(BPT) - Major cruise lines market their ships as all-inclusive floating luxury resorts - a winning strategy for many of the nearly 17 million passengers that the Cruise Lines International Association says took a cruise in 2012. However, a growing number of discerning cruisers are also discovering that it's not necessary to sacrifice intimacy in order to experience adventure and luxury.
Small ship cruising delivers all the plusses of traveling on larger ships with the added bonus of greater access to a variety of smaller, less-traveled ports. Plus, while large ships commonly carry thousands of passengers per voyage, smaller ships carry just a couple hundred adventurers, virtually ensuring a more personalized, intimate journey. These factors ensure small ship cruising is a world apart from large ship vacationing.
If you're ready to dive into a smaller ship experience, voyages like Tauck's Treasures of Southeast Asia itinerary showcase the advantages of small ship cruising. This 16-day passage aboard either Le Soleal or L'Austral (ship varies by departure date) through the exotic South China Sea takes in ports both large and small, and ferries travelers to locales often overlooked by larger ships.
Sister ships Le Soleal and L'Austal host a maximum of 264 passengers. Each 466-foot, six-deck ship boasts elegance, eco-friendly technology and top amenities, including multiple observation areas, a dining room serving French and international cuisine, a casual grill restaurant, three lounges, live entertainment, a state-of-the-art theater, fitness and beauty facilities, and a medical center. Stateroom sizes range from 200 to 210 square feet, suites range from 301 to 398 square feet; all offer ocean views and most feature private balconies.
Two-night stays in Hong Kong and Singapore bookend the voyage, and afford guests the opportunity to savor the wonder of both historic, culturally rich ports. The days between are filled with one-of-a-kind sights and experiences as travelers visit key Vietnamese cities, cruise Ha Long Bay on a Chinese-style junk, and absorb the history and robust development of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
A welcome reception and dinner at the acclaimed Marina Bay Sands Singapore launches the Southeast Asia cruise. On day two, coach and walking tours encompass Singapore's Chinatown, Little India and Little Arabia neighborhoods. You'll also visit the Asian Civilisations Museum for a guided tour, followed by a free afternoon to explore and experience this vibrant city. On the third day, you'll embark on your small ship, but not until you've first visited the futuristic Gardens by the Bay, where solar-powered Super Trees of steel and concrete provide the framework for vertical gardens. Bromeliads, ferns, vines and orchids flourish throughout the gardens and climate-controlled conservatories house a plethora of tropical plants.
At sea, a private lecturer will discuss the history, economy and politics of the region, and Tauck tour director briefings will help you maximize your time ashore. Tauck's yacht will sail from the South China Sea up the Saigon River to Ho Chi Minh City. A visit to the Skydeck of the Bitexco Financial Tower, 49 floors above the city, and a dinner of Vietnamese cuisine will set the stage for your exploration of Vietnam's most populous city.
Your small ship cruise of the South China Sea will also encompass Vietnam's third-largest city, Da Nang, where you'll visit the ruins of My Son, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dating from the fourth to 13th centuries, the complex was built of precisely stacked bricks, without the aid of mortar.
From Hon Gai, you'll cruise Ha Long Bay on a traditional junk-style boat, savoring the limestone formations that make up the bay's 1,600 islands and islets, and encountering floating fishing villages where entire families spend their lives aboard floating homes with quaint tiled roofs and modern-day electronics. Your adventure will also encompass the sights and sounds of Hai Phang and Hanoi, where the city's Old Quarter boasts a history that stretches over 1,000 years.
To learn more about small ship cruising and Tauck's Treasures of Southeast Asia cruise, visit www.tauck.com.