IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Top 10 short cruise vacations

The cruise craze has swept the nation — some love cruising for the popular ports of call, while  others are simply in it for a hassle-free vacation.
Image: The Norwegian Sun
Autumn is an enchanting time to visit New York City — it’s also prime season for seafarers in search of a quick fix. Enter the one-night 'Dinner & Dance Cruise' offered by Norwegian Cruise Line. Michel Verdure / AP
/ Source: Sherman's Travel

There’s little doubt that a cruise craze has swept the nation — some of us were just born with seafaring souls, some love cruising for the popular (or yet-to-be-discovered) ports of call, while still others are simply in it for the hassle-free vacation that a cruise vacation can provide. The catch, for many of us, however, is finding the time to make our dreams of deck-time a reality.

Well, happily your ship’s come in, thanks to these short cruise vacations that will get you just about anywhere from popular islands with turquoise shores to south-of-the border hotspots, or from the banks of the Mississippi to the historic harbors of New England. From mega cruise ships to houseboats, and steamboats to windjammers, we’ve got you covered. Best of all, each of these short sailings — ranging from one to four nights in duration — depart from ports within the continental U.S., making these quick cruise escapes within easy reach.

Although most adults would jump at the chance to lie out on exotic island shores for a week or two, long-haul Caribbean cruises don’t always appeal to the entire family. That’s why a 3- or 4-night Disney Cruise Lines sailing to the Bahamas is just the ticket for the whole gang to enjoy. Cruises set sail year-round from Port Canaveral, Florida, just 60 miles from Walt Disney World Resort, and head towards the Bahamian capital of Nassau, plus Castaway Cay — Disney’s own private island. The 875-cabin ship, Disney Wonder, offers character encounters and kids-only Oceaneer Clubs, as well as game rooms, a sports deck, fully loaded spa, Broadway-style shows, and a trio of family-friendly pools designed to look like the head of everybody’s favorite mouse.

From the glittering lights of Hollywood, to the exotic desert and ocean landscapes of the Baja peninsula, a 4-night Royal Caribbean cruise is a great way to sample the bounties of Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. The 1200-cabin Monarch of the Seas launches from Los Angeles, and continues to San Diego, the palm-lined shores of Catalina Island, and fun Ensenada, Mexico on the Baja coast; even though it's just 80 miles from San Diego, Ensenada comprises a world all its own, thanks to its rich history as a fishing town where passengers can stretch their sea legs at numerous restaurants dotting the coast, or shop for goods handcrafted by locals.

You may not associate fine wines with cruising, nor cruising with portside vineyard tours and tastings, but that’s exactly what you’ll get on a 3-night “Culture of the Vine” cruise to California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys each harvest season. Cruise West’s intimate ships sail round-trip from San Francisco Bay, through San Pablo Bay, and up the Napa River — delighting up to 138 passengers with vintage-focused soirées en-route. On-land highlights abound as well, including a Napa Valley balloon excursion, tastings at local vineyards, and even a tractor-pulled tram ride through Sonoma’s Benziger Family Winery. Note that wine country cruises are only offered in the prime harvest months of September and October.

Autumn is an enchanting time to visit New York City; it’s also prime season for seafarers in search of a quick fix. Enter the one-night “Dinner & Dance Cruise” offered by Norwegian Cruise Line. Embarking on select Saturday afternoons in September and October from Manhattan’s West Side, Norwegian Spirit glides down the Hudson River, past New York’s classic “canyons of steel” cityscape, and into New York Harbor under the gaze of Lady Liberty. As the mega-ship continues to drift towards the horizon, cruisers can kick off their evenings gambling at the onboard casino, dining at one of the 11 restaurants, or dancing under the stars. Ships dock back in the city early Sunday morning, leaving a full day to cap off a perfect Gotham visit.

