Freighters, tall ships, tiny ships

For most people, “taking a cruise” evokes images of a huge ocean liner with hundreds if not thousands of other passengers, multiple restaurants, fully equipped fitness centers and round-the-clock entertainment. But there are more unusual ways to go out to sea, especially for people who seek unique adventures, serendipity, a chance to take part in the action and fewer crowds.

You can choose a 12-passenger exploration of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, a quiet voyage to foreign ports with just a few passengers and the crew on an oceangoing freighter, or even spend your days hauling lines aboard a square-rigger. These options, though not always cheap, are usually very good deals for what you get, and, more important, they deliver remarkable experiences in extraordinary places.

FREIGHTERS

Freighter travel is all about not doing too much of anything for many long, quiet days at sea on a ship whose main purpose is to carry cargo but that takes a few passengers along for the ride. A freighter voyage can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. You can go round-trip or one-way, getting yourself home again by air or by picking up another cargo ship traveling in the opposite direction, or you can book a segment of a voyage.

To enjoy life on a freighter, you must be relaxed, self-sufficient and flexible, since schedules and planned stops don’t always go as expected and the crew is busy running the ship and handling cargo. Before you sign on, be certain that you’ll be happy with not much else to do but read, play games, watch the crew at work — and, of course, contemplate the vast ocean. There are no scheduled activities except for meals — usually wholesome and tasty, although hardly gourmet — taken with the captain and crew.

Generally much smaller than standard cruise ships, modern freighters are usually clean and comfortable, with a cozy passenger lounge and roomy cabins with their own bathrooms. Some freighters even have small swimming pools and exercise rooms. Cost per day including food comes to about $100 to $130, plus port taxes. Since freighters do not have doctors on board, there’s usually a maximum age limit of about 75 to 80, and you must be in good health.

Typical voyage: A 35-day voyage on the Hanjin Yantian, a 984-foot German container ship with an international crew and a maximum of 10 passengers that sails from Long Beach, California, to Shanghai, China, and back, with stops from a few hours to a day or two, sometimes giving you time to explore the port city. Stops include Pusan, South Korea… Kaohslung, Taiwan… Shanghai, China… and Kwangyang, South Korea.

Cost: Round-trip, 35 days, about $4,463 per person, double occupancy. One-way to Shanghai, 16 days, about $2,040 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive.

Information: Freighter World Cruises, 800-531-7774, www.freighterworld.com.

TALL SHIPS

Plenty of small sailing ships take guests out to sea, but one of the most posh packages out there today is aboard the Caledonia, a 245-foot, square-rigged barquentine operated by Canadian Sailing Expeditions. This replica of a 19th-century merchant vessel sails around the Caribbean in the winter and along the Canadian coast in spring and summer, taking you ashore every day. One of the most popular seven-day voyages starts and ends in Quebec City.

Setting sail in the afternoon on an overnight cruise up the broad St. Lawrence River, the ship heads for the village of Tadoussac on a rocky coast in the Saguenay Fjord, where you go ashore to bike or hike or slide down the huge sand dunes. The next morning, the ship skims along the coast to look for whales and porpoises in the estuary, then arrives at Ile aux Lievres and its deserted beaches. For the rest of the week, you visit small coastal villages and rugged mountains, swim off the beach, paddle kayaks, ride water bikes, explore rivers, view rugged cliffs, dine aboard on local seafood and wine, and eventually sail back to Quebec City. Meanwhile, if you like, you can climb the rigging, take the wheel, haul lines and lounge around the deck.

Cost: $1,815 per person, double occupancy, seven days, all-inclusive.

Information: Canadian Sailing Expeditions, 877-429-9463, www.canadiansailingexpeditions.com.

TINY SHIPS

For up-close and intimate encounters with the scenery and the creatures in wilderness areas, nothing beats a cruise on a really small boat, small enough to poke into nooks and crannies along the coast, pass through narrow saltwater passages and deep fjords, and chug into coves and bays where a bigger boat could never navigate. The best example I know is the Discovery, a classic working yacht just 65 feet long that travels among the islands and along the remote coastal waters of Prince William Sound in Alaska. Taking no more than 12 passengers who bunk in six double cabins, the Discovery features up-close and intimate encounters with puffins, bears, glaciers, countless islands, forests, oyster beds, orca whales and sea otters that float on their backs carrying their babies on their chests. It is manned by its owner/operator/full-time captain and a crew of six, all of whom run the boat, cook the meals (mostly local seafood) and guide the guests on daily excursions on inflatable boats or kayaks or ashore for walks in the forest or visits to isolated fishing villages. The one-week package scheduled in the summer months includes six days on the boat and two overnights in Anchorage.

Cost: Starting at $3,800 per person, double occupancy, depending on departure date. Eight days, all-inclusive, May to early September.

Information: Discovery Voyages, 800-324-7602, www.discoveryvoyages.com.