Tag Archives: cruises

View of French Polynesia land from Windstar Owner's suite balcony.

When Is a Cruise Ship Balcony Worth It and When Is It Not?

When is a cruise-ship balcony worth the splurge?   Sometimes booking a private veranda is a no-brainer for the vistas, the quick access to fresh air, lots of light, and the extra real estate. But sometimes, because of weather or your itinerary, a balcony may not be worth the extra cost.

I’ve sailed on 300 different cruises, from luxury ocean crossings to European river journeys to an expedition ship in Antarctica, and here’s how I weigh the pros and cons of private balconies on three common styles of small-to-mid-sized vessels.

River Ships

What to Expect: On European rivers, there are two types of balconies: The traditional, step-out space with chairs, and a “French Veranda”—essentially, a wall of glass (via windows that can be lowered with a push of a button or patio-style sliders) that is framed by railings.

The traditional balconies are smaller than what you’d find on an ocean ship because river vessels must fit through narrow locks. Still, there’s room for a couple of chairs and a small cocktail table.

In the priciest suites on a few ships, the balconies are much roomier.   Viking River Cruises’ Explorer Suites, for instance, have balconies that are almost as spacious as those of ocean-going ships, and their aft-facing view is relaxing while traveling on a river.

Balcony in the Explorer Suite on Viking's Longships.

Explorer Suites on Viking’s Longships have relatively spacious balconies. Photo: Viking Cruises

Some river cruise lines, including Uniworld and Avalon, have only French verandas. This offers access to fresh air and views (on Avalon, if you push a chair up to the rail, it’s almost a real balcony experience) and, because there’s not a separate, defined outdoor area, cabins tend to be more spacious.

Staterooms with French verandas or private balconies are typically located on the top decks of a river-cruise vessel.  The low deck offers window-only cabins, usually with no view—just a bit of light. These windows are typically long and narrow and located high up on the wall.

Avalon Waterway's Panorama Suite and its balcony.

Avalon Waterways’ Panorama Suite has “French balconies.” Photo: Avalon Waterways

Know this: The challenge with any type of balcony on a river ship—particularly on a cruise along the Rhine or the Danube—is that during the day, in port, ships may have to tie up to one another; this can completely block not just your view but also your light and privacy. Also, on river cruises you typically spend a lot of time off the ship in river towns; as many balcony cabins as I’ve had, there was never much time to enjoy them.

My Take: Cruising on rivers is all about the landscapes you’re passing through. If you stick to your balcony, you limit your view to just one side of the river. You’ll likely want to head up to the observation deck for 360-degree vistas instead. But since the only other room option—a window-only cabin on a low deck—can feel a bit claustrophobic, I’d prefer a balcony of any kind. Just don’t assume you’ll be using it for hours every day.

Ocean Ships

What to Expect: Balconies are a no-brainer on an ocean cruise—everyone wants one. The good news is that cruise lines have dramatically increased the percentage of balconied staterooms on ships built since about 2010 (the newer, the better). That means balconies are easier to snag and are a better value. On larger vessels—such as those of Celebrity, Holland America, and Oceania—all verandas are comfortable, but the best belong to the highest-level suites and can come with extras such as whirlpools and dining tables.

Sunrise on the balcony of a cruise.

On a trip around the Greek Isles, coffee on the balcony was a wonderful morning ritual. Photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown

On smaller ships, and particularly on luxury lines, verandas are a wonderful place to dine al fresco or simply stretch out on a lounger in your own private space. Even cruise lines with slightly older small ships, like Windstar with its intimate power yachts, have added French verandas to standard-sized cabins; these vessels have a handful of actual sit-out spaces in top suites too.

Know This: Location can matter! One of the best spots for a balconied cabin (or suite) is on a ship’s aft deck, facing backward over the wake. It’s an incredibly soothing sight ,and often these verandas (even with a standard-category cabin) are deeper and roomier than usual. By contrast, forward-facing balconies are more subject to winds, movement, and sea spray. You also will want to avoid any forward-facing balcony cabin that’s directly under the bridge (the key navigational area of the ship): At night you may be limited in their use, as the light can hamper operations.

View of Tahiti from Windstar Star Breeze's balcony.

A forward-facing balcony on Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze in Tahiti. Photo: Wendy Perrin

My Take: The bigger the ship, the more crowded the public spaces can be, so it’s nice to have a private slice of the outdoors to relax in from time to time. Breakfast on your veranda is a perfect vacation indulgence (and room service is typically free). At sea, the ocean view is lovely and even in most ports, ships don’t dock too close to each other, so you have nice vistas there too.

Even on smaller, more luxurious ships that don’t feel crowded, a balcony is desirable; if the weather is such that you can spend a lot of time on your balcony, it’s like having an additional room.

Expedition Ships

What to Expect: The hottest new trend in expedition cruising—itineraries to the most remote destinations on earth—is vessels that have all the comforts of small luxury ships, including private balconies. Expedition vessels built since 2014 increasingly have more spacious accommodations that include verandas. Cruise lines whose newest expedition ships have private balconies include Ponant, Scenic, Seabourn, and Silversea. In other cases, lines such as Lindblad offer balconies only in top suite categories.

A tropical expedition balcony in the Silversea Silver Origin.

On Silversea’s Galapagos-based Silver Origin, a temperate climate offers lots of opportunities for enjoying your balcony; this one’s part of the Royal Suite. Photo: Silversea

You may even have a choice of French verandas or traditional ones. On Viking’s Octantis and Polaris expedition vessels, a handful of top suites have normal balconies, while the standard accommodations have “Nordic balconies” that are similar to French verandas, with windows that open halfway.

Know This: How much you actually use a balcony on an expedition cruise is highly affected by your itinerary and the weather. On a cruise to the polar regions, where conditions can be cold and stormy, a private veranda is nice if you want to be able to jump outside to capture a photo, but you likely won’t be spending time lounging or dining there. If you’re headed to a tropical destination, such as the Galapagos, verandas are a wonderful indulgence—and much in demand.

Silversea Cruises' Silver Endeavour in Antarctica.

On Silversea Cruises’ Silver Endeavour in Antarctica, a private balcony may be great for capturing photos but not for dining. Photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown

My Take: On my Antarctica cruise last year, my balcony was a nice extra but not a necessity. We loved dashing outside to admire a passing glacier or penguins wobbling up an icy hill, but the weather was too cold to enjoy a meal or a cocktail there. And, as is common on expedition vessels, the best vantage points in such dramatic locales were the upper decks where, both inside and out, we could see the view from 360 degrees.

The cruise specialists on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts can help you weigh the pros and cons of a balcony on any ocean, river, or expedition cruise. Not sure which cruise or expert is right for you? Ask for our advice via the black button below.




Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Wendy aboard a "hotel barge" on the Canal de Bourgogne in Burgundy, France

How to Know if a Barge Cruise in France Is Right for You

I’m just back from one of my favorite trips ever: a six-night, eight-passenger barge cruise on the Canal de Bourgogne. Too many people think a river cruise on a 160-passenger ship is their only option for traveling by inland waterway in Europe.  They are missing out.  France in particular has a big network of picture-postcard canals where intimate boats (4 to 12 passengers) glide from village to village, past medieval castles and old-world farms, with no cars in sight for long stretches. It’s like floating through a bygone era. The pace is so languid that you can actually walk faster than the barge goes. I enjoyed hopping off to walk or bike along the towpath, then hopping back on.

The biggest surprise for me was how the escargot’s pace of the barge forced me to relax more than I’ve been able to in years. We could have done the same sightseeing by car, sleeping in hotels—in fact, we could have driven from the village where we started (Vandenesse-en-Auxois) to the village where we ended (Plombières-lès-Dijon) in only 27 minutes!—but that would not have unwound us into the same state of deep relaxation.

A beautiful landscape of Vandenesse en Auxois Burgundy Canal barge.

We started our barge cruise in the village of Vandenesse-en-Auxois, France.  Photo: Timothy Baker

Despite the slow pace, we actually covered a lot of territory, thanks to excursions by van each afternoon to historic sights, wineries, châteaux, and villages where we ended up visiting artisan studios, farmers’ markets, antique shops, cheesemakers…. One of my favorite excursions was to the Chateau de Commarin, where the same noble family that has owned it for 26 generations still lives today; below you can see the Count’s dog greeting me.

Most people would be surprised by the level of luxury, the modern creature comforts, and the exquisite cuisine on our barge. A private barge charter really is like having your own staffed vacation home, only with ever-changing views. And, because you wake up in a different village each day, there’s always someplace new to explore outside your door, yet there are no logistics to deal with.

Tim and I can’t wait to barge again:  Next on our list is the Canal du Midi.  Still, barging is not for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it to families with toddlers or teens (who could get bored on the barge or need more exercise than just walking and biking), nor to anyone who requires a hotel gym. Nor would I recommend it to people who don’t like wine or cheese, given how much of it is served every day. (We tasted at least 40 wines and 40 cheeses during our six days.)

Wendy biking near a barge in the Burgundy canal in France.

Biking on the Canal de Bourgogne was easy and safe.  Photo: Timothy Baker

There are three groups of travelers who I think could really benefit from barging:

  • A group of couples who get together each year and are looking for something different and fabulous.
  • A family group without kids that is looking for an especially scenic and logistically easy villa-style vacation.
  • Busy execs who must work on vacation. That’s because a barge lets you sightsee from your desk. I was able to sit on deck all morning, answering email on my laptop while bucolic scenery and history glided by, then take a break each afternoon for an excursion and gourmet pursuits.

If you’re an individual couple without a group, there are certain weeks of the year when barges will have availability for you, but most barge cruises are private charters (typically for a group of four, eight, or twelve). Barges are pretty much sold out for 2023, but there is still a lot of availability for 2024.  If you’ve got questions about whether a barge trip is right for you, or if you could use a recommendation of the right boat, region, or itinerary for your needs, I’m happy to help via the Ask Wendy questionnaire.

Wendy at Chateau de Commarin in Burgundy, with a dog approaching her.

One of my favorite excursions was to the Château de Commarin, where the same noble family that has owned it for 26 generations still lives today (that’s the Count’s dog you see greeting me).  Photo: Timothy Baker

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip. 

Planning a River Cruise: 7 Mistakes You Think You’re Too Smart to Make

Contemplating a river trip in Europe? A river cruise is a scenic and effortless way to travel, for sure, but take heed: Many of the rules that apply when choosing a hotel or a big ocean cruise ship don’t carry over to river boats. To get the best value for your dollar, here are seven things to keep in mind.

Mistake No. 1: Splurging on a balcony

Panoramic view from Avalon Alegria in Suite 2.

The Panorama Suite on Avalon’s river vessels is one of the nicest afloat. Instead of a small balcony, its French verandah, which extends to the width of the room, makes your whole stateroom feel like a balcony. Photo via Avalon. 

You’d probably assume a balcony is critical—for the view, the fresh air, the photo ops, the extra space, the privacy. A balcony is a big plus at a resort and on a huge ocean ship, but on river boats it can actually be a drawback: River ships have a width limit (so that they can fit through locks), which means that cabins can only be so wide, which in turn means that a balcony takes away from your interior room space. If it’s chilly or raining—as it sometimes is—you’ll value the interior room space more than the balcony. Also, a balcony lets you see only one side of a river, whereas elsewhere on the ship you can see both sides at once. And who wants to miss half a river?

