Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor
Luxury operator Belmond, which pioneered Burma river cruises long before the destination became the travel hot spot that it is today, has launched its second vessel.
Intimate Orcaella is the baby sister of Road to Mandalay, which started cruising the Irrawaddy River back in 1996. Built by local craftsmen in Yangon, and with stylish interiors by Francois Greck -- a French-born architect who now lives in Asia -- this elegant ship has all the hallmarks associated with the brand name.
There's a high crew-to-passenger ratio of 50 cruisers and 58 crew, excluding the local multi-lingual guides involved with Orcaella's seven- and 11-night itineraries along the Irrawaddy between Yangon and Bhamo.
Accommodation is in 25 generously proportioned staterooms with private bathrooms, of which 17 are suites and four are interconnecting. Measuring 515 square feet and 409 square feet respectively, the Cinthe and Eugenia suites are the two largest staterooms on the Upper Deck. They each have a double bed, which can be configured into twins on request, and they have full balconies on the bow of the ship. The 12 State Cabins, five on the Upper Deck and seven on the Main Deck, range from 258 to 344 square feet. Also on the main deck are two Junior Suites and nine Deluxe Cabins. The pair of 280-square-foot suites are similar to the State Cabins, with the layout providing more functional space and windows slightly tilted toward the front of the ship. The nine 172-square-foot Deluxe Cabins, all with twin beds, include the four cabins that can be linked for families.
Aside from the largest suites, all cabins have floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors with Juliet balconies, providing room to look out but not to sit. Other facilities include flat-screen TVs, DVD players, iPod docking stations and air-conditioning.
Meals are served in the main restaurant on the Upper Deck on an open seating basis, and lunch can be served alfresco on the Observation Deck, weather permitting. Afternoon tea is served in the Piano Bar, on the Upper Deck, or outside. Early-morning tea and coffee can be served in cabins on request, and complimentary tea, coffee and bottled water are available at all times.
On the Observation Deck, there's a fitness center, spa and splash pool. The ship also has a shop, hair salon and medical facility with an onboard doctor.
Belmond says Orcaella provides passengers with a "spirit of adventure and cultural curiosity," and the vessel embraces local culture, with furniture and works of art by Burmese craftsmen. The two largest suites are also named after Burmese traditions, symbols of Buddhism can be found throughout, and onboard activities include yoga and meditation sessions.
Cruises are available from January to April and July to December. Fares included all meals, excursions, transfers and domestic flights. International flights are not included.