Special Report

Cruises Better Than Other Vacations

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There are many seven-day cruises to Alaska from Seattle or Vancouver, all covering essentially the same territory, though they can vary greatly in price based on the accommodations, activities, and menus. The principal ports of call are Ketchikan and Juneau — the only state capital that is not accessible by road — with additional excursions, such as whale watching in Juneau. The highlight of the voyage is the landscape at Glacier Bay.

While most Alaska cruises are on immense cruise ships and are generic in their offering of traditional cruise entertainment and activities, they are relatively inexpensive — several hundred dollars a person. There are also cruises on small ships that offer a more active and adventurous Alaska experience — at many times the price. National Geographic’s Wild Alaska Escape takes passengers on a six-day voyage from Sitka to Juneau aboard a 62-passenger ship, visiting islands and wilderness areas, with opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and visiting historic sites.

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Though visits to the Galapagos islands are restricted to protect its wildlife and wild character, there are dozens of vessels that offer tours of four to 10 days, accommodating up to 100 passengers, the largest allowed. Most are smaller, with fewer than 20 passengers.

Though they are all geared toward nature lovers, some boast luxury accommodations, offering high-end linens, gourmet meals, and even butler service. In any case, it is an expensive vacation because of the small ships and tight restrictions on tourism, but also because the cruises start and end in the Galapagos Islands, requiring passengers to fly there, usually by way of Ecuador.

Despite the expense, it is a trip like no other, where voyagers see species of animals and birds that exist nowhere else in the world. Whether penguins, blue-footed boobys or giant tortoises, because of their remote evolution they are not afraid of humans. All cruises have trained guides to talk about the creatures and Darwin’s famous journey; the National Geographic tours, which are pricier than most, are famous for their on-board expertise and educational value.

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Mediterranean cruise

From ships as immense as those that ply the oceans, to those more closely resembling the riverboats sailing to Europe and Asia’s riverine ports of call, Mediterranean cruise ships carry passengers along portions of the Mediterranan coast to some of Europe’s most spectacular destinations. Some itineraries are based on a particular theme, such as island-hopping or beaches, with many others focused on either the eastern Mediterraean — the east coast of Italy, Croatia, the Greek islands, Turkey and Egypt — or the western Mediterranean — Spain, France, and the west coast of Italy.

Viking offers a popular Mediterranean voyage for travelers interested in the history of the region, taking passengers on an eight-day trip from Rome to Athens. Dubbed the Journey to Antiquities, it covers Rome’s Coliseum and Athens’ Acropolis, but also takes a side trip to Ephesus, Turkey, and the imposing ruins of a once-important Mediterrean port.

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Russia by river

For travelers who are curious about less touristy destinations, and perhaps have an interest in geopolitics, three riverboat cruise lines (Scenic, Uniworld, and Viking) offer a European-style river cruise on the Volga River between St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Viking hosts a 13-day Waterways of the Tsars tour beginning at $5,449, including air travel. Passengers live on the ship for a four-day stay in Moscow at the beginning of the voyage, and for four days in St. Petersburg at the end. City tours include visits to Russian homes, parks, monuments, museums, galleries, and historic sites. In between there are a number of excursions to markets, ancient towns, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Cruise the Nile

A hugely popular cruising river, the Nile hosts over 200 cruise boats, from traditional Egyptian sailboats with limited toilet and shower facilities and passengers sleeping on deck, and a Victorian steamship on which Agatha Christie modeled her vessel in “Death on the Nile,” to modern luxury cruise ships with air conditioning and other amenities designed for comfort.

Because the climate is hot and lines waiting for locks can be long, it pays to choose luxury for this trip. Fortunately, luxury is a relatively affordable way to view the wonders of ancient Egypt, including the Valley of the Kings and the Karnak Temple. The Sanctuary Sun Boat III offers a four-night cruise from Aswan to Luxor and boasts a stylish design, modern cabins for up to 36 passengers, a pool and sun deck, gourmet dining, and a class in Egyptian cooking, beginning at $1,300.