Allergic to all-you-can-eat buffets and touristy shore excursions? We’ve got the antidote for you. These 10 sailing experiences offer Michelin-worthy dining and insider access to some of the world’s most pristine places. Get on board.
On board: The Aranui fleet of hybrid passenger-cargo ships gives travelers the chance to see one of the world’s most spectacular places without breaking the bank—and with insider access other cruise ships don’t have. While the freighter vessels might not have the streamlined sleekness of a luxury cruise liner, they make up for it with their standout 14-day itineraries, which sail to Tahiti and the stunning Marquesas Archipelago. You’ll depart from Papeete, Tahiti, and stop for snorkeling and shore visits at gorgeous spots like Rangiroa and Bora Bora.
Perfect for: Travelers longing to experience the romance, natural splendor and culture of French Polynesia without the prohibitive price tag.
Windjammer Cruise, Maine
On board: This is a great choice for travelers looking for a small scale cruise experience that allows you to see Maine’s coast in all its glory. The Maine Windjammer Association runs a fleet of eight magnificent ships, painstakingly modeled on the classic schooners known as windjammers, that ply Maine’s coast on three, four and six-day cruises. Expect to encounter wildlife like whales, porpoises and eagles, and stop at charming seaside villages. Onboard meals feature Northeastern feasts like lobster bakes, corn chowder and baked haddock, and after dinner there’s often storytelling and stargazing on deck. Choose your own adventure when it comes to the season you sail: The fleet offers cruises from whale-watching in June to peak foliage viewing in September.
Perfect for: Romantics with a sense of adventure who are looking to experience sailing at its most elemental.
Nour el Nil, Nile Tours
On board: Many vessels cruise the mighty Nile, but few do it with as much style as a dahabiya, a classic kind of 19th-century shallow-bottomed ship custom-designed for the river and used by Turkish pashas. Nour El Nil has revived the tradition with a fleet of jaunty white and red boats that host just 20 passengers each in chic whitewashed cabins. Guests embark in Esna, just south of Luxor, for the leisurely journey up the great river to Aswan, a strategic ancient port.
Perfect for: History buffs and romantics seeking an authentic Egyptian experience that doesn’t skimp on luxury.
Lindblad Land of the Ice Bears Expedition, Arctic Circle
On board: Join your fellow passengers in Oslo, where you’ll board this intimate ship (just 148 guests) as it sets sail for Svalbard, above the Arctic Circle. Along for the ride are a host of experts, including an expedition leader, eight veteran naturalists, a National Geographic photographer and an undersea specialist. The trip is all about spotting polar bears—from the comfort of your cabin, the ship’s deck or on daily excursions by kayak and Zodiac. But there’s also a chance to hike on pebble beaches, witness icebergs calving and spot whales under the hypnotic light of the midnight sun.
Perfect for: Nature nerds, photographers and wildlife lovers looking for a brag-worthy adventure.
Gulet Cruise around Croatia, Sail Dalmatia
On board: Between the idyllic islands, standout food and wine, and postcard-perfect villages, the Dalmatian coast is everything you’ve heard and more. And the best way to take it all in is from the water. Grab a few friends and explore the blue-green Adriatic onboard a chartered gulet, a wooden sailing ship whose glamorous lines will have heads turning in every port. Expect to stop on the dazzling islands of Vis, Hvar and Mljet, along with such cities as Dubrovnik and Split.
Perfect for: Europhiles who already know the Amalfi Coast and are eager to see more of the continent’s jaw-dropping scenery, without the crowds.
Seadream Yacht Club, Caribbean
On board: With just 56 couples allowed and an almost 1:1 crew/passenger ratio, these two high-end megayachts offer rarified journeys through the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea (and Europe, too). Among the attractions: top-rated restaurants, off-the-beaten-path shore excursions (captain and crew will often lead passengers to hidden gems like local seafood shacks) and onboard entertainment like movie screenings under the stars. Both yachts have a retractable marina so that guests can play at water sports, and Caribbean voyages include a champagne and caviar picnic on a white sand beach.
Perfect for: Gourmands and hedonists who have considered a luxury cruise but are wary about megaships.
Zambezi River Queen, Botswana
On board: Picture a cross between an upscale safari camp and a five-star resort and you’ve got the Zambezi Queen. Fourteen suites have floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto private decks, all the better to spot the region’s abundant wildlife (the area is home to 120,000 elephants). Tender boats take guests out for big game spotting closer to the banks, and there’s also the chance to visit remote villages to learn about local traditions. The best part: The solar-powered ship uses water jets to prevent damage to the riverbed and has eliminated generators to ensure the comfort of passing wildlife.
Perfect for: Eco-conscious safari aficionados keen to get out of the jeep and onto the river in one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most beautiful and sparsely populated countries.
Aqua Expeditions Mekong
On board: Sail the fabled Mekong through Vietnam and Cambodia on a river journey that’s about as far from the heart of darkness as you can get. With one expert guide for every 10 guests, menus crafted by Australian chef David Thompson and perks like pools and cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows, this is more floating designer hotel than cruise ship. Shore excursions using private tenders (the only ones on the Mekong) take guests for daytrips to serene Buddhist temples and stilt villages, or for more heart-pumping adventures on bicycle and kayak.
Perfect for: Worldly types who have sailed the five seas and want a more unusual aquatic adventure, complete with modern amenities.
Bark Europa, Tall Ship to Antarctica
On board: You may have imagined taking a cruise to the South Pole once you retire, but we’ll bet you haven’t considered doing the journey by classic tall ship. The masted “light ship” Europa was built in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany, and completely renovated for its current incarnation, which takes intrepid passengers from Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost point of South America), to the White Continent on an exhilarating 25-day adventure. After exploring Antarctica, the ship sails between icebergs to the South Shetland Islands and through Chilean Patagonia, a breathtaking landscape of snowcapped peaks, glaciers and dramatic fjords.
Perfect for: Bucket-listers wanting to experience Antarctica in a unique and adrenaline-charged way.
Belmond Road to Mandalay, Myanmar
On board: Myanmar, formerly Burma, is finally opening up to the world, but overland travel can still be a hassle. Enter Belmond’s Road to Mandalay, a streamlined, 82-passenger ship that sails the Ayeyarwady River in high style. There’s no skimping when it comes to fancy diversions: We’re talking a gourmet alfresco restaurant, swimming pool, cocktail bar, spa and boutique, along with entertainment that might include Burmese marionette shows, classical dance performances or insightful lectures on Myanmar’s fascinating culture. Onshore, guests can visit lost-in-time rural villages, meet saffron-robed monks, and of course populate their Instagram feed with shots of the famous golden pagodas set among lush jungle.
Perfect for: Early adopters keen to see the long-hidden sights of this visually and culturally rich country.
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This article was originally published by Jetsetter.com under the headline Cruising for People Who Hate Cruises. It is reprinted here with permission.