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Holland America's Koningsdam vs. Nieuw Amsterdam
Holland America's Koningsdam vs. Nieuw Amsterdam
10 Best Cruises for Non-Cruisers
Allure of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

10 Best Cruises for Non-Cruisers

10 Best Cruises for Non-Cruisers
Allure of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Erica Silverstein
Elissa Garay
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If you've got a reason why you couldn't possibly like cruising, we can guarantee we've heard it before. And while not every cruise ship or type of cruise will suit every vacationer out there, the explanations people give for why they'd dislike a vacation at sea are generally unfounded.

In fact, we'd bet that for every excuse, a cruise line exists that proves the stereotype wrong. That's because cruise ships and itineraries come in all shapes and sizes, and not as cookie-cutter as the uninitiated might fear.

If you think there can't possibly be a cruise you'd like -- or have a friend or relation who feels that way -- here are our favorite cruise lines for non-cruisers that defy cliches and win over skeptics.

Harmony of the Seas

If you've got a reason why you couldn't possibly like cruising, we can guarantee we've heard it before. And while not every cruise ship or type of cruise will suit every traveller out there, the explanations people give for why they'd dislike a holiday at sea are generally unfounded.

In fact, we'd bet that for every excuse, a cruise line exists that proves the stereotype wrong.

That's because cruise ships and experiences come in all shapes and sizes. Vessels like Royal Caribbean's mammoth Ovation, Harmony and Symphony of the Seas are like floating cities with every possible activity onboard, while Windstar's masted tall ships offers an authentic sailing experience in Tahiti. Some cruise lines focus on enrichment, nature and culture, while others strive to create fun atmospheres that entertain kids, couples and seniors. Itineraries can be port-intensive, visiting a different destination each day, or utterly relaxing, offering strings of consecutive days at sea.

Here are some of the common fears about cruising -- and our expert reasons why these concerns are unfounded.

"I'll be bored."

Onboard Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships (Ovation of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas), the line’s technologically advanced “smart ships”, passengers can try simulated skydiving on the iFly, take in panoramic views 300 feet above sea level in the extendable North Star observation "arm" or sip cocktails served up by robot bartenders.

Mind you, Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships aren't the only ones to offer options that keep boredom at bay; its Oasis-, Voyager- and Freedom-class ships are also dedicated to active travellers. Passengers can rock climb, play miniature golf, try surfing, enjoy a spa treatment, work out in a full-size gym, lie by a "beach" pool or in a hot tub, go for a ride on a zipline, ice skate, watch a variety of live entertainment (including comedy shows, Broadway musicals, parades and acrobatic shows), shop, watch the big game in a bar and sing karaoke. On Harmony of the Seas, passengers can even slide down the tallest dry slide at sea. Bored yet?

Another cruise line where you'll never be bored is Norwegian Cruise Line. The line's ships -- especially Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway -- have amazing entertainment options, such as ice bars, water slides, beach clubs, circus-style dinner theatres, Broadway shows, ropes courses, rock climbing walls, a large selection of funky bars and themed restaurants, evening parties and lots of karaoke.

Closer to home, P&O Cruises ships have the P&O Edge Adventure Park with activities including a flying fox for zip-lining, the Funnel Climb and a dedicated area for riding Segways. Other options include Walk the Plank, which extends off the side of the ship, the high-in-the-sky Crow's Nest for panoramic views, and a boulder wall for sideways rock climbing. Pacific Dawn and Pacific Explorer also have two twisting, turning waterslides and a fun waterplay area for the kids.

Don't forget that you'll typically be in port for half the days on your cruise, if not more, and you'll have plenty of options to keep yourself entertained. Plus, in addition to any of these ship's amenities and the onboard programming, you can always bring a book, deck of cards or portable video game to entertain yourself on your own. For more on things to do onboard, read our list of the top 10 things to do on sea days.

View of the river from AmaCerto

"I'll get seasick."

