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10 Dreamy Cruise Vacations to Cross Off Your Bucket List

Discover once-in-a-lifetime itineraries and jump-start your trip planning.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Dreamy Cruise Vacations

A small cruise ship makes passage through the Lemaire Channel in Antarctica

Hop on and take in the natural wonders of the world. (Getty Images)

If you're interested in exploring far-off corners of the globe by ocean or river, you're in luck. With a robust selection of itineraries, cruise lines and amped-up onboard experiences to pick from, cruises are well-suited for a variety of traveler preferences, pursuits and price points. "Don't get too hemmed in by defining bucket-list cruise vacation destinations as exotic or expensive. Your bucket list can be as simple or as exotic as you decide," says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of cruise advice site Whether you're itching to explore Cuba's captivating streets or take in Iceland's stunning natural wonders, there's an unforgettable voyage for you.

Soak in Cuba's History and Culture

With looser U.S. travel regulations and increasing accessibility to the once out-of-reach island nation, Cuba should be on your radar in 2016 and 2017, Brown says. "So far, one U.S.-based mainstream line – Carnival Corporation's Fathom – has been granted access, but it's anticipated that as Cuba opens up, more cruise lines are poised to offer trips there," she explains. Fathom's 704-passenger Adonia offers seven-day voyages to Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Prices start at $2,320 and include shore-side diversions, such as walking tours of Havana's Old City.

Tour Distant Ports Across Japan

"It's amazing how the cruise industry really is global," says Lorri Christou, senior vice president of strategic marketing and communications at the Cruise Lines International Association, noting an increasing number of itineraries across Asia in recent years. Wendy Perrin, founder and editor of travel-planning site, highlights an 11-day cruise aboard Ponant's L'Austral in May 2017 as a voyage to remember. The ship navigates Japan's west coast, from Osaka to Muroran and makes stops in off-the-beaten-path areas, she says. Prices start at $7,940 and are based on double occupancy. Highlights include exploring the Shinto Shrine in Hiroshima (one of Japan's best places to visit) and Kanazawa castle on the island of Honshu.

Explore Iceland's Other-Worldly Landscapes

Iceland is no longer a best-kept secret, with increasing demand for accommodations far exceeding the supply and stretching the country's tourism infrastructure, Perrin says. That said, you can still experience the country's charms on a "small-ship cruise that sails along the coast," Perrin says. "While a lot of ships are touching on Iceland, Lindblad Expeditions is doing a 10-day circumnavigation in July. Sure, it's expensive – prices start at $9,130 per person – but these days a high-caliber land-based trip will give you sticker shock, too," Perrin adds. The July 2017 voyage starts in Reykjavik and sails past the Latrabjarg cliffs before continuing onward to the Arctic Circle and the Western Islands.

Sail from Sri Lanka to Tanzania

"A cruise is most enjoyable, and makes the most financial sense, when the ship's itinerary covers a group of islands that would be logistically difficult, time-consuming and cost-prohibitive to see any other way," Perrin says. She points to a 17-day itinerary aboard Silversea's Silver Discoverer in December 2017 that sails from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as a once-in-a-lifetime itinerary. "More than 152,000 giant tortoises – the world’s largest population of them – live on isolated Aldabra Atoll, the world's second-largest coral atoll, in the Indian Ocean," she explains. Plus, the ship hits fascinating places along the way, such as Seychelles. Prices start at $10,665 per person.

Take in Rare Wildlife on a Northwest Passage Sailing

"The biggest once-in-a-lifetime trip debuting this year was Crystal Cruises' trek along North America's Northwest Passage, a seriously small ship expedition destination that was a first for a larger vessel,"Brown says. The 32-day journey aboard the Crystal Serenity starts in Anchorage, Alaska, and sails across Greenland and the Arctic, weaving past striking glaciers and impressive fjords and polar bears and harp seals, among other residents. Prices for the August itinerary start at $21,855 per person, based on double occupancy.

Or Sail Along the Northeast Passage

If you're itching to tour wild, far-flung destinations, consider sailing along the Northeast Passage. "Few expedition vessels have transited it, but [Russia's Northern Sea Route] is now accessible, thanks to the recent changes in sea ice conditions," Perrin explains. "A history-making expedition aboard the Russian research ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, will set sail on July 31, 2017," she says, highlighting that the itinerary offers the chance to explore isolated isles and catch sight of Arctic creatures, such as polar bears and arctic foxes. Prices start at $20,800 for the 29-day itinerary, which starts in Alaska, and ends in Norway.

Explore Antarctica's Breathtaking Landscapes

Luxury cruise line Abercrombie & Kent is offering a 17-day naturalist guide-led journey across South Georgia, the Falklands and Antarctica, with the chance to visit a penguin colony in Port Stanley, spot birds and whales in the Antarctic Peninsula and navigate the Drake Passage. And for its Dec. 13 sailing, the luxury tour operator is offering a 25 percent discount on select balcony suite cabins and the chance for a second child to sail for free. With the promotion, prices start at $15,995, down from the standard $18,995 rate.

Explore East Africa

According to Christou, there's a cruise for every style and budget, whether you're searching for cultural immersion or a family-friendly itinerary. And soft adventure travel is one of the top emerging cruise trends, Brown says. "Sure, it's best known for transporting passengers to seriously off-the-grid places like the Galapagos, South Pacific, Antarctica and the Arctic, but lines like Abercrombie & Kent, Lindblad Expeditions and Ponant also offer trips that focus on lesser-known places in popular regions," she explains. Africa also flies under the radar, Brown adds. AmaWaterways' Zambezi Queen offers a 16-night sailing in November that includes seven nights in a Tanzanian luxury safari lodge; prices start at $11,995 per person.

Check Out New Zealand and the Subantarctic Islands

If you're searching for a one-of-a-kind itinerary, consider cruising to the Subantarctic Islands. Perrin points to a January 2017 Ponant itinerary as a less-traversed route through pristine environments across New Zealand and the Subantartic islands. "Very few permits are ever granted for Macquarie Island, but the expedition ship l’Austral has secured access for its 260 passengers," she explains. The itinerary particularly caters to animal lovers, she adds, noting that passengers "get to see penguins, albatross, sea lions, fur seals, southern elephant seals." Prices start at $12,810 per person for the 16-day sailing.

Admire Wildlife on a Small Expedition Ship to Alaska … or Belize and Guatemala.

The 100-guest National Geographic Quest launches next June and will offer off-the-grid itineraries designed to maximize wildlife viewing opportunities. "It's made for exploring coastal waters and shallow coves where wildlife congregate," Perrin says, highlighting that nearly half of its cabins will be appointed with balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows. On the Alaska voyage, guests can explore spectacular national parks, while on the Belize and Guatemala itineraries in winter 2018, "passengers can snorkel, kayak, stand-up paddleboard or dive the largest reef in the Northern Hemisphere, then explore the ruins of Tikal," Perrin says. Prices for the nine-day Belize to Guatemala sailing start at $5,490 per person.

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