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The five best cruise lines you’ve never heard of

Are you sick of fighting for deck chairs and waiting in long lines for a buffet lunch? Tired of sailing to the same destinations over and over again? Do you yearn for a vacation your neighbors haven’t taken first, to explore non-touristy port towns and really experience a destination?

To sail off the beaten path, you need to turn away from the mainstream and premium lines and look to lesser-known brands. The lines that fly under the radar often feature intimate ships, exotic or more in-depth itineraries, and a different approach to cruising.

Here are our favorite cruise lines you may not have heard of.

Star Clippers

Don’t confuse Star Clippers with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises or Windstar, even though all three lines feature ships with sails. Star Clippers’ fleet of tall ships offers more luxury than Windjammer and a more authentic sailing experience than Windstar.

Fleet: Three tall sailing ships carry 170 to 227 passengers each.

Destinations: Star Clippers sails to the Caribbean, French Polynesia, the Far East, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean. It is most recognized for its Caribbean cruises, where it can pull into smaller ports than the bigger cruise ships. More recently, Star Clippers has gained recognition as the only sailing ship in the Far East, and its Star Flyer is committed to sailing year-round in Tahiti for the next four years.

Typical guests: Boating enthusiasts in their 60s and 70s and adventurous honeymooners.

Onboard life: There’s no casino or Broadway-style shows, so passengers must be prepared to keep themselves entertained. Guest favorites include socializing at the Tropical Bar, listening to the captain at his morning story time, and helping hoist the sails or steer the ship. But this isn’t a bare-bones pirate ship—comfortable staterooms, fine dining, and a spa keep guests relaxed and pampered.

Hallmark features: The ships are the main attractions to anyone who has wanted to sail on a real tall ship. The line’s water sports program gets rave reviews from divers and sports enthusiasts. A water sports staff on every cruise will teach you to dive, sail, water ski, or windsurf. The ship carries its own equipment onboard.

Savings opportunity: If you want to sail with Star Clippers next summer, now’s the time to book and take advantage of early-booking prices. With one fewer ship in the Mediterranean this year, those cruises are bound to sell out quickly.

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