The world's best alternative boat trips

Planning your next adventure and fancy a trip on water? From champagne sunset cruises to frantic floating markets, these out-of-the-box boat trips will have you packing in a flash
Halong Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock
Halong Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

Halong Bay, Vietnam, offers an unmissable cruise experience. Photo: Shutterstock


Forget everything you thought you knew about epic cruise getaways. If you're on the lookout for something a little different, you're in luck. We've tracked down the world's best alternative boat trips. Bon voyage!


1. For a chic, cosmopolitan vibe

Where? Paris
What? Gourmet delights along the Seine
Which tour? Luxury Paris

When conversation turns to incredible cruises, Paris isn't usually the first destination to spring to mind, but that doesn't make it any less worthy. In fact, the City of Light is one of Europe's most enchanting cruise destinations. The Seine waterway, which covers nearly 500 miles of France, sets the stage. On this ultra-luxe tour of Paris, travellers embark on a luxury liner that coasts through the heart of the city itself; all while getting the royal treatment, feasting on a five-star dinner (it doesn't get much more romantic than that, does it?). Your taste buds are in for a treat, as culinary superstar Guy Krenzer (aka Best Artisan Chef in France) crafts the menu.

But the real jewel of this spectacular dinner cruise is the surrounding scenery. Once on board, expect knockout views of Paris' most illustrious monuments and treasured landmarks. In other words, this ain't your average cruise experience; prepare to be delighted.

2. For lush beauty and lazy backwaters

Where? Kerala
What? Houseboat cruising in tropical India
Which tour? Magical Kerala

Kerala is all lush landscapes, verdant greenery, and palm-fringed waterways, making it an absolute gem for a relaxing cruise getaway. Insight Guides' Magical Kerala trip is aptly named. Take to the lazy backwaters of Kerala on a charming Rainbow Cruises luxury houseboat. Once on board, you'll cruise around lovely Alappuzha, where water lilies, paddy fields and coconut groves await; not to mention sacred temples and charming little villages.

The southern state of Kerala is known the world over for its slow pace and laid-back atmosphere. The fact that it's also made up of a network of lagoons and lakes makes it an ideal destination for a relaxing cruise holiday. Discover tropical India for yourself on this epic vacation, which includes visits to spice plantations and a jaunt over to Periyar National Park.


Panorama of tourist houseboat on Kerala backwaters. Photo: Shutterstock


3. For luxury yachting 

Where? Ecuador
What? Exotic wildlife and top-notch snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands
Which tour? Cruising the Galapagos

Celebrated for its natural beauty and spectacular wildlife, the Galapagos Islands pack a big punch. They are far and away one of Latin America's most prized destinations for nature lovers. It isn't all that surprising that perhaps the best way to soak it in is by island hopping around the archipelago. Insight Guides has a number of fabulous trip packages on offer, including a variety of cruise holidays.

This particular cruise escape meanders through the surrounding seas aboard a super yacht called the Beluga. Your journey begins on the central islands of Santa Cruz, then hits the high points of Santa Fe, San Cristobal, and beyond. Steal glances of iguanas and seas lions, trek on rugged volcanic terrain, snorkel in pristine waters, and uncover the mysteries of Darwin Bay; this luxury cruise is sure to satisfy the curious adventurer.

4. For a glitzy gourmet cruise 

Where? Thailand
What? Five-star dinner cruising around swanky Bangkok
Which tour? Thai Sojourn

There's good food... and then there's authentic Thai cuisine. Thailand is Heaven on earth for foodies. Local fare varies wildly from region to region, taking influence from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, China, and more. In a nutshell, the flavour profiles represent an eclectic mix of cultures and tastes.

This, of course, makes Thailand a top dinner cruise destination. By far, a highlight of Insight Guides' Thai Sojourn vacation package is its excursion on the historic Chao Phraya river. Your culinary adventure kicks off on one of the gorgeously restored rice barges known as the Manohra and the Manohra Moon. Both are half-a-century old and have been refurbished for the sole purpose of hosting intimate dinner cruises. Break away from bustling Bangkok for a cosy dinner at sea. Afterward, this whirlwind trip will whisk you away to the lush valleys of Chiang Mai before hitting the south's surreal beaches.


Wat Arun and cruise ship in Bangkok. Photo: Shutterstock


5. For scenic views and quiet beauty

Where? Myanmar
What? Floating villages and peaceful careening on the water
Which tour? Secrets of Myanmar

The serene Inle Lake is a highlight for visitors to Shan State. Its calm, freshwater canals are lined with charming stilt houses, floating gardens, pretty temples and more. You'll likely catch sight of Intha fishermen who are known for their distinctive leg-rowing across the water. The lake is also home to fantastic shopping opportunities, like little markets where visitors can purchase authentic handicrafts and trinkets.

This remarkable Myanmar getaway boasts a scenic cruise across the expanse of Inle Lake. If it's peaceful drifting you're after, this is a must-do excursion. Your boat ride will be punctuated by quiet exploring and glimpses of village children and dazzling countryside.

6. For natural wonder at sea

Where? Halong Bay
What? Mind-blowing natural wonder at an UNESCO World Heritage Site
Which tour? Quintessential Vietnam 

The dramatic caves and stony outcrops of Halong Bay are nothing short of mesmerising. The area itself is comprised of literally thousands of teeny limestone islands, each one jutting out of the shimmering bay all around. Most of them, topped with lush vegetation and an air of mystery, are home to exotic little grottos and cliff sides.

This once-in-a-lifetime Vietnamese escape squeezes in an overnight cruise on a traditional wooden junk along Halong Bay. The journey spotlights epic views of the area's famous rock formations. Sneak a peek while dining on a relaxed dinner at sea. The kicker? This tour also includes a leisurely cruise on the Mekong Delta.


Dubai creek. Photo: Shutterstock


7. For desert cruising (luxury style)

Where? Dubai
What? Luxury cruising mixed with desert safaris and beach bliss
Which tour? Arabian Family Adventure

Few destinations are as luxuriously action-packed as the United Arab Emirates. Dubai certainly takes the cake here, serving up five-star desert adventures unlike anywhere else, which begs the question: where do cruises fit into all of this? You'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that the UAE has some top-notch cruise escapes on offer.

This trip packs in two day-cruises, each one equally tantalizing. One zips tourists off on a catamaran dinner cruise packed to the gills with mouthwatering barbecue delights. Catch stupendous views of Dubai's famous coastline while tucking into a delectable meal at sea. The other specialty cruise excursion ventures out to the Palm Islands, an idyllic seaside escape that happens to be entirely manmade. Here, visitors can catch views of prestigious in-the-works projects while quietly sailing along the Persian Gulf.

8. For cultural delights at sea

Where? The Mekong Delta
What? History, culture and Vietnamese cuisine along the Mekong Delta
Which tour? Southern Vietnam Explored

We've already mentioned Vietnam's spectacular Halong Bay, a dreamy cruise destination in its own right. But the truth is that Vietnam is also home to other fantastic waterways that make for wonderful cruise experiences. Enter the Mekong Delta, Southeast Asia's mightiest river. Heading out of Ho Chi Minh City, hubs like Vinh Long, Ben Tre, and Cai Be are premier locales for authentic experiences with thinner crowds.

The river is a lovely, vibrant stretch of water made famous by its colourful floating markets. This exotic tour takes you to one such market in Cai Be before whisking you off to a cottage factory (where coconut sweet treats and rice paper are made. Yum!). From there, it's back on the Mekong Delta for beautiful local scenery and an overnight stay as you drift along the water. The next morning brings a visit to the Cai Rang Floating Market; a truly unique shopping experience indeed.


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