Five ways to hit the high seas
Caribbean: The one for beaches
Chances are that if you think of the perfect place to enjoy a cruise, the Caribbean springs to mind, with its strings of palm-fringed islands, hidden coves and beaches lapped by aquamarine seas. But there is a catch: the secret is well and truly out and hulking great cruise ships pejoratively known as ‘floating hotels’ crowd the waters. A bracing alternative is to take to the waves like the buccaneers did in the Golden Age of Piracy – on a wind-powered clipper.
The Star Clipper is a four-masted tall ship with 16 billowing white sails. Below deck, it fits in a number of comfortable suites decorated in a jolly nautical theme, with mahogany and brass fittings, but the vessel is small enough that it can dock in locations that are off-limits to the large cruise ships. After setting sail from the Franco- Dutch island of Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, the ship sights Anguilla, which has over 30 beaches crammed into its 35 square miles and a colourful world of coral just offshore. Ninety miles to the west, the Star Clipper docks at Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, where a jumble of boulders creates a series of secluded grottoes on the beach. Known as The Baths, the rock pools are home to turtles and fish, including seahorses, and are a perfect place to go snorkelling using equipment provided on the ship.
Also in the Virgin Islands, the clipper drops anchor just off Jost Van Dyke. This island not only has some of the most pristine sandy beaches in the region, but also beach bars specialising in the favourite local cocktail – a rum, pineapple juice and coconut cream concoction called the Painkiller.
The Star Clipper Treasure Islands cruise departs from Sint Maarten (seven nights from £1,030 per person). There are many budget options on large cruise ships, but the cheapest cabins may not have sea views (seven nights from £400 per person with Royal Caribbean UK).
Galapagos: The one for wildlife
When Charles Darwin landed on the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he found a host of endemic species subtly adapted to life on the remote and varied archipelago. His observations helped lead him to his world-shaking theory of evolution and the origin of species. He was struck by the fearlessness of the island creatures, going for a ride on a giant tortoise and pushing hawks off tree branches with his rifle.
Almost two centuries later, the 13 main islands of the Galápagos remain unmatched, full of remarkable and rare creatures. A yacht voyage is an excellent way to appreciate them. Ecoventura is an Ecuador-based outfit that keeps the number of passengers low and its commitment to the environment high on its week-long journeys. A big draw are the after-dinner lectures on the region given by naturalists, dive experts and even an underwater archaeologist. On frequent land excursions, passengers can appreciate wildlife as Darwin once did, looking out for lava lizards, land iguanas and waddling Galápagos penguins on the ground, and puff-chested frigatebirds and waved albatrosses in the air above, all pointed out by Ecoventura’s eagle-eyed naturalists.
The islands’ geography is equally astonishing. Guided walks reveal white sandy beaches and prehistoric landscapes of black lava studded with cacti and steaming volcanic vents. And many animals still lack any real fear of humans. Visitors might find curious sea lions nosing inquisitively at their camera lenses and flamingos pecking at their shoes. Being aboard a yacht has other advantages – snorkelling and scuba diving from the vessel allows a vantage point beneath the waves, where tropical reef fish of all colours give way to green sea turtles, stingrays and humpback whales.