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Conjure an image of what’s it is like to go on a cruise. Are you picturing buffet dinners? On-deck spinning classes? Retirees playing shuffleboard? Many cruises really are like that. But if you’re looking for a different sort of cruise scene consider traveling by cargo ship.
Cargo ship travel is the un-cruise. There’s nothing fabricated about it. Every day thousands of freighters ply the high seas. Some of them have extra state rooms and accept passengers to tag along for the ride. This is as “real” as travel gets.
Of course, cargo ship cruising is not for everyone. Cargo ships don’t have swimming pools, evening entertainment, rock climbing walls or organized mixers on Lido decks. Go on a cargo ship cruise and there might be as many as four or five other paying passengers like yourself. Or, you may be the only one. And while cargo ships often have comfortable sleeping quarters they’re unlikely to be luxurious.
To book passage on a cargo ship you can go directly through some shipping lines. But we recommend working through a travel agent that can vouch for the quality of the food and accommodations and can make sure your itinerary includes sufficient shore leave time. One of the best agents for cargo ship cruises is Intrepid Travel. Here’s a look at their five cool cargo cruise ship itineraries:
Tahiti is teaming with small beach-filled islands. So what better way to see the country than by boat? Of course, you don’t want to spend your entire trip on a boat. The itinerary of Intrepid’s Tahiti cargo ship cruise is 14 days long; 12 of those days include shore time. And on every day you’ll have gourmet meals made from local produce and fresh-caught fish. Visit island outposts, gaze upn green jungles and jump into swimming holes . . . if the tiki gods allow it.
Departs from: Papeete | # of days: 14
England to Argentina
Wow! One working container ship. One month. Three continents. The exact itinerary of this Intrepid freighter cruise depends on the cargo being carried by your specific ship. Typically, this cruise calls upon ports in Belgium, France and Spain before stopping in Casablanca. From there you’ll bounce around West Africa—the opportunity to explore in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Guinea are all possible—before heading out across the Atlantic. You’ll make your South American landfall in Brazil, visiting Rio and up to three other Brazilian ports, before stopping in Montevideo, Uruguay on the way to your final destination, Buenos Aires.
Departs from: Tilbury, UK (near London) | # of days: 32
Italy To Israel and Back
Venice is one of the world’s great, ancient sea ports making it the perfect location from which to start your cargo cruise exploration of great, ancient Mediterranean civilizations. The first stop on this Intrepid cargo cruise is Piraeus (the port adjacent to Athens, Greece) for a visit to the Acropolis. Then you head to Israel, where you’ll have enough shore time to experience Jerusalem (one of Spot Cool Stuff’s favorite cities in the world) and the Druze villages around Haifa. On the return trip to Venice you’ll make port stops in Turkey, by ruins of Ephesus, and in Ravenna, Italy, an ancient city that’s connected to the Adriatic by a canal and that’s teaming with early Christian monuments on the World Heritage List.
Departs from: Monfalcone, Italy (near Venice) | # of days: 15
Northern Europe to Western Africa
Dakar is known as “the Paris of Africa”—the Senegalese capital has that sort of high culture, romantic vibe and outstanding food. (Dakar might also be known as “the Paris of Africa” because they speak French there and have snooty taxi drivers). What better way to get to Dakar from Europe than by freighter? Intrepid’s two week cargo ship journey starts in Amsterdam and calls upon ports in Germany, England and Belgium before steaming for Senegal.
Departs from: Amsterdam | # of days: 14
England and the Aegean
We saved our favorite of Intrepid’s cargo ship cruises for last. The itinerary starts with port stops in a few cities of Europe’s coolest yet least-visited port cities: Bristol (England), Flushing (Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium) and Setubal (Portugal). Then there’s a stop in exotic Casablanca before your cargo ship heads into the Mediterranean. Explore the full length of what is arguably history’s most important body of water. Stops include ports in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Egypt and Spain before your ship returns to England.
Departs from: Southampton, UK | # of days: 35
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