Cruising gets a bad rap, sometimes for good reasons. We find few things less romantic than days stuck at sea with thousands of partiers; who calls that a fun ship, anyway? But that’s only one aspect of the industry; there are also a slew of luxury small ships that offer great service, beautiful accommodations and an incredibly relaxing way to see some of the most intriguing places. The trick is, knowing which lines do it best, what itineraries they specialize in, and when to do for the best experience. Here are four of our favorite sails, but please, keep them to yourselves.
m/S Paul Gauguin in Tahiti
We sailed this ship on our very first trip to Tahiti, so it has a special place in our hearts. It’s not so much a ship as a floating luxury hotel traveling through one of teh most beautiful places on earth. Seven-night roundtrip sails visit Moorea for hiking and vanilla plantations, Bora Bora for jet skiing and private motu picnics, and Tahaa for amazing snorkeling. Longer sails visit the secluded Tuamotus, narrow atolls where only a few blocks of land sand separate ocean and lagoon. When you return to Papeete, it’s a quick hop to the island of your choice for post-cruise pampering in that classic Tahiti icon, the overwater bungalow experience.
Star Clipper in the Mediterranean
Even people who don’t think they like cruising will fall in love with this four-masted tall ship; we know, because it happened to us. There’s something magical about hearing the wind rustle the sails as you travel the Med the way it was done for centuries past. And teh small size — 170 passengers max — means you can get into smaller ports that don’t fit the megaships. The Venice to Athens route hits Italy, Montenegro and Croatia before visiting the iconic Greek Isles of Mykonos and Santorini. Been there, done that? Try the Athens to Istanbul leg, with stops on smaller isles.
Aqua Expeditions on the Mekong River
This boutique eco-adventure company made its name with cruises on the Peruvian Amazon. They’ve expanded to Asia, offering three- to seven-night explorations of this mystical river. We say make the most of it with the longer journey, which wends between Saigon, Vietnam and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Along the way you’ll visit floating markets, elaborate Buddhist temples and hikes through terraced rice fields, with a group of 40 fellow travelers. Bookend your trip with a stay in Cambodia to see the temples at Angkor Wat.
Lindblad Expeditions in the Galapagos
When it comes to wildlife and eco-adventure, it doesn’t get much better than the Galapagos. After all, this archipelago is home to some of the most unique creatures on earth. Ships of all size and comfort level ply these waters on a roundtrip circuit all year, each offering a different take on comfort and adventure level. We love Lindblad because they complement their trips with naturalists from National Geographic, giving you deeper understanding of what you encounter as you hike, kayak and snorkel with creatures from sea lions to blue-footed boobies. Only a limited amounts of permits are given each year, so this is definitely one trip where you need to plan ahead to get the best cabin and itinerary.