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October 24, 2018

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA EXPEDITIONS began operating a high-end riverboat on the Peruvian Amazon in 2007. Cruises begin and end at Iquitos, Peru and sail to one source of the Amazon and in the vast the Pacaya Samira Reserve seeing wildlife and visiting riverside communities. In 2014, the firm established a second base in South East Asia with cruises along the Mekong aboard the AQUA MEKONG between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In November 2019, the AQUA BLU was added to the fleet offering 7- and 12-day Indonesian island cruises from Komodo National Park to Ambon, Spice Islands and Raja Ampat. The 15-suite ship formerly operated as a British Naval Explorer and has been upgraded to yacht standards. A fourth vessel, AQUA NERA, is set to debut in October 2020 to do Peruvian Amazon cruises, replacing the AQUA AMAZON that was lost in July 2016.

Aqua Expeditions operates one of the top river experiences in the lap of luxury along the Amazon and Southeast Asia’s Mekong  and more recently eastern Indonesia. And seeing is believing: visibility through floor-to-ceiling glass is a huge plus.  

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

ARIA AMAZON (built 2011 & 32 passengers); AQUA MEKONG (b. 2014 & 40 p); AQUA BLU (b. 1968, converted 2006, refurbished 2019 & 30 passengers); AQUA NERA (to debut Oct 2020 & 40 p).

Passenger Decks

3 Decks, No elevator. AQUA BLU 5 decks.

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Passenger Profile

Guides cater to English, French and German speakers. Children must be at least seven to travel. Interconnecting cabins for families.

Price

Expensive — $$$

Itineraries

Peruvian Amazon Cruises

ARIA AMAZON (and AQUA NERA as of October 2020) make 3- (partial), 4- (partial) and 7-night (combining the two) cruises year-round from Iquitos along several Upper Amazon river tributaries, including the Ucayali and Maranon rivers to the Pacaya Samira Reserve, a five-million-acre flooded rain forest punctuated by black lagoons that dramatically reflect the surrounding trees. Activities visit riverside villages and food markets, and offer hikes in the rain forest and skiffs for water exploration and fishing for piranhas.

Keen eyes look for freshwater pink dolphins, turtles, lizards, caiman, iguanas, and frogs (some poisonous), snakes, sloths, capuchins, squirrel and howler monkeys, terns, toucans, and macaws.

With the cruises of short duration, many travelers choose to add on some of the following: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Lima and/or Nazca Lines.

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, soft drinks, premium wines and craft beers with meals; all excursions and entrance fees; use of bikes and kayaks; and transfers between the boat and airport on company recommended flights. Complimentary laundry service. Tipping is extra and recommended rates are $81-120 for 3 nights and $108-160 for 4 nights including crew and guides.

Why Go?

The outstanding varieties of mammals, birds, and aquatic species seen along the rivers and in the deep rain forests simply are staggering. The riverboats are more than comfortable and allow down time after a day exploring in small craft and on foot.

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how far the skiffs can penetrate the rain forest via narrow tributaries.

Cabins

ARIA AMAZON has 16 cabins with polished wooden floors that measure a generous 250 square feet with beds positioned to face the expansive floor-to-ceiling glass windows flanked by two chairs and a table. With windows like these, you’ll practically feel like you’re IN the river with the wild critters!

AQUA NERA has 20 suites on two decks that measure an even more generous 322 sq. ft., again with large windows.

Aria Amazon's gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aria Amazon’s gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

ARIA AMAZON and AQUA NERA have an indoor lounge with large view windows, bar and library selection and a top deck lounge both open and under a canvas awning, especially enjoyable when the boat is underway. AQUA NERA has a screening room and pool table.

Dining

The floor-to-ceiling windows bring in lots of light during meals while passengers dine at tables for two, four or six. AQUA NERA offers indoor or outdoor dining. The stylish settings serve 70% locally sourced fish from the Amazon, fresh fruits and vegetables and premium South American and European wines.

Much effort is put into meal preparation that achieves the best in Peruvian-style cuisine for signature dishes such as Peruvian ceviche, combining a river fish, juicy onions and corn kernels spiced with cilantro and coriander, or plantain and yucca gnocchi, and palm soufflé. Cooking demonstrations reveal the techniques and ingredients.

Dining on Aqua Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining on the Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

The ARIA AMAZON is equipped with a massage room, stationary bicycle and treadmill, and a Jacuzzi on the outdoor lounge deck. AQUA NERA has two spa treatment rooms, gym and plunge pool. Talks by the English-speaking guides take place in the lounge, and passengers go ashore with multiple guides in very small groups (6-8).

The vessel offers two or three excursions daily and aluminium skiffs take no more than eight passengers and are manned by a guide trained to spot animals and birds that might otherwise go unnoticed in murky water and rain forest settings. Kayaks are available.

AQUA NERA has four 10-person aluminum launch boats. Staffing and passenger ratio are one-to-one on both vessels.

Mekong River Cruises

AQUA MEKONG offers 7-night cruises between a docking point near Siem Reap, Cambodia, and My Tho, a Vietnamese port in the delta, with access by bus to and from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the temples of Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, Cambodia).

