Open Water

Seven Cruises for People Who Hate Cruises (Photos)

Cruises don't have to mean massive boats and potential disasters. Andrew Harper picks seven sailing trips that even cruise haters will love.

As any recent visitor to Miami can attest, cruise ships keep getting bigger. November 2014 will see the debut of the latest behemoth from Royal Caribbean, the 167,800-ton, 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas. Among its touted features are “virtual balconies,” real-time views of the ocean on special screens in its windowless interior cabins. Such ships are really floating hotels, packed with diversions such as climbing walls and surfing pools, whose passengers are effectively insulated from their natural surroundings.

 

For me, the allure of cruising is to be found on smaller ships. I appreciate vessels that offer sophisticated comfort and the pleasures of a traditional cruise, but on a congenial and intimate scale. Smaller ships also offer access to remote and wondrous parts of the world that the floating juggernauts can't reach. Here are seven highly recommended expedition ships.

 

Also, Please enjoy this complimentary cruise issue from the Hideaway Report to find more recommended itineraries, vessels, and destinations. 

Alaska

To see Alaska’s wilderness and wildlife up close, I suggest the 22-passenger Safari Quest. The cabins are snug but well-designed, the most desirable being on the top deck with panoramic windows. The itinerary in and around Glacier Bay invariably features lots of wildlife, including pods of humpback whales bubble-net feeding. The guides are inspiring, and the food is delicious. The company also offers itineraries along the coastlines of British Columbia and Washington.

Patagonia and Cape Horn

Sailing between Ushuaia in Argentina and Punta Arenas in Chile, the Australis ships follow the route linking the Atlantic and the Pacific that Magellan discovered in 1520. Three hundred years later, Charles Darwin arrived on HMS Beagle. Aside from the excitement of tracing this historic route, passengers can visit huge penguin colonies, board Zodiacs to watch calving glaciers, and make landfall on Cape Horn, all under the direction of well-informed, congenial professional guides. You can choose from two ships: the 136-passenger Via Australis and the 210-passenger Stella Australis.  Cabins on both are relatively spacious and well-appointed, those on the latter being larger.

Richard Sidey/Silversea Cruises

Antarctic

Antarctica teems with marine and avian life, including giant baleen whales, orcas, and elephant seals, plus numerous species of albatross and penguin. Once, a cruise in the Southern Ocean meant enduring a certain amount of deprivation. But that certainly changed in 2008 with the launch of Silversea’s first expedition ship, the Silver Explorer (originally called Prince Albert II). Purpose-built to handle difficult sea conditions and with a reinforced hull for negotiating ice floes, the 132-passenger ship provides all the comforts of a luxury vessel, while a crew of 117 ensures that Silversea’s consistently high levels of service are maintained.

Sea Cloud Cruises GmbH

Mediterranean

Although the Mediterranean may not seem like an obvious destination for an expedition ship, if you travel aboard a smaller vessel, you will have access to secluded harbors and unspoiled bays where the large cruise ships cannot venture. I highly recommend the majestic Sea Cloud II. A true sailing vessel with three towering masts and 23 sails, she accommodates 94 passengers in 47 cabins attended by a 65-member crew. Quarters come with polished woodwork, large portholes, and marble baths.

Nick Rains

Australia

One of the most interesting recent developments in expedition cruising has been the purchase of the 106-passenger Orion by Lindblad Expeditions. Built in 2003, the Orion has acquired an international reputation over the past decade for sophisticated comfort, distinguished food and wine, and exotic itineraries in places such as the Kimberley (northern Australia), the Great Barrier Reef, Borneo, and Papua New Guinea. Since 2004, Lindblad has been in a strategic alliance with National Geographic, and when Orion enters the Lindblad fleet in March 2014, she will be renamed National Geographic Orion.

Burma

Four years ago, I took a wonderful trip up the Irrawaddy River from the stupendous temple city of Bagan to the ancient royal capital of Mandalay onboard the Road To Mandalay, a stately 82-passenger river cruiser that once plied the Rhine River. The majority of my waking hours were spent on the observation deck, a shaded teak expanse scattered with steamer chairs and cane sofas, enjoying the ceaselessly captivating spectacle of life along the river.  In response to burgeoning demand, Orient-Express has recently launched the 50-passenger Orcaella, a sister vessel, to explore more of the Irrawaddy. 

Peruvian Amazon

Exploring the Peruvian Amazon, with its endless tributaries and dense rain forest, was virtually impossible until the launching of the Aqua Expeditions vessels, the 24-passenger Aqua Amazon and the 32-passenger Aria Amazon. Aqua boats are floating boutique hotels, and the secret of their success is that they are small enough to be intimate but large enough to be luxurious. Their aesthetics are refined, and the cuisine would win applause at a leading restaurant in a major city. Then there are the inspired details such as the huge floor-to-ceiling windows that allow travelers to lie in bed while watching the scenery scroll past. A new boat, the Aqua Mekong, will begin sailing downstream from Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) to Saigon early in 2014.