Photo courtesy of European Waterways
When you think of cruise lines, which ones to come to mind?
More often than not, the big cruise lines are mentioned. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity and so on. Given the amount of advertising they do - TV ads, magazine ads, celebrity endorsements, social media, etc., it's not surprising they are top of mind.
These cruise lines are absolutely the right vacation option for many. But if you want experiences that are, in my opinion, second to none, look at what I like to call "under the radar" cruise lines. Smaller companies that aren't marketing powerhouses, so you may not have heard of them before.
Following are 6 of my top choices (in alphabetical order).
If you are fascinated by Chile's Patagonia region like I am, then this cruise line is for you. Australis specializes in taking you through Patagonia's pristine waterways, fjords and Tierra del Fuego. Small ships, with approximately 200 passengers, are able take you where few other ships venture, affording you the opportunity to experience glaciers, forests and wildlife that few get to explore. Australis is also one of the only companies that can land at the Cape Horn, where you can climb to the top and see for miles around (Antarctica is somwhere out there!).. Check out my article below on this WOW experience.
AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES
Azamara Club Cruises is the quiet sophisticated sister of her more rowdy Royal Caribbean sibling. The fleet consists of 3 identical boutique ships (the Pursuit will join the Journey and the Quest in March), each with just under 700 passengers. Azamara pioneered what is now their hallmark feature - longer and more overnight port stays. When other ships are leaving port, the action in town continues for Azamara passengers. Evenings bring out new and unique experiences, including Azamazing events, more like the locals know about. And because the ship size, they can get into smaller, unique ports of call. This has allowed Azamara to develop more country immersive itineraries as well.
BLOUNT SMALL CRUISE ADVENTURES
Blount is a truly unique cruise line that take the curious on sailings along the US intercoastal waterways, eastern US rivers, Belize and Guatamala. Retractable pilot houses and a 7 foot draft allows the ship to sail rivers, through canals and under bridges that most ships can't even dream of. Explore the Great Lakes, navigate through the Welland Canal, sail on the Hudson River to Quebec, take a journey along New England's coastline. In January you can discover the beautiful coastline of Belize and Guatamala. With only 2 ships, they do book up fairly quickly. But besides great itineraries, it may also be because they are 100% casual and allow you to bring your own beverages - wine, beer, spirits, sodas. No limit.
European Waterways is a holiday on luxury barge hotel. Perfect if you want to really unplug and slow down. Their 17 barges come in various sizes, ranging from 8 up to 20 passengers. Comfortable accommodations range from compact to ultra luxury (which compare to top hotels), depending on the size of the barge. The crew offers superb customer service, the meals are outstanding. Cruises are available in 9 European countries, including unique tours in Scotland and Ireland. One can book into an existing sailing or better yet, charter a full barge for you and few close friends! Check out my article below on barging.
Unbeknownst to many, Ponant is a 30 year old brand and a leader in Polar regions, having the most experience in luxury yacht expeditions. They currently have 5 ships that serve all 7 continents, and are adding 2 ships in 2018 and 2 in 2019. These new vessels will be focused on warmer water expeditions. Ponant is chic and understated elegance, but casual. A French company (actually owned by the same company that owns Gucci and Yves St. Laurent), they of course have a French flair (especially in their dining). They attract guests from all over the world and are growing exponentially in the US market. Most exciting are their partnerships with other fabulous brands. Abercrombie & Kent and Tauck both have full ship charters with them, and Backroads, the largest active travel tour company, has partnered with them to offer hiking and biking on several itineraries (Iceland is one of them!).
SEA DREAM YACHT CLUB
It's yachting , not cruising." A family owned company, Sea Dream has 2 boutique yachts, each with 56 staterooms, 112 passengers. The founder of Sea Dream also founded Seabourn Cruise line in 1987. Elegantly informal, high personal service, all ocean view cabins and suites, world class cuisine - these are just some of their trademarks. Sea Dream includes a wonderful array of "wellness fun" - water toys from the yacht's marina (including wave runners), mountain bikes, a golf simulator, a fitness center, pool, spa, jacuzzi and yoga. A signature "event" if you will is reserving one of their Balinese dream beds - awesome star gazing!
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder