Review: Aqua Blu, Aqua Expeditions
Your shoes are politely taken away on embarkation and everybody, crew included, is barefoot for the entire cruise
Location: Launched in November 2019, Aqua Expeditions’ first ocean-going ship, Aqua Blu, sails three areas of Indonesia’s Coral Triangle: the Komodo National Park, the Spice Islands and the Raja Ampat archipelago. Seven-night Komodo expeditions operate between Bali and Labuan Bajo on Flores island from April to September. The ship spends October and November in the Spice Islands, while December to February are spent exploring the pristine archipelago of Raja Ampat, operating seven-night voyages round-trip from Sorong, a three-hour, 50-minute flight from Jakarta. This is a long haul, so advise clients to break the journey with a stop in Singapore to avoid two consecutive nights in the air. In between each season, four 12-night repositioning voyages explore even remoter corners of Indonesia. The sailings between Komodo and the Spice Islands in October 2020 and March 2021 take in Indonesia’s Forgotten Islands, an archipelago so isolated that there is no infrastructure and no commerce; locals live by fishing and trading with passing boats.
First impressions: There’s a real superyacht feel to Aqua Blu, with its sleek profile, chic, grey hull and two smart-looking cream and navy tenders. Giant, cream-coloured day beds adorn one of the aft decks, while big potted palms and orchids add to the stylish boutique-hotel vibe. Every detail has been considered, from the place mats made from shells to the perfectly plumped gold and silver cushions in the Salon, the ship’s living room.
Aqua Blu was built in 1968, starting life as the Royal Naval Explorer HMS Beagle before being sold to an Italian millionaire in 2002. Aqua Expeditions acquired the ship in 2019, stripped out the bling and replaced everything with tasteful colour schemes of soft grey and cream, with gold and silver accents and covetable objets d’art dotted around.
In true yachting style, your shoes are politely taken away on embarkation and everybody, crew included, is barefoot for the entire cruise. The deep‑pile cream carpet throughout feels truly decadent underfoot. Advise clients to leave the Manolos at home; hiking shoes are the only footwear they’ll need.
The facts: The 198-ft Aqua Blu has 15 suites and five decks, with a maximum of 30 guests attended to by 25 crew. Suites on the lower deck have portholes, the rest have windows; there are no private balconies. All the cabins are beautiful, though, with the same cream, grey and gold colours as the rest of the ship and a luxurious marble bathroom with a rain shower.
All the public areas are casually elegant. On Main Deck, the open-plan Salon and Dining Room are used for talks, cruise director’s briefings and dinner. When heat permits, dinner is served outside on the aft deck here. Breakfast and lunch are served in the Sky Lounge bar, with a choice of sitting in the air conditioning of the lounge or under a big umbrella on deck.
One deck up, there’s a Jacuzzi, which was too hot to tempt most of us in the steamy tropical heat, outdoor gym equipment and a massage room. The Sun Deck has an oversized wraparound sofa, and rows of padded teak steamer chairs, all shaded by stylish grey umbrellas. This is a lovely spot in which to read when there’s a breeze, as well as at sunset, when everybody gathers for sundowners to a gentle soundtrack of chill-out music.
All snorkelling and diving equipment are provided, as are kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
The food: Aqua Blu’s food is just sublime – fresh, light, imaginative and sustainably sourced. Breakfast is a buffet, with daily specials, from nasi goreng to pancakes piled with banana and toffee sauce. Lunch is perfect for the tropics – chilled cucumber soup, grilled barramundi and mango sorbet were highlights. Dinners are served family-style and include, as an example, dishes like sashimi, grouper fillet and a decadent brioche pudding with homemade ice cream. Decent wines from Australia and New Zealand, as well as beer, are poured liberally. Cocktails cost extra, around £10 each.
Wow: The smiling Indonesian crew are Aqua Blu’s real ‘wow’, offering that intuitive service you only find on very high-end ships. Freshly squeezed juices and scented cold towels await thirsty snorkellers as they clamber back on board. On occasion, tasselled umbrellas, towels, a full bar and delicate canapes are set up on a deserted beach, or coolers of wine loaded into the tenders for a sunset cruise. Cabins are serviced three times a day and laundry is free, with a same‑day turnaround.
Book it: A seven-night voyage in Raja Ampat costs from $7,525 per person. Flights are extra