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Cruise 2014: See the world (not just the same old ports)


San Jose Mercury News
March 25, 2014

Seeing the world by cruise ship is better than ever.

Why? Cruise lines are offering more of the world.

After decades of plying the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Pacific, cruise lines are listening to their well-traveled customers who have no interest in another swirl around the same old sea, with calls in the same old ports.

They're adding new ports, new adventures.

Credit for the changes goes to new shipbuilding techniques, which have made remote parts of the world accessible, and the popularity of European river cruising, which offers access to new waterways and towns that are short on fame but long on delight. Hundreds of new ports have opened in the past decade, with small cities such as Melk, Austria, and Akaroa, New Zealand, popping up on itineraries.

The hottest small-ship cruises of 2014? Antarctica and Peru's Upper Amazon. Very little space remains, and 2015 trips are booking now.

Here's a roundup of what's new and what's hot. (Don't say you weren't warned about making reservations now.)

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Remote parts of the world, such as Peru's Upper Amazon, have become accessible just in the past few years to people who lack croc-wrestling skills. Sedate adventurers can sip pisco sours from air-conditioned cabins on a small ship, watching for freshwater pink dolphins and braving the occasional jungle trek.

Just a few years ago, this region belonged to jungle-crawling adventurers. Now boutique ships Aria Amazon, Aqua Amazon, Delfin I and Delfin II, carrying in the range of 22 passengers, boldly sail these waters.

Todd Smith, founder of Tahoe City-based AdventureSmith Explorations, explains that shallow drafts -- with the ship sometimes only extending 5 feet into the water -- allow sailing close to shore and in shallow waters.

That means travelers to Baja California can watch whales in their feeding and breeding grounds; those visiting Papua New Guinea can cruise over shallow sandbars; and those in Alaska can sail up close to view glaciers and gamboling grizzly cubs.