Star Breeze's "Classic Suite"

Star Breeze Stretched And Transformed

by Anne Kalosh.

Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze has just emerged from what was heralded as the most challenging cruise ship lengthening ever undertaken.

Besides being cut in half to gain a new midsection, the vessel built in 1989 as Seabourn Spirit also got new engines, public rooms, suites and vastly expanded open deck space.

RELATED: Windstar is Stretching Three Ships.  by Anne Kalosh.

Star Breeze has been transformed.

Star Breeze Stretched

Voila! The “new” Star Breeze “stretched” from 134 meters (440 feet) to 160 meters (525 feet). * Photo: Fincantieri

That turned out to be even more challenging than expected. Thirteen months ago at Fincantieri’s dry dock in Palermo, Sicily, the final welding cut severed the ship in two so a new 25.6-meter/84-foot midsection could be inserted. Before all the wires, pipes and cabling could be connected and the interior outfitting completed, asbestos was detected in machinery spaces. Work halted for its removal by a specialized asbestos abatement contractor.

before the Star Breeze was Stretched

Star Breeze was cut in half so a new midsection could be inserted. Here the ship is in the dry dock at Fincantieri’s Palermo yard. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Then came Italy’s shutdown for the COVID-19 pandemic. And, finally, Windstar decided to add new health safety features including HEPA filters and UV-C light to the ventilation system as part of its “Beyond Ordinary Care” program.

RELATED: Small-Ship Sector Still Active.  by Anne Kalosh.

At last, on Nov. 18, the ship was delivered to Windstar, and President Chris Prelog was all smiles as he raised a toast during a virtual tour and sail-away for media.

QuirkyCruise, which had been at the yard to witness the last welding cut and the midsection gliding into place, was thrilled to take part.

RELATED: Windstar & Other Updates.  by Anne Kalosh.

Sleek And Modern

“The lines of the ship have so improved. She looks so sleek now, so modern,” Prelog said as he proudly showed the first images.

Star Breeze was lengthened from 134 meters /440 feet to 160 meters/525 feet. Gross tonnage went from just under 10,000 to approximately 13,000, and passenger capacity from 212 to 312 with the addition of 50 suites.

This Star Plus Initiative added “amenities we know our guests want,” Prelog said, while the vessel is still “small enough to travel the narrow waterways and visit the small ports we’re known for.”

Thanks to the new engines, the ship is also faster, enabling more far-flung itineraries.

Star Breeze post stretch

With 50 suites added, Star Breeze can now carry 312 passengers, up from 212. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

“Dream Come True” For Grill Master Steven Raichlen

Two standout features are an alfresco barbecue spot by grilling guru Steven Raichlen and a Spanish small plates restaurant by Anthony Sasso, one of the youngest chefs to earn a Michelin star.

Both were on the Zoom hosted by Prelog and Raichlen called his 85-seat Star Grill “a dream come true,” while pointing out it’s a challenge to offer barbecue on a ship because “one has to be very careful about smoke and flame.”

He promised fare like brisket, Carolina pulled pork, Kansas City-style ribs, Thai chicken satay with peanut sauce, Mexican grilled corn and even double-smoked potato salad and smoked coleslaw.

“You name it, we grill it,” Raichlen said.

Windstar's Star Grill by Steven Raichlen

New outdoor dining at the Star Grill by Steven Raichlen. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Tapas With Whimsy

Sasso’s Cuadro 44 will feature tapas with whimsical elements, like mussels seasoned with scallion ash, tortilla española with potato chip gremolata, pork belly with romesco sauce, and cauliflower with spicy harissa. Desserts include churros dusted with hibiscus.

The venue seats just 38 — “perfect for me. I like those small settings,” Sasso said, adding there’s an open kitchen.

Windstar's Caudro 44 by Anthony Sasso

A corner of Caudro 44, the intimate tapas restaurant by Anthony Sasso. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Peter Tobler, director of hotel operations, said Windstar’s culinary offering is continually evolving, with a focus on global flavors that are bold and sophisticated.

Star Breeze’s main Amphora restaurant was relocated and enlarged and houses an impressive wine wall. It will serve authentic artisanal dishes from the destinations visited. The pool deck Veranda restaurant, for breakfast and lunch, has more outdoor and ocean-view seating and a live-action carving station.

Amphora restaurant on Star Breeze

Amphora, the main restaurant, has a wine wall — the glass area here waiting to be stocked with vintages from around the world. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

The space transforms at night into Candles, a by-reservation steak house under the stars with a new menu featuring a 40-ounce beef bone-in ribeye tomahawk steak and a 30-ounce bone-in porterhouse steak, both Linz Heritage Certified Black Angus.

Other ship changes include an enlarged spa and fitness center with sauna and steam rooms. The spa’s thermal lounge has heated ceramic chairs.

Star Breeze's new World Spa

The thermal lounge in Star Breeze’s new World Spa. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

The Great Outdoors

Steps from the spa is the expanded pool area with more room for sunbathing and relaxation. A larger pool with a waterfall feature and special lighting, along with a hot tub, form the centerpiece.

The new Star Grill is found on the deck above, shaded beneath a canvas roof opposite the Star Bar, making a “beautiful space to be outdoors,” in Prelog’s words.

The Windstar concept has always been “really outdoorsy,” he added, but now that’s enhanced by the additional outdoor dining.

At sail-away, when travelers line the rails after a day in port, Star Breeze will pipe out a new version of “Conquest of Paradise” by Vangelis, recorded by the Seattle Symphony.

New Suites

The 50 added suites include categories like the classic suite with bed near the window, a new configuration that Prelog said gives a greater sense of space.

Star Breeze's "Classic Suite"

The new “classic” suite positions the bed alongside the window. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

The new pair of two-bedroom owner’s suites can each expand into a three-bedroom, two-balcony suite thanks to connecting rooms.

owner's suite aboard new Star Breeze

There are two new owners suites. Each can be expanded from two bedrooms into a three-bedroom two-balcony suite thanks to connecting rooms. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Every suite on board has an all-new bathroom including dual vanities. Only a few have tubs; Prelog said Windstar travelers prefer a roomier shower stall.

Star Breeze Owner's suite bathroom

Owner’s suite bathroom aboard Star Breeze. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Faster, Cleaner, Smoother

The lengthening improved the hull efficiency and, with the new diesel engines that meet the highest nitrogen oxide emission standards, Star Breeze is faster, cleaner and quieter, with less vibration.

There’s a new elevator mid-ship, accessing all decks, and a comfortable tender loading area mid-ship and two new 90-passenger tenders. Staff and crew areas and accommodations were expanded and upgraded, as well.

Star Breeze gift shop

Here, Windstar’s gift shop aboard Star Breeze. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

First Cruises

The first sailing for the “stretched” Star Breeze is planned for March 27 in the Caribbean. The ship should then transit the Panama Canal and explore Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, followed by 10- and 11-day Alaska cruises.

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s framework for returning to passenger service states itineraries shouldn’t be longer than seven days. Prelog cautioned this means deployment may change.

The $250 million Star Plus Initiative spans three ships.

Next up, Star Legend (built in 1992 as Seabourn Legend) has already got its new midsection and has been floated out of the dry dock, while Star Pride (1988’s Seabourn Pride) is standing by to enter the dock in January.

RELATED:  The Star Legend in the Sea Cortez before her Stretch. by Elysa Leonard.

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Geoffrey Chaucer river cruise boat

Growing Interest in River Cruising.

by Anne Kalosh.

Ocean Cruisers Look to the Rivers

A study by Riviera River Cruises found 34 percent of past ocean cruisers are considering a river cruise instead next year. And, of those, 79 percent said they’re more likely to take a river cruise than an ocean cruise in 2021.

Surging interest in river cruising has also been reported by travel advisors and lines including AmaWaterways, American Queen Steamboat Co. and American Cruise Lines.

U.K.-based Riviera, which fields 12 vessels in Europe, conducted its study as part of a new “Less Is More” campaign to promote river cruising in 2021.

The line did not tell how many people it surveyed or its methodology.

“In the past, there’s been little crossover between ocean and river cruising,” according to Riviera’s Marilyn Conroy, executive vice president, sales and marketing North America. “Right now, however, we feel there’s an opportunity to showcase the benefits of river cruising to [the ocean cruise] audience, which previously may have discounted this form of travel.

“Our intent is to highlight that river cruising shares many of the aspects of cruise travel they love with additional benefits that address some of the concerns they may have about ocean cruising when ships begin to sail again,” Conroy said.

She called the rivers a “fantastic alternative.”

Geoffrey Chaucer river cruise boat

Geoffrey Chaucer is one of Rivera River Cruises’ all-suite vessels. * Photo: Riviera River Cruises

Addressing Ocean Cruisers’ Concerns

The Riviera study identified some concerns ocean cruisers may have, including the volume of passengers on board and getting stuck at sea. For example, it showed that for 84 percent, fewer fellow passengers was a key reason to prefer river cruising, while docking at a destination every day was an important consideration for more than 50 percent.

Ways that Riviera addresses these concerns include the fact that its vessels only carry between 121 and 169 passengers yet have roomy accommodations, many with balconies. Some vessels, including the new Geoffrey Chaucer, are all-suite.

River Cruising boat Geoffrey Chaucer

A deluxe balcony suite on Geoffrey Chaucer. * Photo: Riviera River Cruises

River cruises are in port every day and it takes only seconds to go ashore. Often the docks are just steps from the main sights.

