The 8 Best Cruise Itineraries (and When To Go)

by Heidi Sarna

The 8 Best Cruise Itineraries (and When To Go)

by Heidi Sarna

The best cruise itineraries offer history, culture, or natural beauty, as well as interesting embarkation ports and convenient (and affordable!) connections. Pick one of these routes — which we consider the best choices in the cruise world — and you can explore an amazing destination by ship. Just be sure to pick the right month to travel, when the weather is just right and the crowding is at a minimum. Read on for our favorite itineraries, who goes, and when you should sail there. Bon voyage! 

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Sunset in Manarola / iStock / ronnybas
Sea lion
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7-night Galapagos Islands

A full week at sea means you can see more of the islands’ flora, fauna, and landscapes than on a shorter cruise. The best routes sail round-trip from Baltra and call on Bartolome, Santiago, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Floreana and Espanola, and offer plenty of time snorkeling in between.

When to Go: March

Why Then: It's warm and you can see newborn seal pups.

Who Goes: Celebrity Xpedition, Silver GalapagosNational Geographic Endeavour II

A full week at sea means you can see more of the islands’ flora, fauna, and landscapes than on a shorter cruise. The best routes sail round-trip from Baltra and call on Bartolome, Santiago, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Floreana and Espanola, and offer plenty of time snorkeling in between.

When to Go: March

Why Then: It's warm and you can see newborn seal pups.

Who Goes: Celebrity Xpedition, Silver GalapagosNational Geographic Endeavour II

Whale watching in Alaska
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14-night Southeast Alaska

Cruising round-trip from Juneau aboard a small ship lets you get into the nooks and crannies of Alaska, and explore remote coves and passages by kayak, skiff, and paddle board. Plus, for a change of pace, this itinerary also includes busy Ketchikan and Wrangell

When to Go: July

Why Then: Everything is in bloom in July, and the weather is the most reliable.

Who Goes: For the small ship experience choose Wilderness Explorer or Safari Voyager; for a larger cruise ship experience consider Volendam or Star Princess

Cruising round-trip from Juneau aboard a small ship lets you get into the nooks and crannies of Alaska, and explore remote coves and passages by kayak, skiff, and paddle board. Plus, for a change of pace, this itinerary also includes busy Ketchikan and Wrangell

When to Go: July

Why Then: Everything is in bloom in July, and the weather is the most reliable.

Who Goes: For the small ship experience choose Wilderness Explorer or Safari Voyager; for a larger cruise ship experience consider Volendam or Star Princess

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood
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14-night Scandinavia & Baltic

This cruise sails round-trip out of historic and walkable Copenhagen, and combines gorgeous Norwegian fjords and Swedish ports with a multi-day stay in St. Petersburg to see the highlights of Imperial Russia. 

When to Go: July or August

Why Then: Long days and summer's rays make this an ideal time to visit, and check out those golden Russian domes gleaming in the sun.

Who Goes: Viking Star

This cruise sails round-trip out of historic and walkable Copenhagen, and combines gorgeous Norwegian fjords and Swedish ports with a multi-day stay in St. Petersburg to see the highlights of Imperial Russia. 

When to Go: July or August

Why Then: Long days and summer's rays make this an ideal time to visit, and check out those golden Russian domes gleaming in the sun.

Who Goes: Viking Star

Turks and Caicos beach
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7-night Grenadines

Prefer your vacations with palm trees and frozen drinks topped with tiny paper umbrellas? A weeklong Caribbean voyage round-trip out of Barbados stops in and around the less-touristy Grenadines with a focus on beaches — and not just any beaches, but some of the most gorgeous golden strands in the world. Ports include: Grenada, Tobago Cays, Bequia, French Martinique, lush St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. 

When to Go: January

Why Then: The holiday crowds have departed, and hurricane season is over.

Who Goes: Azamara QuestMSC Fantasia, Wind StarCosta Pacifica

Prefer your vacations with palm trees and frozen drinks topped with tiny paper umbrellas? A weeklong Caribbean voyage round-trip out of Barbados stops in and around the less-touristy Grenadines with a focus on beaches — and not just any beaches, but some of the most gorgeous golden strands in the world. Ports include: Grenada, Tobago Cays, Bequia, French Martinique, lush St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. 

When to Go: January

Why Then: The holiday crowds have departed, and hurricane season is over.

