|Sanctuary Retreats’ Yangzi Explorer has a two-floor theater and cabins and suites with private balconies.|
Orion Expedition Cruises has had so much success since its 2004 inception that it’s decided to add another ship. Beginning May 2011, Orion II will sail under the Orion Expedition flag, operating a wide range of expeditions that will include Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Indonesian archipelago, Japan and Borneo. We also hear the ship will sail to the Russian Far East, also known as “the land of ice and fire.”
The 100-passenger ship, which will be based in Southeast Asia and currently sails as the Clelia II, recently underwent a $19 million renovation. The refurbishment emphasized technical and cosmetic enhancements, and upgraded environmental systems that fit the ship into the Orion fold. Though the vessel is designed for expedition cruising, onboard amenities promise a private yacht-like experience. Each of the 50 suites affords ocean views in 215 to 285 square feet of space. Each also is appointed with a sitting area or separate living room, twin or queen-size beds, oversized closets and air conditioning.
The ship joins the 106-passenger Orion, which provides expeditions from Antarctica to Asia, and the Kimberley to Melanesia and New Zealand. Together, the duo covers Australasia, which represents a large swath of the niche expedition market. Note: Until April 2011, Clelia II will continue to be marketed and operated by New York-based expedition cruise company Travel Dynamics International.
|Le Ponant’s Emeraude Lounge has a piano bar and is the ideal place to enjoy a cocktail after a day in port.|
The addition of a new ship means one thing for sure: adventure cruising is becoming much more than just a flickering notion. Maybe that’s why French-flagged cruise company Compagnie du Ponant decided to make a push in North America by opening an office in Miami headed by former Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Costa Cruises sales executive Terri Haas (firstname.lastname@example.org). The line currently boasts three ships but will welcome two more by 2011. Ponant’s philosophy is to offer small-ship cruising with some French flavor to those looking to discover new cultures and experience unspoiled corners of the world. Where better than Antarctica?
The line’s newest vessel, the 466-foot Le Boréal will be christened on May 3, then will promptly sail in the western Mediterranean till June before heading to northern Europe for Baltic cruises till August. After more Med cruising, on November 1 it begins a repositioning cruise to Rio and then sails down the coast of South America. Upon arriving at Ushuaia on December 10, it will begin its series of Antarctica cruises through February 2011. The ship accommodates 264 guests in 132 suites and guest rooms. For gourmands, the Gastronomic Restaurant will serve French and international cuisine while the Grill Restaurant will have a more casual setting for lighter meals.
|SanctuaRy Retreats’ Nile Adventurer has only 32 cabins, including two Presidential Suites.|
Twice As Nice: Exactly a year later, L’Austral, sister ship to Le Boréal, will debut and, the following December, will offer Antarctica voyages, meaning Ponant will have two ships operating concurrently in Antarctica for the 2011-12 season. The ships are taking over from Le Diamant, which was Ponant’s ship in Antarctica. Le Diamant, which has 113 staterooms and suites, many with private verandas, just completed its Antarctica season. This winter, instead of Antarctica, it will operate itineraries in Southeast Asia and Asia. Top Touch: The expedition ship has its own beauty and fitness area with massage room.
Ponant’s other two smaller sailing yachts, the three-masted Le Ponant and 90-guest Le Levant, will offer Mediterranean cruises through October. We think these two intimate ships are perfect for couples seeking to experience ports of call other bigger ships can’t access.
In the South Pacific, Tui Tai Expeditions provides a true indigenous luxury experience (think remote beach visits, snorkeling pristine reefs and kayaking to local villages). The classic Tui Tai itinerary is a seven-day Pacific Cultural Triangle affair visiting Natewa Bay, Vanua Levu, Rabi Island, Kioa Island, Cobia Island, Taveuni Island and its Bouma National Heritage Park, Taveuni Island, Albert Cove on Rabi Island and Savusavu.
The Ship: With a capacity for only 24 guests (12 cabins and suites), the A/S Tui Tai is an intimate affair. Between 2006 and 2008, Tui Tai Expeditions completed a series of renovations to the ship and onboard services. All guest accommodations were upgraded, as was the spa, Spa Viram. Four daybed-style cabanas were added to the star deck, besides an outdoor kitchen and bar on the sundeck.
Rooms are distinctly Fijian in feel with the oversea veranda suite taking the honor as top accommodation. The 300-square-foot suite has a private rooftop cabana and its own enclosed veranda with direct ocean views. Note: This suite also has a private entry and—how Robinson Crusoe—a radio-telephone for receiving and making international calls. The suite also has all the luxury creature comforts: LCD TV, DVD player and iPod docking station. Other upscale accommodations include the oversea veranda stateroom and grand stateroom, the former boasting a private rooftop cabana. There are also eight expedition cabins, some with Pullman bunks for twin-sharing or a third guest.
Spa Viram’s treatments focus on relaxation and restoration using tropical ingredients and traditional Fijian body-working techniques. Hint: Opt for a service off the ship. Tui Tai’s Destination Spa takes treatments off the boat and onto Fiji.
Dining can only be described as fresh and local (think ripe-and-ready tomatoes from one port, fresh fish from another and just-harvested fruit from yet another). The Result: a kitchen stocked afresh from suppliers on 10 different islands. All meals are served alfresco, even on a remote beach or next to a cascading waterfall. Note: Rates include all meals and bar drinks, spa, laundry and all activities—kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, scuba course instruction, yoga, mountain biking, hiking and village visits.
Sanctuary Retreats launched its first luxury camp, Olonana, in Kenya. Soon it spread out across Africa, opening lodges in Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania and Uganda; then villas in France, Spain and Italy. Why not cruising? Sanctuary Retreats now offers expedition cruising in China, Egypt and the Galapagos Islands. In fact, now is the time to take that Nile cruise you’ve dreamed of. Sanctuary’s 32-cabin M.S. Nile Adventurer, which includes two Presidential Suites and two deluxe cabins, just emerged from a multimillion renovation with new soft goods, a revamped sundeck with private cabanas and a pharaoh-inspired décor. The ship operates three- and four-night itineraries, the latter beginning in Luxor and finishing in Aswan. In between, highlights include Karnak Temple, a massive temple complex built on an imperial scale, and a visit to the West Bank of Luxor.
In China, Sanctuary’s M.S. Yangzi Explorer carries 142 guests over the Yangzi River and Three Gorges region. There are two options available: the three-night cruise departs Chongqing on Thursdays and travels downstream to Yichang, arriving on Sundays. Alternatively, guests can travel upstream over four nights, leaving Yichang on Sunday and arriving in Chongqing the following Thursday.
|Le Diamant in Antarctica. The ship will move to Asia next winter.|
Rooms aboard the ship are unlike many we’ve seen before. There are subtle Asian accents throughout, understandably, with decks named after the three gorges—Qutang, Wu and Xiling. Suites also have Chinese tones (think Jade Suite, Mandarin Suite and the ship’s top accommodations, the Imperial and Celestial Suites). The ship also has its own spa and, for culinary mavens, cuisine consisting of high-end Chinese fare.
Meanwhile, across the world in the Galapagos, guests can travel aboard the M.V. Eclipse and its 24 staterooms. Every cabin boasts either picture windows or large portholes. This is a pure expedition-driven ship that is equipped with inflatable pangas for landings. The ship’s seven-night itineraries showcase the best of the Galapagos National Park and Galapagos Marine Reserve. Note: The M.V. Eclipse runs special family departures during the months of March, April, July, August and December. Specialist guides are assigned to educate and entertain children throughout the day, while adults enjoy the cruise at their own pace.
Michelle Bemis with McCabe World Travel in McLean, VA, specializes in adventure vacations. “Adventure cruising takes the traveler far beyond the ordinary sightseeing experience,” she says. “It offers active engagement with strikingly exotic environments. The traveler experiences these environments as a part of them, not as a mere spectator. To find the right adventure cruise, it is important to recognize that adventure cruising is a segment of adventure travel—not of traditional cruising. An agent who is experienced in all forms of adventure travel can provide the most expert advice on adventure cruising and which trips offer the best fit for any particular traveler.”
|Orion II , Orion Expedition Cruises’ second ship.|