17 Bucket-List Cruise Itineraries

Take a once-a-lifetime trip to world-class destinations around the globe.

By Gwen Pratesi, Contributor |Oct. 27, 2017, at 3:54 p.m.

17 Bucket-List Cruise Itineraries

Slideshow

Soak up unforgettable scenery and experiences on the ultimate journey.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

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The world seems boundless when you imagine exploring it by ship. With the vast seven seas and countless inner waterways around the globe, it's easy to fantasize about sailing to exotic ports of call and visiting far-off destinations or staying close to home to explore underrated gems in your own country. No matter where you dream of going, there's a ship to take you there. With some help from cruise veterans and industry executives, we've pinpointed dreamy itineraries to cross off your list in 2018.

Sail from Paris to Normandy, France.

Sail from Paris to Normandy, France.

Twilight at the Alexander III bridge. In the background the Eiffel Tower and the Seine River.

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With world-class museums, shops and dining, Paris is enchanting year-round. After enjoying a few days in the City of Light, set sail for a weeklong cruise on the Seine with views of the Eiffel Tower as you cast away. Stop in the picturesque port town of Honfleur and sample the region's famed Calvados apple brandy, visit Giverny and admire Impressionist artist Claude Monet's house and gardens in full bloom. Afterward, visit the Normandy beaches where Allied soldiers landed on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Avalon Waterways offers eight-day special interest cruises for this itinerary on several dates in summer 2018, with a focus on Impressionist art, WWII history or French cuisine and wine.

Embark on a voyage across Africa.

Embark on a voyage across Africa.

A herd of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) graze along the Chobe River flood plain at dusk in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

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For an unforgettable journey across Africa, carve out a few days in Cape Town, South Africa, and then fly to the interior to Kasane, Botswana, where you'll embark on the Zambezi Queen for a cruise along Botswana's Chobe River in the Chobe National Park. This intimate AmaWaterways ship, which carries a maximum of 28 passengers, was designed to allow open views of the river and landscape from every window. Take a safari into Chobe National Park, which touts the largest population of wildlife in Africa. After admiring elephants, lions, zebra and gazelles, you'll end your adventure with two evenings at Victoria Falls, where you'll witness one the world's natural wonders before flying home.

Admire tulips and windmills in Holland and Belgium.

Admire tulips and windmills in Holland and Belgium.

Spring flowers in Keukenhof Garden in the Netherlands.

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This annual springtime spectacle takes place from the end of March until mid-May, with the tulips usually at their peak in mid-April. That's the best time to hop on a river cruise and travel the canals of Amsterdam and Bruges to see these beautiful European cities and quintessential windmills in the scenic countryside and soak in endless displays of the colorful famed flower of the Netherlands, particularly at Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse. Upon visiting, you'll understand why the tulip is so significant to this region of Europe. Sail with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection for their 10-day, all-inclusive Tulip and Windmill Cruise from Amsterdam to Antwerp, Belgium.

Explore Alsace, France.

Explore Alsace, France.

Alsace is a cultural and historical region in eastern France, now located in the administrative region of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. It is widely known for making white and red wines including Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noire, Sylwaner and others.

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Arranged by private charter only, the new Belmond Lilas is scheduled to launch in 2018. With space for just eight guests on board this luxury barge, you'll need to book in advance to explore the inviting region of Alsace with extraordinary surroundings both on and off the ship. The six-night itinerary from Krafft to Arzviller, France, has everything to make your cruise a glamorous and memorable one. Sip champagne on the deck while watching the French countryside pass by, visit the beautiful city of Strasbourg, France, enjoy Michelin-starred dining, wine tastings along the Route des Vins d'Alsace (the Wine Route) and picnic in lavender-filled fields.

Take a transatlantic crossing.

Take a transatlantic crossing.

Statue of Liberty in New York

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Take a step back in time and embrace the grandeur of a transatlantic crossing. What better way to travel to or return from Europe in style than on an elegant cruise ship from New York Harbor? Make the journey with Cunard and enjoy White Star Service onboard the luxurious Queen Mary 2, the world's only ocean liner. Remastered in 2016, this flagship of the savvy British line maintains a strict dress code with several formal nights during the sailing. Sip Champagne and enjoy nightly entertainment, educational lectures and fine dining while aboard. You can even bring Fido along, thanks to the line's at-sea kennel.