Riviera offers 20 itineraries on 10 rivers and waterways, including dedicated departures for solo travelers with no single supplement.

Scenic Savings

Two of the biggest sale days of the year in the United States — Black Friday and Cyber Monday — take on even greater significance as so many travelers look to 2021 to get out into the world again. Scenic is stepping up by adding a new offer on top of current promotions. Bookings from the U.S. made between Nov. 25 and Dec. 6 for any 2021 or 2022 European river cruise (except Portugal) will receive an additional $500 savings per stateroom/suite.

This may be combined with most current Scenic offers including free premium economy flights for sailings of 11 or more days, free economy flights with eight- to 10-day itineraries and business class air for only $1,995. Paying in full within 14 days of booking reduces the fare by $500 and the new “Book with Confidence” program provides additional flexibility and peace of mind with a free Deposit Protection Plan (value $125) and deposits reduced by 50 percent.

2021 features some of Scenic’s most popular sailings — “Rhine Highlights” between Amsterdam and Zurich and “Gems of the Danube,” starring Budapest and Nuremberg.

Culinary Cruises

2022 leads off with two new culinary itineraries, “Tastes of Southern France” on the Rhône and “Flavors of Bordeaux” on the Garonne. These culinary cruises include an on-board dinner prepared by Michelin star chef Didier Goiffon and a cooking class at three-star Michelin chef Georges Blanc’s restaurant.

River cruising in Southern Franc

Southern France. * Photo: Scenic

Travelers can learn family secrets of regional recipes with Scenic’s new “Ancestry of the Kitchen” program. This includes a series of authentic cooking classes held in the homes of locals, including baking Dutch apple pie in Hoorn and Bulgarian banica (cheese pie) in Vidin and traditional bread-making in Portugal.

Mekong Offer — Expiring Soon!

Scenic’s sister company, Emerald Waterways, has big savings for its 2021-2022 Mekong River program on the line’s newest Star-Ship, Emerald Harmony.

But hurry! This offer is good on bookings made by Nov. 20. U.S. travelers booking any 2021-2022 Mekong cruise and tour itinerary of 13 days or longer will get their choice of $2,000 savings per couple or free, round-trip air to Asia. Additionally, they will receive a bonus $200 on-board credit, which can be used for spa and salon services, to purchase a drinks package or for special DiscoverMORE excursions.

Additionally, travelers paying in full within 14 days will receive an early payment savings of $400 per person. All bookings include a free Deposit Protection Plan (value $125).

Emerald Harmony, which completed its first season before the pandemic halted travel in early 2020, is not just the newest and most intimate ship in Emerald Waterways’ fleet, it’s also the greenest, built to the highest level of European emissions standards and eliminating single-use plastics.

Emerald Harmony interior

Emerald Harmony’s Horizon Bar and Lounge. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

The vessel offers four itineraries of eight to 21 days, with the longer programs adding land tours to iconic locations in Cambodia and Vietnam such as the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, the bustling capital city of Hanoi and the breathtaking Halong Bay.

Those looking to further explore Asia can book a four-day land extension to the ancient city of Luang Prabang in Laos or a three-day extension to remote Sa Pa, nestled in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains of northwestern Vietnam.

RELATED: Cruising the Mekong River with Scenic.  by Heidi Sarna

AQSC’s Special Edition Sailings

2021 theme cruises at American Queen Steamboat Co. feature special entertainment, exclusive events and opportunities that travelers would not experience on any other sailing. They range from a bourbon-themed cruise through the Bluegrass State to a journey delving into Civil War history to music-focused programs.

“American Music Festival” sailings offer a concert by country music singer-songwriter Lee Greenwood and several other special guests. “Big Band” sailings depart from New Orleans and Memphis, while a “Music of the ’50s and ’60s” cruise from Louisville to Memphis highlights rock ‘n’ roll.

Among the culinary and cocktail-themed sailings are the “Bourbon – An American Spirit” and “Cajun Creole Culinary Experience.” The “American Culinary Experience” offers cruisers aboard the American Duchess and the new American Countess access to signature dishes from local dining venues and special presentations by experts and innovators.

“Top Chef” alumni and James Beard-nominated chef Kevin Gillespie will join several “American Culinary Experience” cruises on American Duchess to conduct cooking demonstrations, host Q&A sessions, sign cookbooks provided compliments of AQSC and create signature dishes for the dinner menu.

American Duchess river boat

Top Chef alumni Kevin Gillespie will join several American Culinary Experience cruises on American Duchess. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

The line’s special events sailings include the Kentucky Derby and “American River Golf Classic” with the chance to play four prestigious courses along the Lower Mississippi. Other cruises are built around holidays such as July Fourth, Thanksgiving, “Creole Christmas,” “Country Christmas” and New Year’s.

Travelers can help AQSC support the American Heart Association’s “Life Is Why We Give” campaign on a Memphis to New Orleans cruise aboard American Duchess. A “Breast Cancer Awareness” sailing on American Countess will benefit Susan G. Komen.

Windstar Pushes Back Restart

Windstar Cruises canceled departures further out, citing rising COVID-19 outbreaks around the world. After previously canceling through 2020, the line also dropped sailings in January and February, and into March and April, depending on the itinerary.

The first yacht now planned to sail will be 148-passenger Wind Spirit on March 25 in Tahiti.

Other starting dates are March 27 for Star Breeze in the Caribbean, April 7 for Star Legend in the Mediterranean, April 13 for Wind Star in the Mediterranean, April 24 for Wind Surf in the Mediterranean and July 6 for Star Pride in Northern Europe.

Wind Spirit in Tahiti

Windstar now expects its first sailing to be March 25 in Tahiti. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

RELATED: Windstar’s Ship Stretching Program.  by Anne Kalosh.

Hapag-Lloyd Halts

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is sitting out the month of November following Germany’s decision to restrict travel as part of wide-ranging efforts to address a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Seeing Double In Lisbon

Mystic Cruises’ second expedition ship, the 200-passenger World Voyager, was delivered by WestSea Viana do Castelo shipyard in Portugal. It follows 2019’s World Explorer, and the twin vessels rendezvoused at Lisbon on Nov. 4.

Next in the series is 2021’s World Navigator, which will sail for Mystic’s new U.S. brand, Atlas Ocean Voyages.

World Voyager in Lisbon

World Voyager approaches Lisbon. * Photo: Mystic Cruises

Sylvia Earle On Schedule

Aurora Expeditions’ second purpose-built ship, the 132-passenger Sylvia Earle, is on schedule for delivery in October 2021.

Like 2019’s Greg Mortimer, Sylvia Earle sports the patented Ulstein X-BOW for better seakeeping and reduced fuel consumption.

The new ship is named for the noted marine biologist, oceanographer and explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle.

“Her” ship is under construction at China Merchants Heavy Industry as part of the Infinity series commissioned Miami-based SunStone Ships, which charters its vessels to a variety of operators.

Sylvia Earle expedition ship

Sylvia Earle will sport Aurora Expeditions’ signature teal color. * Rendering: Aurora Expeditions

Crystal’s Unusual Corinth-Suez Cruise

The 62-passenger yacht Crystal Esprit is charting an unusual itinerary combining transits of the Corinth and Suez canals. The nine-night cruise embarks April 1 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and sails to Aqaba, Jordan.

There will be opportunities to visit UNESCO-listed sites including Dubrovnik’s Walled City, St. Catherine’s Monastery from the port of Sharm El-Sheik, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings from Safaga, Egypt, and the Rose City of Petra from Aqaba (during an optional post-cruise program).

With Crystal’s best available suite program, Crystal Esprit’s new itinerary offers an additional $125 “As You Wish” shipboard credit, as well as reduced solo fares of 150 percent for bookings made by Jan. 6.

Fares for “Iconic Passages: Corinth & Suez” begin at $4,499 per person.

Travelers can take advantage of Crystal Confidence 2.0 and the Easy Book program which, together, give a no-money-down deposit window until Jan. 5, reduced deposits, waived administration fees and relaxed final payment schedules on select sailings through June 2021.

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Gene Sloan TPG article about his Caribbean cruise aboard SeaDream I

COVID Cuts Short First Caribbean Cruise Since Shutdown.

by Anne Kalosh.

NOV 17 UPDATE: SeaDream Yacht Club ended up canceling sailings for the remainder of 2020 after COVID-19 cases climbed to nine, including two crew. 

The first Caribbean cruise since the pandemic shutdown in March ended abruptly with COVID-19 cases.

Seven passengers among the 53 aboard SeaDream I’s Nov. 7 voyage from Barbados had tested positive as of Nov. 13. Everyone else, including the 66 crew, was negative.

After a traveler who didn’t feel well a few days into the voyage tested positive, everyone was confined to their rooms and the yacht turned back to Bridgetown. Subsequent testing found four other people in that traveler’s family group as well as a married couple had also contracted the virus.

SeaDream I in Barbados for a Caribbean Cruise

SeaDream I alongside at Bridgetown, Barbados. * Photo: @SeaDreamYC

So Much For Small-Ship Hopes

It was sad news all around, including for SeaDream Yacht Club and small-ship fans who had hoped COVID would be less of a risk in a vessel carrying fewer people.

The 112-passenger SeaDream I went out at less than half capacity. And SeaDream — which was the first line to restart international cruises last June and had sailed its twin yachts between Norway and Denmark all summer without incident — had taken even more precautions for the Caribbean.

RELATED: SeaDream Embarks on 21 Norway-Denmark voyages June 20 as Planned.  by Anne Kalosh.

