Forget what you think you know about cruise vacations. The best and most rewarding cruises today disprove all the stereotypes: that cruising is for the senior set and that ships are over-scheduled with theme parties and overcrowded with tourists seeking little more than a superficial travel experience. On the best cruises, large theaters with show-stopping numbers are out; intimate lecture halls and cinemas are in. And at meal time, refined menu choices replace the endless buffet; diverse dishes and dining venues include regional cuisine and fine wines in bright indoor spaces, or served al fresco, under a sea of stars.
Quite simply, cruising would do well to return to its roots in relaxation. Today’s upscale cruise lines are savvy to the needs and desires of the modern traveler, offering the simple elegance you expect from a five-star hotel, enhanced with spas, pools and lounge-worthy deck chairs.
The cruise experiences listed below lend themselves to complete relaxation for their magical vistas and for the simple pleasure they provide in getting far away from it all. They also promise to immerse you in the local culture, thanks to activities and events on board and on shore designed to help you truly connect with your destination.
Norwegian Coast and Arctic Circle
This is a true Viking experience, inspired by the Nordic explorers of old. On one of the most breathtaking itineraries on the planet, you’ll trace the magnificent Norwegian coast. Cruises into this mesmerizing region embark in Bergen, Norway, the land of the Midnight Sun and the Viking homeland. Sail to the historic Viking settlement in Kristiansund and across the Arctic Circle, cruising into the deep-cut fjords of the Inside Passage along the way. You’ll go as far as Honningsvåg, Norway’s northernmost town, before heading back south to witness the magnificence all over again.
After calling on more charming coastal towns, this unique itinerary crosses the North Sea to the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Kilts are not required, but a taste for pastoral beauty will help you fully appreciate the islands’ long farming heritage. Here, you’ll see the eponymous pony still bred here. Then it’s on to the mainland and a stop in Edinburgh, where you can hire a car and head to the storied St. Andrews Golf Course. Your journey culminates along the historic banks of the Thames in London, England.
If your idea of the perfect cruise includes hopping from island to island, the Mediterranean Sea is an ideal destination. Long-cherished cultures and rustic vistas welcome you to every shore in these storied waters. On the Italian isle of Sicily, stroll the stone city of Erice perching on a rocky plateau, with magnificent views of the island’s unspoiled beauty. In Sardinia, one of Italy’s most fertile farm areas, you can explore the ruins of the civilizations that once thrived here, from Rome to Carthage, at the ruins of Cagliari. And on Spain’s Palma de Mallorca, admire the breathtaking beauty of mountains, valleys and beaches that have inspired artists and travelers for centuries.
Exploring the islands of the Mediterranean carries an added advantage that other island-oriented cruises lack: opportunities to explore a vast variety of mainland cities, too. With full-day port calls in countries like Italy and Spain, you’ll have plenty of time ashore to explore remarkable Mediterranean gems. In Rome, you can marvel at the architecture of the ancient empire. Sample pizza at its purest in Naples before exploring Pompeii on a side trip. Savor paella in the Spanish city of its birth, Valencia, and learn about its Renaissance-era silk industry.
Deluxe River Cruises
If you prefer the intimacy of a smaller ship, docking in the heart of your destination and enjoying more attentive service, choose a river cruise. River cruise ships offer all the amenities and comforts you expect from other ships. The best of them are simple and elegant so that you can focus your attention on your destination, yet they also offer indulgences like pools and spas. Here are three river cruise itineraries that will really take you away.
Egypt and the Nile
There are few travel destinations more awe-inspiring than the Pyramids of Giza. They are always a stunning centerpiece of a Nile River cruise; often, you can discover them from the back of a camel. This classic itinerary is romance personified, a leisurely journey along an ancient river lined with age-old farming villages and incredibly preserved temples. Cairo, Luxor and Aswan serve as major ports, each city offering an exhilarating slice of Egyptian life. And every temple—Luxor, Karnak, Edfu, Abu Simbel—is more breathtaking than the last.
