The world—with its seven seas—is oh-so-wide and we have but one lifetime to explore it. With that in mind, we've curated a selection of eight iconic cruises that every passionate cruiser should experience once in their lifetime. With barge, riverboat, masted yacht, and expedition vessels in the mix, it's clear that the sphere of top-notch cruising extends far beyond just those big ship cities-at-sea. From classic cruising locales like the Greek Islands, Alaska, and the Rhine River to more far-flung destinations best discovered by boat (Antarctica or the Galápagos, anyone?), this ultimate cruise bucket list has got you covered.—Elissa Garay
The remote Galápagos Islands afford a transporting wonderland for nature and animal lovers who make the journey. Cruising the island chain is the very best way to uncover its many scattered gems, and cruise visitors can do so without sacrificing any comforts aboard Silversea's 100-passenger all-suite Silver Galapagos, the most luxurious ship based in the region (and part of upscale Silversea's renowned expedition arm). Guests can expect an all-inclusive experience, including expert-led excursions (helmed by a Galápagos National Park Service-certified expedition team), onboard butler service, alcoholic beverages, a pre-cruise hotel stay in Quito, airfare, and more. Choose from two 7-night itineraries sailing round-trip from the island of Baltra year-round, focused on either the north-central or western isles—either journey will lead you on myriad adventures by both land (hike up an extinct volcano!) and by sea (snorkel with sea turtles!) and get you up-close with an abundance of wildlife like giant tortoises, iguanas, sea lions, penguins, blue- and red-footed boobies, and Darwin's famous finches.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Galápagos Islands Guide
In 2017, Holland America Line will celebrate 70 years of exploring Alaska, so when you sign up for a journey with them, you can rest assured that you're with real pros. The line's selection of 10- to 20-night “Land+Sea Journeys” (running from April through September) are the perfect bucket-lister's approach to the very best of Alaska by both land (including lodge-based stays and rail excursions) and sea (incorporating one-way or round-trip sailings from Seattle or Vancouver). On their 12-night “Yukon & Double Denali” cruise tour, for instance, guests cruise from Skagway to Vancouver aboard the 2,106-guest ms Nieuw Amsterdam, taking in highlights like a scenic sailing through Glacier Bay and a port call in Ketchikan (home to the Misty Fjords National Monument). On the land-based portion of the trip, they'll additionally get two nights to look out for the wildlife and elusive Denali peaks at Denali National Park, as well as a two-night journey into the Yukon wilderness via Dawson City.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Alaska Guide
Does sailing off into the sunset, billowing white sails overhead, sound like your idea of the perfect cruise escape? Then look no further than Windstar Cruises' 148-passenger Wind Star, a four-masted sailing yacht that comes perfectly paired with the romantic Greek islands and Turkish ports where it sails. Sign up for the line's most classic itinerary (running from May through September), the seven-night “Treasures of the Greek Isles” voyage, which sails round-trip from Athens, taking in Nafplion, Mykonos, Patmos, Santorini, and Monemvasia in Greece and Kuşadasi in Turkey (with late-night stays scheduled in several ports of call—perfect for sampling local restaurants and nightlife). Expect to visit no fewer than nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, including a complimentary special event at the ancient site of Ephesus, where guests can enjoy a musical trio-accompanied private candlelit dinner in front of the nearly 2,000-year-old Library of Celsus.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Cyclades Guide
At the heart of European river cruise country, a classic Rhine River sailing exemplifies why river cruising is among the fastest-growing segments of the cruise world—and the entire travel industry at that. Viking—the world's leading river cruise line—offers a seven-night “Rhine Getaway” that is among its most popular itineraries, taking in a slate of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in some of the most beautiful places in Europe, including stops in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Switzerland on an itinerary that runs between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland.
Insider Tip: Several of the journeys are conducted aboard Viking's newest 190-passenger “longships,” lauded for their modern design and cutting-edge technology. Itineraries run between March and December; consider signing up for their special holiday sailings, timed to coincide with the region's famed Christmas markets.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Switzerland Guide
The South Pacific
Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea? Don't mind if I do! Paul Gauguin Cruises runs weeklong “Tahiti & the Society Islands” itineraries focused on the best-of-the-best of the South Pacific (available from January through March, and August through December in 2017). Sail aboard the 332-passenger m/s Paul Gauguin round-trip from Papeete, Tahiti, and discover Society Islands gems like Bora Bora, Moorea, and Huahine, as well as Taha'a, where the cruiseline maintains a private islet. Immerse yourself in the region's legendary sparkling seas and warm lagoons on excursions like snorkeling with stingrays, helmet diving, or dolphin-watching expeditions. Meanwhile, on board, a watersports marina affords guests complimentary access to kayaking, windsurfing, paddleboarding, and (for-fee) PADI SCUBA diving programs, too, when they're not partaking in the luxury ship's Polynesian-inspired hospitality (most of the staff are local Tahitians), culture (with colorful performances), and cuisine.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s French Polynesia Guide
Calling all oenophiles: Don't miss this sailing through the renowned wine country surrounding Burgundy and Chablis in France's Central Burgundy region, aboard upscale French Country Waterways' Nenuphar. The plushly refitted luxury barge—with a capacity for just 12 passengers and a six-person crew—runs leisurely six-night canal cruises in the French countryside (from late March through October), where visits to vineyards, chateaux, and historic villages await. Expect an “insider's” itinerary (enjoy an aperitif at a local private residence), alongside culinary exceptionalism, including a dinner ashore at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and an onboard chef (plucked from Michelin-starred eateries) who doles out gourmet cuisine alongside free-flowing wines.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Burgundy Guide
For intrepid travelers yearning to explore the Great White Continent, a cruise is the main means of achieving that dream. With 50 years of expedition travel under its belt, Lindblad Expeditions, in partnership with National Geographic, is the premier choice, noted for their exceptional Antarctic programming and for pioneering the first-ever “citizen-explorer” expedition to the continent back in 1966 (the region had then been the exclusive domain of professional explorers and scientists). Cruisers with Lindblad today can anticipate a high-caliber expedition staff (inclusive of naturalists, a National Geographic photographer, and an “undersea specialist”), not to mention a spot aboard the 102-passenger National Geographic Orion, one of the world's most refined expedition vessels. Their 11-night “Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent” sailing embarks from Ushuaia, Argentina (with embarkation dates scheduled from November through February). Expect a full roster of daily excursions like polar kayaking, zodiac cruising among the icebergs, cross-country skiing (conditions permitting), or landings on penguin-covered beaches.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor's Lindblad Expeditions Guide
The 600-guest Seabourn Encore, debuting in late 2016 as Seabourn's newest luxury yacht, will offer a plush means of exotic exploration across the Java Sea on a duo of unique Indonesian itineraries between Singapore and Bali. Be among the first to sample the line's brand-new vessel—featuring a design scheme by Adam D. Tihany, and a culinary venue from Chef Thomas Keller—while discovering Indonesian isles that feature jaw-dropping sites like Borobudur (the world's largest Buddhist monument) and natural wonders like Komodo National Park (bonus: look out for ship-hosted excursions designed in partnership with UNESCO). The 10-night “Gems of the Java Sea” inaugural itinerary in January 2017 has already sold out, but you can still nab a spot on the scheduled March 2017 departure.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Indonesia Guide