Want a more intimate cruise holiday? Nick Dalton looks at the experiences to be had on cruises where size isn’t everything
SeaDream Yacht Club
Champagne and caviar
There really is a millionaire lifestyle on board SeaDream’s two mega yachts, where a maximum of 112 passengers stroll the teak decks, use the complimentary laptops and, on Caribbean voyages, revel in the Champagne and Caviar Splash, an ultra-posh beach barbie. The water sports marina that opens at the stern is packed with gear, including sailboats, and the sleek sophisticated rooms even feature an iPod dock. Food is delectable (you can take a shopping trip with the chef) with 24-hour free room service, and the free drinks even extend to more Champagne.There are a number of unusual Caribbean itineraries: SeaDream I’s seven-day voyage, on 4 January 2014 sails from Colón in Panama, near the entrance to the Panama Canal, to San Juan, with calls including Jacmel in Haiti, two in the Dominican Republic, and Ocho Rios in Jamaica. From £1,999pp, all-inclusive, plus £261 taxes, not including flights. seadream.com; 0800 783 1373.
Culture and tradition
There’s old-style elegance aboard Minerva, with formal dinner nights, as the 350 passengers sail between ancient bastions of culture. The interior is elegant, and the Shackleton Lounge has a cosy, clubby feel. Minerva gets into small ports and there’s an included programme of excursions to museums and landmarks, as well specialist outings such as botany walks and mountain hikes. The 15-day Island Discovery departs from Tenerife on 14 April 2014, and calls at fellow Canary Islands including La Palma, as well as Madeira, mainland Spain, Lisbon and Casablanca before arriving at Portsmouth. From £1,295pp including flights. swanhellenic.com; 0844 488 1045.
Country life at sea
A luxury Scottish country hotel that’s taken to the water, Hebridean Princess offers an experience for 50 guests completely unlike anything on a big cruise ship. Sailing around the coast, islands and lochs, everything is included: excursions to everywhere from highland castles to whisky distilleries, guided walks amid extraordinary scenery, the use of bicycles and even fishing equipment. The restaurant has the woody, white-linen feel of the Orient-Express, the food is local – and you’d never find haggis at the gala dinner on a mega cruise. The five-night Highlights of Argyll cruise departs from Greenock on 11 November for scenery that’s rich in misty autumn colour, including Loch Fyne and Isle of Cumbrae – for Britain’s smallest cathedral. From £1,880pp, all inclusive. hebridean.co.uk; 01756 704700.
Variety runs a number of small but delectable ships. Panorama II, carrying only 49 guests, looks like a Russian oligarch’s toy, it’s a gleaming white twin-masted cruiser. There’s a wealth of wood, neat cabins with a seafaring feel, and a deck bar. A swimming platform opens from the stern, and you can even borrow kayaks, snorkels and windsurfers. The seven-night Antiquity to Byzantium cruise, from Athens, takes in half a dozen mainland spots and includes daily excursions – including one from Katakolon up Mt Olympia that big ships rely on as a money-maker. The cruise runs regularly until 25 October, then again from 7 March 2014, and costs from £755pp, plus £150 taxes, not including flights. varietycruises.com; 0208 324 3114.
Voyages To Antiquity
Trips into history, with the experts
Aegean Odyssey was designed to carry 570 people but has been made for only 378, so there’s plenty of room. The mid-sized ship can get into places the big ships can’t, perfect for its pilgrimages into little, historic ports, mostly in the Mediterranean. Not only does the ship take you to the heart of ancient civilisations, there are almost daily shore tours with experts, on board guides and speakers. The experience nods toward a golden age, with stylish afternoon tea and traditional rooms, yet there’s an on-deck tapas bar and the Marco Polo restaurant is smart-casual Mediterranean. The 19-day Time Fears The Pyramids cruise, on 26 October, sails from Istanbul to Cairo, visiting Lebanon (with a tour of the Roman temples of Baalbek) and Israel (tours of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), as well as Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. In Egypt the ship has an overnight stay in Alexandria, with two nights in hotels in both Luxor and Cairo. Prices from £2,500pp, including wine with dinner, flights and hotels. voyagestoantiquity.com; 0845 437 9737.
Voyages of Discovery
The ancient world, in your own time
Voyager carries 556 passengers yet has the feel of a discreet hotel; a recent refurbishment left the ship understated and smart yet kept the mirrored Art Deco pillars and details from an earlier incarnation. Voyager sails to gems of the ancient world but, unlike some other cruise lines, doesn’t include excursions, leaving you free to wander at will among fascinating places, having learnt about them from guest speakers. In The Footsteps of St Paul sails for Athens from Istanbul on 31 October and calls at islands and mainland resorts in Greece and Turkey over 13 days. From £1,299pp, including flights. voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk; 0844 488 0895.
Compagnie du Ponant
Never leave France, wherever you are
French style pure and simple on four elegant vessels that look like cruise liners in miniature, yet have a private yacht philosophy. On L’Austral (264 passengers) it’s like being in the Med wherever you’re sailing, with the French cuisine of the Gastronomic restaurant, the Parisian Sothys spa and a casually elegant style. In celebration of the company’s 25th anniversary, a number of 2013 cruises have 25 per cent off, meaning that an eight-day round trip from Lisbon on 23 October starts at £1,192pp, including wine with dinner, plus £305 taxes, not including flights. Stops include Portimao, Cadiz and Seville. ponant.com; 0800 980 4027.
It really is a private yacht
There’s lots of talk about ships having the feel of a private yacht but you can’t argue with this one. When it was built for an American tycoon in 1931 it was the largest private sailing yacht. Book the owner’s suite in its Louis XIV splendour or the original Colonial-style cabins, and you’ll understand. The rich, wood-beamed dining room is like something out of The Great Gatsby, there’s a discreet bar and the Blue Lagoon, the name for the deck relaxation area, is lined with blue-cushioned wooden sun-loungers. The eight-day round trip from Bridgetown departs on 12 December and visits Trinidad, Grenada, St Lucia, Union Island and beautiful little Bequia. From £1,690pp, including wine with meals, but not flights. eWaterways.co.uk; 0808 168 1458.
Read the latest issue of Cruise International in shops now