Many river cruises in Southeast Asia begin and end in Bangkok, Thailand’s fascinating capital. Spiritual enlightenment might seem easy to come by here, with so many temples glittering in the sunlight amidst the bustle of city life. For a less hurried pace, embark a river ship on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. In Mandalay, the city that so entranced Rudyard Kipling, visit the Golden Palace Monastery. Bask in the serenity of the former Burmese capitals of Ava and Amarapura. Along the Irrawaddy, drop anchor at small villages untouched by time, with ample opportunities to interact with locals and drink in the exotic flavor of this distinct eastern culture.
The Volga is Europe’s longest river, so you’ll discover endless cultural and historic riches to explore along its banks. Begin in Moscow, where a three-night stay lets you explore Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Then set off along this fabled river, stopping at sleepy provincial villages dotted with onion-domed churches and splendid architecture from old Russia, including the Church of the Transfiguration on Kizhi Island, constructed without a single nail. Three nights in St. Petersburg, Peter the Great’s gilded city on the Neva River, round out your journey, with opportunities to explore the opulent palaces of Tsars and Tsarinas and see the priceless works of art at the Hermitage Museum.
Whether you’re drawn to the river cruises or the ocean cruises mentioned above, destination-focused journeys with rich cultural immersion make the most rewarding travel experiences. Because you can unpack your bag once and explore the world, it’s also the most relaxing way to travel. It is so relaxing, in fact, that you might consider a long and leisurely cruise of 20 days or more. However long your trip, you’ll want to enjoy your time on board as much as your time on shore. So be sure to look for the best staterooms. Private balconies help you feel connected to your destination without ever stepping outside your room, and 24-hour service and upscale amenities ensure your journey will be enjoyable and care-free.
Who’s Ready To Set Sail On The Largest Cruise Ship In The World?
Back in October, we told you about Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest ship that would hold the distinction as the largest cruise ship in the world.
Now, after three years of construction, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas was recently delivered, and it couldn’t be any more enormous, standing 18-decks-high and weighing in at 228,081 tons. It’s the ultimate over-the-top cruise experience.
“It is a proud and exhilarating moment to welcome a new member to the family. Symphony will take family vacationing to an all new level with energy and options never before found in one place,” Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley said during the ship’s delivery ceremony in France.
Symphony of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class of vessels, which are more than 30% larger than the next largest cruise ships under them. Symphony is about 1,188 feet long and has 2,774 cabins. It will hold 6,680 passengers. It’s basically the Titanic of today. I’m talking size, not tragedy here. The Titanic would be envious of this ship.
Passengers on the Symphony can look forward to things like laser tag, a new seafood concept, a live performance of the Broadway show Hairspray, a 10-story waterslide that spirals down the rear of the ship, numerous pools, lounges, bars, restaurants and much more. There’s also an ice-skating rink, two rock climbing walls, a basketball court, and seven “neighborhoods” with shops, bars (one with robot bartenders), and more.
If that’s not enough, there’s also the Ultimate Family Suite, which RC is billing as “the most spectacular family suite on land or sea.” This two-story family suite is a massive 1,346 square feet, and it’s chock full of family-friendly features, including a slide connecting the children’s room on the second level to the main living area below. Now that’s freaking cool.
As you can see, there’s something for everyone on Symphony, and you’ll likely need all week just to explore every nook and cranny of this mega ship.
The Symphony of the Seas began its first real voyage with passengers on March 31, sailing the Mediterranean before heading to Miami. I don’t know about you, but I think I know where I’m going on my next vacation. Who’s with me?
Photo credit: SBW-Photo
Celebrity Edge Is Like No Cruise Ship We’ve Ever Seen
If you’ve been thinking about taking a cruise, there is no better time to do so, as there are a number of new ships scheduled to set sail in 2018 from all of the major cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, and Holland America.
One of the ships that we’re most excited about is Celebrity Cruises’ upcoming ship (their first new ship in six years), the Celebrity Edge, which was announced early last year. And now Celebrity Cruises has announced that the ship’s construction is ahead of schedule, with a maiden voyage scheduled for late 2018.
