From Croatia to Cuba: our pick of the best sailing cruise hotspots around the world
All too often, cruising can be a case of chugging from port to port in a giant floating resort. The whole idea and feel of life on the ocean wave is lost; the unmatchable sensation of cutting through the seas under sail abandoned.
This is where sailing cruises come in. They may not cover as much ground, have giant swimming pools, multiple restaurants and giant entertainment stages, but the authenticity and small group intimacy more than makes up for it.
There may sometimes be a bit of a trade-off in space and comfort, but many specialist sailing cruise operators pull out a surprising number of stops to make the experience feel special. Think small, boutique bed and breakfasts on the water rather than five-star chain hotels.
And while traditional cruising hotspots such as the Caribbean and Greek Islands have some sailing cruise options, there are some new hotspots that are carving out a niche for themselves.
To try a sailing cruise in absolute style, Six Senses Zighy Bay (www.sixsenses.com) has recently launched an ultra-luxe three-day cruise around the fiords of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula in a meticulously restored dhow. It’s a strictly six-guest experience, with one king and two twin cabins, but a large open galley and two sundecks, plus air conditioning.
The dhow makes gentle progress along the jagged coast, with itineraries tailor-made to take in whatever combination of remote fishing villages, serenely protected bays and imposing mountains guests wish to take on. It costs a princely US$22,000 (Dh80,804), though, but there are other, more budget-friendly options, such as the one-day, one-night cruise from Khasab with Musandam Sea Adventure Travel & Tourism (www.msaoman.com). This involves camping overnight (albeit with mattresses and other creature comforts), a beach barbecue dinner and dolphin-watching around the fiords, for Dh700 per person, including transfer from Dubai.
In the last decade or so, Croatia has gone from under-the-radar gem to one of the world’s prime cruise destinations. This is particularly the case along the Adriatic Coast, where a string of islands is ideal for hopping between.
On the Go Tours (www.onthegotours.com) is one of a number of operators that runs multi-day sailing cruises through these islands, with a prime example being its eight-day Adriatic Explorer trip between the two honeypot cities of Dubrovnik and Split. On the way, there’s the blissfully tranquil and forested island of Mljet, plus the fortress and medieval old town on Korcula. Hvar’s harbour and foodie scene are also included, while the boat also stops at chic party island Brac.
Accommodation on board is roughly equivalent to a three-star hotel, while breakfasts and lunches are provided. Prices start from £819 (Dh3,908) per person.
A less-conventional Mediterranean cruising destination was opened in 2015, when Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) started offering trips under sail around the islands between Corsica and Sardinia. Kicking off in the Sardinian port of Olbia, the cruise visits a series of small islands. Zodiacs are provided to allow access to islands where sufficient marina facilities don’t exist, such as Isola Caprera, which is famous as the former home of Italy’s founding patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi and as a hugely important seabird sanctuary.
Once into the Maddalena Archipelago, the uninhabited islands of Spargi, San Stefano and Budelli offer great snorkelling opportunities in clear waters, while cafe-laden main town Maddalena is surprisingly boisterous.
The Sardinia and Corsica Sailing Adventure isn’t a luxury trip – sleeping quarters are fairly small and shared with other people – but it’s an attempt to give a taste of the yachtie life. Prices start from $1,161 (Dh4,264) per person.
One problem with Cuba’s tourism boom, largely caused by the thaw in relations with the United States, is that accommodation and infrastructure levels are lagging seriously behind demand. So a sailing cruise around it is a decent way past the problems of finding somewhere to stay and getting around. Youth-focused operator G Adventures (www.gadventures.com) has started offering an eight-day catamaran sailing trip, largely focusing on the small Caribbean islets to the south of Cuba.
The lazy sails around the Canarreos Archipelago are all about deserted beaches, clear waters and all-inclusive fresh seafood dining. Iguanas on the beach, rays in the sea and chilling out at rustic water’s edge shacks are all on the agenda, with kayaks, snorkelling and fishing equipment included – as are meals on-board. Prices start from $1,262 (Dh4,635) per person.
Sailing cruise specialist Star Clippers (www.starclippers.com) made the decision last year to send its four-masted, 170-person-capacity darling the Star Clipper to Asia. During the northern-hemisphere winter, it’s now largely based in Phuket (with the occasional departure from Singapore), and spends its time cutting up and down the Thai coastline.
There are two main, week-long itineraries, with stop-offs on the northern route including Ko Surin – regarded as one of the best snorkelling and diving destinations in Asia thanks to its marine life – and Ko Rok Nok, one of the 15 Lanta Islands with envy-inducing beaches.
On the southern voyage, the Star Clipper visits the Butang Archipelago, where the only permanent human habitation comes in the form of the National Park offices. It then continues down to the Malaysian island of Penang – famed for its colonial architecture and mouthwatering food scene.
Prices start from $2,168 (Dh7,963) sailing in the most basic cabin which have bunk beds, but en suite bathrooms, air conditioning and private safes.
The other beneficiary of the Star Clipper’s relocation is Indonesia, where the ship switches to as the seasons change. From May to October, it’s based in Bali, and there are alternating westbound and eastbound sailing options. The westbound route touches in at more-conventional destinations such as lively tourist resort Senggigi on Lombok, and the black sand beaches of Lovina in northern Bali.
The eastern route is a little more adventurous, calling in at Pantai Merah, the remarkable pink beach on the island of Komodo. It also visits the Komodo National Park in search of the often elusive – but when spotted, terrifyingly – gigantic komodo dragon. Uninhabited volcanic island Satonda is the top spot for exploring marine life on the coral reefs.
A week-long cruise costs from $1,722 (Dh6,325).
Updated: May 31, 2017 04:00 AM