Sea Dream 1 embarked on a Caribbean cruise last week

Sad news for SeaDream and travelers who hoped COVID would be less of a threat on a small ship. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

The company scrapped its original U.S. Virgin Islands program in favor of a new round-trip Barbados itinerary featuring less-visited places in Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Shore tours were designed to operate in a “bubble,” not visiting populated places or interacting with locals.

In line with Barbados regulations, SeaDream had required a negative PCR laboratory-processed test within three days of travel and retested everyone at the pier with an Abbot “ID Now” fast PCR test prior to embarkation. Passengers were to be tested again four days into the cruise. Luggage, hand-carry items and shoes were sanitized before boarding. There were daily temperature checks, and reminders about social distancing.

Also, SeaDream I is the first cruise ship to employ a $100,000 Altapure AP-4 device for hospital-grade disinfection of air and surfaces. (This works one room at a time and supplements daily sanitization.)

Altapure's AP-4

The AP-4. * Photo: Altapure

Mask Fuss

Masks, though, were not initially mandated. SeaDream hadn’t required masks in Europe, either.

In September, when the line held a webinar to discuss its Caribbean plans, Sudesh Kishore, senior vice president of hotel operations, said:

“We do not want people to be wearing masks. That’s why you get tested before. We want you to enjoy the SeaDream experience.”

When a passenger on the webinar questioned that, Executive Vice President Andreas Brynestad said SeaDream would listen to guest feedback so the mask policy may be subject to change. The yacht would have masks available, he added.

QuirkyCruise contributor Gene Sloan of The Points Guy, who was traveling on the aborted SeaDream I cruise, reported that crew weren’t wearing masks when he embarked, nor had a single one of the 53 passengers chosen to do so. But two nights in, things changed. Travelers were told to mask up while moving around the ship, with crew wearing them at all times.

According to Sloan, that made many passengers angry, and one person even blew up at him, suggesting the line had changed its policy due to his presence on board. “A SeaDream representative told me that was not the case,” Sloan wrote.

He went on:

“Quite a few passengers … said they wouldn’t have taken the trip if they had known a mask-wearing requirement was coming.”

Related: QC Contributor Gene Sloan was aboard the cruise and wrote about it for ThePointsGuy, where he is a senior reporter.

Gene Sloan TPG article about his Caribbean cruise aboard SeaDream I

A screen grab from Gene’s first SeaDream report for TPG, before the COVID cases were disclosed.


Subsequently, Sloan reported that one of the people with coronavirus was taken to a shoreside medical facility for “observation;” the others were showing only “light symptoms.”

On Nov. 13, he said the captain had informed them that Barbados authorities would allow passengers who’d repeatedly tested negative in recent days to fly home.

Related: Gene Sloan’s TPG story on passengers being allowed to leave the quarantined ship soon.

Earlier, SeaDream I’s Nov. 14 cruise had been canceled. SeaDream Yacht Club has not responded to several sets of emailed questions.

The incident played out in national media, with Sloan appearing as a guest on several news shows.

Gene's interview with Shepard Smith of @CNBC.

A Twitter screen grab of Gene’s interview with Shepard Smith of @CNBC.

As with the mask discussion, people are taking sides in social media, some blaming SeaDream for “hurting the entire industry” and causing a setback just as U.S.-based lines are working toward complying with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s complex framework for the conditional resumption of cruising.

Others argue there’s a distinction between a yacht and a cruise ship.

“Opportunity To Learn”

When asked about the matter during a webinar for Signature Travel Network, Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, did not pile on SeaDream. Instead, he made the point that COVID can’t be eliminated in society; the objective is to reduce the risk of getting it on a ship to less than the risk of being on main street at home.

Fain said the experience from months of cruises in Europe by SeaDream and other lines shows it is possible to contain coronavirus at sea.

“So I would look at the few instances we’ve had of cases as success stories. We are able to deal with these things, isolated cases, in an isolated way. That’s the objective.”

He went on to call the SeaDream situation an opportunity to learn “and make us so much better as an industry.

” … The coincidence of it being the first Caribbean cruise and the coincidence of having press on board notwithstanding, isolated incidences which are handled well are proof that the system works — not that there’s a problem,” Fain concluded.

A Fading Story?

Writing in Cruise Week, a publication for travel advisors, Mike Driscoll said: “Already the news of SeaDream I is fading in the media spotlight. While never the top story, it did make a solid appearance across all news media when the first positive test came out.”

He noted that coronavirus is so ever-present right now that “COVID problems among a handful of people on a cruise out of Barbados is likely to be just a flicker in the minds of media-saturated Americans … Its presence is muted by other developments. This is not March.”

That said, Driscoll added: “A sailing carrying American passengers out of Barbados in November, given the high number of coronavirus cases currently in the U.S., is simply not the same as a sailing in August on board a ship out of Norway carrying mainly Norwegian and Danish passengers. Those countries at that time had next-to-zero coronavirus cases, and there was never an issue of flying passengers to and from other countries.”

Not requiring masks is different from what the mainstream cruise industry has been doing and plans to do when ships resume sailing from the U.S.

Driscoll said that SeaDream not following science and bowing to the wishes of its customers to shun masks has “perhaps affected the industry and perhaps infected passengers.”

Congressional Notice

U.S. lawmakers are paying attention.

Two members of Congress asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reinstate the no-sail order for cruise ships and reverse course on efforts to resume cruise operations.

Rep. Doris Matsui of California and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, both Democrats, cited the SeaDream I matter in a letter to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.

US Congress

Citing the SeaDream incident, two members of Congress are now calling for the U.S. to reverse course on restarting cruises. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

“We feel strongly that you should reverse course on the recent decision … to take a phased approach to restarting cruise line operations in the United States,” Matsui and Blumenthal wrote. “Instead, we implore you to extend the prior no-sail order until a time when the health and safety of passengers and crew can be assured.”

The letter noted SeaDream passengers and staff underwent “rigorous testing” prior to embarking and the company “took additional steps to increase safety such as social distancing, mask requirements and strict hygiene protocols.

“Despite these efforts and good intentions, the virus was still able to infect multiple people … Unfortunately, this troubling development is not surprising and reaffirms the need to exercise extreme caution before sending passengers and crew back out to sea on cruises.”

Skyrocketing Cases Heighten Risk

Matsui and Blumenthal emphasized the risks are especially high given current skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, writing: “[I]t is unconscionable for the CDC to move forward on a plan to resume operations given the ongoing risks. While we appreciate the difficult economic situation cruise line operators face and the desire of many cruising enthusiasts to restore a sense of normalcy, the CDC must always put health and safety first to prevent further spread of this deadly virus and save lives.”

SeaDream I at sea

SeaDream I’s first Caribbean cruise racked up seven COVID cases among 53 passengers. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

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Alaska Marine Highway

Alaska Marine Highway’s Wintry Northbound Passage
Jan 4-11, 1980.

by Ted Scull

Alongside Pier 48 on Seattle’s waterfront, the blue and white ferry liner Matanuska was quietly resting between voyages. There was a light, cold drizzle falling over the city. Awaiting the signal to board, the foot passengers were huddled in one of two temporary waiting rooms, while the vehicle passengers sat snugly in their cars, campervans and pick-ups.

January seemed an odd time of the year to think about taking a seven-day, six-night voyage 2,460 miles up the Inside Passage to Skagway and back. “There won’t be many tourists on this trip,” said the warmly wrapped reservations clerk, who was adjusting the height of the boarding ramp.

The Marine Highway is a Lifeline

The Alaska Marine Highway operates nine passenger ferries, all named after glaciers, over several different routes to complement the state’s underdeveloped coastal road system. On the weekly Seattle service — increasing to two sailings a week from May to September — the 408-foot Matanuska calls at seven Panhandle ports.

Alaska Marine Highway

An earlier brochure touting an adventure by the Marine Highway to SE Alaska.

Five of them — Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau and Sitka — have no road access to the outside world. At the northern end of the route, the port of Haines connects to the Alaskan Highway via a 150-mile gravel road through Canada, and Skagway has a newly constructed road and an old narrow-gauge railway leading to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.

Ever since 1963, when the State of Alaska’s Department of Transportation began operating its first ships, the service has developed into a new way home for many Alaskans, a cheap means to get to Southeast Alaska for newcomers, and a moderately-priced (about $50-60 a day including passage and a cabin) alternative to expensive cruise ships for visitors wanting to see some of the world’s most beautiful and unspoiled maritime and mountain scenery.

Alaska Marine Highway

North to Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

RELATED: Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship, an Overview. by Ted Scull.

The Fleet

Unlike luxury cruise ships, running only during the crowded summer season, the Alaskan ferries allow stopovers and a chance to meet travelers for whom Alaska is a destination, not a series of short port calls.

Three of the ferries were in winter layup and undergoing repairs on the far side of Pier 48. The flagship Columbia appeared particularly smart with the twinkling lights of the Big Dipper shining brightly against the dark-blue background of the ship’s tall funnel.

Alaska Marine Highway

Columbia is the Marine Highway’s flagship. * Photo: Alaska Maine Highway

All Marine Highway ships have representations of the state flag on their stacks. Next to the Columbia lay the Malaspina, slightly smaller, and a sister to the Matanuska. Both “M” ships were lengthened by 56 feet in the 1970s, adding much-needed space to the car deck and substantially increasing passenger and cabin capacity.

The third laid-up vessel was the Tustumena, a seagoing boat that runs on the choppy, Southcentral route to the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island, and less frequently out along the Aleutian Islands chain, a potentially tempestuous passage with legendary mountainous seas.

