8 Unique Cruise Vacations to Amazing Destinations

If you're looking for adventure, discovery and authentic experiences, these cruises are charting your course.

Cruise vacations grow more popular every year. But a lot of travelers write them off, saying cruise vacations don’t offer an authentic traveling experience. Wait just a minute! If you’re thinking of mega-ships carrying a cool ten thousand passengers to a succession of tropical islands, you’re barely scratching the surface of what a cruise can be. There are unique cruise vacations out there, with itineraries that literally span the globe. From Norway to the Galapagos, the Adriatic to Antarctica, some destinations are just better from a cruise ship.

Convenience, Hospitality and Discovery Await on Unique Cruise Vacations

An iconic skyline in Santorini, Greece Photo: Shutterstock

An iconic skyline in Santorini, Greece Photo: Shutterstock

If you’re looking for an incredible, authentic vacation experience with the perks of cruise travel — only unpacking one time, waking up in a new place each morning, convenient dining and relaxation options — take a look at these unique cruise vacations. With smaller ships, dedicated staff and an absolutely incredible itinerary waiting for you, cruise vacations should definitely be back on your must-do list.

Ready to start exploring the unique cruise vacations out there? Here are eight amazing destinations that are just perfect from the deck of a ship.

European River Cruises

Discover incomparable views from a European river cruise. Photo: Kai Pilger/Pexels

Discover incomparable views from a European river cruise. Photo: Kai Pilger/Pexels

Glide down an ancient river with medieval villages and mountaintop castles slowly slipping past your balcony. Stop in celebrated cities like Budapest, Vienna and Antwerp. Cruises on Europe’s great rivers like the Danube, the Rhine and the Main offer a luxurious, laid-back way to explore Central Europe’s most historic and beautiful cities. Unpack your bags once, don’t worry about changing hotels or long road journeys, and let the scenery come to you — now that’s a vacation!

Plus, time it right and experience exquisite natural beauty along the way. Take a Tulip Time cruise through the Netherlands and Belgium, experiencing northern Europe’s famous flower plantations in full bloom.

Tulip time cruises capture Europe in full bloom. Photo: wereldbestormer/pixabay

Tulip time cruises capture Europe in full bloom. Photo: wereldbestormer/pixabay

Or choose a fall cruise down the Danube River for the gilded colors of autumn leaves crowning romantic villages and tumbledown towers. Fall cruises are generally less at risk to disruption from high water levels in the rivers, which spring snow-melt can sometimes cause. Either way, the shoulder seasons add some spectacular color to your river cruise!

Greek Island Cruises

The Greek island of Mykonos beckons. Photo: Shutterstock

The Greek island of Mykonos beckons. Photo: Shutterstock

The turquoise Aegean sparkles in the summer sun, beckoning anyone with their feet on dry land to come for a sail across its waters. A Greek Island cruise is the perfect chaser to a few days spent wandering Athens’ ancient wonders.

Explore Mykonos and Santorini, from those iconic whitewashed villages hugging the mountainsides, to sidewalk cafes and trendy boutiques. Across the Aegean, disembark in the Turkish port city of Kusadesi and visit the ancient city of Ephesus, with its spectacular Greek ruins.

Stop off in Crete to explore the ruins of the Palace of Knossos, seat of the ancient Minoan civilization. It’s easy to add an Aegean Cruise to a stay in Athens for a perfect week-long Greek vacation.

Adriatic Sea Cruises

The stunning city of Dubrovnik - like no other cruise port! Photo: ivanbagic/pixabay

The stunning city of Dubrovnik – like no other cruise port! Photo: ivanbagic/pixabay

Croatia is one of Europe’s hottest destinations. And because this narrow country has more than three thousand miles of coastline and more than a thousand islands dotting the shimmering Adriatic Sea, it’s amazing by land or by sea. Sail from Dubrovnik, the breathtakingly historic “Pearl of the Adriatic,” through a landscape of turquoise waters and green islands. On a small boutique-style cruise ship, you’ll be able to port at small harbors and stop along isolated beaches for swimming and relaxation in the sun.

The Adriatic Sea's turquoise waters illuminate the coastline. Photo: KarlvonKempf/pixabay

The Adriatic Sea’s turquoise waters illuminate the coastline. Photo: KarlvonKempf/pixabay

Take a week-long Adriatic Sea cruise with incredible ports-of-call like Split, where the old city is built around the 4th-century ruins of a Roman palace, and historic islands like Korcula, where Marco Polo was born.

Galapagos Island Cruises

Galapagos penguins pose for pictures. Photo: sebastian_photos/pixabay

Galapagos penguins pose for pictures. Photo: sebastian_photos/pixabay

Pink dolphins and marine iguanas, giant tortoises and sea turtles: for a treasure trove of biodiversity not found anywhere else in the world, you can’t go wrong with the Galapagos Islands. The Pacific archipelago where Darwin once studied is still home to naturalists and scientists, working hard to understand and preserve one of the world’s most incredible habitats.

