7. Cruises

 










Caribbean Cruises


When winter is at its most gray, grab your swimsuit and a piña colada: it’s time to look for Caribbean cruises. The perfect escape from seasonal doldrums, a Caribbean cruise offers travelers both the variety of a multi-location trip with the convenience of a hotel that moves with you. (In fact, it does the moving.) Travel + Leisure’s editors and contributors know how to best navigate this crowded and ever-popular field, looking for the most interesting routes, the most comfortable accommodations, the most delicious cuisine, the most memorable activities, and the most attentive service. Caribbean Cruise ShipsThe difference between Caribbean cruise ships can be vast. The largest can welcome as many as 6,000 people aboard; smaller and more intimate vessels, as few as 16. The atmosphere also varies from ship to ship: some blast Top 40 hits by the pool, while others host black-tie events requiring gowns and tuxedos. Still others emphasize the activities they have on and off board, from water slides to snorkeling, or even theme their events after the culture or nature related to their ports of call. With new Caribbean cruise ships constructed every year, the options continue to diversify. Ask yourself: what size ship do you want to be on? What kind of shore excursions do you find most interesting? What level of service do you want? What do you want to be included in the base fare?Caribbean Cruise PortsThe Caribbean is home to over 700 islands. Its name comes from the Carib people, an indigenous tribe that first encountered Europeans in the late 15th century. After Columbus made his world-shaking wrong turn, the region was first identified as “the Antilles,” a fictional island group depicted on medieval European maps. Both names have stuck, with the Caribbean’s islands divided into the “Greater” and “Lesser Antilles.” Many of which now serve as Caribbean cruise ports. Greater Antilles destinations include Grand Cayman on the Cayman Islands, Montego Bay in Jamaica, Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, and San Juan in Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles, which combines Dutch and French colonial influences along with English and Spanish, features cruise ports like St. Martin, Martinque, St. Lucia, St. Barth, Aruba, Trinidad, and Tobago. Don’t forget mainland cruise ports like Mexico’s Costa Maya and Cozumel or ports in Belize and Honduras. Among these ports is an astounding degree of cultural, ecological, and geographic diversity.Whatever Caribbean excursion you wish to embark on, there are islands that offer experiences for every stripe, be they white sands and blue water, mountains and rainforest, rum tasting or archeological touring. Sail, snorkel, and don’t forget the conch fritters.

All-Inclusive Cruises

Put away your wallet and climb aboard: though every cruise line includes something in the base cost of fare – accommodations, basic meals, entertainment – a growing number offer truly all-inclusive journeys. Like many all-encompassing resorts, all-inclusive cruise packages take care of activities (in this case, shore excursions), alcoholic beverages, and gratuities. Some cruise lines go above and beyond by including airfare, a pre- and post-cruise hotel stay, and transportation to and from the boat upon arrival and departure. Travel + Leisure’s editors and contributors evaluate the best all-inclusive cruises on their itineraries, accommodations, cuisine, service, and activities.Finding the Best Cruise DealsGet ready for some sticker shock. All-inclusive cruises will be more expensive upfront, and indeed many of the cruise lines that offer such packages are luxury outfits. But the economic equation isn’t over: counting in the bill passengers receive at cruise’s end—after alcohol, specialty meals, shore activities, exercise classes—can be similarly dispiriting. The question travelers must ask themselves is when they’d like to pay for these services and what they’d like their cruise experience to be. For cruise-goers on a budget, choosing a basic flat fare and staying mindful of onboard expenses may be their best bet. But for those who’d like to take advantage of additional services—why not take care of it up front? Travelers who use the full array of amenities on a pay-what-you-will cruise often end up paying about the same as travelers on an all-inclusive luxury cruise ship (especially when you include airfare and hotel rooms).Looking for a laidback Caribbean cruise with an alcohol included package to share with friends? Seeking out a luxurious, intimate, and all-inclusive tour of the Mediterranean? T+L has the latest news, recommendations, and guides for your search.