Boarding the Matanuska

Once on board the Matanuska, a tour of the facilities created a most favorable impression. On the boat deck, the observation lounge with huge wraparound windows afforded views in three directions. Amidships, a dimly lit lounge bar was furnished with plush red chairs, and at the stern, a cheerful cafeteria had windows on three sides.

Alaska Marine Highway

The forward observation lounge is the most popular indoor space. * Photo: Ted Scull

The sleeping accommodation (which must be paid for in addition to the fare) includes 112 two-, three- and four-berth inside and outside cabins with and without bathrooms. The size, arrangement, type and number vary with each ship. Cost is based on size and number of berths — not location.

Since the accommodation is designed primarily for Alaskans (who make two- and three-night journeys), the cabins tend to be functional rather than well appointed. Mine was a relatively spacious double, arranged for single occupancy, with a shower and toilet attached. Passengers make their own beds or not, and if you take the roundtrip voyage you may request a change of linens.

The highest deck, Bridge Deck, had a reclining-seat lounge for those without cabins and deck space for the backpacking and camping set. According to the lounge attendant it is wall-to-wall bodies throughout the summer months.  Aft, on the same deck, a heated solarium allows passengers to view the spectacular mountain scenery in comfort. At night, the hale and hearty sleep here.

Alaska Marine Highway

Backpackers flock to the solarium, heated in winter and protected from the wind. * Photo: Ted Scull

Down on the car deck, the crewmembers were congratulating themselves on having boarded all the paying vehicles. The last few cars to make it were so closely packed together that the occupants had to climb across the bumpers with their suitcases to reach the stairway up to the passenger accommodation. They appeared not to mind the inconvenience and were happy to be aboard at all.

The deck hand told me that 19 ‘free pass’ cars had to be left behind. With that, the hydraulic doors slammed shut, and the vibrations under foot indicated that the Matanuska was away promptly at 8:00PM on Voyage 1172, north to Alaska.

Alaska Marine Highway

Truck drivers are happy to be on the ferry rather than the long drive, especially in winter. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Voyage Begins

By the next morning the dank, grey weather, so common in the Northwest, had given way to a crystal-clear day with the temperature rising into the 30s (Fahrenheit). The ship was threading her way through the fast-running Seymour Narrows, at times a less-than-quarter-mile-wide passage between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia Coast.

Precipitation during the night had left a blanket of snow on the mountaintops. On the lower slopes, the snowfall was lighter, until at the water’s edge it appeared as a fresh dusting. The waterway was quite busy with tugs pulling loaded and unloaded container barges.

Alaska Marine Highway

First and last day to read out on deck, northbound along the British Columbia coast. * Photo: unknown passenger

Take a Seat Please

An announcement from the purser broke the silence, “May I have your attention please? For the next 40 miles and two and a half hours, the Matanuska will experience some rough sailing conditions as the ship traverses Queen Charlotte Sound. It will not be dangerous, but the captain advises all passengers and their children to remain seated during the crossing. I repeat”….

The Matanuska was not built to seagoing specifications because of its overhanging car deck, and she did dance a bit and took a few waves over the bow. The seawater froze on the metal decks, making a walk outside a slippery business and not recommended.

By sundown, at 4:30pm, the ship was once again in the sheltered Inside Passage, and except for a 10-mile stretch called the Dixon Entrance, would remain protected from the Pacific Ocean swells for the rest of the northbound voyage.


At dinner, some of the passengers in the food service line were grumbling about the dining room going cafeteria-style, so I asked the white-smocked cashier about this.

Alaska Marine Highway

Cashier predicted table service would be reinstated after Ketchikan. * Photo: Ted Scull

“Tomorrow after Ketchikan,” she explained, “there will be fewer people on board, and the new crew will probably offer table service for breakfast and dinner. Unfortunately, the ships went over to the cafeteria style service to cut labor costs, and now with reduced help and a different serving set-up, the ships cannot offer formal dining when there are more than 250 passengers on board.”

I looked forward to the new arrangement, paid for my salmon steak and took my tray to an empty window table.

Food is an extra charge and three meals a day averaged about $12. The menus offered about half a dozen main courses, including fresh seafood, at lunch and dinner.

Arriving Ketchikan, Wrangell & Petersburg

Ketchikan, the first call since Seattle, came early in the afternoon of the second full day. The small city of 12,000 inhabitants stretched for several miles along the waterfront at the base of a formidable mountain chain.

It felt good to be able to take a brisk walk to the boat basin where most of the large salmon fishing fleet was in for the winter. The town center was further along and had a fair collection of turn-of-the-century wooden buildings.

Of the 326 passengers on board, 152 disembarked here, to be replaced by 87 new faces. The atmosphere was now more relaxed and table service did come to the cafeteria as promised.

The Wrangell and Petersburg calls came during the night, and by the following morning, Monday, the Matanuska was approaching Juneau, the state capital.

Juneau, the State Capital

A richly colorful dawn began at 9:00AM and continued with slowly fading hues for more than an hour. The dock, adjacent to the center, allowed several hours to visit the state museum, take a stroll along the main street, visit the Red Dog Saloon (I had a cousin who once played the piano there), and climb the wooden staircases to the upper residential town for a long-range view of the surrounding mountains and waterways and directly down to the city’s waterfront.

Alaska Marine Highway

Dawn breaks late during Alaska’s winter. * Photo: Ted Scull

Juneau is far and away the most isolated capital amongst the 50 states, walled in by surrounding mountains, with no road access to the outside world, and none planned.

Later in the day, Jim Driscoll, the Matanuska’s chief purser, shared with me the state’s attitude toward the Marine Highway. “The representatives in the interior of the state, whose constituents do not depend very heavily on the Marine Highway, would like to see the service go away as it costs millions to subsidize every year. It’s not fair because they have their state-funded highways and down here we are without roads. While most consider the operation a necessary evil, and one which will never disappear, it should be run as cheaply as possible.

“The people in the Southeast who use it regularly want a quality service and that means things like waiter service in the dining room. This winter you have half the fleet laid up in Seattle and our best ship, the Columbia, is broken down. The Taku is still running out of Prince Rupert when she should be in drydock being given a complete rebuilding job like this one had two years ago. This is a fine ship now, but I don’t see how the Taku can make it through the summer when we need everything that floats in the timetables. There are plumbing leaks and peeling paint”.

Scenic Passage & Storm Warning

North of Juneau, the passage along the Lynn Canal, a natural channel, brought fine panoramas of the Mendenhall, Davidson, and Rainbow glaciers, all fed by huge ice fields up in the mountains.

Alaska Marine Highway

The Marine Highway Matanuska is named after a glacier located just outside of Juneau. * Photo: Ted Scull

Just before the Haines arrival late that same afternoon, Mike Crosby, the senior deputy purser, came on the intercom with a bulletin, “Canadian Customs advises all travelers that blizzard conditions now exist on the Haines Highway. Travelers should not to attempt to drive the road tonight. The border station is hereby closed until conditions improve and until further notice.”

The passengers preparing to leave the ship here had already gathered in the forward lounge to form a convoy. They all firmly agreed to stick together until they had all passed through the worst sections.

Skagway, End of the Line & Turnaround Time

Darkness had fallen by mid-afternoon when the almost empty Matanuska reached Skagway, the turnaround point. The winds coming down from the Coast Mountains made the walk along the deserted main street slippery and tough going.

The false-fronted Gold Rush-era buildings were either boarded up for the winter or closed for the night. The substantial-looking Golden North Hotel, where I once spent a night in a lovely brass bed, stood shuttered and empty. It was not a night to spend more than a half hour on the icy streets of Skagway.

Alaska Marine Highway

Baby, it’s cold outside. * Photo: unknown passenger

Skagway, in 1900, boasted nearly 30,000 inhabitants. The discovery of gold in the Klondike Region of the Yukon in 1898 brought tens of thousands of prospectors here by sea from Canada and the United States. A narrow-gauge railway was built to carry the gold seekers and their supplies over the mountains to connect with the Yukon River steamers.

In the winter, the White Pass and Yukon Route continued to be the only land route out of town, until the road was completed in 1978, for Skagway’s 800 inhabitants. I took that train in summer 1971, a nearly all-day trip to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory’s capital, positioned astride the Alaska Highway.

After climbing the spectacular White Pass and winding between lakes, the ride was monotonously scrub pine and bush country.

In January, Skagway feels like a dead-end place, while in summertime, it takes on the carnival appearance of a human zoo when the luxury cruise ships disgorge hundreds of passengers daily, all milling about until it is time to get back on the ship.

Returning South

During the night, the Matanuska touched at Juneau’s Auke Bay, a landing 14 miles north of the city, before working her way south and west to Sitka just in from the Pacific Ocean. The fourth day’s run through the twisting Peril Strait brought the ship within 100 feet of land on numerous occasions.

For the entire morning, there was not one dwelling seen along the evergreen shores of Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest with 16 million woodland acres.

Alaska Marine Highway

Making the rounds en route to Alaska. Photo: Ted Scull.

Wildlife Galore

White-headed bald eagles, our national bird, soared overhead, and an amateur bird watcher pointed out the young eagles, brown in color until they reach three or four years of age. Alaska has five times as many of these huge birds as the combined Lower 48.

A school of porpoises followed the ship, a deer came down to the shore for a look, and two humpback whales leapt completely out of the water at close range. Nobody got a picture, it all happened too quickly.

