Cruise Destinations: River Cruises and Private Islands

Cruising is one of the best ways to see the world.

S.S. Maria Theresa S.S. Maria Theresa Photo Courtesy of Uniworld

Two types of cruises—river and private islands are among the most scenic and thrilling to enjoy. Learn more about these unique and memory-making travel options.

Rolling on the River

River cruises are favorites of travelers who want a laid-back journey full of culture and history. You unpack once and most cabins have balconies or windows and usually river cruising offers smaller ships that carry fewer passengers. Plus, the ship is always close to land and onshore resources.

Here are five river cruise destinations that’ll have you longing to set sail.

The Danube

AmaMagna AmaMagna Photo Courtesy of AmaWaterways

From Germany’s Black Forest to the opulent city of Vienna, and then through Hungary, Croatia and beyond, the Danube flows all the way to the Black Sea. River cruises may focus on just a portion of the waterway or its entire length. Among the highlights: bike rides amid the vineyards of Austria’s lush Wachau Valley, a stroll through Vienna’s imperial palace, a hike up Castle Hill for panoramic views of Budapest—the “Queen of the Danube”—and a cruise through the Iron Gates, a series of gorges between the Carpathian and Balkan mountains.

The Seine

Paris and Eiffel Tower iStock

This storied waterway flows through the heart of Paris and into France’s bucolic Normandy region. A river cruise on the Seine shows off the glittering capital with walking tours that can include the charming Latin Quarter, the 400-year-old Luxembourg Gardens, and icons like the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. As the ship glides through the French countryside, stops include Claude Monet’s former home and magnificent gardens in Giverny, and castle-filled Rouen, where travelers can see the square where Joan of Arc was martyred.

The Mississippi

St Louis and the Mississippi river iStock

Stretching some 2,350 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, this mighty river carves a path through the center of the United States. New cruises can cover just one section or the whole river. Highlights include meeting majestic birds at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota; gazing up at the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis; strolling along Beale Street and sampling Tennessee barbecue in Memphis; exploring Civil War history in Vicksburg, Mississippi; and learning about Cajun culture in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Rhine

The Rhine iStock

This legendary river flows past some of Europe’s oldest and grandest cities, from its origins in the Swiss Alps to its endpoint at the North Sea. A cruise along this captivating waterway takes travelers past fairytale castles and vineyard-draped hills in Germany, through the charming French city of Strasbourg, and into Basel, Switzerland’s third-largest metropolis. Stops in between include gems such as the German town of Heidelberg, with its iconic red sandstone castle, and the French town of Riquewihr, which dates to the 16th century.

The Mekong

The Mekong iStock

Exquisitely carved temples, colorful markets and rural villages where ancient traditions endure—a vibrant world comes to life along the banks of this river flowing through Cambodia and into Vietnam. Among the experiences of a Mekong River cruise are a stop in Angkor Ban, a time capsule of a village filled with wooden homes on stilts, and a day in the capital city of Phnom Penh with a chance to visit the Killing Fields Museum of Cambodia.

Private Island Paradise

Popular stops on Caribbean cruises, these swaths of island real estate are owned by cruise lines, so travelers get exclusive access to beachfront bliss. And because these ports of call are private property, the cruise lines can offer unique, safe and fun activities for all passengers.

Here are five private island cruise destinations you won’t want to pass up.

Castaway Cay

Castaway Cay agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

Owned by The Walt Disney Company, this 1,000-acre gem in the northern Bahamas welcomes travelers aboard Disney Cruise Line sailings. Spend the day lounging on white-sand beaches, go snorkeling in the sparkling lagoon, or run or walk the Castaway Cay 5K trail that circles the island. There are water play areas just for kids, a teen lounge and a secluded adults-only beach. When you get hungry, open-air barbecue restaurants offer complimentary fare.

Perfect Day at CocoCay

Perfect Day at CocoCay Courtesy of Royal Caribbean®

Royal Caribbean’s 140-acre oasis sits between Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas. Choose a cruise itinerary that includes a stop here, and you can spend the day splashing in the wave pool, whooshing along towering waterslides, braving the zip line or simply chilling surfside in a comfortable lounge chair. There‘s even a helium balloon ride that takes you 450 feet above land and sea.


Labadee Dzmitry Kliapitski / Alamy Stock Photo

A 260-acre private beach resort on the northern coast of Haiti, this tropical oasis is also owned by Royal Caribbean. The big draw here is the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line. Billed as the world’s longest zip line over water, it sends riders soaring up to 500 feet above the beach. When you’re ready to wind down, spend some time in a private beachside bungalow, soaking in the sun and watching the turquoise water gently lap the shore.

Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay Ron Buskirk / Alamy Stock Photo

Holland America Line’s 2,400-acre Bahamian island lets you be as relaxed or as adventurous as you want to be. Thrill-seekers can go horseback riding in the surf, explore the lagoon in a kayak or hike to the island’s ridge for panoramic views. Just looking to chill? Reserve a spot in one of the island’s private two-story villas or beachside cabanas. Restaurants serve up barbecue and freshly grilled lobster, and there’s even an on-site chapel for weddings and vow renewals.

Princess Cays

Princess Cays Gojko Guzvica / Alamy Stock Photo

More than a half-mile of white-sand shoreline greets travelers onboard Princess Cruises’ ships at this 40-acre resort on the southern tip of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Guests can snorkel in crystal-clear water, fish in the surf, paddleboard and more. Climb the observation tower for stunning views, savor a complimentary beach barbecue, browse the local craft market or just laze the day away in a private beach bungalow.

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