Just because you're prone to seasickness doesn't mean you can't cruise. Consider a river cruise instead. Riverboats cruise the world, including Europe (think the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Seine, etc.), Egypt's Nile River and China's Yangtze. Itineraries include visits to wine countries, historic city centres, Christmas markets, pyramids, ancient tombs and beautiful countryside. Plus, river cruises are so destination-focused that you'll spend much of your time onshore -- exploring by foot, bus or even bicycle. When you're onboard, you don't have to worry about waves or high seas that could make you sick.

Even better, river cruise lines are catching up to oceangoing vessels in terms of luxury and onboard amenities. You'll now find balconies, larger cabins, alternative restaurants, spas and even pools onboard. Try lines like Avalon Waterways, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises and AmaWaterways.

Another note to the seasick prone: Just because you go green around the gills on a tiny motorboat in choppy waters does not mean you'll suffer from mal de mer on a cruise ship. The bigger the ship, the less you feel the motion of the ocean. (Think about the difference in turbulence between a tiny prop plane and a 747.) Plus, modern ships are built with stabilisers to minimize rocking. Choose your itinerary well. The Mediterranean is a lot rougher in fall and winter than it is in the summer; Alaska's Inside Passage is quite calm, though the open sea up north gets rougher in September; and the South Pacific can get choppy during cyclone season (November to April) if a storm is present. Medications and natural remedies can help for some; they include ginger candies, medicated patches and pressure bands. You might find that after a few hours onboard, you forget that you're on a ship at all.

Here are more tips for avoiding seasickness.

"I'll get claustrophobic onboard."

Sure you will -- if you charter a catamaran where your cabin fits a rough bunk and nothing else or if you squeeze a family of four in the smallest inside cabin. But most cruise ships are like floating hotels, with plenty of space, even if your cabin is smaller than the typical hotel room.

Luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises, for example, has four all-suite ships in its fleet (three of those are all-balcony). The smallest cabin on its 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner, for example, is a 252-square-foot suite with separate sitting and sleeping areas, a 49-square-foot teak balcony, walk-in closet and an ensuite marble bathroom. If you're truly worried about feeling confined, book the largest suite on the line's Seven Seas Explorer ship: the 4,443-square-foot Regent Suite comes with a 1,416-square-foot wraparound balcony, two bedrooms, a large living and dining area, and an in-cabin spa with private sauna and steam room. That's larger than most people's homes, and we bet your house doesn't come with butler service, as this suite does.

Can't afford all that space? Royal Caribbean has inside staterooms with “virtual balconies”, a floor-to-ceiling, flat-screen HDTV that provides real-time views of what you'd see if you had an authentic veranda. So at night the view is dark, in the morning you'll see the sunrise, and so on. There is even the sound of the waves, although this can be turned off. It is a game-changing feature for anyone who normally avoids interior cabins, and the result is surprisingly realistic.

On the line’s Oasis-class mega-ships like Oasis of the Seas, people have claimed they forgot they were on a ship. In fact, the designers of these ships put an emphasis on outdoor space, essentially carving out the middle of the ships to create an open-air midsection. So not only can you get fresh air on the top-of-ship pool decks, but the Boardwalk and Central Park neighbourhoods are open to the sky. If the walls feel like they are closing in, simply walk to the nearest elevator, push the button with the highest number and -- voila! -- all is well.

Princess' newest ships (Majestic, Regal and Royal Princess) are also quite spacious. Expansive sun decks include a pool with a movie screen that shows first-run flicks and concerts day and night, as well as a quieter, adults-only spa sun deck called the Sanctuary with private cabanas available for rent. The three-deck Piazza is an airy gathering place offering entertainment and snacks. If you need room to stretch in your living quarters, book a mini-suite or suite for separate living and sleeping areas, as well as an exterior balcony for easy access to fresh air.

Looking for spacious digs onboard? We list our favourite suites at sea.