European Cruises

See the Continent by water: European cruises offer travelers a new (and simultaneously old) view of its most iconic regions. From cruises that sail up Scandinavian fjords, to boats that traverse the Mediterranean’s many islands and cities, to vessels that ply Europe’s great rivers, these journeys present their passengers with a veritable buffet of western civilization. Many boats now feature spas, heated pools, French balconies, and—yes—WiFi. Travel + Leisure looks at the latest developments in European cruises and evaluates the options based on the best routes, accommodations, amenities, and values.Mediterranean CruisesTravelers aboard Mediterranean cruises partake of pristine beaches and ancient ruins, Renaissance palaces and medieval castles. And don’t forget the famous Mediterranean diet! (Pass the olives.) Many cruise routes navigate the coasts of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece, but journeys that visit Istanbul, North Africa, and the Canary Islands are available as well. Glam up for a cocktail reception in Monaco’s Grand Casino, indulge at a private wine tasting at a Sicilian family vineyard, or sample tapas and sherry during a high-drama flamenco performance in Andalusia.Scandinavian CruisesCruises that travel the Baltic Sea can carry their passengers from the wonders of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum to the stunning fjords of Norway. Winter cruises expose travelers to the icy beauty of Europe’s north (as well as its cozy holiday markets) but summer cruises—the most popular time of year for Baltic tours—reward passengers with a more temperate climate, lush meadows bursting with flowers, and nearly 24 hours of daylight.River CruisesRiver boats now cruise up and down the Danube, the Rhine, the Main, the Moselle, the Rhône, the Seine, and the Elbe, as well as smaller Dutch and Belgian waterways. The river cruise industry is a crowded field, but it means there are that many more options for travelers. Many river cruises are all-inclusive of airport transfers, WiFi, alcohol, excursions, and tips. Meanwhile, onshore activities may include biking and hiking tours, a night at the opera, walking tours of historic sites and museums, as well as opportunities to sample regional cuisine—and sometimes even lessons on how to cook it. Did we mention butler service? What could be more European than that?Looking for a sun-dappled sail through the Cyclades? A journey through the dramatic landscapes lining the Baltic? A leisurely river cruise through Europe’s great capitals?  T+L is here to help you navigate.

Alaskan Cruises

Alaskan cruises open up the 49th state, both America’s largest and one of its most remote, to intimate travel experiences. Here, one can witness a glacier calve an enormous island of ice into Glacier Bay, a humpback whale’s glistening tail surface from the deep, a brown bear stand at full height—all from the comfort of the observation deck. Travel + Leisure’s writers and editors have sought out the best Alaskan cruises, evaluating routes, accommodations, cuisine, activities, and value.Finding the Best Alaskan CruiseDespite being dwarfed by the giant cruise ships of the Caribbean, Alaskan vessels can better navigate narrow coves and small town ports. A more cozy experience, the best Alaskan cruises often feel like floating bed and breakfasts. Many journeys originate in Vancouver or Seattle and sail roundtrip to cruise ports like Juneau or Skagway, on Alaska’s panhandle, or one-way to destinations farther north like Whittier or Seward. Nearly all travel passes via the Inside Passage, a route that laces in and around coastal islands stretching from Washington State to southeastern Alaska.No matter which ship you choose, every Alaskan cruise is all about the view, so be sure to think about the direction of your journey before you book. Northbound cruises take in the coastline on the starboard (right) side of the ship, while the best views on southbound trips are on the port (left) side. Book your cabin accordingly.Excursions to Glaciers, Forests, and FjordsThough there’s a lot to see from the sea, some experiences can only be had by stepping off the boat. Cruise-led activities can range from kayak and ATV rides to hiking, fishing, camping, and even glacier exploration aboard a real dog sled. Keep in mind that many of these excursions come at an additional cost. That helicopter ride over a glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it’s also one that could cost $1,000 per person.Want to see Alaska’s truly tremendous array of wildlife? Or just fulfill that lifelong ambition to see a moose? T+L will help you find the Alaskan cruise that best fits you.

Disney Cruises

On the high seas, Mickey Mouse (and Disney cruises) are king. Both an internationally recognized and trusted brand, Disney offers travelers a known quantity. Travel + Leisure holds Disney cruises to their own high standards, taking measure of their ships, routes, activities, service, accommodations, and food.Walt Disney Cruise ShipsT+L readers regularly rank Walt Disney cruise ships at the top of the magazine’s World’s Best Mega Ship list. The Disney fleet plies the waters of the Caribbean, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, the British Isles, Alaska, and Canada—sounding its signature When You Wish Upon a Star horn as it leaves ports across three continents. The line’s Art Nouveau interiors play host to activities from nightly kid-friendly movie screenings, Broadway-style musicals, and Disney character experiences to adult-oriented karaoke and trivia nights as well as whisky and rum tastings. On their Caribbean routes, Walt Disney cruise ships bring passengers to Castaway Cay, the line’s private island.The Cost of a Disney CruiseDisney Cruise Line is, fundamentally, a family-oriented operation. The company offers a premium experience for a premium price—base fares tend to be higher than those on comparable ships. But that fare also tends to be more inclusive, covering all-you-can-drink soda and all-you-can-eat ice cream (both a curse and a blessing) as well as 24-hour room service, among other perks.Though much is included in the flat fare, expect to pay a daily per-person gratuity (totaled and charged to you at the trip’s end), as well as additional fees for spa treatments, sauna and steam room access, premium adult-only restaurants, alcoholic beverages and smoothies, childcare, WiFi, shore excursions and tours, and adult-only classes (e.g., tastings) and activities (e.g., bingo). Plan ahead and prioritize the experiences most important to you.Looking for a cruise your kids will never forget? Or a journey that delights your inner kid? Disney delivers the magic, and T+L, the recommendations.

