Sanctuary Ananada on the Irrawaddy. Photo courtesy of Sanctuary Retreats.
THE HIGH SEAS – Call it an expedition, a boat trip, a hotel on the water. Just don't call it a cruise. Those gargantuan floating mall disasters are making way for small, chic ships with upgraded interiors, thoughtful itineraries, and top-notch amenities.
We scoured the Internet, asked experts we trust, and found the sea/ocean/river trips we can't wait to take. From the Arctic to Antarctica, Papua New Guinea to Corsica, the Rhîne to the Nile to the Mekong Delta, here are a dozen journeys to test out your sea legs.
Ship:Aria Amazon What's to love: Running year round, Aria Amazon has been sailing through the Amazon since 2011 on three-, four-, and seven-night itineraries. Designed by Peruvian interior designer Jordi Puig, the twelve-cabin, matte-black-hulled ship was recently refurbished and has all the trappings of a good-looking river cruise: daybeds and an outdoor jacuzzi on the canopied observation deck, floor-to-ceiling windows in each air-conditioned suite, 100-percent Peruvian cotton high thread-count sheets, polished timber flooring, and rain showers in the bathrooms. Book now: Aqua Expeditions
Vietnam and Cambodia
Ship:Avalon Siem Reap What's to love: Sail from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap along the Mekong River. With the highest crew-to-guest ratio sailing the Mekong Delta, you'll be waited on hand and foot for the entire duration of your eight- or thirteen-day journey. Just launched in 2015, the all-suite Avalon Siam Reap is outfitted with an open-air balcony and Colonial stylings built by local craftsmen. Depending on water levels, this is one of the few riverboats that will allow travel by water all the way to Siem Reap (other options require a seven-hour motor coach travel to and from the ship). When you're not cruising past natural wonders and river markets, explore Angkor Wat's ruins, crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels, and take an ox cart ride in the countryside. Book now: Avalon Waterways
Switzerland to the Netherlands
Ship:MS Grace What's to love: Launching in 2016, spend seven nights on the Rhine sailing from the Swiss Alps to the Netherlands in the 135-meter-long ship. Take in the sights at Jungfraujoch, go for wine tastings in Rüdesheima, and sail past nineteen national-landmark windmills in Kinderdijk. Other popular ports of call include Amsterdam, Nimegen, Heidelberg, Bonn, Köln, Koblenz, Strasbourg, and Basel. Book now: Tauck Cruising
Ship:50 Years of Victory What's to love: It's a fourteen-day journey to and from 90°N abroad the world's largest and most powerful nuclear icebreaker. Embarking from Murmansk, Russia, crush through ice in the Arctic Ocean while spotting polar bears hunting for seals. Take a zodiac boat trip beneath towering cliffs around the remote Franz Josef Land on the way back. If that's not enough adventure, you can also see the North Pole from air on a helicopter flight or a hot air balloon add-on. Book now: Quark Expeditions
Ship:Le Ponant What's to love: Eight days on a traditional three-mast, 88-meter yacht circumnavigating the Isle of Beauty. Sail in turquoise-blue waters past towering cliffs that change from red rocks in Scandola to pink granite in Calanques de Piana, to white limestone in the southern Bonifacio Strait. Stop at historic ports of call: Girolata, Palombaggia, Roccapina, and Ile Rousse. Book now: Ponant
Ship:M/Y Grace What's to love: Spend eight days and seven nights sailing the Galapagos on Princess Grace and Prince Rainier's honeymoon yacht. The eighteen-passenger vessel dates back to the late 1920s, survived a stint under the Royal Navy in WWII, and was a wedding gift to the royal Monaco couple in 1953. Choose from two Darwin-inspired itineraries departing from Baltra Island or San Cristobal Island. M/Y Grace is also one of the few yachts that will venture to the other islands. Spend the day getting up close and personal with the wildest species of animals and wildlife; by night, sleep in luxurious staterooms and suites. Book now: Quasar Expeditions
Ship:Sanctuary Ananda What's to love: The all-balcony, custom-built river boat has a shallow draft to navigate the upper and lower Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. Inside the 21 suites, expect Malaika Egyptian-cotton sheets, L'Occitane-stocked ensuite bathrooms, and Burmese details like lush silks, polished teak, and beautiful lacquerware. The Owner's Suite, measuring at 721 square feet (bigger than most NYC apartments and hotel rooms), means that you'll be sleeping in the largest room on the Irrawady. Take a three-night trip in historic Bagan or opt for a longer eleven-night journey from Yangon to Mandalay. Book now: Sanctuary Retreats
Ship:Sonesta Amirat Dahabeya What's to love: Modeled after ships that carried monarchs in the 1920s, the latest addition to Sonesta's fleet is a private, charter on the Nile. Choose from five deluxe cabins or two suites with a private terrace and then hunker down for seven nights sailing from Luxor to Aswan. Stop by a magnificent 137-column hall in the Amon-Ra temple complex, see the tomb of Tutankhamen at the Valley of the Kings, visit Queen Hatshepsut at the Valley of the Queens, meet the crocodile god Sobek, and see the old and new Aswan dams. Book now: Sonesta
Ship:Ganges Voyager II What’s to love: Spend thirteen days on the famous Ganges River in Uniworld’s newest river cruise ship (January 2016). Sailing from New Delhi to Kolkata, stops include must-dos like the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Pink City of Jaipur in Rajasthan, and lesser-known places like a sweeping Vedic temple built by Hare Krishnas and Mother Theresa’s home and tomb in Kolkata. Sleep in in the high-ceilinged Viceroy suite surrounded by hand-painted murals, or take a long bath with a view in the en suite bathroom of the Maharaja suite. Book now: Uniworld
Ship:Sea Adventurer What's to love: Refurbished in 2014, the 110-guest vessel is equipped with stabilizers and an ice-strengthened hull for smooth navigation. Over 22 days, guests trace Sir Ernest Shackleton's footsteps through the rugged White Continent's landscape, spot rare native birds around Falkland Islands, meet penguin colonies in South Georgia, and return through Drake's Passage from Pleaneau Island on the Antarctic Peninsula to Ushuaia, Chile. Book now: Zegrahm Expeditions
Ship:Silolona What's to love: The 164-foot, five-cabin teak yacht modeled on a traditional phinisi (an Indonesian sailing ship) goes to Indonesia, Thailand, and Burma. Cruise director Patti Seery and her sixteen-man crew play guitars, sing, give terrific massages, dance with fire, tailor clothing, and, of course, cook. Get PADI certified in secret sites handpicked by the onboard PADI instructors. Book now: Silolona Read more on Gentedimontagna:Plying the South Seas
Papua New Guinea
Ship:True North What's to love: The Australian ship has been exploring Papua New Guinea and lesser-known West Papua for almost a decade now on their longest-running and most refined itinerary: New Adventures in Paradise. Specialist ecologists and marine biologists will join you for eleven days as you sail through tropical landscapes, fly over Rabaul's active volcano on the ship's helicopter, swim with manta rays around the Lusancay Island, and dance with the very hospitable Melanesians. Book now: North Star Cruises