This is why many savvy river cruisers opt for a “French balcony” instead of an “outside balcony.” A French balcony is a glass door or wall-to-wall window that opens to give you fresh air and the feel of a veranda, minus the outside floor, tables, and chairs. The best such pseudo-balcony I’ve seen is on Avalon Waterways’ newer ships. The outside wall of the cabin is floor-to-ceiling glass that stretches 11 feet wide and slides open 7 feet wide. Basically, it turns your whole room into a veranda.

Avalon calls these cabins “Panorama Suites.” Technically, they’re not actually suites: Each is one room that measures 200 square feet and has a comfy sitting area (a chair, a loveseat, and a table) overlooking the water. The bed faces the view—a bed position that is unusual for river ships and is a nice touch, as the view is the first thing you see when you wake in the morning (unless you’ve drawn the curtains, you’re in a lock, or another ship is parked alongside you—which is a reason why most people do draw their curtains at night).

With cabins that transform into open-air terraces, who needs a balcony?

Mistake No. 2: Assuming that your whole itinerary is on the river

The beauty of a river cruise is that it’s a picturesque and easy way to see towns and cities along a river. Typically, the ship drops you off in town, and you can choose to walk around and explore on your own (always my preference) or take a walking tour or bus tour with a group from the ship. Sometimes passengers are bussed to sights an hour or two (or more) away from the river. And sometimes those bus tours can mean missing whole stretches of the river. On the Seine, for instance, opting for the bus tour to Honfleur or Normandy’s WW2 landing beaches could mean missing a picturesque stretch of the river because the bus picks you up at one port and drops you off at the next. (Which is why, on one cruise, I opted not to go to Honfleur or the landing beaches.)

One of the most scenic spots on the Seine River is the approach to the village of Les Andelys. Photo by Carolyn Spencer Brown

So find out whether the cruise line and itinerary you’re considering may force you to choose between the river itself and the sights away from it—and whether those stretches of river are not-to-be-missed picturesque or okay-to-miss industrial. A good cruise director will answer these questions honestly and accurately, and Google Earth can help too. If the cruise director can’t tell you which stretches of the river are most interesting, do what I do—even though technically it’s not allowed: Knock on the wheelhouse door, make friends with the captain, and ask them (at a moment when they’re not busy steering around barges or into locks). Captains always know.

Don’t bother spending precious time attempting to find out where your ship will dock in each town. We choose hotels for their location, of course—so it’s understandable that you’d want to know where a ship will be situated—but, for the most part, they all dock in the same spot. Some ships might have better real estate in certain cities. In Budapest, for instance, Viking’s spot is right under the Chain Bridge. As a general rule, though, all the ships park in pretty much the same area—and, to some degree, where they park can’t be known far ahead anyway. In Passau aboard Viking, we docked in one spot and then later the ship moved several slips downriver.

Mistake No. 3: Insisting that your ship have a gym and a pool

I want these in a hotel or on a giant cruise ship as much as the next person, but the fact is, on river ships, you rarely see anyone in the gym (which is tiny and only minimally equipped) or the pool (which is equally tiny except on some Uniworld ships that have gorgeous indoor pools and some AmaWaterways ships that have a relatively spacious pool with a swim-up bar). There just isn’t enough time to use the gym or pool, as you’re off the ship exploring all day. And if you’re not off the ship, chances are either it’s nighttime or you’re gliding down a significant stretch of river that you won’t want to miss.

The pool in the AmaSonata river ship.

AmaWaterways is one of the few river lines that have pools on the top decks of its ships. Photo by Wendy Perrin

Cruise-line execs keep gyms and pools on ships as marketing tools to get travelers to choose their ship, but the reality is that you likely won’t end up using either. That’s because there are so many opportunities to get exercise off the ship: Some lines carry bicycles and offer cycling tours. Others lend out Nordic walking sticks for ambitious strolling and hiking. And check with your ship’s cruise manager; oftentimes they’ll know where in port you can go to swim or get a massage at a resort or day spa.

Mistake No. 4: Choosing a ship based on the number of passengers
Most people I know, when choosing a hotel or an oceangoing cruise ship, veer away from anything too huge. But on Europe’s rivers there are pretty much only two sizes of cruise ship: 110-meter vessels (which hold about 128 passengers each) and 135-meter vessels (which hold about 166 passengers each). Viking’s longships squeeze 190 passengers onto a 135-meter ship, which competing cruise lines say make it feel crowded. Honestly, though, I sailed on a 190-passenger Viking ship and, other than chairs spaced close together in the observation lounge and trouble finding seats for my party of four at dinner one night, the ship didn’t feel crowded to me. (Then again, I grew up in Manhattan, so my definition of “crowded” may differ from yours.) Nor did I experience less personal service on Viking, partly because Viking (unlike other river cruise lines) has a dedicated concierge who provides such service.

Most ships that ply the Danube and Rhine are similarly laid out (with a few exceptions), so choose your cruise based on the destinations, not the ship itself. Photo via Viking .

There is an exception to this rule. AmaWaterways designed its AmaMagna, which debuted in 2019, to be almost double the width of the standard riverboat on the Danube. The plus? It’s got more amenities, such as more spacious suites, four different restaurants, a sundeck pool and whirlpool, a juice bar, two massage rooms as part of a zen wellness studio and, new this year, a pickleball court. The minus? This ship, due to its size, is limited to a stretch of ports along the Danube that don’t involve locks. Still, it can travel from Germany through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, so the options aren’t severely limited.

If I were you, instead of choosing among river ships based on the number of passengers, I’d choose based on factors that I think will affect your trip more—namely, itinerary, river landscape, cabin type, and like-minded fellow passengers.

Mistake No. 5: Booking the least expensive cabin
In a hotel it can make sense: Choose the lowest-category room at a fabulous property, so you can take advantage of everything the hotel offers, and use the room just for sleeping. On a river cruise, though, the least expensive cabin can be really tight—170 square feet or less—with small windows that don’t open. It’s usually worth the several hundred dollars more to get a French balcony. The aforementioned Avalon “Panorama Suite” cabins cost about $100 more per person per day than the ship’s lowest-category rooms. They’re worth it.

View of the Avalon Alegria Deluxe Stateroom.

On river vessels, the cheapest staterooms are on the lowest deck and though they have windows, there’s not much of a view (this one is on an Avalon riverboat).

Mistake No. 6: Assuming you can dine on your own
In a hotel or on a megaship, it’s easy to stick to yourselves, but on a river ship, there’s a lot of forced socializing. Every night there’s a four-course (at least), two-hour (at least) dinner where you’re seated at tables with other passengers, some of whom you just met. I’ve made some great friends at these chance meetings, but I’ve also been stuck with some louts. Viking is the only river line I have traveled on that provides an alternative venue where you can grab a half-hour dinner on your own if you just don’t feel like making chit-chat with strangers.

Viking’s Aquavit Terrace offers a casual dining alternative to its main restaurants. Photo via Viking.

AmaWaterways offers some options—typically a light breakfast or lunch option is available to grab and go from its lounges. And its new ship, AmaMagna, which is twice the size of traditional river boats, offers more dining options than any other vessel on the Danube.

Mistake No. 7: Assuming there’s room service
Room service is a given in hotels, and it’s usually free on ocean cruise ships, but on river ships it barely exists. On certain ships, in certain cabins, you can get a room-service breakfast. Avalon offers a complimentary continental breakfast option. Room service for lunch or dinner is rare, but Avalon does offer (again, complimentary) an option based on the day’s menus. You do have to order from the front desk, but the food will arrive at your stateroom.

On most ships, early morning coffee and continental breakfast are available in the observation lounge starting at about 6 a.m.

Don’t expect to find an in-room coffee machine in most river-ship cabins. You really don’t need one, though: Every vessel I’ve sailed on has a fancy coffee machine mid-ship (either off the lobby or in the observation lounge) that whips up espressos, cappuccinos, and machiattos, plus there’s hot chocolate, an assortment of teas, and snacks such as cookies and fruit. In fact, on the Avalon Tapestry II, there are two such coffee set-ups—one in the front lounge, one in the back lounge. Which means coffee is never more than 15 seconds away.

Finally, one mistake you are too smart to make: Assuming the Wi-Fi will work at all times
The good news: The Wi-Fi on river ships is free. The bad news: It comes and goes, depending on whether you’re in a lock or on a remote stretch of the river or the other passengers are sucking up all the bandwidth. Where you’ll have Wi-Fi and where you won’t is unpredictable—and none of the river lines are better or worse at providing it—so just know that, generally speaking, your best windows of connectivity are when you’re not in a lock and other passengers are off the ship or have gone to sleep. Know that coffee shops in towns along the way offer better and free Wi-Fi. Another option is to bring a portable modem that connects with systems on land. You can also pre-purchase international packages via your Wi-Fi provider that enable you to use your phone as a modem.

Also know that nobody requires more frequent Wi-Fi than I do, and a river ship is actually one of the best working environments I know: You can sit at your laptop for hours yet have an ever-changing view.




This article was updated and fact-checked in March 2023. It was originally published in 2015.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Unusual Ways To See the World by Water

There are parts of the world that are best seen from the water, and there is a growing array of unusual itineraries and small ships for doing so.  We’re not talking about Caribbean islands or Italian coastlines as viewed from a cruise ship so huge that it can only dock in the big industrial harbors. No, we’re talking about floating along France’s scenic canals by barge, sightseeing by houseboat through the backwaters of Kerala, India, or exploring remotest Antarctica by small expedition ship. Cruise expert Carolyn Spencer Brown joined Wendy and Brook for a WOW Week Travel Talk on new ways to explore the world’s waterways in 2023.  Watch the video and be surprised by everything you’ll learn.

Small-ship experiences you can find around the globe include:

Expedition ships: These small ships typically navigate parts of the world that it would be hard to experience any other way, such as the Arctic, Antarctica, and pristine portions of Alaska’s shoreline. In such pockets of the world, water-based travel is often your only option: You can’t drive from place to place, and it may be cost-prohibitive or too unreliable to get around via private, chartered aircraft. When these expedition ships are between seasons (say, repositioning between the Arctic and the Antarctic during the spring and fall), they may offer delightfully off-the-beaten-path itineraries that nip into tiny islands, landings, and anchorages. Carolyn and her husband sailed through the Swedish and Finnish archipelagos on a 100-passenger expedition ship, and he, a native of Finland, had never been to most of the small places they got to explore.

Yacht charters: Yachts and sailboats in the British Virgin Islands, Greece, Croatia, the Mediterranean, and many other parts of the world enable you to go where you want to go, drop anchor when you like, and choose who you want to vacation with (meaning, you’re not on a ship with strangers). You can even charter a private boat in India: In Kerala, traditional wood and thatched houseboats called kettuvallam ply the serene, rural backwaters, rivers and canals. You can charter a private boat or book a cabin on an 8-person “cruise” kettuvallam. Read about Wendy’s gulet charter on the Turquoise Coast and Brook’s catamaran charter in the Caribbean.

