There are parts of the world that are best seen from the water, and there is a growing array of unusual itineraries and small ships for doing so. We’re not talking about Caribbean islands or Italian coastlines as viewed from a cruise ship so huge that it can only dock in the big industrial harbors. No, we’re talking about floating along France’s scenic canals by barge, sightseeing by houseboat through the backwaters of Kerala, India, or exploring remotest Antarctica by small expedition ship. Cruise expert Carolyn Spencer Brown joined Wendy and Brook for a WOW Week Travel Talk on new ways to explore the world’s waterways in 2023. Watch the video and be surprised by everything you’ll learn.
Small-ship experiences you can find around the globe include:
Expedition ships: These small ships typically navigate parts of the world that it would be hard to experience any other way, such as the Arctic, Antarctica, and pristine portions of Alaska’s shoreline. In such pockets of the world, water-based travel is often your only option: You can’t drive from place to place, and it may be cost-prohibitive or too unreliable to get around via private, chartered aircraft. When these expedition ships are between seasons (say, repositioning between the Arctic and the Antarctic during the spring and fall), they may offer delightfully off-the-beaten-path itineraries that nip into tiny islands, landings, and anchorages. Carolyn and her husband sailed through the Swedish and Finnish archipelagos on a 100-passenger expedition ship, and he, a native of Finland, had never been to most of the small places they got to explore.
Yacht charters: Yachts and sailboats in the British Virgin Islands, Greece, Croatia, the Mediterranean, and many other parts of the world enable you to go where you want to go, drop anchor when you like, and choose who you want to vacation with (meaning, you’re not on a ship with strangers). You can even charter a private boat in India: In Kerala, traditional wood and thatched houseboats called kettuvallam ply the serene, rural backwaters, rivers and canals. You can charter a private boat or book a cabin on an 8-person “cruise” kettuvallam. Read about Wendy’s gulet charter on the Turquoise Coast and Brook’s catamaran charter in the Caribbean.
River boats: You may be familiar with the relatively large (160- to 190-passenger) cruise ships in Europe that ply the Rhine, Danube, Rhone and Seine, but there are many other rivers around the world where smaller vessels go to more exotic places, such as the Amazon in Peru, the Mekong for exploring Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Chobe River for the wildlife of Africa. On the Nile, instead of a Westernized river ship, you can opt for a wind-powered dahabiya. Dahabiyas are local boats that hold up to 12 people and can take you to places beyond the reach of traditional conventional vessels. Read about Billie’s experience sailing the Nile on a dahabiya.
European barge charters: Barges, often holding from 8 to 24 travelers, primarily ply the canals of France and are one of the best ways to explore the countryside, at a snail’s pace. Work barges have been repurposed as small passenger vessels—some quite luxurious, others cozy and comfortable. You’re provided with a captain and a cook, and you travel so slowly that you can easily grab a bike from your barge and meet it in the next village—with time to sip a glass of vino at an outdoor cafe. Read about Wendy’s barge trip through the French countryside.
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