A small boat in a large body of water

Plan your perfect cruise

Cruises may have a reputation for being floating luxury hotels that make stops in the Caribbean, but that's not all they are.

Cruises may have a reputation for being floating luxury hotels that make stops in the Caribbean, but that's not all they are. No matter what you prefer in a vacation, there's likely to be a cruise that will suit you. If you're an explorer at heart, the idea of a cruise may not appeal to you at all. That's understandable - the traditional cruise doesn't leave much room for expeditions and spine-tingling new experiences. However, if you look beyond the traditional cruise, you may be delighted by the other possibilities that exist. Let's consider a few:

Travel like a local

If your idea of a good trip is getting off the plane with no more than a backpack and a phrasebook in hand, you're probably a great candidate for a cruise that will take you deeply into the culture of one specific location. This is an option in many countries if you know where to look. A Norway cruise that runs up and down the coast, for example, is a great opportunity to get to know the genuine life of the country - whether or not you give Oslo and other large cities a try on your way to or from your seafaring journey. Traveling off the beaten path isn't the first thing most people think of when they imagine a cruise, but it's totally possible. Even more, it can be a very enjoyable way to travel, particularly if you are interested in the kind of experiences you would get during daily life as a local. Cruise travel of this kind isn't all quiet, though - there are also plenty of opportunities to witness new and striking scenes and to get off the ship for a once-in-a-lifetime experience or two.

In addition to getting you close to parts of the country most tourists never see, some Norway cruises give you the opportunity to travel alongside locals. Using the mode of sea transport that Norwegians themselves do is hard to beat in terms of authenticity, and most Norwegians speak enough English that you may make new friends. This is hardly a usual feature of cruise lines, but it's possible for you to have this experience should you choose the right ship.

Join a true expedition

Do you feel cheated sometimes that you were born too late to really explore the ends of the earth? While it's not possible to add to the map in most places, you can still explore regions most of the world will never see, let alone spend significant time in. After all, how many people do you know who have been to Antarctica? The entire continent is still largely the province of penguins and researchers, and for good reason. It's not hospitable, there's no need to create cities to support large populations and it's a natural wonder the world has agreed to leave unclaimed by any one country. There are several ways to explore Antarctica, including by cruise, as you may know. If you'd rather see it in a small ship with only a few other travelers (and a very experienced crew), there are cruises that can give you this experience. Smaller vessels have the opportunity to show you more of Antarctica than their larger cousins (weather and ice permitting) which in turn allows you to see the continent as an explorer would - not a tourist.

There are other regions of the world where a cruise can take you that will make you feel like a real explorer. One of these is the Arctic circle, which is also not known for its hospitality to tourists or those who don't take it seriously. You could choose a cruise to take you to Spitsbergen, the northernmost part of Norway's islands. While you may not believe Norway to be particularly untamed, believe us when we say that Spitsbergen is genuine article. You're advised not to leave settled areas without an armed guide - and it's not because of unfriendly human locals. Rather, it's because polar bears roam unchecked, and as cute as they are, they're not by any means friendly. In Spitsbergen, you can operate a one-person dog sledge, go on grueling polar expeditions and more - hardly the stuff of cruise-line advertisements shot on location in Mexico.

Planning your unusual cruise

Especially if you are interested in a specific experience in a place like Antarctica or Norway, you should do plenty of research to find the cruise line best suited to your needs. You must also plan to travel during the time of year that appeals most to you, rather than simply during your next round of vacation days - the Arctic in the spring is very different from the same location in the winter, after all. You may also wish to pay particular attention to the possibilities that exist for travel before and after your cruise, as well as the excursions your cruise line offers while you are in the stunning locations you've always wanted to see.