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With so many cruise lines to choose from, how on earth can you narrow down the options? Let's turn to the experts to hear about their favorite cruise experiences. Collectively, these four sea dogs have sailed on more than 600(!) ships.

Expert Cruise Advice from Ted Scull

Writer and New Yorker Ted Scull has sailed on more than 250 cruises (that's more than five years worth of days and nights at sea), the first when he was a wee lad. The last, a few weeks ago.

Q: My favorite cruise of all time?

A: One of the Cunard Queens (www.cunard.com) on a transatlantic crossing would be my pick. I got my feet wet sailing to and from Europe with my parents as a teenager. I loved the days at sea, meeting people, participating in many activities, and with no ports to interrupt the rhythm of daily life. Then there was touring Europe at the other end, which I enjoyed when I got older. I did some of my post-grad education in London and Paris. At the time, that meant taking a ship. Some 65 crossings later, I'm still doing it. I made the most transatlantic crossings on my beloved Queen Elizabeth 2, and now it's Queen Mary 2 at least once a year.

Q: My ideal December holiday cruise?

A: While I probably would not consider taking a Christmas cruise on my own, if the subject was broached, I think it would be aboard Star Clippers (www.starclippers.com) under sail between some offbeat islands. There, the islands usually aren't connected to the holiday normally enjoyed at home. That way, I wouldn't feel that I was missing things like a White Christmas, trimming the tree, and all the food preparation that goes with the holiday. These ships are great for any age and the relatively small number aboard would be so much more low-key than one of those monstrous cities at sea. I live in a metropolis at home, so I don't need to take it along for a quiet Christmas celebration.

Q: The cruise I'd choose if I was traveling with my grumpy spouse/parent/aunt/friend who has never cruised before and isn't crazy about the idea?

A: It would have to be Swan Hellenic's Minerva (www.swanhellenic.com) because there are lots of ports to keep you active, and there are on-board lectures on subjects geared to the destinations. The line attracts a mostly British passenger list that makes for interesting company at the open-sitting meals and when touring ashore. My grumpy cabin mate would not be allowed to stay in that state for long as the atmosphere would be too winsome. So I would hope to hear, "We are going to hear Professor So & So discuss the Irish Question, aren't we?" and then, "Let's ask that couple from Cornwall to have drinks in the Wheeler Bar tonight." What a fast turnaround.

Expert Cruise Advice from Ben Lyons

Chasing a childhood dream, Ben Lyons spends over half the year at sea. Sailing as Chief Officer for Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com), he works mostly in the Arctic or Antarctic, and also writes about ships big and small in seas all over the world.

Q: My favorite cruise of all time?

A: I grew up being fascinated with the QE2 and Cunard's transatlantic history, and took the first of 10 crossings on QE2 when I was 13. The uninterrupted stretch of sea days, the feeling of power and speed as the ship slices through the North Atlantic swells, and the sense of nostalgia for a bygone era all combined to create an atmosphere that transcended time and attracted like-minded guests who reveled in the ship. To top it all of, there is no better end to any cruise than arriving into Manhattan in the early morning, passing the city as it slowly wakes up -- and all without jetlag.

Q: My ideal December holiday cruise?

A: There is simply no holiday voyage more spectacular than Antarctica onboard the National Geographic Explorer (www.expeditions.com). Ok, I could be biased -- I am the Chief Officer onboard! Antarctica is the most magical of destinations, leaving guests with an emotional connection I haven't seen anywhere else. Late December is the perfect time to go -- there is still winter ice left, making for exciting cruising, and penguin chicks and humpback whales are in abundance. With or without kids, the unworldly scenery, plentiful wildlife, and expert staff make this a true escape from your typical holiday -and you're guaranteed a white Christmas.

Q: The cruise I'd choose if I was traveling with my grumpy spouse/parent/aunt/friend who has never cruised before and isn't crazy about the idea?

A: I don't see how any grumpy, not-yet-converted cruiser could resist SeaDream's (www.seadreamyachtclub.com) mix of pampering -- think caviar in the surf or dinner on deck with its informal, this-is-your-ship mindset. When was the last time that a big ship encouraged you to sleep outside, swim off the stern, or grab a snack from the fridge in the middle of the night? Trying to be more yacht than ship, SeaDream squeezes into tiny Mediterranean ports that bigger ships can't get into, making a non-cruiser's vacation just as much about where you can go as what you ship you're on.

Expert Cruise Advice fromMatt Hannafin

Writer Matt Hannafin, an expat New Yorker living in Portland, has sailed on scores of ships over the past 13 years, from 20-passenger schooners to 5,000-passenger sea monsters.

Q: My favorite cruise of all time?

