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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.