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Best Cruises for Non-Cruisers
Allure of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Best Cruises for Non-Cruisers

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

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

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

Harmony of the Seas

If you've got a reason why you couldn't possibly like cruising, we can guarantee we've heard it before. And while not every cruise ship or type of cruise will suit every cruiser out there, the explanations people give for why they'd dislike a holiday at sea are generally unfounded (we tackle that in another piece: Top 12 Cruise Myths Dispelled.

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

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

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

"I'll be bored."

Onboard Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger Oasis-class ships (Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and newest ship, Symphony of the Seas), the largest cruise ships ever built, passengers can rock climb, play miniature golf, try surfing, ride a carousel, enjoy a spa treatment, work out in a full-size gym, lie by a "beach" pool or in a hot tub, go for a ride on a zipline, ice skate, watch a variety of live entertainment (including comedy shows, Broadway musicals, parades and acrobatic shows), learn to scuba dive, shop, watch the big game in a bar and sing karaoke. On Harmony, passengers can even slide down the tallest dry slide at sea. And on Symphony they can play laser tag and try and escape from a Puzzle Break room. Bored yet?

Mind you, Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships aren't the only ones to offer options that keep boredom at bay; its Quantum-, Voyager- and Freedom-class ships are also dedicated to active travellers. On the line's Quantum-class ships like Anthem of the Seas, passengers can indulge in high-tech onboard experiences like simulated skydiving, taking in panoramic views 300 feet above sea level in the extendable North Star observation "arm" or sipping on cocktails served up by robot bartenders.

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

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

View of the river from AmaCerto

"I'll get seasick."

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

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

Another note to the seasick prone: Just because you go green around the gills on a tiny motorboat in choppy waters does not mean you'll suffer from mal de mer on a cruise ship. The bigger the ship, the less you feel the motion of the ocean. (Think about the difference in turbulence between a tiny prop plane and a 747.) Plus, modern ships are built with stabilizers to minimize rocking. Choose your itinerary well. The Mediterranean is a lot rougher in autumn and winter than it is in the summer; Alaska's Inside Passage is quite calm, though the open sea up north gets rougher in September; and the Caribbean can get choppy during hurricane season (June 1 until the end of November, officially) if a storm is present. Unfortunately, the Bay of Biscay can be choppy at any time of year. Medications and natural remedies can help for some; they include ginger candies, medicated patches and pressure bands. You might find that after a few hours onboard, you forget that you're on a ship at all.

Here are more tips for avoiding seasickness.

"I'll get claustrophobic onboard."

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

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

Can't afford all that space? Royal Caribbean's aforementioned large ships are so big that first-time visitors to its Oasis-class mega-ships like have claimed they forgot they were on a ship. In fact, the designers of these ships put an emphasis on outdoor space, essentially carving out the middle of the ships to create an open-air midsection. So not only can you get fresh air on the top-of-ship pool decks, but the Boardwalk and Central Park neighborhoods are open to the sky. If the walls feel like they are closing in, simply walk to the nearest lift, push the button with the highest number and -- voila! -- all is well.

P&O Cruises' newest ships (Britannia, Azura and Ventura) are also spacious, with expansive sun decks, large main pool deck, as well as a quieter, adults-only spa sun deck called the Retreat with private cabanas available for rent. The three-deck Atrium is an airy gathering place offering live music, coffee and a deli. If you need room to stretch in your living quarters, book a mini-suite or suite for separate living and sleeping areas, as well as an exterior balcony for easy access to fresh air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about expedition cruises.

"Cruises are for old people."

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

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

MSC Cruises has outstanding kids facilities, through partnerships with LEGO and baby goods specialist Chicco. Its newest ships -- MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside -- have some of the largest kids' clubs at sea, LEGO-themed throughout with separate rooms for age groups and including a theatre and a science lab complete with 3D printer. They also have a kids splash area on both ships, with mini-slides, dunk buckets and spray cannons!

And in 2018, Uniworld launched a cruise line aimed squarely at millennials -- U by Uniworld, which as well as looking super-hip (all black and chrome); offers a range of experiential activities both on and off the ship such as yoga and cooking classes, brunch rather than set-time meals and a WhatsApp group for singles.

Read more about the best cruise ships for families.

"Cruise ships aren't real ships."

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

Star Clippers has a fleet of clipper ships that sail under full wind power, when possible, in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia. Instead of playing bingo or pool games, passengers can help raise the sails, climb the ship's mast, lie out in the bowsprit net over the open sea or stargaze at night. Water sports are fittingly a big emphasis of each cruise, with diving, snorkelling and water skiing trips organized by the ship's staff and a variety of water sports equipment (like snorkel gear, kayaks and sunfish) available for passenger use, free of charge.

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

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

AzAmazing Evening in Ephesus ampitheater

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

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

Celebrity Cruises is another solid choice for overnight stays in port. The cruise line has been steadily expanding its overnight stay programme in the Caribbean, Bermuda, Alaska, Canada/New England and Europe. Some itineraries even include two-night stays in port for the ultimate in immersion, for example in St Petersburg. Additionally, Celebrity offers special "Multi-Day Adventures" for select sailings in Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe and South America that serve to replace sea days with two- to three-day land-based tour alternatives.

Greek-based line Celestyal Cruises has specifically changed its itineraries to offer overnight calls in the party island of Mykonos and the volcanic island of Santorini. Both tend to get crowded during the day, and take on a whole different feel at night. It's also worth noting that it is nigh on impossible to get a hotel in either of those islands during high season.

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

"It's unhealthy with all that food!"

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

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

It's also worth noting that every modern ship afloat has a gym and onboard, and often a running track. And if you don't fancy that the easiest way to exercise on a ship is to walk rather than take the lift!

Here are more Top Tips on How Not to Gain Weight ona Cruise.

"It's impossible to experience another culture."

A UK cruise line such as P&O Cruises, Fred. Olsen or Saga can often be a floating oasis of all things British -- passengers venture into foreign lands by day but come back to the ship to eat fish n' chips, sausages and mash and have a pint in the onboard pub. If you prefer more of a cultural immersion, book a trip on MSC Cruises or the aforementioned Celestyal Cruises.

On Mediterranean cruises, which are offered year-round, MSC's passengers are largely European, and the onboard ambiance definitely has a Mediterranean flair, with plenty of eating and dancing till late. However, all announcements and signage are in English.

Celestyal Cruises displays its Greek heritage proudly, with Greek food, Greek-themed nights, Greek entertainment and visits to off the beaten track Greek islands.

Updated January 08, 2020

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