Excerpts from 1,500-word article

NO FRILLS, NO HASTLE, THIS CRUISE IS ALL PLEASURE

Panama, Central America: When a certain southern gentleman wanted to get away from it all, he opted to stay on the Grande Caribe for several back-to-back cruises. By my second day and his third week on board I could see why. No telephones, no fax machines, no newspapers or radio talk shows chewing over murders and sex scandals. No decisions to make either, unless it's where to sit in the dining room or whether to wander ashore for a swim....

ACCL Ships are small, carrying no more than 100 passengers each. An extra-shallow draft allows them to get close to shore, and from there a bow ramp is lowered so that passengers can walk directly onto dry land. It's rather like having a motorhome parked beside the beach or at the end of a village's main street.

I love it. If I've finished with my camera, want a cold drink or have forgotten my sun hat, I can walk back to my cabin in a few minutes. No hanging around in the heat waiting for tenders to pick us up. No mile-long line-ups to get on and off the ship, and another for a taxi ride into town.

The unique design also provides extra storage space for leisure equipment. On this trip we have our own glass-bottomed boat in which to explore a magnificent coral reef. Also a Sunfish sailboat, snorkelling gear, water beds and other play things for the warm waters around Panama. On other routes the retractable pilot houses allow these ships under low bridges spanning inland waterways....

..........aimed at attracting passengers who are interested in the environment, nature, history and cultures of people in regions they visit. Consequently there are no casinos or lavish floor shows. For entertainment we have on-board lecturers.........

Two-thirds of our passengers have travelled with ACCL before. Those I spoke to said they liked the ease of walking ashore even where there is no dock, and the out-of-the-way stops made possible by the shallow draft. Also the informality. (Dressing for dinner or for the captain's party means a fresh pair of shorts or slacks.) And the price. Promoted as a "No Frills" cruise, it offers none of the usual luxuries provided on most small ships. Nor do we want them, because they are invariably reflected in the cruise cost. Staterooms are small but very functional, comfortably air-conditioned and have bathrooms ensuite. We were asked to bring our own beach towels - and booze. The BYOB policy works well here because before boarding we were taken to a supermarket where liquor cost $5 a bottle, wine around $3 and beer $l a can. Our purchases are stored in the lounge bar for self-service at any time. Mixes and bar snacks are provided. The only extras on this itinerary are an optional half-day trip into the Darien Jungle by cayuga (motorized canoe,) and on-board gratuities.