There's something to be said about cruising the high seas in a small ship. For one thing, it’s definitely the way to go if you want personalized attention and some extra pampering. I, for one, don’t mind being coddled every now and then.
That’s why I recently went cruising with American Safari Cruises. More specifically, I was aboard the 36-passenger Safari Explorer, part of a four-ship fleet that travels from the Big Island to Maui and vice versa. Over the years, I've cruised on small ships and large. Clearly, there are bennies to both, but here are some reasons to place luxury mega-yachts on your short list.
I immediately knew I was in good company. My buddies for the week amounted to a lively Australian family who excelled in the art of storytelling. A witty geology professor from the UK. A bespectacled and quiet chemist from Chicago. And 24 other guests. On the first day, amazingly, the crew members knew most of our names. And, equally notable, they didn’t waste any time learning about our interests either. For example, one woman mentioned how much she adores sea turtles. In turn, the expedition leaders went out of their way to make sure she had the chance to swim alongside them.
“What impressed me most is that the crew members on the Safari Explorer always stop and communicate with you,” said Rachel Curran, a retired school teacher from California who has taken six small-ship cruises. "They give the impression that your opinion is valuable. They get to know you, they know your drink; they know after dinner if you like decaf or tea."
Ron Anderson agreed. "I feel so much more special here," he said. When I asked if he felt at home onboard, he chuckled and said, "Oh, I wouldn't get treated this well at home."
No strict itineraries
Since we were cruising on a 36-passenger yacht, we did not have to stick to an agenda. In other words, when we happened upon a stupendous feat of nature, well, we stayed put, and with our mouths hanging open, stared in awe.
Consider this, from December to early April, about 8,000 humpback whales flock to Hawaii to breed in the warm, shallow waters. At one point, we witnessed a 30-minute display of male humpbacks showing off for a female. It went something like this: Whale number 1 breached the water and crashed on its side. Whale two did the same. A few minutes later, whale 3 followed suit. Needless to say, we snapped some pretty incredible photos.
Had we been on a standard cruise, we likely would have missed out on this. “The bigger ships tend to be on a strict shopping schedule,” expedition leader Nitakuwu Barrett said. “They don't always slow down for the scenery or wildlife.”
Go where the big ships don’t
A small ship has the ability to cruise along at shallower depths. This means the boat has access to secluded coves and narrow passageways. Just imagine if you were in Alaska (another American Safari Cruises destination) on a small ship, you might be able to hear a grizzly bear chowing down on salmon or even growling. On a bigger ship, you likely wouldn’t be able to get close enough to hear that.
Notably, I did not see any of the mammoth-size cruise ships during my 7-night Hawaiian cruise. The solitude, let me tell you, was pretty special.
Quiet and relaxed atmosphere
One thing is certain: You won’t have show tunes or karaoke or a hairy man contest on a small luxury ship. Instead, the Safari Explorer had educational talks, a library stocked with books about the area, cozy couches to lounge on and a large wine selection. This atmosphere encouraged guests to act like they are at home -- playing card games, watching movies in the common areas or just hanging out at the bar.
"We treat it as if we we are welcoming 36 guests into our home for the week," said Barrett.
Experts on board
Another added bonus: there were two expedition leaders on board the upscale mega-yacht; and they were bubbling with factoids about the marine life. Better yet, they were available all the time; meaning, I could ask them a boatload of questions. In fact, by the end of my cruise I had learned so much that I wanted to become a marine biologist myself.
When we were ready to explore off the boat, we had plenty of toys to choose from. I’m talking kayaks, standup paddleboards, snorkel gear and wetsuits. Plus, two skiffs, hiking poles, fishing poles, yoga mats, and, my favorite, the hydrophone to listen to below-surface sounds.
And all of our excursions -- like a night snorkel with dozens of Great Pacific Manta Rays and an all-terrain vehicle tour of North Kohala -- were included in the price of the trip.
Gourmet cuisine and wine list
The head chefs and galley staff aboard the ship prepared gourmet cuisine that featured fresh, local ingredients. Each day began with a breakfast of fresh fruit and baked-onboard pastries and breads, eggs to order, etc. Lunches ranged from pasta salads and sandwiches to homemade soups and ethnic dishes. Hors d'oeuvres for the cocktail hour featured a variety of appetizers. And dinners offered a choice of entrees, including fresh seafood and meats. Complimentary fine wines were served nightly, too.
If you go:
American Safari Cruises
3826 18th Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119
Thanks to American Safari Cruises for sponsoring my trip.
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When I’m not zigzagging around the planet — scaling the steps of Chichén-Itzá, carving up Costa Rican waves or roaming through the remote jungles of India — I’m writing about my adventures, the environment, fitness, health/wellness, extraordinary people and social injustice issues. My writing appears in USA Today, ISLANDS, Caribbean Travel & Life, Cayman Airways Skies, American Eagle Latitudes, Orlando Sentinel, abcnews.com, Where Orlando, Where Jacksonville, Upscale and Wild Blue Yonder.
Located: Orlando USA
Likes: Adventure, health/wellness, nature, sports, festivals, dance, music, etc.