View of Geirangerfjord and ships below.
Heidi Sarna

World's Most Scenic Cruise Itineraries

From icebergs to lava-spewing volcanoes, the world's 10 most scenic cruise itineraries offer amazing views and unique shore excursions.

Sit back and enjoy the view. You may want to splurge on an oceanview cabin or balcony stateroom for some of these trips.

Photo Caption: View of Geirangerfjord and ships below
Slowly approaching the Sawyer Glacier at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord on a cruise ship.
laulaus
Alaska's Inside Passage
What You'll See: Typical 7-night routes travel round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver. Some ships cruise one-way between one of those ports and Juneau or Anchorage via Alaska's Inside Passage, a series of connecting waterways between the thousands of forested islands. Fishing towns and the occasional small city dot the coast, but otherwise it's all about nature. Top sights on the weeklong route include Glacier Bay National Park, Tracy Arm fjord, or (mostly for small ships) Misty Fjords National Monument. Much of the coastline is wilderness, with snowcapped mountain peaks, glaciers, and rain forests. You may see whales, eagles, sea lions, sea otters, and mountain sheep (bears aren't easy to spot from the decks of a megaship).

What Not to Miss: From your ship's deck, look out for calving glaciers, when chunks of ice break off and splash into the water. A "flightseeing" tour by small plane or helicopter offers an aerial view of the glaciers, waterfalls, and forested mountains. One cruise excursion includes a helicopter ride over Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier, followed by a two-hour glacier hike with the chance to bend down and take a drink from the freshly melted ice. Kayaking excursions and forest treks are also a must.

Best Time to Go: May through September (the rest of the year is colder and rainier).

Best Side of Ship: Once in the fjords, the ships turn enough to make sure everyone gets a good view.


Photo Caption: Slowly approaching the Sawyer Glacier at the end of Tracy Arm fjord on a cruise ship
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A Blue Hawaii helicopter tour will buy eye-popping views of Kauai's spectacular North Shore.
Dana Nadeau
Hawaiian Islands
What You'll See: Weeklong itineraries visit Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, where you can see everything from volcanoes to beaches.

What Not to Miss: A trek to -- or better yet a helicopter ride over -- the Big Island's pair of famous volcanoes: Mauna Kea and the still-active Kilauea. Sailing at night between Kona and Hilo may even offer views of the lava flowing and glowing. On Kauai, the jagged mountain ridge and steep cliffs on the Na Pali Coast are particularly stunning.

Best Time to Go: Average temperatures stay in the upper 70s to mid-80s year-round, though it's slightly rainier between November and March.

Best Side of Ship: The starboard (right) side if your ship is going around the Big Island clockwise, and port side if going counter-clockwise.


Photo Caption: A helicopter tour offers aerial views of Kauai's spectacular North Shore.
El Arco, The Arch, a famed natural rock formation off Cabo's Land's End at the juncture of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.
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Baja California & the Sea of Cortez
What You'll See: Weeklong sailings round-trip from La Paz (the capital city of Baja California Sur) cruise around the Baja Peninsula and visit Bahía Magdelena, Los Cabos, Gorda Banks, Los Islotes, and Isla Espiritu Santo islands. The Baja Peninsula stretches some 800 miles from the U.S. border to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Small ships typically leave from La Paz or Cabo San Lucas to sail on the Sea of Cortez (or eastern) side of the peninsula. Trips focus on up-close encounters with nature.

What Not to Miss: Top excursions include a bus tour to Bahía Magdelena on the Pacific coast, where guides take you out in small zodiac or panga boats to one of the world's best whale-watching grounds. Gray whales winter here and breed their young, and you can often get close-up views. Snorkeling and kayaking are also top experiences. On the sparsely inhabited coastal islands, you can also hike the arid landscape and go tide-pooling along the rocky coast.

Best Time to Go: The winter months, when the gray whales are in town

Best Side of Ship: As most itineraries are round-trip from La Paz, both sides of the ship will get the same great views.

Photo Caption: El Arco (The Arch) is a famed natural rock formation off Cabo's Land's End, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean.
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Sunset cruise in Bora Bora.
RBradburn
French Polynesia
What You'll See: A 7-night cruise round-trip from Papeete, Tahiti, visits Raiatea, Motu Mahana, Bora Bora, and Moorea. Bora Bora's two volcanic peaks, Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia, tower over the teal-blue water. Since most islands are the remains of extinct volcanoes, many are surrounded by lagoons, palm-fringed motus (islets), and barrier reefs teeming with underwater sea life.

What Not to Miss: Snorkeling and diving here is among the best in the world. Other than the schools of fluorescent-colored fish, you can see everything from fuchsia sea anemones to clam shells ridged with bright purple and green.

Best Time to Go: This part of the South Pacific is balmy year-around with average temps between 75 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and lagoon water temperatures averaging between 73 and 70 degrees. There is more rain between November and March, so plan accordingly.

Best Side of the Ship: Doesn't matter, as ships move around the islands and through the lagoons in different directions.


Photo Caption: A sunset cruise in Bora Bora
Cruising through the LeMaire Channel, Antarctica.
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Antarctica
What You'll See: A 10-night cruise round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina. After a day at sea, the ship spends five or six days exploring the landscape of Antarctica. Lines like Lindblad Expeditions deploy a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks so passengers can duck into desolate coves, glide next to ice floes, and get within arm's length of wildlife (Adélie penguins are adorable).

