Sea change: A cruise guide

Easy overnight travel, all food and transport included; just two of the reasons why cruising is becoming such a popular type of holiday. Photo / Supplied
Easy overnight travel, all food and transport included; just two of the reasons why cruising is becoming such a popular type of holiday. Photo / Supplied

Cruising. It's all about enormous ships and lots of people, right? Think again.

Certainly, there are ships that accommodate more people and have better onboard facilities than some New Zealand towns. But although the world's biggest cruise ship sleeps more than 4000, many sleep fewer people, offering an intimate, boutique experience.

There are umpteen different ways to take a cruise. Thankfully, they usually still include the reasons that make cruising one of the fastest-growing types of holiday - easy overnight travel; with food and transport included.

There are cruises for families, for couples and for adventurers. Unconvinced? Here are 10 unusual cruises for people who don't do cruise cliches.

The final frontier

Antarctica could be one of the last places on Earth without a tourist office. And there are few ways of getting there, other than by a cruise. But for the adventurous traveller, nowhere else quite compares.

There are now several companies offering Antarctic trips, leaving from Ushuaia in Argentina, and spending between 10-20 days at sea. Some can be surprisingly inexpensive, especially now there are cheap flights to South America. You won't find traditional cruise excursions on these trips either; they usually have a more active bent - a dip in Antarctic waters, a night ashore on the ice. Underwater exploration could even be on the cards, if you're a qualified diver.

The quick fix

Time-poor and want the best bang for your buck while seeing as much as possible? There are cruises that deliver exactly that, packing in the sights without you having to spend long at sea. For example, you can take a Costa Cruise in Asia from surprisingly little PER DAY - seeing five countries for

less than the price of a week in Phuket. You can tick off Vietnam, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei one by one within several days - a blast for the senses, a dense sight-filled holiday that's definitely for those who like the pace fast and fun-filled.

The golden age of sailing

Ah, the wind in your hair, sails flapping overhead, mahogany rails gleaming in the sun. If you've a yen for romance, a love of history - and you're not short of funds - a tall-ship cruise around Costa Rica is as perfect as it gets. Ships take a maximum of about 170 passengers and, because of their size, can get close up to exclusive destinations that are inaccessible to larger ships. You'll have glamorous nightlife and perfect beaches one day, and wildlife-spotting the next in some of Costa Rica's lush reserves. Near the end of the trip, the warm waters of Isla Tortuga mean the chance to spot manta rays, pilot whales and whale sharks.

Small is beautiful

If you want to keep the luxuries of a big liner but without the crowds, try a company such as Cruise West. The big advantage is the small size of the boats, enabling them to travel to less-common cruise destinations. Take the Dragons and Spice cruise and you'll go from Darwin via Indonesia to Singapore, seeing everything from pink sandy beaches and Komodo dragons to an orang-utan sanctuary and a sultan's palace. Or you can indulge your inner photographer with a themed cruise in Alaska; complete with lectures and professional advice to help you come back with spectacular shots.

Coast and culture

Croatia is hot right now, for all kinds of holidays. But this long, skinny country on the Adriatic, with clear seas and lots of coastline is practically designed for cruising. Depending on budget, you can explore by conventional cruise liner or a smaller, more personalised ship, sailing through the islands half the day then having dinner on shore at night. Start in the Unesco city of Dubrovnik and wind your way up to Split, and you'll see a lot more in less time than if you travelled by car and ferry.

Stopover special

You might think of a cruise as a holiday in one - and it can be that, certainly. But the bite-size cruises offered out of many big American cities are a great way to pep-up a stopover en route to somewhere else. For example, Los Angeles or San Diego are both gateways to Mexico. Get off the plane after (or before) a trip to Europe and sail down the Baja coast for a few days, or a week, picking up Mexican handicrafts and seeking the perfect tequila sunrise.

Family-friendly in Hawaii

Got the togs? Got the passports? Got the kids? There's a lot to see in Hawaii, but if you constantly have to pack up and leave one island to head to the next, things can get reasonably strained. So pack the family on to a cruise instead and you can meander about all the major islands without spending half your time at the airport. Tick off Oahu for hectic Honolulu and glamorous Waikiki beach. Then Maui, for spectacular beaches, waterfalls, jungles and volcanoes. Next, lesser-developed Big Island, where the kids will love the curious lava formations. Finally, Kauai, low-key and low-rise, thanks to the local rule that no building can exceed the height of a coconut tree.

Head down-river

Who said a cruise was only for the open sea? With most of Europe's great cities built along rivers, a river cruise is probably one of the most time-economical trips to take through Europe. Cutting out many hours of driving time that a land-based trip would need, you can wind your way through such ports as Frankfurt, Vienna and Nuremberg. Plump for one of the larger ships if you want more cities and more facilities. Or hire your own riverboat sleeping up to six, for smaller personalised itineraries - a cruise along the Loire from Decize to Chatillon-sur-Loire could be just the ticket; especially for wine buffs.

Cruise on the wild side

Think Africa, think safaris. But the continent's attractions aren't all just inland. Next year's soccer World Cup has meant even more choice in cruises around the African continent, so you can stop off to support the All Whites, then board a cruise afterwards to make the most of your trip. You'll see some spectacular things along the coast; however, you won't miss out on the safari either - most cruises include the opportunity to experience this at some stage of the itinerary.

Black Sea adventure

"When I was in the Ukraine ..." Adventurous spirits can eschew common destinations and take themselves off to the Black Sea for lesser-travelled spots and interesting experiences. A heady combination of minarets, magic carpets, mountains and vodka, most cruises start from Istanbul and tick off the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania. Most also disembark in Istanbul in case you haven't already experienced the bazaar - in itself an exotic adventure. Guaranteed to spark some interesting conversations on your return home.

The perfect pick-me-up

Can you come back from South America without a smile on your face? Unlikely. If top of your list are gorgeous beaches, beautiful people and lots of dancing, then head to Rio or Sao Paolo for a cruise along the Brazilian coast. Practise your best smile in Buzios, made famous by Brigitte Bardot, and today frequented by the rich and famous. Or try some fancy football footwork in Pele's Santos, then reinvigorate yourself with a trip to the Coffee Museum. If it all sounds too frivolous, console yourself that there's also serious history and culture in Salvador de Bahia, where the colonial - and slavery - legacy has left both grand mansions and vibrant African-influenced food, music and art.

If you go

Cruiseabout is a new ocean and river cruising specialist store offering international and domestic cruise services, combined with advice from specialist cruise consultants. For more information call 0800 221 100 or visit cruiseabout.co.nz.

- Herald on Sunday

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