The Celebrity Edge is the first in a new category of Celebrity ships that boasts an innovative new design, with a number of features never before seen on a cruise, like the Magic Carpet – The world’s first cantilevered, floating platform that moves up and down the side of the ship, reaching heights of 13 stories above sea level. With breathtaking views, a full bar, and space for live music performances, it truly is a destination itself.
If that’s not edgy enough, the ship’s Edge Staterooms with Infinite Veradana bring the stateroom balconies indoors. With the touch of a button, bi-folding doors in the room can be opened, allowing your entire living space to become the veranda, and letting you walk right out to the water’s edge. This allows for a wide-open indoor space that’s 23% larger than traditional balcony cabins.
Other unique features include the ship’s Resort Deck, which offers endless ways to enjoy the outdoors and connect with the sea. It includes everything from an asymmetrical outward-facing pool deck to a jogging track that winds up, down, and around the Rooftop Garden – a living urban playscape inspired by playgrounds.
While many cruise lines have moved towards RFID-enabled wristbands and the likes to get in and out of your room, charge a drink, and personalize your cruise experience, Celebrity is taking a slightly different approach, with their proprietary Celebrity app, which will let you do everything on your phone, from checking into the ship to unlocking your stateroom door or controlling your room’s temperature and lighting.
And last but not least, Edge also will have Celebrity’s first cabins for solo travelers. This should make single folks happy, as they won’t get stuck paying double-occupancy anymore. I have a single friend who cruises solo every year, and this cruise would actually make more sense for him from a financial standpoint!
The Celebrity Edge is betting big ($1 billion) that today’s affluent younger travelers will take the plunge on a modern luxury cruise like this.
So what do you say, who’s ready to set sail on the Celebrity Edge? Bookings are officially open for the ship’s maiden voyages in December 2018, departing from Fort Lauderdale for a week-long Caribbean circuit, with cabins starting at $1,049.
For more information, visit celebritycruises.com.
Photo credit: Celebrity Cruises
MSC Cruises’ Epic 4-Month Cruise Visits 32 Countries Across 6 Continents!
If you’ve ever dreamed of taking a trip around the world, MSC Cruises’ “World Cruise” is just the ticket, a 119-day cruise that boasts an itinerary of 49 destinations across 32 countries spanning six continents.
Taking place aboard the MSC Magnifica, which features balcony cabins, 11 bars, four restaurants, a casino, a panoramic nightclub, a cigar lounge, and a 4D cinema, among other amenities and attractions, this one-of-a-kind world cruise departs from Genoa, Italy on January 5, 2019, with passengers crisscrossing the globe and returning there nearly four months later.
The global journey begins with stops in Marseille in France, Barcelona and Malaga in Spain, and Funchal in Portugal. From there, it’s on to the Caribbean, visiting St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Aruba, and a few others before making its way to the Pacific via the Panama Canal.
The cruise will make extended stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Tahiti, giving guests the chance to immerse themselves in local experiences. Additional stops include Bora Bora in French Polynesia, Auckland in New Zealand, and Sydney in Australia, along with several others.
There will also be 15 different complimentary shore excursions that passengers can take advantage of during the trip, such as riding elephants in Pinnawela, taking a dip in the lagoons of Moorea, or touring of national parks. Additional offerings include guided shopping trips, food tours, tours to panoramic viewing sights, and boat trips.
As you have probably guessed by now, a cruise of this magnitude doesn’t come cheap, with tickets starting at $16,999 for an interior double occupancy stateroom. But considering that it would take a lifetime to visit all of these amazing destinations on their own, it’s not really that expensive in the grand scheme of things.
Now figuring out a way to take four months off of work, that might prove to be a little more challenging. That’s probably why MSC recommends this voyage for people planning to take “a traditional gap year, career break or a post-retirement adventure.”
Then again, I can theoretically work from anywhere, as long as they’ve got WiFi.. 🙂