Sitka by School Bus

At Sitka, a local school bus took passengers into the town center, which had grown a lot since I first visited in 1959. Then, there was no Alaska Marine Highway, and I flew from Juneau in an ex-World War II PBY Catalina seaplane, occupying a seat in the former gun blister. We landed in the harbor and drove up a ramp to dry land.

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral, a product of 19th-century Russian occupation, had been rebuilt after a disastrous fire gutted the structure in January 1966. During our visit it was closed, a pity as once inside there is a fine collection of icons and religious paintings.

Alaska Marine Highway

St, Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church was rebuilt after a serious fire. * Photo: Ted Scull

In a peaceful forest setting at the edge of town rests one of the largest and best-preserved collections of totems in the world, with a story attached to every one. They sit in solitary splendour amongst stately evergreens.

Striking snow-covered Mt. Edgecumbe rises across the water to the west of Sitka, looking very much akin to Japan’s Mt. Fuji, and the story that I heard back in 1959 still circulates 21 years later. The residents rose one morning to seeing smoke pouring upward from the cone. Rumors soon spread that the long dormant volcano might erupt, so some adventurous souls sailed over there to see what’s what.

Alaska Marine Highway

Mt. Edgecumbe looks quite peaceful here. * Photo: Ted Scull

They discovered to their relief that some pranksters had piled up dozens of old automobile tires in the crater, poured petrol over them and set them alight. The town folks were mighty relieved to learn the cause of all that smoke.

Driving Snow

With the homeward rush now over, the Matanuska was lightly loaded on her southbound run via Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan to Seattle. The truckers depicted in a photo earlier in the text were fun to spend time with, and did they have stories of driving the Alaska Highway in winter. Often worse in some ways was the dust in summer.

I then shared my June and August northbound and southbound drives along the highway with a friend when I was 18. When a truck approached sending clouds of dust and flying stones, I simply pulled as far off the road as I could to let it pass. If I came up behind one, it was impossible to overtake as one could not see ahead. We stopped, took a break, ate something or wandered into the bush.

We learned our lesson near the start of our drive to Alaska when we had our windshield smashed in northern Ontario. We kicked the out remnants and then had to drive almost five hundred miles to find a garage that could install a new one. The truckers smiled, and one said something like, “Thems the breaks.”

Alaska Marine Highway

The Matanuska is lightly loaded for the southbound passage to the Lower 48. * Photo: Ted Scull

The remnants of a blizzard that paralyzed Seattle enshrouded the ship as she ploughed through the grey waters along the British Columbia coast. A lookout stood watch huddled against the driving snow at the bow, and the ship’s foghorn sounded regularly at two-minute intervals.

Alaska Marine Highway

The bow lookout has an unenviable job peering through the snow. * Photo: Ted Scull

Despite the adverse conditions, and the only really inclement weather since leaving the port of origin, the Matanuska arrived back at Pier 48 right on time on Friday at 6:30AM. The vessel would spend the day resting her engines and preparing for another sailing that evening — Voyage 1173 North to Alaska.

Home by Rail

I spent the night in Seattle and the next day boarded the Empire Builder for the two-day journey to Chicago, stayed a night there and continued on the Cardinal to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ohio. A couple of days later I rejoined the Cardinal overnight for Washington, D.C., connecting to the Yankee Clipper for New York.

Thus ends the original article.

RELATED: Alaska, Finding by Route by Car, Ferry, Train & Small Ship.  by Ted Scull.

Alaska Marine Highwy

Returning home via train, and here stepping off at a station stop on the Cardinal route.

Alaska Marine Highway Update 2020

Two of the original trio, Malaspina and Matanuska, completed in 1963, are still in service well over a half-century later, as is the Tustumena of 1964 and Columbia of 1976. Sadly, the Taku was sold to ship breakers; video here.

In November 2020, the Kennicott, built in 1998, presently holds down the Bellingham, Washington to Southeast Alaska route, with sailings every two weeks, terminating at Juneau’s Auk Bay with a connection to Haines and Skagway provided by the day vessel Le Conte.

Alaska Marine Highway

The day ferry Le Conte has been making connections with the Matanuska for decades. * Photo: Ted Scull

Early in 2021, the Matanuska will resume regular service and sail the full route to Skagway. However, funding has been further cut, largely for the same reasons as described earlier in the text. When planning a trip, carefully study the sailings schedules.

The Success of the Original Article

The January 1980 Alaska Marine Highway round-trip voyage would first appear in The Washington Post where travel editor Morris Rosenberg liked the full account enough that instead of editing it down to fit the space normally available, he chose to run over two Sundays, something he had never done before.

Additional shortened versions appeared in a dozen newspaper travel sections, and in the author’s three-volume ocean liner trilogy, specifically Ocean Liner Sunset, Overview Press Limited (UK) in 2017.

The point-to-point ocean liners, apart from Cunard’s Queen Mary 2’s transatlantic crossings, may be long gone but travel from A to B may still be enjoyed from Washington State to a half-dozen largely isolated communities along the Alaska Panhandle. Pick a port or two, plan a stopover, using the day ferry links, before heading back south.

And in Norway, a similar service known as the Hurtigruten plies a long stretch of that country’s west coast from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes above the Arctic Circle, a town situated close to the Finnish and Russia borders. During the one-week transit, the coastal ships call at 35 ports northbound and the same ports southbound, but you visit them at different times of the day and night.

For more info: Alaska Marine Highway  &  Norway’s Hurtigruten

QuirkyCruise Review



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Lindblad Antarctic cruise last year

Antarctica Cruises Are On Ice

By Anne Kalosh.

One of the last Antarctica hopefuls, Lindblad Expeditions, has just canceled the season — making travel to the White Continent another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Antarctica cruises typically get under way in October/November and stretch into March.

Ponant may be the sole holdout, and the company’s website still lists early 2021 departures.

But it will be challenging to make these happen.

Most other Antarctica operators bowed out earlier — Hurtigruten, Poseidon Expeditions, Quark, Aurora Expeditions, Silversea Cruises, to name a few.

Lindblad Antarctic cruise last year

Would be White Continent explorers will likely have to wait a year. Here Lindblad Expeditions in a past season. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Borders Closed

Nearly all Antarctica expeditions operate from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina, with a smaller number from Punta Arenas, Chile. A few sail from Argentina’s Puerto Madryn or Buenos Aires, and a handful of special, longer adventures use New Zealand as a turnaround point.

Most Antarctica travelers are sourced from remote markets like the United States, China, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Currently, Argentina only allows visitors from nearby Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, while Chile and New Zealand are closed to non-residents.

Lindblad had crafted a “bubble” program with charter air and planned to send its newest ship, National Geographic Endurance, delivered in March but yet to operate because of the pandemic.

Lindblad Expeditions.

Antarctica cruises canceled including Nat Geo Endurances

National Geographic Endurance is charting Antarctica in 2021-22 after having to miss the current season. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

‘Major Hurdles’

However, the obstacles were too great, CEO Sven Lindblad said.

Until recently, his company had been working on a “special dispensation” with South American authorities, based on the strength of Lindblad’s health protocols. Then COVID cases spiked in the U.S., the line’s main market.

It didn’t make economic sense for Lindblad to forge ahead with the possibility of the virus getting further out of hand in the coming months.

Not long before, Hurtigruten had thrown in the towel.

“International travel restrictions and port closures are changing rapidly, often from day to day. There is currently a ban of cruise ship operations in many waters, and most flights to our departure ports in Argentina and Chile are canceled,” Hurtigruten Group CEO Daniel Skjeldam explained.

“The situation is still fluid, and developments are unpredictable,” he continued. “There are still major hurdles to overcome. As of now, they do not show much promise to be resolved in time to explore Antarctica under our strict health and safety standards in the coming months.”

Looking to the 2021/22 Season

Many lines are now offering incentives for travelers to book the 2021/22 season.

Poseidon Expeditions‘ first voyage, “Antarctic Awakening,” begins Oct. 20, 2021, with a hotel overnight in Buenos Aires before the 114-passenger Sea Spirit sails the following day. Early-booking savings are currently available for this 22-night program, which visits the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands before ending at Ushuaia.

With the savings, rates for the U.S. market start at $11,696 per person, instead of $12,995.

Poseidon Expeditions.

Sea Spirit

Early-booking savings are available for Sea Spirit’s Antarctic Awakening trip in October 2021. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

New Ships & Solar Eclipse

Newcomer Atlas Ocean Voyages plots 14 journeys for World Navigator’s inaugural 2021/22 Antarctica season. Most span nine nights while two are 12-nighters, all round-trip Ushuaia. The Nov. 28, 2021, expedition will feature solar eclipse viewing on Dec. 4. Fares for that special voyage start at $15,299, including airfare.

Current Atlas promotions include a 50 percent reduced booking deposit, a $200 “use as you choose” credit and airfare upgrades to business class for booking a suite. (Atlas bundles flights into its pricing.)

Atlas Ocean Voyages.

Atlas Ocean Voyages World Navigator

World Navigator will be among the ships on hand for the Dec. 4 solar eclipse. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Polar specialist Quark is scheduled to send its new ship, Ultramarine, next season, among several other vessels. The 199-passenger Ultramarine will debut in the White Continent with an “Antarctic Explorer” itinerary of 10 nights, embarking at Buenos Aires. A current offer gives savings of up to 28 percent, with fares starting at $10,795 per person.

