14 Unique Cruises You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Escape the mundane with cruise experiences that redefine the art of exploration.

senior couple enjoying cruise vacation
Updated May 28, 2024
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Whether you’re a diehard cruise lover or a casual tourist looking to step up your travel game, cruise ships offer a wonderful way to see the sights in multiple locations.

There are plenty of recognizable cruise ships that specialize in specific experiences or themes. However, these lesser-known cruise ship lines may offer a unique experience for those seeking something a little different.

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Sea Cloud Cruises

Courtesy of Sea Cloud Cruises sea cloud cruises

Mainstream cruise ships are often huge and fully modernized. At Sea Cloud Cruises, they focus on a smaller, more intimate sailing experience.

The private yachts primarily use hand-set wind sails to guide the ship. In fact, the routes periodically change to adapt to the weather. The yachts also dock at smaller ports, creating a more unique and personalized travel experience.

Emerald Cruises

Courtesy of Emerald Cruises emerald cruises

With Emerald Cruises, you can enjoy a river cruise through Europe and Southeast Asia.

Some river routes include the Danube, Rhine, Douro, and Mekong. The company also offers yacht cruises on the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Red Sea. You can also cruise through the Caribbean and Central America.

Emerald Cruises is also committed to sustainability, sourcing local ingredients at port and avoiding single-use plastic entirely.

Alaskan Dream Cruises – Kruzof Explorer

Courtesy of Alaska Dream Cruises alaska dream cruises kruzof explorer

For a much smaller, more intimate cruising experience, book a stay on the Kruzof Explorer from Alaskan Dream Cruises. This former Bering Sea crab fishing boat only hosts 12 passengers in luxurious, cozy rooms.

Another perk of the Kruzof is the boat’s ability to get to remote, hard-to-access waters. There are also speed boats, kayaks, and adventuring gear on board for further exploration.

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Courtesy of Viking viking cruises

For a more culture-forward cruise experience, take a trip on a Viking river or ocean cruise.

The cruise line docks in smaller towns like Marksburg Castle in Germany or Porto in Portugal. You can also travel along the Seine River in France or the Nile River in Egypt.

The vessels are designed in a modern yet comfy Scandinavian style.

Ocean Endeavour

Courtesy of Swoop Antarctica ocean endevour

If you’re seeking a true adventure, book a trip on the Ocean Endeavour, which takes guests on a tour of Antarctica.

With limited off-board options, the on-board amenities are vast, including saunas, spas, a pair of restaurants, and more. The experience is also intimate, with the passenger headcount capped at 199.

UnCruise Adventures

Courtesy of UnCruise uncruise adventures

Another cruise line tailored to adventure seekers is UnCruise Adventures. This Alaska-based company has several vessels of varying sizes, and destinations that include Hawaii, California, the Galapagos, and Machu Picchu.

The smallest cruise ship hosts 22 guests in 11 cabins, and the largest can hold up to 86 in 43 cabins.

Maple Leaf Adventures – Swell

Courtesy of Maple Leaf Adventures maple leaf adventures

History lovers will enjoy a cruise on the Swell, a 1912 tugboat built in Canada that has been converted into a commercial cruise ship.

The vessel is small, with six cabins and a maximum of 12 guests per voyage. Other amenities include a hot tub, three salons and lounging areas, and kayaks for further exploration.

Paul Gauguin Cruises – The Gauguin

Courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises pg cruises

Experience the South Pacific on an intimate vessel with Paul Gauguin Cruises. The Gauguin holds 330 guests and has three restaurants and a spa on board.

Destinations include Tahiti, the Society Islands, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and more, many of which are explored together on one voyage. The ship can sail to a total of five islands within a week.

Quark Expeditions – 50 Years of Victory

Courtesy of Quark Expeditions quark expeditions

Quark Expeditions offers another adventurous cruise ship option: 50 Years of Victory.

This nuclear-powered vessel features a spoon-shaped bow and stainless steel skirt that makes it able to break through ice as thick as 9.2 feet.

When not exploring polar waters, guests can take helicopter excursions, hit the gym, swim laps in the pool, warm up in the sauna, and more.

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American Cruise Lines

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines american cruise lines

While most cruise ships explore oceans and rivers abroad, American Cruise Lines sets forth on river expeditions in America.

Specific rivers include the Mississippi River and the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Cruises also visit New England, Alaska, Puget Sound, and more.

The riverboats range in capacity from 90 to 180 guests, with each vessel featuring onboard entertainment and education, fine dining, and more.

Aranui Cruises – Aranui 5

Courtesy of Aranui Cruises aranui cruise

Aranui is a Polynesian-focused cruise line that includes the Aranui 5. The vessel carries passengers around for a 12-day, immersive getaway. At the same time, it is also a supply ship that delivers to small, remote civilizations in French Polynesia.

The ship hosts up to 230 passengers and provides a culturally enriching, comfortable, all-inclusive experience.

Aqua Expeditions

Courtesy of Aqua Expeditions aqua xpedition cruise

Aqua Expeditions vessels offer river and ocean cruises in destinations such as the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Amazon River in Peru, Komodo Island, the Raja Ampat and Spice Islands in Indonesia, and the Galapagos Islands.

The small cruises focus on culturally engaging experiences, emphasizing exploring nature and local wildlife.

Relais & Châteaux – Ecoventura

Courtesy of Ecoventura ecoventura

Adventurous travelers get to explore the Galapagos Islands aboard the Relais & Châteaux Ecoventura.

This experience also focuses on wildlife and nature, with activities that include snorkeling with sea lions. You might also spot dolphins, green sea turtles, and giant tortoises.

Seeing rare Galapagos birds is another enriching opportunity for passengers of the Ecoventura.

Sailing4Adventure – Skull & Crossbones

nidvoray/Adobe two pirates with a flag

For a truly special sailing experience, take a trip aboard the Skull & Crossbones. Expeditions are four days long and recreate the experience of being a pirate sailing on the Baltic Sea in one of two ships.

Passengers are also referred to as players, as they will spend the expedition in character as a true pirate, complete with mock combat between the ships.

Bottom line

michaeljung/Adobe Couple at sunset on a ship

These cruise ships offer unique experiences — from exploring remote islands to experiencing the Antarctic.

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Lucy Clark

Lucy Clark has considerable experience writing about real estate, as well as homes and gardens, home value, and more. She is savvy and resourceful, and she aims to ensure others can be, as well.