Readers of a certain age may recall the bestselling book Slow Boats to China, Gavin Young's beautifully written account of his seven-month journey from Greece to China on an assortment of ships. Published in 1981, it is both entertaining and inspirational - who knows how many people chucked in their jobs to go off on their own seafaring adventures after reading it!
Hopping on board a freighter ship is still an option for travelling the world by sea. It appeals to people who have the time to take long voyages (although these days you can book segments of an itinerary on some ships); people who love being at sea but don't enjoy sailing on big, modern cruise ships; people who can't fly (or don't like flying); and independent travellers who like to do their own thing.
One of the best-known freighter routes is that sailed by Aranui 3 in French Polynesia (see Shipshape, right). Aranui 3 accommodates 200 passengers, along with the cargo it delivers to the remote Marquesas Islands, but most freighter ships have only a few cabins for passengers. This means you need to book at least six months in advance to ensure you will have a cabin on a ship in the specific region you want to visit.
Freighter Expeditions, a Sydney-based company, has been organising trips on cargo ships all over the world for 30 years and is the only company in Australia to offer this service. You can take a ship from Australia to Europe, or to the west coast of America, for example; travel within Europe and Asia; the world really is your oyster.
Julie Richards, adviser and "cruise master" at Freighter Expeditions, is an expert at co-ordinating complex schedules and can tailor a cargo-ship voyage with flights, train connections and accommodation.
New sailings on Freighter Expeditions' books include Australia to Asia, from Brisbane, Newcastle and Melbourne to Tianjin and back again. The AAL ships have four double cabins and carry timber to Asia and general cargo back to Australia. Julie says there can be two or three days in port, which is longer than on many freighter itineraries.
Passengers on cargo ships generally share meals with the captain and officers and, while food is home cuisine rather than haute cuisine, you will certainly be well fed. Some ships have bars, some service wine and beer but no spirits; some have pools on board; and cabins are mostly cleaned weekly.
LAUNCHED: 2000; Aranui 3 was built as a freighter and passenger vessel and is operated by Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime (CPTM).
PASSENGERS & CREW: 200 passengers, 64 crew.
ACCOMMODATION: There are 86 cabins, including 14 suites (two without balconies), nine deluxe and 63 standard cabins, plus dormitory-style accommodation with shared facilities.
REGULAR HAUNTS: French Polynesia - the Marquesas islands, Tuamotu atolls and, from next year, Bora Bora in the Society Islands.
PERFECT FOR: Well-travelled couples and singles and families with a sense of adventure.
DINING: All meals are served in the dining room and at one or two seatings. Lunch and dinner menus feature fresh fruit and fish, and complimentary wine is served during onboard lunch and dinner.
PARTYING: There are two bars/lounges but as Aranui 3 is a cargo ship (and the primary supply link to the Marquesas), it's all about beautiful, remote island destinations, socialising with fellow passengers and, most nights, enjoying a stunning sunset at sea and the Polynesian crew's musical performances.
DOING: On board, dip in the pool, work out in the gym and exercise your mind in the library; on the islands you can snorkel, swim, dive, hike, fish and take a variety of trips that offer an extraordinary experience of ancient cultures and village life.
THE DETAILS: Ultimate Cruising has packages priced from $8299 a person twin share on Aranui 3's September, 2014 departure. Return economy airfares from Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne, shore excursions and four nights' accommodation at Manava Suite Tahiti are included. Phone 1300 485 846, see ultimatecruising.com.au or aranui.com.au.
OFFER OF THE WEEK
Scenic Tours has earlybird deals including free flights to South America for the second person travelling, for select 2015 South America fly/stay/cruise packages booked by September 30, 2014. The 20-day Icons of South America holiday includes a Chilean Fjords cruise on French ship Le Boreal, the Lakes District of Patagonia and a day in Machu Picchu. Prices start from $11,995; phone 1300 723 642, see scenictours.com.au.
UNIWORLD is offering savings of up to $3900 a person on selected departures of its 14-day European Serenade Vienna to Amsterdam cruises between July 24 and November 1, 2014. Twenty-three shore excursions, unlimited beverages, free Wi-Fi and all gratuities. For a limited time, fares start at $3900. Phone 02 9028 5199, see uniworldcruises.com.au.
CRUISEABOUT's 15-night round-trip cruise from Singapore on Sapphire Princess visits Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phuket, Brunei, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Koh Samui and departs on February 23, 2015. Fares start at $1999 when booked by June 30, 2014. Phone 1300 450 133, see cruiseabout.com.au.
Aurora Expeditions' no single supplement option has been popular with solo travellers for years, and the adventure cruise company has seen a marked increase in singletons on voyages that offer additional activities such as camping, polar snorkelling, photography and kayaking. During the past 12 months, about 65 per cent of solo travellers have been women. Aurora offers a cabin-sharing service for solo travellers. Visit auroraexpeditions.com.au/solotravellers for more information.