|SILVERSEA'S PORT CALL AT COTONOU, BENIN, helps guests learn about the local culture.|
Asian legend says the Japanese people’s origin was decided by a sumo wrestling match. Today, the sport of sumo remains iconic in the island nation’s culture. In March, upscale cruisers sailing on Azamara Club Cruises may join local fans in Osaka, Japan, to cheer on a favorite “rikishi”or wrestler at the “2013 March Grand Sumo Tournament.”
|CRYSTAL CRUISES' ship in North Cape. The line will offer a two-week ‘Wine and Food’ North Cape sailing departing on July 5.|
Sailing on the March 6 departure of Azamara Journey? Just book the “Sumo Experience” to watch how one wrestler skillfully maneuvers another out of a circular ring (dohyo) or forces the opponent to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet.
Elsewhere in Asia, Azamara Journey’s cruises departing on April 3, November 25, December 9, and January 6 and 21 offer the “Sunset Cocktail at Sirocco & Thai Boxing” excursion in Bangkok, Thailand. Enjoy a twilight cocktail from a skyward perch at Sirocco, part of The Dome at lebua, the world’s highest alfresco dining venue; it’s atop the five-star lebua at State Tower. Brave souls might try the Hangovertini, lebua’s signature drink with a Scotch base.
|DEATH MASK of the boy-king Tutankhamun on display at the Egyptian Exhibition at Highclere Castle in England.|
Then it’s off to the main event—an evening of Thai boxing, an exciting, full-contact martial art in which fighters use nearly every part of their body to fend off the opponent. A cultural gem is the boxers’ traditional pre-fight ceremony honoring their trainers, religion and the sport itself; the ceremony includes a special dance, to the accompaniment of Thai boxing music, not to mention shouts of gamblers betting on the match’s outcome. After the match, shop at the Patpong night market for handicrafts, Thai silk, souvenirs and jewelry; bargain aggressively.
Prefer more high-brow culture? Learn about England’s history, magnificent 18th-century estates, and how to live the “upper crust” lifestyle at Highclere Castle, the real-life setting for Downton Abbey. Explore the haunts depicted in that PBS series on a three-night “Oxford & Highclere Castle” extension by Viking River Cruises, which guests may take pre- or post-cruise from the “Cities of Light”or “Paris & the Heart of Normandy” itineraries.
|SIROCCO & SKY BAR BANGKOK is the world’s highest alfresco dining venue.|
This unique tour was co-created by Viking, and the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, Highclere Castle’s owners. Guests travel across the English Channel via the Eurostar. At Highclere, they sip champagne while gazing at antiques and strolling amid lavishly appointed spaces. They also visit London, the Cotswolds and Oxford. A virtual “sneak peek” tour is at www.vrc.com/highclere.
|SILVERSEA CRUISES' ‘West Africa Cultural Adventure’ includes a visit to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Freetown, Sierra Leone.|
Further north in Europe, Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com) offers a two-week “Wine and Food” North Cape sailing that departs Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 5 and concludes in Stockholm, Sweden, two weeks later. One highlight is Crystal’s first port call in 18 years at Murmansk, Russia.
Spicing up this Crystal Serenity voyage is Sven Erik Renaa, proprietor of Norway’s Renaa Restaurants and manager of the champion Norwegian National Culinary Team. Expect demonstrations, lectures and tastings conducted by Renaa as well as Gwenael Laroche of Burgundy’s Domaine Laroche winery and Mark Cummings, a certified Cordon Bleu master chef and restaurateur. Savor a glass of Domaine Laroche’s award-winning Chablis onboard.
Ashore, Crystal’s guests might go on a “Quest for King Crab” in the waters of Sarnesfjorden, Norway. Or, cool off (or warm up) by sipping chilled vodka at three ice bars in Leknes and Honningsvag, Norway, and Stockholm. At Mack’s Brewery, the oldest watering hole in Tromso, Norway, learn how Arctic beer is crafted.
While Southeast Asia is famed for golden temples, Vietnam’s river delta is also a rich patchwork of rice paddies, sugarcane fields, and banana, coconut and mango orchards. Explore the country’s agricultural traditions on Seabourn Cruise Line’s “Thailand & Vietnam” itinerary between November and March next year.
During two-week cruises between Hong Kong and Singapore, Seabourn Legend calls at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, the jumping off point for a private “Day on the Mekong Delta” cultural adventure. Board a small, covered, open-air longboat for a voyage along the Cai Be branch of the Mekong. Learn about the local economy firsthand at a floating market where fruits, vegetables, turtles, and even pigs are sold or traded right from the farmers’ boats.
Moving on to Binh Hoa Phuoc village, disembark to visit a local farming family in their home—learning about day-to-day family life and crop cultivation. At another stop, rice or corn is popped in a huge iron vat filled with blackened sand and sweetened with honey, sugar and peanuts. Guests sample the treats before heading to the Mekong River Resort for a lunch of fish and other Vietnamese delicacies.
For culture closer to home, Oceania Cruises’ new “Pacific Exploration” voyage on Regatta explores Alaska in-depth. Sailing June 4 roundtrip from Seattle, the two-week voyage covers much more territory than a typical Alaska cruise. Regatta calls at Hoonah (Icy Strait Point), Ketchikan, Kodiak, Seward, Sitka, Skagway and Wrangell, Alaska, as well as Prince Rupert and Victoria, B.C.
Guests might paddle a kayak to view seals and otters near Wrangell or soak in Russian history and culture at Sitka’s onion-domed cathedral. This voyage’s Alaska Explorer Youth Program provides counselors for kids ages five to 13 so even the youngest cruisers enjoy supervised activities and Alaska-inspired events.
On Regatta’s Victoria port call, pamper yourself with high tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Scones, pastries and tea sweets are made daily, as they have been since 1908. The hotel’s exclusive aromatic tea blend—a mix of Assam, Kenya, South India and Ceylon varieties—is sipped from dainty William Edwards china.
For the ultimate adventure, Silversea Cruises’ “West Africa Cultural Adventure” departs April 11 from Accra, Ghana, to Dakar, Senegal, on Silver Explorer. Visit a traditional Ewa village and bush school, learn about Voodoo culture, and watch the Tofinu people fishing. A good camera is a “must” for capturing one-of-a-kind shots of rare birds, wild monkeys and butterflies.
This 12-day adventure includes port calls for cultural exploration at Lome, Togo; Cotonou, Benin; Takoradi, Ghana; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Banana Islands, Sierra Leone; Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau; and Banjul, The Gambia.
|HIGHCLERE CASTLE is the real-life setting for the PBS series Downton Abbey.|
Further east, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 14-day “Gateways to Antiquity” cruise on Seven Seas Voyager sails from Luxor (Safaga), Egypt to Rome (Civitavecchia) on May 4. Highly enticing for cultural buffs is the complimentary three-night, pre-cruise land program in Cairo and Luxor.
The ship also calls at port destinations in Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and Italy. Perhaps head out via a combination coach and off-road vehicle tour into the desert—aka “Lawrence of Arabia”—to view Jordan’s Wadi Rum where T. E. Lawrence began his 1917 revolt against the Turks. Cultural adventures await across the globe, and increasingly a luxury cruise is a great way to indulge that passion.