Travel - Santorini (Fira) Greece

11 Once in a Lifetime Cruises!

Do you have a dream cruise?  A cruise you are saving for that special event, like your 25th anniversary or a promotion or retirement splurge?  Most cruisers have “Once in a Lifetime Cruises” they are planning. I know I do, it’s on the top of my bucket list!

The Wish Lists from Real Life Cruisers

For some people, the longer the cruise, the better.  For others, it’s finding that elusive destination, and for some others still, its spending time of their favorite ship.  I have over 20 cruises under my belt. But even now, there are still mysterious places I’m longing to see.  

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The more I cruise and spend time speaking with fellow cruisers; certain itineraries keep coming up on the Once in a Lifetime Cruises wish list. These cruises are generally more exotic, more remote, and often that means more expensive.   But they are worth it.

French Polynesia

First off, you may be wondering, “Where and what is French Polynesia?”

Far away in the South Pacific, is a group of over 100 islands stretching for more than 2,000 Kilometers (just over 1240 miles).  These islands, some of whose names you know (Bora Bora, Tahiti, Moorea, and the Marquesas), form French Polynesia.

Getting to French Polynesia is a long trek no matter where you start.  For this reason, many people tag on extra days at the beginning or end of their cruise in Tahiti.  This is an excellent way to extend your stay in paradise.

French Polynesia - Gauguin

When you drum up visions of a tropical paradise, these islands are most likely what you see in your mind’s eye.  Why cruise French Polynesia?  Simple, what better way to see a tropical island paradise than from a cruising vessel.

Imagine yourself sailing through oceans that vary in color from crystal blue to turquoise waters each day.  There are over 100 islands to see.  Each island with a different ecosystem and structure. 

Once in a Lifetime Cruises - French Polynesia

On your cruise, you stop each day at various islands.  You may hike through a lush rain forest one day.  The next day you find yourself snorkeling to view the fantastic aquaculture of the reefs and low-lying atolls.  

Spend the day paddleboarding, kayaking, or taking a wave-runner out on a bay.  Or maybe just walk along the pristine beaches with the warm sand between your toes.

Australia/New Zealand

Everyone is curious about Australia and New Zealand, the “Land Down Under.” But Australia is a vast country, as large as the United States!  Except for Uluru (Ayers Rock), all the things you want to see are on the East and West coast. And while New Zealand is closer to Australia than almost anywhere else, it’s not that close. Cruising brings it all together.

Once in a Lifetime Cruises - Great Barrier Reef, Australia

See the sights in Sydney, Australia:  Take in a concert at the world-famous Opera House, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge or taste a bit of wine in Hunter Valley.  Then hop on the ship of your choice and head up to the Great Barrier Reef, where you can dive and snorkel in one of the worlds most sought out marine wonderlands

Or after Sydney head east to New Zealand.  As you circumnavigate this island country, you will see why this beautiful land was the setting for “Middle Earth” in the” Lord of the Rings” movies.  Take part in local tradition and learn Haka, the traditional war dance of the Maori. Enjoy the quiet and dramatic fjords of Milford Sound.

You may find yourself so enchanted with New Zealand that you want to stay and see more.   You can find your own guide, and with their help set up a land tour you will never forget.

The Holy Land & Beyond

The most sacred heart of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Baha’i, the Holy Land, has been a destination for pilgrims for millennia.  A cruise here will take you through the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe stretching from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan.  There is seemingly no end to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites you can see as you make your way along these ancient waters.

Most ships dock at Ashdod or Haifa, Israel, for two or more nights.  The ship serves as your hotel while you visit Jerusalem.  You have plenty of time to explore the city, visit the Western (Wailing) Wall, see the Dome of the Rock, or walk the Stations of the Cross (the Via Dolorosa). 

From Israel, you can head south through the Suez Canal and marvel at the engineering that cut a waterway through the desert.  Make port in Safaga, Egypt, to visit Karnak Temple or the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.  A call at Aqaba allows you to see Petra in Jordan.

Or you can head to the Northeast towards Greece and visit ancient ports in Cyprus, Turkey, Rhodes, and Mykonos.  The port of Kusadasi, Turkey, is the gateway to the ancient city of Ephesus where you will see the still-standing façade of the library of Celsus and more in the ancient Roman port. From Mykonos, you can take a day trip to Delos, the mythological birthplace of Apollo.

