- In Darwin's Steps. For eight days I sailed on a 20-person yacht among the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, discovering for myself the natural wonders that inspired Darwin's Origin of Species. Meals were plentiful and the cabins paneled and air-conditioned, with private bath. Guides led us on a couple of hikes and snorkels. We swam and splashed among sea lions and penguins, rays, and sharks, and stepped gingerly amid nursing seals. Nearby, albatrosses danced a mating duo like Fred and Ginger. Inca Floats, 510/420-1550; www.incafloats.com.
- Theme Lover. With fewer than 150 passengers aboard, Star Clippers' four- and five-masted sailing ships are able to dock at private harbors and lush anchorages on volcanic isles. I took the Caribbean Leewards itinerary, sailing from St. Maarten. My favorite ports were Dominica, with its profusion of waterfalls, and beautiful Iles des Saintes. We lazed and explored, dined in slacks and tees, and strolled under sail on the top deck. Themed cruises are a special option. Pilates under the Pleiades? If that's your speed, choose a cruise with itineraries that emphasize health and well being. You could have danced the Zouk and Soca on Caribbean Discovery, or brought an instrument and jammed during Jazz & Blues. Star Clippers, 800/442-0551; www.starclippers.com.
- Rivers Run Through It. My best meals in France were during a weeklong cruise on the Rhône and Saône rivers aboard the Princesse de Provence. We anchored amid the rolling Burgundy and Beaujolais wine regions and at towns rich with history, like Avignon and Arles. Peter Deilmann, a European-based cruise line, navigates the major rivers of Europe, spring through summer. The smallish riverboats gleam with original art and Tiffany glass. Dockside, I walked, relaxed in cafés, people-watched, shopped, and checked out the sites. Excursions are well-guided and reasonably priced. Peter Deilmann Cruises, 800/348-8287; www.deilmann-cruises.com.
- Cruising in the Sea of Cortez. Fly into Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez, at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, where turquoise waters lap against desert sands. As I sailed on the Safari Quest, a yacht with 17 other passengers, hundreds of bottle-nosed dolphins jumped and dived in our wake. I snorkeled with a sea lion, crossing a species divide in a humbling, unblinking connection. Informative discussions, gourmet cuisine, comfortable cabins with private baths, trips to isolated fishing islands, kayaking, and nature walks, and picnics in a blooming desert are only part of what I enjoyed. The yachts also sail in Alaska, the Columbia and Snake rivers, and the Pacific Northwest. American Safari Cruises, 888/862-8881; www.amsafari.com.
- The Mediterranean from Rome to Nice. Windstar Cruises positions itself as a decidedly unordinary cruising experience. My weeklong Mediterranean itinerary on the sleek, casual vessel out of Rome included a visit to rocky Corsica, an on-board massage off Elba, a hike along the sea-and-sky coastal paths of Cinque Terre's isolated villages and vineyards, and much more. I gambled and gamboled in Monte Carlo, sunned in St. Tropez, and ended in Nice, at the Matisse and Chagall museums. Windstar Cruises, 800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com . ---Lea Lane
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