To save time, you should probably put in a quick call to your travel agent before setting off to read Dutch photographer Iwein Maassen's The Contemporary Cruise. This coffee table-sized book is simply gorgeous, one you can definitely judge by its cover, as the cruises and vessels described inside are all as enticing as that shot of the view from a ship's deck. The book's other 300-plus photographs are almost a rejuvenating vacation in and of themselves, whether of dazzling turquoise water in Polynesia or the intricate riggings of a tall ship silhouetted against an orange sky. Wooden deck chairs on the Queen Elizabeth 2 appear to be waiting to transform passengers from tense tourists into relaxed travelers, while an image of the QE2's bow with its distinctive black, red and white livery is a modern-day interpretation of the vintage Holland America travel poster a few pages back. But today's cruising options go well beyond the glamorous voyages of the golden age of transatlantic crossings, and Maassen presents a wide array of options, from frozen adventures in Antarctica to excursions along the Nile or Yangtze to hopping aboard a Norwegian postal ferry, all illustrated with breathtaking photos. He mixes in quite a bit of history about famous vessels and early explorers, as well as key things to consider before booking passage (not only where you want to go, but also how much planned entertainment you want, how much solitude you require, etc.). Maassen details the onboard experience, describing meals and cabins, atmosphere and wardrobe requirements. The book's last chapter includes contact information for shipping companies, excursion options in various ports of call and a glossary of nautical terms for those who can't resist a voyage.

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