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There are many seasoned travelers who seem to take pride in declaring themselves “sooo not cruise people.” I am not one of those travelers. My first cruise, a Silversea voyage from Athens to Istanbul, showed me all that is sunny about sailing the high seas. I loved the camaraderie onboard, the convenience of surveying a large area without having to repack my suitcase, and the sensation of waking up on the water. When it worked out that I’d have a chance to cruise down the Amazon with on assignment with some of my various freelancing outlets, I was thrilled to return to a stateroom.

You can sail the busy waterways of the Amazon aboard everything from a basic local BYOH (Bring Your Own Hammock, of course) barge to floating boutique hotels, and The Aria sits proudly at the far luxury end of that scale. The 147-foot-long ship is the second in Aqua Expeditions’ fleet, custom-built by Peruvian architect Jordi Puig in 2011.

Aqua Expeditions Aria

Aqua Expeditions Aria Cabin

This is a small river cruise, and you’ll notice few similarities between The Aria and her distant Caribbean megaship cousins. The remote nature of the destination lends itself to a more all-inclusive experience  — excursions, meals and fine wines are included in the five star price tag. And the size is intimate — The Aria Amazon can accommodate a maximum of 32 cruise ship guests crew. Aqua Expeditions offers three, four, and seven night itineraries. On the first evening of my own , I was overwhelmed to finally explore the ship whose deck plans I had excitedly poured over months before.

As soon as we boarded, I went straight to my cabin and squealed. The modern and minimalist look aligned perfectly with my own style, and allowed the floor-to-ceiling picture windows to take center stage. I realize more and more in my travels how much good design lifts me up, and onboard The Aria, I felt that I was simply floating.

One of my favorite details of the cabins were the bath products – travel sizes of luxury products made in Peru using local ingredients like Camu Camu and Quinoa. I had only been on the road for about a week, so I wasn’t necessarily in desperate need of pampering — but wow, did it feel good to smell good again.

Another fun, traditional-cruising touch? The towel animals the cabin stewards would leave on my bed each afternoon, during one of the three daily cleanings. There were no towel elephants here, though — all terry cloth creatures were based on their jungle counterparts, like the three-toed sloth found hanging from my curtain rod.

It’s nice to see a luxury company that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The Aria has just three decks. The first is dedicated to eight staterooms and a loading area for the skiffs. The second is home to eight more staterooms, a dining room, and a small boutique. In the dining room, breakfast and lunch are served buffet style while dinner is a decadent, ever-changing tasting menu featuring local delicacies paired with South American wines. And dessert. Oh, the desserts.

All I can say is this — good thing there was a treadmill onboard.

Aqua Expeditions Aria Dining Room

Aqua Expeditions Aria Gift Shop

The third deck was my favorite — a light-filled lounge, an outdoor patio with a bubbling jacuzzi, a small massage room, and a tiny gym with the best views you’ll ever see from a treadmill. It was impossible to turn your head without resting your eyes on a well-though detail.

I briefly considered skipping all excursions for the next four days, and refusing to ever step foot off the ship.

Aqua Expeditions Aria Lounge

Aqua Expeditions Aria Lounge

Aqua Expeditions Aria Lounge

Aqua Expeditions Aria Dining Room

On the first full day of our itinerary, we set off early for a morning jungle walk excursion. Guests were instructed to break into four groups, which left me feeling like I was back in middle school gym class hoping I’d be picked for dodge ball. I had known there would be curiosity about a single woman, especially of my age, on a luxury ship and I briefly considered telling everyone this was meant to be my honeymoon but I was left at the altar. Then I realized that would require more fake tears than I could reliably produce.

It turned out I needn’t have worried. I was immediately “adopted” by two older couples, the female halves of which declared themselves my surrogate mothers onboard. I would spend the next few days listening in awe to their tales of raising families and traveling the world, and hoping that I too will still be so adventurous and lively five decades down the line. Our morning guide christened our group “The Chunky Monkeys.”