Join them on a Galapagos Island cruise, sailing around the western or northern islands for a once-in-a-lifetime voyage of discovery. On a western island itinerary, you’ll stop at the Charles Darwin Research Station’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre, plus glide over incredible snorkel territory in Champion Islet and discover birds of all sizes at Cormorant Point. You can also discover the eastern and northern islands, plus explore the highlands of Ecuador, as you check the incomparable Galapagos off your bucket list.

Norwegian Cruises

Norway's northern ports are the gateway to wild coastal beauty. Photo: monicore/pexels

Norway’s northern ports are the gateway to wild coastal beauty. Photo: monicore/pexels

It’s not just fjords! Norway’s northern coastline is filled with breathtakingly rugged, mountainous coastline, but it’s also home to picturesque villages and towns where you’ll soak up the local culture.

That being said, the natural wonders are enough to inspire travelers to cruise Norway’s chilly waters. Sights like the beautiful Svolværgeita mountains, rising above the port city of Svolvaer, are just part of the tour in this part of the world.

Try to spot the aurora as you head north on a Norwegian cruise. Photo: Pexels

Try to spot the aurora as you head north on a Norwegian cruise. Photo: Pexels

Plus, you stand a good chance of viewing the elusive Northern Lights as you sail north to Hammerfest, the world’s northernmost town. Add a cruise to a visit to Norway’s iconic cities of Bergen and Oslo for a strikingly different cruise vacation.

Yangtze River Cruises

The Yangtze's spectacular Three Gorges. Photo: cq19690527/pixabay

The Yangtze’s spectacular Three Gorges. Photo: cq19690527/pixabay

China’s ancient river probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of cruise vacations. But it’s definitely one of the most unique cruise vacations you’ll ever take. And even better, it’s easy to add to a vacation that takes in China’s other iconic sights, like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs.

Highlights along the Yangtze River include the amazing Three Gorges Dam, six times the size of the Hoover Dam, and the Twelve Peaks of the Wu Gorge. Cruise past steeply terraced mountainsides before you dock in Shibaozhai, a twelve-story pagoda towers above you: an ancient wonder built without a single nail. Experience a stay in Beijing plus a Yangtze River Cruise with our Affordable China package. The relatively small river cruise ships offer staterooms with private balconies, luxurious appointments and a full itinerary of fascinating cultural offerings and lectures during your cruise.

Antarctica Cruises

Paradise Bay, gateway to Antarctica. Photo: jcrane/pixabay

Paradise Bay, gateway to Antarctica. Photo: jcrane/pixabay

Sailing to Antarctica: it’s a must if you want to visit all seven continents, or if you’re just fascinated by the icy wilderness that caps the southern pole. It’s a bit chilly on deck, so the ships bound for Antarctica include panoramic windows and large lounges to let passengers discover the incredible landscapes and wildlife around them without pulling on a parka. Of course, if you’re so adventurous that you’ve found yourself all the way in the Drake Passage, you’ll probably want to get out and explore despite the brisk weather! Excursions from the ship to beautiful places like the South Shetland Islands and Penguin Harbor are all part of the fun.

Try our Antarctica Cruise with Buenos Aires for a perfect two-part vacation in the Southern Hemisphere. Buenos Aires, “the Paris of South America,” is a cosmopolitan and buzzing city you’ll love exploring, not to mention the perfect jumping-off point for more remote regions to come. You’ll fly south to Ushaia, at the southern tip of South America, where your ship awaits. Then, it’s off to Antarctica! The ship’s expert expedition team will keep you informed on all the wonders to come, including wildlife from penguins and albatross to seals and sea lions.

Alaska Cruises

The last frontier: Alaska's legendary wilderness is best experienced with a land & sea vacation. Photo: Pexels

The last frontier: Alaska’s legendary wilderness is best experienced with a land & sea vacation. Photo: Pexels

After Antarctica, Alaska probably sounds downright domestic. (And in the national sense, it is!) But just because Alaska is A) in our hemisphere and B) part of the United States doesn’t mean it’s any less worth your attention. Cruising Alaska puts you in the middle of Alaska’s extraordinary coastline, where you’ll find electric-blue ice peeking from beneath glaciers, majestic whales hunting in the harbors, and soaring mountaintops as far as the eye can see.

But there’s more to Alaska than the shoreline, which is what makes a land and sea vacation so important when you’re visiting. Itineraries which include stays in Anchorage and Denali before you board your cruise ship let you explore the incredible wilderness in Alaska’s interior, plus the historic cities and cultures who call Alaska home.

Unlike any other vacation, these unique cruise vacations offer the chance to experience some of the world’s most beautiful and remote locations.