Explore the best of Northern Europe.

Explore the best of Northern Europe.

Bergen, Norway

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A highlight of a cruise on Viking Homelands is stops at eight countries with unforgettable scenery. "Scandinavia is Viking territory, and the Viking Homelands itinerary brings guests along the original trade routes of the Viking explorers. [While] sailing from Bergen to Stockholm, guests have opportunities to see the great cities of the Baltic Sea, along with Norwegian fjords, rural historical sites and ancient Viking settlements that provide a glimpse at how the original Vikings lived," says Torstein Hagen, Viking Cruises' founder and CEO. "One of our signature itineraries, I'm pleased to offer it for guests to experience my home country of Norway and the homelands of the original Viking explorers," he adds.

Take a glamorous voyage to Monaco.

Take a glamorous voyage to Monaco.

Fontvieille the newest of the four traditional quarters in the principality of Monaco, and one of ten Wards for modern administrative purposes.

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John Delany, CEO of Windstar Cruises, says his bucket-list trip is the Grand Prix of Monaco. "This cruise is the perfect combination of travel and entertainment. The Grand Prix is an amazing event, and the best way to experience it is on a Windstar yacht," he says. The seven-day cruise aboard the Star Pride from Barcelona, Spain, to Monaco sets sail in May 2018. Highlights include a Formula One racing expert hosting the cruise, reserved Section K seats for Saturday's qualifying race and Sunday's final race, and special onboard events, such as cocktail parties, brunch and dinner. Other stops include St. Tropez, Sanary-sur-Mer and Le Lavandou, France.

Cruise to the Cyclades Islands.

Cruise to the Cyclades Islands.

Iconic blue domed churches in Oia Santorini Greece

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The Cyclades, southeast of mainland Greece, are some of the most beautiful islands in the world, including Delos, known as the birthplace of Apollo. Book a private yacht for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise. "Between the geographical makeup of the Cyclades Islands and the mythic nature and narrative behind each stop, the exquisite and traditional M/S Erato yacht is the ideal vessel to tour the Aegean Sea," says Kathy Stewart, the regional director of Western Europe for tour operator Butterfield & Robinson. "This private excursion has it all: an enviable mix of biking and hiking adventures, authentic Greek culinary experiences both on ship and on land, and ancient history woven throughout the eight-day journey," Stewart adds.

Experience the South Pacific.

Experience the South Pacific.

Over water bungalows with steps into green lagoon

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If you could choose any place in the world, where would you go? Jason Montague, President and CEO of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, says this about his bucket-list destination: "The South Pacific is so picturesque. It's no wonder so many people yearn to visit – and I'm definitely one of them. There's no better way to experience the island of Tahiti and the surrounding South Pacific than on a Regent Seven Seas Cruises' ship. From a ship, you can really appreciate the dramatic topography of the volcanic islands of French Polynesia." Spend Christmas 2019 watching South Pacific sunsets on an 11-night round-trip cruise from Papeete, Tahiti, on the Seven Seas Navigator.

Discover Southeast Asia.

Discover Southeast Asia.

HANOI, VIETNAM - 2016/03/20: Street vendors selling tea, sweet candies on the street of Hanoi. (Photo by Chau Doan/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Chau Doan/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Explore this wondrous part of the world on a river cruise along the Mekong River. From the 1,000-year-old capital of Hanoi in Vietnam to Siam Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a cruise through Southeast Asia affords the opportunity to explore and experience the essence of the wonderful people, culture and cuisine of this region along the shores of the Mekong. Several lines offer itineraries to these legendary destinations, including Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways and AmaWaterways.

Explore Seychelles, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Explore Seychelles, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Haddhunmathi Atoll or Laamu Atoll is an administrative division of the Maldives. It corresponds to the natural atoll of the same name. The administrative capital is located in Fonadhoo Island. It is mostly rimmed by barrier reefs, the broadest of which are topped by islands. There are many islands along its eastern and southern boundaries.

