USA TODAY - We've all heard of Caribbean cruises to the Bahamas, Mexico, and Jamaica aboard mega-ships like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but hundreds of other exotic itineraries await on smaller vessels. From the United States to Patagonia and Australia, we've rounded up the 10 best cruise itineraries you didn't know existed.
For a lengthier adventure through Australia, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea, Orion Expeditions offers a 19-night cruise from Cairns, Australia. The cruise is packed with unique ports of call like Rabaul, the "Pacific Pompeii," and Pulap (Micronesia), and includes snorkeling, local dances and demonstrations of thatching, loom weaving, and rope making.
As part of the luxury group, Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, the motor vessel Vrinda cruiser navigates the backwaters of Kerala, India on a three-night itinerary. The ship coasts through Vembanad Lake and enters the Alleppey canal, while guests have a chance to meet local fisherman, take a rice boat excursion, and observe a "Kathakali" dance which tells ancient Hindu legends.
The Great Lakes
From June through October, the Great Lakes Cruise Company offers voyages through legendary waterways in the United States, including the Erie Canal, Hudson River and St. Lawrence Seaway. Embarking from Chicago, the ship calls on under-the-radar gems like car-free Mackinac Island, Michigan; Lake Huron; Buffalo, New York (Niagara Falls); Lake Ontario, Rochester, NY; and Warren, Rhode Island.
Kick your shoes off on Island Windjammers' barefoot cruises through the Windward islands of the Caribbean. The 12-passenger schooner sails through Carriacou, Union Island, Bequia, Tobago Cays and Mayreau on six-night voyages. Passengers can take the kayaks for a spin, assist the crew in sailing or organize an impromptu picnic on the beach.
Scotland and Ireland
The luxury vessel, Hebridean Princess makes her home in the waterways of Ireland and Scotland and offers several voyages that combine the two. The eight-night Gaelic Trilogy itinerary begins in Oban, Scotland's seafood capital, and calls on Jura, Bangor, the Isle of Man, and Tynwald island. Cruises include tours of distilleries, villages and castles.
In West Africa, the Greek-owned Variety Cruises operates seven-night voyages on the M/Y Harmony along the rivers of West Africa. Embarking from Dakar, the ship sails to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Senegal, St. James Island in the Gambia River and the Gambia National Park. Wildlife viewing opportunities include baboons, warthogs, chimpanzees, crocodiles and hippos.
Follow the path of Charles Darwin on a four-night cruise from Punta Arenas, Chile to Cape Horn, Argentina. Cruceros Australis specializes in expeditions throughout Patagonia that include zodiac excursions through glaciers and national parks. Learn about the flora and fauna of Patagonia with expert guides and onboard lecturers.
Boutique river cruise line, Uniworld offers an "Imperial Waterways of Russia" journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The 15-night adventure takes passengers along the Volga, Neva and Svir Rivers to Goritsy and Yaroslavl to experience palaces, armories, 15th- and 17th-century cathedrals and medieval fortresses.
Tucked away in Belfast, Maine is the family-owned Wanderbird, a Dutch trawler that embarks on research trips to Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2014, Rick and Karen Miles welcome passengers to join them on three different Arctic dogsled and showshoe expeditions in Canada. Journeys include visits to a cultural village in Oujé-Bougoumou, snowshoeing and dogsledding in Labrador with Inuit guides.
Set sail with Pandaw River Cruise Expeditions for 14 nights through the middle of Burma, and explore Pagan, known for its 3,000 monuments, and the culturally-rich Lower Chindwinth. Visit local markets in the colonial town of Thayetmyo, teak monasteries in Sale and the ancient center of the Pyu civilization.
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