11 Unique and Quirky Cruise Destinations

Venture off the beaten path for an authentic cruising experience.

U.S. News & World Report

11 Unique and Quirky Cruise Destinations

Cruise destinations
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Tap into your adventurous side during a cruise to one of these under-the-radar locations.

Though cruising is often associated with vacation hot spots like the Caribbean and Mexico, cruise lines are expanding their itinerary options to include unconventional destinations. To help you decide which far-flung locales you should check out the next time you hit the high seas, U.S. News rounded up 11 bucket list-worthy ports of call. Whether you're a fan of ancient archaeology or love immersing yourself in nature, one or more of these unique cruise spots is bound to pique your interests.
Cruise destinations
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Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Outdoorsy types will love exploring the Galápagos Islands. Situated 600 miles west of Ecuador, this archipelago made famous by Charles Darwin comprises 120-plus isolated islands and islets filled with one-of-a-kind flora and fauna. Visitors can look for sea lions, reef sharks, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises and more as they snorkel, kayak, sunbathe and hike on and around various islands. Galápagos Islands itineraries on cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises feature stops in multiple locales, including Santa Cruz, Española, Isabela and San Cristóbal islands. Keep in mind, traditional cruise ships can't easily navigate the region, so only smaller vessels are used for these routes.
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Tap into your adventurous side during a cruise to one of these under-the-radar locations.

Though cruising is often associated with vacation hot spots like the Caribbean and Mexico, cruise lines are expanding their itinerary options to include unconventional destinations. To help you decide which far-flung locales you should check out the next time you hit the high seas, U.S. News rounded up 11 bucket list-worthy ports of call. Whether you're a fan of ancient archaeology or love immersing yourself in nature, one or more of these unique cruise spots is bound to pique your interests.

Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Outdoorsy types will love exploring the Galápagos Islands. Situated 600 miles west of Ecuador, this archipelago made famous by Charles Darwin comprises 120-plus isolated islands and islets filled with one-of-a-kind flora and fauna. Visitors can look for sea lions, reef sharks, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises and more as they snorkel, kayak, sunbathe and hike on and around various islands. Galápagos Islands itineraries on cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises feature stops in multiple locales, including Santa Cruz, Española, Isabela and San Cristóbal islands. Keep in mind, traditional cruise ships can't easily navigate the region, so only smaller vessels are used for these routes.

Egypt

A Nile River cruise with Viking River Cruises or National Geographic Expeditions is one of the most scenic ways to get to and from Egypt's temples and tombs. Featuring stops in ancient cities like Luxor, Edfu and Aswan, these voyages cover daily onboard meals and drinks, accommodations on and off the ship, enrichment lectures with experts and some or all excursions in their rates. Sites you may visit include the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Horus and a traditional Nubian village. You'll also enjoy several days in Cairo – where you'll find pyramids, museums and markets – before and after your river cruise.

Vietnam

For access to sacred temples, delectable Vietnamese fare, excellent shops and jaw-dropping scenery, take a cruise to northern Vietnam. Available via cruise lines like Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, these sailings offer excursions in Hanoi and Halong Bay (among other locations). Cruisers can attend a traditional water puppet show, hike through Cat Ba National Park or see UNESCO World Heritage-listed Halong Bay from a seaplane or Chinese junk boat. Travelers can also shop for souvenirs and try pho, dumplings and other local specialties in Hanoi's Old Quarter. Plus, Vietnam cruises frequently make stops in other countries in Asia, such as Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Japan.

Antarctica

Few cruise destinations are as unconventional as Antarctica. Most major cruise lines – including Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises – sail past Antarctica, allowing cruisers to soak in the impressive views of the surrounding scenery. However, Seabourn Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises are among a few lines that offer outings on shore. Passengers may have the chance to look for seals and penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula if weather and ice conditions are favorable. What's more, voyagers can enjoy kayaking tours and cruises on small inflatable boats to Elephant Island and through the Antarctic Sound. Orcas, humpback whales and Commerson's dolphins are just some of the aquatic species travelers may see. Cruises that don't include shore excursions feature real-time sightseeing commentary from onboard experts.

Panama

If you're a history buff, chances are the Panama Canal is on your bucket list. Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in central Panama, this 20th-century engineering marvel is a vital artificial waterway for cargo ships. As you glide through the canal, you'll enter a series of locks that alter the water level, providing a cruise experience unlike any other. You won't disembark while in the canal, but many Panama Canal cruise itineraries dock in Panama City, where you can learn about Panama's gold industry, explore the Gamboa Rainforest via aerial tram and ride the Panama Canal Railway. Panama Canal cruises are available from Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Disney Cruise Line, among others.