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Navin Sawhney, CEO of Ponant, highlights a cruise to these three destinations on the Indian Ocean as bucket-list worthy. Set sail for adventure on board one of their four new Ponant Exploration ships. Designed with the privacy of a yacht and just 92 guest rooms, these ships are built in the spirit of (and named after) French explorers. Offered in December 2018, this 11-day cruise through stunning tropical waters affords opportunities for scuba diving, water sports and wildlife-viewing. In the evenings, visit Blue Eye, an underwater lounge that will offer a unique sensory experience.

Visit Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

Visit Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

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

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As a cruise industry veteran and general manager of Viking Ocean Cruises' Viking Sea, Sujith Mohan has crisscrossed the world to visit fascinating destinations by ship. Antarctica tops his list of memorable journeys. A number of expedition lines offer similar itineraries to the remote part of the world, including National Geographic, Lindblad and Quark Expeditions. Get close to seals, whales and various species of penguins by kayak or Zodiac boat and marvel at the snowcapped icebergs on an adventure to remember.

Embark on an around-the-world cruise.

Embark on an around-the-world cruise.

Iconic Queenstown cityscape at dusk, New Zealand

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Sailing around the world offers an epic way to explore the world. On a 128-day journey with Viking Ocean Cruises, you can visit many places you've always dreamed of. The sailing departs from Miami and visits five continents, 35 countries and 64 ports of call. Many other cruise lines offer a variety of cruises around the world, including Silversea Cruises, Cunard Line, Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Princess Cruises.

Sail through the Panama Canal.

Sail through the Panama Canal.

Aerial view of Panama Canal on the Atlantic side.

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The Panama Canal is a must-see for many travelers. A number of lines offer the 40-mile journey linking the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. Consider UnCruise Adventures' new Panama itinerary, available on the Safari Voyager from May through September and November 2018. Tim Jacox, president and chief operating officer, says this cruise includes a full Panama Canal crossing. "Panama is not just the canal by any means. We exclusively tie in adventurous exploration on both the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the canal with native culture. Kayaking, hiking, snorkeling and paddleboarding lead into uplifting visits with Embera native villagers in the Darien jungle and Guna Yala natives in the former San Blas Islands," he adds.

Cruise from New York to Montreal in the fall.

Cruise from New York to Montreal in the fall.

Canada, Quebec, Montreal, Place du Canada and Dorchester Square, Cathedral-Basilica of Mary,

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Autumn's brilliant changing colors, stunning scenery along the St. Lawrence River and panoramic views of Nova Scotia and Eastern Canada's rugged coastline are reason enough to bookmark this itinerary. Plus, you can visit Prince Edward Island to sample its renowned seafood and make stops in vibrant cultural and culinary cities such as Montreal, Quebec City, Boston and New York City. But with a short window to view the height of the fall foliage in October and few lines offering the route, act quickly and lock in your plans now to book this trip for next year. Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Windstar Cruises and Princess Cruises offer this itinerary.

Embrace the Last Frontier.

Embrace the Last Frontier.

Pink glow of sunset on an Alaskan beach in winter with a flying eagle and mountains in the background.

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Chris Owen, a travel writer who has embarked on 128 cruises, has seen a variety of iconic ports of call come into focus from the balcony of a cruise ship stateroom. One of his top choices for the cruise of a lifetime is Alaska, especially for multigenerational trips. He says it's worthwhile for every American to visit this special place in the northern territory, and while Holland America Line and Princess Cruises dominate the market, other large, luxury lines offer itineraries to Alaska as well, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises.

Explore America's heartland.

Explore America's heartland.

Tennessee, Memphis - A Beale Street at night with local bars clubs in Memphis. Motorcycles line the streets.

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If you want to experience America's heartland and the Deep South, consider rolling along the Mighty Mississippi onboard the world's largest steamboat, the American Queen. This 16-day itinerary travels to small storybook towns that are reminiscent of days gone by and are filled with American history. Stop in big cities such as St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee, for barbecue and blues before heading into the Mississippi Delta and the South to learn about its rich and complicated history. Experience the best of Americana while leisurely sailing on this iconic American waterway before disembarking in the always lively Big Easy.

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Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, and coauthor of PratesiLiving.com, where she shares the stories of her international food and travel experiences. She also freelances for other regional, U.S., and international publications. You can follow her at Twitter (@pratesiliving), Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

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