No one knows cruising better than frequent cruisers. That’s why we always look forward to Cruise Critic’s annual Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards, which are based on port ratings provided by reader reviews. This year, Cruise Critic divided destinations into 15 different categories and ranked the top places for cruisers to visit in each. Here are 10 key destinations from the list—head over to Cruise Critic’s Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards page for the full list!
“There’s something eerily fascinating about coming to St. Petersburg,” notes Cruise Critic. “Once in the city, though, you’ll likely find St. Petersburg a wonderful place, particularly if you’re lucky enough to come during White Nights, when the sun barely sets and the entire city seems to be up all night … The fact that cruise ships typically spend at least one overnight there allows you to explore the countryside, as well, where past the bland Soviet-style apartment buildings of the suburbs are opulent country palaces—impressive memorials to the best Czarist money could buy.”
What Cruisers Say: “Only one word to describe the palaces and churches we went—WOW!” —leeccritic
River cruising is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s no surprise Paris takes the cake with this one. “More than a destination of pleasurable externals, bourgeois absolutes, and just-baked baguettes (French law demands they bake them fresh thrice daily), Paris is great sightseeing, incredible shopping, and leisure dining that always comes with desserts in the form of delicate trays of the finest chocolates and macaroons,” says Cruise Critic.
What Cruisers Say: “Just to see the Eiffel Tower Saturday eve at 10 pm is worth the trip.” —Shoeman1
Best Cruise Line Private Island for 2016: Castaway Cay
Owned by the Walt Disney Company, Castaway Cay island is exclusively an island for Disney Cruise passengers. “Formerly Gorda Cay, Castaway Cay is an ultra-tidy 1,000-acre splash of sun and sand located near Great Abaco Island … Before becoming one of the cruise line’s most popular ports of call, it was a haven for pirates and, subsequently, smugglers,” writes Cruise Critic.
What Cruisers Say: “This island is Paradise. My husband kept saying that he couldn’t believe a place so gorgeous and clean and colorful actually exists. The sand was powder soft and white. The water turquoise. The foliage was bright and healthy. It was as close to Heaven-on-Earth as it gets.” —christinas
Best Cruise Destination in North America for 2016: San Francisco
San Francisco is more than just a cruise destination. “If your voyage begins or ends in this colorful California port, consider a pre- or post-cruise stay. The treats of San Francisco command more than a few hours: mah-jongg parlors in Chinatown (with yummy samples from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley), cable car rides over Nob Hill, the staircase down the very steep and crooked Lombard Street, the ferry ride to enchanting Sausalito across San Francisco Bay, and, of course, an escape to Alcatraz,” suggests Cruise Critic.
What Cruisers Say: “This is my happy place. I love this city. The whole vibe is friendly and the sea food certainly doesn’t disappoint.” —Jules072856
Cruisers love Kauai for its natural beauty. “Kauai has more beaches per mile of coastline than any of the other islands. Only 3 percent of the island has been developed for commercial and residential use; the rest is agricultural and conservation lands. Two-thirds of Kauai’s land area is impenetrable,” says Cruise Critic.
“Kauai is the only Hawaiian island with navigable rivers; it also has a breathtaking gorge that Mark Twain dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ and 15 miles of sheer cliffs rising along an uninhabited coastline. Hollywood has been so taken with Kauai that the island been cast in more than 60 movies and TV productions.”
What Cruisers Say: “Best Island!!!!!!!! Beauty at every turn. There’s a reason they call it the garden island!” —cfd58
“One of the most sought-after spots on Alaska’s Inside Passage, Glacier Bay comprises ever-changing glaciers (including one of the most photogenic, Margerie Glacier), sheltered fjords, rainforests, and an abundance of wildlife,” notes Cruise Critic.
Keep your camera ready, too. “Glacier Bay is a popular hangout for humpback whales; grizzly, brown, and black bears; sea otters; bald eagles; and more—and there’s a good chance you’ll spot at least one of them.”
What Cruisers Say: “This was by far the greatest part of the trip. The ship got us up close and personal’ with the glaciers. Sitting on our balcony, you felt as if you could reach out and touch them.” —rpiwonka
A lesser-known island located about 50 miles from Venezuela, Bonaire’s “greatest claim to fame is proudly touted on its license plates—’Diver’s Paradise.’ This is no tourist-bureau puffery, although many believe that the license plates should read ‘Nature Lovers’ Paradise.’ Beyond the diving and snorkeling, there’s windsurfing, kayaking, bird watching, kite boarding, fishing, mountain biking, and horseback riding,” says Cruise Critic.
And “unlike its better-known neighbors, Aruba and Curacao, this isle of 14,000 residents is quiet and laid back. There are no flashy Las Vegas-type casinos as in Aruba or a showy pastel-colored capital city as in Curacao.”
What Cruisers Say: “Fell in love with Bonaire. Easy and amazing snorkeling. Beautiful water, beautiful beaches … Can’t wait to go back there for a longer visit!!!” —KTUnderwood
St. Maarten is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, called on by the cruise lines’ biggest ships—sometimes as many as six or more at any given time. “There’s also more to do once you disembark, with shopping and beaches serving as the primary attractions,” notes Cruise Critic.
“On either side of the mountainous island, lovely beaches—including the famed clothing-optional part of Orient Beach—rival the best in the Caribbean. Plus, duty-free prices for electronics and liquor in Philipsburg might be the best deals around.”
What Cruisers Say: “Everyone’s ideal of a Caribbean town with well-kept shops fronting a beach filled with lounge chairs looking out onto blue water.” —alocsin
“Cozumel is a major cruise port that welcomes more than one million cruise passengers each year and as many as eight ships per day. But even with all this progress, Cozumel has held onto its non-touristy side; only one-third of the island has been developed, leaving large stretches of pristine jungle and sandy beaches basically untouched,” says Cruise Critic.
There’s more than just duty free shopping, too. “This small island, measuring just 28 miles long and 10 miles wide, lies off the coast of the country’s Yucatan peninsula and offers incredibly diverse options for water sports lovers, partly because of its proximity to spectacular coral reefs. Along with snorkeling, beach bumming, and boating, scuba diving is one of the biggest draws to this sunny destination.”
What Cruisers Say: “Great place for shopping, snorkeling, and [to] have some delicious Mexican food.” —Msfabulous78
Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s most popular destinations. “The colonial ‘old town’ is a favorite of history buffs, photographers and bargain hunters, while areas such as Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta attract beachgoers, boaters, and those looking for all-inclusive resorts. The southern coastal areas of Mismaloya, Yelapa, and Las Animas Quimixto are scenic wonders of coves and gullies, ideal for snorkeling; the latter two are reachable only by boat,” writes Cruise Critic.
“For those who choose to just wander around the city during a day in port, Puerto Vallarta offers a rich, rewarding experience. The downtown area is crowded with shops, restaurants, and lots of traffic. The main street along the water, the Malecon, has a seawall walkway that is flat and easily negotiable … and is notable for the many sculptures that line the path.”
What Cruisers Say: “Now this is what you would expect of a cruise port while on vacation. Beautiful town with lots of activities.” —jtruong056