River boats: You may be familiar with the relatively large (160- to 190-passenger) cruise ships in Europe that ply the Rhine, Danube, Rhone and Seine, but there are many other rivers around the world where smaller vessels go to more exotic places, such as the Amazon in Peru, the Mekong for exploring Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Chobe River for the wildlife of Africa. On the Nile, instead of a Westernized river ship, you can opt for a wind-powered dahabiya. Dahabiyas are local boats that hold up to 12 people and can take you to places beyond the reach of traditional conventional vessels. Read about Billie’s experience sailing the Nile on a dahabiya.

European barge charters: Barges, often holding from 8 to 24 travelers, primarily ply the canals of France and are one of the best ways to explore the countryside, at a snail’s pace. Work barges have been repurposed as small passenger vessels—some quite luxurious, others cozy and comfortable. You’re provided with a captain and a cook, and you travel so slowly that you can easily grab a bike from your barge and meet it in the next village—with time to sip a glass of vino at an outdoor cafe. Read about Wendy’s barge trip through the French countryside.  

For help finding and planning the right private-boat or cruise experience for you, use the black button below.



Read more

A Private Gulet on Turkey’s Aegean Coast: Wendy’s Family Trip

Sailing the Caribbean Sea in a Private Yacht. This Could Be You.

The Best Way to See Egypt. Especially If You Don’t Like Boats.

How to Know if a Barge Cruise in France is Right for You.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

plain open ocean looking out to the horizon

Cruises: When Can We Sail Again? How Will It Be Different?

This summer ships will be sailing again—in the Caribbean, in the Greek Islands, on European rivers, on Alaska’s coast—and maybe out of other U.S. ports too. In this live Q&A, cruise specialists on The WOW List and cruise journalist Carolyn Spencer Brown told us how cruise lines, both large and small, are wooing travelers back onboard, putting new safety standards in place, and changing both onboard and shoreside experiences.

Our conversation touched on so many interesting aspects of what travelers can expect from the cruise experience, including:

•How cruise lines are wooing travelers back

•New safety measures on large and small ships and river cruises

•How limited capacity and fewer ships will affect availability

•How the onboard experience is changing on large and small ships

•What shore excursions will be like going forward

•Covid logistics for multi-country cruises

•Onboard testing

•Cruise lines’ vaccination and documentation requirements

•Mask requirements onboard and on shore excursions

•When to cruise

•Where to cruise

•Christmas market cruises

•Alaska cruises and whether they can make stops in Canada

•Small expedition cruises

•The cruises that are already operating in the U.S.

•How the pandemic has created opportunities for the cruise industry as a whole to improve

The panelists:

Carolyn Spencer Brown, former editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com who’s now at Carolynspencerbrown.com

Tom Baker, WOW List Trusted Travel Expert for Cruises, including Large Ships, Luxury Ships, and River Cruises. (Read reviews of Tom here.)

Ashton Palmer, WOW List Trusted Travel Expert for Small-Ship Expedition Cruises, Antarctica, and the Arctic. (Read reviews of Ashton here.)

More Q&A videos:

You’ll find the Zoom recordings of our previous travel Q&As in our new Travel Talk Videos section, including Q&As on last-minute trips, what vaccinated travelers do and don’t need to worry about, and understanding travel insurance in this new era. And, if you’d like to travel this summer while minimizing your risk and maximizing your experience, you’ll find wise solutions via Ask Wendy. We know which places are safest and smartest, and which local fixers can ensure an easy and extraordinary trip. Check out these recent international trip reviews to understand the huge difference that this makes

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Tibet monastery

Cruise Trends 2019: Cruise Like a Traveler, Not a Tourist

It’s been true for years that you can visit the world’s most remote places in absolute comfort—on a small, luxury ship. What’s new this year is that many cruise lines are not just delivering you to off-the-grid places but are also enabling you to have truly immersive experiences there. The most innovative cruise lines are exploring new concepts such as country-intensive itineraries and extraordinary shore excursions, and many travelers are planning truly unusual pre- and post-cruise adventures. As my colleague at Cruise Critic, Chris Gray Faust, reminds me, these new trends “give passengers more control over their experience—and feel much less like an organized tour. It’s hard to go back to typical group shore excursions after you’ve had more freedom.”

How can you make my favorite three travel trends work for your next vacation? I’m sharing my take with you below. And one more thing: Once you’ve done your own travel homework, my best recommendation is to hand it all over to a top cruise-planning specialist and let the expert make it happen—especially if you’re a first-timer or need multiple travel arrangements booked.

Country-Intensive Itineraries

What’s new: If you want to delve into a single country rather than a skip-hop-and-a-jump itinerary through a vast region of the world, country-specific itineraries are a hot commodity. This year, cruisegoers can explore places such as Iceland, Japan, Indonesia, \Thailand, and Norway in greater depth. Even Alaska (which is only a state) is offering itineraries that get you much farther below the surface than the typical seven-day Inside Passage route.

If you’re planning to go: For the most part, it’s small-ship expedition and luxury cruise lines that are offering these itineraries—lines such as Azamara (whose ships carry about 700 passengers), Ponant (whose vessels carry up to 264 passengers), and Windstar (148 to 312 passengers). But even big-ship fans have options: Princess Cruises’ 2,670-passenger Diamond Princess is sailing many cruises focused on Japan only.

Luxury Land Adventure Add-Ons

What’s new: Cruise ships typically sail from the world’s most compelling cities, where travelers frequently want pre- or post-cruise exploration. Cruise lines are starting to use those cities as jumping-off points for grandiose adventures. On my upcoming cruise around South Africa on Viking Ocean Cruises, you can, for instance, add a multi-day safari to the voyage. And it’s not alone; what may surprise travelers is that they can combine a cruise along Africa’s coast with the very different style of safari experience. AmaWaterways, a river cruise line, has a dedicated inland cruise on the Chobe River that covers Botswana and Namibia.

Even more ambitious is Silversea Cruises’ new “Couture Collection,” which connects cruises to super-small-group land tours of places such as Mongolia, Australia’s Outback, Tibet, and India’s Rajasthan.

If you’re planning to go: Adhering to the old “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” cliché, Silversea’s aforementioned trips, which run from 5 to 11 days, aren’t cheap: They range in price from $34,000 to $78,000 per traveler. Another option: Plan your own private pre- and post-cruise adventures via the best trip-planning specialist for your destination.

More Destination-Focused Theme Cruises

two cruise guests in snorkel gear standing in the water in Moorea with fish swimming around in French Polynesia

Paul Gauguin Cruises offers hands-on, conservation-focused learning in French Polynesia. Photo: Pacific Beachcomber/Paul Gauguin Cruises

What’s new: Theme cruises that typically make headlines revolve around boy bands, food and wine, and television icons like Star Trek. Where we’re seeing a sea change is that travelers are demanding—and cruise lines are delivering—themes related to the destination. One of my most satisfying cruise experiences ever was a Lindblad Expeditions soft-adventure trip to the Nordic countries, where National Geographic photographers taught us how to better capture stories on film. No fewer than three photographers taught daily workshops onboard, and you could also go exploring on shore with them. I took the best pics of my life on that trip.

If you’re planning to go: It’s the small-ship cruise lines that are most likely to offer the most compelling destination-themed programs. Not only do they tie the itinerary into the educational component, but their small size means they can nip into ports that larger vessels can’t—and where you won’t be competing with thousands of other passengers. On Aqua Expeditions’ Aria Amazon riverboat, for instance, you can sail the Amazon and explore its jungles with noted explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau.

For families, I love the Stewards of Nature program aboard the Paul Gauguin. In partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, it offers hands-on learning in the ports of French Polynesia. Kids hike through forests with naturalists, create Polynesian-inspired jewelry, participate in scientific experiments using local flora and fauna, and even design their own Polynesian tattoos.

One fabulous outlier is Cunard, which on its transatlantic crossings occasionally offers themed weeks that hone in on particular interests yet have nothing to do with the itinerary itself. On my list to experience is its Fashion Week, complete with designers, runway shows, and red carpets.


Carolyn Spencer Brown is Editor at Large for Cruise Critic, the leading site for cruise reviews and information, as well as the largest forum for cruise fans. She’s been taking cruises for decades and has amassed an extensive and impressive knowledge of the specifics of ships, lines, itineraries, policies, and ports. You can follow Cruise Critic on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and also follow Carolyn herself on Instagram (@carolynspencerbrown) and Twitter (@CruiseEditor).





Komodo National Park island paradise for diving and exploring. The most populat tourist destination in Indonesia, Pink beach, Nusa tenggara Indonesia

The Best 2019 Cruises for Seeing Nature, Meeting Locals, and Staying Active

At WendyPerrin.com we hear from a lot of travelers who would like to take a cruise but have run up against a big challenge: They want to be physically active, see nature, and interact with locals—three things that cruise lines often do not make easy to accomplish—and they aren’t sure which locations and vessels are optimal. So we’ve pulled together a list of the very best upcoming cruises for achieving these goals: staying active, meeting locals, and seeing nature. We’ve even shared who to book through to get the best experience for your dollar.

Hikers in Alaska's Tongass National Forest

Cruisegoers explore Alaska’s natural beauty, on and off the water. Photo: David Vargas/Lindblad Expeditions

Wild Alaska Escape, aboard the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird

When: Departing from Sitka or Juneau most weeks from late May through August 2019; June is Alaska’s driest month of the year

The Details: A compact itinerary designed to fit within a single work week, this cruise is packed full of options to explore southeast Alaska as few ever will—from hiking lush rainforests to kayaking in remote bays to cycling around a glacial lake. Enjoy the local flavor in the tiny community of Haines, walk the Totem Trail in the picturesque oceanfront town of Sitka, and enjoy a traditional dance demonstration in an ancient Chilkat Tlingit village. There’s abundant wildlife to be found in this region, including coastal bears, migrating whales, and the iconic bald eagle.

Pro Tip: Category 2 cabins on the Upper Deck have doors that open to the outer deck, allowing for the best wildlife viewing.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ashton Palmer through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Gentoo penguin chicks, Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

Gentoo penguin chicks, Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

Antarctic Peninsula, aboard the 112-passenger Island Sky or 114-passenger Hebridean Sky

When: 2018/19 departures from Ushuaia, Argentina available between late November and late February

The Details: If you want to mingle with penguins, hike on the White Continent, and paddle around icy bays, and perhaps even camp on Antarctica—but you don’t want to rough it onboard—these ships are a great choice. The top-notch expedition staff and photography coach will make sure that you get the most of your adventure.

Pro Tip: Want to help with real-world scientific research in Antarctica? Ask about the complimentary Citizen Science program.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ashton Palmer through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

a canal barge cruise in france

Canal barge cruises move slowly, allowing for great up-close views of the French countryside. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

Bicycling in Burgundy, aboard the six-passenger Rendez-Vous barge

When: Weekly private departures from Paris, France, available from April through October 2019

The Details: When you charter the Rendez-Vous for a private cycling adventure, your onboard local biking guide will plan daily 10- to 20-mile routes through Burgundy’s rolling greenery and famed Grand Cru vineyards via manicured towpaths and fantastic biking trails; bikes and a backup vehicle are provided. The Rendez-Vous feels like a boutique hotel, with chic décor, an open kitchen, and a shaded sundeck—plus it’s got an extraordinary wine list full of Premier Crus.

