Want to see the best these destinations have to offer? Get out on the water!
Sometimes the best way to see a destination is to leave it–for a nearby body of water. Whether it’s floating under bridges admiring the architecture of Chicago or seeing whales on an interisland ferry in Tahiti, these destinations are all best experienced when taking to the water onboard a dayboat or other water-bound excursion.
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The inland body of water that runs from Tacoma up through much of British Columbia is an inland waterway known as the Salish Sea. The best way to see the region is from the water, where Washington State Ferries ply the ways between coastal communities (the trip to Bainbridge Island from Seattle is a great way to see the city from the water), and there are several dayboat operators that cruise not only the Salish Sea to the West but the freshwater lakes to the East connected by a network of locks.
The Na Pali Coast
WHERE: Kaua’i, Hawaii
The spectacular Na Pali Coast is one of Kaua’i’s top visitor attractions. Because hiking the Na Pali Coast Trail can be harmful for non-expert hikers (it’s also damaging to the trail), visitors are strongly encouraged to visit by sea. Several dayboat operators run daily tours to the most scenic parts of the coast from Port Allen on the island’s south shore. Some even do zodiac excursions up close and personal with the rocky coastline.
WHERE: New Zealand
New Zealand is a volcanic island, and volcanoes tend to form lakes. Several surround the city of Rotorua, including the geothermal lakes of Rotomahana, Tarawera, Rotorua, and Rotoiti, where visitors can soak in natural lakeside geothermal hot pools in Manupirua Bay. Many boat tours also offer a crash course in local geothermal history—a byproduct of the region’s wealth of volcanic activity.
Tasmania, with a number of sights not easily accessible by foot or by car, is almost made for dayboat tours. Day boat cruises can venture up the island’s rugged and wild west coast, where boats will glide into the glacial valleys of the Gordon River, noted for an abundance of the rare, millennia-old Huon pine trees. Cruises also stop at a formal penal colony in the middle of Macquarie Harbor, offering a glimpse into Tasmania’s historical legacies.
Nashville is about as inland as U.S. travelers can get, but it is nestled on the banks of the Cumberland River. Showboating is a thing that happens here onboard the General Jackson Showboat, a stern-wheeler paddle boat that does daytime and evening cruises up the river, featuring onboard entertainment that acquaints passengers with the Tennessee music styles that made Nashville a world capital of live music.
A San Francisco nickname is “The City by The Bay,” and San Francisco Bay is the place to see it. Several dayboat operators depart from Fisherman’s Wharf for trips to Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, while the vintage Ferry Terminal is the embarkation point for crossing the Bay in the throwback style—just as generations of commuters did long before the bridges connected the city Oakland and the East Bay.
Chicago is a city of architecture. It’s the birthplace of the skyscraper and the site of other fascinating building designs dating almost to the city’s founding. The Architecture Boat Tours that depart from near the Navy Pier have architects, architecture students, or historians as docents, giving a fascinating, expert tour of the edifices that make up the Windy City’s distinctive skyline. They’ll even tell the story of how the city reversed the Chicago River flow as a public health measure. Special cruises depart for viewing the weekly fireworks at the Navy Pier.
WHERE: South Carolina
Charleston, situated between two rivers, is so flat it’s almost hard to get your bearings without heading out on the water. Once there, the city’s layout becomes apparent, as do the numerous steeples that give the Holy City its nickname. Water taxis operate between Charleston and various points. Dayboats are also the only way to reach the Fort Sumter National Monument, where the first battle of the Civil War was fought in 1861 when the confederacy fired on the Union garrison stationed there.
Toronto is another one of those cities that’s best seen from the water–in this case, Lake Ontario—arguably one of the city’s top attractions in its own right. One of the more interesting trip options is the three-masted schooner, which offers two-hour long daytime and sunset departures, where passengers can help raise a sail or just enjoy a cocktail and the scenic ride.
WHERE: French Polynesia
Tahiti and Moorea are perhaps two of the most distinctively-profiled islands in the South Pacific. The shape of Moorea is reported to be the inspiration for James Michener’s immortal Bali Hai, while some of the peaks of mountainous Tahiti make it appear to be wearing a crown. The best vantage point between the two islands is onboard the ferry between them while it makes its half-hour passage across the strait. Visitors can board on foot or bring their car. Whale sightings are common from August to October.