The 3- and4-night cruises may start or finish at either end and embark or disembark part way along at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Because the river cruises are short, consider adding any of these destinations: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue and Angkor Wat.

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of bikes and kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

Both Cambodia and Vietnam are culturally rich in architecture and the arts and crafts, and traveling the Mekong allows close up views of the passing scene with considerable trade plying the river, manufacturing, towns and cities lining the shores, and a chance to tie up and explore markets, watch Buddhist ceremonies, and enjoy a home visit.

Aqua Expeditions

Views from the sundeck. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

Cruises operate year-round with some itinerary adjustments depending on high or low water levels. Rainy season normally extends from November to May. Daytime temperature are cooler. During high water periods, the boat can sail to and from Tonle Sap Lake with easy access to Angkor Wat and into the emerald flooded forest in Vietnam.

Cabins

The accommodations measure a very spacious 320 square feet, and eight have balconies and all floor-to-ceiling windows. Four sets interconnect two suites, for families or for one giant suite for two, and all bathrooms feature twin sinks.

Public Rooms

Indoor spaces are a lounge with bar, a small indoor cinema, and boutique. Outdoors on the Sun Deck are two lounge areas with canopies and bar, sun loungers at one end and sit-up bar and table and chair seating at the other. Staff ratio on AQUA MEKONG is one-to-one.

Aqua Expeditions Mekong lounge

Aqua Mekong’s Indoor Lounge * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

The setting is sophisticated with large windows giving clear views of the Mekong, where passengers may sit as a couple or at larger tables. Menus feature Vietnamese and Khmer traditions that may include Vietnamese catfish with shallots, chilies and basil; grilled prawns with peanut relish; vegetable dumplings; and chocolate fondant (a tip to French influence in Indochina).

Aqua Expeditions dining room on Mekong

The windowed dining room. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

From the plunge pool on the Sun Deck, you can look forward; the spa has two treatment rooms, and there is a gym, foosball in the games room cum library, screenings for up to 10 people in the indoor cinema or attended by a larger group out on the covered deck. Four tenders take passengers on river outings and ashore when the boat cannot dock.

Visits are made to plantations, homes, artisan compounds, markets, Buddhist temples, markets with the boat’s chef, and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the Royal Palace, Silver Temple, National Museum and Museum of Genocide. Bicycles are available for guided trips into the countryside, stopping to see farming operations, markets and village life. Motorized tuks tuks venture further.

Indonesia Cruises

AQUA BLU entered service in November 2019 to cruise in Eastern Indonesia. The ship, converted from British Naval Exploration ship now operates as a high-end cruising yacht for 30 passengers in 15 suites.

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA BLU cruises the eastern Indonesian islands. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

The cruises in Eastern Indonesia are offered in three different 7-night itineraries, plus connecting voyages:

1) Bali to Komodo National Park, visiting a series of closely packed islands with disembarkation at western tip of Flores Island and in the opposite direction;

2) 7 nights to Ambon and the Spice Islands; and

3) 7 nights to Raja Ampat, a recently popular area of extreme tropical island beauty, rain forests and tropical birds, beaches and coral reefs with abundant marine life at and off the western tip of West Papua.

Komodo National Park

The Moyo Island Waterfall in the Komodo National Park. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

The program is year-round when combining all three repeating itineraries.

Cabins

15 suites are situated on four decks and fall into three categories with two pairs of suites interconnecting, for families or good friends. The accommodations have round, rectangular, and oval windows and portholes.

Aqua Expeditions cabin

Windowed suite on Bridge Deck 1. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

Lounge spaces offer choices between out in the open or beneath a covered deck seating, or totally within A/C room; small library collection and a TV room.

Aqua Expeditions lounge

The ship’s hub, the main lounge. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

Meals are served in one of two locations, depending on the temperature and weather conditions: open air, including BBQ, or air-conditioned and at both venues open seating. As the ship operates in a tropical island climate, lots of local fish, fruits and vegetables are close at hand in  addition what is supplied to the ship as embarkation ports.

Aqua Expeditions dining

Lovely outdoor dining. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities and Entertainment

Enjoy lectures, videos, snorkeling, and swimming. There’s an exercise room, spa and a pair of outdoor hot tubs.

Aqua Expeditions hot tubs

A pair of dreamy outdoor hot tubs. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Special Note

In July 2016, AQUA AMAZON was lost in an explosion, with deaths and injuries to the crew, while no passengers were aboard.

Along the Same Lines

There is a wide choice of operators in both of Aqua Expeditions’ cruising regions, including Star Clippers, Pandaw, SeaTrek Sailing Adventures, Scenic & AmaWaterways.

Contacts

Go to www.aquaexpeditions.com; USA & Canada: 866-603-3687; UK: +0 808 189 0361; Australia: +1 800 243 152; New Zealand: +0 800 466 098.

 

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Posted In:

Amazon Basin, Asia: Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Cruise Regions, Mekong River, Peru, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, South America, Uncategorized, Vietnam


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