Who Goes: Azamara QuestMSC Fantasia, Wind StarCosta Pacifica

Santorini
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7-night Greek Isles

A mix of marquee and lovely offbeat Greek Isles, this itinerary sails round-trip out of Piraeus (the port of Athens) to bustling Mykonos for its restaurant and bar scene, and to historic and tiny (and uncrowded) Patmos, Amorgos, and Monemvasia. 

When to Go: September

Why Then: The throngs of European vacationers have headed back north.

Who Goes: Seabourn Odyssey, Rhapsody of the Seas, Norwegian Star, Celebrity Constellation

A mix of marquee and lovely offbeat Greek Isles, this itinerary sails round-trip out of Piraeus (the port of Athens) to bustling Mykonos for its restaurant and bar scene, and to historic and tiny (and uncrowded) Patmos, Amorgos, and Monemvasia. 

When to Go: September

Why Then: The throngs of European vacationers have headed back north.

Who Goes: Seabourn Odyssey, Rhapsody of the Seas, Norwegian Star, Celebrity Constellation

The Duomo in Florence
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7-night Western Mediterranean

This classic European cruise tour sails round-trip from Barcelona and calls on some of Europe’s most coveted destinations: Civitavecchia (for Rome), Naples (for Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast), Livorno (for Pisa and Florence), and Villefranche (for the French Riviera or nearby Monte Carlo). 

When to Go: September

Why Then: The summer rush has ended, and you can actually see the paintings in Florence's Uffizi.

Who Goes: Crystal Serenity, Seven Seas Voyager, Royal Clipper, Symphony of the Seas

This classic European cruise tour sails round-trip from Barcelona and calls on some of Europe’s most coveted destinations: Civitavecchia (for Rome), Naples (for Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast), Livorno (for Pisa and Florence), and Villefranche (for the French Riviera or nearby Monte Carlo). 

When to Go: September

Why Then: The summer rush has ended, and you can actually see the paintings in Florence's Uffizi.

Who Goes: Crystal Serenity, Seven Seas Voyager, Royal Clipper, Symphony of the Seas

Moorea
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10-night French Polynesia

If you love snorkeling or diving, this French Polynesia itinerary is tops for its gorgeous lagoons and beaches. Cruise round-trip out of Papeete, Tahiti, and call on a string of idyllic ports, including Moorea, Raiatea, and Bora Bora. Just don't leave without swimming with stingrays and buying a hand-printed pareo.

When to Go: January

Why Then: The holiday travelers from Australia and Asia have returned home.

Who Goes: Paul Gauguin, Wind SpiritSilver Whisper

If you love snorkeling or diving, this French Polynesia itinerary is tops for its gorgeous lagoons and beaches. Cruise round-trip out of Papeete, Tahiti, and call on a string of idyllic ports, including Moorea, Raiatea, and Bora Bora. Just don't leave without swimming with stingrays and buying a hand-printed pareo.

When to Go: January

Why Then: The holiday travelers from Australia and Asia have returned home.

Who Goes: Paul Gauguin, Wind SpiritSilver Whisper

Penguin colony in Antarctica
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20-night Antarctica

This expensive trip-of-a-life-time sails round-trip out of Ushuaia, Argentina, and explores all three of Antarctica’s main regions — the Antarctica Peninsula for its stunning ice bergs and penguins; South Georgia Island to follow in the footsteps of explorer Ernest Shackleton; and the pastoral Falkland Islands

When to Go: December

Why Then: Penguin chicks start hatching during this time of the year, when Antarctica sees the most sunlight (20 hours per day) and the warmest temperatures of the year.

Who Goes: Seabourn Quest, Le Boréal, Silver Explorer, MS MidnatsolZaandam

This expensive trip-of-a-life-time sails round-trip out of Ushuaia, Argentina, and explores all three of Antarctica’s main regions — the Antarctica Peninsula for its stunning ice bergs and penguins; South Georgia Island to follow in the footsteps of explorer Ernest Shackleton; and the pastoral Falkland Islands

When to Go: December

Why Then: Penguin chicks start hatching during this time of the year, when Antarctica sees the most sunlight (20 hours per day) and the warmest temperatures of the year.

Who Goes: Seabourn Quest, Le Boréal, Silver Explorer, MS MidnatsolZaandam

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