"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky. And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by."
The tall ships John Masefield had in mind when he penned those words were probably a little different from the luxurious cruise ships that nowadays ply the oceans, but the sentiment is still the same. The sea has long held a fascination for travellers, but unless you're a weathered salty sea dog chances are you're looking for a more comfortable way to sail the seven seas. Richard Holmes looks at some of your best options to rule the waves across the globe.
Bigger is better
Gone are the days when cruisers were on first-name basis with the Captain, and could do a leisurely circuit of the deck in under five minutes. Cruise ship architects are firm believers in 'bigger is better', and the past few years have seen some floating giants take to the water.
The main attraction a holiday on-board of these super-cruisers is the wide range of activities they have available, which include the FlowRider® surfing simulator, ice-rink, mini-golf, gym, art gallery and casino. There's even a chapel for those who decide to take the plunge at sea!
Big ships don't come more beautiful than the Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 though; she's billed as "the most magnificent ocean liner ever built", and following in the wake of the famous QE2 it would have to be! You won't find wave-riders or mini-golf here… rather get set to enjoy lectures by world-famous academics, star-gazing in the planetarium, a tasting of fine wines, or perhaps a massage in the state-of-the-art spa and gym.
When the sun goes down there's no tacky after-dinner cabaret show on your trans-Atlantic crossing (the QM2's specialty). Beaded gowns and black tie are called for as you sweep across the largest ballroom at sea in the Queens Room, or soak up live jazz in the Commodore Club. Fancy a flutter? Spin over to the casino with its tuxedoed croupiers and live out your James Bond fantasies. The QM2 is high-style on the high seas, so don't forget to dress for dinner!
Offering almost every activity under the sun these super-ships of the world cater for every whim and there's almost no reason to set foot on land during your cruise. This is just as well, as due to their size these ships are unable to dock at many smaller ports, so if shore excursions are important then you may want to consider a cruise on something smaller.
Something, perhaps, like a river cruiser. From the high seas to the river mild, canal-boating has become a popular holiday option in Europe, with travellers donning the captain's hat and steering their own way from point A to B. Sleeping a few couples at most, canal-boats are a great way to enjoy a low-key family holiday at your own pace. But what if you want to enjoy the river without the responsibility?
Larger river cruisers – carrying around 150 passengers – ply the major rivers of Europe, and are a fantastic way to explore some of the continent's historic capitals. Much of Europe's trade and commerce was built on the waterways, and many cities have their hub around the waterfront, making exploring each city as simple as stepping off the gangplank.
This is especially true for the Danube, Western Europe's largest river which rises in Germany and flows 2850-kilometres through nine countries on its journey to the Black Sea. Companies such as Avalon Waterways offer a range of tours on rivers across the continent, but 'The Legendary Danube' cruise is certainly one not to be missed.
The cruise begins in the German city of Nuremberg, which was completely restored after WWII and boasts fabulous gothic churches and elegant patrician houses, before beginning its slow journey to the south-east. Through the countryside of Germany, the Danube makes its way inevitably towards the sea, passing the idyllic Austrian towns of Linz and Vienna. Skirting the bottom of Slovakia before diving south, the Danube delivers you to the intoxicating capital of Eastern Europe; Budapest, where seven bridges cross the mighty river to connect ancient Buda on the right bank with Pest on the left.
River cruises, such as 'The Legendary Danube', are perfect for more active cruisers who enjoy being able to settle into their comfortable stateroom for the duration of their holiday, but also want to get out and explore during the day. The energetic can hop off the ship every day to explore the latest stop, and with some of Europe's most exciting cities on the waterfront there's no shortage of stimulating destinations. If you've had enough of padding the cobbled side-streets you can simply sit back and enjoy the passing scenery… and there's certainly more to see than on an ocean cruise!
River cruisers won't have the range of facilities, shopping and dining options of large ocean liners, but still have more than their fair share of home comforts. Ships such as Avalon's modern 'Tranquility' offer Wi-Fi internet access, flat-screen satellite TV, a hair salon and a fitness centre. With river-cruising the emphasis is on enjoying the scenery and stop-overs, not just entertainment on the high-seas. While ocean cruising is all about the journey, on the river mild the destinations share the limelight with the luxurious life on-board. Think of it as a hotel on the move, rather than a theme park with propellers.
Page 2: Adventure and cruising under sail