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Photograph: Time Out

The best cruises from the U.S. for every type of traveler

Looking to relax? Into adventure? Bringing the kids? We've found the perfect cruise for you.

Lauren Dana
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Lauren Dana
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Cruises have become increasingly popular in recent years, with over 35 million passengers slated to set sail in 2024 alone: and it’s easy to see why. Not only do cruises make for a convenient vacation option—you just need to unpack once, and you’ll never have to travel too far from your stateroom (if at all) for your next meal or drink—but they also offer plenty of onboard activities and amenities to appease all types of travelers. Plus, cruises are available across various price points and lengths. Whether you prefer oceans or lakes, islands or cities, spotting wildlife or sitting on the beach (no wrong answers!), I’ve used my experience both as a cruiser and travel writer—I’ve covered the industry for nearly five years—to narrow down the best cruises from the U.S. to suit all individuals, regardless of travel style and personal preferences.

Best cruises for every type of traveler

Best for wildlife spotting: Holland America’s Alaskan Explorer
Photograph: Lauren Dana Ellman for Time Out

1. Best for wildlife spotting: Holland America’s Alaskan Explorer

It’s no secret that Alaska is home to some of the country’s best wildlife spotting opps, which is why I was psyched to embark on Holland America’s epic Alaskan Explorer sailing in August 2022. Both on and off the ship, I had the chance to spot many a whale—along with puffins, otters and other adorable and astonishing creatures that call the Last Frontier home. (If you’re lucky, you may even spot a bear or two!). Sailing roundtrip from Seattle, this bucket-list itinerary includes scenic cruising through the Puget Sound and Glacier Bay, along with stops in Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Ketchikan, and last but not least, Victoria, British Columbia.

Best for island lovers: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Hawaii Inter-Island
Photograph: Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

2. Best for island lovers: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Hawaii Inter-Island

With its varied landscapes—ranging from majestic mountains and volcanoes to stunning beaches to lush tropical rainforests—a trip to Hawaii offers something for everyone. While you can island-hop around the Aloha State via ferry or plane, it’s not exactly seamless. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Hawaii Inter-Island, which sails year-round from Oahu to Kauai, takes the stress out of planning a multi-island Hawaiian vacation. Cruisers will have the incredible opportunity to visit four Hawaiian islands—Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai— without having to schlep their luggage, unpack or worry about booking inter-island flights or ferries. Overnights in Maui and Kauai are also included in the itinerary, allowing travelers to immerse themselves and uncover the beauty of each locale.

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Best for bachelorettes: Margaritaville at Sea’s Bahamas
Photograph: Courtesy Margaritaville at Sea

3. Best for bachelorettes: Margaritaville at Sea’s Bahamas

For a sun- and fun-filled bachelorette party weekend, consider one of Margaritaville at Sea’s two- or three-night Bahamas sailings, which make for the perfect party-centric weekend escape. On board, your group can sip tropical-inspired cocktails (Mai Tais, anyone?) at one of several bars and lounges while listening to Jimmy Buffett tunes, get pampered at the spa, play a round of pickleball, and so much more. It’s worth noting that the line currently only has one ship, Margaritaville at Sea Paradise, which sails out of Palm Beach; however, the line’s second ship, Margaritaville at Sea Islander, which will debut in June 2024, will sail from Tampa. Bonus: The line offers special bachelorette and girls getaway packages, which include access to the best available fares, group discounts, and even a dedicated concierge to take the hassle out of trip planning.

Best for families with young kids: Disney Cruise Line’s Bahamian Cruise
Photograph: David Roark

4. Best for families with young kids: Disney Cruise Line’s Bahamian Cruise

Character meet-and-greets, drinking and dining venues, obstacle courses, and top-notch performances: Find all this and more aboard Disney Wish, which made its grand debut in 2022. The ship’s three-night Bahamian Cruise from Port Canaveral (Orlando) visits Disney’s idyllic private island, Castaway Cay, known for its white-sand beaches and stunningly clear turquoise waters—and, if you’re lucky, you may even spot beloved Disney characters!

The onboard experience is just as spectacular: Little ones can live out their Disney dreams at the “Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure” culinary experiences, while more casual—albeit just as fun—eateries include Mickey’s Smokestack Barbecue, Donald’s Cantina, Daisy’s Pizza Pies, Goofy’s Grill and Sweet Minnie’s Ice Cream. The kids' programming is, as you can imagine, equally top-notch: Children can train alongside superheroes, battle it out with Marvel villains, embark on an epic interactive Star Wars adventure, and live out their dreams as a Walt Disney Imagineer, go crafting in Rapunzel’s Art Studio, and (so much) more.

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Best for families of all ages: Royal Caribbean's Weekend Caribbean
Photograph: Lauren Dana Ellman for Time Out

5. Best for families of all ages: Royal Caribbean's Weekend Caribbean

Royal Caribbean is best known for its show-stopping onboard entertainment offerings (think: 10-story dry slides, dueling waterslides, ziplining, carousels, surfing and skydiving simulators and escape rooms) and a seemingly endless amount of bars and restaurants. As such, this mega-ship line is ideal for families of all ages—picky eaters included!

