28 Historic Ships That You Can Actually Sail Aboard

The Brig Niagara under full sail, off of South Bass Island, Ohio on Lake Erie.

The Brig Niagara under full sail, off of South Bass Island, Ohio on Lake Erie. by Lance Woodworth (CC BY)

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The Brig Niagara under full sail, off of South Bass Island, Ohio on Lake Erie.
The Brig Niagara under full sail, off of South Bass Island, Ohio on Lake Erie. by Lance Woodworth (CC BY)

History Courses

There's a romance and adventurousness to old-time sailing you just don't get from chic modern cruise liners. Thankfully, the travel industry provides plenty of opportunities to recreate and learn about the experience of being on a wooden ship at sea, albeit without the same dangers and isolation faced by sailors in the old days. We review some of the day and overnight boat tours and ships-turned-museums giving tourists a chance to live out their nostalgic seafaring fantasies. While many costs have risen even as trips are shorter and services trimmed, that's not universal, and we've noted where prices are down from years past.

Related: The Best Places in America to Travel Back in Time

The sternwheeler Queen of the West, a 1995-built replica steamboat, on the Columbia River near Hood River, Oregon.
The sternwheeler Queen of the West, a 1995-built replica steamboat, on the Columbia River near Hood River, Oregon. by patti (CC BY-SA)

American West | Portland, Oregon

The American West, formerly the Queen of the West, is a nostalgic paddlewheel ship that retraces portions of the Lewis and Clark voyage along the Pacific Northwest's majestic Columbia and Snake Rivers. Run by American Cruise Lines, this seven-day Northwest cruise starts in Portland and encompasses natural and historic landmarks such as Multnomah Falls, Mount St. Helens, and Fort Clatsop, where America's most famous expeditioners rode out the winter of 1806. Rates starting at $2,455 — a price drop from before the coronavirus pandemic — include lodging, dining, and onshore guided experiences.

Related: Private Islands and Resorts Owned by Cruise Lines


Adventure | Gloucester, Massachusetts

Launched in 1926, the schooner Adventure hauled in more than $4 million worth of fish before retiring in 1953 as the Atlantic's last dory trawler. Now restored to active condition, it serves as a mobile symbol of Massachusetts' maritime heritage, a living history classroom for students, and host to private events and open community sails in season. Tickets to learn about the vessel's history and operations firsthand are available May through October and cost $49, another price drop from 2020.

Related: Gifts for History Buffs Who Can't Leave the Past Behind

Star of India

Star of India | San Diego

The world's oldest active sailing ship, the Star of India was built in 1863 and traversed the globe 21 times between Great Britain, India, and New Zealand before serving the West Coast's salmon cannery industry. Visitors can get the inside scoop on this history and what life onboard was like with a $20 admission to the San Diego Maritime Museum. Even more experiential learning opportunities are available with the four-hour on-the-water adventures, costing between $59 and $99, aboard either the Gold Rush-era Californian or 16th century replica San Salvador.

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SS American Victory

SS American Victory | Tampa, Florida

For $12 per person, the American Victory Ship and Museum gives full access to one of America's last operational World War II merchant ships. That's nine decks complete with crew cabins, captain's quarters, radio and weaponry rooms, a three-level cargo hold, and much more. Docent-guided tours offer more to learn about the rare artifacts and military decorations onboard, as well as why merchant marines are considered the "unsung heroes" of many conflicts. The ship also hosts a couple of Relive History cruises every spring and fall, wherein participants enjoy live entertainment and traditional maritime demonstrations while sailing through Tampa Bay.

The Christeen, Oyster Bay, New York
The Christeen, Oyster Bay, New York by Idoysterbay (CC BY)

Christeen | Oyster Bay, New York

Built in 1883, the nation's oldest oyster sloop now takes passengers on educational tours of Oyster Bay and Cold Spring harbor. After surviving numerous hurricanes and Nor'easters dredging up the turn of the century's chief fishery product, the one-masted Christeen now provides a unique venue for learning more about both the maritime history and current environmental conditions of Long Island Sound.


