Sailings to Asia
Photo: Uniworld’s Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer © UNIWORLD BOUTIQUE RIVER COLLECTION
AS PASSENGERS FROM CHINA and other Asian nations book cruises to the “exotic” West in record numbers, the opposite is also true. Luxury cruise lines in the West expand their sailings to the once “mysterious” East.
Windstar Cruises leads the pack in this international exchange, increasing its premium small-ship offerings with seven new cruise-tours across Asia in 2019. These 12- to 17-day explorations employ the 212-passenger Star Legend, an all-suite vessel with exceptional dining. (Windstar is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation.) The new cruises focus on Asia’s modern cities and ancient sites, from China’s Great Wall to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. One cruise-tour covers sites in China, Japan and South Korea; another calls on the wonders of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam; and a third voyage, from Cambodia to Hong Kong, stops in Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Borneo.
For passengers especially intrigued by Japan, Abercrombie & Kent stages a 2019 off-the-beatenpath cruise there May 30–June 13 aboard Ponant’s 199-passenger Le Soleal. This voyage has proven extremely popular in the past, and it is filling fast this time around. Shore excursions include a geisha performance in the Samurai-saturated city of Kanazawa and a noodle-making opportunity in Takamatsu, gateway to Shikoku Island. The cruise includes two nights in Kyoto and port calls at Matsu (the “Town of Water”), Sado Island and Hokkaido, plus a special stop at South Korea’s ancient capital, Gyeongju, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For China fanciers, Uniworld added a second Yangtze River ship for the 2019 season, the refurbished 124-passenger Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer, a contemporary boutique-style vessel with private balconies and a one-to-one crew-to-passenger ratio. Uniworld’s 11-day Highlights of China & the Yangtze will feature an optional six-day pre-cruise trip to Mongolia and the Gobi Desert.
A notably unusual Asian river cruise has been mounted for 2019 by Minor Hotels’ Mekong Kingdoms cruise division in Laos. The Gypsy is a two-cabin, four-passenger boutique barge that sails the Mekong River on three- and four-day cruises between the Laotian capital of Luang Prabang and Thailand’s Golden Triangle. The wooden river boat boasts a dining area midship and a panoramic open deck at its bow. The all-inclusive cost covers an English-speaking guide, while shore excursions run the gamut from mountain biking, jungle trekking and whiskey tasting to a weaving workshop, an elephant camp visit and a limestone cave tour.
Most Western-based international cruise lines offer Asian sailings, and the industry soared in this part of the world. With passenger numbers jumping 20 percent last year alone, it is prudent for cruise passengers to book well ahead for a maritime journey to the East.