Stumped on where to book your next cruise? With much of the world accessible by cruise ship, it's hard to pick exactly which destination is right for your vacation.
Luckily, Cruise Critic has sailed around the globe for you, sussing out the best cruise destinations for all types of passengers. Read on for our choices, as well as some valid runners-up.
Best Cruise Destinations for Culture
Sure, you could follow the masses and hit the museums of Paris, Rome and Florence. But why not look farther afield and explore older civilizations? Cruises in Asia boast UNESCO World Heritage Sites in almost every port; Kyoto alone has 17 of them. Beyond the temples, you'll also find gorgeous national parks, manicured gardens, local markets and busy cities with neon skyscrapers. What better way to immerse yourself not only in what came before, but in what will come next?
Runner-Up: British Isles
The British Isless -- comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland -- have castles, museums and history in droves, not to mention a host of literary icons. If you're a lover of literature, this is your cruise. (See Top 10 Historic Sites on a British Isles Cruise).
Best Cruise Destinations for Food & Wine
Winner: European River Cruise
From Bordeaux to Porto to Vienna, the locales you'll explore on a European River Cruise are sure to encompass at least one wine region and a gastronomic capital (or two). Many river cruises have excursions centered on local specialties and vineyards. What's even better is that you can bring your finds back on the ship with you; feel free to uncap that Burgundy and drink it on your balcony. (For more, read How to Choose a European River Cruise).
Runner-Up: Western Mediterranean
Tapas in Barcelona, bouillabaisse in Marseille, fresh pasta in Rome: When it comes to delicious local specialties, it's hard to beat the ports found on a Western Med itinerary. All the walking you'll do at museums means you can indulge guilt-free, with a glass of local cava to buoy your spirits. (For more, read Western Mediterranean Cruise Basics).
Best Cruise Destinations for Beach-Lovers
Winner: Eastern Caribbean
There's a reason that nearly every single cruise line runs cruises to these sun-drenched islands, including the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/St. Marten, Turks & Caicos and the Bahamas. It's there you'll find that glorious turquoise-blue water and adjacent white-sand beaches -- like a postcard come to life. This itinerary might well define the beaten path, but if you're seeking a suntan, this is exactly where you belong. (See Best Beaches in the Eastern Caribbean.)
The cruise season for this British island in the Atlantic might not be as long as the one in the Caribbean, but the beaches are still top-notch. From the famous pink sand that you'll find at Horseshoe Beach to the snorkeling off Elbow Beach, there are enough places on the island for you to spend a full three days splashing around. (See Best Beaches in Bermuda.)
Best Cruise Destinations for Families
Winner: Western Caribbean
The ports in the Western Caribbean, including Belize, Roatan and Honduras, are full of action-packed activities like cave tubing, zip-lining and snorkeling that are sure to entice adventure-seeking youngsters. Or add a dash of education to your vacation with a friendly visit to Stingray City in Grand Cayman. (For more, see Best Western Caribbean Shore Excursions.)
Runner Up: Bahamas
For sheer ease, it's hard to beat the Bahamas. For one thing, it's a quick sail from Florida homeports. And for another, there's a range of activities, from seeking adventure on a Nassau pirate tour to the all-inclusive water park at Atlantis resort. (For more, see Top Bahamas Shore Excursions for Families.)
Best Cruise Destinations for History
Winner: Nile River
No question: There's no cruise out there that packs more history into your days than a Nile River sailing. The route from Luxor to Aswan contains so many ancient sites that you might end up with temple fatigue. Expert guides make the experience worthwhile, and there's usually a refreshing glass of mint tea waiting for you when you return. (For more, read Nile River Cruise Basics.)
Runner Up: Eastern Mediterranean
It's hard to avoid history in this part of the world, where Greek, Roman and Byzantine artifacts abound. Look for itineraries that sail south to Israel to make this a bucket list pilgrimage. (For more, read Top 10 Ancient & Historic Sites in the Eastern Mediterranean.)
Best Cruise Destinations for Overnights
Winner: Baltic Sea
With plenty of cultural performances and outstanding architecture, the Baltic Sea ports are perfect when you can linger into the long summer night. Of particular note is St. Petersburg, where ships often stay at least three days. Plan your trip around the White Nights in June, when Russians enjoy almost continuous daylight. (For more, read Best Baltic Sea Shore Excursions.)
Runner Up: Greece
The summer season in the beach-filled Greek Isles is legendary for its nightlife. Not up for partying? Find a taverna for a leisurely romantic meal of seafood caught fresh that day. (For more, read Postcards from the Eastern Mediterranean.)
Best Cruise Destinations for Wildlife
Winner: Galapagos Islands
Even Darwin was transfixed by the unusual birds and critters that make this South American archipelago their home. Get up-close and personal with sea lions, iguanas, tropical penguins, blue-footed boobies and monster tortoises. (For more, read Galapagos Animals You'll Find on a Cruise.)
Runner Up: Arctic
Conversely, you don't want to get snuggly with the premier animal spotted on these northern cruises -- despite their gorgeous looks, polar bears are ferocious man-eaters.
Best Cruise Destinations for Scenery
Sure, the weather is changeable, and you're as likely to be kayaking in the rain as you are to see the sun. But Alaska -- with its mountains and glaciers, eagles soaring above and whales surfacing from below -- is a place of beauty, no matter what the temperature. Pack layers and a camera with a zoom lens; this is not the place to rely on your smartphone. (For more, read 10 Animals You'll See on an Alaska Cruise.)
Runner Up: Norwegian Fjords
The coastal mountains and fjords of Norway have seen a boost in popularity, thanks to Disney's "Frozen." Even if kids movies aren't your thing, you'll marvel at the lush valleys, picturesque towns and folklore abundant with trolls. (For more, read 10 Postcards from a Luxury Norwegian Fjords Cruise.)
Best Cruise Destinations for Romance
Winner: South Pacific
Ah, Tahiti! There's a reason the islands of the South Pacific scream romance: the azure waters, the green mountain peaks and the beaches that remain relatively untouched (at least compared to the Caribbean). Leave the family at home for this one; it's all about you and your honey. (For more, read our Tahiti Port Profile.)
Runner Up: Hawaii
For adventurous couples -- the kind of people who want to take a surf lesson, ride a Jeep over rocky terrain or fly in a helicopter over molten lava -- a cruise in Hawaii is the ultimate pair bonding experience. (For more, read Hawaii's Best Shore Excursions.)
Best "Bucket List" Cruise Destinations
The White Continent is as remote as you can get in this world of readily available planes, trains and automobiles -- which is why a cruise is the best way to get there. Expedition vessels provide the gear necessary for glacier walks, penguin spottings and even overnight camping. Plus you'll have bragging rights for surviving the Drake Passage -- still some of the rockiest seas around. (Ships stock plenty of seasickness remedies.) (For more, read Postcards from an Antarctica Cruise.)
Runner Up: Australia/New Zealand
The sheer size and diversity of the Land Down Under make it a draw for almost every type of cruiser, from wildlife-lovers (koala cuteness!) and hikers to waterfall-seekers (Milford Sound needs to be seen to be believed) and oenophiles (wine districts are legion in both countries). (For more, read 10 Classic Australia Cruise Experiences.)
--By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor