Riding the Waves to Vacation Bliss
When it comes to seeing the world and connecting with those you love, there’s nothing quite like a cruise.
Picture it: You’re on a floating hotel that docks each day in yet another of the world’s most beautiful places. Everything you need, from enticing food and comfy accommodations to entertainment and activities, is right there on the ship. And—the best part—it’s easy to do with your favorite people by your side, whether it’s your lifelong BFFs, the love of your life or the whole family. So, gather up your companions and start planning an escape.
“You pack and unpack once. You wake up in a different place with a different amazing view every day. And there’s always something to do,” says AAA Member Carolyn Strauss, a Denver-based professional speaker and emcee who has been on more than 30 cruises with friends, family and significant others.
“On one trip, I convinced my best friend to try zip lining, and we both had the best time. I think helping friends have fun on a cruise—encouraging them to take dance lessons, to try a new food in a new place—is super fun,” Strauss says. “It’s creating experiences that you’ll never forget.”
Whether you prefer the adrenaline rush of sailing through the rainforest on a zip line hundreds of feet in the air or the not-a-care-in-the-world tranquility of digging your toes in the sand while palm fronds whisper in the breeze, the Caribbean is one of the best places to travel.
Spread over more than 700 islands, reefs and cays, this tropical oasis is a playground for all ages.
Cruising to must-see ports
With so many alluring islands to explore, you’ll want to narrow down your cruise itinerary to a specific area. The eastern Caribbean is a great choice for quick trips from the Florida coast.
Explore the lush jungle of Puerto Rico, go diving in the clear blue waters of the Bahamas or hike to a volcano on St. Kitts. In the western Caribbean, you might see Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula or swim with rays around Grand Cayman.
Family favorite vacations
Many cruise lines offer visits to private islands in the Caribbean, tropical enclaves of fun just for their guests. Families will find something to suit every activity level, from secluded beach cabanas perfect for seaside snoozing to sprawling water parks filled with thrilling slides and rocking wave pools. When it’s time to refuel, on-site restaurants serve up favorites like barbecue and tacos.
“Fourteen members of my extended family cruised to the Caribbean. The best part was that everyone got to choose what they wanted to do during the day. But at night, we had that family time together on the ship at one giant table,” Strauss says.
Finding romance in the Caribbean is easy—think hand-in-hand strolls along white-sand beaches and leisurely kayak paddles for two. A favorite respite for couples is St. Lucia, where a catamaran cruise shows off stunning views of the Pitons, the island’s volcanic peaks, and a mineral bath at Sulphur Springs will melt away your cares.
Head to Jamaica’s Ocho Rios and hike to the top of Dunn’s River Falls, or spend time in Puerto Rico exploring the wild and lush El Yunque National Forest. In Labadee, Haiti, Royal Caribbean’s private resort, fly at speeds of up to 40 mph on a half-mile-long zip line over the ocean.
Spain and Portugal
Surrounded by the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, these sun-drenched European neighbors are a haven for lovers of balmy beachscapes, eye-catching architecture and vibrant culture. Portugal, in particular, is especially well suited to intimate river cruises.
AAA partners with several companies whose ships carry fewer than 150 passengers down the scenic Douro River. AAA leisure travel agent Hope Martin has cruised almost every river in Europe, including the Douro.
“I love the immersive, intimate experience you get on board a river cruise. You have immediate access to all the ports of call. It’s informal, and you meet lifelong friends.”
Barcelona is Spain’s most-visited destination—for good reason. Seven beaches stretch along the Mediterranean coastline; bustling pedestrian streets are lined with flower stalls and sidewalk cafés; and, towering above it all is La Sagrada Família, the modernist masterwork of architect Antoni Gaudí.
This cathedral has been under construction since 1882, but the second-tallest tower was just completed in late 2021, with the placement of a giant glass-and-steel star. Get a bird’s-eye view of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, while you wander between the delightful miradouros—hilltop lookout points scattered throughout the city.
“Lisbon is my absolute favorite city,” Strauss says. “The port is gorgeous, and the bakeries are fantastic.”
In the Spanish port city of Valencia, take time to explore the Oceanogràfic València, where the kids will love scampering beneath sharks, rays and other ocean-dwelling creatures in Europe’s longest underwater aquarium tunnel. In Barcelona, spend time in playful Park Güell, filled with colorful mosaic sculptures designed by Gaudí.
The spirited city of Seville, Spain, is the place to experience a cozy, shareable tapas dinner—the tradition of small bites is said to have originated here—followed by a fiery flamenco performance. Or cruise through Portugal’s vineyard-dotted Douro Valley, sipping the sweet port wines the region is famous for.
Head out with friends to experience the legendary nightlife in Ibiza, Spain, or shop till you drop in local markets, like Valencia’s Central Market, one of the oldest in Europe. Adventurous groups will want to visit Portugal’s island of Madeira, where mountaintop hikes, shipwreck dives and exhilarating hang-gliding treks await.
From rainbow-hued cliffside villages presiding over shimmering harbors to timeless cities brimming with history—and every museum and cathedral in between—Italy enchants with a laid-back vibe all its own. Thanks to the country’s long, narrow shape and surrounding seas, cruises can easily reach nearly all of Italy’s must-see sights—putting la dolce vita at your fingertips.
Steeped in ancient history, yet brimming with modern life, Rome (the port is just to the northwest in Civitavecchia) is the flagship stop on any Italian cruise. Tour the Colosseum, where gladiators battled nearly 2,000 years ago, and stand in awe of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece before soaking in the lively street culture of Rome’s piazzas.
Cruise ships en route to Venice now park next door in Porto Marghera, but Venice still enchants with its network of canals and footpaths that wind past outdoor cafés and towering basilicas. And from the port cities of Livorno or La Spezia, shore excursions can take you to some of Italy’s most enduring landmarks: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Duomo that dominates Florence’s skyline and the unique villages of the Cinque Terre.
Take the kids on a family-friendly shore excursion from Venice that includes a cruise to the island of Murano, where artisans demonstrate the area’s centuries-old glassblowing techniques. In Naples, share an authentic Neapolitan pizza (made with local mozzarella and tomatoes, of course) and follow it with a scoop of creamy gelato.
There may be no more iconic experience in Italy than a gondola ride for two along Venice’s serene canals. It’s tradition to sneak a kiss as you pass beneath the ornate white limestone Bridge of Sighs. While in Rome, share a plate of pasta and toss a coin into the massive Trevi Fountain.
Gather your group and explore the pastel seaside villages of the Amalfi Coast, stopping to sip a limoncello and sample a panino. Enjoy the breathtaking views of waves crashing against steep cliffsides during a drive along the winding coastline or take a boat tour of the shimmering harbor.