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Pirate of the Caribbean
Looking for adventure? Don't give up the cruise ship. By Robert Young Pelton

Illustration: Pelton on a cruise

There are only so many nights you can spend watching air strikes from a Baghdad rooftop before you need a break. So, last Christmas I went for the ultimate change of pace: a cruise. Yup, I abused my journalistic credentials and sullied my thrill-seeking reputation to shoehorn my whole family onto the mighty Windstar Wind Surf, a 617-foot-long (188-meter-long) sailboat-style cruise ship that seemed to scream "Arrrgh, thar be adventure, matey." We picked a seven-day loop ($1,871; www.windstarcruises.com) between Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, and other ports of call.

I imagined my trip would end the first night with me frantically unhitching a lifeboat and paddling like mad to escape my shipmates, but what I found is that some cruises can be perfect for the adventure traveler. Over the years, I've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars mounting personal boat-, plane-, or helicopter-borne expeditions to remote areas. Choose the right cruise, though, and you'll reach many of the same spectacular locations—the Arctic, the Amazon, atolls in the Indian Ocean—and have a chilled martini waiting for you back onboard. Here are a few tips for packing more adventure than snooze into your cruise.

GO SMALL. For adventure travelers, the cruising rule of thumb is find a small boat. Large draft ships, those that draw more than 20 feet (6 meters), can't get into shallow harbors or around sensitive reefs and will often be barred from delicate ecological areas and out-of-the-way ports. The Wind Surf, for example, drew 16 feet (4.8 meters) and could get into waters that big ships could never dream of. The trade-off, though, is no shuffleboard, formal dinners, or skeet shoots off the stern. What a pity.

GO REMOTE. When you choose a cruise, don't be reeled in by flashy brochures of a Holiday Inn-cum-water park anchored off "exotic" Nassau. You'll regret it. One time I was in the Virgin Islands when eight mega-cruise ships pulled into port. Within minutes, they'd barfed out an army of 12,000 doughy tourons that devoured every umbrella'd drink and Rasta bobblehead doll in town. It was one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen.

A cruise should take you somewhere you could never get to otherwise: isolated fjords in Alaska's Inside Passage or ecological wonders like the Galápagos. Granted, a few folks (Columbus included) had been to the Caribbean before the Wind Surf, but instead of doing the usual port town circuit, we holed up in undeveloped coves off Puerto Rico, ate breakfast a few hundred yards from the Grand and Petit Pitons in St. Lucia, and dived, snorkled, and hiked as much as we could bear. Poor us.

GO CHEAP. To a cruise line an empty bunk means an empty bank account, so most give heavy discounts. You'll be quoted the list price off the bat, but a good travel agent or a bit of silver-tongued haggling on your part should get you a better deal. Expect to pay $150 to $250 a day on top of airfare (double that for a trip to the Poles). Beware: Drinks usually cost extra. So easy on the yo ho hos.

GO SAFE. About the biggest concern on any cruise is getting sucked into a karaoke version of Marie Osmond's "Paper Roses" with a Filipino cover band. But that doesn't mean you are completely free from danger. On an adventure cruise in Indonesia's Sunda Strait, our 80-foot (24-meter) boat hit 30-foot (9-meter) seas and crashed through the waves like a drunken dolphin. When things finally calmed down, the captain remarked that at least the bad weather kept the pirates away. Hmm. Just because some schlub has a boat and a nautical chart doesn't mean you should join him. Check out your boat first, either online at www.cruisecritic.com and www.cruiseopinion.com or over the phone with a reference from the captain. You don't want to visit Davy Jones's locker anytime soon.

Illustration by Asaf Hanuka

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, April 2005

The Adventures of Your Life
Rediscovering Libya: Writer Kira Salak explores the country's wonders
The Tsunami Volunteers: Writer Matthew Power finds a sliver of redemption in the disaster's wake. Plus, how you can lend a hand
Weird Science: Edward Norton talks about hermaphrodite frogs and a new NG TV series on PBS
Pelton's World: Fresh from the Green Zone, Pelton takes a cruise
100th Birthday: Explorer Col. Norman Vaughan's big plans

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April 2005

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