Book your pas­sage on an ad­ven­ture sports cruise

Cruise lin­ers are re­volt­ing. But a new breed of bou­tique ships is mak­ing float­ing hol­i­days hip.

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - Edited by Char­lie Teas­dale and Johnny Davis By Tom Bar­ber

If you’d asked me five years ago if I’d ever go on a cruise, my short an­swer would have been, “No.” The longer an­swer would have been, “No. In fact, I’d rather eat my own head.” I saw cruise hol­i­days as the pus­tu­lous zit on the oth­er­wise per­fect vis­age of the travel in­dus­try, the blue­bot­tle in the de­lec­ta­ble bouil­l­abaisse of des­ti­na­tions around the world. On the sub­ject of flies, they say if a bil­lion flies eat shit it can’t be all bad, but as far as I was con­cerned, 27m peo­ple world­wide (the an­nual cruise mar­ket is worth an as­ton­ish­ing £28bn a year) were wrong, and cruise hol­i­days were bad. Very bad.

Why the vit­riol? If you’ve ever been in a har­bour when a cruise liner hoves into view, you’ll un­der­stand the full hor­ror of what hap­pens next. These leviathans,

some­times 18 storeys tall, dis­gorge their thou­sands of wob­bly, sun­burnt in­mates into the port where they swarm around shops sell­ing tat — never ven­tur­ing even a yard off the tourist drags to bother find­ing out what ex­ists be­yond. And then, as quickly as they ap­peared, they’re gone, sail­ing off, belch­ing nox­ious fumes, to swamp the next poor coastal town that’s got it­self hooked on the easy dol­lars such cruises pro­vide. It’s a sad fact that ports where lin­ers dock al­most in­vari­ably change for the worse as their economies adapt to cater to the two-hour at­ten­tion spans of the cruise-liner pas­sen­ger.

A case in point: ear­lier this year, I was in St Ge­orge’s, the cap­i­tal of Granada, which the great travel writer Pa­trick Leigh Fer­mor con­sid­ered the pret­ti­est town in the Caribbean. That was in the Fifties. To­day, it re­mains a vi­sion of el­e­gant, pas­tel-painted homes with bougainvil­lea-clad bal­conies. But then in came a liner, dwarf­ing the town, cast­ing long shad­ows. A gen­uine blot.

So far, so bad, and that’s be­fore we even dis­cuss life on board. As cruise lin­ers get big­ger, they’ve gone the full Ve­gas, adding ever more out­landish ex­tras to en­ter­tain the pas­sen­gers: think aquatic the­atres, plan­e­tar­i­ums, nine-hole golf courses (OK, I made that last one up), but there’s one thing they for­get. You’re still on board a ship, and you ain’t get­ting off it un­til it docks in the next tourist-trap har­bour city. There have been over 200 dis­ap­pear­ances from cruise lin­ers in the last two decades — doubt­less most were due to un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dences of drunken over-bal­anc­ing, pos­si­bly a smat­ter­ing of das­tardly mur­ders, too — but my money’s on some of them be­ing un­for­tu­nates who couldn’t take an­other minute on board.

Is my aver­sion based on sim­ple snob­bery? Un­doubt­edly, but re­mem­ber that cruises aren’t by any stretch the cheap­est hol­i­days. You can pay a for­tune for the “priv­i­lege”. And yet, through grit­ted teeth I have to ad­mit things are chang­ing. This is a very pub­lic place to make my con­fes­sion, but as of now, there’s the odd cruise — sev­eral, in fact — that I would def­i­nitely con­sider.

The key is that size mat­ters. A lot. In this case — if only in this case — smaller is bet­ter, and you want to look out for “ex­pe­di­tion cruises”. These are aboard boats that visit wild and ex­otic places oth­er­wise im­pos­si­ble to reach ex­cept by he­li­copter. You’re look­ing for a boat with a (nau­ti­cal term ahoy) shal­low draft, mean­ing it can nav­i­gate the shal­lower wa­ters — closer in­shore or up rivers — that other big­ger boats can­not reach.

Ex­hibit A is True North ( truenorth.com.au), an ex­pe­di­tion cruiser with a mere 18 cab­ins. Com­pare that with the

2,759 rooms on the re­cently launched Sym­phony of the Seas, com­plete with 10-storey high slide (shoot me now). True North ex­plores such deeply cool parts of the world as the beau­ti­ful Kim­ber­ley coast­line of Western Aus­tralia, Pa­pua New Guinea and whale shark hotspot Cen­drawasih Bay in In­done­sia, where you can snorkel with the gen­tle gi­ants. Guests go ashore in Zo­diac in­flat­a­bles or its on-board he­li­copter. It’s all pretty Thun­der­birds.

Across the Pa­cific Ocean in Latin Amer­ica, there’s No­mads of the Seas ( no­mads.cl), which cruises the wa­ters of dra­matic Patag­o­nia on wildlife, fly-fishing or heli-ski­ing voy­ages, again com­plete with two he­li­copters and even fewer pas­sen­gers ac­com­mo­dated in just 14 dou­ble berths.

These ships are a prime pair in a grow­ing port­fo­lio, and the penny seems fi­nally to have dropped that some clients ( Esquire read­ers, per­haps?) are more dis­cern­ing. Ex­pect a flotilla of what are es­sen­tially float­ing bou­tique ho­tels chart­ing the al­most un­known wa­ters of the planet’s coolest coast­lines any time soon, and I may just be on board. Just don’t call me Tom Cruise.

Tom Bar­ber is a founder of the award-win­ning travel com­pany orig­inal­travel.co.uk

You can ex­pect a flotilla of what are es­sen­tially float­ing bou­tique ho­tels chart­ing the al­most un­known wa­ters of the planet’s coolest coast­lines

Bou­tique cruise ship True North, left, sails the South Pa­cific and In­dian oceans, while the No­mad of the Seas, right, cruises the South At­lantic

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