What Not to Miss: Highlights include passing through the towering blue icebergs of the Lemaire Channel and seeing icebergs with their steep sides and flat tops at the entrance to the Weddell Sea. Kayaking and "beach" landings are a must.

Best Time to Go: November through February; the window is short because the rest of the year is too cold (try 50 degrees below zero!) and too dark.

Best Side of Ship: Either, as ships move through the icy waters in all directions


Photo Caption: Cruising through the Lemaire Channel, Antarctica
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Milford Sound, Queenstown, New Zealand.
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New Zealand
What You'll See: A 12-night cruise between Sydney and Auckland focuses mostly on ports in the scenic Southern Island of New Zealand, including Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin (and Tauranga in the North Island). You'll also cruise through the fjords. Highlights include Fiordland National Park in the southwestern corner of South Island, where the brilliantly named Dusky, Doubtful, and Milford Sounds reside. Gaze up at the snow-peaked mountains that rise straight up from the sea. On the eastern coast of the South Island, the view from the ship includes dense forests to rolling farmland dotted with sheep and cattle.

What Not to Miss: Top excursions include kayaking trips through the fjords, where you may spot bottlenose dolphins or seals lazing on the rocks.

Best Time to Go: November through April, when it's summer in the Southern Hemisphere and in New Zealand.

Best Side of Ship: The starboard (right) side if cruising from Auckland to Sydney; and portside if going in the opposite direction.


Photo Caption: Milford Sound in New Zealand
Gatun Locks at the Panama Canal.
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Panama Canal
What You'll See: More than a century old, the Panama Canal is still an engineering marvel. It takes about eight hours for ships to traverse the 50-mile canal, which includes passage through three main locks. Through gravity alone, these locks raise ships over Central America and down again on the other side. The transit also takes ships through the artificially-created Gatun Lake, which sits 85 feet above sea level.

Best Time to Go: November through June; the rest of the year receives higher levels of rain and storms.

Best Side of Ship: Both sides have equally great views of the canal and locks.


Photo Caption: Gatun Locks at the Panama Canal
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Summer cruise to Geirangerfjord on Jewel of the Seas.
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Norwegian Fjords
What You'll See: A 7-night Norway cruise round-trip from Copenhagen might stop in Flam, Hellesylt/Geiranger, Bergen, Stavanger, and Oslo, with one day at sea. In addition to the fjords, massive granite rock faces, snowy mountain peaks, and rocky islets (or skerries), you'll also spot fishing villages with quaint wooden buildings. Highlights include sailing into Geirangerfjord, with the snow-capped peak of Dalsnibba looming 5,000 feet above.

What Not to Miss: The best excursion might be a six-mile hike across the top of Flo Mountain. For this tour, passengers disembark in the tiny port of Hellesylt before the ship moves on to nearby Geiranger to anchor for the day. The three-hour walk winds along a path that weaves along a river, hugs cliffs, and meanders though windswept fields -- all framed by mountain ranges in the distance. The excursion ends with a bus ride to the top of the Dalsnibba peak for views of Geirangerfjord down below.

Best Time to Go: May through September for the warmest weather (summers in northern Norway range from 50 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit; winters are cold, with temps ranging between 14 degrees and 35 degrees).

Best Side of the Ship: The order of the ports can vary; if going northbound, the starboard (right) side would generally face the coastline more often. But the ships are turning inside the fjords, so don't worry—both sides of the ship "face" the coastline at times.


Photo Caption: Summer cruise to Geirangerfjord on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas
Eilean Musdile Lighthouse, near Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides.
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The Hebrides Islands, Scotland
What You'll See: A weeklong cruise round-trip from Inverness passes through the Inner and Outer Hebrides, an archipelago of more than 100 islands and skerries off the western coast of Scotland. Ancient rocky cliffs (these are some of the oldest rocks in Europe), a white-sand beach, heather-covered hills, tiny lochs (lakes), and moorland set the backdrop for villages and ancient ruins of castles and manors.

What Not to Miss: When in port at one of the inhabited islands, bike or take nature walks. Keep an eye out for seals. In the town of Stornoway, be sure to see the Stonehenge-like Standing Stones at Callanish, which date back to the Iron Age.

Best Time to Go: June, July, August, and September when temperatures are 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The driest months are May through August.

Best Side of Ship: Both sides of the ships offer great views.


Photo Caption: Eilean Musdile Lighthouse, near Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides
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Puerto Montt, Chile.
rwowan
Chilean Fjords
What You'll See: Spend two to three weeks cruising between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile. Pass through the fjords of southern Chile, which stretch between Cape Horn and Castro along the southwestern coast. Highlights include Torres del Paine National Park with its lakes, tundra, forests, and mountains; the three-mile-wide Pio XI Glacier; and the coastal village of Castro, on Chiloe Island, with its fishermen's houses set on stilts and brightly painted wooden churches. The snow-peaked volcano of Osorno is another stunning site.

What Not to Miss: Enjoy a flightseeing trip over Mt. Osorno and the adjacent Chilean Lake District or board a Zodiac boat to ride up to the edge of Pio XI Glacier, which moves several feet per day.

Best Time to Go: November through February, when its summer in the southern hemisphere and warmer.

Best Side of Ship: The starboard side if you're going clockwise around Cape Horn, from Argentina to Chile.


Photo Caption: Puerto Montt, Chile
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