There are plenty of reasons to leave everyday life behind and set out on a cruise– some people just love being out on the water, some love exploring popular ports of call, while still others are simply in it for the hassle-free vacation that a cruise can provide. While many would be happy to embark on a nautical adventure, it can be difficult to find the time to commit to a voyage lasting more than a week. Fortunately for seafarers with packed schedules, your ship’s come in. These short cruise vacations will get you just about anywhere, from popular islands with turquoise shores to south-of-the-border hot spots, from the depths of the American Southwest to the historic harbors of New England. Whether your interest lies in mega-cruise ships, houseboats, steamboats or windjammers, we’ve got you covered. Best of all, each of these short sailings – ranging from one to five nights in duration – departs from ports within the continental U.S. and Canada, making a quick and easy jaunt on the high seas (or high rivers, or high lakes, so to speak) easily accessible.
Although most adults would love to lie out on exotic island shores for a week or two, long-haul Caribbean cruises don’t always appeal to the entire family. If you’re trying to appeal to a group of varying-ages, a three- to five-night Disney Cruise Line sailing to the Bahamas is just the ticket. Cruises are scheduled year-round from Port Canaveral, Florida, just 60 miles from Walt Disney World Resort. (Select four-night sailings also depart from Miami.) The trip features stops in Nassau, the Bahamian capital, and Castaway Cay, Disney’s own private island. The newest member of the fleet, the 4,000-passenger Disney Fantasy is reminiscent of elegant ocean liners of yore, while still offering character encounters, game rooms, teen and tween lounges, a nursery, sports deck, fully-loaded spa, Broadway-style shows, and a trio of pools.
Baja and Southern California Cruise
From laid-back, beachfront Long Beach, California, to the exotic desert and ocean landscapes of the Baja peninsula, a four-night Carnival cruise is a great way to sample the bounties of Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. The Carnival Inspiration departs each Monday from Los Angeles for Catalina Island, 22 miles off the coast (three-night Friday departures are also available, bypassing Catalina). This tranquil isle boasts some stellar beaches, as well as the quaint town of Avalon, where the preferred mode of transport is golf cart. Next up on this short cruise vacation is Ensenada, Mexico, on the Baja coast; even though it’s just 70 miles from the U.S. border, Ensenada is a world all its own, thanks to its rich history as a fishing town. Passengers can stretch their sea legs at numerous restaurants dotting the coast, or shop for goods handcrafted by locals. One day at sea is mixed into this trip, but don’t fret – there’s no way you’ll be short on activities on this 14-deck “Fun Ship,” which packs in two main restaurants and multiple casual eateries, a 9-hole mini golf course, and a giant water park complete with waterslides and splash pools.
Between April and August, Royal Caribbean offers a dozen five-night Bermuda sailings from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, as well as one from Baltimore. Sail Enchantment of the Seas from Baltimore for ample time spent unwinding at sea and two days docked in King’s Wharf, Bermuda (better known as the Royal Naval Dockyard). Or, hop aboard Explorer of the Seas for the same short cruise vacation itinerary via Cape Liberty. Once in port, sightseeing, shopping, and snorkeling are within easy reach – as are the island’s glorious pink-sand beaches.
Cruise to Nowhere from NYC
Winter in New York can be brutal, but it's one of the most affordable times to visit. Expand your horizons with the one-night and two-night Weekend Getaway cruises offered by Norwegian Cruise Line. Two-night cruises are scheduled for January and February 2013, if you’re looking for an immediate weekend adventure. If a one-night excursion is more your speed, you can plan early for sailings in late 2013 and early 2014. Embarking from Manhattan’s West Side, the sleek Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Breakaway, and Norwegian Jewel glide down the Hudson River, past New York’s classic “canyons of steel” cityscape, and into New York Harbor under the gaze of Lady Liberty. As the mega-ships drifts towards the horizon, passengers on these short vacations can kick off their evenings gambling at the onboard casinos, dining at one of the many restaurants, or dancing under the stars. Ships dock in the city early Sunday morning, leaving a full day to cap off a perfect Gotham visit.