Pro Tip: With a hot tub on deck for loosening your muscles after your bike rides, the Rendez-Vous is well outfitted for younger, more active travelers.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ellen Sack through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

clear blue water of the Galapagos Islands Ecuador

The clear blue water of the Galapagos Islands. Photo: hugh_s20/Pixabay

The Galapagos Islands, aboard the 16-passenger Ocean Spray

When: Year-round departures from Quito, Ecuador

The Details: Pair an exploration of Ecuadorian culture on the mainland with extraordinary wildlife experiences and active options in the Galapagos Islands. Enjoy the warm hospitality of historic Quito before boarding a comfortable catamaran to explore the Galapagos, filling your days with hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking in this world-renowned national park and marine reserve.

Pro Tip: Since the Galapagos are close to the equator and warm year-round, plan your cruise to get a bit of sun whenever the weather is coldest at home.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ashton Palmer through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Icebergs under the Northern Lights

Search for the northern lights on an Arctic cruise. Photo: Shutterstock

Arctic Air-Cruise: Greenland’s Northern Lights, aboard the 66-passenger Ocean Nova

When: Weekly departures from Reykjavik, Iceland, in September, 2019

The Details: Spend your days exploring iceberg-laced Scoresbysund, the world’s largest fjord system, and your evenings searching the sky for the Aurora Borealis. This adventure gives active travelers the chance to trek in Greenland National Park, paddle pristine waters, and search for Arctic wildlife.

Pro Tip: Pack sturdy footwear to take full advantage of Greenland’s spectacular hiking, and sign up early for the popular sea-kayaking excursions.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ashton Palmer through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

truffle hunter and his dog in France

Go truffle hunting with the family-run L’Or des Valois mushroom farm in France. Photo: Barge Lady Cruise

France barge cruise out of Dijon, aboard the six-passenger Magnolia

When: Weekly private departures available from April through October 2019

The Details: When you charter the Magnolia, owner/operators Nicolas and Magali Rancelot welcome you as one of the family: You’ll go truffle hunting at a family-owned mushroom farm, accompany your chef to the Dijon market to shop for the day’s ingredients, and dine at the country home of Magali’s parents. Four other meals are taken on shore at small bistros and artisan kitchens, so you’re sure to soak up plenty of local color.

Pro Tip: At about $3,800 per person for a six-night, seven-day cruise—including all but four meals—the Magnolia is an excellent value among canal barge cruises.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ellen Sack through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

The Seychelles and neighboring islands, aboard the 260-passenger Le Lyrial

When: Departs from Durban, South Africa, on April 1, 2019 and March 25, 2020

The Details: Discover some of the Indian Ocean’s most picturesque isles and isolated atolls on a five-star tropical expedition that offers ample opportunities for both activity and relaxation. Divers and snorkelers alike will enjoy exploring Aldabra Atoll, a virtually untouched UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pro Tip: Special savings are available for those who wish to extend their travels on consecutive sailings.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ashton Palmer through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Komodo National Park island paradise for diving and exploring. The most populat tourist destination in Indonesia, Pink beach, Nusa tenggara Indonesia

Pink Beach, Komodo National Park, Indonesia. Photo: Shutterstock

Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago and Komodo Island, aboard the 184-passenger La Laperouse

When: Departs from Singapore on November 25, 2019

The Details: Komodo National Park, Pink Beach, traditional villages, the orangutans of Borneo, and a luxurious new superyacht—what more could you want? This adventure treats travelers to a variety of landscapes, cultures, and unusual wildlife while hopping from island to island, all without leaving the creature comforts behind.

Pro Tip: Get a whale’s-eye view of Indonesia as you enjoy a cocktail in the ship’s unique multi-sensory Blue Eye lounge.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Ashton Palmer through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Panoramic view of Glacier Bay national Park. John Hopkins Glacier with Mount Orville and Mount Wilbur in the background. Alaska

John Hopkins Glacier (with Mount Orville and Mount Wilbur in the background) in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Photo: Shutterstock

If you require a large ship: Alaska’s Inside Passage (7-Day roundtrip out of Vancouver), aboard the 2,106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam

When: Departs from Vancouver every Saturday between May and late September 2019

The Details: Cruise Alaska’s Inside Passage, visiting Tlingit Indian villages and the best fishing ports in southeast Alaska along the way. Those wishing to be active can go zip lining, kayaking, glacier hiking, and the like; wildlife lovers can spot whales and birds. You’ll spend a day in Glacier Bay National Park, then come back to a large ship with lots of entertainment and dining options to choose from.

Pro Tip: While plenty of large cruise ships visit Alaska, Holland America has been doing so for almost 60 years; they have more highly coveted Glacier Bay permits than any other cruise line, they bring national park rangers and members of the Tlingit culture onboard to enrich the experience, and they have larger cabins than their competitors.

Book Your Cabin: Contact Tom Baker through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The veranda of a Signature Suite on the Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

5 Ways the Right Cruise Beats a Resort Vacation

I’ve been to 41 countries on six continents, but until recently, the only cruise I’d taken was an overnight ferry from Maine to Nova Scotia. (I was eight at the time and spent my casino winnings on a fish tank.) So when Seabourn invited me on the first sailing of their new small luxury ship, the Ovation, I quickly booked flights. As a travel journalist, I’ve interviewed cruise experts and studied itineraries and deck plans for years. But it wasn’t until I stepped on board the Ovation that I realized how similar a cruise is to a resort vacation—but also how much better it can be, if done right. Here’s why:

You get a different place to explore each day.

coast of Kotor Montenegro village with boats water and mountains

Kotor, Montenegro. Photo: Pixabay/Falco

A smart cruise itinerary drops you in a new and interesting place daily, mixing must-see and hidden-gem ports and cutting out the tedium of long drives between them. My cruise stopped in Montenegro, for instance—a pocket-sized country that, frankly, I was unlikely to see any other way. Given the Ovation’s relatively small size (it carries about 600 passengers), we were able to anchor close to land and had just a three-minute tender ride to shore. In the ancient walled town of Budva, I wandered into a tiny, homespun-feeling archaeological museum that displayed delicate, Roman-era glass vessels that have miraculously survived for nearly 2,000 years. In Kotor I left the crowds behind to follow stray cats in the maze of alleyways around the main square. Adriatic cruises on a luxury small-ship line like Seabourn often combine a day in Montenegro with days in Croatia, Italy, and Greece too, with a schedule that allows time to eat dinner in port, after the day-trippers and other cruise passengers have gone home.

The view from your room keeps changing.

Veranda Suite Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

The Veranda Suite on the Seabourn Ovation. Photo: Seabourn

Think back to your all-time favorite views out the window of a resort. Now imagine getting them all on a single trip. On a cruise, your view isn’t static—and you don’t have to crane your neck to find the sliver of ocean that was promised to you in the room description. If you book through a cruise specialist on The WOW List, they’ll know which side of the ship will have the most interesting panoramas and can advise whether a balcony is worth the additional cost. Every cabin on the Ovation has a balcony; my 300-square-foot Veranda Suite (the smallest category on the ship) was also large enough to allow for two separate sleeping areas, separated by a curtain.

So many logistical hassles of travel are eliminated.

The Retreat lounge area on the Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

The Retreat. Photo: Seabourn

It’s been said many times that taking a cruise means you only have to unpack once. But the removal of travel stressors goes far beyond that: No checking in and out of hotels, memorizing a new room number every day, familiarizing yourself with each hotel’s layout, guessing at the right choice from yet another breakfast buffet, or jockeying wheeled suitcases over cobblestoned streets and through train stations. On the right ship, you can also avoid the annoyance of crowds: I only had to line up once, when boarding the tenders to Kotor; and while deck chairs never became a precious commodity, I found a particularly quiet spot to the aft of the ship’s Sun Deck.

Dining options abound and room service is free.

The Colonnade dining area on the Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

The Colonnade dining area. Photo: Seabourn

Many boutique resorts have just one or two dining rooms. On the Ovation, I had five varied and excellent restaurants to choose from; I never had to eat from a buffet if I didn’t want to, and the only restaurant requiring a reservation was the Thomas Keller-helmed Grill. There was no charge for room service, which the wait staff was happy to bring in courses, and complimentary Champagne and caviar were available 24 hours a day. Seabourn’s all-inclusive pricing includes a wide selection of complimentary wines, and I learned that if I wanted something different from what they were pouring that night, all I had to do was ask.

You can eat al fresco in your bathrobe.

Meal on cruise ship balcony Seabourn Ovation

Eating on our balcony. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

It was over breakfast on our balcony that my travel companion fell hard for the boating life (see I Thought I Was Too Cool for Cruising). Remember that ever-changing view? It can be the backdrop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And while the dress code on Seabourn rarely goes beyond a collared shirt or a blouse, terrycloth will do just fine on your private veranda.

Next time you’re looking for a restorative getaway but you’d rather see more of the world than the confines of a single resort, you might consider a cruise. I know I will.

Sunrise balcony view Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

Sunrise from our balcony.

Disclosure: Our writer was offered a complimentary cruise on the new Seabourn Ovation’s very first voyage. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and Seabourn here.

Sunrise balcony view Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

I Thought I Was Too Cool for Cruising

Susan Crandell, the former executive editor of Travel + Leisure magazine, had avoided cruises her whole life.  Then last month she finally tried one:

Sitting on the balcony of my stateroom, watching the sea glitter in the morning sun, I am wondering how I could have been so wrong about cruising. As I attack a plate of fresh-cut mango, I reflect on what a boob I’ve been. This is awesome. This is sweet. Oh, cruising, why have I avoided you all of my life?

One version of my ever-changing view.

Let’s back up a few months from that sun-struck epiphany somewhere in the Ionian Sea. We all have our travel identities and I had never seen myself as a cruiser. The only reason I said yes to this trip was because it offered the chance to spend a week with my daughter, who lives 3,000 miles away. An editor at WendyPerrin.com, Brook had been invited on the shakedown cruise of the Seabourn Ovation, traveling from Genoa, where the ship was built, to Venice, where it would set sail with its first paying passengers after we disembarked. Our lap of Italy would take five days at sea, and we would spend one day in port, in Montenegro (new country, ka-ching!).

If not for the opportunity to ride along as Brook’s plus-one, I probably never would have stepped foot on a ship like the Ovation. I couldn’t understand my friends’ enthusiasm for vacations at sea—chasing down every last island in the Caribbean, exploring the Mediterranean.

A cruise didn’t fit my image. With 40-odd countries stamped in my passport, I consider myself experienced and independent, someone who craves vacations brimming with challenge. I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, gone gorilla trekking in Uganda, soloed a tiny white rental car across the deserty expanse of South Africa’s Great Karoo, kayaked the Sea of Cortez. My motto: Any activity that requires helmets and waivers is bound to be great.

Cruising, I thought, puts training wheels on your trip, gold-plated perhaps, but training wheels nonetheless. And the crowds! I pictured thousands of passengers herded on and off the ship for shore excursions where they trailed after a guide waving a follow-me flag. People getting juiced at the open bar. Assigned-seating dinners with the same inane small talk night after night. Get me a lifeboat, quick!

Okay, I’ll admit it. I thought I was too good for cruising. I was a traveler, not a tourist.

