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By: M. Elizabeth Sheldon
A small, intimate ship is the key to a floating vacation that delivers the individualized service—and delicious food—you'd expect from a luxury hotel. Hop aboard any of these options that set sail for exotic ports of call.
Sea Song's masted 100-plus-foot sailing ships (or gulets in Turkish) look and feel like something straight out of a Bond film—there's even a chef on board to serve you freshly plucked green almonds. But the main reason to book a weeklong getaway for two is the cruise line's founder, Karen Fedora Sefer, the ultimate insider; she can arrange everything from a wind sailing excursion within secret coves to cooking classes where you'll make savory cheese-and-spinach stuffed pancakes known as gözleme. (You can also opt for a six-cabin vessel and invite 10 friends for a blow-out buddymoon.) Itineraries are completely customizable, but we recommend the journey from Bodrum to Göcek. Among the stops: the Greek island Symi and the ancient city of Kaunos, where you can explore ruins dating back to the sixth century B.C. (price upon request).
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With only four suites—two with terraes, two with plunge pools, all with floor-to-ceiling windowns—the Delfin I from Delfin Amazon Cruises is like a floating five-star resort. Craftsmen called ribereños created the ship's interiors using wood sustainably gathered from the Peruvian rainforest. Voyages take place year-round, but during the high-water season (between December and May) you'll have deeper access into the wildlife preserve. Days are spent swimming with dolphins, fishing, and paddleboarding. Come evening, honeymooners can pop Champagne and sample chocolate made from locally harvested cacao beans while watching the sun go down from a private skiff (from $3,800 double occupancy, for three nights).
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Travel companies have flooded Myanmar since its political regime loosened up in 2013, but there's something to be said for experience: Belmond has been operating on the Ayeyarwady River for more than two decades, which means it has access to more off-the-beaten-path locals—think heading deep into a Burmese teak forest to visit elephants. (In 2013, it began plying the Chindwin River as well.) On its newest ship, the 50-passenger Belmond Orcaella, all staterooms have glass doors that open onto balconies, so you can spot remote villages as you sail by day and night—or even as you relax during an open-air couples massage (from $5,500 per person for 7 nights).
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The gorgeous British Colonial suites of Uniworld's 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II, which launched in January, come complete with high ceilings, four-poster beds, rain showers and French or Juliet balconies. Tours of the Taj Mahal are romantically timed to coincide with sunset, when the all-white arcitecture turns a rosy pink. Back on board, you can watch a Bollywood dance performance or have your hands painted with henna (from $7,599 double occupancy for 13 days).
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Make like Beyoncé and Jay Z by touring Cuba before it's overrun by bigger cruise ships (go now!). Sea Cloud Cruises' famous windjammer sails from Havana to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, with visits to Isla de la Juventud (said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island) and the colonial city of Cienfuegos. The cabins are full of old-world grandeur, down to the marble fireplaces (available in some rooms). For a splurge, book the former owner's suite, decorated completely in Louis XIV furniture (from $7,895 per person for 12 nights).
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Traditionally known for uber-luxury, mid-size ships, Crystal Cruises is getting into the super-niche category with this new 62-passenger, 272-foot Crystal Esprit yacht, which set sail in the Indian Ocean in December 2015. Despite the ship's small size, there are three restaurants onboard; try the molecular-inspired tasting menu or grab a sandwich from the 24/7 casual cafe before heading out on an excursion, like deep-sea fishing for barracuda off the coast of the Seychelles. The ship also includes a three-person submarine, which can even be booked for underwater wedding ceremonies (from $4,960 per person).
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If you're looking for a truly over-the-top experience (with a price to match), follow ancient spice routes through Bali on the Amandira, a new masted yacht built by the local Konjo tribe, renowned for their sailing prowess. Fourteen crewmembers look after a maximum of 10 guests, keeping up with the reputation of Aman's hotel properties for incredible service. The small size allows for fully customizable itineraries, from deck-side dinners under the stars to seafood feasts on private beaches. You can also get PADI scuba dive certified onboard, a huge perk considering the ship sails through protected wildlife areas like Komodo National Park ($52, 211, double occupancy).
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Spain & France
Fresh off a $8.5 million upgrade, Windstar's Star Breeze is now hosting new James Beard Foundation culinary partnerships, which translates to itineraries like a 10-day tour of Spain and France guided by an established chef. (Upcoming departure dates are June 10 and August 9.) You'll visit orchards in Gijon (home to 250 types of apples) and sample regional wine during on-board dinners cooked by your host chef (from $4,499 per person).
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This small cruise line has set itself apart as one of the top lines for oenophiles, and this year it's offering eight new wine voyages. Unlike larger lines, which tend to book tours of larger, less boutique vineyards, SeaDream's 112-person ships have an onboard wine expert (Ida Dønheim), who curates each tour. The week-long trips include tasting bubbly at Spain's acclaimed, under-the-radar cava producer Recaredo and exploring sustainable winemaking at Provencal vineyard Chateau Gassier. Sommelier wannabes can also take a Level 1 wine certification class onboard (from $4,199, double occupancy).