Assuming a tacky, overstuffed megaship is your idea of a high-seas nightmare, consider the new generation of small-scale luxury craft that's hitting waters the world over. With 200 passengers max, you'll have a lot less competition for a poolside lounge chair.
Starting this December, the best way to see Antarctica is from the floor-to-ceiling windows of the modern expedition ship Le Boreal. For close-ups, 10-to-12-seat Jacques Cousteau–designed Zodiac boats ferry people to penguin-packed beaches and back for boozy dinners of Patagonian pink river trout and dips in the heated outdoor pool.
From $9,995 per person for 13 nights; abercrombiekent.com
Navigating the archipelago wonderland that is Vietnam's Halong Bay, this newly restored junk—with private balconies and personal butlers for each of its six suites—combines jaw-dropping views of the 1,600 limestone islets with morning Tai Chi, cave hikes, and alfresco dinners.
From $730 for two people for two nights, all-inclusive; cruisehalong.com
If you'd prefer to avoid the crowds in South Africa for the World Cup, head north for the elephants: The Zambezi Queen plies the placid Chobe River, tracking herds 120,000 strong. When you aren't nature-watching, you can kill time aboard the 135-foot cruiser catnapping beside the top-deck pool or testing your constellation-spotting abilities with a computerized telescope.
From $773 per person for two nights; zambeziqueen.com
Leave it to African-vacation specialists to spice up the Great Lakes. Travel Dynamics International's 19-day outings on the 100-passenger Clelia II dock at Native American reserves and Victorian-era shore towns, but lest you feel too close to home, there is a European staff of 60 for full-on pampering.
From $6,845 per person for 18 nights; traveldynamicsinternational.com
Pink dolphins, giant river otters, and rare alligators are just a few of the elusive animals you'll find in Peru's extreme-wildlife cast. Check them out aboard the Delfin II, a sleek 14-suite boat that traverses the 5 million–acre Pacaya National Reserve while stoking its passengers with haute Amazonian cuisine and pisco sours.
From $1,808 per person for three nights; delfinamazoncruises