Elissa | Galveston, Texas

The official Tall Ship of Texas, this three-masted barque was built at the end of the age of sail but still lasted well enough to become one of the world's longest continuously sailed vessels. The Elissa is also open for self-guided tours for $10 per adult.

The Brig Niagara under full sail, off of South Bass Island, Ohio on Lake Erie.
The Brig Niagara under full sail, off of South Bass Island, Ohio on Lake Erie. by Lance Woodworth (CC BY)

U.S. Brig Niagara | Erie, Pennsylvania

The U.S. Brig Niagara is a replica of an 1813 warship that serves as both a historical artifact and sail-training classroom. While accessible for most of the year as part of the Erie Maritime Museum (admission cost $10), the Niagara also goes out on the Great Lakes for four-hour public day sails costing $85 and hosts two-week seamanship apprentice programs for would-be sailors of high school age and over in summer. The Lettie G. Howard, a National Historic Landmark that dates back to 1893, also hosts 1½ hour sailing trips.

The Schooner Pride
Schooner Pride/Yelp

The Schooner Pride | Charleston, South Carolina

Modeled after 18th century coastal trading ships, the Schooner Pride evokes the peak days of Charleston's harbor trade with daily public sailings. Lasting 90 minutes each, they offer afternoon dolphin sails ($50 per adult), sunset sails ($75), and an assortment of others. While not narrated, passengers are encouraged to ask crew members for more context on the area's maritime history and marine wildlife, or for the chance to help rig the sails.

Related: Free or Cheap Things to Do in Charleston

Creole Queen

Creole Queen | New Orleans

This list wouldn't be complete without a paddleboat tour along the Big Muddy. In New Orleans, the Creole Queen offers twice daily tours with a local historian narrator, covering the city's 300-year heritage through landmark stops such as the Chalmette Battlefield and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. Prices start at $39 per adult for the three-hour experience, with a $20 surcharge for bottomless mimosas along the way.

SS John W. Brown

SS John W. Brown | Baltimore

The SS John W Brown is one of two remaining operational "Liberty Ships" that served the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II. Preserved in the Baltimore harbor, she now hosts several annual events that whisk passengers off the land and into the 1940s, imparting the duties of a merchant seaman in their authentic quarters in between USO-style entertainment and aircraft flybys. Four-hour or weekendlong experiences can be booked in for $50 and $1.000, respectively.

The Pilgrim – Dana Point, California

The Pilgrim | Dana Point, California

As well as a full-sized replica of the circa 1825 fur-trading brig immortalized by the novel "Two Years Before the Mast," the Pilgrim is the Ocean Institute of Dana Point's "largest classroom," hosting living history programs and overnight field trips for thousands of students each year. For the rest of the public, it features prominently in the annual Tall Ships Festival each September, and hosts weekend open house (with $15 admission) wherein period-appropriate docents impart sea shanties, nautical lore, rigging techniques, and other tidbits about the golden age of sailing.

USS Constitution

USS Constitution | Boston

The world's oldest commissioned warship still afloat, the USS Constitution, or "Old Ironsides," played a major role fending off British naval forces in the War of 1812. Now part of Boston's Freedom Trail of distinguished historical sites, the top three decks are open and free to visit throughout the year at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where active duty Navy personnel are stationed to give oral presentations on the ship's life and role in American history every 30 minutes.

Schooner Alliance

Schooner Alliance | Yorktown, Virginia

Modeled after early colonial sailing vessels that traded with the Powhatan Indians, the Schooner Alliance recalls America's infancy with sailings through Virginia's "Historic Triangle," the birthplace of our democracy, including the Revolutionary War's Yorktown Battlefield and Victory Monument. The two-hour sightseeing cruises run daily from April through November with an admission cost of $41 for adults or $31 for children, who may prefer the themed Pirate Adventure cruises instead.

