by Keri Harvey
Cruising is more popular and accessible than ever before for travellers of any age. If you enjoy seeing unusual places in far flung spaces, a cruise is a fine way to get there in comfort and style. Ocean or river, headed to the north of the globe or the south, there’s an unusual cruise journey with your name on it.
Southern Ocean Sojourn
We saw her yesterday, docked regally on the edge of the horseshoe bay of Valparaiso. The blue Chilean skies enhanced her elegant white form, as she waited patiently for our arrival. Aboard the splendid Crystal Serenity, we will head all the way around tumultuous Cape Horn to the great white continent of Antarctica, and up the east coast of South America to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Twenty-three days of decadence await us on board, and the land excursions will take us to some of the most remote corners of the globe – so far south, in fact, we’d slip off the earth if it were flat.
We sail from Valparaiso under cover of night, the coloured lights of the mountainside city growing dimmer behind us. For days we walked Valparaiso’s steep pavements, admiring vibrant street murals and visited the home of Pablo Neruda, famed Chilean Nobel poet. Now we can rest our legs for a few days at sea before stopping off in tiny fishing villages dotted in remote corners of the languidly scenic Chilean fjords. We will pass countless sea salmon farms, see colourful stilted homes in Castro along with the cheerful San Francisco church painted in bright yellow and purple, shop for woollen gloves and hats to keep us warm in the south, and buy a lapis lazuli souvenir as a keepsake from Chile.
The only way to truly experience the vastness and raw beauty of the Chilean fjords is from the sea. Even better if it’s from the balcony of a true luxury cruise line. Sailing the fjords is smooth going but the scenery is rugged. Some if the glacial islands are raw rock, others are thickly forested, many have ice sheets and spontaneous waterfalls, few are inhabited. It’s a place of rare natural beauty, where whales and sea lions linger and albatrosses glide just about the sea surface. It’s also a place so magnificent it simply has to be seen to be believed. No photograph can capture its vastness.
On board Crystal Serenity, sweeping fjord views are everywhere for hundreds of kilometres. In our spacious and decadent Penthouse suite, attended by our personal butler, we enjoy afternoon canapes and champagne with these very views, yet this is just one option of dozens more. From shows in the Hollywood Theatre, to movies, educational and entertaining lectures, countless courses offered by the University at Sea, a full library of books and DVDs, games and card sessions, leaning a language or musical instrument, the onboard spa and fitness centre and more – choosing what to do can be perplexing. Choosing where to dine is just as tricky with numerous speciality restaurants also in the mix. Silk Road is a Nobu restaurant, Prego is fine Italian, there’s the Sushi Bar, Ledo Café, Crystal Dining Room and various coffee, ice-cream and snack bars all with irresistible, ever changing offerings. And service levels everywhere are impeccable and personal, making us think the staff have photographic memories. Though there are over 1 000 guests on board, staff don’t miss a thing.
Neither do passengers when they head ashore on excursions. In this remote part of the world, attractions are nature based and unusual. Wildlife, birds, scenery, waterfalls and glaciers are the reasons people come to the far south of the globe, though being on a magnificent Crystal ship is certainly reason enough.
Cruising the Baltic Sea under Sail
The Windstar ships can be seen from afar. At the old city port of Gamla Stan in Stockholm, the tall white masts of Wind Surf pierce the summer sky. This stately ship and her sisters in the fleet all have sails, for entering and leaving ports. They are electric sails which lend an air of nostalgia and old world elegance to these smaller ships with space for around 350 passengers per cruise.
Everyone’s aboard by 5pm and the captain welcomes passengers and gently guides the ship away from the dockside. It’s a small harbour in Stockholm’s old town, so he pivots WindSurf and turns her bow seawards. There’s a pilot on board too, just to help navigate through the archipelago of around 30 000 islands.
The colourful flat facades of Stockholm’s quayside buildings fade in the distance, as the elegant city – considered one of the most beautiful in all of Europe – slowly recedes. There’s so much to see and do here aside from over 80 museums, which includes the interactive Abba museum and iconic Vasa museum. The old city has steep cobbled streets and tiny antique shops to explore, Sodermalm is dotted with art galleries and nightclubs, Ostermalm is arty and trendy.
