Cruise West: Up-Close, Casual & Personal

For the fifth consecutive time, Cruise West captures Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Cruise Line in the Small Ship category. Such a record of recognition doesn’t happen by thinking small. In fact, the vision of the company and its founder, the late Chuck West, was famously big from the beginning—with its nautical spotlight on Alaska. Sixty years later and offering itineraries worldwide aboard a fleet combining coastal cruising vessels and small deluxe ocean-going ships, the company still prides itself on following its founding father’s “business model:” provide casual, close-up, light adventure travel that focuses on the destination—its scenery, wildlife, natural history and culture—all in the company of a limited number of like-minded travelers.

A second-generation, family-owned business, Cruise West is presently led by chairman and managing director Dick West, who indeed is making waves of his own. New on the company’s navigation chart for 2010 is the Voyages of the Great Explorers, a collection of 24 individual voyages that can all be booked separately. Combined, however, the cruise forms a 335-day circumnavigation of the world along the major routes inspired by history’s great ocean explorers. Launching March 5 aboard Cruise West’s flagship, the 120-passenger, all-suite Spirit of Oceanus, the world voyage will sail ever westward, returning to Singapore on Feb. 3, 2011.

“While our roots are certainly in Alaska, more and more of our guests are asking us to bring our up-close, small-ship cruising experience to other parts of the world,” says Dick West. “So next year we’ll be doing exactly that as the different Voyages of the Great Explorers follow in the wakes of history’s greatest adventurers—such as Marco Polo, Odysseus, Leif Eriksson, Columbus, Captain Cook and Magellan. It’s a chance for people to visit parts of the world that have always fascinated them…and to do so aboard a ship that will take them closer to the people, sights and cultures, while also introducing them to unique ports of call that mega-cruise ships can’t reach.”

Dick West and his wife Leslie will host the first leg of the Great Explorers series, sailing on March 5 on a 16-night journey from Singapore to Chennai, exploring the cultural treasures, colonial history, Buddhist and Hindu temples and lush tropical flora that indeed Marco Polo found in Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and India.

Other voyages on the 4-cruise series of what is called “Chapter 1,” which covers southeast Asia and the Middle East, include a 16-night Chennai to Mumbai sailing on March 20; 14 nights from Mumbai to Muscat on April 4, and Muscat to Alexandria for 18 nights and departing April 17. Each of the four voyages offers guests all-inclusive excursions at every port of call, as well as Ultimate Explorers Experiences that range from a visit to Rangoon’s 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar and an elephant orphanage in India, to touring Shiraz’s ornate mosques, tombs and bazaars, as well as royal Persepolis in Iran.

Six distinct Mediterranean voyages, from Alexandria, Egypt, to Honfleur, France, mark “Chapter 2” of Voyages of the Great Explorers. Diving deep into the heart of the Mediterranean cultures, guests journey to fabled destinations in Greece and Turkey, savor the cultural richness of Tunisia, Algeria, Italy, Sicily, Malta, Spain, Portugal and France. In addition to an excursion in every port, each of the six 12- to 16-night voyages is again enhanced by an Ultimate Explorers Experience excursion, as well as enrichment programs led by Smithsonian Journeys lecturer-scholars who accompany each sailing. Actually, the Great Explorers program is divided into six chapters, with the final segment—”Voyage 24” and called Dragons and Spice, sailing from Darwin, Australia, to Singapore on Jan. 18, 2011—once again hosted by Dick West.

Other new itineraries for 2010 include a 6-night Cocos Island adventure on board the 100-guest Pacific Explorer that features a rare visit to the tropical UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its large population of hammerhead sharks, 90 species of birds and outstanding kayaking and snorkeling.

Farther down in the southern hemisphere, the company offers an 18-night Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands itinerary aboard the 114-guest Corinthian II, departing Feb. 7, prime time for seeing such penguin species as the king and rockhopper.