Visiting Bali is on most bucket lists, and for good reason! But there is so much more to Indonesia than this famous island. I choose Variety Cruises as my guide to exploring the East Indonesian Islands, an absolutely beautiful part of the world. Our sailing adventure aboard their yacht, M/S Panorama II, started off in Bali and then began island hopping to lesser known destinations such as Satona Island, Flores Island, Rinca Island and more.
For a little over a week, we enjoyed adventuring to volcanos, crystal-clear lakes, colorful coral reefs, waterfalls, and even seeing a Komodo dragon or two! Enjoy reading this comprehensive review of my experiences with Variety Cruises…
Why Choose Variety Cruises?
It is all about quality over quantity with Variety Cruises; they believe small is better! And after years of cruising, I do as well. There are very special places in the world you can only get to with a small ship, which is why their yachts are the way to go. You can discover private beaches, secluded bays, and marinas that large ships cannot access. This also means you are never waiting in huge lines for anything, on board or off.
Luckily, each of their small ships offer ocean view cabins. I also thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of diving right off the yacht into the ocean. Swimming platforms are set up at the bow of their vessels, where you can swim, snorkel, and kayak. Variety Cruises provide crew members with friendly and professional service. I was particularly blown away by the Indonesian hospitality on board our M/S Panorama II Ship. With a smaller amount of people on board, service is very personalized and genuine.
Onboard the M/S Panorama II
The M/S Panorama II is a classic design Mega Yacht that discovers the world by sea at 10 knots per hour, while offering 360-degree views of unobstructed ocean! Our floating home on board was the perfect size, holding 49 guests in 25 ocean view cabins. We enjoyed a room on the main deck, with twin beds.
All rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, mini fridge, safe, and individually controlled A/C which is very much appreciated in the middle of summer in Indonesia.
The public spaces that we enjoyed on board with likeminded travelers included a spacious lounge, dining area, sundeck, swimming platform, and an upper deck with an outdoor bar and lounge area. The entire ship was designed and handcrafted from inception to sailing by Variety’s experienced family of ship-builders, with a history spanning over 50 years.
The lounge provides ample space and is decorated in warm colors with wood paneling. I enjoyed using this area after excursions, as a place to relax and escape from the sun. In the evenings, we gathered here to order cocktails before dinner. This is also where the nightly briefings are held to inform us about the next day’s itinerary.
Most of our meals were in the outdoor bar and dining area located on the upper deck of the ship. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, and all meals come with wonderful ocean views! In the evenings, the upper deck dining area gets elegantly transformed with beautiful white tablecloths. A menu is provided to each guest where we can choose between several a la carte entrees. Variety Cruises have internationally acclaimed head chefs on board to design exquisite menus for their restaurants.
Every evening, the outdoor deck was where everyone wanted to congregate and enjoy the breathtaking sunsets. Our Cruise Director would entertain us by playing music which we throughly enjoyed and even danced to on the deck.
Other amenities that can be enjoyed on board include beach towels, snorkeling equipment, and kayaks. In the mini library, you’ll find books and board games, as well as wifi throughout the ship for a fee of $20 per 1GB.
The Perfect 8-Day Itinerary
Our 8-day adventure with Variety Cruises around the East Indonesian Islands began in Benoa, Bali. We set sail in the evening, heading towards Sumbawa, the largest island in West Nusa Tenggara with several offshore islands.
Our first stop was Kenawa Island! This tiny island is among a variety of very small, uninhabited islands located in the north part of Sumbawa. Kenawa is mostly dominated by grassland and trees; the scenery you see will be very stunning. Some of us decided to walk up the path to the top of the hill for the incredible views of the blue sea and surrounding islands.
We went swimming and snorkeling afterwards. The beach is very rocky, so I recommend wearing water shoes to make walking around easier and enjoyable. There are many huts that you can use to shelter from the sun and rain. However, since camping is allowed on this island, many tourists come here with the intention to camp and enjoy a night under a starry sky in the middle of the ocean.