Among its other ships, Quark’s Ocean Diamond will sail a solar eclipse cruise, part of a 20-day program round-trip Ushuaia that begins with a hotel overnight on Nov. 25, 2021. With a current offer of up to 10 percent savings, fares for this start at $15,295.

Sixteen years ago, a group of Quark passengers witnessed a solar eclipse in Antarctica and the company is bringing back its special guest expert from the 2003 voyage, retired NASA scientist Fred Espenak.

Quark Expeditions.

Quark Expeditions' Ultramarine will be new for Antarctica next year

Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine will be among the new ships in Antarctica. * Rendering: Quark Expeditions

Oceanwide Expeditions‘ new ship Janssonius is scheduled to debut with a 20-night voyage to South Georgia and the Falkland/Malvinas islands, sailing from Puerto Madryn on Nov. 5, 2021, and ending at Ushuaia. The 174-passenger vessel is the sister of 2019’s Hondius. The trip is priced starting at $12,600 per person.

The 19-night Antarctica cruise on Janssonius that follows, Nov. 25, will feature the solar eclipse. Fares for this round-trip Ushuaia expedition start at $16,400.

Oceanwide Expeditions.

Oceanwide Expeditions' Janssonius

Yet another new ship for Antarctica — Oceanwide Expeditions’ Janssonius. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Crystal Expedition Cruises‘ new 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor is set to begin its Antarctica season on Nov. 18, 2021, starting with a hotel overnight in Buenos Aires before travelers fly to Ushuaia to embark. The 11-night trip is priced starting at $13,449 per person, including the hotel and round-trip Buenos Aires-Ushuaia air.

Crystal Expedition Cruises.

Crystal Endeavor will launch next year

Crystal Endeavor is scheduled for its first Antarctica odyssey in November 2021. * Rendering: Crystal Expedition Cruises

German Spirit

Among the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises vessels down south will be the new Hanseatic Spirit, designated for German-speakers. With capacity for 230 passengers, the ship will carry no more than 199 in Antarctica. Hanseatic Spirit’s 20-night 2021 Christmas cruise departs Punta Arenas on Dec. 16 and ends at Ushuaia. Fares start at €16,141 per person, including a charter flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires.

Don’t speak German? Hanseatic Spirit’s sisters Hanseatic Nature and Hanseatic Inspiration will also be in Antarctica with on-board programming in both English and German.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Enjoy a raft of videos from Ernst Galutschek’s that highlight an expedition cruise he took in Dec 2019 aboard the new Hanseatic Nature to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica.

Hanseatic Spirit glass balcony

A spine-tingling view from Hanseatic Spirit’s glass balcony. * Photo: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Seabourn‘s first purpose-built expedition ship, Seabourn Venture, had been planned to sail the Antarctic but instead will debut with a new winter Norway program, as Quirky Cruise reported earlier. So Seabourn Quest, which has operated past Antarctica seasons, will take on the 2021/22 program.

Seabourn Expeditions.

These are just some of the ships charting the White Continent a year from now.

And Lindblad’s National Geographic Endurance? It’s among them, along with new 126-passenger sister, National Geographic Resolution, and the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer.

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Sea Spirit returns to Greeland

Swan Hellenic New Build & Other Updates

By Anne Kalosh.

The Swan Hellenic brand is going to get a bit bigger with its third expedition cruise new build just ordered at Helsinki Shipyard.

“We see the increase in demand for experiences that are truly out of the ordinary and are confident in the bounce back of our industry,” Swan Hellenic CEO Andrea Zito said.

The third Vega-class ship will measure 12,000 gross tons, slightly larger than the first two 10,500-gross-ton vessels, with a length of 125 meters/410 feet, up from 115 meters/377 feet. It will carry 192 passengers in 96 cabins and suites, most with large balconies, compared to the 152-passenger occupancy of the first two ships. The crew number of 140 is up from 120.

Delivery is scheduled for late 2022.

third Swan Hellenic New Build

Swan Hellenic’s third ship will be slightly larger than its SH Minerva. * Rendering: Swan Hellenic

Hybrid Propulsion

The five-star vessel will be built to Polar Class 6 standard. Vega 3 will have a 4.6-megawatt diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system with selective catalytic reduction and a 3-megawatt battery package.

Battery packs on cruise ships are unusual but increasing as the technology improves and lines look to cut harmful exhaust emissions. For expedition operators, the ability to sail for small stints on silent battery power presents a clear advantage when exploring sensitive ecosystems without disturbing wildlife.

The keel-laying ceremony for the first Swan Hellenic ship — to be named SH Minerva — took place on schedule in September despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SH Minerva is on track for delivery in November 2021, when it will debut in Antarctica, with Vega 2 to come in April 2022.

National Geographic Resolution Advances

Lindblad Expeditions’ second polar new build, National Geographic Resolution, marked a construction milestone as the hull arrived at Ulstein Shipyard in Ulsteinvik, Norway.

It came under tow from CRIST in Gydnia, Poland, where the structural steelwork and machinery installation were completed. The ship has its main engines, bow thrusters, stabilizers and major heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. At Ulstein the electrical and hotel outfitting will be undertaken.

National Geographic Resolution arrives under tow

National Geographic Resolution arrives under tow from Poland to Norway’s Ulstein shipyard. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

National Geographic Resolution is the sister of the 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance, completed by Ulstein in March but yet to enter service due to the pandemic. The two vessels are now side by side at the shipyard.

National Geographic Resolution is positioned just behind National Geographic Endurance

National Geographic Resolution is positioned just behind National Geographic Endurance, which was delivered earlier this year. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

National Geographic Resolution is also being built to Polar Class 5 standard and it features Ustein’s patented X-BOW, a design that promises better seakeeping for reduced air emissions and a smoother ride.

A 2021 delivery is planned.

R.I.P. Capt. Alexey Nazarov

One of Oceanwide Expeditions’ longest serving captains, Alexey Nazarov, died unexpectedly near his home in Russia. He was 42.

“Through his impeccable sense of cooperation and teamwork, he helped deliver the best possible voyages for our passengers,” Oceanwide Expeditions said in a tribute. His knowledge of the polar regions, experience with ice navigation and ship handling set a high example for everyone around him.

Nazarov was a member of the Oceanwide family for more than 20 years. He was a third officer aboard the Russian vessels the Netherlands-based company first chartered before welcoming Plancius into the fleet. In 2010 he became chief officer of that ship, promoted to captain in 2012, and in 2019 he commanded Hondius on its first Arctic voyage.

Oceanwide Expeditions captain Alexey Nazarovs dies

Oceanwide Expeditions saluted Capt. Alexey Nazarov’s passion for polar navigation. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Oceanwide Expeditions’ tribute continued: “Alexey was most in his element in the polar regions, and he was most at home in cold climates. He was not one for hot weather or fanfare. Rather than partake in ship launch ceremonies, he preferred to sail through the ice. Rather than appear in photographs, he preferred to stand on the bridge. Luckily for us, the ice and the bridge were where he shined.”

A modern explorer, Nazarov enjoyed surveying new areas to create further possibilities for the Oceanwide fleet. His continuous input was invaluable to itinerary development. He also was active on shore, helping improve safety management systems and procedures thanks to his vast operational expertise.

“Alexey’s passing is a shocking blow, especially during these difficult times, and it will forever leave an empty spot in our family,” Oceanwide said. “Though our voyages will continue, our fleet will always feel his absence. He will be missed not only by our guides, crews and office staff but also by the global community of polar explorers among whom he was so well known and respected.”

Poseidon’s Return to West Greenland, 2022/23 Antarctica Program

Poseidon Expeditions announced its 2022 Arctic and 2022/23 Antarctica cruise seasons three months earlier than usual.

One highlight is the company’s return to West Greenland for the first time in four years with the 114-passenger Sea Spirit.

“Our travel partners and customers are comfortable looking ahead, well beyond the COVID-related interruption that’s been a blow to the cruise industry and to the travelers that support it. And this is why we are opening reservations for a new season much earlier than we have in the past. People are ready to solidify their plans for 2022 and beyond,” according to Nikolay Saveliev, president of Poseidon.

Poseidon last visited West Greenland in early summer 2018.

Sea Spirit returns to Greeland

Sea Spirit will return to West Greenland for the first time in four years. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

The region combines Viking history, Inuit culture and community life, fjordland scenery and massive icebergs. Voyages include a “Land of the Vikings” itinerary, 12 days from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and an “Icebergs, Whales & Inuit Culture” adventure, eight days, round-trip from Kangerlussuaq.

In midsummer, Sea Spirit will explore Svalbard and the Franz Josef Land Archipelago before returning to East Greenland in September for a pair of 11-day “Arctic Sights and Northern Lights” cruises that focus on the aurora borealis.

“For the eighth season in a row, the Sea Spirit will visit Franz Josef Land with three expeditions at the height of the Arctic summer, directly from Svalbard,” Saveliev said. “Poseidon remains the only polar cruise operator able to do this, which eliminates several days at sea and provides for eight full days exploring this archipelago of 191 unique islands in the Russian High Arctic. It’s a region rich in wildlife, unique geology and glaciers, and legendary tales from the heroic era of polar exploration. There’s no place in the Arctic quite like it.”


Sea Spirit follows the sun south in October to begin its 2022/23 Antarctica season. This includes four Antarctic Peninsula voyages of 11 to 12 days, three longer (21 to 23 days) itineraries that include South Georgia and the Falkland Islands and the 15-day “Crossing 66 Degrees South Latitude” expedition.

