Francesco Galli Zugaro is a true bold adventurer in the luxury cruise arena who likes to set himself challenges.
He started his three-vessel river cruise company on the Peruvian section of the Amazon River, which flows through the planet’s largest rainforest.
He commissioned a completely new design for the Aria Amazon, the first ship to sail on this stretch of river, which flows through the famed Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, home to 40,000 species of plants, 427 mammals, 1,300 birds, 378 reptiles, more than 400 amphibians and around 3,000 freshwater fish.
Now the line is taking its first bold steps into ocean cruising, with an adventure yacht in another isolated yet appealing destination.
Aqua Blu is a former British naval exploration vessel, HMS Beagle. She has been a luxury family yacht, but has now been converted to take some 30 adventurous spirits to the East Indonesian Archipelago.
There will be competition. Coral Expeditions new Adventurer offers destinations there, and others like Ponant have the area firmly in their sights.
But the Aqua Blu will be the first long-range expedition-class yacht to be permanently based there with year-round departures.
Beginning in November, 2019, Aqua Blu will primarily serve three destinations on 7-night coastal cruise itineraries:
Raja Ampat (Round-trip; December through to February; 10 departures/year)
Bali-Komodo National Park (Bi-directional; April to September; 23 departures/year)
Ambon & Spice Islands (Round-trip; October to November; 7 departures/year)
Aqua Blu will cruise in the heart of the Coral Triangle and traverses the fabled global spice trade route. Itineraries will cover tropical islands where wildlife, culture and age-old traditions reside in addition to the world’s best diving and snorkelling sites. She has 15 individually-designed sea-facing suites in 3 cabin categories, a sun deck, indoor lounge and bar, outdoor jacuzzi, spa and top-of-the-line non-motorised watersports equipment such as diving and snorkelling gear, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
Aqua Blu is also equipped with two high-powered tenders for sea excursions. Multiple excursions on land and water are planned to run concurrently. Water-based excursions will cater to both certified divers as well as leisure snorkelers.
Sales for Aqua Blu’s itineraries were launched in Australia as a global-first last week. Zugaro explained that Australia, because of its proximity to Indonesia, was considered the venture’s number one market.
The crew to guest ratio is one-to-one, and the guide ratio is eight to one.
“Indonesia spans four times zones and 17,000 islands, so the destinations have been built to get the best of the seasons in the year,” he told Luxury Cruise Passenger. “Marine diversity is the highest in the world – even more than Galapagos.”
The area also has amazing history.
Not many have heard of Run, a coconut-fringed island three kilometres long and one kilometre wide. But on July 31, 1667, the Dutch and the English signed the Treaty of Breda which swopped the then swampy island of Manhattan in New Amsterdam – now known as New York – for Run.
Komodo is a World Heritage site heavily controlled to safeguard its delicate environment. Aqua Blu has the only itinerary from Bali to Komodo.
“We want to demystify these destinations,” says Zugaro, pointing out that guests will fly on or out from Jakarta or Bali.
Opening up the opportunity of exploring multiple destinations in East Indonesia on a single itinerary and discovering exotic locales such as The Forgotten Islands, Aqua Blu will also offer highly-limited 12-night journeys.
Called Limited Cross-Destination Voyages, there will be a maximum of four departures a year, each sailing a different route. Rates for seven and 12-night Aqua Blu itineraries range from US$7,525 to US$16,475 per person in double occupancy.
And just to demonstrate Zugaro’s love of a challenge, he is building a third vessel for the Amazon…in Vietnam. It has to be transported from SE Asia to South America.