All photos, Kelsy Chauvin
Many travelers are skeptical when it comes to cruises. The word can conjure up images of rowdy ocean liners packed with noisy families in it only for the all-you-can-eat buffets, cheesy lounge acts and crowded swimming pools. Without naming names, I’ve done mega cruises like that, and yes, sometimes they fit the stereotype.
On the flipside, cruises can be surprisingly peaceful, and occasionally even enchanting. If you shop around for the right mid-size or smaller ship, the journeys are laced with the romance and nostalgia of old-fashioned seafaring.
There are other benefits too. Sometimes cruise lines have connections to special tours, expedited lines at popular attractions and private-access areas. For freewheeling travelers, they let passengers choose their own adventures in each port without worrying about travel arrangements and schlepping your luggage between them.
I love all those elements of cruising. But for me, the best part is letting a cruise take you places you might never see when traveling by land. Here are four of my favorite journeys that showed me more than I ever would have discovered on my own.
Major changes in the country’s political system have gradually expanded the tourism landscape in Myanmar (Burma) in recent years. But roads and other basic infrastructure have been slow to get up to speed, so cruises along the Ayeryarwady River are an excellent alternative. The luxury brand Belmond (http://www.belmond.com/road-to-mandalay-myanmar/) launched its refined river cruise years ago, and there are several more cruise companies now sailing to ancient cities like Bagan and Mandalay.
France isn’t an obscure destination for river cruising, but the Saone and Rhone rivers form a magical route through the southeast region. Scenic Cruises (https://www.scenic.ca/river-cruises/river-cruises-france) offers a high-end journey that starts just north of Lyon, stopping in smaller towns to visit Beaujolais wineries, see ancient Roman ruins (abundant in this area), roam the streets of Avignon where Van Gogh painted, and take in the lavender fields of Provence.
Spain isn’t high on the radar for European river cruises, but for a unique view of the country, you should hop aboard a Croisi Europe (http://www.croisieuroperivercruises.com/) vessel to soak up the history of the Iberian Peninsula. You’ll travel along the Guadalquivir River, with stops from Cordoba to Seville and Cadiz. Andalusia is the region of southwest Spain where you can trace the roots of Phoenician, Roman, Carthaginian and Moorish civilizations — plus flamenco and equestrianism — all while tasting local sherries and olives.
Picture yourself on a sparkling fjord, floating along a crystal-blue waterway carved into a range of snowy mountains. Cruising around the Arctic Circle in Norway aboard a Hurtigruten (https://www.hurtigruten.us/) ship is an easy way to reach many of the country’s small, historic coastal cities the way Vikings did, from the water. The views are spectacular from the top of the world, with wild sites and unique (if sometimes chilly) historic ones. (One of my favorites is Tromso, birthplace of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who in 1911 was first to reach the South Pole; plus it’s home to the historic Ohallen Beer Hall, opened in 1928.) Come for the whale watching; stay up late for the northern lights.