I absolutely love cruising. Since the first time sailing to the Western Caribbean from New Orleans in 2002, I was hooked. Now, after 50+ cruises under my belt, I still love the itineraries, the ship’s activities, the delicious food, meeting people from all over the world, and making memories on the high seas. Here are my all-time favorite cruises.
I was hosted by Holland America’s Princess Cruises on this particular cruise. All opinions are my own.
1. Black Sea
I love recounting my journey aboard the Black Sea cruise sailing with Princess Cruises — with a mere 2,000 passengers for 9 glorious days. Setting sail from the start of Western civilization (Athens, Greece), and culminating in captivating Istanbul, Turkey, this voyage left me spellbound. Imagine exploring remarkable and historic cities while sailing through the wondrous Bosphorus Strait, part of Eurasia. Sailing this Black Sea route was the most exhausting cruise I’d ever taken (my friend and I pounded the pavement every minute we could), but it also allowed me to check off several personal travel bucket-list items.
This was a trip of a lifetime. I truly needed a vacation when I got home due to the long days in port (much longer than a typical Caribbean cruise) and the number of things we saw in each country. The cruise highlights were a fun food tour around parts of Athens I had not seen on previous trips, a tour of the hanging monasteries in Volos, a visit to the historical region of Khios, and a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site in Bulgaria. We also made a visit to Constanta — my first time in Romania.
Pro Tip: Experience the ultimate excursion in the destinations you’ve been dreaming of visiting, which in this case, for me, was Istanbul. Our personal guide, Hanifi Yilmaz, made our 2 days in Istanbul unforgettable. With his expertise and warmth, we felt like locals exploring a foreign city. Words cannot capture the sheer wonder of this trip, and even after all my cruises, it still stands as my top choice.
2. Baltic Capitals
Norwegian Cruise Line
Starting in Copenhagen, this exceptional 9-day cruise with NCL took me on a journey to captivating destinations. In Copenhagen, we had ample time for a cruise ship excursion and to explore the ABBA Museum on our own. We then sailed onwards to Stockholm, Helsinki, and Berlin, immersing ourselves in the rich history and culture of each Baltic capital city.
The highlight of this tour, at the time, was 2 full days in St. Petersburg, Russia. That was my #1 bucket-list item at the time and I was so lucky for that to be my first experience traveling in Russia.
My friend and I hired a private guide to get the most of our 12-to-13-hour days in port and we saw incredible things. To this day, I’ve never been anywhere more opulent than St. Petersburg. Even after touring Vatican City, all the historical biggies in Rome, the Newport Mansions, and other exquisite sites, none could touch the magnificence of St. Petersburg.
Fun Fact: She and I had not heard much about Tallinn, Estonia, so we almost skipped it and stayed on the ship since it was our only time to rest during the packed Baltic capitals itinerary. We found a fun-sounding food tour, which is why we got off the boat at all. As it turns out, Tallinn was our favorite cruise port of the trip and is still my favorite European city. Moral of the story — don’t miss a port… no matter how tired you are.
3. Canada/New England
My friend, Angie, and I cruised to Canada and New England with Holland America after I drooled over that cruise for nearly a dozen years. We flew to Montreal, where we overnighted and explored the city before boarding the cruise. Our cruise itinerary was Quebec City, Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island), and both Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia.
Back in the U.S., we stopped in Bangor, Maine, and the cruise disembarked in Boston. The cruise ship itself was fantastic, one of the most excellent ocean-liner ships I’ve ever sailed on. We could not have been more pleased with the food, entertainment, and excursion choices.
In Quebec City, afternoon tea at the Château Frontenac is a must, and in PEI, we toured the beloved Anne of Green Gables sites. One of the most photographic sights in Canada is Peggy’s Point Lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. We took that excursion, which also visited the somber Titanic graveyard.
In Maine, we rented a car, explored Acadia National Park at our own speed, feasted a local lobster roll, drove by the mega-mansions in Seal Harbor, and ate blueberry ice cream.
