If you’ve never considered yourself a cruise person, it’s time to reconsider. Long gone are the days when a ship-bound voyage exclusively meant sailing around the Caribbean from one tourist-ridden port to another, eating bland food and sipping too-fruity cocktails. Luxury vessels these days put even the most amenity-packed hotels to shame, with itineraries that range from the wildlife-rich shores of the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica to the vibrant cities of Europe and Southeast Asia. We’ve rounded up eight excursions that'll make you want to get on a boat.
From the glacial bays of Iceland and the quaint fisherman villages of Denmark to the remote fjords of Norway, there’s plenty to explore in the Land of the Midnight Sun, but getting to it all was a bit of a trek. Now, Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator makes it easy to take in the region’s seafaring history just as the Vikings did, albeit in more luxurious six-star lodgings. The all-suite ship even makes a stop in Poland—with an optional jaunt to Berlin available—before cruising the Baltic Sea en route to Stockholm’s famous museums and palaces.
In both beauty and navigability, the aquamarine waters that surround the islands of Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines easily rival those in the Caribbean, so it comes as no surprise that the cruising industry is finally turning its attention to the untapped region. Departing from Singapore, Norwegian Jewel sails along the shores of Koh Samui and Halong Bay before guests disembark in Hong Kong, while its brand-new sister ship Norwegian Joy berths in ports in Japan and mainland China. With its first-at-sea racetrack and virtual reality game room, you’d be forgiven if you never leave the vessel.
Call this the Grand Tour 2.0. Instead of backpacking through Europe’s most iconic cities, Crystal River Cruises lets you sail through them, surveying the continent’s Neoclassical facades and historic ruins from the comfort of an all-suite, 154-passenger yacht. While the king-sized beds and in-room iPads keep guests in hibernation mode, country-hopping itineraries (Italy and Portugal and France—oh my) encourage exploration. Few are more praised than Crystal Mozart’s voyage down the Danube, which visits the old-world capitals of Vienna and Budapest and offers guests immersive culinary and educational experiences along the way.
All due respect to Amundsen, Shackleton, and Hillary, but the days of roughing it in the Antarctic wilderness are thankfully behind us. On Silversea’s Silver Cloud Expedition, the living is easy thanks to spacious suites for just 200 guests, an on-vessel spa and salon, and five dining rooms with views of polar waters. Bonus: A fleet of 16 zodiacs lets you experience the locale’s resident whale and penguin populations first-hand against a breathtaking backdrop of glaciers and sculptural ice formations straight out of Frozen.
For nature lovers and science buffs, a trip to Darwin’s most famous zoological observatory isn’t just enlightening—it’s life changing. Who better to tour it with than National Geographic, whose Endeavour II ship is outfitted with zodiacs, glass-bottom boats, and snorkeling equipment to provide guests with up-close encounters of sea turtles, penguins, and sea lions. Naturalists and photography experts lead journeys on land to see the islands’ famous tortoises in a lush volcano-studded setting. If you have money (and time) to burn, opt for the 16-day voyage to include treks through the ruins of Macchu Picchu.
With its crystal waters and swaying palms, the South Pacific has captured the imaginations of Hollywood film buffs, fashion industry insiders, and desktop daydreamers. But if you’re making the trip, how to decide between the picturesque perfection of Tahiti and Bora Bora? You don’t have to if you’re aboard Paul Gauguin Cruises’ flagship vessel, which berths at most of the major Society Islands. Though homebodies are encouraged to lounge on the pool deck or relax in the ship’s spa, active types might prefer aquabiking, scuba diving, or jungle safaris on Moorea, while little ones can participate in naturalist-led beach excursions through the Stewards of Nature program, developed by Jacques Cousteau’s son.
Although the unspoiled beauty of Patagonia has remained relatively under the radar for cruisers, Stella Australis and its new sister ship Ventus Australis, which launches in January 2018, is changing all that. With just 100 cabins, the luxury vessel is the only passenger ship that can transport guests around Cape Horn and through the otherworldly fjords of Tierra del Fuego. Once anchored, you can embark on guided hikes in sub-Antarctic rainforests or tour the 1902 lighthouse on Magdalena island, then return back to the ship for a signature Calafate sour and a gourmet four-course dinner inspired by Chilean cuisine.
There’s a reason why Caribbean berths are perennially most popular: The islands are ideally situated to allow for daily hopping, and the weather is just right all year long. But if a cruise to St. John or the Bahamas feels too familiar, consider Seaborn’s Exotic Caribbean In-Depth itinerary, a 14-day jaunt from Barbados through some of the region’s less-known isles, including Mayreau, Bequia, and Dominica. With its private verandas, homeopathic wellness spa, and unexpected amenities like tai-chi on the pool deck, the gracious Odyssey is tough to leave, but off-beaten-track excursions like mangrove forest kayaking in Guadaloupe make it worth your while.