If this sounds familiar, I’m not surprised. I suspect there are a lot of high-mileage travelers like me who think that cruising is for lesser mortals. If you’re among them, listen up. You just might be snobbing yourself out of one of the most satisfying vacations of your life.

A few days before we sailed, I began confessing yet another concern to my friends. “We’re five days at sea. What am I going to do!” As a hedge against boredom, I packed six books and downloaded the first season of The Last Post on my iPad.

Veranda Suite Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

A Veranda Suite on Seabourn’s brand-new ship, the Ovation. Photo: Seabourn

Then I boarded the Ovation and my reeducation began. The insight was simple and so obvious I couldn’t believe I’d missed it: There is more than one kind of wonderful trip. I had always adored adventures of the body—hiking, climbing, rowing, paddling. Turns out five days at sea is an adventure of a different stripe, an adventure of the mind. It confers a rare chance to spend unstructured time, like the dreamy cloud-chasing afternoons of my childhood summers. We all complain about the lack of play in our lives, we read essays by writers who unplug for various periods of time. We know we should meditate. But life keeps getting in the way.

The Colonnade restaurant Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

The Colonnade aboard the Seabourn Ovation. Photo: Seabourn

On the Mediterranean, the days slipped by. I couldn’t account for my time, but it didn’t feel boring at all. It felt delicious. There were just enough activities to ground each day: a yoga class, a tour of the bridge, a visit to the galley, classical guitar in the observation bar. Turned out our stateroom was prime real estate, just steps away from the gelato bar, where the flavors changed every day.

When I spent lazy hours on our balcony, watching the blue line of the horizon, I was alone with nature in a brand-new way. I didn’t have to climb this or hike that. Cruising was the savasana version of nature travel. Just be present; no action is required on your part.

In fact, my transition from cruise-avoider to enthusiast reminds me of my journey from yoga newbie to devotee. I began taking classes to improve my balance and flexibility. Early days, I was all about the physicality of the poses, and I fantasized ditching class before the final meditation. Call me spiritually challenged. But over the years, as I continued to practice, a change crept up on me. One day I realized I was looking forward to savasana.

Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

The 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation anchored in Montenegro, on the Adriatic coast.

And as for the disadvantages of cruising, on the 600-passenger Ovation, they just didn’t materialize. The crowds I had imagined weren’t there. No morning rush to secure a spot by the pool. Sun or shade, there were plenty of lounges to go around. Likewise, a water-view seat was always available at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Eat when you want, choose who you sit with. Only one of the Ovation’s five restaurants (The Grill by Thomas Keller, the Michelin-starred chef behind the French Laundry and Per Se) even needs reservations. And the day we made port in Montenegro, I could choose to join one of the guided excursions or go ashore and do my own thing until it was time to catch a tender back to the ship. I could even hire a private guide if I wanted to.

Kotor Montenegro village view

The medieval town of Kotor in Montenegro.

At sea, my cellphone was just a camera. I did read five of my books, but The Last Post had to wait for my transatlantic flight home.

I love my new identity as a traveler: I am a creature of many dimensions. I can like a big, scary adventure. I can also like a calm sweet experience. I am checking out the Ovation’s future itineraries. Next time, a cruise with lots of ports—but some sea days too.

The author explores Budva, Montenegro, with her daughter, Brook, an editor here at WendyPerrin.com.

Susan Crandell, the former executive editor of Travel + Leisure magazine and the founding editor of MORE magazine, is also the author of Thinking About Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife.

What a Barge Cruise Is—and Why Some Prefer It to a River Cruise

savoir vivre in front of chateauneuf barge cruise France CR Barge Lady Cruises
The Savoir Vivre. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
The canals. Photo: Sara Tucker
Rear view of our boat. Photo: Sara Tucker
Front view of our boat. Photo: Sara Tucker
The view. Photo: Sara Tucker
Pastoral scenery. Photo: Sara Tucker
Goats. Photo: Sara Tucker
burgundy lock barge cruise France CR Kelly Weiss Barge Lady Cruises
The locks. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
Locks. Photo: Sara Tucker
A castle. Photo: Sara Tucker
Taking walks. Photo: Sara Tucker
A stop to see the Hospices de Beaune. Photo: Sara Tucker
The strawberry soufflée. Photo: Sara Tucker
Cote d'Or wine. Photo: Sara Tucker
Another village we walked through. Photo: Sara Tucker
A stop ion Dijon. Photo: Sara Tucker
Our tour guide. Photo: Sara Tucker
The lounge on the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The boat's lounge. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
The lounge on the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The other side of the lounge. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
A state room on the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The boat's staterooms. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises
The lounge on the wine and snacks overlooking the Burgundy countryside taken from the Savoir Vivre barge cruise in France
The view. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises


If you have a hard time making sense of the phrase “barge cruise,” don’t feel bad. Luxury barging is such a tiny niche that it is practically unknown even in France, the country where the phenomenon originated. When I told my French friends that I was going on a barge trip (croisière en péniche), they thought I was going to rent the barge and pilot it myself while Patrick—my French husband, a retired safari guide—whipped up gourmet meals in a tiny kitchen. They thought we were going to take turns opening and closing the locks. (This type of DIY cruise, while possible, is not at all what we had in mind.) My American friends heard “barge” and thought “river cruise.” Almost everyone imagined something rustic.

A barge cruise is very different from a river cruise, starting with the size of the boat. A river ship usually carries 160 to 190 passengers, whereas the capacity of most barges is between eight and twelve. It’s like the difference between a 90-room hotel and a B&B. With one you’ve got your own TV and the option of having your own balcony; with the other you’ve got a captain who picks you up at the train station. Barges usually ply canals, not wide rivers—so, instead of cruising alongside highways and industrial areas on much of your route, your waterway is the equivalent of a country road. Another difference is speed. A long-legged person can walk alongside a moving barge without breaking a sweat. This has important implications. If you get tired of cruising, you have only to wait a few minutes for a set of locks, then hop off the boat and explore. You and the boat, which travels only a few miles per day, are never going to lose each other.

Families and groups of friends like barge cruises because they can book the whole boat and customize their shore excursions. Kids like them because there are bicycles, and farm animals, and castles, and a captain who will let you help him pilot the boat.

My first-ever barge trip was aboard the Savoir Vivre, an eight-passenger hotel barge that cruises a section of the Burgundy Canal. The 242-kilometer canal, completed in 1832, takes you deep into the heart of the French wine country, bisecting cow pastures, sheep meadows, woods, fields, and small villages. Starting in the village of Escommes, near Dijon, we cruised a total of 40 miles in six days, passing through 50 locks.

My trip, which took place in mid April, was arranged by Ellen Sack, the barge cruise expert on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts. My assignment from Wendy: To learn as much as possible about barge travel, through firsthand experience, so that I might enlighten others.

The Boat

When enthusiasts say that barging is an “intimate” form of travel, they are not just talking about the size of the boat, although it all starts with that. Barges are narrow, flat-bottomed vessels originally used to transport cargo; their heyday lasted for about 20 years, until the invention of the railroad. In the 1970s, an enterprising British chap hit on the idea of taking transporter barges and turning them into floating hotels by adding a superstructure. The idea caught on, and a little industry was born. The Savoir Vivre is unusual in that it is a purpose-built hotel barge, not a conversion. Nonetheless, the eight-passenger vessel has to fit through the same locks as all the other barges. Its four cabins are small—Patrick and I took turns getting dressed—and the lounge doubles as a dining room. On the larger of the two observation decks, six is a crowd, but you are welcome to go up to the wheelhouse and hang out with the captain, who has the best view. Our captain, Richard Megret, was an easygoing Frenchman who had been barging for 20 years; he started out as a cook. He was also our bartender, waiter, guide, and chauffeur. When one of us had a birthday, Richard ordered the cake. When the dishwasher broke, he did the dishes by hand; then he fixed the dishwasher. We and the six other passengers spent most of our waking hours with him and Laura, our tour guide, and each other. This is what barge fans mean by “intimate.”

The Scenery

Unlike a river ship, a canal barge chugs along at four miles per hour, pausing every few minutes to pass through a set of locks. The shore is right there: You can practically reach out and touch it. On the Burgundy Canal, you’re a few feet from white cows and flocks of sheep. When you’re standing on the deck you can literally talk to the villagers strolling along the towpath with their fishing poles and picnic baskets and baby carriages. Children walk or ride their bicycles to the canal to watch the boats go by. They cluster on the little bridges that cross the canal. They sidle up to the uniformed men and women who work the locks by hand. At each set of locks is a small house where, up until the 1950s, the lockkeepers and their families lived; now the houses are abandoned or rented out and the lockkeepers zip up and down the canal on motorcycles. Most mornings, I left the boat on foot and walked through the village where we had moored. On these rambles, I might pass a boulangerie, a post office, a school, a church. I never had to cross a highway or wait for a traffic light. Cocks crowed. Cows mooed. Church bells rang. One evening we moored next to a field where a white horse and a red horse grazed. The young girl who came to fetch them called out a greeting. This, too, is what barge fans mean by “intimate.” You are, for a brief time, a part of French village life.

The Daily Routine

Breakfast is served in the lounge at 8:00. The table is laden with local goodies—pastries, cold cuts, cheeses. At 9:30 or 10:00, Laura arrives and you pile into the minivan. She hands out bottled water and peppermints. You drive through vineyards, woods, fields, and small villages to a castle, or a goat farm, or a monastery where, in the Middle Ages, the monks made wine in monstrous wooden presses. After the tour, you go back to the boat for lunch, which, like breakfast, is catered by a fine restaurant. You eat more than you should. Then you nap, or stroll along the towpath, or sit in a deck chair and watch for herons while the barge putters along. At 6:00, Richard opens a bottle of very good Burgundy and sets out bowls of olives and little puffs of choux pastry called gougères. Then you walk or drive to an excellent restaurant and eat too much food again. (This was another difference between our particular barge cruise and typical river cruises: On river cruises all meals are served on the ship, which means you may miss out on tastier, more authentic cuisine you could find in local eateries.)

Land Activities

Alongside the canal is a well-maintained towpath, once used by draft animals. Every set of locks is an opportunity to get off the boat and bicycle or walk along the towpath. When you reach a set of locks and you want to get off the boat, you have only to open a small gate and step onto the berm. This is also what barge enthusiasts mean by “intimate.”

In addition, there are daily shore excursions. Our tours were led by Laura Aplin, a British guide with a particular interest in sociological history—how people lived way back when. At Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a medieval citadel, we learned what life was like when the castle was under siege. (Days were spent in boredom. Then a dead cow might fly over the wall, catapulted by the attackers in an effort to spread disease among the enemy.) We learned about 15th-century medicine at the Hospices de Beaune, made friends with the goats at a vineyard in Sainte Sabine, and learned how 12th-century Cistercian monks made wine at Clos de Vougeot. The tours generally lasted a couple of hours and involved a little bit of walking but not a lot. They were all fun. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand reading little signs and wearing earphones when I go through a museum. (On river cruises, as opposed to barge cruises, the group tours ashore are so large that passengers must wear audio headsets in order to hear the guide.) And I will tell you straight out that I fell in love with Laura. Everybody did. We competed to sit next to her in the van.