We were off on a jungle walk. I worried it might be repetitive with the jungle walks I did at Heliconia, but of course you could walk the same rainforest a million times and see something different each day. The guide, Julio, was excellent and gave us tons of information about the various plants and insects. He showed us a termites nest and explained how they could be a natural mosquito repellent. He tapped a tree with the machete and ants poured out of it – the “punishment tree,” where naughty children are forced to hold their hands onto the bark and face the wrath of angry red ants. Much more dangerous are bullet ants, who’s bite can paralyze your arm for twenty-four hours (Julio had first hand experience with this.) We also touched the sap of various trees, from the rubber variety that has faced so much exploitation to one with white sap that locals use for both for glue and to treat stomach parasites.

We also spotted some elusive jungle mammals – white faced monkeys danced in the trees overhead, we spotted a sloth in the distance, and as we rode the skiffs back to the boat we encountered a pod of small grey dolphins in the middle of a mating ritual. Yet what stood out to me most were the sounds – never had I heard the sounds of the jungle so loudly.

I also started to understand the thought Aqua Expeditions puts into every detail. As we reboarded the skiff after our walk, we were handed cool scented hand towels and offered drinks.

Back onboard The Aria, I knew I should work on journaling and photo editing until lunch, but the pool was calling to me. Sitting in the cold jacuzzi (refreshing in the jungle heat!), reading a travel magazine and watching the Amazon go by equalled a moment of transcendent travel happiness. The bliss continued when I indulged in a massage.

Despite my budget concerns, once I knew there was a masseuse on board, how could I resist? And really, $55 is pretty reasonable for an hour massage on a luxury cruise ship.

Before the afternoon excursion there was a short lecture in the lounge on the fish of the Amazon. Throughout the voyage I would continue to be impressed by the emphasis placed on environmental and social responsibility. Aqua Expeditions funds several projects around the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and surrounding area in order to support the people, animals and environment that they so proudly introduce to their guests. Still, the graphic designer in me couldn’t help but think that their PowerPoints could use a little updating.

On our subsequent boat ride, blue skies came out and we were treated to sightings of sloths, monkeys, pink and blue dolphins, a variety of birds, and a stunning rainbow. I once again joined the Chunky Monkey group though this time we were accompanied by a different naturalist guide — the four onboard rotated between groups to make sure all their collective expertise were passed around.

After a few hours of leisurely wildlife spotting and lovely conversation, we returned to the boat just as the sky turned to fierce swirls of blue and pink, one of the more memorable sunsets of my life. I snapped away in awe, feeling completely privileged to be at that exact place at that exact moment in time.

Stay tuned for Part II! 

I was a guest of Aqua Expeditions in order to promote the cruise line via various freelancing outlets. They did not request that I write a positive review, in fact they did not request that I cover the experience via Meihoukai in Wanderland at all.

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32 Comments...
  • tyrhone
    October 28 2013

    Dude, what a way to travel, I myself have no qualms about comfort, and in fact find it more and more of a necessity as I get older (he says at all of 32).

    That picture with the ants on the hands made my skin do funny things.
    tyrhone recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Yeah, I love a good mix. I find hostels to be really fun and homey, but I love to mix them in with some funky design hotels (or boats!) every once in a while as well for a jolt of inspiration!

  • BEST POST YOU HAVE EVER WRITTEN!!!!!!!!! If someone doesn’t get inspired by this and go to the Amazon I will be SHOCKED! LOVE THE PICS!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Thanks Andi! I could totally picture you on this boat 🙂 I think you need to add it to your bucket list!

  • Caroline
    October 28 2013

    Stunning photos! The ship looks absolutely beautiful!

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Thanks Caroline! It was stunning (not hard to get great photos of!)

  • The Guy
    October 28 2013

    Wow what an amazing cruise experience! That boat is sheer luxury. I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels and few would come close to that.

    Then I saw the price at the end of the article and now I understand why.

    Great pictures as always Meihoukai. Love the picture of the hand!
    The Guy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Thank you so much! I agree, this was up there with the most fantastic accommodation I’ve stayed at around the world.

