If the concept of a cruise vacation evokes images of bland buffet dinners and sunburnt tourists lounging beside a crowded pool, you’re not alone. Yet, discerning travelers who instinctively dismiss cruise travel do so to their detriment. There are certain places in the world that can only be experienced from the world’s waterways — the Drake Passage to the Rio Negro — and others that can only be fully appreciated via a sailing expedition. From the Amazon Rainforest to the Mekong Delta, here are the top three adventure cruises to add to your bucket list. May the wind be always at your back (and in your sails, too).
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AmaWaterways: Charms of the Mekong
- Outfitter: AmaWaterways
- Expedition: Charms of the Mekong
- Duration: 7 Nights
- Ship: AmaDara
- Available Dates: Year-round
The third largest delta in the world, the Mekong River is home to 20 million people who live and work along its shores. Beginning in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong snakes its way through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The AmaWaterways Mekong expedition is ideal for exploring parts of Cambodia and Vietnam that would be nearly impossible to visit by car. Ancient society in these countries was formed along the water’s edge, and travelers will find traditional crafts and unique cultural practices well preserved within the various communities visited on their magical Mekong journey.
The AmaDara ship imbues classic, old-world elegance into the proceedings — a fitting atmosphere to accompany this slower, more considered type of travel. Furthermore, the majority of the staff aboard the ship hails from Cambodia and Vietnam — and many are native to the Mekong villages you will be visiting aboard your expedition — providing a uniquely immersive experience for all travelers to the region. As always, the people are the greatest part of any destination — and your hosts aboard the AmaDara are nothing short of spectacular.
Mekong Travel Tips:
- Withdraw plenty of cash at home or in Ho Chi Minh City prior to departure. The textiles and crafts are spectacular, and you will regret not being able to buy as many $15 silk scarves as humanly possible.
- Small change is also essential for tips — and paying a tuk-tuk driver slightly extra to accompany you for the entire evening reaps endless rewards when you spend a night exploring the city in an open-air carriage behind a motorbike, your driver doubling as a tour guide to the best bars (and street food) in town.
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Viking: Antarctic Explorer
- Outfitter: Viking Cruises
- Expedition: Antarctic Explorer
- Duration: 13 Days
- Ship: Polaris or Octantis
- Location: West Antarctic Peninsula
- Available Dates: November to February
When it comes to adventure travel, there’s no place like Antarctica, the only continent never inhabited or colonized by mankind. And when it comes to Antarctic travel, the best method for appreciating the continent’s icy beauty is by cruise ship. The best part of Antarctica for visitors to explore is the western peninsula, with its iceberg fields and glistening snow-capped mountaintops. Viking launched their first Antarctic expeditions in 2022 with the debut of their Octantis ship (Polaris has since been added), and the outfitter’s blend of immersive polar adventure and signature luxury amenities is perfect for a bucket list trip to the seventh continent. Plus, Viking’s dedication to sustainable travel and contributions to scientific research in the polar regions make this an ethical choice for conscientious travelers. In Antarctica in particular, it’s important to leave no trace.
Unlike on other cruises, there are no ports for travelers to disembark for an entire day and get some fresh air off the confines of the boat — and this, of course, is why Antarctica is so magical. It’s also why the creature comforts aboard your vessel is of the utmost importance. Simply put, you will be spending the majority of your time aboard the ship, which is why the open-air jacuzzis, serene sauna and spa, and magnificent panoramic views from the Explorers Lounge bar are considerable assets to your overall enjoyment of this once-in-a-lifetime journey. Of course, “polar fever” is a very real condition — so once you behold the blue and white wonderland of Antarctica, it’s likely you’ll long to return again and again to a land untouched by time and civilization. To that, we wish you many happy returns.
Antarctica Travel Tips:
- Brace for the elements — trust us, ski goggles are a necessity and be sure to pack extra gloves, as they’re the first item to get wet (and the last item to dry).
- When the Drake Passage is calm, it’s known as the ‘Drake lake,’ but when it’s rough, it’s the ‘Drake shake’ — prepare for the latter with Dramamine patches if you’re prone to seasickness. If you plan to brave the high seas sans medication, then be sure to go out on deck as often as possible — staring at the horizon helps combat nausea — and avoid excess time spent cooped up in your cabin.
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Amazon Nature Tours: Voyage to the Heart of the Amazon
- Outfitter: Amazon Nature Tours
- Expedition: Voyage to the Heart of the Amazon
- Duration: 6 Nights
- Ship: Tukano
- Location: Manaus, Brazil
- Available Dates: Year-Round
There are fewer places in this world more wonderful and wild than the Amazon, and a river cruise is the best way to explore this legendary rainforest. And, while the plants, the trees, and the animals are certainly spectacular, one of the most fascinating elements of the Amazon is the local culture and native communities. With Amazon Nature Tours, the majority of the crew is indigenous to the Amazon and provides spectacular insight into the communities, legends, and ways of life that have existed in the forest for centuries. Additionally, the expedition takes guests up the Rio Negro to where it meets the Amazon River in Brazil — which is the best country for Amazon exploration, as it represents the largest part of the rainforest.
Additionally, while sustainability is important everywhere, it is especially so in the Amazon, and the Tucano boat is extremely eco-friendly, with extra consideration given to leaving no trace. The chic, elegant interior allows you to truly step back in time, and the pared-back environment of the boat allows visitors to avoid distractions and truly appreciate the spectacular show taking place all around you. During the day, you can hear the fruit falling from trees, but the animals tend to be quieter — it’s so hot that they’re resting (and you, too, will enjoy a mid-day nap, necessary for early morning wake-ups and post-dinner adventures). But the Amazon truly comes alive at nighttime, after a spectacular sunset, when the river comes alive with the sounds of animals’ mating calls and the Rio Negro is illuminated by the bright stars above (the lack of light pollution is incredible, you will feel that you are in a snowglobe full of stars).
Amazon Travel Tips:
- Moisture-wick clothing is mandatory. The Amazon is hot and sticky, and you will be hot and sticky, too. Now is not the time to try to rough it in your college tee-shirt — invest in a pair of lightweight pants and long-sleeve button-down shirts (you will want the coverage to protect from insects, as well).
- Binoculars are a necessity — especially for birders. It’s tough to see some of the parrots and tropical birds from your vantage point on the river, so you will find your binoculars to be your trustiest piece of equipment while exploring.