Don't get us wrong. We love a 7-night sail through the Caribbean as much as the next cruiser. But sometimes, we seafarers like our sightseeing to feel a little less... epic. No problem here: from Norfolk, VA to San Diego Bay, the U.S. is full of sparkling inlets, coves, and harbors just begging to be experienced aboard a full- or half-day cruise. Plus, these short itineraries tend to be an affordable way to see a lot with a little time. Here are some of our favorites:
Home to the world's largest naval station, Norfolk is easily one of the Chesapeake Bay's most scenic waterfront destinations. Those who trek down to this balmy Virginia city (the average year-round temperature is 68 degrees) will be rewarded with a waterfront tour on the historic American Rover, a masted topsail schooner with striking russet-colored sails and a fully-equipped lounge and bar below deck. Narrated daily sailings are offered ($20 adults; $12 children) from mid-April through October, usually with the option of a 1:30 p.m. harbor cruise or a 6:30 p.m. sunset cruise.
San Diego, CA:
You'll go far on $23 in scenery-rich San Diego – specifically, 26 miles around the Bay to enjoy unobstructed views of major sights like the Coronado Bay Bridge and the Old San Diego Lighthouse, not to mention bypassing Shelter Island, Coronado Island, and Harbor Island. Hornblower, a national cruise and event group with seven boats in the San Diego Bay, runs a half-dozen, one-hour ($23 adults; $11.50 children) and two-hour ($28 adults; $14 children) tours daily, narrated by trained crew members. Whale watching tours are also available from mid-December through April.
Hilton Head, SC:
Known for its stunning beaches and pristine golf courses, it's little surprise that Hilton Head, SC also leads the pack when it comes to laid-back maritime sightseeing tours. Local tour operator Vagabond Cruise are the experts here. Equipped with not one but three separate vessels, the cruise company offers multiple types of excursions, such as a a four-hour historic tour of nearby Daufuskie Island ($29.95 adults; $15 children), or the chance to dolphin-watch aboard the Stars & Stripes, an actual 12-meter yacht that once sailed in the America's Cup ($29.95 adults; $10 children).