People gazing above at Geiranger fjord's waterfalls from a Hurtigruten cruise deck

"Cruising only gives you a superficial experience of a destination."

It's a misconception among some self-appointed worldly travellers that cruises are a way to have fun in the sun, but not a good way to get an in-depth experience of a destination.

These folks haven't heard of lines like Hurtigruten, Lindblad Expeditions, Quark Expeditions and Un-Cruise Adventures. This diverse group of cruise lines has one major thing in common -- they all are extremely focused on giving passengers an in-depth look at the destinations on the itinerary.

For example, Hurtigruten's "Norwegian Coastal Voyages" sail daily up and down Norway's coasts, stopping at isolated towns and villages to drop off freight and mail and to let passengers have a look-see. Not only will you see more of Norway -- below and above the Arctic Circle -- than you probably ever imagined, but onboard you will dine on Norwegian specialties sourced from local producers (cloudberries, reindeer and the local catch-of-the-day fish dish via Norway's Coastal Kitchen, a "fjord-to-table" culinary program) and hobnob with a mix of Europeans, including Norwegians treating the ship as a ferry between destinations. You'll find only a handful of Australians onboard.

Lindblad Expeditions focuses on adventure and enrichment. It takes passengers to remote destinations like Antarctica, the Arctic, the Galapagos and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world. The line partners with National Geographic, so voyages feature scientists, researchers, naturalists, oceanographers and photographers onboard to teach passengers about the places they're visiting and help them capture great memories to take back home. Plus, with small ships carrying a mere 28 to 148 people, the line brings new meaning to "up close and personal," using Zodiacs, kayaks and, on some ships, paddleboards, to bring passengers closer to wildlife and wild places.

Learn more about expedition cruises.

"Cruises are for old people."

Disney Cruise Line is built on the premise that cruises can be fun for the whole family. Its ships feature expansive play areas with separate hangouts for young kids, tweens and teens (and a nursery for the littlest cruisers); a kiddie pool and water slide; Disney-themed musical productions; and meet 'n' greets with the Disney characters onboard. There are also adults-exclusive areas, too, like the Quiet Cove pool deck and select specialty dining venues.

Royal Caribbean also caters to young people with its many active onboard pursuits, such as rock climbing, skydiving simulation, bumper cars, surfing, ice skating, DJ classes and parades. Plus, active shore excursions like kayaking, hiking, cycling, snorkeling and diving call to the younger set, perhaps more than old-school, sedentary bus tours.

Carnival and P&O Cruises get a wide variety of ages onboard with top-notch kids programs -- featuring separate teen and tween hangouts with video games and a dance floor -- and a festive onboard atmosphere that includes happening bars, water slides and innovative spaces like an onboard brewery and IMAX theatre (on the newest Carnival ships, Carnival Vista and Horizon). Its standard cabins tend to run large and are affordably priced, which attracts families and younger travellers without huge holiday budgets. Plus, these lines offer a wide selection of shorter three- and four-night cruises that are ideal for busy professionals with limited holiday time or groups of friends looking for a long weekend of relaxation and fun.

Read more about the best cruise ships for families.

"Cruise ships aren't real ships."

Cruise ships have been likened to floating hotels or resorts, but if you're yearning for a more authentic sailing experience, check out lines like Windstar, Star Clippers or Island Windjammers. They employ masted tall ships, where the fairly no-frills accommodations and onboard amenities are offset by the thrill of sailing the open ocean and the attractions of the ports of call.

Windstar is the closest to Australia, with weekly departures from Papeete, Tahiti. It's a dramatic moment to set off under the billowing sails and sail toward the magnificent Moorea and Bora Bora. Star Clippers has a fleet of clipper ships that also sail under full wind power, when possible, in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia. Instead of playing bingo or pool games, passengers can help raise the sails, climb the ship's mast, lie out in the bowsprit net over the open sea or stargaze at night. Water sports are fittingly a big emphasis of each cruise, with diving, snorkelling and water skiing trips organised by the ship's staff and a variety of water sports equipment avaiable for passenger use, free of charge.

