10 types of cruises you need to try at least once in your life

If you’re an avid cruiser, chances are you’ve found your niche — the types of cruises that you most enjoy, whether they’re large ships or small ones, US-based voyages or those farther afield. Conversely, if you’re new to the cruise world, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the options.

Regardless of your experience level, there are some options that are essential for anyone looking to get serious about setting sail.

These are the 10 types of cruises we think any well-rounded passenger should try at least once in their lives. How many have you done, and which are still on your bucket list?

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ocean crossings

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 docked at the Red Hook cruise terminal in Brooklyn, New York. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Ocean crossings were common in the early days of ocean liners, which were used to transport both people and goods between countries. As passenger cruising began to evolve, crossings became as much about entertainment and vacationing as they were about getting from point A to point B.

Today, the only classic ocean liner that still runs a regular route is Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, which sails weeklong voyages between London and New York. To get a feel for what the grand old liner days were like, passengers can book passage on the vessel, which makes no port calls as it crosses the Atlantic Ocean.

Other ships might do crossings a couple of times a year, too, as they reposition to different regions at the start of each season. Some do offer a handful of port stops, but a large number of sea days is generally expected.

Big ship cruises

Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas. MICHEL VERDURE STUDIO/ROYAL CARIBBEAN

The largest cruise ships afloat carry more than 9,000 people, including passengers and crew members. That can sound extremely intimidating to some people, particularly those who are partial to small-ship sailings.

I get it. You might not want more than a dozen decks to climb, loud music around every turn or tones of families with small children. However, you can’t call yourself a true cruiser if you don’t try a megaship at least once. These ships offer some pretty out-there diversions like laser tag, bungee trampolines and even roller coasters on their top decks. You need to try one out to truly know if the experience is or isn’t for you; you might be surprised at your ability to avoid crowds.

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Plus, with so much to do, there’s something for just about everyone in terms of food and entertainment if you find yourself traveling with a group of friends or family. My recommendation? Try a ship in Royal Caribbean’s Freedom class or Oasis class. They offer the most options, and after you board, you simply won’t believe you’re on a ship.

Cruises to nowhere

Cruises to nowhere used to give travelers who weren’t sure they’d like water-based vacations a chance to try one out with little commitment of time or money. The sailings — which would leave port, head out to sea for a day or two and then return to land — featured no port calls.

Now, due to stricter enforcement of the Passenger Vessel Services Act (which requires passenger ships larger than a certain size leaving from and returning to ports in the United States to call on at least one foreign port), most cruises to nowhere from the US are no longer allowed.

For close-to-home sailings, look for one-way Pacific Coast voyages that sail between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco with no port stops. Or, head to another country, such as the United Kingdom, to try a cruise to nowhere.

Europe riverboat trips

Sure, ocean cruises are fantastic, but so are river sailings. Their slower pace means that you can take in the scenery as you sail from destination to destination. Because you can always see land, river cruises are a solid option for those who worry they’d be upset to be in the middle of the ocean with only water in every direction.

Additionally, the ports are generally close enough to one another that you might stop in more than one per day, allowing for more in-depth exploration of the region you’re visiting. (One of the most popular river cruise regions is the Rhine Gorge with its stunning castles.)

Food and local culture tends to be far more immersive than what you’d find during a port call on an oceangoing vessel. There are also fewer passengers on riverboats, which means a more favorable crew-to-guest ratio and, therefore, better service.

Expedition sailings

Scenic Eclipse in an ice field in the Arctic. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

If you’re starting to feel like you’ve been to all of the destinations mainstream cruise ships have to offer, or if you’re an active traveler who’s worried about a cruise might be too sedentary, an expedition sailing could be for you.

Gone are the days when traveling to far-flung, isolated locales required passengers to sacrifice amenities. The newest ships on the market offer top-end luxury, and they transport cruisers with enough dough to places like the Arctic, Antarctica and Alaska.

