Five travel firsts you can only experience on a cruise

Ramp up your bucket list with these five dream travel destinations which are best experienced on the water.

Whether it’s the Northern Lights, romantic castles on the Rhine or glaciers in Greenland, if you have a bucket list of must-sees, did you know that there are some destinations that absolutely must be experienced afloat?

We’ve spoken to the experts at Saga Cruises to find out the five unforgettable travel firsts that are even better onboard.

Spirit of Discover cruise ship moored in a Norweigian fjordCredit: Saga Cruise

1. See the Northern Lights in Norway

Chase the Northern Lights

Witnessing the Aurora Borealis paint the Arctic sky is an experience etched in every adventurer’s bucket list.

Saga’s Excursion Manager, Simon Giles, says: “Catching that first glimpse of light in the sky is a magical moment and something I’ll never forget!”

Hop aboard Saga’s all-inclusive Norway cruise for your chance to see the lights from the ocean, a truly spectacular way to see this natural wonder. Yes, you can technically see the Northern Lights from anywhere, but the advantage of being at sea is that the ship can sail past any cloud cover that could be blocking your view of the display.

Being at sea also means it’s perfectly dark, the optimal conditions for witnessing the Northern Lights.

That’s not the only wonder you could see while on board – there’s a chance you might also spot whales and dolphins. From majestic humpbacks breaching the surface to curious dolphins riding the waves, being aboard a boat offers the perfect vantage point to observe these incredible creatures in their natural habitat.

How to take a photo of the Northern Lights

For capturing the Northern Lights, opt for a DSLR or mirrorless camera from brands like Nikon, Canon, Sony, or similar. Avoid small point-and-shoot cameras or most smartphone cameras, as they often have small sensors that lack manual settings.

If using a smartphone, consider apps like Northern Lights Photo Taker, but results may vary depending on your phone’s capabilities.

2. Sail past the Statue of Liberty in New York

See the infamous statue as she’s meant to be seen

The Statue of Liberty is most notably associated with welcoming visitors to New York. In 1903, a plaque bearing The New Colossus, a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, was placed on the pedestal. The poem relates to immigrants’ hopes and dreams of better lives and Lady Liberty’s Liberty’s significance grew as an inspiration to those who sailed past her on their way to America.

As she was meant to be seen by visitors arriving by boat, what better way to see her than on board a Cruise? The Spirit of Adventure allows you to do just that, passing alongside the statue and cruising along the Hudson.

This isn’t just a tourist sight, it’s a historic experience, a chance to connect with the spirit of welcome that the statue is associated with.

Not only do you get to see it as it was intended, but you can avoid all the crowds who flock to Liberty Island, the home of the 305 feet (93 metre) statue.

3. Come face-to-face with Decelebus on the Danube

Historic delights on the Danube

Imagine a titan carved from stone, his gaze piercing the Danube like a king surveying his domain. That’s Decebalus, the last king of Dacia, frozen in eternity on a cliff face at the Iron Gates, where Romania meets Serbia.

He’s not just any statue, mind you. He’s the tallest rock sculpture in Europe, a colossal head soaring 141 feet (43 metres) above the water, his weathered features etched with the echoes of ancient battles and timeless defiance.

To truly experience it, you have to navigate the Danube’s currents, feel the spray against your face, and watch as the king’s face comes into view.

When’s the best time to cruise down the Danube?

While it’s a majestic journey any time, two seasons truly shine: spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October). 

Spring paints the Danube in pastel hues, while you’ll be able to witness the grand spectacle of Vienna’s Spring Festival. Come autumn, and Danube is transformed into a fiery tapestry of crimson, gold, and amber trees.

Both times are out of season so you’ll also have less of the tourist crowd to fight again. No matter your preferred season, Saga River Cruises offers a variety of itineraries to suit your style. 

4. See fairytale castles on the Rhine

Cruise into a real-life storybook

A journey through the Rhine region is like stepping into a fairytale, where medieval fortresses perch atop vineyard-covered hills. One of the most impressive of these is Eltz castle (or Burg Eltz), which erupts from the 230-foot-high cliff face, like something straight out of a Disney movie. 

Cochem Castle, which is perched like a crown jewel on a steep hill overlooking the winding Mosel River, is an architectural masterpiece. You can quite easily imagine fire-breathing dragons flying around its towers while knights rescue damsels from the high windows. 

Seeing the castles from the river is an entirely different experience. While exploring them on foot unveils intricate details and history, witnessing their fairytale grandeur looming over the water is pure magic.  And as this part of Europe is famous for its wine, you can sip a glass or two on deck, while you take in the castle magic.

5. Experience Greenland’s glaciers

Carve through ice-carved giants

Feel the icy breath of glaciers on your neck as you navigate the 66-mile-long fjord, dubbed by explorer John Cabot as a “river of melted snow.”

The Sound, which separates mainland Greenland from the Cape Farewell Archipelago, is named after the 19th century Danish Prince of the same name.  Towering granite cliffs, at their narrowest point a mere 1,650 feet apart, flank this icy artery, which is only accessible during the summer months. 

And while you will need to leave the ship to see the Godafoss waterfall, in neighbouring Iceland, it’s definitely worth it. Dubbed the ‘waterfall of gods’, it’s one of the country’s most iconic natural treasures – think a miniature Niagara Falls – situated in the northeastern region of the country.

What to pack for Greenland

Despite the Spirit of Discovery sailing to Greenland in July, temperatures are more akin with our winters – around 10°C (50°F) in the daytime, falling to 3°C (37°F) at night.

Therefore it’s always good to pack base layers, preferably made of merino wool, as well as the normal wooly sweaters. Waterproof outer layers and sensible shoes – preferably hiking boots – are also recommended.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her

Updated:

Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 24 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars. A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

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