Queen Mary 2
Queen Mary 2 by NMOS332 (CC BY-SA)

Queen Mary 2

There are plenty of cruise ships sailing the seas today, but the Queen Mary 2 is the only remaining ocean liner, which were once the primary mode of transportation across oceans from the mid-19th century onward. This retro classic holds more than 2,500 passengers and 1,200 crew members, like its own civilization at sea, complete with a vast library, bars, restaurants, luxurious staterooms, and a spa club. Guests can experience all the shared challenges of life out at sea and the civilized trappings of the turn-of-the-century before coming to port like the socialites and immigrants of yesteryear. Two-night cruise itineraries within Europe cost as little as $399, though trips also rise into the thousands.

Side view of Star Clipper.
Side view of Star Clipper. by ChrisCruises (CC BY)

Star Clippers

The Star Clipper and Star Flyer are a pair of modernized clippers, the common 19th-century merchant sailing ship, which ferry up to 170 cruise passengers across the seas in retro style. With sailings from the Caribbean and Panama Canal to the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, their voyages combine the evocative historic decor of tri-masted teak decks, antique paintings, mahogany railings, and an Edwardian-style library with more modern luxuries such as a tropical-themed bar and two onboard swimming pools.

The Jolly Roger

The Jolly Roger | Grand Cayman

Though modeled after Christopher Columbus' galleon the Nina, the experience onboard the Jolly Roger is more escapist than historic, evoking family-friendly pirate lore during chartered sails along the shores of Grand Cayman. Whether snorkeling, watching the sunset, or blasting music, tourists can enjoy stunning views along with live entertainment from the crew and unlimited quantities of fruit and rum punch. Charters start at $895.

The brigantine under sail
The brigantine under sail by Forum Media Group, Merching (CC BY-SA)

Eye of the Wind | Caribbean & Mediterranean

An internationally certified sail-training vessel, the Eye of the Wind navigates between Mediterranean and North Sea ports each summer and Caribbean ports each winter. Along the way, intimate groups of 12 passengers learn how to rig and take control of the 111-year-old topsail schooner, which may be recognizable for its featured role in films such as "The Blue Lagoon." Cruises range from five to 19 nights in duration starting at $1,459 per person.

Amazon River

Rio Amazonas | Iquitos, Peru

Built in 1899, this restored steamboat will make passengers feel like a Victorian-era explorer, cruising down South America's most iconic body of water during the "Rubber Boom" of the late 19th and early 20th century. Along with the 1876 Clavero, also housed at the Museum of Historic Boats, the Rio Amazonas takes regular five-day cruises, featuring wildlife viewing, naturalist lectures, and classic books on Amazonian history in a retro historic setting outfitted with useful modern comforts such as air conditioning. Costs start at $1,249 per passenger.

USS Alabama

USS Alabama | Mobile, Alabama

Built in 1940, this 45,000-ton battleship saw action across the North Atlantic and South Pacific with a crew of 2,500 Americans before settling down as a National Historic Landmark on the Gulf Coast. For a $18 general admission ticket, visitors gain access to the enormous gun turrets and below-deck living quarters of the "Mighty A," as well as the plane and artillery collections — not to mention America's oldest publicly displayed submarine — also in the grounds of Battleship Memorial Park.

USS Cobia in 2006
USS Cobia in 2006 by Royalbroil (CC BY-SA)

USS Cobia | Manitowoc, Wisconsin

The USS Cobia submarine sank 13 Japanese vessels in World War II, including two that proved crucial to the Allied victory at Iwo Jima. Restored to its 1945 condition, it now serves as a submarine memorial and centerpiece of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. A general admission fee of $20 not only lets you tour the preserved torpedo rooms and other quarters, but also includes a "Below the Surface" exhibit that recreates an actual depth-charging battle based on the ship's patrol log.

