March 21st, 2024

The Galapagos, Peruvian Amazon, Indonesia’s Spice Islands, as well as Vietnam, and Cambodia … Aqua Expeditions is a leader in luxury small-ship expeditions taking travelers to the world’s most diverse and culturally significant destinations aboard deeply stylish yacht-like vessels. And while offboard excursions promise next-level thrills, the onboard delights offer further immersion through chef-led cooking masterclasses, cocktail demonstrations, and artwork sourced from female artisans in local villages. Here’s a preview of what’s to come for this season:

Where to Sail Next: Spice Islands

Aqua Blu is the first ever long-range ocean explorer yacht permanently based in East Indonesia, making it easy to explore the country’s wildest, most remote corners, including the mythical and relatively undiscovered Spice Islands (which can only be reached by boat). Still to this day the archipelago carries vestiges of its past, from its extensive fortifications and Dutch architecture to its well-preserved nutmeg plantations (the Spice Islands are the origin of the fragrant seed). Interestingly, The Spice Islands were once so valuable that the Dutch traded the British the island of Manhattan to secure tiny Banda Run, which is included on the itinerary. Other stops include Molana and Palau Run for picture-perfect sandy beaches and Banda Neira for twice-daily underwater dives or snorkeling excursions: the island’s historic ‘Fire Mountain’ volcanic eruption of 1988 led to the rebirth of coral and marina life, giving rise to spectacular underwater gardens. Rates start at $9,415 per person.

Savor at Sea: Chef Hosted Departures Return in 2024

Aqua Expeditions will offer three exclusive chef-hosted departures in 2024. In the Peruvian Amazon, renowned chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino—one of Peru’s most celebrated toques and a pioneer of the rainforest-to-table movement—will host two four-night sailings on Aqua Nera from May 14-18 and September 17-21.  Guests will enjoy an intimate dinner, ceviche-making masterclass, and a cocktail demonstration—all led by Schiaffino. Meanwhile, over in East Indonesia, Australian chef Benjamin Cross will host a seven-night sailing on Aqua Blu from August 10-17. Chef Cross began his career over 20 years ago at the award-winning Byron Bay boutique hotel and trained with some of Australia’s top chefs, including Neil Perry and Janni Kyritsis, before opening a string of restaurants in Bali, all of which rank among the island’s top dining destinations. On the weeklong sailing, he’ll host a cooking masterclass and kitchen tour to show guests how he crafts some of his signature recipes, which are inspired by East Indonesia’s spice routes and created specifically for Aqua Expeditions. The experience will culminate with an exclusive chef-hosted dinner spotlighting his creations. Rates start at $6,300 per person for the Amazon departures and $9,415 per person for the Indonesia departure.

An Emphasis on Artful Design

In recent years, expedition lines have been investing in onboard art collections, surrounding passengers with original pieces, sculptures, and ceramics to enrich the experience along the way. Aqua Expeditions’ CEO and Founder Francesco Galli Zugaro and his wife, Birgit, are passionate art-collectors. For as long as they’ve been traveling, they’ve been collecting one-of-a-kind artworks and rare objects, many of which, like a glass foosball table on Aqua Mekong, have found a new home on the brand’s luxurious vessels. Each of the ships has a distinctive design inspired by its destination. For example, Aqua Nera features works inspired by the black-water lagoons of the Peruvian Amazon, with dark-hued wooden décor and beautiful, rare pottery (originally used for formal ceremonies such as marriages) made by Amazonian communities. Aqua Mare takes its inspiration from the Galapagos Islands’ volcanic activity, with brilliant gold accents, ashy grays, coarse textures, and custom-made Panama hats for sale at the ship’s on-board boutique. Aqua Blu nods to its rich naval heritage (it was originally the HMS Beagle, a royal navy vessel that was used for cartography-related missions) with maritime-inspired pieces, including old maps from the 1800s that were made by Dutch cartographers. Rooms feature antique nut crackers sourced in Bali via an antiques dealer and friend of Birgit’s, and the on-site boutique is stocked with treasures like bespoke lacquer trays and scarves from a remote Indonesian island. Finally, Aqua Mekong borrows inspiration from the natural scenery of the Mekong Delta, with its lush greenery like lotus roots and lilies. The ship’s silk scarfs, silver bags and jewelry, and hand-woven and dyed kaftans—all available for sale at the boutique—are made exclusively for Aqua.

This emphasis on artful design trickles down to the onboard dining, too. All crockery has been commissioned exclusively for Aqua by the Bali-based Gaya Ceramics. Birgit first met the brand’s Italian owner at a French art exhibit, and after bonding over their love for ceramics, they decided to collaborate on a collection for Aqua Mekong. Now, there are Gaya ceramics on every Aqua ship—but with a local twist. For example, Aqua Blu has ceramics etched with drawings of English naturalist Alfred Wallace Russel and the wildlife he surveyed; Aqua Mare’s pieces are embellished with gold in a reference to the lava flows of the Galapagos and sketchings by Charles Darwin; and Aqua Mekong features designs of lotus roots and other native flora that were originally sketched by Birgit.  Other dining wares come from local communities, like the napkin rings on Aqua Nera and Aria Amazon made by female artisans out of natural fibers.

Rolling Down the (Mekong) River

Charting a luxurious passage on Southeast Asia’s longest river, the 20-stateroom Aqua Mekong travels at a speed of 6-7 knots, allowing for a beautifully slow-paced way of experiencing the waterway that spans Cambodia and Vietnam. One of the best times of year to make the journey is November through April— dry season—when blue skies and balmy temperatures guarantee smooth sailing.  A three-night Mekong Discovery voyage will either head upriver in Cambodia by exploring the Tonle Sap River, or downriver between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh, while a four-night experience will sail upriver from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh, past floating villages and gilded pagodas, with twice-daily excursions on bike, kayak, and guided visits to riverside markets. For a deeper dive into the destination, the seven-night Mekong Expedition Cruise includes more time on the Cambodia stretch of the Mekong and along the Tonle Sap River—the only river in the world whose tide changes annually—which is untouched by tourists. Full charter rates start at $136,000 for 3 nights.

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