There are two ships worth considering, through neither of them are “cruise” ships. Economy class fares offer a viable way of spanning some of the great distances involved if you are making some extinsive journeys through the archipago.
The first one is the KM Kerinci (pronounced kerinchee) which plies the route between Padang (west coast of Sumatera) to Jakarta and on to Ujung Pandang (Sulawesi). It sails from Padang every Monday evening at 10 p.m. and arrives in Tanjung Priok on Tuesday at 4 p.m. The boat “turns round” in Ujung Pandang leaving at 6 p.m. making the return trip to Jakarta on the same day. The 24 hours return journey gets you to Jakarta at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning. Sailing time for the final segment of the trip back to Padang is at 9 p.m. the same day and arriving in Padang on Monday at 6 a.m.
The second and truly mammoth route is the KM Kambuna which starts from Belawan (Medan) and then follows this itinerary: Tanjung Priok (Jakarta), Surabaya, Ujung Pandang, Balikpapan, Bitung (Manado, North Sulawesi), Balikpapan, Ujung Pandang, Surabaya, Tanjung Priok and Belawan. The whole round journey takes two weeks, though you should certainly building one or two segment into your own itinerary.
Another boat, KM Rinjani, goes all the way to Bau Bau (an island of south east Sulawesi) and on to Ambon and Sorong. Both the Kerinci and the Kambuna are operated by the national shipping company PELNI. They can be contacted in Jakarta PT PELNI, Jl Angkasa 18, Jakarta, Tel: 417569 or 415428.