The Food

An essential feature of barging is the food. It’s supposed to be outstanding, and with one exception—a new restaurant that our captain wanted to try out—it was. On the boat, meals are served family-style. Lunches are hearty: two or three kinds of salad, quiche, plus a main dish (either meat or fish) and a dessert. The Savoir Vivre is unique among hotel barges in that your evening meal is not on the boat but in a local restaurant, often in a gorgeous building that dates back to the days when Burgundy was a dukedom. One evening we walked along the canal and across a great expanse of lawn, past fountains, ponds, and weeping willows, to a former abbey, now a five-star hotel, where the only other guests (it was early in the season) were a couple of Londoners who were on a DIY barge trip to celebrate their upcoming nuptials. What did we eat? I honestly don’t remember, except for the baba au rhum, because the waiter set the bottle of rum on the table next to the dish. I do remember the amuse-bouche and the strawberry soufflé at Chateau Sainte Sabine, both of which were garnished with flecks of gold leaf.

The Bottom Line

Ellen’s daughter Stephanie Sack, a marketing specialist, told me that there are only 75 hotel barges in the world. The majority of them are in France. This is where Ellen first encountered barging in the 1980s, when the phenomenon was in its infancy. She now arranges barge cruises in ten different regions of France, as well as on canals and rivers in seven other European countries. (Such scope and expertise are partly why Ellen has earned the spot of barge travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts; the other reason is the glowing reviews we receive from our readers.)

The Savoir Vivre costs $3,500 per person for six nights, plus a tip of 5 to 10 percent for the crew. Is that a good deal? Let me put it this way: While a DIY cruise is theoretically possible, do you really want to order the food, pilot the boat, moor the boat, load the dishwasher, fix the dishwasher, stock the bar, or even order the croissants? I sure don’t. And how are you going to get to the beautiful castle if you don’t have a minivan, or figure out what you’re looking at when you arrive? I wouldn’t have wanted to do any of our shore excursions without Laura. At Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, in addition to old-time germ warfare (the flying cows), she showed us where the lord of the castle hid his jewels when the tax assessor came (hint: his wife sat on them), and what a fourteenth-century hot-tub party was like. Without her, we would have seen only a chair and a wooden tub.

For $675 per day, minimum, you get, minimum, an all-inclusive laid-back holiday with great food and wine, one that allows you to bicycle through the French countryside and stroll around small villages at your own speed, visit historic sites with an excellent guide, and travel in a small group.

That leaves the question of weather. The Savoir Vivre has one TV, some DVDs, sporadic Wi-Fi, a Scrabble game, but there’s not a lot to do on a barge when it rains. In fact, there’s not a lot to do on a barge, period, besides eat and sleep. Shore excursions make the days pass quickly, but I wouldn’t want to carry a dripping umbrella around Burgundy if I could help it. Barge season in Burgundy runs from April to October. April gets an average of nine days of rain, per regional weather statistics, May gets 13. There are eight umbrellas onboard the Savoir Vivre, just in case. If you want to play it safe, go in July.

To ensure you get the best barge trip possible, reach out to Ellen Sack via Wendy’s trip request form.  You’ll be marked as a VIP traveler and get these five benefits.

*Disclosure: Barge Lady Cruises provided our reporter, Sara Tucker, with a six-day barge trip through France, free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and Barge Lady Cruises here.

couple on overwater bungalow in bora bora

WOW Moment: A Bora Bora Overwater Bungalow Surprise


Sharonne and David Hayes recently returned from a trip to French Polynesia that included something special: a surprise insider experience curated by Wendy. We call these WOW Moments, and travelers can start on the path to earning one by using our WOW List buttons to launch a trip and then reviewing their Trusted Travel Expert after their trip. (Here’s info on how to get your own complimentary WOW Moment on every third trip).

The Hayeses’ trip was masterminded by Trusted Travel Expert Leslie Fambrini. Its centerpiece was a luxury small-ship cruise of the Society Islands aboard the Paul Gauguin. What the couple didn’t know was that they would be spending one night in a brand-new overwater villa at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa. The resort’s four Brando Suites, which only just opened in December, have 3,400 square feet of indoor/outdoor living space and 180-degree views of Mount Otemanu. The Hayeses were among the first travelers to get to experience these much-buzzed-about new overwater “bungalows.”

Sharonne and David posted a review of their whole trip—you can read it on Leslie’s reviews page—but of course we wanted to find out more about how their WOW Moment went. The Hayeses live in Minnesota, and on a frigid day in January, Sharonne pulled up her snapshots of blue lagoons and petal-strewn tablecloths to answer our questions.

Q: Let’s start with your WOW Moment. Were you surprised?

A: The WOW Moment was way more than a moment. It was 24 hours of WOW. It was far more than we had expected.

We had been told in advance that on a certain day we were to pack an overnight bag. So we realized that our WOW Moment was not going to be on the ship.

The day before we reached Bora Bora, we were taken to the bridge, where the captain told us we were going to have our WOW Moment the next day—which we kind of knew, but it was fun to go up on the bridge.

We were told to get off on the 10:30 tender and take an overnight bag, and there would be a cab waiting for us. That was pretty much it.

The cab took us to the InterContinental, and the woman at the desk said, “Oh, your boat’s at 12:45.” That’s when we thought, Oh, maybe the WOW Moment is a snorkeling trip.

The boat, a little shuttle, took us to one of these fabulous houses at the end of a row of overwater bungalows; we were admiring them from the boat. They told us we were going to stay there, and they brought out some Champagne. It had a tub with a view, you’ve got your own little pool, and you can hop right into the ocean. And we were standing there saying, “This is ours?”

They said, “Just enjoy your afternoon; we’re going to come pick you up at 5:30 for a manager’s reception.” So we did. We just enjoyed ourselves. We just stayed outside and marveled at this place.

“They told us we were going to stay there, and they brought out some Champagne. It had a tub with a view, you’ve got your own little pool, and you can hop right into the ocean. And we were standing there saying, ‘This is ours?'”

I’m looking at my pictures now, and…there was a certain wonderment about this WOW Moment. There was this school of fish under our bungalow and I was swimming around trying to capture a picture of them with my waterproof camera. I never was successful—they were always ten feet away from me. It really was just magical.

There were other people at the general manager’s reception; it wasn’t just for us. It was just lovely, and we had a great conversation with the general manager.

We had been told that we were going to be picked up for dinner, and we were actually taken back to our place, where they had strewn flowers along the walkway into our bungalow. We had our meal on the deck as we watched the sunset. The weather was perfect, the colors were beautiful, and we enjoyed talking with the servers, a man and a woman, and learning about their lives. They cleaned up and left, and we had a lovely night.

When we arrived at breakfast the next morning they asked for our room number and then directed us to a private table overlooking the water in an area adjacent to the restaurant.

So the whole thing was in keeping with the fact that we were looking to be pampered and relaxed on this trip, and that’s what it was all about.

The whole time I’m there I’m thinking, “Oh, I wish my daughter and her husband were in the other bedroom.” It’s the kind of thing you really wanted to share with people.

Q: How was the rest of your cruise?

A: The Paul Gauguin was wonderful, and it was fun to be there on New Year’s Eve. We do like cruises, but there were things that I really liked about that particular cruise. One was the age mix. There were a few families, a few kids, a lot of honeymooners, people in their twenties and thirties, young couples. This was an upscale cruise, so the ages skewed older, but many grandmas and grandpas were probably funding the trip for their extended families.

There were a lot of Polynesians. One night on the beach, the musicians were playing their ukuleles and singing, and a whole group of Polynesians joined in and it was just magical. Ten cruise-ship guests were out there singing this song, harmonizing and echoing back and forth.

Another thing I liked was you didn’t feel pushed to sign up for shore excursions, but on every stop there was something you could do that was free, like a shuttle into town. I love to go to foreign grocery stores, so we went to shore but didn’t do anything formal.

Q: How did you decide on the Paul Gauguin?

A: We’ve had two prior trips using the specialists on Wendy’s WOW List—Costa Rica and Peru. Although the Peru trip was fabulous, it was also incredibly rigorous, and as my husband and I were walking down the Andes, breathless, he turned to me and said, “Our next trip is going to be a cruise.”

My husband travels a lot for work. He does a lot of hard travel. So when the time came to book something, I said, “Do you really want to get on another plane, or should we just drive up to northern Minnesota and sit in a cozy cabin?” And he said, “No, I really want to get away.”

We didn’t know exactly where to go at that time of year. We were looking for the right itinerary and ways to fit it into our schedule. We had just nine days, and we wanted to go somewhere we had never been before, but we were not looking for an adventure cruise. What we really wanted was relaxation.

I went to Wendy’s WOW List, and I couldn’t tell which of the cruise specialists would be the best fit for us, so I sent an email to Wendy and got a response from one of her assistants within 24 hours. I think that speaks to the personal service.

Q: In retrospect, aside from the WOW Moment, did it help to have a travel specialist plan this trip?

A: I felt like we really benefited from Leslie’s advice. We decided on the Paul Gauguin, and after that it was the logistics of getting it planned. For instance, we were going to have to fly in a day early and have an extra night on either end, and we didn’t know what to do with it. One of the things that was really good advice, even though it was costly, was to have a hotel room ready and waiting for us in the early morning when we landed in Tahiti.

I’ve been on cruises before where the shore excursions are very important. And I didn’t know if that was the case here. Leslie said, after several conversations, “What I’m hearing is, I don’t think you should sign up for anything,” which was my gut feeling, but it was nice to be given permission, and she was right.

“For me, using a travel specialist is a no-brainer for a more complex trip, but even for a cruise, I can’t see a reason not to.”

Q: Can you tell us more about why, as frequent travelers, you rely on Wendy’s WOW List?

A: I bought into using specialized travel agents more than a decade ago when we were going to Africa, and I’ve referred many people to Wendy’s WOW List, partly because I think it’s really curated. I enjoy the process of doing the research, but you can only do so much online.

Our Peru trip is a good example. It was two families. There were six of us, aged 17 to 60, with three different itineraries. Part of our time was together and part of it was apart. Our adult son didn’t want to go on the Andean trek, so the travel specialist gave him some other options. It helped to be able to say, “The 20-year-old son is not buying this. What can you do?”

For the Peru trip, we had eight or ten hours from the time we got back from our Amazon cruise to our return flight, which normally would have meant an icky time in an airport. Instead, somebody picked us up and took us around to show us sights they wanted us to see—I couldn’t have orchestrated that on my own. I would have had to find a car service and tell them where to go. I didn’t have to do that.

For me, using a travel specialist is a no-brainer for a more complex trip, but even for a cruise, I can’t see a reason not to. If you’re booking through a cruise line and you have a question, you won’t get an answer, or you’ll get an answer that benefits the cruise line, versus the unbiased insider look.

Q: Is there anything else would you like to tell us about your cruise, or the WOW List in general?

A: Somebody who saw my pictures of Bora Bora said, “Is that like the best vacation you ever had?” I haven’t asked my husband, but I would say it’s the best vacation I ever had with just him, and I would include my honeymoon in that.


Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

On every third qualifying trip, Wendy will add to your itinerary a surprise WOW Moment. A WOW Moment is an exclusive insider experience that helps make a trip extraordinary. Each WOW Moment is totally different. They vary depending on a huge range of factors, including the country you’re headed to, the timing of your trip, logistics, availability, and more. You can read a sampling of the more over-the-top WOW Moments (those most conducive to editorial coverage) here. Learn which trips qualify, and how the process works, here: Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

joggers on promenade of crystal serenity cruise ship

Cruise Trends in 2018: What Your Waistline Has Been Waiting For

One of the best things about chronicling cruise travel over the past 20 years has been watching the industry morph from a sedate and somewhat sedentary form of travel—in which dining times were assigned and bus tours were about the limit of sightseeing—to there’s-a-cruise-for-every-traveler-out-there. Seriously, there really is, no matter if you’re more inclined to chill on a beach in the Caribbean, mix with locals in the Mediterranean, or go mountaineering along the ridges of Antarctica.

Of all the changes that have occurred in cruise travel, the one I love the most is this: Cruises have become one of the most healthy and active ways to travel.

Does that surprise you? Whether they offer ocean-going and family-friendly ships, riverboats, or expedition vessels, cruise lines have worked hard to focus on a balanced approach to travel, and I’m sharing some of my favorite ways they’re doing this, below. But by no means has the industry taken away the fun of indulging on your vacation. Sure, you can take a decadent cruise and return home with the freshman 15 lb. weight gain—but you no longer have to.

New wave dining

acai bowl from AquaSpa Cafe on a Celebrity Cruises cruise ship

The menu items at cruise ship restaurants, like açai bowls at Celebrity’s AquaSpa Café, are getting healthier. Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Cruise lines, from big ships to small, are increasingly focusing on fresh cuisine by adding lots of fruit and vegetable items—at all meals— and creating menus for followers of heart-healthy, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan (and even raw food, at least on one cruise line) regimens. They are also developing menus based on the regions their ships are cruising in, and using local ingredients whenever possible.

Look for: Buffets on cruise lines like Crystal, Viking Ocean, and Holland America make it easy to nosh strategically, with lots of fresh fruits, sushi, and salads. I love Celebrity’s AquaSpa Café not just because it’s good for you, but also because its menus are so delicious (Carnival and Royal Caribbean also have their own takes on spa cafés). At lunch and dinner, Viking Ocean is featuring local menu items inspired by itineraries. And some lines even go beyond—plating a meal to actually help you find a regimen that you can take home with you. Interested? Check out Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Center, which offers courses on healthy cooking, and Seabourn, via its partnership with noted mind-body guru Dr. Andrew Weil, for lessons on inflammatory foods.

Maintaining fitness regimes

cruise ship gym Quantum of the Seas Royal Caribbean

Cruise ships now offer large gyms with up-to-date equipment. Photo: Royal Caribbean

If you’re like a lot of us, you don’t want to wreck all the hard work you’ve done at home to get and stay fit, just because you’ve gone off on vacation for a little while.

Look for: When Viking Ocean Cruises (the line aimed at passengers 55 years of age and up) debuted in 2015, it figured that not so many of its “older” passengers cared about working out. Four ships later, the line has gone back and reconfigured its small gyms to be much larger, a sign that all generations want to maintain some level of fitness while traveling. Indeed, just about every ocean line has a gym with free weights, exercise bikes, TRX Suspension systems, tai chi, boot camp, and more. They offer fitness classes too, in yoga, Pilates, stretching and spinning. You can even book time with personal trainers to develop your own new fitness regimen. Typically, the bigger the ship, the larger the fitness facility; Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Quantum classes of ships have masses of space for all the usual equipment, and then some.

River cruising’s unique fitness challenges and solutions

bicycles Danube AmaWaterways river cruise1

AmaWaterways was the first river cruise line to offer passengers bikes to use in ports. Photo: AmaWaterways

On riverboats, which rarely carry more than 200 passengers, room for fitness is necessarily limited. As a result, companies have gotten a bit more creative about incorporating fitness into the cruise experience. Some, it’s true, have small fitness centers tucked away in a couple of cabins that have been converted for the job, others have tiny pools. But the real success has been creating opportunities to be active either onboard—or in port.

Look for: AmaWaterways, which was the first line to stock bikes onboard that passengers could use for treks in port, has been a river pioneer. It’s teamed up with Backroads, the tour operator that specializes in hiking, walking, and cycling travel, to provide intensive active trips along Europe’s rivers. Many other lines have followed AmaWaterways’s lead, and now stock bikes on board; these include Uniworld and Crystal. On Avalon’s Active Discovery on the Rhine itinerary, you can choose a hiking, cycling, or jogging tour in every port of call. Scenic was the first line to offer electric bikes for use in ports, and Uniworld started the Nordic walking stick craze.

Mind-body matters too

Sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV’s Candice Olson designed the Princess Luxury Bed. By 2019 every stateroom in the Princess fleet will have one. Photo: Princess Cruises

Sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV’s Candice Olson designed the Princess Luxury Bed. By 2019 every stateroom in the Princess fleet will have one. Photo: Princess Cruises

Spas have been an integral part of the cruise industry for well more than a decade now. What’s new is that cruise lines are going beyond the facility and its treatments (facials, massages and the like) to incorporate lifestyle activities that help you stay balanced long after your vacation.

Look for: I love AmaWaterways’ new Wellness Program. Offered on select river voyages, the program is meant for travelers who want a pretty active regimen and appreciate the camaraderie that comes with being with like-minded enthusiasts—discussion groups, on topics ranging from eating to relaxation, are also part of the experience. Seabourn’s partnership with Dr. Andrew Weil blends active workouts with experiences that emphasize wellness from physical, social, and spiritual environments. Princess Cruises is betting big that simply getting a good night’s rest is a great path to health; it has unveiled its Princess Luxury Bed across the fleet (I tried it, and it was so great I bought two for home).

And here’s possibly my favorite way to cruise: Being active in ports

sea dream cruise ship offers watersports off the back of the boat in Hvar Croatia

SeaDream cruises offer water sports right off the back of the ship when it’s in a port like Hvar, Croatia. Photo: Sea Dream

Choose your itinerary wisely. If your idea of a great way to explore a port of call is via bicycle, kayak, snorkeling, scuba diving, cross-country skiing, zip-lining, hiking, or sailing, exciting itineraries often focus on regions such as Hawaii, Alaska, Central America, Antarctica, the Mediterranean, French Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand, the Caribbean, and the Galapagos. If you particularly enjoy watersports, look for cruise lines whose ships feature watersports platforms, allowing you to access all the key toys, including WaveRunners, right from the aft of your ship. Lines that excel include SeaDream, Crystal Esprit, Windstar and Ponant.

For more on staying active at sea, see Cruise Critic’s list of the Best Cruises for Fitness and these Tips for Eating Healthy on a Cruise.


Carolyn Spencer Brown is Editor at Large for Cruise Critic, the leading site for cruise reviews and information, as well as the largest forum for cruise fans. She’s been taking cruises for decades and has amassed an extensive and impressive knowledge of the specifics of ships, lines, itineraries, policies, and ports. You can follow Cruise Critic on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and also follow Carolyn herself on Instagram (@carolynspencerbrown) and Twitter (@CruiseEditor).


The first port of call on the first-ever sailing of Silversea Cruises' new ship Silver Muse: Marseille, France

Cruise Report: Wendy’s Photos from Silversea’s Newest Cruise Ship

I’ve sailed on inaugural voyages before—I’ve even served as godmother of a cruise ship, smashing the bottle of Champagne at the christening—but, until last week, I’d never boarded a ship a mere three hours after it had left the shipyard. I was on the first-ever sailing of Silver Muse, the elegant new ship from Silversea Cruises that launched in Genoa and will call at 130 ports in 34 countries this year. We hit three of those countries—Italy, France, and Spain—on last week’s “shakedown cruise.”  Honestly, not much shaking down was required:  Silver Muse gleams from top to bottom.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the Muse is the food.  There are eight gourmet eateries onboard—which is a lot for a 596-passenger vessel—including Italian, French, Asian, sushi, a steak house, a pizzeria, and a gelateria. There’s even a cheese bar at night in one of the observation lounges.  The food is sophisticated and imaginative, with ingredients sourced from around the globe—giant prawns from Madagascar, cod from Greenland, steak from an Argentinian estancia, lamb from New Zealand, burrata from the boot of Italy….you get the idea.

But what surprised me most on the ship was Gennaro, the charming Italian cobbler who has a little shop on the pool deck and custom-makes shoes while you wait.  I ordered up a pair of Capri sandals just so I could see Italian craftsmanship at work.  In 45 minutes I had perfect-fitting gold leather sandals.  To see the shoes, and photos from the rest of my Mediterranean coastal adventure, check out the pics below and follow my travels on Instagram.

And if you’re wondering whether Silver Muse is the right ship for you or a different one might be better suited to your trip goals, feel free to write to me at Ask Wendy.


This is how I’ll be leaving Genoa tonight — aboard @silverseacruises’ brand new ship, #SilverMuse.

A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Okay, so this ship is not for light packers. @silverseacruises #SilverMuse

A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Aboard @silverseacruises you get to choose which #toiletries you want. That’s Naru, my butler. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

I’d be happy with just this for dinner. But it’s only the first course. #antipasto #SilverMuse

A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

It’s 64 degrees here in the Ligurian Sea. The pool deck is hopping. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

It’s nice to think some people still use #stationery rather than smartphones. #SilverMuse

A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Meet Gennaro, the cobbler from Preludio in Capri, who custom-makes shoes on the pool deck. #SilverMuse

A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


Ta-da! Thank you, Gennaro, for my new custom-made leather sandals. Time it took:45 minutes. Cost: $200. #SilverMuse


A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Nice spot to dig into a book. But I’m headed over to that ferris wheel. #Marseille #SilverMuse

A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Le Vieux Port of #Marseille, as seen from atop La Grande Roue (the ferris wheel). #SilverMuse

A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Looking up the Rue de la Republique from the ferris wheel, Le Vieux Port, #Marseille. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Specialty of #Marseille: orange blossom navette (navette fleur d’oranger) #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


Chocolate olives. #Marseille #SilverMuse


A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Coconut rice pudding. #yum #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


Follow more of Wendy’s travels on Instagram @wendyperrin!


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Windstar’s Star Breeze on the island of Elba, during the inaugural cruise

A Sneak Peek at Windstar’s Plan to Improve Small-Ship Cruising

Many years ago Windstar changed my view of what a cruise could be.

I was invited onboard as a guest lecturer, and I took my dad. We sailed to all these little Caribbean islands you’d normally never get to—Bequia, Ile des Saintes, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda…. What we loved most were the picture-postcard views as we sailed into and out of each harbor. In every port we were the only cruise ship. And what my dad really loved was that our bartender remembered his favorite drink from Day One and just automatically brought it to him, whenever he showed up.

Fast forward a few years. I was scheduled to be a guest lecturer again, and it was right after my wedding, so I took Tim, and it morphed into our honeymoon. Again we went to all these little unusual ports, this time in the Mediterranean: Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Monemvasia, Taormina, Corsica, Elba…. We even had the same bartender. His name was Danny. The fact that I even remember his name speaks volumes: Every time you’re back on Windstar, you’re back with family.

What I love most about Windstar is that it takes you to those hidden-gem places that would otherwise be too logistically difficult, time-consuming, or expensive to get to. That’s why Windstar changed my idea of what a cruise could be.