We arrived in the morning at Satonda Island, giving us a nice full day here. This is another very uninhabited and lush island in East Indonesia. The island took its name from it dormant volcano and crater lake in the center. There’s a legend that says the crater became filled after a tsunami was caused by a nearby volcano explosion.
We went on a 45 minute walking tour up a small ridge that led us to the crater edge and a high lookout point on the island. I was able to play with my drone here and capture the beauty of this place! On our walk to the lake, we passed by “wishing trees” decorated with fishing stones, shells, and pieces of coral. Here you can make a wish and leave your shell or stone too.
Satonda Lake is salty with alkaline levels much higher than regular sea water. So after our hike up to the lookout, some of us went swimming in the lake and discovered that we could float due to the salt levels! At sunset, we started sailing overnight towards our next destination.
Flores Island is amongst the greenest in the archipelago, with an island population that is 85% Catholic. Our first stop was a local food market where we learned which fruits and vegetables are sold locally. We even got to taste a few of them.
After the market, we drove to Kampung Melo, a small Manggarai village where they have a distinctive culture and even their own language. I enjoyed learning about their daily life on the island, including their traditional houses, called Ruteng Pu’u.
We were treated to a wonderful dance performance by the villagers. The dance is called Caci and is a major element of the Manggaraian’s cultural identity and an important part of ceremonial life. Afterwards, we were served a local lunch by the villagers who displayed such kind hospitality.
Rinca Island & Komodo National Park
I was beyond excited to visit Rinca Island, a refuge to the world famous Komodo dragon. This giant lizard measures up to 11 feet in length and can weigh over 300 pounds!
Rinca is much more authentic than nearby Komodo Island, as the amount of Komodo dragon sightings are more frequent. Traveling in small groups with our guide and park ranger, we made our way through paths that lead through pockets of thorny vegetation and dry tropical grasslands. Along the way, we saw many Komodo dragons in their habitat and learned that they live on deer, wild pigs, and buffalo who share the island with them.
We spent about 2 hours walking along beautiful trails, and stopping at the island’s most favorable observation points in order to locate more Komodo dragons. With so many amazing sightings, it was such a memorable morning!
The real star of Padar Island is the Pink Beach. Yes, you read that correctly, an actual pink sand beach! After seeing photos of this place, it was so exciting to finally see it in person. This was by far the best beach on the trip, thanks to ultra soft sand and crystal clear water. We spent the afternoon relaxing, swimming, and snorkeling in this picture-perfect paradise.
The ship’s zodiac first dropped us off at Labuhan Haji village where we began the longest hike of the trip that required a good physical strength level. It’s a 2 hour hike in each direction to reach Mata Jitu Waterfall. Once we reached the stunning waterfall, we enjoyed a dip in the refreshing green pools. This waterfall is actually made up of 3 waterfall levels, the last being 7 meters deep. Guests are also offered a ride to and from the waterfall on a motorcycle, just keep in mind that the ride is quite bumpy on a dirt road.
If this hidden gem looks somewhat familiar, it’s probably because it became more well known after famous visits from Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, and other celebrities!
Our last full day was spent on beautiful Lombok Island. We dropped anchor in Pamenang Port and drove 1.5 hours to reach Senaru Village. Once we arrive we started our 20-minute walk down several steep steps to reach Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls, both located 600 meters above sea level beneath Mount Rinjani, a dormant volcano.
We climbed back up and had a wonderful buffet lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch, we visited a traditional Sasak village where mountain tribal life and traditions remain alive.
On our way back, we stopped at a local paddy field and watched how they picked and extracted the rice from the wheat by hand and with a machine. It was a fascinating process to observe. While back on board, our last evening ended with delicious cocktails and dinner with the captain!
My advice is to spend at least a few days visiting Bali before the cruise. As far as essential items to bring with you, I’d highly recommend a pair of good walking shoes and water shoes.
Traveling on a beautiful yacht with Variety Cruises is the perfect way to explore the uninhabited islands of East Indonesia. Thanks to their expert service and balanced itineraries, I felt so relaxed and taken care of. I walked away with priceless memories of this beautiful part of the world that will last me a lifetime!
Disclosure: I was a guest of Variety Cruises, but all opinions and views are my own.