Depending on the destination, you might see polar or grizzly bears, moose, Arctic foxes, seals, walruses, musk oxen, bald eagles, whales, local birds and a slew of other wildlife. Mix in some flora, calving glaciers, icebergs and ruins from early explorers, and you’re in for a real treat.

US paddlewheeler sailings

American Queen Voyages’ American Queen docked in Pittsburgh. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Looking for a healthy dose of Americana with your next cruise? You’ll find the slow pace and cultural immersion of a Europe river cruise right here in the US with a sailing on a paddlewheeler like American Queen Voyages’ American Queen or American Countess and American Cruise Lines’ American Heritage, American Splendor and others, which were recently refurbished.

As you glide along US waterways like the Ohio and Mississippi, you’ll experience small-town hospitality, local landmarks that you might not otherwise hear about and a history lesson you’re not likely to forget any time soon.

The boats themselves are also fascinating, using paddlewheels for at least part of their propulsion. The practice evokes the early days of riverboating, and resident historians (called riverlorians) give lectures to teach about the areas the boats visit.

Back-to-back trips

What’s better than a vacation? Two vacations, of course. It’s not uncommon for cruisers to take more than one sailing in a row on the same vessel. Most often, they book two consecutive voyages, known as a back-to-back trip.

The obvious draw here, besides bragging rights, is that a back-to-back extends your travels beyond just one cruise. Sail to the Eastern Caribbean one week and the Western the next, or turn a weeklong one-way sailing from Barcelona to Rome into a two-week round-trip visiting even more Mediterranean ports. Plus, you’ll find yourself on board with a largely new group of fellow passengers after the first sailing ends, so it’s a great way to meet the number of people twice.

If you go this route, be sure to ask to stay in the same cabin to avoid having to relocate all of your belongings between voyages. Know you might also be required to complete the muster drill again for the second leg of your trip.

World cruises

Accessible to only the wealthiest cruisers, world voyages (as you might have guessed) sail to destinations all over the globe in one long cruise. These itineraries usually stretch on for 100 days or more, hitting key ports across most of the seven continents.

It’s also common for cruise lines to offer segments to passengers wishing only to do part of the longer voyage. This does open the option up to travelers with smaller budgets.

Most cruisers — even seasoned ones — have never taken a world cruise, and it’s truly a feather in the cap of anyone who checks it off their list.

Masted-ship sailings

A Windstar sailing ship in French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Want to feel like a true swashbuckler? Consider a cruise on a masted sailing ship. There are two distinct experiences you can choose from, depending on your cruise style and how involved you’d like to be in helping out on a working ship.

Star Clippers allows passengers to help raise and lower the sails and climb the mast up to the crow’s nest. The accommodations are a little more spartan, more like true sailboat quarters, and entertainment is homespun with guest-participation shows and knot-tying lessons. The vessels in this line try to largely rely on wind for propulsion and spend up to 80% of the voyage under sail.

Meanwhile, Windstar Cruises has a handful of sailing vessels in its fleet, but the sails are more for show than for actual function. Although there’s still a working crew to operate them, you’ll feel less like a deckhand and more like a luxury cruise traveler.

Bahamas weekenders

Have you ever wondered what happened to those “free cruise” offers you used to get over the phone? Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line rebranded itself several times over to move away from the robocall stereotypes and is now partnering with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville empire to operate Margaritaville at Sea-branded sailings.

The voyages last a minimum of two nights, sailing from the Port of Palm Beach in Florida to Freeport in the Bahamas and back. Travelers can also choose to disembark and stay at a land-based resort for a few days before cruising home.

This is one way to test out a short sailing, but keep in mind that it’s designed to be a party atmosphere.

Bottom line

Don’t knock what you haven’t tried. With so many different types of cruises out there, you can’t say cruising is not for you or that a certain type of sailing is your favorite if you haven’t experienced the various options for yourself. Challenge yourself to try a vacation that might push you out of your comfort zone or be an entirely new type of sailing. You just might find yourself with a new favorite cruise type along the way.

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