USS Constellation

USS Constellation | Baltimore

The USS Constellation was the last sail-only warship built by the U.S. Navy, which served in the African Slave Trade Patrol before being drafted to guard the U.S. merchant ships in the Mediterranean against attack by Confederate ships in the Civil War. As part of the Baltimore harbor's world-class Historic Ships collection, the Constellation has four decks open to explore, with uniformed crew members offering historic context. They also host regular live firings of the Parrott rifle and kid-friendly tours about the "Powder Monkeys," who were as young as 11 and responsible for manning the artillery guns. General admission is $20.

Related: The Best Things To Do In Baltimore

USS Hornet

USS Hornet | Alameda, California

This aircraft carrier is a museum unto itself, paying tribute to its history in World War II's Pacific theater and as the recovery ship for NASA's early Apollo missions. Included with a $20 adult entry ticket are hourlong docent tours through meticulously restored living quarters and control rooms, a test command module and similar space-race artifacts, military jets and helicopters in the hangar decks, and other in-depth history exhibits.

Charles W. Morgan – Mystic, Connecticut

Charles W. Morgan | Mystic, Connecticut

Dating to 1841 with an 80-year seafaring career, the Morgan is second only to Old Ironsides as America's oldest ship still afloat. A relic of New England's commercial whaling era, it now serves as a flagship for the Mystic Seaport Museum, occasionally sailing between ports to raise awareness of maritime history and issues of ocean conservation. Still lined with enormous try-pots for converting blubber into whale oil, the ship's decks are available to tour for $27 per adult.

Arthur Foss – Seattle
Wikimedia Commons

Arthur Foss | Seattle

Well before starring in MGM's 1933 blockbuster Tugboat Annie, this 1889 tugboat towed ships across the Columbia River shoals and to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. Now the oldest floating vessel in the Pacific Northwest, it's one of several museum ships at Seattle's Northwest Seaport available for public tours and vocational training. For a full boat rental of $700 per night, one can spend the night learning about the ship and its place in maritime history. (Divide it by the nine bunks and it's $78 per person.) She also hosts chantey sings and onboard happy hours in summertime.

USS Cairo – Vicksburg, Mississippi
Wikimedia Commons

USS Cairo | Vicksburg, Mississippi

One of seven ironclad warships built for the Civil War, the USS Cairo captured a Confederate fort along the Mississippi before becoming the first ever vessel sunk by remote torpedo. Preserved for more than 100 years by the mud of the Yazoo River, the gunboat was eventually recovered and displayed at Vicksburg National Military Park, along with more than a thousand artifacts offering a glimpse into what life was like onboard. The park costs $20 to visit by car or $10 by foot and includes an accompanying museum and summer ranger programs to supplement a ship walkthrough.

USS Silversides

USS Silversides | Muskegon, Michigan

The USS Silversides sank the third-most ships of any Allied submarine during World War II, and the museum named in its honor now offers a window into what life was like onboard during the conflict. While standard daily admission is $17.50, groups of 20 or more can pay $35 to $40 apiece to stay overnight in the same berths once occupied by U.S. Navy sailors.

Rhode Island Bay Cruises

Rhode Island Bay Cruises | North Kingstown, Rhode Island

For this cruise, the boat isn't the historic attraction so much as the sights it sails past. In a 90-minute passage through Narragansett Bay, passengers can take in the opulent Gilded Age mansions of Newport, the nation's second largest masonry fort, and many prime examples of classic wooden ships. The $35 advance ticket takes you past 60 miles of coastline, with insights along the way provided by well-known local historian Arthur Strauss.

Sea Cloud
Wikimedia Commons

Sea Cloud

So long as you're not planning to cruise U.S. waters, you'll be happy to learn that this four-masted schooner is still cruising. Built by a Wall Street tycoon in 1931, the windjammer now hosts up to 64 guests in an old-timey atmosphere of marble fireplaces, teak benches, and antique nautical instruments. Knowledgeable crew members are also happy to answer questions about the Sea Cloud's eventful history, while a live pianist and sea shanty choir provide regular entertainment on the promenade deck.

Related: Beach Vacation Spots Where Time Stands Still