Island Windjammers operates three sailing ships: the 10-passenger Diamant, 24-passenger Sagitta (technically a masted motorsailer) and 26-passenger Vela. Its casual cruises sail in the French West Indies, Leeward, Windward and British Virgin Islands and focus on the joy of sailing, water sports and lazy days on land. It's a great way to feel like you're cruising on your own private sailboat -- just with a crew to do all the hard work.

If you want intimate, here are more of our favourite small ships.

AzAmazing Evening in Ephesus ampitheater

"Ships depart so early that I'll miss out on the nightlife in port."

Most cruises stay in port only during the day. But if dining ashore or checking out the local bars or entertainment scene is your thing, then Azamara might be the line for you. It's committed to destination immersion, offering longer hours in port, plenty of overnights and evening tours. Its "Cruise Global, Eat Local" initiative guides passengers to restaurants where locals eat, while its "Nights and Cool Places" and "Insider Access" tours take small groups out at night to experience a destination's art, architecture or scenic wonders once the sun sets. (Think after-hours tours of a museum or illuminated landmarks.) They also offer complimentary AzAmazing Evenings in select ports (like a hillside performance by three tenors in Tuscany), and can deliver just about any in-port experience via their "Private Journeys" program of custom-designed excursions for individuals and small groups. For more in-depth immersion still, consider booking one of the line's new "Overnight Adventures" programs, featuring two- or three-day mid-cruise land-based stays.

Celebrity is another solid choice for overnight stays in port. The cruise line has been steadily expanding its overnight stay program in the Caribbean, Bermuda, Alaska, Canada/New England and Europe. This concept has recently been extended to Australia with overnight calls in Sydney, Hobart and Cairns, as well as Tauranga in New Zealand. Some overseas itineraries even include two-night stays in port for the ultimate in immersion. Additionally, Celebrity offers special "Multi-Day Adventures" for select sailings in Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe and South America that serve to replace sea days with two- to three-day land-based tour alternatives.

Learn how to make the most of your overnight port call.

"It's unhealthy with all that food!"

Cruise ships typically offer round-the-clock dining, but no one is forcing you to pile the bacon on your breakfast tray, eat dessert at every meal, order both the steak and the lobster for dinner, or call room service for cheeseburgers at 2 a.m. In fact, most cruise lines have traded in their midnight chocolate buffets for spa cafes and sushi bars.

Celebrity Cruises is one line at the forefront of the healthy dining effort. All of its ships have spa cafes as part of an indoor pool complex, serving lighter breakfasts and lunches, including smoothies, omelettes, poached salmon and grilled chicken breast. Plus, you can order "spa" options off the main dining room's menu; calorie, fat, cholesterol and sodium breakdowns are listed on the back. Solstice-class ships all feature Blu, a standalone restaurant for spa cabin passengers. The menu there is "spa-inspired" with fewer rich sauces and smaller portions than main dining room fare.

Here are more ways to stay healthy on a cruise.

"It's impossible to experience another culture."

A cruise ship can often be a floating oasis of Australiana -- passengers venture into foreign lands by day but come back to the ship to eat steak and chips and sing Cold Chisel songs at karaoke. If you prefer more of a cultural immersion, book a trip on Alaskan Dream Cruises, which is crewed by native Alaskans, who take passengers to off-the-beaten-track sites of significance to the Tlinglit people and happily talk about their culture in the bar every day and night.

Myanmar is another destination where the local people work onboard Pandaw River Cruises and show you their way of life in villages. On a Mekong cruise, with companies such as APT, Scenic, Uniworld and Avalon Waterways, you get a two-week experience of Vietnam and Cambodia with local guides.

Or learn about the Peruvian Amazon with Delfin Amazon Cruises, whose ships have no TV, telephones or internet, so all the adventure is on land with the wildlife.

Updated January 08, 2020

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