‘Mesmerising and tranquil, with dolphins everywhere’: readers’ favourite boat trips | Boating holidays

Winning tip: Evening cruise with supper, Tokyo

On sultry summer evenings in Tokyo, it can feel like you’re sleeping under a sweaty horse … humid and oppressive. An evening yakatabune cruise is perfect for catching the breeze on the waters of Tokyo Bay. These small, traditional boats, necklaced with lanterns, have transported centuries of sightseers on moon-watching and cherry-blossom parties. Now, they offer sumptuous dinners afloat. As our flamboyant chefs tossed knives and chopped ingredients to prepare Edo-style food, we floated past the illuminated Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower and the Skytree. We ate at low tables, and the atmosphere was cheery and relaxed, helped by free-flowing plum wine and cooling evening breezes.
From about £60 depending on menu, yakatabune-tokyo.com
Caroline Picking

Highland boat fling

MV Sheerwater moored in Arisaig.
MV Sheerwater moored in Arisaig. Photograph: Stephen Finn/Alamy

The MV Sheerwater trip from Arisaig (seven miles south of Mallaig on Scotland’s west coast) to the Small Isles is a real treat. It calls itself a ferry but that belies the magic of it. It’s a tiny boat with a knowledgable, friendly local skipper, and although you’ll depart on time, you’ll arrive only when there’s nothing more of interest to be seen in the sea – whales, seals, dolphins, birdlife, the lot. The journey is the adventure.

Broad wildlife knowledge, Norfolk

A reed bed on Horsey Mere.
A reed bed on Horsey Mere. Photograph: AA World Travel Library/Alamy

Ross knows so much about the wildlife and broads which he is keen to share. The trip runs from Horsey Staithe and takes you out across Horsey Mere and into the narrow channels through the reed beds. All you can see are reeds, the tops of windmills and church towers. The wind rustles through the reeds, murmuring as it has done for generations. The birdlife is varied and prolific and Ross spots them, pointing them out and enabling us to be looking in the right direction as the heron launches itself skyward or to peer into the reeds to see the small birds nesting.
Adult £10, child £8, nationaltrust.org.uk
Jane Howard

Blue Grotto, Malta

Blue Grotto in Malta
Colours of sea, rock and flora captivate visitors on boat trips to the Blue Grotto. Photograph: Evgenii Parilov/Alamy

From the picturesque harbour at the foot of Wied iż-Żurrieq, on Malta’s south coast, little boats that chug around the coast for a 20-minute trip to the seven caves comprising Malta’s Blue Grotto (€8, cash only). Clear sunny days are when the magic occurs; the blue of the sky reflects off the seabed under the caves, turning the water to brilliant turquoise. At the same time, the cave walls bounce back the vivid colours of the underwater flora, with captivating displays of iridescence and colour. When you disembark, walk up to Iz-Zurrieq village for a lunch of fresh fish, with sea views: Il Corsaro restaurant is lovely. There’s also a viewing platform for landlubbers.
Berni G

San Juan islands, Washington, US

Sunset at Friday Harbor.
Sunset at Friday Harbor. Photograph: Bjorn Bakstad/Getty Images

Not well known within the US, let alone outside, the San Juan islands in the Pacific north-west are an absolute joy, and made even more spectacular by the ferry journey out and back between Anacortes (a 90-minute drive north of Seattle) and the islands, including the most popular, Friday Harbor. On warm but rarely hot summer days, you’ll spot porpoises and eagles as the ferry weaves between the islands, gaze at a backdrop that includes tMount St Helens and Mount Rainier, and perhaps dream of staying in one of the lovely villages and homes dotted on each island as you drift by, all of which makes for a truly memorable boat trip. To the west is Vancouver Island, and more extraordinary sea journeys.

Pedal for your life, Amsterdam

Taking a boat, or pedalo, under Amsterdam’s bridges can be fraught, our tipster reports.
Taking a boat, or pedalo, under Amsterdam’s bridges can be fraught, our tipster reports. Photograph: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

My most memorable boat trip was a pedalo in Amsterdam soon after I got married. The sun was shining and the views of the city were incredible, but the real excitement came when we had to nip under a bridge with a packed tour boat honking its horn behind us, and another waiting to come through from the other side – my calves have never had such a workout! Our marriage survived, we’ve laughed about it a lot since, and the beer once we were back on terra firma was one of the best tasting ever.
Bethan Sayers

Dreamlike castle, north-east Germany

Pfaffenteich, Schwerin
The ‘elegant tree-lined’ Pfaffenteich. Photograph: Imagebroker/Alamy

In Schwerin, former ducal seat turned capital of the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, elegant, tree-lined Pfaffenteich (padre’s pond) lies between the train station and the city centre. It’s crisscrossed by the Petermännchenfähre (little Petermann ferry – named after the castle’s household spirit) and offers splendid views of the cathedral for €2. Now that you have got your sea legs, head over to the dreamlike castle (modelled after Château de Chambord) from where the ferry’s big brothers depart for tours of Lake Schwerin, Germany’s fourth-biggest lake.

Dolphins off Madeira

Gulls and a common dolphin off Madeira.
Gulls and a common dolphin off Madeira. Photograph: Eugene Sergeev/Alamy

The beautiful seas of Madeira gifted me one of the most memorable experiences of my life – careful to choose an ethical dolphin-watching experience, we embarked aboard a traditional Madeiran boat and set out across the clear seas. Before long, a pod of bottlenose dolphins surrounded us and started playing in the surf of the boat, leaping out in front. The boat stopped and there were dolphins in every direction – calves with their mothers and adolescents clowning around. You would have needed eyes in the back of your head to take it all in. I leaned over the edge of the boat and experienced one of the most mesmerising and tranquil sights I have ever seen.
Adult €44, child €22, lobosonda.com


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Swimming with the stars, Panama

Bioluminescence under the Milky Way (pictured here in Tasmania)
Bioluminescence under the Milky Way (pictured here in Tasmania). Photograph: James Stone/Alamy

Swimming with bioluminescent plankton is the closest I’ll come to being an astronaut. While travelling around Central America on a shoestring budget, we visited Bocas Del Toro, an area of brilliant beaches, islets and rainforest in Panama, having heard a rumour that you could “swim among the stars”. After dark we set sail away from any artificial light, arriving at a pitch-black lagoon and, with snorkels, we jumped in and the vibrations lit up the entire lagoon like a galaxy full of stars. A rare otherworldly experience that cost just $25.
T Miller

South Island lake on an island in a lake, New Zealand

Mou Who island.
Mou Waho island. Photograph: Cathy Hartman/Alamy

Wanaka on New Zealand’s south island is a hip little lakeside resort. When you’re there you can catch a 25-minute boat ride to Mou Waho – a really special tiny predator-free island that’s a haven for native wildlife. But the really special thing is that Mou Waho has its own lake – Arethusa Pool – with an islet inside it. From here you can look back to Wanaka and west to snowy peaks – standing on an island in a lake on an island in a lake. A boat trip into a mind-bending landscape. There are no ferries to this valuable eco reserve; you have to join a guided trip.
Phillipa Hughes

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