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Dispelling the Myths

I was going to name this article "For the Love of Cruising" but I was afraid that no one would read it! As one British writer stated, "cruising is the Marmite of the travel world, loved by most who have tried it, dismissed by many who haven't." I am here to dispel your myths about cruising and I'm not talking about the mega-ships (not that there's anything wrong with them), but rather the small luxury ships, river cruises and expedition ships. The mega-ships use the ship as the destination. Small ships focus on experiencing a destination up close and being intimate with nature and local culture.

A small ship is an easy way to see remote places that would otherwise be too expensive and logistically tricky to get to. From sailing down the coast of Croatia (did you know that Croatia has over 1,000 islands off of its coast?) to an Arctic expedition to track polar bears, to a river cruise down the Amazon where you'll see 527 species of birds and 102 types of mammals. Then there are the areas that are not possible to adequately see from land: Alaska, the Galapagos, the Douro Valley of Portugal to name a few. There are river cruises on the Mekong River sailing between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Rep, down the Irawaddy River in Myanmar, China's Yangtze River, Africa's Chobe River and of course the Ganges in India. The possibilities seem endless!

Cruising also affords the opportunity for families - especially multi-generation groups, to provide something for each participant's interest. Some of the offerings include a Family Host on board, an Expedition Team who give lectures and keep everyone involved, chef-led cooking classes and market visits, Berlitz language courses, and keyboard lessons. There are theme cruises with opera shows, classic ballet performances, magic shows, a Relais & Chateaux Gourmet cruise, and wine tastings. Many small ships now have a marina platform at the back that folds down to offer water skiing, snorkeling,wake boarding, kayaking and jet skiing. They even have a "wire cage" so kids can swim safely without worrying about sharks. AmaWaterways and Disney have teamed up to offer immersive journeys for families looking at new destinations to explore. Imagine visiting Hohenwerfen Castle and seeing a live falconry show or biking through Wachau Valley to a vineyard to sample wines while the kids make pretzels. Dedicated family suites and adjoining rooms are becoming common; some are quite elaborate. The Seven Seas Explorer boasts a 2 bedroom 3875sq' suite! On a Sea Dream Yacht cruise with my son years ago there was a Norwegian family of 20 on board with us - and the ship only holds 96 passengers! My son still emails with friends from London and Mexico City that he met on that cruise.

A small ship offers safety. It is a contained, controlled environment, allowing passengers to travel to remote wilderness locations and into new cultures comfortably and safely. Guest can paddle in front of a glacier, walk a remote beach, visit isolated villages, and encounter wildlife. Most activities can be chosen based on ability levels. The kids may snorkel at a sea lion rookery, while the parents take a hike on difficult terrain. Naturalists are on board to keep kids excited while educating them. Because you are traveling in such a small group you will build a sense of comarderie with the fellow passengers, crew, guides and your own family members! Everything is customized to each individual's preferences.

These cruises definitely don't deprive one of anything. Crew members often know what you want before you even ask. There are "Champagne and Caviar Splashes" with a shoreside beach barbecue. Monogrammed pajamas, sleeping under the stars on the top deck on Balinese sun beds, private dinners, spa villas on board, butler service and heated floors are just a few of the luxuries. Some of the passenger-to-crew ratios are 540 to 376, 154 to 57 and 112 to 95! The bartender will know your favorite drink after one day, the chef will know your food preferences and the concierge will get you tickets to the Cannes Film Fest. On a recent Croatian cruise, I mentioned to the bartender that I always like to try the local beer. The next day he had a case of Karlovako Royal on board after purchasing some on shore for me!

Virtuoso also offers a special Cruise Program. Our partners are 23 ocean-, river-, and specialty-cruise lines. 10 of these offer Virtuoso Voyages Sailings which include dedicated onboard hosts, cocktail receptions, exclusive shore excursions or shipboard credits, pre-paid gratuities, and other amenities.

These are cruises that will definitely leave you with life-long memories and experiences that most cruise-goers just don't receive. You will feel like a passenger on your own private yacht!

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