Sanctuary Ananda (day inspection)
On the day before Sanctuary Ananda set sail for Mandalay, Tour Mandalay got a chance to look inside its custom built, luxuriously appointed vessel. Having set sail in 2014, Santuary Ananda is still a relatively new to addition to Myanmar’s 5-star river cruise scene, but during this time, it has more than proven it is capable of rivaling the likes of Belmond’s Road to Mandalay and Orcaella – in fact, trying to find availability on one of their 2016-17 winter departures is already proving to be a bit of a challenge.
It is important however to bear in mind that the last 12 months has seen both The Strand Cruise and Heritage Line’s Anawrahta launch, which is a sure sign that five-star competition on Myanmar’s sacred river is fast increasing. For those finding it hard to make a decision – we don’t blame you! – we hope this brief review goes a little way in terms of helping you to decide. Due to it being a day inspection, it unfortunately won’t be possible for us to comment on the cruise experience itself, but we can certainly provide you with our honest take on the ship.
With only 21 spacious suites spread out over three decks, Sanctuary Ananda showcases original Burmese design and contemporary chic in an atmosphere of five-star comfort. In every suite, lush silks, polished teak and beautiful lacquerware celebrate Myanmar’s rich heritage of arts, crafts and textiles. Every suite also boasts its own balcony, ensuring that a sense of privacy and unobscured river views can be enjoyed at all times.
The suites are split into four categories; Suite (27m²), Deluxe Suite (27-28m²), Luxury Suites (31-33m²) and the Owner’s Suite (75m²).
As you can see from above, there is not much of a size difference between the Suite and Deluxe Suite categories. There are however only two Suite cabins, which can be found “snugly” located at the bow of the ship. We liked the unique design and homely feel of this cabin type and the designers have clearly done a great job in terms of maximising space. We would say that the balcony size is slightly smaller than the Deluxe Suite and it is not possible to fit a table and chairs.
Even though they are more or less the same size on paper, each of the 14 Deluxe Suites feel a lot more spacious, the balcony is wider and a table and chairs feature as standard. As one of the largest entry-level cabins on the river, we are certain that a stay here is not going to leave anyone feeling claustrophobic. It is important to note that the Deluxe Suites on the Mandalay Deck (middle deck) are slightly more expensive than the ones on the Bagan Deck (lower deck).
For those looking to treat themselves to more space and that extra sense of exclusivity, one of the four Luxury Suites should surely be considered. This cabin category is also located on the Bhamo Deck (upper deck), which commands a slightly more advantageous view. Along with the extra 3-5 metres of cabin space, guests will also enjoy a comfy indoor seating area and a sunbed (along with a table and chairs) on the balcony. Other perks include early morning coffee and tea and complimentary laundry service. We also felt the decoration felt a lot more “royal” in style with red and gold being the predominant choice of colour for the cabin’s interior decoration.
If second best is not going to cut it, then a cruise in the 75m² Owner’s Suite comes highly recommended. Apart from it being over two times the size, making it one of the largest suites on the Irrawaddy, guests will also benefit from a private guide, butler service, early morning tea and coffee, complimentary laundry and exclusive dining experience. Oh, and let us not forget the freestanding bathtub and his-and-hers sinks. The large semi-private balcony at the back is also worth a special mention – it hugs a corner of the ship’s stern providing plenty of space and a glorious panoramic of the passing scenery.
Now we are conscious that for most cruise aficionados, it is not just about locking yourself up in the comfort of a well-appointed cocoon, it is also about the featured excursions, dining, on-board entertainment, evening cocktails, facilities and the chance to converse with like-minded passengers as you steam along. Well, anyone that is familiar with the brand or has had the pleasure of boarding one of their cruises elsewhere in the world, will know that Sanctuary Retreats excels in each of these areas.
Take the head chef for example, who previously worked at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok (arguably one of the best hotels in the world). He has created a specially crafted menu that encompass dishes such as soft-shell crab, red curries, and mango and pomelo salad, while extensive Italian-cuisine experience means freshly made pasta, couldn’t-be-fresher salads and excellent steaks and burgers. Passengers will then get the opportunity to enjoy all of this (and more!) in either the Talifoo restaurant with its traditional inspired décor, or the Mindon alfresco dining area.
When not dining, passengers can enjoy a range of snacks and drinks in the Kansi panoramic lounge area. This also opens up to the sundeck with its plunge pool and outdoor seating area – ah, just imagine finishing the day with a cocktail here on a cool winter’s evening…
Another thing we particularly liked was the local artwork exhibited along the walls of each corridor, which we understand is stocked by/purchased from Pansodan Gallery, a treasure trove for art enthusiasts. The team at Sanctuary Ananda are also looking to source a local artist to speak on-board – if it goes ahead, this will be sure to stimulate plenty of intellectual interest. Other activities will include, local performances, Myanmar culture and history related lectures, cooking classes and longyi (a traditional garment worn by both men and women) and thanaka demonstrations.
Where there once was a small gym area, passengers will now find the Thambyadine Spa with its manicure area and two small, yet practical private treatment rooms. Signature treatments include the ‘Ananda body scrub’ and ‘Ananda facial’, all using L’Occitane products. Needless to say, this would be the perfect place to come and unwind after a full day’s worth of touring.
On the subject of touring, this is unfortunately not something Tour Mandalay will be able to provide an honest take on seeing as we have not tested The Sanctuary Ananda for ourselves. From the positive client feedback we have already received however, we can only assume that it will live up to the 5-star standard that the Sanctuary brand is renowned for.
At present, the Santuary Ananda offers a selection of itineraries from 3 to 11 nights in length. A brief description of what these include can be found below.
3 nights Bagan – Mandalay
4 nights Mandalay – Bagan
7 nights Bagan – Mandalay – Bagan
7 nights Mandalay – Bagan – Mandalay
10 nights Chindwin Mandalay – Paung Pyin – Bagan
11 nights Mandalay – Bhamo – Bagan
11 nights Mandalay – Yangon
In conclusion, Tour Mandalay are big fans of what the Sanctuary Ananda has to offer. It is certainly one of the most experienced luxury brands operating on the Irrawaddy and from the inspection, we got the impression that they have a talented crew to match. With continued competition from Belmond and both The Strand Cruise and Heritage Line’s Anawrahta looking to stamp their individual marks, Myanmar’s luxury river cruise scene will inevitably witness some exciting new developments over the next 12-24 months. It will not be smooth sailing for any operator, but it was clear to see that the management team on-board Sanctuary Ananda have some great ideas up their sleeves, ideas that will be sure to see them succeed long into the future.
If you are interested in booking onto one of Sanctuary Ananda’s itineraries, feel free to contact Tour Mandalay by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our specialists will be more than happy to advise.