Two decades ago, the average American did not go on cruises. Cruises were luxurious and expensive; they were for rich families and honeymooners, not for the Average Joe looking for a relaxing, all-inclusive vacation.
Today, however, that has all changed. Cruises can now be more affordable than taking the family to Disney World – and certainly less stressful since everything is included. Nevertheless, cruises still are subject to stereotyping: that they are impersonal; that only older people take them; that the only thing you do on them is eat.
But what if I told you that cruising can be a great way to explore destinations that you might not otherwise see?
Forget the Caribbean and the Mediterranean – cruising can actually be a fantastic way to explore North America, too.
Surprised? Here are three North American cruise routes to consider.
Cruising to Alaska can be a great way to explore America’s “last frontier.” Most major cruise lines these days offer Alaska sailings in the summer, taking passengers to the capital of Alaska, Juneau (which can only be reached by boat or plane), small coastal towns like Skagway and Ketchikan, and up the Inside Passage to see mountains and glaciers. Some itineraries even go as far north as Anchorage, or include a stop on Vancouver Island in British Columbia (my Alaskan cruise had us exploring beautiful Victoria, BC, for a day).
Cruise theme(s): Landscapes and wildlife are definitely the focus of most Alaskan cruises. You’ll see mountains and glaciers and maybe even whales and bears from the ship, and then will have the chance to get up close to all of them when you stop in port.
Ideal for: Couples, nature-lovers
Bonus location(s): Most Alaskan cruises begin in either Seattle or Vancouver, meaning you could add on a few days before or after your cruise to explore either of these awesome West Coast cities.
On the opposite coast, there are some great cruise options that will give you a taste of New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Sailing up the coast, you can expect to visit Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia on this particular cruise route. Look forward to pretty coastal towns, amazing fresh seafood, and lighthouses galore. The bonus of a New England/Canada cruise is that, since everything is relatively close, you might make as many as 5 or 6 ports of call during a week-long cruise (a cruise I took had us lighthouse spotting in Portland, Maine; exploring St. John, New Brunswick; learning about the Titanic in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and driving the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island). A cruise like this is definitely more about the destinations than the cruise itself.
Cruise theme(s): An appreciation for slow-paced coastal life and lighthouses; lots of lighthouses. (My favorite along this route is definitely Peggy’s Cove outside of Halifax.) If you go in the late summer/early autumn, fall foliage will also be a highlight.
Ideal for: Couples, families
Bonus location(s): Most New England/Canada cruises begin and end in Boston, Massachusetts. Not only is Boston a famous university city, but also it’s also full of American history. Especially if you arrive in town early, be sure to spend some time exploring the sights.
If you’re craving a warm cruise destination where you can sip fruity cocktails by the pool, why not consider something different than the typical Caribbean cruise or the Bahamas? Consider what cruise lines refer to as the “Western Caribbean,” which often includes ports of call in the Florida Keys, Cozumel, and even Belize and Honduras; or the Mexican Riviera, which includes beach destinations like Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta.
Cruise theme(s): Sun and sand. These types of cruises are closer to what most people picture when they imagine a cruise – warm weather and plenty of time in the water. They also throw in a dose of culture (especially if you end up somewhere like Belize or anywhere with Mayan ruins).
Ideal for: Couples, young adults (yes, including spring breakers)
Bonus location(s): These cruises leave from ports like Miami, FL and Los Angeles, CA. If you can put up with the hustle and bustle of these huge cities, they are worth exploring for an extra night or two.
Do any of these cruise routes appeal to YOU? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.