If you think of cruising as buffets and shuffleboard, you’re missing out: We’re in a golden age of voyaging right now, and many of the top-tier lines have new ships that offer as much access to attentive service and decadent dining as resorts on land.
Here are the best ships for navigating rivers and oceans in style.
Sail the Mediterranean in high style on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer (750 passengers). During stops at chic locales such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes, go shopping for bespoke leather sandals or drink rosé at a beach club. Meanwhile, Monaco-based Silverseas’ newest flagship, Silver Muse (596 passengers), has an intimate supper club hosting live blues and jazz music and a Relais & Châteaux-backed French restaurant.
Head to the West Indies aboard Oceania Cruises’ Marina (1,250 passengers), which now calls in Cuba during its Caribbean cruises. In its 12-person cooking school, learn how to make croquetas and Cubano sandwiches. The late-2018 launch of Celebrity Edge (2,900 passengers) by Celebrity Cruises will inject modern minimalism into Caribbean cruising. As its name suggests, the ship will feature airy interiors, contemporary design, and the latest technology (such as facial recognition software that lets you board quickly).
Farther afield, the latest launch from Viking Ocean Cruises, Viking Sky (930 passengers), sails the Baltic with excursions such as a traditional sauna experience in Finland or a tour of the 138-year-old Dale of Norway clothing factory in Norway. In the Arabian Sea, Seabourn’s newest ship, Seabourn Encore (600 passengers), cruises out of opulent Dubai, and its Thomas Keller restaurant is an homage to the chophouses of the 1960s.
Uniworld’s newest river ship, Joie de Vivre (128 passengers), cruises along the Seine and was designed on a smaller scale in order to dock in the heart of Paris, where you can take a guided bike tour of the city’s famous bridges. On the Danube, shore excursions on Crystal Mozart (154 passengers) include dinners in Michelin-starred restaurants in Budapest and a private concert in Vienna’s Belvedere Palace. With gorgeous cabins and a stunning pool, the intimate Scenic Aura (44 passengers) was custom-built for Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River. The floor-to-ceiling picture windows perfectly frame rice paddies and the golden stupas of Buddhist temples.
Retrofit in December 2016 to sail the Galápagos Islands, the National Geographic Endeavor II (96 passengers) is as posh as true adventure gets. The ship comes with glass-bottom Zodiacs, snorkel gear, and wetsuits—the better to get up close to wildlife such as penguins, sea lions, and blue-footed boobies.
Sherri Eisenberg is a frequent contributor for National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.