A Trip of a Lifetime
Gorgeous pink beaches, amazing marine life, gentle whale sharks, five-star food, and staff that always had a smile, a cold towel and knowledge to share….these are just some of the beautiful moments that will be forever etched in our memories from our cruise on Aqua Blu by Aqua Expeditions as we travelled from Labuan Bajo to Bali.
Aqua Blu – Salon
When you hear the word cruise, you may imagine a huge ship with hundreds of rooms, big buffets and time spent lazing by a pool….this is not that type of cruise! The best way we can describe this trip is a luxurious adventure – a voyage for curious nature lovers who love to explore and see the world, as well as those who appreciate bespoke experiences and five-star indulgences.
Aqua Blu is actually an ex-British Naval Ship turned luxury cruiser that now calls Indonesia home. There are three different room categories when staying as a guest on Aqua Blu, and just 15 suites in total. She sails three different Indonesian routes throughout the year, and we took an August cruise setting sail from Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores (and just a one-hour flight from Bali), and spent 7 nights sailing back to Bali.
Komodo DragonsSpotting Komodo Dragons
There is so much attention to detail from the minute you make your booking with Aqua Expeditions (Aqua Blu is just one of fivesix vessels that they have throughout the globe). The virtual check-in ensures that no detail is left, to make sure that your trip is as memorable as possible. As well as choosing your food preferences, you can also list any food allergies or dietary requirements. You can even let the team know if you prefer to dine privately or wish to join the group for meals, and also include any other personal details that the crew should be aware of before you board.
Breakfast time!Every meal was amazing
Our trip started with a group lunch at the stunning AYANA Komodo Resort in Labuan Bajo. Some guests had arrived the day before, and others flew into Labuan Bajo that morning. We all got to meet each other and some of the crew at this first lunch. Everyone was very excited for the week ahead, and it was interesting to see the mixture of guests from all around the globe – Mexico, Australia, Canada, England, Netherlands and the USA. Ages ranged from 12 years old to 50+ but one thing we all had in common was a taste of adventure and a love of nature.
On our way to Pink Beach
After a delicious 3-course lunch it was the time that we’d all been waiting for – to make our way to Aqua Blu. Two speedy tenders zipped us away from the pier at AYANA Komodo towards the magnificent Aqua Blu. We were greeted by the crew waving and smiling ready to welcome us. It seemed as though every crew member already knew our faces, names and room numbers from the online check-in. Aqua Blu is a shoeless boat, so off came the shoes once we stepped aboard (they even provided some very luxe slippers for those who didn’t want to walk barefoot). Next, it was time to see our rooms.
Aqua Blu – Cabin
It was hard to believe our room was on a boat, as it was more spacious and luxurious than many hotels. Inside was a generously sized bed with luxury linen, a coffee maker, a glamorous bathroom with a complete vanity area, and even a large walk-in robe with bathrobes. In our room, we also found personalised water bottles labelled with our names and an ocean pack bag (both were not only handy for the trip, but also wonderful Aqua Blu mementos to take home!).
The first afternoon consisted of a group briefing from our Cruise Director Dai, who seemed to be a walking encyclopaedia of not only boats, but also of the entire Indonesian Archipelago, especially when it came to marine life. As we went through the week’s itinerary and route, it was clear that we were in for something special!
The Dive Team
Before we get into the incredible adventures we had during our week, a special mention must go to the exquisite cuisine onboard. With Chef Ben Cross (famed from Mason Restaurant in Canggu) being the Aqua Blu’s consultant, it comes as no surprise that the menu ticked every delicious box. There was a perfect balance of healthy, indulgent, interesting and crowd-pleasing dishes, and not a meal we could say we didn’t love! From rich fish curries to a Vietnamese banquet, creamy pasta and delightful canapés, the food onboard was an adventure all of its own. Food allergies and preferences were all taken note of, and every meal that was placed in front of us was personalised to any requests made.
Romantic Dining on Aqua Blu
Now the main reason that all of the guests (including us) were onboard was not just for the luxury yacht experience, but to get up close and personal with Indonesia’s nature – especially the sea and wildlife. And this journey began on our first morning, as we woke up anchored in the Komodo National Park ready to set off to see Indonesia’s famous Komodo Dragons. To our delight, it was a boutique experience – exclusively for us Aqua Blu guests! With two rangers guarding the station and guarding us, we got to learn about these magnificent creatures which are only found on a few islands in Indonesia and can be very vicious. We sighted 4 large adult Komodos on this excursion, who were frozen still like statues for a long time until a dropped water bottle suddenly caught their attention – and that’s when we got a glimpse at how quickly they can move! Being this close to such dangerous animals was certainly an unforgettable experience.
Selfie with a Komodo Dragon
Pink Beach is also another highlight of any visit to the Komodo National Park. Here, the sand of the beach is pink in colour due to microscopic animals called Foraminifera. These tiny creatures create a red pigment on the coral reefs, and it’s this which causes the sand to turn pink. On our visit to Pink Beach, not only did we get to swim in the stunning waters, but the Aqua Blu team set up an entire beach club just for us along the shore. We also had the opportunity to buy some traditional handicrafts from the locals, as well as spend the entire afternoon relaxing and enjoying this iconic beach.
