Google the Dorado-Warmi River, a narrow canal that snakes off the Yanallpa – one of the Amazon’s Peruvian tributaries – and you’ll pull up exactly 20 search results. By my standards, that makes it as undiscovered a place as you can get on this planet now. That was verified by the fact that one day into cruising the region, I’d seen families of wide-eyed owl monkeys peeking out from termite holes in the trees lining the water, but not one other human aside from my 16 fellow passengers and 21 crew members on the M/V Aqua.
It’s not what you picture when you envision a cruise, nor is the Peruvian Amazon probably a place you’d imagine cruising to – if you’re even imagining taking a cruise in the first place. According to the American Affluence Research Centre, an organization that tracks the purchase attitudes and spending habits of the top 10 percent of Americans, interest in cruising is at an all-time low, no doubt fuelled by a number of recent “bad news” stories. But for a certain type of traveller, cruising, with its big buffets, splashy shows and waterslides, has never been all that appealing. “Big ships are for resort people,” says Anne Campbell, the author of several editions of Fielding’s Guide to Worldwide Cruises. “You might go to some ports, but the experience is really about being on your ship, which is a giant resort at sea.”
For people who aren’t keen on the traditional cruise, there’s an alternative. Companies are now offering more intimate cruises on small, luxury boats.
For people who aren’t keen on the traditional cruise, there is an alternative. A number of companies are now offering more intimate cruises on small, luxury boats. The Aqua, which I was on, holds up to 24 passengers in spacious accommodations – at 240 square feet, suites are about a third bigger than standard cabins on the Carnival Dream – with wall-to-wall windows, marble bathrooms and decor that feels like a chic boutique hotel. At 130 feet in length, it’s easy to imagine the entire boat might fit onto the pool complex of one of the mega ships. Other small lines, such as Silversea, carry just a few hundred passengers at a time on ships one-tenth the size of the biggies. In both cases the experience smaller ships offer will buck every one of your resistances to cruising.
Kristine George, a tourism executive from Whistler, B.C., never had a desire to take a cruise. In 2007, though, she found herself aboard the Wind Surf, a sailing ship that belongs to the small luxury cruise line Windstar, after her then-husband won a trip as an incentive reward from the pharmaceutical company he worked for. The ship sailed to popular ports like St. Lucia and St. Maarten, but for the most part it docked at smaller islands that are generally inaccessible to larger ships.
The mainstream ports, she says, “were way more touristy and way more commercial. They were all set up and ready for the cruise ship passengers.” But the smaller stops were entirely conducive to the type of travel experience she generally seeks out. “When we were in St. Barths, we had to rent a car for the day, we had to figure it out for ourselves, which we loved. We loved the intimate side of being able to get lost and find our way around and explore.” What’s more, she and her husband enjoyed coming back to the ship and hearing about what her fellow cruisers had gotten up to all day, conversations she doesn’t feel would have been nearly as interesting if everyone had had the same cookie cutter experience.