Think a cruise ship holiday is all about buffets and bingo on a 2000-passenger floating palace? Think again. There are so many different types of cruise experiences on offer around the world today that there really is one for everyone. Whether you prefer a more intimate experience, are seeking adventure or the opportunity to give back, here are some options.


Cruise on a cargo ship

Luxury on a cargo ship isn't out of the question
Comfort levels are quite high on this cargo ship.
Image: Danee Hazama

Book a berth on a working freighter ship servicing a part of the world that is not easily accessible. Accommodation on such vessels can vary from dorms to suites with ensuite bathrooms. Watch the crew loading and unloading goods such as food, toilet paper and mail, and get to know them over a drink in the bar at night.  Options include the Aranui 5, which sails to the Marquesas Islands, 1,500km north of Tahiti, or the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, which sails from Cape Town to Saint Helena Island in the South Atlantic. But you’ll have to be quick – 2016 is the ships’ last before she goes out of service when an international airport opens there.


Give back through cruising

Read to kids as a shore excursion
Meet and help out disadvantaged children during a shore excursion

Just like in other areas of travel, cruise passengers are also wanting to give back, with Carnival Corporation the first to adapt to this emerging trend. Its ship MV Adonia will begin providing opportunities to do volunteer work in poverty-stricken communities and engage in other cultural and humanitarian exchanges in Cuba and the Dominican Republic next year through its new social impact travel brand, fathom. The 710-passenger ship will embark on weekly seven-day voyages from Miami. Prices start at US$1540 per person, which includes an exterior cabin with a view and all meals.


Small ship cruising

Coral Expeditions I in the Kimberley
A small ship such as Coral Expeditions I can access places its larger counterparts cannot.

While cruise ships are getting bigger and bigger, there are plenty of choices for those who prefer a more intimate experience. Off-the-beaten track destinations such as the Kimberley region of Western Australia, South America’s Galapagos Islands and Papua New Guinea are among the areas offering small ship itineraries for less than 50 passengers. While they aren’t cheap, many people love this type of travel as you are able to dock or anchor in places the superliners can’t (and often have them all to yourself), have more interaction with the crew and take part in activities that just aren’t possible when you have hundreds of passengers to cater to, such as a bonfire on the beach.


Scientific research vessels

One Ocean Expeditions takes guests up close to nature
Hang out alongside scientists carrying out their work.

Fancy the idea of hanging out alongside a whale researcher tagging humpbacks, or documentary filmmakers installing time lapse cameras on the ice? Companies including One Ocean Expeditions and Lindblad Expeditions offer such opportunities in destinations like Antarctica and the Arctic. One Ocean’s Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov are built for scientific research, so there desks in cabins and more deck space than normal cruise ships. Lindblad’s National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Orion offer trips with writers, photographers, field researchers, naturalists and film crews.


Festival and event cruising

Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Cruises can take you to New Orleans in time for the Mardi Gras parade

Take the hassle out of attending a big event or festival by booking a holiday on a cruise ship which incorporates it in the itinerary. Azamara Club Cruises offers special event cruises to the Monaco Grand Prix, while Celebrity Cruises itineraries include the British Open in Glasgow, Cannes Film Festival in France, Rio Carnival in Brazil, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh.