Harbor hopping―traveling by water to various ports―gives passengers an intimate look at seaside culture, coastal towns, and sublime scenery. Small ships make the experience even cozier. Trips range from one day to more than two weeks, and can include lodging, meals, recreation, shore tours, and transportation. Passengers usually sleep aboard the vessel, or in planned hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns along the way. (Inspired by senior editor Steve Millburg's Harbor Hopping in Maine story, we compiled a list of notable excursions.)
Adventure Smith Explorations: (Alaska) Glacier Bay Highlights
After arriving in Juneau, guests board the 78-passenger Spirit of Alaska for a round-trip adventure to Skagway, Haines, and Glacier Bay National Park―home to more than 200 species of birds and fish. Humpback whales, bald eagles, orcas, and sea lions may show up during the journey. Most meals are included, with four- and five-day excursions available. May cruise prices begin at $1,399. Call 800/728-2875 or visit adventuresmithexplorations.com.
Sail Channel Islands: California
Travel by sailboat from Ventura, California, through the Santa Barbara Channel to Channel Islands National Park, known for sea lions, seals, whales, and unusual wildlife. These trips feature no pubs or shops. Instead, passengers can experience the native stomping grounds of more than 2,000 plant and animal species. Captain Dan offers sailing lessons, and you can bring your kayak or surfboard. Once off the boat, you're on your own. If you prefer city-to-city hopping, then inquire about stops at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, and San Diego. Extended-cruise prices start at $700 per day for a maximum of four passengers; provisions are extra. Call 805/750-7828 or visit sailchannelislands.com.
Fantasy Cruises: San Juan Islands and British Columbia
This round-trip voyage on the 30-passenger MV Island Spirit begins in Seattle and travels up Puget Sound to Coupeville, Friday Harbor, and Port Townsend in Washington, and Sidney and Nanaimo in British Columbia. Packages include onboard meals and beverages. Cruises begin in May, and prices start at $2,349 for six nights. Call 800/234-3861 or visit sanjuanislandcruises.com.
Atlantic and Gulf Coasts
American Canadian Caribbean Line: Florida
Beginning in Jacksonville, the 78-passenger Niagara Prince stops in St. Augustine, Titusville, and Fort Myers, and winds up in St. Petersburg. Activities include historic sightseeing, a tour of the Kennedy Space Center, and plenty of beach time. Offered May 3-10 only; prices begin at $980. Call 800/556-7450 or visit accl-smallships.com/Schedule.cfm.
Traverse Tall Ship Company: Michigan
Manitou, one of the largest sailing vessels on the Great Lakes, provides a relaxed getaway. She sails out of Northport, Michigan, with no set itinerary. The anchor can drop at destinations such as Cathead Bay, the Manitou Islands, and Beaver Island, depending partly on wind and weather conditions. Most meals are served onboard, and cabins accommodate 24 passengers. Beginning in September, two-night excursions start at $460. Call 800/678-0383 or visit tallshipsailing.com.
Atlantic Stars: New England
As the temperatures heat up, climb aboard 42-passenger sailing ship Arabella for dinner in Newport, Rhode Island; shopping on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts; and a New England lobster boil. Additional destinations include Cuttyhunk and Nantucket islands in Massachusetts. Beginning late June, five-night cruise prices start at $999. Call 800/395-1343 or visit cruisearabella.com.
American Eagle: Maine
Lobster bakes, hand-cranked ice cream, and haddock served with lemon-caper sauce are a few tasty reasons to hop aboard the two-masted schooner American Eagle. Itineraries are flexible and can include events ranging from a parade of sail to music festivals. The ship accommodates 26 guests and offers three- to 10-day cruises. Starting in late May, prices begin at $445. Call 800/648-4544 or visit schooneramericaneagle.com.
Sea Cloud Cruises
Enjoy the tranquil blue-green waters and coastal breezes aboard the luxurious four-masted barque Sea Cloud, which carries 64 passengers. This round-trip cruise from Bridgetown, Barbados, stops in Port of Spain, Trinidad; Charlotteville, Tobago; Port Elizabeth, Bequia; and St. George's, Grenada. Offered in December, seven-night cruises start at $4,160. Call 201/227-9404 or visit seacloud.com.