Russia

Travelers who want to get a dose of European culture without visiting crowded ports in Greece and Italy should consider cruising to Russia. Many cruise lines (think: Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises and Cunard Line) include stops in St. Petersburg during Baltic and Scandinavia voyages. Most shore excursions here focus on checking out the city's palaces, cathedrals, museums and fortresses, though visitors may also have the chance to partake in more immersive cultural experiences like Russian cooking demonstrations and ballet or folk music performances. Some cruise lines offer daytrips to Moscow as well, or cruisers can directly dock in Moscow – plus smaller, historical locales like Yaroslavl and Uglich – if they opt for Viking River Cruises' Russia-focused itinerary.

Brazil

Plan a cruise along Brazil's stretch of the Amazon River if you dream of immersing yourself in nature but don't want to rough it. Several cruise lines known for their intimate atmospheres and luxurious amenities offer Amazon itineraries, such as Seabourn Cruise Line, Viking Ocean Cruises, Crystal Cruises and Oceania Cruises. When your ship isn't traveling past the Amazon's lush vegetation, it'll dock in riverfront ports like Santarém, Parintins, Manaus and Boca Da Valeria. In these Brazilian destinations, you can enjoy organized outings like hikes through Tapajós National Forest and Carnival-style performances by local dancers. Most Amazon voyages also travel to other countries in South America and the Caribbean.

New Zealand

New Zealand's jaw-dropping natural wonders, quirky critters, rich Maori culture and abundant adventure sports make it appealing to many vacationers. Cruises to the country's North and South islands may include ports of call in Australia or French Polynesia, giving passengers a well-rounded overview of the Oceania region. During the New Zealand portion, cruisers can explore ports of call like Wellington, Fiordland National Park, Napier and Auckland. Excursion options range from bridge climbs to wine tastings. And no visit would be complete without watching a traditional haka war dance at a museum or a Maori meeting house. Multiple cruise lines – including Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, Princess Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises – offer New Zealand itineraries.

Easter Island, Chile

Cruisers who appreciate history, culture and secluded locales should opt for a voyage to Easter Island. This far-flung island sits 2,000-plus miles west of mainland Chile and is best known for its moai statues (giant ceremonial carvings believed to be erected between 1400 and 1600 by the indigenous Rapa Nui people). Rapa Nui National Park, where roughly 900 moai reside, covers almost half of the 63-square-mile island. Cruise lines like Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Silversea Cruises offer weekslong and monthslong journeys that stop here during trips to Sydney and Tahiti, French Polynesia. While docked in Hanga Roa (Easter Island's main town), passengers can hike or horseback ride up an extinct volcano, attend a traditional folk show, swim at Anakena Beach and admire the island's unique moai statues.

Madagascar

White sand beaches, otherworldly rock formations, animal-filled forests and more await you on tropical Madagascar. Located 743 miles east of Mozambique, this African island offers all kinds of nature-focused activities. Shore excursion options range from hikes through Lokobe National Park, a haven for wild lemurs and chameleons, to tuk-tuk rides to the beach. Cruise ships typically dock at Nosy Be, a small island off of Madagascar's northwest coast, but you may also stop in mainland towns like Diego Suarez (which sits close to Tsingy Rouge Park) and Tamatave (where you can visit horticulture and palm oil facilities). Cruise lines that travel to Madagascar include Costa Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Faroe Islands, Denmark

Head to the Faroe Islands to enjoy a dose of Viking history, breathtaking scenery and superb wildlife viewing. This Danish archipelago – which sits roughly 185 to 370 miles away from Scotland, Iceland and Norway – offers towering mountains, calm fjords, grottos with puffin colonies and historic Viking settlements. Must-do excursions from Tórshavn (the Faroe Islands' port of call) include sailing around the Vestmanna sea cliffs and exploring Vágar and Eysturoy islands by car. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Cunard Line, Viking Ocean Cruises and Princess Cruises are among the cruise lines with voyages to Tórshavn. But remember, the Faroe Islands portion of most itineraries is limited to one day to accommodate visits to additional locales like Dublin and Reykjavik, Iceland.

Looking for more cruise inspiration? Check out the U.S. News rankings of the Best Cruise Lines »
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Christine Smith, Editor

Christine Smith is an Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News, where she manages the annual ...  Read more

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