Visualize the red-rock-gilded Grand Canyon filled with 8.5-trillion gallons of turquoise-blue water and you’ll have a spot-on mental image of Lake Powell, the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States. Now imagine spending three days exploring this watery wonderland’s hidden coves, sandy beaches, and otherworldly sandstone formations on a luxe houseboat with 11 of your closest friends. You can rent your own floating party barge for 3 days — complete with waterslide, wet bar, TV, outdoor gas grill, GPS navigation system and enough beds for 6-12 people — from Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas for as little as $1,000.

There’s no better way to sail the historic open waters of New England than on Maine Windjammer Cruises’ flagship 19th-century, 29-passenger schooner, the Grace Bailey. This National Landmark boasts hand-carved wood paneling and a piano in the lovingly restored main cabin (dating back to 1882) that make passengers feel like they’ve set out on a voyage back in time through uncharted waters. Set off on weekend sailings between June and October from Camden, Maine, and, depending on the winds and weather, your captain will charter a tailored route through Penobscot  Bay, passing by atolls and quaint harbors. Surely those days at sea will make you hungry — not to fret, passengers can expect a traditional onboard feast of succulent Maine lobsters.

It’s fitting that the largest river in North America — the great Mississippi — should lead to the United State’s longest wharf (at over 2 miles), in New Orleans. With the Big Easy staging a comeback after Hurricane Katrina, now’s a perfect time to join in on the city’s renaissance by embarking on a 4-night river barge cruise through the Mississippi Delta on RiverBarge Excursions. The laid-back atmosphere doesn’t sacrifice onboard style — 98 climate-controlled staterooms are fitted with picture windows, full-sized tubs with showers, and satellite TVs. Various guided land excursions include plantation tours and visits to St. Francisville and Baton Rouge. At night, things heat up onboard with entertainment like Dixieland jazz and blues bands.

While sailing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture Ohio, the “American Discovery” cruise, operated by Majestic America Line, has redefined the landscape of this slice of Middle America. In the 4 days it takes to sail up and down the Davy Crockett-land banks of the Ohio River (the largest branch off the mighty Mississippi), you’ll pass sights ranging from the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, the vineyards of Madison, Indiana, and the farms and plains of the heartland around Cincinnati. The real attraction of the cruise, though, is the 88-stateroom Delta Queen herself. Sporting a bright red stern wheel, an 1897 calliope (an organ-like instrument), and a circa 1883 bell (that Mark Twain actually used on steamboat sails of his own), passengers can experience the spirit of their journey even before leaving the dock.

Celebrity Cruises’ recently refurbished Mercury proves that life can be fine indeed in "outer space." See for yourself on a 3-or 4-night cruise to Canada from Seattle each fall that takes in ports like cosmopolitan Vancouver, charming Victoria, and the historic logging community of Nanaimo — all areas blessed by lovely foliage and fresh, mild temperatures this time of year. Between ports, sip cocktails at any of the ship’s numerous onboard bars, enjoy signature spa treatments, and gamble and dance the night away. With over 900 crew members, topnotch dining options, a fitness center, jogging track, movie theater, and golf simulator, you’ll surely feel you’ve been whisked away to another planet — even if only for a few days.

For quick cruise flings to Mexico, most cruisers set their sights on Florida departure ports. We propose spicing things up a bit with a little Tex/Mex flavor, by setting sail from Galveston, Texas instead. You can kick off your vacation before you even hit the high seas — Galveston’s port is near to stunning beaches, newly built resorts, and an old-fashioned boardwalk lined by carnival-like attractions. Then catch a Carnival of another type — in the form of a cruise ship, with 4-night year-round sailings available on a Carnival “Fun Ship” through the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, stopping at Progreso and Cozumel, where shore excursions to Mayan ruins and folklore shows await. Onboard Ecstasy, guests can expect diversions like water slides, mini-golf, first-class bars and lounges, and a full sports deck to keep the excitement going 24-7.

is a guide to top travel deals and destinations. Sign up for Sherman's Top 25 e-newsletter which features the best editor-screened deals from hundreds of travel providers and is delivered to over 4 million subscribers, free, each week. ShermansTravel also publishes trip ideas and travel features to inspire, guide, and go.