Catherine Palace, Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
If I could take every cruise I wanted over the next 12 months, these would be my top 5 choices. This is not an #ad and my choices are only influenced by the itineraries I find most intriguing on the ships I love. It is highly personal and therefore highly biased.
I have been fortunate to cruise…alot. From the basic expedition ships of the 1990s to the ultra-luxury of the present. I have explored the full length of the Amazon, the Arctic, and the Antarctic. I have cruised all of the top luxury lines and enjoyed their pampering and excursions in the Mediterranean, Baltic, around Africa, the Arabian Gulf and in Asia. I am, therefore, a self-proclaimed expert, so keep that in mind (the self-proclaimed part).
Note: I have left “World Cruises” off this list, they are a top choice, but that’s for another article.
1. Viking Ocean Cruises
This is my longest choice at 22 days, but also my top. I go to Russia every year and most years with Viking. No cruise line has better contacts in Russia, period. The excursions I have been on and the contacts I have made are the best of my career. Moreover and if you are going to Norway, you really should cruise on a ship that is unapologetically Norwegian in decor, exquisite food choices and overall theme. Viking embraces their Norwegian heritage in a way that makes you wish you were Norwegian too.
If you have not cruised on Viking’s new Ocean going ships, you should. They cater to the “thinking traveler” in many targeted ways. No casino, no art auctions (does anyone still do this?), no butlers and a beautiful, relaxing (dare I say Hygge) Nordic design. The dining choices will meet any taste, though I prefer Manfredi’s, named for the owner, Tor Hagen’s close friend, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, the Chairman and former owner of Silversea Cruises. A refreshing nod to the competition. But what I love most about Viking is the attention to the destination. Top notch lecturers onboard draw full houses. These are no ordinary port talks, but fascinating expert discussions of past and present issues. Above all, it is the shore excursions that I find the best in the industry. From basic introductory tours, to a meeting with head curators, the scope and variety will please everyone.
2. Silversea Cruises
Why the British Isles when exploring by land is so easy? Three reasons I love this itinerary: sailing into the center of London is always magical and you visit the Shetland and the Orkney Islands. These are two of my favorite islands in the world. Their history and pre-history sites are astounding. They are some of the least visited ports so you might have Skara Brae all to yourself.
I last cruised Silversea in Asia on a magnificent cruise from Singapore to Bangkok that I chose to visit Borneo and Brunei. This was a challenging itinerary for any ship and the excursions, by which I measure all cruises, were excellent. The Silver Wind, at 296 passengers has been one of my top since she was introduced into the fleet and I always gravitate to her cruises for itineraries with smaller ports.
Sailing into London
3. Crystal River Cruises
This is one of my favorite river itineraries. Amsterdam needs no explanation, but to sail through ancient and medieval history on the Rhine and then to reach Strasbourg is icing. Strasbourg may be my top European city with its food, wine and the eclectic best of France and Germany,
I have not yet had the chance to cruise on Crystal Cruises’ new riverboats, but from the reviews, I am hearing, they have moved to the top of my list. I have been onboard Crystal ocean ships many times and know that, in the words of their newest ad campaign, they do indeed “make luxury personal.” I am far from the typical ‘luxury’ traveler, preferring lectures to formal nights, and always looking for food at odd hours, but they met my every whim, every time.
4. Regent Seven Seas Cruises
I took my first Regent cruise this year and was most impressed. I sailed from Miami through the Panama Canal with a one day stop in Cuba and that one day was enough to convince me that I wanted to return…with Regent. The ship is perfect and my stateroom was one of my top ever. Loved the design and particularly the dressing room and large sitting area. The size of the ship meant that I knew almost everyone, at least by face, by the end of the trip. Groups that had boarded together quickly melded with others making many new friends. I love that everything is included, making one less thing to think about onboard and on land.
But what I really loved the most was the excursion they planned in Cuba. Instead of the typical pink Cadillac, cigar rolling, rum tasting tour, I chose an excursion out in the country. We were one of the first groups to visit a local farm where they were developing their own agritourism business. Watching as they took such pride introducing their guests to their farm operation made me hopeful that tourism in Cuba might stretch the bindings of state-controlled business and allow more of these micro experiments. I look forward to returning for a full circumnavigation to see more. And don’t discount the ease of sailing from and returning to Miami!
Pink Cadillacs in Cuba
And the beginnings of Agritourism outside Havana.
5. Uniworld River Cruises
Because….Paris is always a good idea and it is the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. I sailed this exact itinerary two years ago when the waters were so high on the Seine that Uniworld had to make daily adjustments, and they did a fabulous job. I would like to repeat it because there is so much more to see. Docking right in Paris, I love exploring on my own. But when we got to Versailles, I loved Uniworld’s exclusive behind the scenes private tour. I must do it again. I plan to return to Rouen and dine in La Couronne, where Julia Child was first inspired to explore French cooking. I can never visit Monet’s Giverny too many times as it changes every season. And then there are the landing beaches of Normandy, where I am always in awe of the bravery and sacrifice of so many.
Uniworld’s full name is “Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.” A mouthful but perfectly branded. It is a boutique river cruise line that never tries to copy others but sets a high standard for making every small detail echo the destination. They also offered so many active excursions y that I never needed to visit the gym to reach my 10,000 daily steps. This is a priority for my travels as exercise keeps me sane. The opportunity to enjoy French food, relive Louis XIV’s Versailles and pay homage to those who served in World War II all in one 7 day itinerary makes this a gem on my list.
Jardin Luxembourg, Paris
All cruise choices are personal, so I hope this list gets you to think of your own travel dreams and discuss them with your travel advisor. Yes, I know the choice to cruise or take a land trip is also personal and a highly charged debate among travelers. With the many new options to sail the world’s seas and rivers, those debates may diminish, as every traveler can find a cruise option to fit into their travel plans. From intimate riverboats docking in city centers, to expedition ships, to mid-size luxury and large floating cities, I am sure you can find one that rocks your boat and I hope you do. I also hope you find the same sense of adventure sailing the world’s oceans and rivers that I do.