Most first-time cruisers don’t think to ask about the size of their ship. But the more you cruise, the more you discover that size does indeed matter. Perhaps you eventually realise that you’re a mega-ship kind of person, who likes all the activities and glitzy entertainment options that go hand in hand with this type of cruising (two cruise ships, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, can both carry more than 7000 passengers). Or perhaps you’ve learned, over the course of several cruises, that you prefer the more boutique feel of a smaller ship – and all the joys that come with cruising with only a few hundred fellow passengers.
Holland America Line’s smallest ship, the Prinsendam, carries just 835 passengers, which means it can take people to places beyond the reach of bigger ships. This adventure-oriented cruise ship even heads into the upper reaches of the Amazon River, regularly cruising to Manaus in Brazil. Known as the Paris of the Jungle, this city has a colourful history. Rubber barons once attended performances at the grand pink and white opera house that is today still a major draw card. Hearing a performance here is one of the shore excursions on offer to cruise-ship passengers, along with night-time riverboat safaris where a guide jumps into the water to catch an alligator with his bare hands. Manaus sits at the confluence of the pale Amazon and the blackwater Rio Negro – and heading to the spot where the dark and light waters meet is another must-see highlight.
This is the ship to choose if you’re looking for longer itineraries and unusual destinations. You can cruise to Manaus, for instance, on a 30-day round-trip cruise departing from Fort Lauderdale in Florida on November 18, 2017. This cruise also island-hops around the Caribbean, dropping in at St Maarten, which is famous for those photographs of planes coming in to land over the heads of beachgoers. Passengers can also tap into their adventurous side with river tubing in Dominica, fishing for piranha in the Amazon Basin and off-road four-wheel-driving in Aruba.
If you’re keen to enjoy shipboard life for a few months, try the 68-day Grand South America and Antarctica voyage (departing Fort Lauderdale on January 3, 2018). This epic anti-clockwise cruise travels through the Panama Canal before heading south to the Chilean fjords. There’s scenic cruising through an area known as Glacier Alley before arriving at Ushuaia – the world’s southernmost town and the starting point for most Antarctica cruises. Before heading to the Antarctic Peninsula, go canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park or head into the park on the End of the World Train. After crossing the Drake Passage, keeping an eye out for the whales and seabirds that call these waters home, there are four days to explore the majestic iceberg-strewn waters of Antarctica. Look out for seals that bask on ice floes and glittering monumental glaciers. After dropping in to the Falkland Islands, the circumnavigation of South America continues with stops at Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and more Caribbean islands.
The Prinsendam chases the sun. Mid-year, it heads to Europe and Scandinavia for more off-the-beaten-track adventures. One of the world’s hottest destinations at the moment is Iceland. One cost-effective way of exploring the famously expensive country is to incorporate it into a cruise such as the 20-day North Cape, Spitsbergen and Icelandic Explorer journey (departs Amsterdam July 15, 2017). In Norway, go sea-kayaking in the majestic fjords or, for something less strenuous, taste cider at a scenic farm with a view of the fjords. At the Arctic settlement of Longyearbyen in the Svalbard archipelago, discover how one man battled bureaucracy to open a brewery (and then taste the beers).
In Iceland, see the extraordinary natural and geothermal wonders that have placed the country on many travellers’ bucket lists. Tick off Godafoss, one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls (if you’re lucky, you might even see an epic rainbow here), the Dimmuborgir lava labyrinth and boiling mud pools before taking a couple of geothermal dips at the Myvatn Nature Baths and at the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik. Those who are comfortable swimming in deep water can climb into a drysuit to snorkel the extraordinarily blue waters of the Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park.
Keen bird watchers can take a boat over to the pretty island of Vigur – known for its puffins, eider ducks and Arctic terns – or if you’re into horse-riding, see the countryside from the back of an Icelandic pony, a breed brought to the country by Vikings more than 1000 years ago. Speaking of Vikings, you can also sample the mead that Vikings once brewed here on a light-hearted tour through Iceland’s drinking history. Foodies can take a tour that includes visiting a fishing village for a lunch of Icelandic lobster that’s served up while still sizzling in the pan.