10 destinations best seen by ship (& which cruise lines we recommend)

11 Aug 2021

Whether it's stunning coastlines, great rivers intricately linked to a country's history, or remote locations you can only access by ship, these destinations come into their own when visited on a cruise.

A Hurtigruten ship sailing through Geirangerfjord

1) The Norwegian fjords
Norway, the world's 69th-largest country, ranks second only to Canada on the list of nations with the longest coastlines. Towns and villages pepper its 100,000 kilometres of gloriously twisting shores, including over a thousand fjords, so there’s no prize for guessing why Norwegians are sailors at heart. Since Viking times, the sea has been the most convenient way to move people and goods. A cruise embraces this tradition and opens the door to majestic landscapes that would take months to explore by road or foot.

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Norwegian fjords cruises: 

Whales are part of Antarctica's fascinating wildlife

2) Antarctica
When author and journalist John Krakauer said of Antarctica, "it's like going to the moon", he was right on many levels. Of course, the southernmost continent's frigid, barren landscapes are reminiscent of that of the Earth's sole natural satellite. But it's more than that: while you don't have to board a rocket to go there, Antarctica is rather difficult to get to. If you’re not a scientist, a cruise is your best bet to marvel at this frozen land and the penguins, whales, seals, and other wildlife that call it home.

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Antarctica cruises: 

The Amazon is home to one of the world's most diverse ecosystems

3) The Amazon 
Spanning across nine South American countries, the Amazon River is nearly 7,000 kilometres long. To put this into perspective, it's like flying from London to New York, and then back. This makes planning an Amazon cruise slightly complicated, as travellers can choose to depart from Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. All are good options and one thing's for certain, a cruise will give you a front-row seat to one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Expect miles of lush rainforests and close encounters with locals including squirrel monkeys, caimans, tarantulas, sloths, and many more. 

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Amazon river cruises:

Galápagos sea lions enjoying a day at the beach

4) The Galápagos
On the Galápagos voyage that inspired The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin is said to have shared a small cabin with two other men aboard HMS Beagle. Thankfully for amateur naturalists wishing to rub shoulders with tortoises, iguanas, and blue-footed boobies, discovering this Pacific archipelago no longer comes at the cost of comfort. Modern ships have all the facilities you could wish for, and let you swiftly sail from island to island. All ships entering the marine reserve are approved by the Galápagos National Park, so you know they don’t pose a threat to the ecosystem. 

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Galápagos cruises:

St Petersburg's Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood

5) The Baltic Sea 
Northern Europe is known for its all-star cast of awesome cities — and you can tick many of them off your must-visit list in a single cruise. While exact itineraries vary, a typical Baltic Sea cruise (sometimes referred to as a Scandinavia and Russia cruise) will call at Stockholm, Copenhagen, Tallinn, Helsinki, and St Petersburg (where the ship usually stays overnight to give you more sightseeing time). If you love city breaks, Baltic cruises let you discover a top destination every other day. And, as most cruises depart from the UK, you won't even have to step foot in an airport.

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Baltic Sea cruises:

Evening sun shining on the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest

6) The Danube 
From the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the Danube slashes the heart of Europe from west to east. While the river flows through, or borders, 10 countries, Danube cruises tend to focus on Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. But fear not, there’s plenty of culture and scenery to sink your teeth into. Most itineraries include stops in Salzburg (from Linz), Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and a few other quaint villages along the way. Plus, many cruise companies offer free tours and excursions, giving you a chance to really discover the places you visit.

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Danube River cruises:

Celebrity Solstice approaching Alaska's Hubbard Glacier

7) Alaska
Many of us grew up to Jack London's epic tales of the Gold Rush and Alaskan wilderness. With its mighty glaciers, mesmerising landscapes, and diverse wildlife, Alaska has retained a lot of its mystique. But, its gigantic size (the UK would fit six times over within the Alaskan borders) makes is hard to scale — unless you are travelling on a cruise ship. Most cruise lines offer a good balance of onboard sightseeing (Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm Fjord…) and excursions (dog sledding, whale watching, glacier tours…).

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Alaska cruises:

Traditional sailing boats are a common sight on the Nile

8) The Nile
Look at a satellite map of Egypt and you will see two things: desert and a green corridor snaking its way down the country. That green corridor is made up of thousands of fields following the course of the Nile. In this arid land, agriculture is only possible near the great river. From irrigation to transporting the giant blocks of limestone that built the pyramids, the Nile made Egypt possible. It’s no wonder the country's best known cities, temples, and monuments were erected near its banks. A cruise is the best way to discover the sights of Ancient Egypt and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Nile River cruises:

The Atlantic Bridge marks the entrance of the Panama Canal on the Atlantic side

9) Panama Canal
For centuries, moving goods by sea between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean involved a perilous journey down to the southernmost tip of South America and around Cape Horn via the Drake Passage. The 82 kilometre-long Panama Canal, which took over 10 years to build, changed all that when it opened in 1914. The canal’s system of locks raises ships from sea level to an altitude of 26m, before lowering them back down. Cruising through the canal puts you as close as you can possibly get to this feat of engineering, which was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Panama Canal cruises:

Paddle-wheeling down the Mississippi on a traditional steamboat

10) The Mississippi
The Greater Mississippi System has more kilometres of navigable waterways than the rest of the world combined, and is a "core reason the United States are a superpower", according to global affairs expert Peter Zeihan. The Mississippi is part of the fabric of the United States, and books such as Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi provide vivid accounts of its role as a nation builder. Get a feel for the river's strategic importance, past and present, by cruising aboard a traditional steamboat from Minneapolis to Louisiana through Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Travelzoo's recommended cruise lines for Mississippi River cruises:

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