WINTER BRAZIL SEASON- WHO’S SAILING THERE THIS YEAR?

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Now that autumn’s cold, clammy fingers are tickling our collective windpipe, many of us start to succumb to an almost pathetic sense of yearning for clear skies, sparkling seas and yes, good, warm sunshine. If the Marie Celeste had only been able to drift like our collective thoughts, then she would never have been becalmed in mid ocean…..

Assuming you’re ready to take the plunge (pun wholly intentional) then; where to? If the Caribbean seems overcrowded, or the Canaries too ‘same old’, then options look as if they are beginning to stretch thinner than the credibility of Donald Trump’s wig. The Far East too far out? The winter Mediterranean not warm enough? Dubai just ‘duh’?

So- how about Brazil in particular and, indeed, South America in general?

OK. Halt. Who goes there? Well, you might be surprised at just how many options you actually have, my friends…

Late each autumn, a conga line of cruise ships flee the leaden European winter and flock like so many exotic birds of passage to the warmer, far friendlier waters of South America. Every kind of ship and line, from budget to mass market, to deluxe, all inclusive icons of the cruise trade. And they do it for very good reasons.

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal...

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal…

For starters, there’s that sultry, samba fuelled fire cracker otherwise known as Rio De Janeiro. But Brazil is far more than just Rio. There are stunning beach resorts like Ilhabela, Paraty and cool, swaggering Recife. Argentina rolls out the red carpet in sultry, full blooded Buenos Aires, the tango capital of the world. An overnight stay here on most cruises is almost mandatory. Quite right, too.

Uruguay is often overlooked and forgotten in the South American beauty pageant, and yet Montevideo is one of the most stately, graceful monuments to sheer indolence and tropical cafe life that you’ll find anywhere south of the equator. In short, there are no shortage of places, parties and sheer pleasurable experiences to be had down under the balmy tropical Latin skies.

You just have to decide what ship and style is right for you.

Louis Cruise is operating the Louis Aura (ex-Orient Queen) in those waters over the winter. She’s small, intimate and unassuming, but well fed and chock full of charm and fun. Cruise lengths are everything from three days to a week. The ship is an absolutely great budget choice for the region.

Latin flavours are on offer from both Iberocruises and Pullmantur, The two Spanish operators both have a ship or two ‘down Rio way’ during the winter, offering predominantly seven day cruises. Of the two, Pullmantur has the advantage of being all inclusive, and generally offers bigger ships. Both products are great value for the fares charged.

MSC know how to get the samba started

MSC know how to get the samba started

Staying in that Latin groove, both Costa and rival MSC have big, amenity laden megaships aplenty down here for the season; a hangover from the days when Italian liners routinely made line voyages from Italy down to South America. The big draw with both lines is the vast number of available balcony cabins that they offer.  These are probably the best party boats in the region if you’re looking for some serious hedonism, but the lines to get off and on them at some ports might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Good prices, though, and again, itineraries are typically six and seven days, with a few shorter cruises in between.

Touch more international? Royal Caribbean usually has a pair of its gorgeous Vision class ships down here, with their updated eating areas and vast swathes of floor to ceiling glass windows. They, too, will offer six and seven night round trips- typically from Santos, the port for Sao Paolo- but they will also fold some shorter, three and four night jaunts into the mix as well. And, don’t forget that Royal Caribbean now offer a handful of single cabins on many of their ships as well.

Want luxury? Fine. Sassy Crystal, sophisticated, European accented Silversea and classy, all inclusive Regent Seven Seas all offer winter holidays on wonderful, expansively opulent ships, where tailored service, gourmet food and a classically styled cruise experience are all in the mix. Longer itineraries- typically in excess of ten days- allow for a far more immersive experience, but at a price.

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Most of these lines will offer you packages including airfare, hotels and transfers, but what if you want to book your own flights? Well, here’s a few ideas….

British Airways offers a string of flights from all over the UK through Heathrow, and many of these are often on a code share with it’s Spanish partner, Iberia, over Madrid.

Air France/KLM also offers good regional connections to both Brazil and Argentina over it’s main hubs at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport and Amsterdam Schipol.

You could also do worse than to take TAP Air Portugal. They fly from their main hubs in Lisbon and Porto, with connections from the UK available from Gatwick, Heathrow, and also a limited number from Manchester in the winter months.

So-food for thought? Throw off your winter woolies, put on your dancing shoes, slap on the factor thirty sun screen (lots of it) and- get out there!

BRAZILIAN CRUISES ON THE LOUIS AURA, WINTER 2013-14 (Updated)

Louis Aura will sail from Brazil throughout the winter of 2013-14

Louis Aura will sail from Brazil throughout the winter of 2013-14

Brazilian company, CVC, has released a series of winter itineraries for the specially chartered Louis Aura, currently sailing in the Greek Islands as the Orient Queen on a three and four night schedule from Piraeus. The deployment to Brazil is the first for Louis, although the ship herself did a season under charter in these waters a few years ago.

The 16,000 ton ship-fondly remembered by many as the pioneering Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line- will offer some sixty-three cruise options, commencing with a two night itinerary on November 28th 2103, and concluding with a final sailing on March 26th, 2014.

Itineraries will run from two to seven days in length, and concentrate mainly on the northern region of Brazil. Departures from Recife and Cabedelo feature ports of call such as Fortaleza, Natal, and the stunningly beautiful group of islands of Fernando de Noronha.

There is no attempt to compete with the series of hectic, seven days sailings usually undertaken by the mega ships. Also, by eschewing the ‘greatest hits’ ports such as Buzios and Rio De Janeiro, the charter company is offering a very different kind of experience to that served up on the mainstream ships.

A key factor here is the small size of the ship, which allows her to access smaller, more off the beaten track itineraries not open to the competition. Another is her maximum capacity of around eight hundred passengers, which should facilitate quicker embarkation and debarkation.

Louis Aura has one main dining room and an alfresco buffet that also has an indoor area, there are five bars, a two level casino, and two outdoor pools. One of these is partially shaded from the elements. None of the cabins have balconies, but even the smallest insides have private facilities. Pack lightly; the dress code is smart casual, and exactly right for these tropical waters.

There is a large show lounge at the forward end of the main deck. Most public rooms run along the length of deck number five, with the Mermaid Restaurant at the stern. This room has a wall of floor to ceiling glass windows that overlooks the ship’s wake.

The Mermaid Restaurant

The Mermaid Restaurant

Louis Aura also has a library, internet centre and small shopping area, as well as an upper deck, Balinese themed spa.

CVC celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2012, and is well known as one of Brazil’s biggest tour providers.

No details of the transatlantic crossings have yet surfaced. It is not yet clear whether Louis Cruises will sell these voyages.

From mainland Europe, TAP Air Portugal operates services to Recife from it’s main hub at Lisbon’s Portela International Airport. The city is also served by a number of mainstream US carriers.

With very grateful thanks to Daniel Capella for his help in linking in to the CVC itineraries.

12/12: Daniel Capella has kindly informed me that these cruises are now being operated by the smaller Orient Queen II, better known to many as the former Spanish cruise ship, Vistamar.