Strand Cruise is a new venture from the owners of the legendary Strand Hotel in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the capital of Myanmar (Burma). It offers a reinvention of the wonderful style and unique personality of the Strand Hotel within a contemporary river cruise experience. It is not affiliated with any cruise consortia and is likely to be a one-off vessel. Three-night sailings from Mandalay to Bagan, as well as four-night itineraries between Bagan and Mandalay are scheduled throughout the season, which runs from July through April.
Purpose-built at the Thein Phyu Shipyard in Yangon, this shallow-draft vessel exudes a contemporary, elegant interior which is flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. A semi-circular teak staircase connects the passenger decks where the design palette is a fusion of Oriental influences with colonial accents. The cabins and suites overflow with luxurious appointments. While harking back to the days of the British Empire in its ambiance, the vessel has the latest technology such as individually controlled air conditioning and satellite Wi-Fi throughout the ship.
Intrepid travelers seeking to discover the wealth of historic and Buddhist attractions of Myanmar who don't want to compromise on style and luxury will love this new vessel, which visits the many tourist highlights that surround the mighty Ayeyarwady. The flexibility of the ground arrangements set this company apart with the tour manager happy to summon cars to visit alternative attractions from those scheduled on the itinerary. All excursions are fairly leisurely, taking account of the high temperatures and bottled water and cold towels are freely available. When returning from shore tours crew members take passengers' shoes and return them to their cabins or suites nicely cleaned within minutes.
The Champagne dinner provided on a sandbank in the middle of the Ayeyarwady is a great example of how the programme is more creative than those offered by the larger ships operating on this river.
Tourism to Myanmar is still in its infancy but is high on many people's bucket list. Ten years ago there were just a handful of ships operating on the river, now the number of international cruise companies building their own vessels or chartering others is burgeoning.
The management team from Strand Cruise and the Strand Hotel have been painstaking in training the Burmese crew who are charming and willing to please guests to their country. Attired in traditional Burmese dress, the crew are personable and often outnumber passengers. In the early months of operation, the ship has not been filled to capacity and the sense of space is overwhelming. Such is the spacious design this will not alter when the ship sails full. Attention to detail is being instilled in the crew and the direction of the French senior management is evident at every turn. Gallic touches such as Badoit sparkling water and Roger & Gallet amenities in the cabins and suites are all part of the aura of indulgence.
Strand Cruise might be a niche operation but it doesn't short-change on style and is a welcome addition to the top-of-the-range vessels now exploring the Ayeyarwady.
A multinational mix of Europeans, North Americans, Australians and Asian travelers. The excursions are suitable for most abilities although the searing heat is a consideration for the elderly. There are very few announcements made on the loud-speaker system onboard, but tours are in English as well as other languages depending on the passenger complement.
During the day, when Strand Cruise navigates the Ayeyarwady, passengers tend to be casually dressed in light cotton attire. For the excursions protection from the sun is paramount and large-brimmed hats and sun-block are essential. It is also advisable to wear shoes such as Crocs, sturdy flip-flops or sandals that can be easily removed when entering Buddhist temples (note: socks are not allowed). In the evening the dress code is "elegant casual" but most passengers tend to be extremely casual as the house-party ambiance dictates. However, passengers often buy Burmese longyis (a silk sarong-style skirt) or silk shirts and blouses during their excursions and wear them on the night of the Burmese dinner. If men wear shorts for the sandbank dinner a good covering of bug-spray is advisable.
Included in the fare are tea and coffee, soft drinks, water, local Dagon Beer, house wine (Burmese, French, Chilean or South African) during meals, and house cocktails in the evening (vintage wines and spirits are not included). All sightseeing excursions are included (optional excursions at additional cost are also available); as are English-speaking guides or alternative language guides (subject to availability); transportation from point of embarkation and disembarkation to airport is included, however international and domestic flights are not included, but the company will assist with domestic flight arrangements. There is complimentary Wi-Fi and international daily newspapers on digital tablets. Gratuities are additional and the suggested amount is $10 per person per day. The currency onboard is the U.S. dollar.