Been there, done that with mainstream cruising? Fed up with formal nights and looking for a break from tradition? Then allow me to introduce you to a totally different holiday at sea. One with a specialist cruise line.

Sure you will notice that some in this category are similar to the lines you have come to know and love – plentiful food, exemplary service, and some have traditional song-and-dance performances in the theatre – but each offers something a bit special, dare I say unique.

Let’s take Hurtigruten. This company cruises the coast of Norway on working ships, calling into 34 ports on a 12-day cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. On this trip, the scenery is the star – and the Northern Lights if you go in winter – as well as fun activities such as whale-watching or snow-mobiling.

For something really off the beaten track, Hurtigruten has Fram, an expedition vessel that spends winters amid icebergs in Antarctica and summers in the Arctic, in Greenland or Spitsbergen, where polar-bear spotting is the main attractions.

Noble Caledonia and Compagnie du Ponant, both hoping for your votes in this category, also have plenty of adventure appeal. In fact you might just want to get your Atlas out so you can find some of the destinations they will be visiting in the next 12 months – the remote Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, the elusive North-West Passage and the Antarctic Peninsula.

But specialist doesn’t have to mean extreme. Swan Hellenic, celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2014, has cornered the market in cultural cruising on its one ship Minerva, taking passengers to little-known places with excursions included in the price and erudite lecturers on board to inform passengers about the history and culture of the places they are visiting.

Voyages to Antiquity, a new kid on the block (it launched in 2010), has a similar ethos, offering cruises that visit less-known ports – Zadar and Sarande were among this summer’s offerings (in Croatia and Albania, to save you looking) with scholarly lecturers on board and excursions included in the price so there is no excuse for missing the sights.

If that sounds like too much like hard work on holiday, how about Voyages of Discovery? Its one ship, Voyager, visits unusual ports but you can always skip an excursion or two without worrying you are missing out because they cost extra anyway.

The other contenders in this category are less off-piste, but each offers something special that makes it a winner in this category.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages brings cruises to you by offering a wide variety of value-for-money no-fly cruises from regional ports around the UK, while Variety Cruises is a giant in the world of small ships that visit small bays and harbours and bucket-list destinations such as the Seychelles and Costa Rica.

Talking of bucket lists, there’s also Azamara Club Cruises, which is all about destinations, staying late or overnight in many ports and with new – and complimentary – exclusive Az-Amazing Evenings (one per cruise) to excite passengers.

Star Clippers has a fleet of head-turning tall ships that ooze romance as they sail, canvas billowing in the wind, into small Med ports and to lesser-known Caribbean islands. SeaDream has two intimate vessels where yachting casual is the name of the game and Balinese beds on the top deck await those who dream of sleeping under the stars at sea.

How to choose your favourite? Now that’s another question.

Jane Archer is on the esteemed panel of judges at this year’s Cruise International Awards.

Click here to cast your vote.

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