Active Traveller

Cruising - Sea for yourself

Cruising takes us on journeys to far-flung corners of the world for adventure in exotic places. We asked cruise expert Gary Buchanan to choose seven of his favourites.

Los Angeles to French Polynesia via Hawaii

A voyage to the sensuous South Pacific is the personification of an exotic cruise. Leaving the celebrity-infused charms of Los Angeles in its wake, the Crystal Symphony heads west for an overnight stay in incomparable Hawaii. In the company of travellers rather than tourists, there’s the chance to explore this esoteric island idyll brimful of timeless beauty. Five days of indolence à la carte beckon as this 922-passenger vessel sets a course southwards.

When a luxury ship constantly wins prestigious awards and rightly stakes its claim as a world-beater, it would be all too easy for the operator to rest on its laurels; but ennui is not a word in Crystal Cruises’ lexicon. The company’s commitment to maintaining the refined beauty of its ships cannot be overstated, and recent embellishments enhance the evolution of its hallmark look of good-mannered elegance. As the mercury rises, so too does your anticipation at seeing a sequestered corner of the globe almost beyond imagination’s reach.

There’s no disputing French Polynesia is the siren of the South Pacific. Born of coral and fire, this romantic cluster of islands is not just spectacular, it’s breathtaking. And to pile rapture on top of ecstasy, the Tahitian islands are unashamedly French in outlook and have the joie de vivre to prove it. From Crystal Symphony’s anchorage off Moorea, your view across the turquoise lagoon boasts a diorama of jagged green mountains rimmed by silvery-white sand beaches. The soporific capital of Papeete is imbued with countless colourful images masterfully created by Paul Gauguin. As the sun sets, the indolent sky of orange, red, pink and gold burnishes the lagoon until it becomes a sea of fire; a perfect conclusion to this most colourful of cruises.

Travel Details

The Crystal Symphony (020 7287 9040, http://crystalcruises.
co.uk) departs from Los Angeles for French Polynesia on
25 November. The 13-night, all-inclusive cruise costs from
£4,842 per person including flights and transfers.

Rio de Janeiro to Miami via the Amazon

Ever since its heyday in the 1950s, Rio de Janeiro has conjured up images of hedonism and excess. As a starting point for any cruise, this vibrant city has an uncanny knack for bringing out the party animal in even the most staid of souls. Heading north from the tropics, you reach the former colonial cities of Salvador de Bahia and Fortaleza, before the soigné 708-passenger Seven Seas Mariner begins its navigation of the Amazon River.

The natural phenomenon that is the Amazon basin contains at least a third of the world’s remaining rainforest. Such a rich biodiversity boasts an array of plants and animals so vast that scientists are only now beginning to grasp its scale. Navigating towards Manaus, situated 1,600km from the Atlantic and known as the Paris of the Jungle, you’ll be able to witness one of the most incredible displays of nature’s majesty. The milky white Solimões River collides with the darker waters of the Rio Negro. Differences in temperature, density, acidity and velocity keep these two bodies of water separated for nearly 10km.

This cruise, brimful of revelations, visits other sequestered ports along the Amazon River, such as the former Jesuit mission of Santarém, before dropping anchor off Devil’s Island where there’s the chance to stroll around the ruins atop Ile Royale, recalling the barbaric scenes portrayed in Papillon. The remaining week of the cruise is punctuated with opportunities for some serious lotuseating at distinctly English Barbados, über-fashionable St Barts, and colonial San Juan. Two days of yet-more genteel perfection provide a suitable culmination to this cruise whose multifarious facets coalesce to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts

Travel Details

The Seven Seas Mariner (02380 682 280, http://rssc.co.uk) departs Rio de Janeiro for Miami on 26 February 2013.
The 22-night all-inclusive cruise costs from £8,359 per person
including return flights, transfers, unlimited shore excursions,
and a pre-cruise overnight stay.

Quito roundtrip via the galapagos islands

Spending seven days in The Land That Time Forgot is a cruise unlike any other. The Galápagos Islands, straddling the Equator some 965km off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, where he espoused his theory of evolution through natural selection. More than 1,900 of the islands’ creatures can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. This serendipitous ecological wonderland comprises just 13 islands.