A: Cruise West (www.cruisewest.com), Spirit of Oceanus, Bering Sea. "Getting away from it all" is a typical goal for many cruisers and other vacationers, but those people usually mean "all" metaphorically. On this cruise, though, we took it literally. Sailing from Nome, Alaska, Oceanus spent two weeks visiting islands and towns on both the Siberian and Alaskan sides of the icy Bering Sea -- places where populations are counted in the hundreds and the landscape is as stark as the face of the moon, with not a tree in sight. The U.S. and Russia sit only a few miles apart here, and both countries poured in resources during the Cold War. Now the party has moved on and the region feels alternately post-apocalyptic and pre-Columbian, as Native peoples and ethnic Russians move back in the direction of a traditional subsistence economy. Sounds fun, huh? Go figure: I loved it. It was like sailing right off the map -- a feeling that really does it for me.

Q: My ideal December holiday cruise?

A:For me, Christmas without the kids. My son is now 18 months old, and I haven't had a full night's sleep that whole time. Let me fantasize about traveling without the little guy. (Let's say he's staying with Grandma and Grandpa, and having a ball). Given my druthers, I'd probably choose to sail with Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.us) up the coast of Norway to Kirkenes -- but since my wife would chop my head off if I tried to drag her to the Arctic in December, I'll instead choose to sail with Paul Gauguin Cruises (www.pgcruises.com) in and around Tahiti. Christmas in paradise: Why not?

Q: The cruise I'd choose if I was traveling with my grumpy spouse/parent/aunt/friend who has never cruised before and isn't crazy about the idea?

A: InnerSea Discoveries (www.innerseadiscoveries.com), Wilderness Adventurer, Alaska. Just last week, I was having a beer with my friend Kurt, who knows I'm a writer but does not know that I write about cruises. Somehow the word "cruise" came up and he shuddered. "Ew, that's my worst nightmare, being on a cruise," he said. I answered, "That means you aren't thinking of the right kind of cruise," and proceeded to tell him about a few small-ship options that get their guests out into the wilderness for full days of hiking, kayaking, and wildlife-watching -- all things Kurt would love. InnerSea won't be offering their first cruises until summer 2011, but I don't hesitate to recommend them for three reasons: They're being created by the people behind American Safari Cruises, which is a well-established and solid company; I sailed aboard one of their two ships, Wilderness Adventurer, during her previous life with another adventure line, and enjoyed her cozy, unpretentious feel; and InnerSea's cruises will be priced well below what you'd pay for a lot of other, equally adventurous Alaska cruises -- an important consideration for Kurt because he has two young kids he'll need to put through college someday.

Expert Cruise Advice from Heidi Sarna

Writer and ex-New Yorker Heidi Sarna has sailed on more than 100 cruises, the first in the mid-1990s aboard the 800-passenger Cunard Princess out of Malaga, Spain, which at the time seemed huge. Her next two cruises are coming up in July.

Q: My favorite cruise of all time?

A: I'm cheating, but it's a three-way tie between the adventurous tall-ship voyage through French Polynesia aboard the Star Flyer I did a few years ago with my two best friends; the elegantly sporty perfect-for-couples Wind Spirit between Istanbul and Athens with my hubby (pre-kids) exploring places like the ancient ruins of Ephesus and the cafes of Mykonos; and the Disney Magic (www.disneycruise.disney.go.com) round-trip from Barcelona with my two sons and husband. The four of us had a ball aboard the surprisingly sophisticated yet kid-centric ship. From Rome to Naples and Sicily, we loved exploring the ports -- always with a gelato in hand (and often on the chin and down the front of the shirt as well).

Q: My ideal December holiday cruise?

A: With my 7-year-old boys in tow, we'd go for a Crystal (www.crystalcruise.com) cruise to some place warm over Christmas. The line's two mid-size ships offer the best of many worlds -- elegance, great cuisine, and excellent adult classes and activities on ships -- and at just the right size. We'd get sophistication and intimacy as well as wonderful holiday decorations throughout the ship, and also really good kids' programming. During holidays and summers, the kids' programming is impressive, with dedicated play spaces and supervised activities (scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, karaoke and video games). And given the size of the ships, there will never be too many kids aboard to crowd things for anyone.

Q: The cruise I'd choose if I was traveling with my grumpy spouse/parent/aunt/friend who has never cruised before and isn't crazy about the idea?

A: The Norwegian fjords aboard a Celebrity Cruises (www.celebritycruises.com) ship for several reasons: First, a 7-night Norwegian Fjords cruise from Amsterdam or Copenhagen practically guarantees the seas will be calm because you're never far from land, so my curmudgeonly friend couldn't complain about seasickness. Second, the scenery is so incredibly stunning, who could find fault? Sure Alaska's Inside Passage also has great wildlife, but there's no comparison to the majestic fjords of Norway. The amazing hike I did through the mountains from the port of Geiranger is my favorite cruise excursion of all time. Third, the Celebrity ships are simply gorgeous. Whenever we weren't exploring in port, we'd be flitting from one hip lounge to another, soaking up the ambience of the restaurants and ogling the ships' amazing art collections. Even a sour puss couldn't fuss about the spectacular ship design coupled with the Norwegian scenery.

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