Cruises are wonderful when you’re in the mood to be pampered, but if you’d rather strike out on your own and explore hidden canals, quiet fjords and lakes, backwaters and bayous — or if you long for a real swashbuckling adventure — ply the waters on one of these vessels.
Perfect Ports of Call: Around the World
These are the boats you see in pirate movies — huge old wooden ships with enormous sails. You can’t just rent one and wander off — it takes a skilled crew and many hands to manage these beauties. But you can book passage on many restored or replica vessels. The American Sail Training Association has a huge listing of sailing ships that take passengers. Among the most notable are the journeys offered by the Picton Castle, a Barque based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. This summer she’ll sail along the Canadian coast and the U.S. Eastern seaboard (the journey is underway now). In 2008 she’ll make a grand year-long journey, dubbed “Voyage of the Atlantic.”
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What To Expect: Tall ship adventures are not laze-around-the-deck holiday cruises. You’ll be expected to participate, which may mean swabbing the decks, hoisting the sails, standing watch, or scrambling up into the riggings. Read the requirements for each trip and don’t fib about your fitness level. All are welcome, but the crew needs to know what everyone is capable of doing.
What it Costs: One-week passage on the Picton Castle during the 2007 season is $840 per week, which buys you passage, meals, and a bunk. Costs for “Voyage of the Atlantic” aren’t set yet but will run approximately $36,000 for the full year voyage. You can take the entire trip or join the crew for one or more of the four three-month sailing legs (roughly $10K per leg).
Perfect Ports of Call: Throughout Europe
The continent is riddled with canals, which were used for freight transport until the early 20th century. Today they are the purview of pleasure boats. You can easily tour France, Holland, Germany, Italy, or Ireland on these wonderful waterways.
What to Expect: You can opt to captain your own ship with your crew of one or more, or turn the wheel over to professionals on a small barge cruise. Most self-captained boats require no prior boating experience. (These are slow-moving, rugged crafts traveling on shallow canals. You are always within sight — and swimming distance — of shore.) Among the possible adventures you can take are a trip down Ireland’s River Shannon; motoring around the Venice lagoon; or a cruise along Canal du Midi in southern France, which ends at the shores of the Mediterranean sea.
What It Costs: Barges for 2-12 people can be rented throughout Europe from Boating Europe and Le Boat. Seven-day rentals start at about $2000. For more information on escorted barge cruises, check out Hotel Barges’ holiday offerings.
Perfect Ports of Call: Northwest England, Scotland, Wales
Narrow boats were designed to travel the Inland Waterways of North West England and Lowland Scotland. These canals were created to suit the needs of 19th-century industry. Today, they serve as public waterways that wind through woods and meadows, past small villages and plenty of canal-side pubs. It’s a terrific way to see the countryside.
What to Expect: No previous experience is necessary to pilot a narrow boat. Boats travel at less than five miles per hour on shallow canals near the shore. A quick lesson from the rental company will have you safely on your way. The only real challenge you’re likely to face is bringing the boat through a lock, but this is covered in the orientation.
What It Costs: Narrow boats are suitable for 2-12 people. Check out the routes offered by Middlewich Boats, where a seven-day rental starts at $1,200.
Perfect Port of Call: New York State
New York has a 524-mile inland waterway that crosses the northern part of the state. From May through October, you can tour the Erie Canal and the Finger Lakes on a canal boat. No previous sailing experience is required — after a quick but thorough on-the-water instruction from a staff member, you’re free to go. You can venture off with no specific plan in mind, tying up at town docks to wander around. Or follow one of the cruising itineraries provided by the rental companies.
What to Expect: These boats are easily handled by two reasonably fit people. Pay particular attention when the rental company briefs you on how to navigate the locks, if your trip includes passing through them. Getting through a lock can sometimes take a bit of coordinated effort. The Erie Canal Cruise Lines’ boats have air conditioning, TV/VCR, refrigerators, stoves, extra large showers, full size beds, and bikes for shore excursions.
What It Costs: The largest of these boats sleeps six comfortably. Seven days rental for a six-person boat starts at $2,400 May-October (June, July, August $2,900; September $2,600). To plan your canal trip, NY State’s excellent Erie Canal website offers touring guides and a history of the canal system.
Perfect Ports of Call: Alaska, British Columbia, Maine Coast
Elegant schooners are popular for sailing adventures along unspoiled coastlines. Your choices here are many — Maple Leaf Adventures offers 5- to 11-day escorted journeys along the Northwest coast. On these trips you can see waterfalls as you travel along coastal fjords, watch for whales and dolphins, and perhaps see grizzly bears hunting for salmon and eagles circling above. Have a look at the trips offered by Maine Windjammers, based in Camden. Another excellent option is a cruise on Summertime, a pretty Pinky Schooner based in Rockland, Maine.
What to Expect: Private sleeping cabins on most schooners tend to be small but comfy, with bunk-bed style sleeping and small sinks. Bathrooms are shared. Your meals are included on overnight sails. You can participate in the work of the ship, or not if you so choose.
What it Costs: These boats usually take 12-20 passengers. Six-day cruises through Penobscot Bay on the Summertime start at $700. Maple Leaf Adventures cruises are usually five days and begin at $1,800. The outfit has a dozen or so journeys along the Canadian and Alaskan coasts.
Perfect Ports of Call: Throughout the Southern U.S.
Houseboats tend to be happiest when they’re close to shore, which is why many are semi-permanently moored, so don’t plan on scooting around with them. Still, if your desire is to spend your vacation quietly resting on a lake or river, a houseboat is the way to go.
What to Expect: You can rent luxury houseboats at Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, Lake Powell, and other marinas from Texas to Northern California, from Forever Houseboats. Unlike many rental boats, these come fully equipped, right down to the corkscrews and marshmallow forks. There are less-pricey options available as well, like the Bayou getaway on the Cajun Gypsy, a houseboat that cruises the backwaters of Louisiana but is mostly moored dockside.
What It Costs: Forever Houseboats’ fees range from $1,895 to $7,795 for five days, depending on size of boat and itinerary. The Cajun Gypsy starts at around $600 a week.