Cruising the Coasts

We round up some of the most luxurious and boutique cruise holidays throughout the region

If you have never embarked on a cruise before, it is likely that the idea of a holiday with hundreds or thousands of other passengers in ships as large as some iconic skyscrapers does not sound particularly enticing. Despite all the luxuries promised, due to the size and scale of most cruise liners, the experience tends to be largely an impersonal affair catering to a mass crowd: luxuriously-decked out but largely indistinguishable ships that sail off in a self-contained vessel, with very little cultural or personal engagement with its docking points or final destinations.

For those that prefer holidays of a more intimate nature, here are a selection of boutique cruises that, with their more reasonable size and thereby more personalised service, promise a far more integrated and luxurious holiday. Short of buying your own yacht, these cruises, many of which are often only available for private charter, offer the best option of decadent days and nights at sea, allowing you to:

Separate legend, myth and history

While its predecessors focused heavily on wildlife exploration in the Amazon, Aqua Expedition’s latest offering, the Aqua Mekong, floats through Cambodia and Vietnam promising a cultural tour of ancient and modern Indochina, exploring over 2,000 years of history. Built like a three-tiered barge but designed by Saigon-based architects to resemble an understated luxury hotel, the float winds its way through ancient temple ruins, colonial relics, functioning monasteries and an ever-evolving and diverse colourful culture that embodies the Mekong.

The cruise took its maiden voyage last September, featuring three separate itineraries of 3-7 nights, floating both up and down the river. With only 20 suites hosting 40 passengers, the 62.5 metre long cruise also features creative culinary courses are headed by award-winning Executive Chef David Thompson, of Nahm in Bangkok.

Indulge in some fine food and wine

Aboard Belmond’s five barges“afloat in France”, and French Country Waterway’s four river cruises, the focus is on the lush, fruitful and fertile magnificence of the French countryside and landscape. Each cruise offers a range of tours, from an intimate two-cabin voyage celebrating Le Cordon Bleu chef-catered cuisine to marginally larger barges hosting up to 12 featuring visits to France’s champagne fields and wineries, with five-star dinners to match.

One of France’s river cruise highlights is the stylishly named Belmond Fleur de Lys, with its three ensuite cabins decorated in rich Indian fabrics and four-poster beds, and also featuring a private pool. The proposed itinerary takes you from Dijon to Vandenesse-En-Auxois, enroute touring Burgundy’s chateaux and vineyards. An evening onboard is often capped off with a glass of wine, accompanied by soothing melodies played on the grand piano.

Belmond Fleur de Lys

Delve deeper beneath the sea

Cruising the idyllic and relatively unexplored region of Raja Ampat in Indonesia, a destination slowly gaining a reputation for its world-class diving scene, the custom-built, handcrafted cruises of two luxury hotel operators, Amanresorts’ Amanikan and Alila Hotels and Resorts’ Alila Purnama, both provide a similar experience centred around discovering local marine life. Although the individual itineraries of the cruises are varied and fairly flexible, the highlight is most certainly the 5-7 night Raja Ampat expedition held between November to March (depending on the cruiser). Another common expedition both cruisers share is the Komodo Island expedition, held between March to October, exploring not only the marine life but also the islands in the vicinity, one of which is the natural habitat of the legendary Komodo dragon.

Amanikan

Although traditional in appearance, the interiors are suitably decked out in luxuriously understated fashion, also featuring locally sourced materials and designs. The three-decked Alila Purnama is 46-metres long and accommodates up to 10 guests in five cabins. The 32-metre Amanikan contains three cabins, with the master cabin featuring a 270-degree view.

Alila Purnama