Passengers:210 Best for: Active adults who want to see penguins, elephant seals, and glaciers up close without having to rough it
Sails: South America
At a Glance: A Travel + Leisure World’s Best 2016 winner, placing first in the Small Ocean Ship category. Small enough to navigate the stunning fjords of Patagonia but large enough for perks some other expedition vessels don’t have (there’s a gym onboard!), this expedition vessel wows passengers with knowledgeable local guides, great onboard lectures, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Cabins are bigger and cushier than you might expect on an expedition ship, with comfortable beds and huge picture windows—the better to watch those glaciers roll by. Twin and double rooms are 177 square feet, while superior rooms are 222 square feet, and all of them have bathrooms (not always a given on these cruises). Don’t bring your laptop: there’s no Wifi onboard.
Stella Australis’s Punta Arenas-to-Ushuaia and Ushuaia-to-Punta Arenas itineraries are packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so make sure you pack a good camera. Head to Pia Glacier to photograph an immense glacier. Hike through the ferns and lengas of Wulaia Bay, where Darwin visited on the HMS Beagle in 1833. Check out Magellanic penguins and cormorants from your Zodiac on the shoreline of Tuckers Islets. And if weather permits, go birdwatching around remote Cape Horn, known for its 425-meter cliffs and shipwrecks.
You may feel as if you’ve traveled to the ends of the earth, but the fare in the dining room is decidedly local. Meats and seafood are sourced around Patagonia, while vegetables and fruits come from around Santiago. At dinner, there’s one seating for all passengers, and dishes go beyond standard cruise fare: think thinly sliced octopus with olives, beef pot roast with creamed potato pie, and rhubarb cobbler with ice cream.
After an afternoon zipping around in a Zodiac, you’ll want to warm up. Luckily, anything you order at the bar is covered by your cruise fare. Bonus: on some excursions, you’ll have whisky and hot chocolate waiting for you when you make it to shore.