  • Divelicious Chris
    October 28 2013

    Waaaaooow! Gorgeous photos – especially the last two (yeah I’m a sucker for sunsets..).
    Sounds like an amazing way to travel. I’m a teeny bit jealous at the moment 🙂
    Divelicious Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      I’m a sunset girl too — and this one absolutely makes the top five of my life!

  • memographer
    October 28 2013

    It sounds like you really enjoy the Amazon and your four-night Aria trip, Meihoukai. Love the story and pics! I am not a “cruise person” 🙂 But, this cruise is totally different.
    memographer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      I used to think I wasn’t a cruise person… but I’ve absolutely loved both that I’ve been on in my life! So maybe I need to reevaluate 🙂

  • Diane
    October 28 2013

    I’ve gone on a few cruises (all on big ships) and I have to say that if my budget allowed for it, I’d LOVE to go on a cruise like this in Peru — or to experience any destination with only 31 other passengers on board. The boat’s decor was beautiful and I felt like I was right there with you. Read every word!
    Diane recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Thank you so much Diane! It was such an intimate experience, I really loved the small size of the ship.

  • Krystle
    October 28 2013

    That sunset photo…. WOW!!!
    Krystle recently posted..

  • Sky
    October 31 2013

    The last two posts at the end…freaking GORGEOUS!

    The picture of the hand with the ants made me twitch. Ugh! haha
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      I must be getting completely desensitized to gross things… I didn’t even flinch when I was watching it in person! Ha!

  • larkycanuck
    October 31 2013

    Wow, Expensive. I spent $250 USD for a 5 night similar adventure trip in Amazon in Ecuador. story on my blog
    larkycanuck recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Yup, it’s great that there are Amazon trips at such a wide range of budgets! I did a more budget three day lodge stay prior to this (story on my blog too :)) However, I wouldn’t necessarily use the word “similar” — I think The Aria is pretty uniquely special!

  • Jeff @ Go Travelzing
    October 31 2013

    I am going on a similar cruise to this in December. Reading this just gets me more excited. I can’t wait.
    Jeff @ Go Travelzing recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      So glad to hear that Jeff! Hope you enjoy your journey!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    October 31 2013

    I have never really been a huge cruise fan either, but this looks gorgeous. The view from your bed is amazing. You may have converted me. 🙂
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      I think now that I’m two cruises in, and have loved every minute, I’m going to have to admit that I’m a cruise person now! Looking forward to #3 🙂

  • Sam
    November 2 2013

    Three daily cleanings?! Oh my.

    Hi, I just found your blog recently through the Globetrotter Girls. Great photos, by the way!

    I can certainly see why you considered not leaving the ship! I never thought of myself as a cruise person, but this…I think I could manage.
    Sam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 3 2013

      The Globetrotter Girls are my blogging soul sisters! So that makes me very happy to hear 🙂 Glad they sent you my way!

  • Rebecca
    November 16 2013

    Oh my, what luxury! The windows in the bedrooms are amazing – what a view. You lucky duck!
    Rebecca recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 17 2013

      I definitely felt lucky! It was a stunning ship.

  • anne boomer
    November 22 2013

    My 4 daughters and I did this same trip one year ago and reading this brought it all back in the most wonderful way. It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us; one that will be remembered as long as we live.
    Beautiful in every way! The ship, the food, the excursions, the Amazon. Everything about it was spectacular. If you do no traveling at all, do this before you die!!

    • Meihoukai
      November 22 2013

      So glad I could bring back some happy memories for you, Anne! Agree that this is a very, very special trip.

  • Escape Hunter
    May 17 2014

    Fantastic cruise!
    Those ships look even better than the ones you can see on Europe’s famous rivers and lakes.
    I think aboard I’d feel better than at home!

    • Meihoukai
      May 19 2014

      Considering how much time I spend in hostel beds, yup, this felt better than usual 🙂 I loved it!