Most of our onboard entertainment activities centered on what we'd done and upcoming plans. Occasionally, there was more traditional cruise-style fun; the chef gave us a hands-on demo on how to make Peruvian specialties, and the housekeeping crew showed us how to twist towels into shapes.
But the real education occurs off the ship. Thanks to the superb team of naturalists onboard, we rode around in La Estrella Amazonica's two river skiffs. These are long, narrow powerboats that literally can pull up to just about anywhere -- the jungle, a ranger station, our own ship -- and let you walk off onto dry land.
On our trip, Juanito ("Johnny") and Segundo, supervised by Cruise Guide Angel Cardenas, orchestrated our days. There's no set series of attractions; the team is agile in adapting to conditions, whether it's high-water or low-water season. You can expect some consistencies. There's a strong emphasis on bird-watching, and the list of possible species to sight in the region runs nearly a dozen pages in the handy guide provided by the cruise line. Also fun to spot: monkeys, frogs, lizards and, yes, snakes, though the scary anaconda did not show itself on our trip. A big hit were the pink and grey dolphins. A chance to fish for piranhas was another memorable experience.
One outing focuses on the Amazon jungle at night; passengers don't actually set foot on land but, via the skiffs, they get a chance to watch a gorgeous sunset while being served hot ginger tea and snacks. Once it gets dark, the intrepid boat drivers are able to maneuver the skiffs right up onto riverbanks so passengers can see nocturnal creatures like polka-dotted frogs, alligators and black caimans.
Back onboard, a cocktail hour, usually at 6:30 p.m., is the highlight of the evening; the bar offers a complimentary pisco sour (along with other varieties of this classic drink), Peruvian beer or wine, or soda. Most nights, the crew band plays a range of songs on regional instruments; these range from local folk classics to the Beatles.
One of the ship's nicest spots is its massive open-air deck, the focus of passenger gatherings, both informal and planned. It's also the location of La Estrella Amazonica's bar. Open to the elements on three sides but covered by an arching ceiling to protect from sunlight, the most coveted seats are the two facing wicker couches, with plump cushions, in one corner. But there are plenty of great places to curl up and read a book, sip a drink with fellow passengers or just gaze at the scenery. Mosquitoes are not a problem when the ship's moving, which it often was once we'd gotten back onboard.
On deck four, there's an open-air sun deck with cushioned wicker chaise lounges and comfortable chairs. It's a great spot for sunbathing and star-gazing.
A classroom is adjacent to the sun deck. It's equipped with Apple technology, a DVD player and a handful of paperbacks and games. Our sessions with naturalist guides on where we'd been and where we were going next were held there.
For those in search of solitude, there's a lovely hidden nook on deck two, on either side of the bridge, where there are wicker chairs and great forward-facing views. There, you can eavesdrop on the captain as he nimbly -- and, frankly, somewhat amazingly -- navigates the ship smoothly down a series of waterways with much flotsam and jetsam, from tree trunks to large islands of floating plants.
While some tours -- jungle hikes, kayaking expeditions -- are recreationally inclined, those who need more exercise can head to the ship's small gym. It's equipped with two spin cycles and two treadmills, and it features a big picture window with a view out onto the river.
On our cruise, during the American school season, there was a pair of fathers traveling with their grown-up sons. The cruise does attract families with kids. In summer, children from 7 years old are steady customers, and there are special activities for them. A handful of standard doubles are adjoining cabins with that in mind.