes cruise, you can cross off a bunch of Midwestern gems as well as Canadian cities and small towns that offer a unique mix of culture, sights, and history. Check out Victory Cruise Lines for more information about these cruises.
Indulge Your Wild Side in The Amazon Rainforest
Amazon rainforest cruises actually aren’t even just on the water — you’ll spend some time in the trees as well. Once again, despite being in the jungle, you won’t have to worry about your ship skimping on your amenities, as your ship will likely have pristine rooms with modern amenities, as long as you book with a reputable provider.
Since the Amazon is notoriously inhospitable, these cruises are indeed for the adventurous, however, you will be protected from bugs and mosquitos in your closed, air-conditioned rooms. Most rooms come with massive windows which provide views of the bountiful flora and fauna in the water and on land.
As for the food, you can often fish for your own dinner on the Amazon, and piranha very well may be on the menu. Whatever it is, you can be sure it will be fresh and local.
As for the tree portion of the journey we mentioned earlier, well it’s not a figure of speech. Many rainforest cruises partner with eco-lodges along the river to give you a canopy experience to go with your cruise. That’s right, at port along the river, you’ll stop at one of these eco-lodges and spend the night in a fully-outfitted treehouse, surrounded by nature.
Head Down Under to Australia and New Zealand
Sure, you might have long-held dreams of heading on down to Oz. But we’re willing to bet you pictured yourself sticking to land — venturing through New Zealand’s stunning terrain and maybe enjoying some beach time and a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. But taking a cruise through the two countries is perhaps the best way to make the most of your time.
Chances are if you’re planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand that you plan to spend a majority of your time outdoors. Taking a cruise through the neighboring island nations allows you to do just that.
For those looking for water sports, Australia and New Zealand offer numerous opportunities and some of the best waters you’ll find anywhere. Most of the ports you’ll sail into will allow you to try such activities as surfing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, parasailing, and of course, snorkeling and scuba diving. Australia, in particular, has the Great Barrier Reef to offer, which despite the environmental challenges it currently faces, remains one of the premier dive and snorkel destinations in the world.
Some cruises will even have marine biologists and dive instructors on board to help immerse you in everything going on in the water. These cruises will venture to some of the more remote destinations in Australia, including less-visited moorings along the reef. Many will also off inflatable Zodiacs and/or glass-bottom boats as well.
As for New Zealand, there’s nothing quite like sailing into Milford Sound and zipping off on a kayak to take in the majestic landscape. You might even be lucky enough to find yourself among a pod of orcas as the morning mist lifts off the calm water and otherworldly terrain.
But not all of the activities here are water-based. For those looking to stretch their legs, New Zealand offers some of the best hiking trails in the world. Australia is no slouch when it comes to trekking either.
New Zealand is also famous for its landscape that seems like it was plucked straight out of Lord of the Rings — which it was since the movies were filmed here. You can actually visit the Hobbiton set from the films, which has become a major tourist destination. Australia and New Zealand surely offer enough adventure for even the most restless cruiser.
For those who still want the more casual cruise experience, there are major cruise lines, such as Princess, who only cruise into the major ports and offer the usual big-ship experience that you’re used to.
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most stunning archipelagoes of islands on earth. These volcanic islands offer boundless opportunities for adventure as well as some of the most unique wildlife on earth. There are thousands of specifics of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and plants that you can only find here on these magical islands.
This unique location boasts several different cruise providers with multiple itineraries to choose from. Each will involve a healthy dose of getting close to unique wildlife like marine iguanas, sea turtles, sea lions, manta rays, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, and more. Hiking enthusiasts will fall in love with the volcanic terrain and lush greenery.
Galapagos cruises are certainly catered to nature lovers who will want to maximize their time by exploring as much as possible on land and sea. Certain cruises will offer naturalist guides to help enhance your eco-tourism experience.
Celebrity Cruises recently launched Celebrity Flora, a cruise ship built exclusively for cruises to the Galapagos. View Prices on Cruises on Celebrity Flora
Do You Like Surprises? Try a Mystery Cruise
We’re dead serious — mystery cruises are a thing.
If you’re feeling spontaneous, you can book a trip with certain cruise lines without knowing your itinerary or destination. You won’t have to do any planning or plotting at all — in fact, you can’t. You won’t even know where you are going until you arrive in port at your departure location. So yes, you will at least know where your mystery cruise starts and finishes so you can plan your travel accordingly, but that’s it! The rest will be up to your provider.
Several of these cruises like to keep things so close to the vest that only the captain and a few “need-to-know” crew members even know the itinerary. We’ve heard from cruisers that have taken a mystery cruise that the captain may even try to throw anyone trying to sniff out their destination off by purposely sailing in the wrong direction out of port and secretly changing course in the middle of the night.
Mystery cruises are especially great ideas for the savvy, frequent cruiser. This is because you at least know what to generally expect when you’re onboard a cruise ship, so everything won’t be entirely new to you. There will still be that familiarity as far as the routine is concerned, you just won’t know where you’re going!
But if you’ve been on many cruises, it’s likely that there are certain destinations that you have visited several times. Some major ports are just unavoidable on certain itineraries, and you might grow tired of certain places. A mystery cruise helps you to break the monotony and try someplace new.
There is, of course, the chance that you pull into a port you’ve previously visited, but not knowing until you arrive, and that inability to plan, could help make it seem fresh and new. You can visit your favorite shore locations if you’d like, or you can seize the opportunity to try something different.
What’s more is that mystery cruises are typically smaller ships, which gives you a different experience than the large cruise lines. Being on a smaller ship makes it possible for you to pull into harder-to-reach and more unique ports, helping you to visit a new destination that you may not have even heard of. This is true even if you’re cruise is in the same waters you’re used to — it’s likely that there are hidden gems you’ve thus far missed.
However, mystery cruises are not advised for first-timers, as it might be a bit overwhelming. This is niche travel at its finest, but a mystery cruise could add a bit of excitement to the same old cruise routine. Sometimes your favorite destinations end up being the ones you least expected, so just imagine how exciting things could be when there’s absolutely nothing you can do to prepare yourself for what lies ahead when you pull into a mystery port.
Cruise lines that currently offer mystery cruises include Saga Cruise Line and Fred. Olsen Cruises, based out of the UK. Bolsover Cruises, which is actually a luxury cruise agent, also offers mystery cruises with chartered ships.
Whether your game for the spontaneity that comes with a cruise destination unknown, or a cruise in an entirely new place to you, there are endless possibilities for where a cruise can take you. Use this list to help you think a bit outside the box when you’re planning your next vacation.