WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CRUISE?
It’s a question we’ve heard over and over again. Sometimes from friends, but usually from friends of friends, the ones who have yet to cruise and are keen to pick our brains about the best voyage for them.
It’s the obvious query, but it doesn’t make it any easier to answer. For us, it’s akin to a heart-searching quiz on the best type of gin, which, of course, depends on what you are going to put it in. If it’s a straightforward G&T, it obviously has to be Bombay Sapphire. But, if you use Fever-Tree tonic, it’s a whole different ball-game, and either Beefeater 24 or Martin Miller’s is perfectly satisfactory. If you’re making a Martini, it should be Hendrick’s. And, for a Gimlet, it has to be Tanqueray.
But that’s relatively clear-cut compared to The Question. So, they ask, what’s your favourite cruise? And we usually have to go off on a long discourse about ‘what kind of cruise are you looking for,’ ‘what type of holiday do you usually like,’ etc, etc. It is more problematic than an invitation to tea with the Sheriff of Nottingham, if you’re Robin of Loxley.
So, we hear you ask, what IS your favourite cruise? Well, I guess we deserved it. Once you start down that slippery road, it’s a tricky one to get off. It really is a question of horses for courses, what your main preferences are, etc, etc. You see, there we go again.
But, when you’ve been on nearly 100 voyages, sailed in most areas of the world, sampled 90-odd ships and eaten way too many canapés for comfort, it’s hard to be absolutely definitive about Ship A versus Ship B, and so on. If that sounds rather laissez faire, that is pretty much how we feel when it comes to conclusive statements of a maritime nature.
However, what we can do is list our top five cruise experiences, and highlight what made each one special for us. It is highly likely, under the old proverb that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, that our choices may not resonate perfectly with anyone else; that our No.1 may not even be in the Top 10 for a fan of, say SeaDream Yacht Club. But, if you keep that in mind, here are our Famous Five:
5. Pride of America, Norwegian Cruise Line
OK, we haven’t taken leave of our senses here, we did, genuinely, have a memorable voyage on this unprepossessing vessel of a mass-market cruise line, and here’s why: the destination can make the cruise as much as the ship.
The Pride of America is a complete one-off in the Norwegian fleet, a comparative mid-size ship at 80,000 tons, with its own personality and, unusually, an American flag at its stern. It is almost half the size of the line’s monstrous Breakaway class but, being built in 2005, it still comes with the signature feature of Freestyle dining, with all its tempting restaurant options.
If the vessel herself has a surprising allure, it is her locale that really makes things special. Being an all-American product (well, mainly; it’s a long story. Suffice it to say she bent a few rules but, ultimately, earned the right to fly the Star Spangled Banner), she has the rare distinction of being able to visit only US ports and, as Hawaii is an all-US series of islands, this is what the Pride does, week in and week out.
And, when you can sail to each of the main islands in turn, soak up that blissful Hawaiian vibe, then return to a ship that also boasts a proper Pacific islands ambience, you have a unique combination that is totally enchanting.
4. Coral Princess, Princess Cruise Lines
What’s this, another large-ship line in our top five? Well, yes, also thanks partly to the reasons stated in 5 above. The Coral Princess certainly couldn’t be called a small ship at 91,000 tons but she is distinctly more slimline than many of her stable-mates, hence the overall onboard style is more intimate and charming.
There is also a distinctive array of dining that includes the excellent New Orleans flavours of the Bayou Café and Steakhouse that definitely earns our mark of distinction, along with a lineup of live music that is genuinely captivating.
But, more than that, for large parts of the year, the Coral is routed via the Panama Canal and this is simply unmissable for enjoying one of cruising’s most amazing experiences in big-ship style. There are others offering similar routes, but, for us, this is another ideal combo.
3. Crystal Symphony, Crystal Cruises
We’ve been fortunate to sail on Crystal Cruises several times and, in our book, this is simply the ideal mix of large-ship style with small-ship grace and service. There is enough to keep you busy and provide options throughout the day (including a fab short-tennis court), but it is intimate enough to deliver that true luxury touch from stem to stern.
Our most memorable voyage aboard was an unforgettable jaunt from Montreal to New York, soaking up the gorgeous sights of the region’s autumn foliage but, in all honesty, we could have been sailing anywhere, such is the sumptuous style and personal appeal of the Crystal Symphony, the line’s second ship but first in our hearts for the ultimate cruise sympatico.
True, we do have a penchant for fine Asian food, and Crystal’s Nobu alternative dining restaurant is simply the best of its kind at sea, but everything they do is geared around pleasing the senses and, in a ship of these dimensions, it just hits the spot for us.
2. SS Legacy, UnCruise Adventures
We have to go more small-scale for our Top Two, as these are true one-offs in the cruise world that deserve every accolade going for distinction, quality and originality. UnCruise feature as one of the most unusual and offbeat experiences anywhere on the globe. They eschew the commonplace in order to get off the beaten track in places like Alaska, Hawaii, the Sea Of Cortes, Costa Rica and the Galapagos, providing close-ups rather than snap shots of these heady destinations.
Then, the utterly boutique Legacy – all 1,472 tons of her, carrying a maximum of 88 passengers – distils all this rare maritime character into another novel package, featuring period re-enactors, masses of history and culture, and a dedication to the wildlife in the areas where it cruises (mainly Alaska and the Snake and Columbia rivers) that is totally breathtaking.
Add in delectable dining, gracious service and period style, and this is the kind of cruise experience that ought to have potential passengers beating down the door of the line’s Seattle offices.
1. Atmosphere, Nomads of the Seas
If you’re going through a checklist of maritime magnificence, you shouldn’t be surprised if this unique Chilean operator suddenly jumps to the top of your list. It certainly did for us.
Uber-comfy, one-off vessel? Check. Fancy toys and gadgets (like its own helicopter and jetboat)? Check. Five-star local cuisine? Check. Unique sea-going experiences? Check. Fabulous wildlife and local culture? Double-check. Perhaps checkmate, because, after sampling the immensity of Chilean Patagonia in the company of Nomads of the Seas, you will be stuck for anything comparable in the wide world of cruising.
The Atmosphere weighs in at just 685 tons and caters for only 28 passengers at a time, and therein lies the secret. With its highly personal onboard ambience, award-winning food and the sheer delight of getting such a personal view of this vast area, this is the stuff that dreams are made of. Undoubtedly our No.1.
OK, so that’s our Top Five. Now tell us about your best cruise experiences, and why, in the Comments section below.