Out on deck, along with almost everyone else on board, we gaze over the archipelago in absolute amazement at the surrounding natural beauty. For two hours in softly setting sun, we weave through the Stockholm Archipelago. Most of the islands are forested, many have little lighthouses and wooden homes painted butter yellow or blood red. Other islands are deserted.
Tomorrow will be a full day of sailing, before docking in majestic St Petersburg, Russia, to see the intricately crafted Church of Spilled Blood and opulent Peter Palace. Then we head for eclectic and historical Helsinki in Finland and the magical old-world city of Tallinn in Estonia – to walk the cobbled streets and shop for wool and linen goods. It’s an evocative route that’s both diverse and romantic, peppered liberally with grandeur.
In the Scandinavian summer, dinner is by daylight as the sun only sets at about 11pm. Tonight we’re dining open air at Candles Restaurant, aft of the ship – though there are four different dining venues to choose from. A perfectly calm evening, there’s hardly a breeze even though the ship is now in open waters and full sail. It’s a thoroughly memorable experience as we sit comfortably enjoying delectable rare fillet and accompaniments, surrounded by endless glassy ocean.
Options on board while sailing are plentiful from shopping for clothing and keepsakes, to relaxing in the library, working out in the fitness centre, being pampered in the WindSpa, or gambling in the casino. There are also various lounges, bars and discreet private spaces to sit back and watch the ocean – or you could go for a dip in the pool. Cruising is soothing for the soul, what true holidays are really all about.
This is one of the great attractions of cruising, enjoying snapshots of countries and cultures, savouring the very best of places and then boarding the ship for the smoothest of journeys. There’s no time wasted on packing or passport control, every minute is spent as you desire. Add to this the impeccable service aboard the luxury cruise ships, immaculate attention to detail, daily on board activities, lectures and entertainment - and exquisite cuisine options - and cruising makes absolute sense. The ease of travel means you only bring home good memories.
Other sailing options:
Do a traditional dhow safari in Mozambique
Travelling the far northern Mozambique coastline in a traditional wooden dhow, billowing cotton sail overhead, epitomises Africa-easy. From Ibo Island Lodge through the enchanted Quirimbas archipelago, the dhow safari picks its way through warm turquoise waters to palm-sprinkled islands – many skirted with white-sand beaches. It’s an enchanting way to travel, under silent sail or with horsepower if the wind calms. The dhow is equipped as a live-aboard though nights are spent on various islands. Every whim is catered for.
Sleeping is perfectly comfortable on camp beds with duvets, there’s a hot shower and a private toilet, meals are often fresh seafood and always thoroughly sublime – it’s a ‘wonder safari at sea’, sailing calm waters close to shore. En route you’ll likely see dolphins and flying fish, and can stop to snorkel amidst rainbows of tropical fish – or just kick back and think what those in England are missing, because Africa doesn’t get much better than this.
Slow cruise an iconic river
The Danube is one of Europe’s great rivers and its beauty has even inspired songs. While the river winds through nine countries, taking a river cruise on AmaSerena makes seeing all the enchanted places en route effortless. There’s more time to enjoy on the ground and when you hop back on board, everything you desire is laid on too.
Luxury river cruising is different to cruising on the ocean. The pace is slower and the journey is always smooth, making for a relaxed trip. This of course translates into pure holiday enjoyment and refreshment. River boats are also much smaller – but no less elegant and luxurious - than cruise ships, making the experience aboard more intimate. Waiters know your name and preferences and guests mingle easily. Meals are in the dining room, as space is limited on the long narrow river boats. From stately Budapest though historic cities like Bratislava in Slovakia, the cities of Vienna and Melk and quaint villages like Durnstein in Austria, and on to colourful Passau in German Bavaria – our river cruise along the Danube, which also traversed 12 locks, was both inspiring and rejuvenating.
South African passport holders require a Schengen visa for the Baltic cruise and Danube River cruise. A Russian visa is necessary to disembark the ship independently. No visas are needed for South African passport holders travelling to South America or Mozambique.