It was four years ago, but the memory of diving with a Galapagos sea lion, exuberantly pirouetted around me like a prima ballerina in an underwater ballet, will never leave me.
This was one of the many exciting moments of a family cruise through the Galapagos archipelago, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, where every snorkel trip, boat ride and shore walk brought the most incredible wildlife encounters. .
Once upon a time I swam through a giant school of gray and yellow surgeon fish that enveloped me in a great curtain while a raft of Galapagos penguins went by like a hail of bullets, fanning out in perfect formation in search of tiny silver fish before to plunge into the blue depths.
A bucket list itinerary
On land, a tiny mockingbird leapt at my feet as comical blue-footed boobies stalked by and thousands of scarlet crabs scuttled over massive volcanic rocks where prehistoric-looking marine iguanas dozed in the misty sun.
This was true bucket list territory and, as is the case with most cruise options, the destination was the key reason for choosing this voyage.
Cruising through these remote Pacific islands is the best and easiest way to experience the contrasting wildlife between them, but this Celebrity Cruises voyage yielded other unexpected perks, notably the opportunity to explore Ecuador’s capital, Quito, where we stayed on our trip to and from Galapagos. , a two-hour flight from the city.
The organization was impeccable and covered everything from the VIP hotel check-in, the full day city tour on our first stay and the welcome late check-out on the second, while we waited for our evening transatlantic flight from Homecoming.
Once aboard our ship, the Celebrity Xpedition, which carried only 100 passengers (now even fewer), the high standards of service continued with our attentive crew and excellent guides. This was not her usual cruise; there were no extravagant shows, water slides, fine-dining restaurants, or relaxing spas.
It didn’t matter though, because the star of this show was nature’s own bounty, and what counted were the organized activities that opened the door to the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the Galapagos are famous for.
And in second place…
It was closely followed by a grand ship voyage on Star Clippers’ five square-masted Royal Clipper across the Mediterranean, which was filled with evocative wind-in-your-hair moments; from standing on deck under the full complement of 42 sails as you sailed through the waves or gliding gently out of Kotor under the light of a full moon to the soulful notes of Vangelis’ Conquest of Paradise.
An unforgettable highlight was passing the Aeolian island of Stromboli at dawn, the acrid smoke from its active volcano billowing into a column of cloud against the flaming dawn sky. A few minutes later, I was sitting in the nets on the ship’s bowsprit as the dolphins dived like graceful torpedoes through the bow waves just below me.
Having been used to staying on more conventional ships, being on a working sailboat was a novelty in itself, where a soundtrack of creaking ropes and purring pulleys accompanied the unfurling of vast sails each time the engines cut off and we passed into the wind power.
While Royal Clipper had three small pools, other diversions were more traditional with knot-tying classes, nighttime stargazing and absorbing talks from the captain, while more active thrills included climbing the 50-foot crow’s nest or paddle a kayak from the ship’s water sports platform.
Above all, the main feeling was camaraderie, enjoying the experience, soaking up the sights and making new friends aided by the entertaining quizzes, talent shows and disco nights that made the ship’s Tropical Bar a social magnet.
The best river cruises
On the rivers, an amazing sailing with the Pandaw boutique line along the Chindwin in Burma (Myanmar) took just 12 of us (me and 11 Americans) through the remote, jungle covered interior along the border India, a roadless region where Burmese tribes rule and tourists rarely venture.
Our excellent guide, Sandro, took us to villages where on school visits we handed out pens and notebooks to wide-eyed, curious youngsters.
There were fascinating encounters with octogenarians remembering the invading Japanese troops that razed their villages during World War II, and one woman recalled how retreating British soldiers carried her across the mountains to India, just 20 miles away.
On our last day in Homalin, which is on the edge of the Nagaland tribal region, I met a Naga tribesman whose grandfather had fought with the British forces and whose ancestors had been headhunters, practicing this grisly tradition since 1970.
Another experience that stands out was a bike cruise on the Brahmaputra River in the Indian state of Assam in February 2020, just as the world was beginning to lock down amid the Covid pandemic.
However, we were blissfully oblivious as we pedaled under the shadow of the Himalayas through paddy fields, tea plantations and villages where we quickly became a tourist attraction among throngs of locals who had never before encountered Western travelers.
More highlights from a lifetime of sailing
However, while these rank as my favorite voyages, there have been many highlights on the regular cruises I have taken.
Some of the best and most amazing shows I have ever seen have been on Royal Caribbean International ships with their combination of ice shows and diving acrobat displays in their AquaTheaters.
There have been fine dining at Oceania Cruises’ Red Ginger Asian specialty restaurant, excellent surf and turf at Princess Cruises’ Crown Grill, delicious French cuisine at Chartreuse French Bistro on Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) and my family’s long-time favorite. long: teppanyaki at NCL where the entertaining show of juggling chefs adds a special touch.
The unabashed luxury of RSSC’s newest ships, where original works by Picasso and Chagall adorn the walls and the superior suite sells for $11,000 (£8,400) a night, was another pinch moment, as was the Caviar of Seabourn Cruises at the Surf, where we gathered for what seemed like an aquatic evening on a Thai beach as waiters in shorts served caviar and champagne in the shallows.
However, the two constant themes underpinning all of this have been the variety and quality of cuisine and consistent high levels of service from charming and dedicated crews who have managed to bring their own distinctive stamp to every cruise I have taken.
A 10-night Galapagos package (three nights in Quito, one week sailing from Baltra in Galapagos), departs on
July 27, 2023. From £5,363pp including drinks, tips and Wi-Fi. Additional flights (celebritycruises.com)
Covid rules: all travelers three years and older must show proof of vaccination or a negative RT-PCR test