Reservations made for any 2022 Arctic and 2022/23 Antarctica cruise by June 30, 2021, will get early booking savings of 10 percent to 15 percent, while reservations before the end of 2020 add a bonus $250 per person on-board credit.

Sea Spirit in Antarctica in 2022:23

Poseidon Expeditions’ Sea Spirit will operate a varied Antarctica program in 2022:23. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Raising Polar Field Staff Standards

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) and the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) teamed to develop standards for field staff in polar regions.

Expedition cruising gives the opportunity to get close to nature, observe wildlife and gain cultural insight by visiting local communities.

In order to carry out these activities in a responsible and sustainable manner, guides and expedition leaders are trained in safety, environmental considerations, cultural sensitivity and community engagement.

Expedition field staff

Expedition field staff are on the frontline where important decisions are made in a wide range of areas. * Photo: Ole Magnus Rapp

According to Frigg Jørgensen, executive director of AECO, the new standards will help ensure a high level of competency among polar field staff.

“Field staff are some of the most important decision-makers in our industry. They are on the frontline of operations where important decisions are made in a wide range of areas, and they deal directly with guests,” she said. They are prepared to deal with both day-to-day tasks and unplanned situations that may occur on an expedition.

Windstar Cruises Beefs Up Loyalty Program

Windstar Cruises introduced a new point and tier system to its Yacht Club loyalty program.

The new program features larger discounts on select cruises and a new system that rewards travelers commensurate with the points they earn, progressing from a One Star to a Four Star tier of benefits.

The Yacht Club has always provided special benefits and access including a 5 percent discount on all voyages and an extra 5 percent welcome home discount on cruises booked within 60 days of disembarking from a qualifying cruise. Members also get a $100 shipboard credit referral gift for themselves and each referred “first to brand” friend.

Further perks include early notification about new ports and itineraries, advance notice of sales, exclusive Yacht Club member sales, select Yacht Club member voyages and additional discounts at sister Xanterra Travel Collection brands (such as a $200 resort credit at The Lodge at Sea Island), and insider experiences with shipboard officers.

Windstar's Yacht Club loyalty program

Windstar Cruises added more perks to its Yacht Club loyalty program.

A Point For Every Day Cruised

Going forward, Yacht Club members will earn a point per cruise day (more for higher category suites). They will also get 20 percent savings on select Yacht Club member voyages (not combinable with other offers).

Rewards include on-board credits to use for most everything, from spa services to shore excursions; discounts on shore excursions, Wi-Fi, laundry service, logo merchandise and two beverage packages; and interactions with the officers.

Windstar is introducing the new program with a Yacht Club member appreciation week and sale the week of Oct. 26, including attractive pricing plus double alumni savings on all 2021 and 2022 sailings. Club members can save on the line’s Top 10 cruises, which usually sell out, and get early access to new itineraries.

Windstar's loyalty program

The more days they sail, the more loyalty points Windstar cruisers earn. Here, Wind Surf. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Free Pre-Cruise Tour In First Atlas Summer

New brand Atlas Ocean Voyages rolled out a limited-time offer for a free pre-cruise tour with every new booking for World Navigator’s summer 2021 inaugural-season voyages.

The one- to four-night immersive land tours go with Holy Land, Black and Mediterranean seas and South America cruises. Examples include the vibrant Ukrainian capital city of Kiev, antiquities in the Jordanian desert, Greece’s rugged Peloponnese region, some of Tuscany’s best vineyards, Lisbon’s thriving urban culture and Manaus in the middle of the Amazon rain forest.

World Navigator

For a limited time, travelers can get a free pre-cruise tour for booking a summer 2021 voyage aboard the new World Navigator. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Additionally, travelers who book an Atlas Max Shore sailing will get both the free pre-cruise tour and the included Max Shore overland adventure. Max Shore voyages are select, consecutive itineraries that include a complimentary two- to five-night, mid-voyage overland tour.

World Navigator will sail seven- to 24-night cruises in its inaugural summer. Twelve complimentary pre-cruise tours are spread across 10 departures in the Holy Land, Black and Mediterranean seas and South America. Some departures offer two pre-cruise tour options, while those from Piraeus (Athens), Civitavecchia (Rome) and Lisbon offer three options.

Uniworld Comes Clean

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises contracted with Danish company ACT.Global to use its CleanCoat solution across all owned vessels.

Uniworld said it is the first river cruise company to adopt the ACT CleanCoat solution to render surfaces self-disinfecting after one application. (In the ocean segment, Lindblad Expeditions already uses the product.)

Uniworld river cruise ACT CleanCoat

Uniworld will use the ACT CleanCoat solution to render surfaces self-disinfecting across its river fleet. Here, Beatrice. * Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

According to Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge, the vessels will be sprayed with the antimicrobial coating that is odorless and nontoxic to kill bacteria and viruses including corona viruses.

“This is another example of the way we are demonstrating tremendous care for our guests and our crew. Their wellbeing is our everything; nothing takes a higher priority,” Bettridge said. She called CleanCoat an “incredible product that is absolutely safe, meets our strict sustainability standards and is effective. For [travel] advisors who want to be certain that everything that can be done is being done to ensure the wellbeing of their clients, this is it.”

ACT CleanCoat is applied annually to render surfaces self-disinfecting while also purifying the air of microbes such as bacteria, viruses, mold spores and common pollutants like volatile organic compounds.

It works with ACT ECA Water, which replaces traditional daily cleaning detergents and provides the best conditions for ACT CleanCoat to maximize its disinfecting effect, while itself acting as a hospital grade disinfectant for regular use. ACT ECA (electro-chemically activated) Water is a salt-based, more sustainable alternative to conventional cleaning products, does not require protective equipment to use and leaves no toxic residues.

ACT CleanCoat builds on Uniworld’s enhanced health and safety protocols.

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Small-Ship Cruises Restart including Coral Discoverer

Small-Ship Cruises Restart Down Under

By Anne Kalosh.

Two small ships are venturing out in Australia and New Zealand.

Coral Expeditions resumed weeklong Great Barrier Reef cruises from Cairns, Australia. This first service since the COVID-19 lockdown came after months of preparations, including the development of SailSAFE protocols in conjunction with health emergency specialist Respond Global.

Coral Expeditions' SailSAFE protocols

Coral Expeditions’ SailSAFE protocols include these categories.

Coral Expeditions’ Australian-flag status, small Australian passenger count and an Australian crew were critical to getting the green light, Seatrade Cruise News reports.

“We hope that our successful return to operations gives confidence to travelers and authorities that small-ship expedition cruising with a local operator is a logical and prudent point of a restart for the marine expedition industry,” said Mark Fifield, group general manager, Coral Expeditions.

Small-Ship Cruises Restart including Coral Discoverer

Coral Discoverer on the Great Barrier Reef. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Kiwi Cruising for Kiwis

Meanwhile, New Zealand cruises are getting going in a similar small-ship, domestic fashion. The family-run, New Zealand-owned Heritage Expeditions has been authorized to sail its 50-passenger Spirit of Enderby, carrying only Kiwis for now.

The first voyage is planned to embark at the port of Bluff in southern New Zealand on Nov. 24 and will visit Stewart Island and explore Fiordland, according to Seatrade Cruise News.

Small Ship cruising restarting down under includes Spirit of Enderby by Heritage Expeditions

The 50-passenger Spirit of Enderby. * Photo: Heritage Expeditions

AmaWaterways Suspends Balance of 2020 Cruises

AmaWaterways suspended its remaining 2020 river cruise season, including all regularly scheduled departures in Europe, Asia and Africa. This suspension does not apply to the Rhine charter program on AmaKristina that has been operating since July, carrying mostly Germans.

AmaKristina is still operating for Germans

AmaKristina was the only AmaWaterways vessel that operated through the summer, on the Rhine. Next year, it’s redeploying to the Rhône. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Impacted travelers will receive a 115 percent future cruise credit that can be used through 2022.

AmaWaterways President and Co-Founder Rudi Schreiner characterized the situation in Europe as “a little chaotic,” with COVID-19 cases “increasing heavily” and countries adopting a patchwork of travel regulations. Cases were up in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, and Hungary is closed — allowing river vessels to transit but not to disembark, Schreiner said. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague all had new restrictions.

Strong 2021 bookings

In 2021, AmaWaterways will introduce two new vessels to the Rhine and five new itineraries and land programs throughout Europe. After an absence of some years, the line returns to Egypt with a new Nile boat, AmaDahlia.

France is in demand so AmaKristina will shift to the Rhône, joining AmaCello on the Saône as AmaDante moves to the Seine.

Booking trends are strong for 2021, starting in the summer, and Christmas markets cruises are especially popular, according to Schreiner. Also in demand: Portugal’s Douro River and Ama’s new Egypt program.

No Christmas markets cruises for AmaWaterways

No Christmas markets cruises for AmaWaterways this year, but bookings are strong for Christmas 2021. Here, Cologne, Germany. * Photo: AwaWaterways

Seabourn Venture’s Winter Norway Debut

Seabourn’s first purpose-built expedition ship, Seabourn Venture, is scheduled to debut in December 2021 on an unusual winter Norway program.

The ship will sail a series of 10- to 14-day voyages through April 2022, giving travelers the opportunity to explore the snow-draped landscape, learn about Viking history and culture and search for the northern lights.

Included and optional expedition activities include skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and dog and reindeer sledding. There will be dedicated excursions in search of the northern lights, including overnight camping at optimal viewing locations.