So I was honored when, a couple of years ago, Windstar named me godmother of its new ship Star Breeze. And I was happy to invite Windstar to sponsor the 2nd annual Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit and to have president John Delaney share news about the company’s plans for 2017. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s coming:

Windstar president John Delaney speaks at the 2017 WendyPerrin.com Global Travel Summit

Windstar president John Delaney speaks at the 2017 WendyPerrin.com Global Travel Summit. Photo: Tim Baker

Returning to an old favorite

I’m so proud of Windstar for being one of only a few cruise lines sailing to Turkey in 2017. The port of call is Kusadasi. “We truly struggled with our decision to cancel Turkey last year because people love it, and it delivers,” Delaney told us. “But clearly we’re never going to do something that isn’t safe. We couldn’t accept the level of risk in Istanbul. But Kusadasi was never in the warnings by the U.S. State Department; that part of Turkey wasn’t included. And [nearby] Ephesus is a bucket-list place.”  To maintain a level of safety, he says, Windstar will continue to rely on State Department information and warnings.

Launching in new destinations

The line is adding new itineraries in new regions, most notably Alaska and Asia (with completely new trips to the Philippines, China, and Japan). “On every itinerary, there will be at least one port you physically can’t get into with a bigger ship,” Delaney said.  In Alaska, for example, guests on the 212-passenger Star Legend will be able to float right into Misty Fjords and Kenai Fjords. “Our ship that is doing Asia is the largest that can go all the way up the river to Bangkok,” he added. “Seville is another great example: We can sail right into downtown Seville. And the Corinth Canal—being able to do that wonder of the world is an incredible experience.”  In addition to introducing these new ports, Delaney says, Windstar will be extending port hours and adding more overnights on a variety of sailings across the board.

Introducing bespoke shore excursions

Delaney, who joined Windstar as president only seven months ago, shared what he described as his own personal focus for 2017: creating small, bespoke shore excursions open to only a handful of travelers at a time. “What I want to do is create regular offerings as part of our shore-excursion program that are the types of experiences WOW List travel specialists are able to put together: accessing ancient ruins before they open to the public, being in a local family home for a true cooking experience in Tuscany, etc. We’re trying to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences.” You can expect these to roll out on European sailings in the summer of 2018, though Delaney says he will be improving Windstar’s regular shore excursions along the way too. “We’ll make sure guests are seeing the best of the best,” he said. “We don’t plan shore excursions the way the big lines do—we don’t have to plan for thousands of passenger throughout. We’re small and different.”

Enhancing the onboard experience

Delaney says Windstar is also finding ways to improve the shipboard experience. Two new hires are going to help with that: Last week, Peter Tobler joined the small-ship cruise line as Director of Marine Hotel Operations, and back in November, cruise-industry veteran Christopher Prelog was brought on as Vice President of Fleet Operations. These may sound like bigwig positions that couldn’t possibly have any effect on your personal time onboard, but in reality they have quite an impact. Tobler has more than 30 years’ experience in the culinary side of cruising, and his new programs—which Delaney says will include changes such as locally inspired menus, special events, enhanced wine offerings, and new cocktail menus—will create the flavor of your foodie experiences onboard. Likewise, the arrival of Prelog suggests that Windstar is interested in finding ways to upgrade its ships with more luxurious and personal touches. As an example, Delaney mentioned a possible “sleeping program” that would let guests choose from a menu of scents, pillows, herbal teas, and turndown music or video. “Chris has a knack for innovation and surprise,” he said, “So stay tuned.”

I’ll be watching—not only because I’m godmother to the Star Breeze, but also because it was fascinating to watch a cruise line president get up on stage at our summit to give a presentation about what’s coming in 2017, and then watch it evolve into a collaborative brainstorming session with our Trusted Travel Experts.  John was eager to hear their thoughts and feedback on what he’s introducing, and I have no doubt that our WOW Listers just gave Windstar a few more ideas about what discerning travelers like you really want. I’ll be eager to hear about your upcoming experiences onboard Windstar ships.  Please keep me posted!

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know. 

Additional reporting by Billie Cohen

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

These Are the Most Interesting Cruises Planned for 2017

When it comes to cruises, our readers are picky: Only the most remarkable itineraries will do—those that stop in the most interesting and charming ports, give you enough time there, and show you places that would be too logistically difficult, time-consuming, or cost-prohibitive to see any other way. So we scrutinized the 2017 cruise itineraries on offer in order to point you toward the gems. U.S. News and World Report even interviewed Wendy for its article 10 Dreamy Cruise Vacations to Cross Off Your Bucket List. Then we narrowed our picks down to the best values, the most unusual routes, and the can’t-miss bucket-list journeys.  To pinpoint the best cruise-planning travel specialist for your needs—to ensure you get the best itinerary and perks for your money—feel free to write to Ask Wendy.

Cruises that explore today’s hottest destinations at a value:

Iceland, and Japan are currently very popular—and, consequently, very expensive, if you want to do them right. One way to save is via one of these under-the-radar sailings:

Iceland: A lot of cruises touch on Iceland these days, but Lindblad Expeditions is doing something different: a full circumnavigation aboard the National Geographic Orion. The ten-day trip isn’t cheap (it starts at $9,130 per person), but it’s a relatively immersive experience of the whole country.

Japan: A brand-new itinerary with off-the-beaten-path ports you don’t ordinarily see is the “In the Heart of Japan” route aboard L’Austral. It’s an 11-day itinerary from Osaka to Muroran this coming May. Alternatively, you could combine a Japan land trip with a unique cruise to nearby islands. The Silver Discoverer sails to some of the most exotic islands in the South Pacific, from Palau’s Rock Islands (a UNESCO Heritage site and a mecca for divers) to the dolphin-filled Mariana Islands to Japan’s remote and isolated island gems.

Cruises that open up remote, hard-to-access regions:

Because of changing sea ice conditions, an increasing number of ships are heading to the Arctic for one-off or unique itineraries. Rare, once-in-a-lifetime voyages include:

Wrangle Island, Northeast Passage

Wrangel Island is a federal nature preserve and a great place to spot polar bears. Photo: Katya Ovsyanikova

Northwest Passage: Crystal will be sailing the Northwest Passage a second time next summer. The route was once impassable but, because of global warming and melting sea ice, it can now be sailed by a mammoth ship carrying 1,700 passengers and crew during the summer months.

Northeast Passage: Changes in sea ice have now made it possible to take an expedition cruise through Russia’s Northern Sea Route. Aboard the research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy, travelers stop at remote settlements including Wrangel Island, a federal nature reserve and a renowned polar bear denning site, and Franz Josef Land, an archipelago of 192 islands only ten degrees from the North Pole.

Sub-Antarctic and New Zealand: If you want to explore an area few others have seen, board L’Austral or Spirit of Enderby for the sub-Antarctic islands between New Zealand and Antarctica. Nicknamed the “forgotten islands,” they don’t even appear on some maps, but they’re worth seeking out for wildlife lovers, photographers, and adventurers. One of the remote rocks is Macquarie Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; few permits are granted to visit this nesting spot for royal penguins, but these two companies have garnered access for their guests. Expect sightings of sea lions, penguins, albatross, elephant seals, and glacial fjords.

Bucket-list ideas for cruisegoers who’ve seen it all:

National Geographic Quest cruise ship room

Nearly half the rooms on the new National Geographic Quest will have floor-to-ceiling windows. Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

Coastal West Africa: Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator will be making a 35-night transatlantic voyage in December 2016. First the ship will hug the coast of Africa all the way from Cape Town up to Cape Verde, stopping in Namibia, Angola, Sao Tome, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Gambia, and Senegal. Then it will spend four days crossing the Atlantic and hit five Caribbean islands—Barbados, Martinique, Guadeloupe Grenada, and Curacao—before winding up in Miami.

Belize and Guatemala: A new, state-of-the-art expedition ship scheduled to debut in June is the 100-passenger National Geographic Quest. The small ship of 50 cabins will ply the coastal waters of Alaska (in the summer) and Belize and Guatemala (February and March), seeking out wildlife havens. Guests can dive the Mesomerican reef (the largest in the Northern Hemisphere), snorkel, and paddleboard. Quest will have features you don’t usually see on an expedition ship: There will be adjoining cabins for families, and nearly half of the cabins will have balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Indian Ocean: Jacques Cousteau called Aldabra Atoll “the last unprofaned sanctuary on the planet.” And with good reason: more than 150,000 giant tortoises live there. If you want to be one of the few travelers to visit, board the Silver Discoverer on its itinerary through the Indian Ocean, where you’ll stop in the Seychelles, Maldives, Zanzibar, and more.

Arctic Ice Bridge, Canada

The Canadian Arctic has some incredible views including this ice bridge. Photo: David-McEown

Canadian Arctic: Discover one jaw-dropping national park after another as you explore the remote bays and fjords of Labrador and Torngat, in the Canadian Arctic’s rarely visited wilderness. “Since many locations such as Monumental Island can only be accessed by ship, [the research vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov] is the perfect platform for viewing wildlife such as whales and perhaps even polar bears,” says Ashton Palmer, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for expedition cruises. He adds that for an even more epic exploration of the Canadian Arctic and East Coast, combine the Labrador and Torngat Explorer trip with the popular Fins & Fiddles itinerary.

South Atlantic Ocean: An expedition voyage that collectors of rare passport stamps have been waiting for is the Atlantic Odyssey aboard the research ship Plancius. This voyage out of Ushaia, Argentina, takes you to South Georgia Island, the South Orkney Islands, Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena, and Ascension Island.  It’s hard enough just to get to each of these remote islands, let alone see all of them in one trip.

Barge Luciole cruising on Canal du Nivernais, Burgundy, France. Courtesy: Barge Luciole

Barge Luciole cruising on Canal du Nivernais, Burgundy, France. Courtesy: Barge Luciole

Canals of Europe: You haven’t experienced Europe’s waterways properly until you’ve tried a barge trip. Barges are small luxury boats—some carrying just your own family and friends—that wind through Europe’s manmade canals. “It’s intimate, very authentic, very slow,” explains Ellen Sack, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for barge cruises. “You see the rural countryside from the water and get into a world that a traveler wouldn’t get into ordinarily.” Barge vacations come with private chefs, private English-speaking guides, and land activities such as bicycling through fields, shopping at local markets, wine tasting at vineyards, or getting a behind-the-scenes tour of a chateau.

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Wendy Perrin on a cruise ship

Watch: How to Choose the Right Cruise

People who say they wouldn’t be caught dead on a cruise have either never tried one or chose the wrong ship. There is an enormous variety of vessels and itineraries (including expedition ships, freighters, and yacht charters), but it’s vital to choose the right one for you, the first time. In this video, shot during my latest cruise, I lay out key factors to consider, as well as the pros and cons of different ship sizes and itineraries.

If you’ve got an additional savvy tip for picking the right cruise, by all means post it in the comments below. I may include the tip in an upcoming article featuring your advice! And if you’d like me to personally recommend the right cruise for your specific travel goals and needs, click to Ask Wendy.

Transparency disclosure: Our sponsor, MedjetAssist, provided the financial support that made it possible to bring you these travel tips.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.