While the kids are at play, grown-ups can bask in the sun from the adults-only Solarium, where I spent most of my time on board my Caribbean cruise. Royal Caribbean offers several weekend Caribbean itineraries that cruise roundtrip from major cities like Miami, Galveston, Los Angeles and Orlando (Port Canaveral); however, I recommend opting for one that includes a port of call in CocoCay, the cruise line’s private island paradise in the Bahamas that boasts its own waterpark along with thrill-seeking activities like ziplining and helium balloon ride.

Best for beach lovers: MSC Cruises’ Bermuda
Photograph: Courtesy MSC Cruises

6. Best for beach lovers: MSC Cruises’ Bermuda

Bermuda is best known for its beautiful pink-hued stretches of sand, which pop perfectly against the clear blue waters. With that in mind, the idyllic isle is ideal for beach lovers. The best way to get there and experience the dynamic island? By booking MSC Cruises’ six- or seven-night Bermuda itineraries. Passengers will sail aboard the massive MSC MeraViglia, which conveniently cruises to and from Brooklyn. The dazzling ship is complete with a two-deck promenade, oceanview lounge areas, an amusement area and an outdoor water park.

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Best luxury: Crystal Cruises' Miami to San Diego
Photograph: Courtesy Crystal Cruises

7. Best luxury: Crystal Cruises' Miami to San Diego

The luxury line Crystal was recently relaunched this past summer following a multimillion-dollar refurbishment across two ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Its 16-night Miami to San Diego itinerary stops in Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama (where it’ll cross the world-famous Panama Canal); Quepos, Costa Rica; and Alcapoco and Cabo in Mexico. On board, guests can enjoy gourmet drinking and dining options—including the first and only Nobu restaurant at sea (I had the chance to preview the cuisine this summer and was blown away by the sushi, sashimi and, of course, the chef’s signature miso black cod)—along with personal butler service and contemporary oceanview staterooms and suites. Wellness seekers will especially enjoy the Aurora Spa, where services run the gamut from acupuncture and IV treatments to salt scrubs and hot stone massages.

Best budget: Carnival’s Baja Mexico
Photograph: Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

8. Best budget: Carnival’s Baja Mexico

Carnival’s motto is “Choose Fun,” and that’s precisely what you’ll find on any of its 26 ships cruising the world. The wallet-friendly cruise line is a favorite among budget-conscious travelers craving a fun vacation that won’t necessarily break the bank. The line’s four-day Mexico itinerary aboard Radiance of the Seas, which cruises roundtrip from Los Angeles and stops in Catalina Island and Ensenada, packs plenty of added value. The standard cruise fare (from $234 per person) includes access to over ten restaurants—plus ample bars and lounges—and dozens of entertainment offerings (think: deck parties, game shows, trivia contests, outdoor sports activities, pools and hot tubs, karaoke, musical performances, stand-up comedy and more). So, what’re you waiting for?

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Best all-inclusive: Viking Expedition Cruises’ Great Lakes Collection
Photograph: Courtesy Viking

9. Best all-inclusive: Viking Expedition Cruises’ Great Lakes Collection

Viking is known for its adults-only, all-inclusive river, ocean and expedition cruises. As you can guess by its name, the 15-day Great Lakes Collection sailing—which cruises from Toronto, Canada to Duluth, Minnesota—takes adventure-seeking cruisers on an epic journey around all five majestic Great Lakes. Travelers will sail aboard the sleek Scandanivian-inspired Viking Octantis, which features all-balcony staterooms, cruising the Welland Canal, Niagara Falls, Cleveland, Michigan (Detroit, Alpena, Mackinac Island), Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, and a handful of Ontario hotspots (Georgian Bay, Silver Inlet, Thunder Bay).

While fares are pricy (from $13,995 per person), they are all-inclusive, folding in one shore excursion in each port of call, Wi-Fi, beverages (bottled water, beer, wine and soft drinks), taxes and fees, spa access, 24-hour room service and more.

Best adults-only: Virgin Voyages’ Fire & Sunset Soiree
Photograph: Virgin Voyages/WeFly Media

10. Best adults-only: Virgin Voyages’ Fire & Sunset Soiree

Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages is one of the newest—and most innovative—cruise lines out there. The adults-only line has done away with buffets, instead offering 20-plus fun, free and flavorful food concepts (think: Korean BBQ at Gunbae, tacos and tequila at the ‘gram-worthy Pink Agave and ice cream at the cheekily named Lick Me Till… Ice Cream). With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that the line is a favorite amongst foodies. The party-centric onboard experience comprises nightclubs, tattoo parlors and risque entertainment (cabaret performances, acrobatics shows, DJs and the like). Also, do yourself a favor and upgrade to a suite to enjoy exclusive access to Richard’s Rooftop, a swanky members-only outdoor space for partying and sipping cocktails in style.

While you can’t go wrong with any of the itineraries, I’m especially partial to the four-night Fire & Sunset Soiree sailing, which sails roundtrip from Miami and calls on Key West and Bimini, where the line has its own buzzy beach club.

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