Whichever route you choose,  it’s easy to see why a Holy Land Cruise is a once in a lifetime cruise.


An Island in the far North, Iceland is defined by dramatic landscapes, volcanoes, hot springs, and lava fields.  Many cruises to Iceland start in the North Sea.  Leaving from or returning to Norway, you will cruise through fantastic fjords and see where the Vikings once ruled the seas. On your way home, take a few days to see Oslo and explore.

Iceland basks in the Midnight Sun in the summer months when the sun never sets. In the Winter, you are treated to the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis.  A sight few ever get to enjoy. 

On the ship, you will cruise through the icy blue waters of the   Norwegian Sea.  Onshore you can climb glaciers in the morning, then relax your tired muscles in the “Blue Lagoon” before returning to your ship.

Alaska – America’s Last Frontier

Staying in the Northernmost part of the Northern Hemisphere, Alaska is a hot cruise destination. America’s “Last Frontier” is sparsely populated.  But in cruise season, (May – September) the small-town populations grow 10x in size or more each day as cruisers pull into port and disembark for their day.

Alaska cruises are usually a one-week trip.  Ships start in Anchorage and sail south to Vancouver, BC, Canada.  Then turn around and make the journey all over again in reverse.  

Your Once in a Lifetime Cruise in Alaksa!

At the various ports, you can enjoy many exciting outings.  Take a helicopter flight up to the top of a Glacier and then experience riding with a dog-sled team.   At Hubbard Glacier, your ship will spend time in the bay to give all on board the opportunity for photographs.  If lucky, you will see part of the glacier “calve-off” and become an iceberg floating in the ocean.

Visiting old-west towns, learning about the Klondike Gold Rush, rock climbing, and whale watching are all fun and exciting activities you can enjoy on your cruise in Alaska.

Cruisers will often extend their stay in Alaska with a land tour up to Talkeetna and Denali National Park.  Denali (formerly known as Mout McKinley) is the highest mountain peak in North America with an elevation of 20, 310 feet. 

Patagonia and Antarctica

For “explorers,” what could be a better cruise than an expedition to Antarctica and Patagonia? 

At the tip of South America sits the mountain town of Ushuaia, from here you will embark on your journey.  Your sailing vessel will take you through Drake’s Passage, past Cape Horn, and down to Antarctica. 

Along the way, you will hear talks from a naturalist about the many seabirds flying by, including the Albatross, which has the longest wingspan of any bird in existence today.  There will also be talks about the wildlife and geology you will see when you arrive in Antarctica.

Once on the seventh continent, you will have a few days to explore.  Whale watching, Penguin counting, and zodiac excursions to view seals are all options available to cruise explorers.

After leaving Antarctica, you head back to South America to sail the Chilean Fjords and the Patagonian wilderness.  There are soaring granite walls, with waterfalls thundering into the sea.  Explore the Beagle Channel (aka Glacier Alley) part of the UNESCO recognized “Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve.”

Cruise on to Tierra Del Fuego and then further to the Strait of Magellan.  Here the Francisco Coloane Marine Park is one of the largest marine protected areas in Chile.

All in all, a cruise to Antarctica and Patagonia is a fantastic adventure!

Cruise South Africa

Start your cruise from the very southern tip of Africa in Cape Town, South Africa.  You will cruise around the country to the East and North and then back again to Cape Town.  Port calls in beautiful locations such as Port Elizabeth and Durban, allow you to see the heritage of the country and the beauty of the natural parks and reserves.   

The landscape here is shaped by the fact that Cape Town sits on a spit of land where two oceans meet (the Atlantic to the West and the Indian to the East).  This unique geographic location gives South Africa miles of coastline and stunning mountainscapes. 

Outdoor activities abound.  There is whale watching, and you can go cage diving among the great white sharks.  Try your skill at “SandBoarding,” a sport similar to snowboarding, except on sand dunes. Spend a day in the wine country cycling and tasting the best South Africa has to offer.

On all cruises, each port comes with a great set of “excursions” put together by the cruise company. However, we’ve found that there are times when we like a more exclusive tour and choose to use a private guide.  If this is on your list, check out Tours by Locals.  This company has guides in 172 countries, so you’ll be sure to find what you are looking for.