Formed five million years ago by erupting volcanoes, they owe their idiosyncrasies to the fact that while they are in the equatorial belt, they’re cooled by the Humboldt current rushing north from Antarctica. After flying into the airport island of Baltra, you meet up with your guides who have been trained at the Darwin Research Station. In the comfortable ship’s lounge, they explain that the cruise will visit the islands of Daphne, Española, Floreana, Isabela, Fernandina, and Santa Cruz. Sailing from one enchanted island to the next, there’s the chance to enjoy close encounters with marine iguanas, frigate birds, sea lions and giant tortoises – all of whom have no fear of humans – during twice-daily Zodiac adventures from the delightful 92-passenger ship. You can also relax on a volcanic beach while mockingbirds peck at your toes, then swim with turtles, penguins and hammerhead sharks before strolling through noisy colonies of sea birds a beak’s length from their nests.

As part of the package offered by Celebrity Xpeditions, there’s a two-night stay in Quito before heading out to Baltra. Wandering through the Spanish colonial quarter of broad cobbled plazas, whitewashed buildings and cathedrals that boast an embarrassment of gold is little short of intoxicating.

Travel Details

Celebrity Xpeditions (0844 493 2043, http://celebritycruises.co.uk) offers 10-night cruises of The Galapagos Islands all-yearround. A departure from Baltra on 16 December costs from £3,769
per person including all flights, ship and hotel accommodation,
as well as tours and shore excursions

Dubai to Singapore via southern India

Follow in the wake of the great explorers through tropical latitudes, charting a course more familiar to Conrad than Conran. Indulgent days at sea are interspersed with captivating cities, reclusive anchorages, and idyllic beaches. The Scheherazade vision of Dubai’s bustling bazaar and the gold souk are a perfect overture to the desert scenery and heady scent of frankincense that abounds at the esoteric Omani ports of Khasab and Sohar.

Two days crossing the Arabian Sea allows you time to explore this seriously classy ship where the crew anticipates guests’ preferences with an unerring instinct, pampering them to the point of ennui. Mumbai offers a memorable harbour-scape, dominated by the Gateway of India, the great triumphal arch where King George V stepped ashore in 1911 when the Raj was at the peak of its power and glory. The esplanade is a spectacle only India can offer; monkey acrobats vie with dogs perched on bicycles, interspersed by snake charmers whose flutes instruct cobras in the art of dancing.

The flavours of southern India are on the menu as this 456-passenger ships sails to Mangalore, chief port in Karnataka; and Kochi, gateway to Kerala. Crossing the sibilant, azure Indian Ocean is the zeitgeist of cruising. Landfall is the tropical island of Phuket where you can visit Phang Nga Bay, the location made famous by the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, where towering limestone stacks rise like pinnacles out of the calm shallow waters. The concluding image of this cruise is of the high-rise, high-tech island Republic of Singapore rearing up from the pellucid ocean like a tropical version of Manhattan.

Travel Details

The Seabourn Odyssey (0843 374 3333, http://seabourn.
com) departs Dubai for Singapore on 26 November. The 15-night
all-inclusive cruise costs from £4,680 per person including flights.

Mauritius to cape town via Madagascar

The award-winning MS Europa, a 408-passenger cruise ship, exudes an aura of gentrified individuality and artistic modishness blended with a sublime éclat of understated sophistication. And if ever there was a voyage to capture the imagination it’s this itinerary from Mauritius to Cape Town. Sailing caressingly warm waters of the Indian Ocean, Europa’s first port of call is Réunion Island. Rising dramatically from the sea, this small mountainous island is home to an astonishing geographical diversity. Capricious flora and fauna are on the menu at the unfrequented island of Madagascar, which you reach two days later. Cerebral passengers will also revel at the Unesco World Heritage Site of St Lucia Wetlands Park, in Richards Bay on the eastern coast of South Africa. Durban’s natural setting, poised between the Indian Ocean and the rugged Drakensberg Mountains, offers the chance to visit private wildlife reserves for close encounters with rhinoceroses, hippopotami, giraffe, antelope and zebra. Other ports along South Africa’s dramatic southern coastline include Port Elizabeth where you can visit the Addo Elephant Park; and Mossel Bay on the Garden Route where forested mountains plummet into aquamarine water and ivory brushstrokes of beach sweep from rocky headlands. Nestling within a natural amphitheatre created by Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, Cape Town enjoys one of the most spectacular settings on earth. Known as The Mother City, it has a quaintly familiar feel, but the influences are undeniably African. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a delightful kaleidoscope of designer boutiques and smart shops selling eclectic African curios.

Travel Details

The Europa (0800 008 6677, http://cruiseline.co.uk) departs
Mauritius for Cape Town on 24 November. The 16-night all-inclusive cruise costs from £9,099 per person including flights.

