Adventure Cruises That Take Setting Sail to New Heights

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Cruises are back, but don’t settle for behemoth ships and all-you-can-gorge buffets. Instead, float your boat aboard these smaller, adventure-bound alt-cruises. Say buh-bye, Love Boat. It’s adventure-vessel time.

Cruise ship in blue-green waters of Vietnam
Bhaya Legend cruise ship in Halong Bay, Vietnam Courtesy Image

1. Asian Water World

Ship: Bhaya Legend
Location: Halong Bay, Vietnam

Emerald-green waters, towering limestone islands and secluded beaches make Vietnam’s expansive Halong Bay a ringer for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The best way to experience its surreal scenery is aboard a cruiser styled like the region’s traditional wooden junks. Typical three-day Bhaya Cruises excursions include kayaking to floating fishing villages and going ashore to explore karst caves. Premium-level ships have no more than seven cabins; amazingly, a one- to three-cabin Legend ship, complete with a chef, a butler and—oh, yes—a captain can be privately chartered for less than the cost of a new laptop.

From $375–$1,500, depending on ship size and tour duration.

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Wooden cruise ship on Amazon River
During the flooded season, every waterway in Amazonia is navigable by Delfin I. Courtesy Image

2. Rain Forest Ranger

Ship: Delfin I
Location: Amazon Basin, Peru

At first glance as it glides into Peru’s flooded Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the Delfin I looks like an eccentric, triple-decker houseboat—until you spy its quartet of spacious suites with floor-to-ceiling windows and private terraces. And then there’s the stylish topside observation lounge, from which a max of eight passengers can spot tropical birds, caimans, manatees and fabled pink river dolphins while imbibing a pisco sour (or two). Disembark for activities such as paddleboarding to meet local ribereños who live along the banks, traversing a walkway through rain forest treetops and fishing for—zoinks!—piranha at sunset.

From $4,450 per person, depending on date and accommodation.

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Two people paddle a red kayak across a reflective Lake Louise on June 27, 2013 in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Major flooding along the Bow River in June washed out the Trans-Canada Highway 1 for nearly a week, forcing park visitors to cancel their vacation plans. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

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Cruise ship surrounded by icebergs
Join the captain in the wheelhouse to learn about the tug’s history. And to make sure he spots the damn iceberg. Jeff Reynolds/Maple Leaf Adventures

3. Adventure Tug

Ship: MV Swell
Location: Canada and Alaska

Originally built in 1912 in Vancouver, the 88-foot tugboat MV Swell was given a $4 million facelift to become an expedition cruiser like no other. As befits rugged roots, amenities aren’t glamorous (the six passenger cabins tend toward, um, cozy), but you can bet the original crew didn’t enjoy a lounge with panoramic windows, much less the aft hot tub. What’s really special are the stunning places this small vessel can access, including journeys through British Columbia’s Inside Passage (offering up-close views of grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest) or summertime cruises among Alaska’s calving glaciers and humpback whales.

From about $2,500, depending on destination and duration.

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Light-up cruise ship at sunset
Only the 34th-longest river by length, the Ganges is the third-largest measured by discharge. Courtesy Image

4. Sacred River Runner

Ship: Ganges Voyager II
Location: Ganges River, India

Securing reliable lodging and transportation on the subcontinent can be a confounding task. Cruising for a week between Calcutta and Baranagar aboard Uniworld’s 185-foot Voyager II checks both boxes in style. Stir from your airy, balcony-equipped stateroom to go ashore at a series of exotic sites, including the 18th-century Katra Mosque and the modern Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, aka the Cosmic Chandelier. The crew includes a resident yogi to assist with passenger wellness—or if you prefer, just prop up your feet on the shaded deck with a frosty Kingfisher in hand while the chef prepares another gourmet dinner.

From $7,500, depending on accommodation.

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Full-rigged sailing ship
Underneath those billowing sails are two bars, three swimming pools, and 115 cabins. Courtesy Image

5. Full Sail

Ship: Royal Clipper
Location: Western Mediterranean

Sometimes bigger is better. Like when you’ve decided to cruise aboard a bygone-era tall ship and want to fantasize about sinking any dirty pirates who’d dare mess with you. Star Clippers’ 439-foot Royal Clipper is the largest full-rigged sailing ship on the planet, providing plenty of room for luxury. Its 227 guests are excused from swabbing decks, instead climbing to crow’s-nest lookouts or using the marina platform for snorkeling and waterskiing. And while this ship deploys her 42 sails to circumnavigate the entire globe, we’re partial to her Mediterranean routes, where the itinerary can include ports in Italy, Greece, and Croatia.

From $2,480, depending on duration and itinerary.

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