Today is Monday, December 29th, and the year 2014 is in its last dying embers. This year, I flew 189,331 kilometres (or 117,645 miles), for this crazy thing called writing, passing through 39 airports, on 14 different cruises around the world. That’s a lot of time to spend strapped into seat 64K. The cool thing, though, is that these cruise experiences were completely unique. The smallest ship I sailed on this year was the eight-passenger Passing Cloud, through British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii. The largest ship? The 4,180-guest Quantum of the Seas, which was inaugurated just last month in New York City.
For the last few days of 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to highlight some of these experiences, starting with the more Exotic Cruise journeys. These are voyages that were like nothing else I have ever seen, where both destination and ship vie for supremacy. They’re uncommon, to be sure – but this year, I learned that the uncommon experiences are almost always the best.
Silver Discoverer – Australia’s Kimberley Coast
If you have no idea where Australia’s Kimberley Coast is, don’t worry: it’s one of the most remote parts of a country already known for its vast and unforgiving landscapes. It’s also where ultra-luxury line Silversea decided to base their third and newest luxury expedition ship, Silver Discoverer, for her maiden season.
So spin your globe to Western Australia, because a journey to The Kimberley is like sailing to Mars. It’s vast, largely inhospitable, and breathtakingly beautiful. There’s a huge amount of history here, too, from pearl farming operations in Broome to World War II attacks on ports like Wyndham that were covered up and kept secret for decades.
These aren’t inexpensive voyages, but Silversea gives you a lot of bang for your buck. On the line’s luxury expedition offerings, all shore landings and excursions are free, including flights over the famous, beehive-like Bungle Bungle Mountains. All beverages except for the most premium spirits are included in the cost of admission, as are gratuities. In other words: what you pay upfront is largely what the cruise costs, and Silversea guests like it that way.
Silver Discoverer is Silversea’s latest expedition ship, based year-round in the Pacific. She’ll return to Australia’s Kimberley Coast in the spring of 2015. My advice: this is one voyage that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Passing Cloud – Haida Gwaii
I love sailing adventures. Sailing ships are elegant, sleek, and peaceful. They speak to a different time, channeling the age of sail into a world filled with modern conveyances and distractions. But even I was a little unsure about setting off on a sailing ship (however beautiful) that carries only eight guests. I shouldn’t have. What I found was one of my most memorable experiences of the year, sailing the historic UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve that is Haida Gwaii.
Located off the coast of the Canadian province of British Columbia, just north of Vancouver Island, the former Queen Charlotte Islands are teeming with the history of Canada’s Haida people. It’s also the home to the spectacular Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. Yes, that’s the official name, and yes, it is long and overly wordy. But there’s a reason for that: this park, which encompasses the entire lower half of Haida Gwaii itself, is really three separate things rolled into one – and the best way to explore it is by sail.
Founded by Russell Markel, Outer Shores Expeditions has the unique distinction of being run by a man with a PhD who is committed to both the sea and the protection of the indispensable ecosystems in which the 70-foot long schooner Passing Cloud sails in. His enthusiasm is infectious; during my single week onboard the Passing Cloud, I ended up seeing a new side of the Province that I called home. I found myself occupied by environmental issues I’d never considered before, and their impact on the untouched wilderness that I had never truly respected.
The entire experience is education, informative, and most of all, fun. Really fun! Passing Cloud is high up on my list of experiences to repeat – particularly as Outer Shores also offers sailings that explore Pacific Rim National Park, Gulf Islands National Park, Johnstone Strait & Blackfish Sound, and the fabled Great Bear Rainforest.
Safari Voyager – Mexico’s Sea of Cortes
You might have been to Cabo San Lucas before on a big-ship cruise, but chances are good you’ve never seen the real Baja Mexico. In March, I sailed aboard the 64-guest Safari Voyager with Seattle-based Un-Cruise Adventures on a weeklong sailing through the breathtaking beauty of the Sea of Cortes, departing roundtrip from Los Cabos, Mexico.
In a single week, I discovered a Mexico that is largely deserted and completely devoid of the usual tourist traps. This is the real, untouched Mexico and not the glossy, Americanized version you find in Cancun or Cabo. Dusty dirt roads give way to long stretches of lonely desert, dotted by little more than dozens of Cardon Cactuses and the odd tarantula that wasn’t quick enough to avoid baking away i