Family Cruises

For many parents, family cruises offer one-stop-shopping for all kinds of vacations and destinations. The appeal isn’t hard to understand: why move from hotel to hotel or place to place when you and your family can check into a giant floating resort that travels with you? Travel + Leisure’s writers and editor have combed the seas for the most kid-friendly cruises and best values.Best Cruises for KidsDifferent cruises offer different prices—and different services—for kids of various ages. Some family cruise ships provide free passage for children under eleven and reduced fare for children under 17. Some cruise lines offer nurseries that will accept infants six months and older; others do not provide childcare for children under three. Do your research ahead of time to make sure the cruise you want provides the amenities—and discounts—you are looking for. For large families interested in booking suites or interconnecting rooms, it’s best to book well in advance.Fun for the Whole FamilySome cruise ships are geared specifically to families with young children, while others are a better fit for multigenerational groups. Some ships have a plethora of onboard activities, from water parks and zip lines to surfing and skydiving simulators. Still others have designated kid and teen areas, such as clubhouses or arcades. Those traveling with several adults can easily balance kid-friendly activities with those that appeal to older generations, whether that’s a relaxing yoga class, Broadway show, or elegant dining experience. With so many options, there’s no reason to compromise.Looking for a perfect week of multigenerational fun in the sun? A family trip through the Mediterranean that is as far-ranging as it is as easy to plan? A breathtaking journey through Alaska neither you nor your kids will ever forget? Check in often for Travel + Leisure’s latest recommendations, guides, and news.

River Cruises

The best river cruises offer the spectacle of ocean voyages but with all the intimacy and care of a boutique hotel. River cruises exist wherever there are rivers (conveniently, everywhere), and Travel + Leisure’s writers and editors keep track of the best routes and operators. What’s in a River Boat?River boats, which can hold up to 190 passengers, are substantially smaller than ocean cruise ships—many of which can carry well over 6,000. So, while traditional cruise ships can reach far flung destinations like Tahiti or the Arctic Circle, river boats have the ability to visit inland cities and towns, like Memphis (Egypt and Tennessee), that oceangoing ships can’t. River boat excursions also tend to be more cultural—in contrast to the adventure-oriented activities of a Caribbean or Alaskan journey—and more intimate, usually offering only one restaurant and relying on more intimate amusements, from folk music performances to language lessons, as opposed to the large-scale entertainments of traditional cruise ships. Overall, most river cruises are adult oriented: you won’t find a water park or 24-hour arcade on board these vessels. While the price tag per day is often higher than their average oceangoing counterparts, river boat passengers will find more amenities included in their base fare, like free WiFi and excursions.Rhine River and Danube River CruisesRome’s first emperor, Caesar Augustus, declared that the natural northeastern borders of the Roman Empire were the Rhine and Danube rivers. The Rhine begins in the Swiss Alps and runs past Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, and France before emptying into the North Sea in the Netherlands. The Danube begins in Germany’s Black Forest and flows nearly 1,800 miles through or by Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine, where it terminates in the Black Sea. On the Rhine, passengers sail past the city of Cologne, the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, and the windmills and waterworks of the Netherlands. On the Danube, see the wonders of Vienna while listening to Johann Strauss’s “Blue” waltz, which takes the river as its namesake.River Cruises WorldwideRiver cruises have been plying the Nile since the days of the pharaohs, though shifting political realities can complicate booking a journey. Across Asia, river boats travel up the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam, Myanmar’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, India’s holy Ganges, and past China’s scenic Three Gorges on the Yangtze River. In Brazil, the Amazon beckons. In the United States, the Mississippi River is seeing a renewal in river cruises. Check back here for the most recent developments, information, and recommendations. 

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