This cruise had fewer kids on board than any I’d ever taken. It was perfect for seasoned cruisers seeking a remarkable Canada and New England vacation with its fabulous itinerary and exceptional ship. While it may be a bit overwhelming for newbie cruisers, it’s an experience worth embracing for those seeking adventure and exploration.
Pro Tip: We had to walk quite a distance, and over uneven and hilly terrain when visiting the Titanic Graveyard and Peggy’s Cove. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a water bottle with you.
The first major cruise I took (meaning not the Caribbean) was to Scandinavia with seven girlfriends. Talk about a blast…. wow! We flew to London for a few days before cruising out of Southampton. Our cruise ports included Oslo (Norway), Copenhagen (Denmark), Amsterdam (Netherlands), and Helsingborg (Sweden). The cruise ended in Copenhagen, where we stayed a few more days to soak up the scenery and rich history.
This was my first of many cruises with Princess. The Sea Princess was an older ship with around 2,000 people. It went into dry dock for refurbishment after our cruise. I love how Princess uses many of the same names for the common areas, bars, and restaurants, making it easy to find your way around from ship to ship.
5. The Danube
Viking River Cruises
Many cruisers schedule the Rhine as their first river cruise and typically choose Viking River Cruises for dependability and price point. I did the same and loved it; however, I think the Danube is more scenic and has a better route than the Rhine. River cruising enriches your mind, soul, and spirit. This cruise began in Passau, Germany, one of the most beautiful cities of the trip.
My three best cruise girlfriends and I were the youngest on board the 198 passenger Viking Helvetia ship, minus one couple traveling with their parents and one teenage grandchild. We had an ultimate time and met people whom we still keep in touch with today.
Ports of call included Linz, Vienna, and Melk (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), and Budapest (Hungary). Excursions are included with your Viking cruise fee, though there are a few optional ones for an additional cost. Beer and wine, plus soda, are complimentary during mealtimes.
Get ready to experience one of the most enchanting moments of your travel life as your boat gracefully enters Budapest. As the sun sets, be captivated by the mesmerizing sight of thousands of white lights twinkling on the buildings and bridges along the water, in both Buda and Pest. Embrace the magic and resist the urge to capture it all through your cameras and recording devices. Instead, allow yourself to truly immerse in the surreal beauty of the moment.
Pro Tip: I recommend the post-cruise extension with Viking in Budapest. For around $399 per person, my girlfriend and I stayed in a luxury hotel for a few nights, had all of our travel connections reserved, plus complimentary gourmet breakfasts.
6. Alaska’s Inside Passage
Alaska is one of the top desired cruise locations, and why not? With impeccable picture-perfect scenery and a United States landscape that is one-of-a-kind, it is no surprise that this is one of my all-time favorite cruises.
My Alaska cruise started in Seattle with Princess, who fine-tuned the journey. It sailed to Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway before heading to Victoria, British Columbia, where we disembarked after a week.
The safari tour by land and sea in Juneau was terrific, providing my daughter and me excellent photo-ops for glaciers, bears, whales, and bald eagles. In Ketchikan, we were in love with the scenery and mostly explored the town and local restaurants, including having a cold beer and enjoying the boisterous sing-along at Red Dog Saloon.
Victoria was a real treat — my first time in Canada. I thought my Alaska trip was perfect and thoroughly enjoyed the Alaskan-themed midnight buffets, probably unheard of today. Swimming in the pool with the ice-capped mountains in the background was pretty memorable. I need a repeat visit of this beautiful state since I’ve upped my photography game.
Where To Next?
I’m thrilled that cruising is back and eager to create lasting memories on new routes. I’m picturing myself sailing for my first time to Asia with Viking, taking my granddaughter on her first cruise (multi-gen) with Holland America or Disney Cruises, discovering the Middle East or Holy Lands with Windstar, and experiencing the high energy and culture of Argentina with Norwegian. Have you ever considered a cruise vacation? Or perhaps you’ve already been bitten by the cruise bug? Either way, get ready for an enchanting journey on the high seas.