River and Steamboat Sailing
While sailing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture the landlocked American Midwest, USA River Cruises’ offers a number of cruises along the rivers that bisect the heartland. Embark on the American Queen to get a glimpse of Minnesota's fall foliage, or explore the stomping grounds of Abraham Lincoln on the Land of Lincoln tour through Illinois. Sail onboard the Spirit of Peoria, a 19th-century riverboat replica, and look out for wildlife as you relax on the deck, dig in on the prime rib dinner buffet, or enjoy live ragtime piano music. If you're in the mood for a warmer excursion, the American Queen Steamboat Company offers a four-night round trip from New Orleans, with stops in several Louisiana mainstays, including capital Baton Rouge.
Lake Powell Houseboating
Picture the red rock-gilded Grand Canyon filled with 8.5-trillion gallons of turquoise-blue water and you’ll have a spot-on mental image of Lake Powell, the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States (located on the Arizona/Utah border). Now imagine spending a short cruise vacation exploring this watery wonderland’s hidden coves, sandy beaches, and otherworldly sandstone formations on a luxury houseboat with 15 of your closest friends. You can rent your own floating party barge year-round on a per-day basis (though boats require a three-day minimum), complete with waterslide, TV, outdoor gas grill, and enough beds for 6 to 16 people, from Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas.
Maine Windjammer Sailing
There’s no better way to sail the open waters of New England than on Maine Windjammer Cruises’ flagship 19th-century, 29-passenger schooner, the Grace Bailey. This National Landmark boasts hand-carved wood paneling and a piano in the lovingly restored main cabin (dating back to 1882) that makes passengers feel like they’ve set out on a voyage back in time through uncharted waters. Set off on weekend sailings between June and August from Camden, Maine, and, depending on the winds and weather, your captain will charter a tailored short cruise vacation through Penobscot Bay, passing by atolls and quaint harbors. Surely those days at sea will make you hungry –fortunately, passengers can expect a traditional onboard feast of succulent Maine lobsters.
New England & Canada Cruise
Celebrate America’s freedom in style with a five-night cruise along the New England coast and up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, courtesy of Cunard. The annual Fourth of July stateside sailing aboard the prestigious Queen Mary 2 (which makes transatlantic jaunts the rest of the year) departs New York City on July 1 and calls on Boston and Halifax, with two full days at sea. Hailed by her makers as “the grandest ocean liner ever built,” the $800-million QM2 is a stunner to be sure: Expect 10 restaurants, an 8,000-volume library, the largest ballroom at sea, and the industry’s only planetarium.
Pacific Northwest Cruise
Fall in the Pacific Northwest is blessed by lovely foliage and fresh, mild temperatures – the perfect time of year for a short cruise vacation. Holland America offers several options of five nights or less with ports of call in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia; our favorite is a four-night sailing aboard the ms Statendom from Vancouver to San Diego, via charming Victoria, British Columbia (sails September 29, 2013). A $525-million refurbishment for the ship in 2010 revamped the 630 staterooms and added an Italian restaurant and a new lounge (with sections dedicated to martinis, champagne, or spirits and ales). Fill your two days at sea with gourmet cooking lessons in the ship’s Culinary Arts Center or pamper yourself at the Greenhouse Spa. On land, passengers can stroll one of Vancouver’s 190 parks, take high tea in Victoria, and then round it all out with some basking on San Diego’s Coronado Beach.
For a short cruise vacation to Mexico, most travelers set their sights on Florida departure ports. We propose spicing things up a bit with a little Tex/Mex flavor, by setting sail from Galveston, Texas, instead. Galveston’s port is the disembarkation point for four-night year-round sailings aboard the Carnival Triumph. Sail through the Gulf of Mexico to Cozumel, where shore excursions to Mayan ruins and jungle adventures await. Onboard, guests can expect diversions like waterslides, mini-golf, first-class bars and lounges, and a full sports deck to keep the excitement going 24–7.