Auckland to Sydney via Melbourne

Known as the City of Sails, Auckland is one of the most cosmopolitan cities on earth. Its vibrant harbour offers a perfect setting to get this cruise off to a rousing start. The overnight stay allows you the opportunity to head north to the captivating Bay of Islands. First port is Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, where local colour overflows at the Te Puia Maori cultural centre. Famous for its Art Deco architecture the bucolic town of Napier sits at the heart of the much-acclaimed Hawkes Bay wine region. Middle Earth tours from Wellington head to the forest park of Rivendell – where you can see the location for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

On South Island, Christchurch is quintessentially English; what better way to absorb the aura than with a punt along the River Avon.

Heading further south, Timaru is renowned for its Victorian and Edwardian buildings made from local bluestone, not to mention the Botanic Gardens and Trevor Griffiths Rose Garden. Milford Sound has been described as the ‘eighth natural wonder of the world’ and this day of ineffable cruising past towering peaks and cascading waterfalls marks the last port in New Zealand. Crossing the Tasman Sea gives you time to explore the 1,250-passenger Marina. The ship puts an emphasis on creature comforts; aesthetes and gourmands alike are spoilt for choice with dining options under the tutelage of master chef Jacques Pépin. Hobart is revealed from tissues of morning mist; here you can visit the Port Arthur Historic Site – a compelling and dramatic reminder of the former penal colony and the early settlement of Van Diemen’s Land. After calling at the enlightened city of Melbourne, there’s a frisson in the air as the cruise concludes at, what is undoubtedly the southern hemisphere’s most exciting city, Sydney.

Travel Details

The Marina (0845 505 1920, http://oceaniacruises.com)
departs Auckland for Sydney on 26 February 2013. This 16-night
all-inclusive cruise costs from £2,284 per person (including
speciality dining, but not flights).

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City via Chan May

This itinerary between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, aboard the 100-passenger Orion II, is designed for travellers who seek intellectual and physical stimulation along the sea lane less travelled.

Vietnam is the current en vogue destination of the Orient and it’s easy to see why after exploring Hanoi. The intoxicating blend of lakes and boulevards reveals a curious potpourri of colonialism and modernism. Among the most notable sights are the elegant Temple of Literature, built in 1070; the infamous Hanoi Hilton where American POWs were imprisoned during the Vietnam War; and the monumental granite mausoleum to Ho Chi Minh. Although the embarkation port of Haiphong leaves much to be desired, the shimmering emerald-green waters of Halong Bay the following morning are nothing short of heavenly. You will be able to clamber aboard Zodiacs to explore the countless curiously shaped limestone karst formations rising out of the sea, as well as rustic fishing villages, before returning for dinner – created by Australian celebrity chef Serge Dansereau – back on board the ship. this day of ineffable cruising past towering peaks and cascading waterfalls marks the last port in New Zealand. Crossing the Tasman Sea gives you time to explore the 1,250-passenger Marina. The ship puts an emphasis on creature comforts; aesthetes and gourmands alike are spoilt for choice with dining options under the tutelage of master chef Jacques Pépin. Hobart is revealed from tissues of morning mist; here you can visit the Port Arthur Historic Site – a compelling and dramatic reminder of the former penal colony and the early settlement of Van Diemen’s Land. After calling at the enlightened city of Melbourne, there’s a frisson in the air as the cruise concludes at, what is undoubtedly the southern hemisphere’s most exciting city, Sydney.

Orion II continues its passage through the South China Sea to Chan May for a visit to Hue – imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty between 1802 and 1945. The walled and moated city on the northern shore of the Perfume River is filled with elaborate monuments and Buddhist pagodas.

A highlight for many visitors is Hoi An, a short drive from Da Nang. This Unesco World Heritage Site is a well-preserved example of a South East Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries. The overnight stay allows you the opportunity to sample Vietnamese cuisine, which is a cornucopia of fragrant flavours and textures. After a call at Nha Trang, Orion II navigates the loops of the Saigon River as far as Ho Chi Minh City. Here evidence of its French colonial heritage abounds with tree-lined boulevards, pavement cafés and elegant French-inspired architecture.

Travel Details

The Orion II (020 7399 7620, http://orionexpeditions.com)
departs either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City throughout 2013. The ninenight
cruise costs from £4,500 per person (cruise only).

This article was published on 27th February 2012 so certain details may not be up to date.

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