The Bucket List: 8 Boat Tours that Ditch the Big Ships

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Big boats and short stops at port aren’t everyone’s ideal way to travel. These eight boat tours are anti-cruises for those who prefer to ditch the big liners and trade them for more intimate vessels that explore at a slower pace.

1. Sanctuary Ananda

Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers, Myanmar


Photo via Sanctuary Retreats, by Ken Hayden Photography

Having opened up to tourism less than a decade ago, Myanmar is still a relatively new addition to the menu of options on the South East Asia itinerary. While visitors have been flocking there in recent years, the tourism infrastructure is still lacking greatly compared to neighboring countries like Thailand. Take it from someone who has been to Myanmar, it is challenging travel, but wholly worth it. One way to ease the burden and reap the countless rewards of a trip to The Golden Land is to take a river cruise down the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) and Chindwin rivers. The sleek Sanctuary Ananda was custom built by local craftsmen and features 20 rooms across three decks, as well as a lounge, sundeck and pool. Ananda Cruises offers 12 itineraries ranging from four to 11 nights. Most trips include stops in Mandalay and the ever-enchanting Bagan.

2. Avalon Aria

Amazon River, Peru


Photo via Avalon Waterways

The 147-foot Avalon Aria, designed by Peruvian architect Jordi Puig, spares no luxury as it makes its way down the northern Amazon River in Peru. The ship has 16 suites with floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall windows that invite you to take in the passing Amazon Rainforest and all its flora and fauna. Cruises start and end in Lima, and include land excursions to Cusco and the bucket list-worthy Machu Picchu before boarding the 32-guest Aria in Iquitos for several nights on the river.

3. Mekong Delta

Mekong River, Cambodia and Vietnam


Photo via Viking River Cruises

Viking Cruises 15-day Mekong River tours take you through some of Cambodia and Vietnam’s most culturally and historically rich sites. The 56-guest boat includes staterooms with floor-to-ceiling sliding French doors that open onto balconies, a restaurant with panoramic views of the passing scenery, as well as a sundeck. The cruise starts with three days in Hanoi, before embarking for Cambodia’s magnificent Angkor Wat. After additional stops in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh, the cruise heads back toward Vietnam where you’ll pass the floating Mekong Delta markets in Sa Dec before ending your trip with three days in Ho Chi Minh City.

4. Zambezi Queen

Chobe River, Botswana


Photo via AmaWaterways

This 150-foot modular boat takes you on a safari cruise down the Chobe River at a peaceful pace perfect for taking in the surrounding scenery. The 14 staterooms on the Zambezi Queen are spacious and full of windows. Each room also comes with a balcony designed for spotting the passing wildlife. With a capacity of only 28 passengers, you won’t be fighting crowds to sunbathe on the roof deck or relax in the on-board library. AmaWaterways offers several itineraries, all of which start and end in South Africa. Most include four nights onboard, as well as multiple days at Victoria Falls.

5. Halong Bay

Halong Bay, Vietnam


Photo by Terry Straehleyene, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There’s no better way to experience Vietnam’s enchanting Halong Bay than by boat. The UNESCO World Heritage site is home to more than 1,500 limestone islets that dot its Gulf of Tonkin waters. The number of cruise operators can be overwhelming, but most start and end in Hanoi and include one or two nights on the water. As your boat weaves its way around the rock formations in this stunning bay, you’ll likely stop for off-boat excursions that include kayaking and cave tours.

6. Ecoventura Cruises

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador


Photo via Ecoventura

The Galapagos Islands are no strangers to bucket lists. The archipelago famous for its biodiversity lies more than 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast and isn’t especially easy to reach. For those that make it there, the visit should not be rushed. Ecoventura’s 7-night cruises take you to more than a dozen sites within Galapagos National Park aboard their fleet of luxury mega-yachts. The MV Origin, joining their fleet in 2016, will offer two itineraries that cater to sustainable travel and include off-board excursions like snorkeling with Galapagos penguins, kayaking and swimming with sea lions. Their latest 20-passenger yacht also includes a fitness center, open bar and locally-inspired gourmet cuisine.

7. Grand European Tour

The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary


Photo by Roderick Eime, CC BY 2.0

There are plenty of rivers worth cruising in Europe. On Viking Cruises Grand European Tour you can knock a number of them out in one trip. The 15-day cruise takes you down the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary. The fleet of Viking longships each have 95 staterooms, a sundeck for panoramic viewing, as well a restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows so you won’t miss a single passing windmill, castle or iconic European landmark.

8. Mississippi River Cruise

St. Paul, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana


Photo via American Queen Steamboat Company

The mighty Mississippi is best experienced at as slow a pace as life in many of the cities that line its southern shores. Take a page from one of Mark Twain’s tales and travel the Big Muddy by steamboat. The American Queen Steamboat Company offers an array of itineraries, which include a variety of 9-day upper or lower Mississippi options.

?Top Photo: Avalon Waterways

Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.