So many beautiful sunsets
If you’re in this part of the world then a hike up Padar Island is an absolute must! We did this hike in the afternoon so that we could get a birds-eye sunset view of this iconic spot. In true Aqua Blue style, cold drinks and towels met us at the top, once we had reached our vantage point. And it’s here at the summit of Padar Island that you get a real insight into the vast beauty of this breathtaking part of the world. The landscape is absolutely mesmerising as you look out to three beaches from the mountaintop – one with dusky pink sand, one with white sand and one with black sand … here Mother Nature’s beauty far exceeds any artwork you could ever admire!
Celebrating stunning Indonesia on top of Padar
Whether you are a diver or prefer to snorkel, the daily snorkel and dive trips on offer throughout the Komodo National Park certainly gave us a true appreciation for the vast marine life that can be found in Indonesia. With guides who can answer any question you may have, and spot even the tiniest creature, we got to witness the entire underwater kingdom – and it was magnificent! Huge highlights for us were spotting sharks, manta rays, an octopus, tiny nudibranch, every type of coral and so many turtles that we lost count! Both those who were snorkelling and those who were diving got up close and personal with the underwater world of Indonesia, and these daily expeditions quickly became everyone’s favourite part of the day!
Selfie with a Whale Shark
The absolute highlight of the trip for us was the opportunity to swim with the whale sharks. This is something that has been on our bucket list for years. These huge, gorgeous, gentle giants can reach up to 20 metres long, and we were very eager to meet them. On our fifth day onboard, we left the Komodo National Park and headed towards Sumbawa, where we all woke at sunrise the next morning. We boarded the tenders and headed towards a local fishing boat that works alongside Aqua Blu to provide a very ethical and intimate encounter with the graceful whale sharks. We put on our snorkel gear and jumped into the water just before the sun rose…and within seconds we were eye-to-eye with a 10-metre-long whale shark (who was soon joined by another five whale sharks ranging from 3 to 15 metres long!). It’s hard to put into words this experience. Being so close to these giants of the sea and witnessing their calm nature was almost unbelievable. We got to spend over an hour swimming around with them – they would even gently bump us out of the way if they wanted to swim past us. This was a memory we will most certainly never forget, and one that was truly magical!
Snorkeling with Whale Sharks
Our last excursion was a stop at Moyo Island which was made famous by the late Princess Diana, who had once visited the island on holiday. Here we took a short trek to the breathtaking Mata Jitu Waterfall. We got to swim and relax by the waterfall, before making our way back to the village to witness an enchanting cultural performance by the male and female villagers. It’s easy to see why the late Princess spoke so fondly of her visit here!
Matu Jitu waterfall – Moyo IslandReady for a Moyo Island adventureMeeting the locals on Moyo Island
During the time we spent sailing, the skilled crew were fully tuned in to our needs, ensuring we were well entertained, or gave us time to relax as we pleased. Onboard we had the option to attend some informative sessions about the Indonesian landscape, culture, history, volcanoes and animals found throughout this fascinating country. We could also use the onboard gym to work out each morning, take a dip in the onboard jacuzzi whenever we pleased, relax in the library which was well stocked with books and games, and also take part in cooking and cocktail-making classes with the crew. The highlight of the onboard activities for us was the chance to go “below deck”. It was here that we got to see the engine room, kitchen, staff quarters, and laundry and also gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to make trips like this possible. We even had the opportunity to go up to the bridge and see where the Captain steers the ship. It was super interesting to see how this ex-navy vessel had been converted into this now luxury yacht. It was also lovely to get to meet some of the “unseen” staff, especially as on Aqua Blu the amount of crew outnumber the guests!
Making the most of the jacuzzi!The crew taking good care of usSome entertainment by the Aqua Blu crew
At the end of each adventurous day, the spectacular sunsets were a definite highlight. We all headed to the top deck to enjoy sundowners, canapés and the most jaw-dropping sunsets we’d ever seen. Each evening before dinner, we enjoyed the nightly briefing from Cruise Director Dai, which included photos from throughout the day, and was also accompanied by an explanation of the next day’s itinerary.
Sunset on the ride back to Aqua Blu
By the end of the trip, we’d made so many new friends from all over the world, and experienced moments that none of us would ever forget. We even had some fun with group awards and games, as well as a disco on our last night together onboard. After we learnt about the rich history to be discovered in the Spice Islands and the even more beautiful marine life in Raja Ampat, we were all keen to come back and experience the other enticing Aqua Blu itineraries that are on offer. For us, the farewells didn’t end with goodbyes, they ended with see on the next adventure!
We made so many new friends!
We can’t imagine anyone would ever step off the Aqua Blu and be nothing less than hugely impressed by the experience. From the vessel, service, food, personalisation, luxury & attention to detail…these things can only be matched by the incredible sights and delights of wonderful Indonesia.
What a trip!
Indonesia truly is a stunning part of the world to explore, and doing it from the ocean onboard a luxury yacht certainly gives you a vantage point like no other!
See more of Aqua Blu here