Travel Tips & Advice

Bucket List Cruises You Need to Experience

Last Updated: April 7, 2024

We wanted to find out about the most amazing cruise opportunities, so we spoke with someone who has completed more than 80 cruises, 12 European river cruises, and has been on ships ranging from 94 people to 6,300. Here are the cruises Gary E. Smith of TravelPerks recommends you add to your bucket list!

Holland America Line, Glacier Bay

Alaska: Land & Sea

In 2017, Holland America Line celebrated 70 years of exploring Alaska, so you can rest assured that you're with real pros when you travel with them. The line's selection of 10- to 20-night "Land+Sea Journeys" are the perfect bucket-lister's approach to the very best of Alaska by both land (including lodge-based stays and rail excursions) and sea (incorporating one-way or round-trip sailings from Seattle or Vancouver). 

On a popular tour for instance, guests cruise from Skagway to Vancouver taking in highlights such as scenic sailing through Glacier Bay and a port call in Ketchikan (home to the Misty Fjords National Monument). On the land-based portion of the trip, you’ll spend two nights at Denali National Park and enjoy a full-day Tundra Wildness tour to look for wildlife, as well as a two-night journey into the Yukon wilderness via Dawson City or two nights at Fairbanks that includes panning for gold and a riverboat tour to a Historic Alaskan native village.

AMA Waterways, Germany

River Cruises

Europe: There is no better way to explore Europe than by river ship. These small 160-person floating boutique hotels sail all the major rivers of Europe.

The cruise lines focused on North American passengers have all English-speaking crews, and provide a safe and very comfortable environment. Unlike big ships, river ships dock right in the center of town, include excursions in every city, and allow you to maximize your sightseeing while still having time to enjoy the complimentary drinks with dinner each night. Smith recommends you work with an agent who has personally done at least 3 of the 5 major cruise lines so that they can give your firsthand tips to find the perfect itinerary.

African Safari: Yes, you can combine an African river cruise with a land safari. AMA Waterways offers an amazing itinerary that makes this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible for anyone with the desire to walk among the lions.

Luxury Cruises

Sometimes the ship itself is the destination. Smith recently spent Thanksgiving at sea onboard the Crystal Serenity in a room that came complete with walk-in closet, double vanity marble bathroom, spacious seating on the balcony, and Neil, the butler. Everything about the ship and the experience, from a different recent movie in the dedicated movie theatre, incredible food, enrichment speakers that included Olympians, Astronauts, International News Anchors, computer classes, and so much more, was luxury at its best. The best part of these luxury ships, is that they actually go to the amazing places discussed elsewhere in this article.

Explore Luxury Cruise Lines

Paul Gauguin, French Polynesia

Exotic Destinations

Galápagos: There are few cruise destinations more deserving of the bucket list designation than the Galapagos. It's the stuff of legend, a living testament to the power of evolution where you'll see giant tortoises on one island and swimming lizards and child-sized birds on another. Want to get in the water with curious sea lions? You can do that here. Step over flowing lava? See the famous blue-footed booby? Marvel at the difference between marine and land iguanas? All can be done during just one Galapagos cruise.

Explore Galapagos Vacations

Antarctica: Cruises "to" Antarctica come in two styles: expedition sailings with zodiac excursions that allow you to step onto and explore the seventh continent or "sail-bys" on which you pass near Antarctic shores, but don’t stop.

Explore Antarctica Vacations

Panama Canal: Whether you choose a cruise that sails to the entrance of the canal or do a full transit, you'll marvel at the gigantic locks and be enraptured by stories of the canal's building.

Explore Central & South America Vacations

South Pacific: Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea? Don't mind if I do! Paul Gauguin is the best-of-the-best of the South Pacific. Sail aboard the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin and discover gems like Bora Bora, Moorea, and Huahine, as well as Taha'a, where the cruise line maintains a private islet. Immerse yourself in the region's legendary sparkling seas and warm lagoons on excursions like snorkeling with stingrays, helmet diving, or dolphin-watching expeditions. 

Meanwhile, onboard, a watersports marina affords guests complimentary access to kayaking, windsurfing, paddle boarding, and (for a fee) PADI SCUBA diving programs — when they're not partaking in the luxury ship's Polynesian-inspired hospitality, culture, and cuisine!

Star Clippers Sailing

Unique Ships

There are many unique ways to cruise, but traveling onboard a true sailing ship from Star Clippers, or the combination sailing ships of Windstar, will let you experience the thrill of catching the wind onboard intimate, yet luxurious, ships as they sail to some of the world’s greatest destinations.

World Cruises

The ultimate bucket list trip is a world cruise. World cruises come in many flavors and sizes, and it is important to talk with a travel agent that can help you sort out the best one for you. Items of importance are the number of overnights in various ports, total days at sea, number of unique ports, and the enrichment activities while onboard.

Explore World Cruises


Now that you're properly inspired, it’s time to book your cruise!

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