12 Types of Cruises That Go Beyond an Island Trip

From icebergs to ancient ruins, these cruises offer something extraordinary.
Updated May 29, 2024
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A cruise is supposed to be full of fun, sun, and relaxation. But cruising through the Caribbean and drinking pina coladas isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream vacation, and others just want to try something new on occasion.

Whether you're looking to trek through the Alaskan terrain or visit every country in the Baltic Sea, there are a variety of cruise experiences to help you step up your travel game.


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Amazon River cruise

baiterek_media/Adobe fishing boats on jungle river

If you’re the type of person who can’t get enough of watching daring nature documentaries, then an Amazon River cruise is a dream come true.

The Delfin II is a 28-passenger boat run by National Geographic that explores the Upper Amazon River and allows passengers to see the biodiversity up close and personal from on-the-river excursions. You’ll also enjoy rainforest-to-table food.

Nile River cruise

Givaga/Adobe panorama of nile

For the ultimate Egyptologist, a Nile River cruise can’t be outdone. You’ll see Luxor, Aswan, and, of course, Cairo. 

Throughout the trip, you’ll have the opportunity to experience pyramids, temples, and all of the sites you’ve read about in books. Typically, these are small ships, so you’ll be surrounded by equally enthusiastic cruisers.

Alaska adventure cruise

Maridav/Adobe whale watching boat excursion adobe

From helicopter rides to glacier excursions, a cruise in Alaska is all about experiencing adventure. These cruises are often great for families with older kids who can appreciate the constant activity and the once-in-a-lifetime memories.

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Expedition cruise

vadim.nefedov/Adobe tourists driving towards the glacier

If you’re someone who thrives on adrenaline, then add an expedition cruise to your travel plans. These small vessels travel to far-flung places that are inaccessible to the general population.

You’ll often be accompanied by guides and researchers who are there not only to enrich your experience but also to study the areas you’re visiting. You could go to the North Pole or even Antarctica.

Transatlantic or transpacific cruises

magann/Adobe atlantic sunset

If you’re up for spending days and even weeks at sea, then consider going on a cruise that crosses an entire ocean. You’ll have access to all of the incredible dining and entertainment of a normal cruise, but you won’t see land for days.

This is ideal for retirees who are up for a new adventure just because they have the time and want to add a unique experience to their memory catalog.

Baltic cruise

Kirk Fisher/Adobe cruise boats and water tours

If you’re intrigued by the Nordic lifestyle, then you can visit Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries on a Baltic cruise. Time it right, and you might even see the Northern lights.

Mississippi River cruise

Jill Clardy/Adobe paddle cruise ship at sunset

Step back in time on a Mississippi River cruise that will give you a taste of some of the country’s oldest cities, including St. Louis, New Orleans, and Memphis. 

Cruise on a riverboat the way Mark Twain once did and find inspiration in the muddy waters. You can also take similar cruises along the Ohio River.

Themed cruise

Silverpics/Adobe disney cruise line ship

A themed cruise may make its way to an island, but that’s not its main destination. These cruises exist to bring like-minded individuals together for a several-day party that celebrates their passion, whether it’s Star Trek, country music, or Disney.

Maine cruise

styxclick/Adobe overlooking fall and cruise ship

The coast of Maine may not be as warm as the coast of Florida, but it’s equally stunning. From the rocky coastline to the puffins, Maine has a landscape all its own.

Imagine boarding a small cruise ship and spending several days doing shore excursion hikes and eating more lobster rolls than you can count. This is the perfect cruise for someone who loves the water but can’t stand the heat.

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Fjord cruise

Lsantilli/Adobe cruise ship in norvegian fjord

A fjord cruise offers a different experience than a sea or river cruise. These long inlets that stretch inland, often between towering mountains, have an immense, almost magical quality to them.

Fjord cruises are available in places like New Zealand or Norway, and they appeal to travelers who want a unique experience without the risk-taking adventure of an expedition cruise.

Canadian cruise

aquamarine4/Adobe cruise ship taking off vancouver

For the ultimate "Anne of Green Gables" fan, there’s no better bucket list trip than visiting Prince Edward Island. Some cruises will take you up the East Coast of Canada, stopping in charming seaside villages along the way. 

This is the ideal place to visit in the fall, as the leaves are changing and the temperatures are just starting to drop.

Holiday cruise

biletskiyevgeniy.com/Adobe cruise ship at sunset

Some people don’t want to deal with hosting the holidays at home anymore and, for them, a holiday cruise is the solution. You board a ship, and all of the entertaining is done for you. 

There’s no worrying about cooking, coming up with activities for family members, or making guest bedrooms. All you have to do is cruise, literally.

Bottom line

Mariakray/Adobe passengers return to cruise ships

There’s so much more to cruising than sipping a mai tai while lounging on a pool deck. Whether it’s themed or headed to an unusual destination, some cruises go far beyond the standard island trip. 

These cruises can offer once-in-a-lifetime ways to visit multiple cities and test your sense of adventure. Just be sure to use your best travel credit cards to earn travel rewards for your next cruise adventure.

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Heather Bien Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.