Cruising through the ages
It’s never too early, or too late, to set sail for adventure, advises Kendall Hill
Sailing in Turkey can be a low-frills introduction to cruising
Cool views: Antarctic travel can be the ultimate extravagance
ONE of the fastest growing niches of the $40 billion global cruise market is expedition cruising on small ships (about 100 passengers) capable of going where no mega-liner can manoeuvre.
Their combination of exclusive itineraries, active excursions and lavish trimmings has been dubbed ‘‘ the spoiled meeting the unspoiled’’ by Celebrity Cruises, which operates high-end Galapagos voyages aboard the 98-passenger Xpedition.
All the luxury lines are getting in on the act; Silversea’s new expedition ship, the Prince Albert II, offers Relais et Chateauxsanctioned cuisine and minibars stocked with Pommery Champagne.
Its itineraries are novel and surprisingly energetic: swim with sea lions in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez or buddy-up to polar bears in the Arctic Circle.
Antarctica by expedition ship is the ultimate indulgence, offering all the remote wonders of the white continent with none of the usual privations.
Insider tip: Expedition cruising is pricey but it’s often all-inclusive so the only extras you pay for are premium excursions.
Other options: Australian-owned Orion Cruises charts exotic waters such as the Kimberley coastline of Western Australia and the Coral Sea in Papua New Guinea. www.silversea.com; www.celebritycruises.com; www.orioncruises.com.au.
BIG CAN BE BEAUTIFUL
LUXURY on a larger scale is the hallmark of cruise lines such as Crystal and Regent Seven Seas; their boutique-sized ships usually carry 500 to 1000 passengers in Egyptian-cotton comfort. Life on board is all about standards, hence the spas are suitably decadent, restaurants offer true fine dining (star chef Nobu Matsuhisa designs the menus at Crystal Serenity’s signature restaurant) and each cruise line tries to outdo the other with its socalled enhancement programs, ranging from language courses to photography workshops. Likewise, shore excursions are geared to deliver the ultimate bragging rights: test drive a Cayenne at the Porsche factory in Leipzig; strap in for a MiG fighter jet flight over Moscow; or trek through the finest vineyards and estates in Bordeaux.
This is the realm of all-suite, all-balcony ships (introduced by Regent Seven Seas) and impeccable service, including butlers assigned to premium suites. Expect an over-50s crowd and a country-club vibe, or what the Americans call ‘‘ the carriage trade’’: those who are wealthy and proud of it.
Insider tip: Despite their rarefied reputations, even these premium ships offer significant discounts for early-bird bookings. Check company websites for discount deals.
Other options: The smaller (fewer than than 500 passengers) and arguably more exclusive Silversea line. www.rssc.com; www.crystalcruises.com; www.silversea.com.
THE (VERY) GRAND FINALE
AN elite few get their first taste of cruising aboard the undisputed queens of the ocean, the Cunard girls. For the rest of us a voyage from Southampton to New York (or vice versa) aboard Queen Mary 2 is a dream that may or may not be realised in this lifetime.
Cunard has been in the business of transAtlantic crossings since 1854 and prides itself on preserving the full romance of the experience. Formal silver-service dinners, grand balls, lavish staterooms, everything shipshape and Bristol fashion, that’s the Cunard way.
Onboard innovations include a kennel master to care for passengers’ pets and a 6000-volume library with two full-time librarians. Passengers can take acting classes with Royal Academy of Dramatic Art graduates or get down at the nightclub, and children are catered for in the ship’s dedicated PlayZones. The gargantuan QM2 has 13 decks that encompass five swimming pools, 10 restaurants (one bearing the stamp of Boston celebrity chef Todd English), a twostorey spa and the largest ballroom at sea.
Insider tip: Cunard’s Queen Victoria and the QM2 sail into Australian waters on world voyages.
Other options: Cunard also has two adults-only ships in its fleet, the Artemis and Arcadia. www.cunard.com. www.sunsail.com; www.sailingeurope.com; www.seadreamyachtclub.com; www.windstar cruise.com; www.starclippers.com.
Super luxury: The Seadream I in the Caribbean’s Virgin Gorda Sound
Service: Life on board is all about standards