Cruising is usually seen as a bit of a soft-option when it comes to travelling…. entertaining and relaxing, yes, but a far cry from the swashbuckling adventurers that used to ply the high seas. Thankfully, some cruises offer more than a casino to set your heart a-flutter.
One of the wonderful things about cruise ships (when properly equipped) is that they can access areas cut off from travellers restricted to planes, trains and automobiles. And the main attraction when it comes to cruising off the beaten track is the ability to explore the ends of the earth; both north and south of the equator.
Cruises to Antarctica are top of any aquatic adventurer's to-do list, although cruises are restricted to the summer season from November to March. Many of the ships in use are converted Russian research ice-breakers, so don't be surprised if you find yourself boarding the Akademik Sergey Vavilov!
Most cruises to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost town in the world and itself a great destination to spend a few days exploring. From Ushuaia you'll cross the dreaded Drake Passage (pack the seasick tablets!) as you head south towards the Antarctic Peninsula. Most ships offer Zodiac trips ashore so you can explore the Peninsula, while cruises including helicopter trips, kayaking, camping and even scuba diving are all on offer depending on your budget. Trips further afield to the preserved huts of famous Antarctic explorers, the Ross Ice Shelf as well as the islands of South Georgia and the Falklands are also popular.
At the other end of the globe are the treacherous waters of the Arctic Ocean, home to the fabled Northwest Passage which claimed hundreds of sailors searching for a sea route to Asia. Cruises range from sightseeing circuits around Greenland and Iceland to four-week adventures across the top of Russia and even a nuclear-powered journey to the North Pole!
While the Antarctic may lay claim to breathtaking vistas and giant icebergs the Arctic has more to offer in the way of wildlife; with narwhals, walruses, whales and polar bears to keep you company. Journeys to the far north are also popular for marvelling at the breathtaking Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. These are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere winter though, and the all-day darkness could put a dampener on your other sight-seeing.
If you decide to brave the darkness, the Hurtigruten Line offers one of the most interesting ways to enjoy the Aurora while exploring the dramatic coastline of Norway. With daily departures from Bergen en route to Kirkenes across the Arctic Circle, the ships call at 34 ports never visited by commercial cruise liners. Delivering freight, post and passengers to remote communities, some of which are home to just a few hundred people, this is a wonderful way to combine the comfort and adventure of cruising with a taste of the local culture.
The Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System offers a similar service for budget travellers on the United States' Pacific coastline, but there are also a host of commercial cruise ships offering a more comfortable ride past the glaciers, forests and waterfall of the wildest state in America.
After all that snow, ice and darkness you're probably about ready for some sun, sea and sand! Head then, to the eastern Mediterranean, where small ship cruising in the sun awaits.
Turkey is famous for its ragged coastline of rugged peninsulas and calm bays watched over by towns dating back thousands of years. The best way to experience this craggy coastline is on a Turkish gulet; a traditional wooden sailing ship usually sleeping 12 – 16 passengers in six to eight cabins. A major advantage of guletting is that you can either charter an entire boat (if you have a large group of friends or family), or simply rent a cabin on one of the scheduled cruises.
There are also a wide range of cruises on offer, from historical voyages exploring ancient civilisations of the Aegean to simply relaxing sails in the sun where snorkelling and swimming are all that's expected of you. Although most gulets aren't overly luxurious, the small crew do all the work on-board and will ensure you're well looked after.
If the romance of sail is what you're after, but you'd like a little luxury too, then the West Indies are the place for you. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises were the original cruise operator offering holidays under sail, and have four ships based in the exotic Caribbean.
As the name suggests, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises are relaxed affairs, and you're encouraged to feel the sun-weathered teak beneath your toes while your ship sails the warm waters of the West Indies. On-shore excursions range from the active to the cultural, so whether you're a type-A adrenalin junkie or just looking to soak up the Creole culture there'll be a cruise for you.
If you want the sail with a little more sass, Star Clippers offers five-star tall ship cruising. The ships may sail like the hard-working clippers of the 20th century, but on-board you are certainly not expected to haul in the main sheet. The fleet consists of three impressive clippers, but the imposing Royal Clipper is the pride and joy. The only five-masted sailing ship built in the last 100 years, the Royal Clipper is driven along by 42 sails but boasts state-of-the-art navigation systems and five-star luxury, complete with three swimming pools, glass atrium and health spa with underwater portholes. Adventurous guests can even climb the mast to the 'crow's nest' for a bird's-eye-view!
Page 3: Family holidays afloat