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Monday, July 25, 2011

The itimacy of smaller ships and destinations far away from the maddening crowds a popular cruising alternative for many

   (Out to Sea column originally published in July 2010)

   (c) By Jim and Barb Fox

   Huge mega ships are making a big splash these days as they set sail with their virtual cities at sea.
   The biggest of the big is Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas was joined last December by the equally large Allure of the Seas.
   Norwegian Cruise Line launched Epic, a 4,200-passenger ship, and Holland America Line, known for its classy smaller ships, is out with Nieuw Amsterdam for 2,100 passengers.
   Celebrity Cruises added the Eclipse for 2,850 passengers in April and Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth, holding 2,092 passengers, sailed last October.
   Even so, there remains an attraction for the intimacy of small ships -- those for fewer than 500 passengers -- far from the maddening crowds.
The River Countess, a Uniworld Boutique River Cruises' small ship, is shown in Passau in the southeast of Germany at the confluence of the rivers Danube, Inn and Ilz. 
   These ships provide an opportunity to "go where larger vessels cannot, including some of the most picturesque and otherwise exclusive ports in the world inaccessible to larger ships," said Lanie Fagan of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
   There is an "extraordinarily diverse menu" of small-ship cruises serving up adventure, luxury, fine dining and worldwide itineraries.
   How about sailing the grand rivers of Europe, along the coast of the Mediterranean, Canada and New England, through the islands of the South Pacific, the Caribbean or even sailing around the world?


   River cruising is one of the most-popular voyages on custom-designed luxury vessels in Europe and elsewhere, including Asia and the Galapagos.
   AMAWATERWAYS, Avalon Waterways and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises are among the leading lines offering these trips.
Uniworld's River Empress cruises on the Rhine River in Germany, one of the longest and most-important waterways in Europe.
   The ships are able to dock right in major cities as river cruising offers an immersion into the historical and cultural life of the destination.
   Passengers can walk or cycle to the major landmarks, heritage sites, museums, restaurants and cathedrals without the delays of tendering from anchorages farther away.
   European itineraries include the grand rivers from the Danube and the Volga to the Rhine, Rhone, Saone, Seine and Douro.
   Seasonally, many itineraries include visits to the famous Christmas markets.
   Next year, it will be possible to cruise essentially across Europe on an itinerary offered between Amsterdam and Istanbul.
   Another option is cruising along the rivers of Asia, including the Mekong in Vietnam.


   Coastal cruising is especially popular during the fall to see the colours of the changing season along the St. Lawrence River through the Maritimes and into New England.
   American Cruise Lines' ships, including the new 104-passenger Independence, visit towns and villages tucked away along the east coast that are inaccessible to larger ships.
   It sails inland waterways and rivers from Penobscot Bay, Maine and the islands of New England to the rivers of Florida.
   Seasonally, there are also other repositioning cruises between Alaska, British Columbia and California.
   In Europe, Hurtigruten has 11 ships offering Norwegian coastal voyages year-round to 34 ports of call, some only accessible by sea.

Sea Dream Yacht Club's two small ships toast each cruise with a champagne party, shown here in the Caribbean.
   Luxury cruising includes the all-suite Yachts of Seabourn sailing to many Mediterranean out-of-the-way ports.
   These include Zadar, Croatia; Koper, Slovenia; Le Lavandou on the French Riviera and Bandol in France.
   Among the smallest ships are the upscale SeaDream Yacht Club's Sea Dream I and Sea Dream II for 112 passengers.
   They offer European itineraries including the French Riviera in the summer and Caribbean sailings in the winter.
   These include harbours in the British Virgin Islands and the Windward and Leeward Island and some lesser-travelled isles in Greece, such as Naousa, on Paros, and the unspoiled island of Sifnos.
Sea Dream small luxury ships have their own marina on the aft for the launching of watercraft as shown in the Caribbean.
   Silversea Cruises offers numerous sailings including world cruises of more than 100 days and its largest ship is the Silver Spirit carrying 500 passengers.
   Its 132-passenger Prince Albert II travels from Europe and Scandinavia to Central and South America, Antarctica and South Africa.


   Exotic and adventure cruises include the French Polynesia on the 332-passenger m/s Paul Gauguin.
   The refurbished ship has cruises of seven to 15 nights to Tahiti, the Society Islands, Tuamotus, Cook Islands, Marquesas, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand.
   Hurtigruten's 301-passenger Fram cruises to Antarctica, Greenland and Spitsbergen, in the Arctic.
   Celebrity Xpedition, a 92-passenger mega-yacht, sails year-round in the Galapagos Islands with naturalist-led expeditions.
   Windstar Cruises' high-tech Wind Spirit and Wind Star, each for 148 passengers, and Wild Surf, for 312 passengers, visit such exotic Caribbean spots as Iles des Saintes, Bequia and Virgin Gorda.
   They also sail to Costa Rica's Quepos, Playas del Coco, Bahia Drake and Tortuga Island. In the Mediterranean, they visit Portovenere, Sanary Sur Mer and Port Vendres.


   If you sail:
   To learn about the small-ship voyages, check out Cruise Lines International Association's website: www.cruising.org


Jim and Barb Fox can be reached at outtosea50@hotmail.com

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