A Once in a Lifetime Journey – An African Safari

Before or after your voyage, spend some time in country with a visit to the Greater Kruger National Park on Safari.  The Kapama Game Reserve is home to over 40 mammal species including the Big Five.

Or head further afield to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls.  After you visit the falls, hop over the border into Botswana to the Chobe Game Reserve.  Here you can spend a few days getting up close with the animals while staying in luxury lodges

Galapagos – Darwin’s Adventure

The Galapagos hits at or near the top of Once in a Lifetime Cruises for nearly every “cruiser.”  Who wouldn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Darwin and have the chance to see life in its most untouched, natural setting?  There are limited options to see the Galapagos, and the best by far is on a cruise.

The Ecuadorean government licenses all cruise lines in the Galapagos.  The ships are small and intimate and range from rustic accommodations to the height of luxury (think small yacht)! 

Once you are on the ship, everything is there for you.  Food, accommodations, snorkeling gear, informational talks, and the island tours are all ready to go; all you have to do is show up.

On a seven-day tour (most common), you can see two islands each day.  Each “landing” is a guided tour in a small group.  These treks are up close and intimate.  Naturalists, onboard each vessel,  accompany the small groups to the islands each day.  Having a trained guide on the tours means you won’t miss out when a unique animal comes into view.

Machu Pichu – a Wonder

Are seeing a theme running through these “Once in a Lifetime Cruises?” Land tours are often attached at the beginning or the end of a cruise.  For the Galapagos, Machu Pichu is the go-to place. 

Named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, the ancient Incan city of Machu Pichu sits high up in the Andes Mountains of Peru.  Getting to this site is no easy trek.

After your Galapagos cruise, you fly to Cusco.  You want to take a day or so here to acclimate yourself to the altitude (11,000 ft above sea level). Cusco is higher in elevation than Machu Pichu (elevation at just 7,972 ft above sea level). Still, you need to acclimate to altitude to be ready to hike Machu Pichu.

After Cusco, you will spend a night in the Sacred Valley, and then early the next morning, your group will head to the ancient city.    Make sure to have a knowledgeable guide for your walk through Machu Pichu.  There is so much to learn and see you need an experienced person to walk you through.

TransAtlantic or TransPacific Cruises

For cruisers who love “Sea Days” a Trans-Atlantic or Trans-Pacific cruise is the dream.  These cruises are all about relaxation and the ship.  Cruisers all have their favorite cruise lines and favorite ships.  

Ships usually make port in the Azores on a Transatlantic cruise.  However, you will spend six to seven days at Sea between the European Continent and North America.  Transpacific cruises break up the sea days a little bit more.  There are more islands in the Pacific.  But you will still find yourself with five or more days surrounded by nothing but the ocean.

These crossings are perfect for the cruiser who loves time on the ship. The crew will keep you occupied with trivia, bingo, port talks, and dancing,  But you can also choose to read a book quietly while basking in the sun. 

For a truly luxurious time, spend the day at the spa getting pampered.  And then have a romantic dinner for two followed by a moonlit stroll around the promenade deck. Wondering what to pack for so much time at sea? Take a look at my post on just what to bring.

Transatlantic sailings go eastward from North America in the Spring and westward from the Mediterranean or London in the Fall. Transpacific cruises leave from Asia and Australia in the Spring heading to the Pacific Northwest (Seattle or Vancouver) and Hawaii.  These ships then head back in the Fall.

Around the World (b2b2b2b2b2b…) Ultimate “Once in a Lifetime Cruises.”

What’s that “b2b2b2b2b” you see above here?  This is cruising shorthand for back-to-back cruises.  For the cruisers where time and money are not an issue, then an Around the World Cruise may be the ultimate Once in a Lifetime Cruise for you.   All those other cruises above can all be rolled into this cruise.

Sample Itinerary map for an Around the World Cruise - Once in a Lifetime!

Around the World Cruises can take you to six continents, 59 countries, and 112 ports in 245 days.  Even more depending on which cruise line you sail on and how you connect the b2b’s. These cruises can be pricey, so if this is your Once in a once-in-a-lifetime cruise, start saving your money!

Are you ready to sail? What is Your Once in a Lifetime Cruise? Let me know where you’d like to go. 

Like what you see? Are you ready to take your Once-in-a-lifetime Cruise? Check out the sailings and find the one that’s right for you now.

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