If you haven’t booked your winter getaway, a cruise might be the perfect option. Depending on whether you want to escape the cold or embrace it, you can either sail southbound into the warm Caribbean sun or bundle up to chase the northern lights in the Arctic night.
Click through the gallery for our picks of the 17 best cruises to take this winter. They range from once-in-a-lifetime outdoor adventure surrounded by nature in the Galápagos to a cruise along the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. Or if December is your favorite time of year, how about browsing Europe’s famed Christmas markets while sipping a steaming hot mug of glühwein (mulled wine)?
Decide if you’d rather wear a bathing suit and flip-flops or a puffer coat and boots, and start planning your next winter cruise vacation.
If you dream of sparkling turquoise waters, soft white sandy beaches and sipping on umbrella drinks, then head to the Caribbean. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Encore is one of the newest ships cruising these tropical islands, and the ship is sailing five- and seven-day eastern and western Caribbean itineraries departing from Miami.
The western option is unique in that it includes two stops in Central America: Roatán, Bay Islands, in Honduras and Harvest Caye in Belize. The ship also calls on Costa Maya and Cozumel in Mexico. Back on board, there’s entertainment for everyone on the Encore, which features an aqua park, the largest racetrack at sea, a high-tech virtual reality game at Galaxy Pavillion, Broadway shows and nine specialty restaurants.
Cross off a bucket-list item on Viking’s In Search of the Northern Lights cruise. This 13-day itinerary sails from London to Bergen, Norway, and takes you through the Arctic Circle as you head north into the long winter nights. Tromsø, one of Norway’s northernmost towns, is one of the best places in the world to view the aurora borealis dance across the sky in vibrant hues of green, blue, pink and violet.
Don’t miss the excursions offered during this cruise to remote destinations in northern Norway. Highlights include dog mushing with a team of huskies, followed by an overnight stay in a wood-stove-heated tipi, gazing at the northern lights while snowmobiling across a snowy tundra and sleeping under a magical starry sky in an igloo.
The Galápagos Islands are like no other place on Earth, and winter is one of the best times to explore them both on land and in the water. Lars-Eric Lindblad was the first person to pioneer expedition travel to this remote and pristine part of the world in 1967.
Lindblad Expeditions offers several itineraries to Galápagos, including a 10-day expedition onboard the 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavour II. This cruise affords unparalleled opportunities for wildlife viewing with naturalists and expedition leaders.
Guests can work with Lindblad-National Geographic-certified photo instructors to capture the best images of the animals and marine life unique to this part of the world. The onboard experience highlights cuisine prepared with ingredients sourced from local farmers and producers.
Vietnam and Cambodia
Vietnam and Cambodia are fascinating countries replete with rich ancient history. They are also physically and culturally colorful. Avalon Waterways features several Mekong River itineraries to visit this part of Southeast Asia. They offer optional cruise extensions. Their two intimate ships are some of the smallest sailing the Mekong with just 18 suites and no more than 36 guests.
Featured stops in Cambodia include Siem Reap, home to the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat, and the capital city of Phnom Penh. You’ll also visit Vietnam’s bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Onboard the ship, savor traditional Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes prepared by local chefs.
European Christmas markets
Europe’s Christmas markets epitomize the magic of the holiday season. Wander ancient cobblestone streets lined with twinkling lights to browse the wooden huts filled with handmade toys and crafts. Listen and sing along with the carolers while intoxicating aromas of chestnuts roasting and hot-mulled wine fill the air. AmaWaterways’ seven-night Iconic Christmas Markets itinerary sails along the Danube from Nuremberg, Germany – home to Germany’s oldest and largest Christmas market – to Budapest, Hungary, with stops in Vienna and Melk, Austria.