Plain Sailing. Dreamy Cruises.
by Miranda Plunkett
Don’t be deterred by reports of food poisoning, and images of a massive ship disgorging passengers in places like St. Mark’s Square. Cruises can still be fabulous. Consider other options, like the ones I discovered on a recent river cruise on the Orcaella, a fifty passenger boat in Myanmar.
Sailing from Mandalay to Bagan we stopped each day along the Irrawaddy and were given expert tours in small groups by the onboard English-speaking guides. Not only did I actually lose weight due to the delicious meals served by the Bangkok Oriental’s former chef, but also learned so much and without having to move my suitcase once. This was the real luxury.
The key is small. Small is best when it comes to choosing a cruise: better food, better guiding, better ability of smaller boats to access more places, and better chance of being with like-minded passengers.
Aqua Expeditions offers cruises of an exceptionally high standard on both the Amazon and Mekong rivers. They chose Peru rather than Brazil for a more easily navigated Amazon route, and their naturalist guides provide great insight. Maximum passenger capacity is under forty on both of their boats.
For a once in a lifetime expedition, Antarctica has to be up there for those with the time and the purse. As with the Galapagos Islands, the most important decision is choosing the right boat. To assist with this I would recommend talking to a specialist tour operator. Lucy Slater of Antilophia has both the knowledge and experience for these two adventures, which also involve getting to the embarkation point. She recommends Polar Latitudes for the white continent.
Again, with smaller boats they have better access for landings and often have a research team on board who interact with passengers along with the regular guides. The comfort level is excellent ,which is important in a challenging environment and for the crossing of the Drake Passage, which can sometimes be turbulent.
An eye-catching three-mast French ship carrying sixty seven passengers is Le Ponant, which has itineraries in both the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, which, judging by their occupancy rate, are very desirable. And for a cruise of a different nature the Nordic company Hurtigruten runs a daily ferry service from Bergen to Kirkenes north of the Arctic Circle. The round trip takes twelve days and makes an incredible thirty six stops. A few years ago, the author Ann Patchett took her husband along, so he could reconnect with his Scandinavian routes. She wrote a charming article about their journey for Conde Nast.
Miranda runs a high-end travel consultancy business, mlpdestinations.com, and advises clients on all areas of travel from whom to travel with to preparing outline itineraries.