Unusual Cruises

By Ann Dermody
Published: February/March 2013

Last year, almost three-quarters of the 15 million cruise-ship vacations worldwide were taken by Americans. While the enormous super-ships continue in their competition to outdo each other in the "faster, bigger, newer" sweepstakes, another facet of the industry has been quietly developing.

Niche cruising to more exotic locales on smaller, more interesting ships is gaining popularity, especially with our members. Here are some of their ideas for your next holiday!

Alaska Up Close And Personal

By John S. Boyer, Delaware

Photo of the Pacific Catalyst
The Pacific Catalyst

We took a cool cruise aboard Pacific Catalyst a couple of years ago through the Inside Passage in Alaska with friends from Australia. Catalyst, the first oceanographic research vessel for the University of Washington, had been retired and is now used for passenger cruises. Built of wood in the 1930s, it still has its original, slow-turning diesel engine. Shannon and Bill Bailey run the cruise and take you to places the big cruise ships can't go, supplying sightseeing kayaks, hikes, glacier crawls, and sharing lots of personal experiences. There's only space for 11 passengers, and Bill makes each one feel right at home.

Incidentally, our Aussie friends liked it so much they repeated the trip this year! We only wish we could have joined them.

Planning: Seven-day cruises during the 2013 peak season start at $3,850. www.pacificcatalyst.com

Sailing With Pride

By Nancy Tomich, San Diego, California

As guest crew aboard the Pride of Baltimore II, five friends and I literally had to learn the ropes of sailing a tall ship. Fully integrated into the muscular crew of 12 young men and women, we found ourselves immersed in their nautical language and physically challenged by the work required to sail the Pride, a replica of a speedy War of 1812 privateer.

Photo of sailing aboard the Baltimore Pride II
Sailing aboard the Baltimore Pride II.

Our course was a three-day zigzag from Alexandria, Virginia, to Chestertown, Maryland, across the Chesapeake Bay. The regular crew scrambled 80 feet aloft to balance on lines and unfurl sails (guests were allowed to decline this duty), but we all worked to tack and jibe in sync with Captain Miles' briny commands. With his 6'4" frame and red moustache, he was typecast for the role. We pulled "hand over fist," and coiled lines to their "bitter ends." The Pride was built to sail "by and large," that is, both into and with the wind, and I marveled at the crew's ability to keep her heavy canvas sails from luffing by a tweak here or there.

The sailing initially was smooth, but on the second day dark clouds massed behind us, and Captain Miles shouted, "All hands on deck!" We ran from one line to another to lower sails before a gale hit. I was tucking tails into the collapsed mainsail when wind and rain began to whirl around us. We dropped anchor and scurried below, a lone crew member on deck to keep watch.

I gobbled a sandwich and stretched out in my narrow bunk, the storm having curtailed my assigned time on deck. We each worked two, four-hour shifts every day, grabbing sleep in between, and food was always available. I ate heartily at meals, mounding my plate with the abundant health food furnished by Lulu, our chef: grits with spinach, quinoa, roasted squash filled with long-grain and wild rice.

Our final day dawned crystalline, the water sparkling as though sprinkled with broken glass. People lining the Chestertown waterfront cheered as the crew gently nestled the Pride alongside the dock. We guest crew had been genuine old-school privateer sailors -- raising sails by hand, fashioning coils to neaten up lines on deck, polishing brass with a homemade mixture crafted from red brick dust and ammonia. Now, we had to descend that plank and return to our own world onshore. Landlubbers again. But not totally. We still carried a bit of the salt with us.End of story marker

Planning: Three nights aboard the Pride of Baltimore II as guest crew in late September 2012 cost $465 per person. For 2013 rates, visit www.pride2.org

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