All sailings will offer a complimentary Seabourn Signature Evening Event: a concert in the Northern Lights Cathedral at Alta.

Seabourn Venture delayed

The 264-pax Seabourn Venture is Seabourn’s first purpose-built expedition ship. * Rendering: Seabourn

The 264-passenger Seabourn Venture will carry two six-seat custom submarines, expedition kayaks and 24 Zodiacs. All travelers will receive custom-designed gear by Norwegian outdoor apparel company Helly Hansen and a waterproof WaterShield backpack.

The inaugural 12-day voyage from Greenwich, England, to Tromsø, Norway, on Dec. 11, 2021, is sold out.

Following that, on Dec. 23, is a 14-day holiday sailing from Tromsø to Copenhagen, Denmark.

A series of 12-day voyages between Tromsø and Copenhagen will call at destinations like the Art Nouveau town of Ålesund, the fishing village of Svolvær in the towering Lofoten Islands and Narvik, with its War Museum and Sami reindeer herder culture. Alta is a prime place to view the northern lights, and Honningsvåg serves as the gateway to the North Cape.

The season ends with a 10-day Norwegian spring cruise round-trip Tromsø on April 24.

Seabourn Venture in Norway

Seabourn Venture’s winter Norway program affords opportunities to see the northern lights, * Photo: Alex Conu:Visit Norway

Star Clipper to Leave Asia in 2022

Star Clippers’ namesake vessel, Star Clipper, will return to the Mediterranean for the 2022 season, joining Royal Clipper and Star Flyer. This will mark the first time since 2016 that all three tall ships sail together in the Mediterranean.

Star Clipper, currently based in Southeast Asia, will complete the 2021/22 season in Thailand before heading out.

James Bond Island Thailand

James Bond Island Thailand. * Photo: by Heidi Sarna

En route back to Europe, it will depart Safaga, Egypt, in April 2022, sailing though the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean.

Once there, Star Clipper will offer a variety of itineraries from May through October, including “Yachtman’s Paradise,” a seven-night sailing between Istanbul and Piraeus (Athens) along with round-trips from Civitavecchia (Rome) and Cannes, France.

Star Clippers tall ships

After its 2021:22 season in Thailand, Star Clipper will redeploy to the Mediterranean. * Photo: Star Clippers

RELATED: This Cruise Rocks, Star Clippers in Thailand.  by Heidi Sarna

Caribbean Sale

Before then, Star Clippers’ 2021/22 Caribbean season will consist of 32 weeklong sailings from Barbados and St. Maarten on Royal Clipper and Star Flyer.

Star Clippers in the Caribbean

Sailing the Caribbean with Star Clippers. * Photo: Star Clippers

Rates for the U.S. market start at $1,310 per person, single occupancy, and Americans who book by Oct. 31 this year will get a one-cabin upgrade and prepaid gratuities.

Star Clippers charts its routes to sail under wind power as much as possible — up to 80 percent of the time in the Caribbean.

Star Clippers tall ships

Star Clippers vessels provide an authentic sailing adventure. * Photo: Star Clippers

The 170-passenger Star Clipper and Star Flyer are traditional clipper ships with modern amenities, and the 227-passenger Royal Clipper holds the Guinness World Record as the largest and only five-masted, full-rigged sailing ship in service today.

Travelers interested in learning their way around a tall ship can assist the crew with hoisting and setting sail, bracing, folding and knot tying. They may also climb the mast to the crow’s nest, some 100 feet above the water, for a spine-tingling view.

All three vessels have expansive teak decks, swimming pools, informal dining, piano lounges and convivial open-deck tropical bars. Water sports activities abound.

star clippers water sports marina

Plenty of fun from Royal Clipper’s water sports platform. * Photo: Star Clippers

American Melody Emerges

American Melody, the fourth new vessel in American Cruise Lines’ modern riverboat series, is progressing at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland.

The forward section emerged from the hull fabrication building at the yard and was moved atop a heavy-lift system to the launch ways where it will be joined to the aft section and launched into the Wicomico River.

American Cruise Lines said American Melody is on schedule to start Mississippi River service next year.

Just two months ago, the company took delivery of modern riverboat American Jazz, also for the Mississippi. It’s positioned in New Orleans, ready to begin sailing when public health officials give the OK.

American Melody

American Melody noses out of the fabrication hall. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

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Kerala backwaters cruise

Kerala Backwaters Cruise on the Vaikundam

By Heidi Sarna.

India is a vast country with a diverse geography. There are soaring snow-capped mountains, dry dusty deserts, tropical jungles and thousands of miles of coastline.

Many first timers to India do the Golden Triangle circuit in the north, visiting the historic and teeming cities of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, and the holy ghats of Varanasi.

For repeat visitors to India who want to explore a more remote part of the country, the long thin state of Kerala in southern India, with its 400 miles of shoreline along the Arabian Sea, is a great option.

india map

Kerala is in southern India. * Map:

Kerala is known for its backwaters, a network of canals, rivers and lakes popular for houseboating aboard the region’s traditional wood and thatched boats called kettuvallam.

kerala houseboat

We saw many other houseboats along the Kerala backwaters. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The barge-like boats were originally designed to transport rice, coconuts and spices to and from the ports of Kochi (also known historically as Cochin by various European powers) and Alappuzha along India’s Malabar coast, for centuries major points in the Europe-Asia spice trade.

Today, a Kerala backwaters cruise has come to be known as an exotic and off-beat travel experience for those who want to go deeper into India’s natural bounty and fascinating history and culture.

Kerala backwaters

The peaceful canals and waterways of the Kerala Backwaters. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Kerala Backwaters

Heidi enjoying the golden hour along the scenic Kerala backwaters.

The Vaikundam

There are reportedly some 1,400 houseboats in Kerala’s backwaters, most with a few basic cabins, dining area, and sliver of open-air deck, that offer tourists short two- and three-day cruises.

The 18-passenger Vaikundam is a Kerala houseboat that stands apart from the crowd.

While it originally offered short cruises when it was launched in 2000, last year after an extensive renovation, Vaikundam began focusing on weeklong backwaters cruises that include narrow canals and shallow passages other boats can’t access.

18-passenger Vaikundam.

The 18-passenger Vaikundam. * Photo: Scott Anderson

I joined a cruise aboard the Vaikundam last October with my friend Harman; it was the kind of unusual quirky small-ship cruise that greatly appeals to me and I wasn’t disappointed.

Heidi and a friend

Heidi & her friend on a village walk in the Kerala Backwaters. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Constructed of teak, wild jack and jack tree wood, Vaikundam has a pleasantly rustic dining area, bar and lounge, and roomy open deck at the bow, all accented with Indian cotton fabrics.

Vaikundam's dining area

Vaikundam’s dining area. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Vaikundam's cozy bar area

Vaikundam’s cozy bar area. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Vaikundam's Interior bar and lounge area

Interior bar and lounge area. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

View from Vaikundam's viewing deck

View from Vaikundam’s bow. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Air-conditioned cabins are cozy with large windows and chunky wooden doors and furniture.

Vaikundam cabin view

The view from our cabin afforded water line views of the passing scenery. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Bathrooms are basic with marble-clad showers. Our beds were very comfy and we slept like logs all week.

Vaikundam cabin

Most of the cabins look like this, our rooms for the week. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Vaikundam cabin door

The cabin door. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

RELATED:  Heidi Reports on Seeing the Remote Side of India by Boat for  

Cruising for Cruising Sake

A weeklong cruise on Vaikundam covers about 100 miles in total, between Kochi and Alappuzha, but not in a straight shot. The boat slowly zigzags at no more than four or five knots though the flood-prone backwaters, sometimes backtracking, to get to the most scenic areas.

Vaikundam cruising past a village on a Kerala houseboat cruise

A close-up view of village life from the Vaikundam. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

You’ll often feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, pushing through water hyacinths, and gazing out at the ubiquitous rice fields and stands of palm, mahogany, tamarind, banana, and betel nut trees.

One morning, we cruised down one particularly slender canal. At one point, those of us on the open-air bow had to duck so as not to be whacked in the head with a tree branch.

Vaikundam in the narrow Kerala backwaters

Vaikundam in a narrow canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

We cruised for several hours each day, greatly enjoying the ride, and then tied up each evening for the night.

Typically, we enjoyed a village walk before dinner with our guide Kabir, treated to glowing orange sunsets nearly every time.

Kerala Backwaters cruise village walk sunset

A village walk at sunset. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Daily Excursions

One or two excursions each day were done by foot or mini-bus. We visited two Dickensian-like workshops, where metal mirrors and brass bells are made in the old ways — open flames, basic tools and craftsman sitting on the ground hunched over their work.

bell making

Bell making, the old fashioned way. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

On our daily village walks, Kabir pointed out the flora and birds as we walked past locals doing what their families have done for generations in Kerala’s backwaters — cleaning freshly-caught fish along the canal, beating laundry against rocks at the water’s edge and bathing in their white mundus (a Kerala-style lungi).

A woman cleaning freshly caught fish. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the way, we visited a boat building yard, where traditional kettuvallums are made by stitching wooden planks together with coir (coconut fiber) rope. Kabir also pointed out the many sail-like “Chinese fishing nets” that are a common sight throughout the backwaters, as are Kerala’s famous snake boats — long ceremonial (and one-time war) canoes now used for special occasions.

Chinese fishing nets in Kerala

Chinese fishing nets. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Traditional performing arts were weaved into the itinerary as well. One afternoon we got a fascinating insider look at the elaborate make-up and costume preparation that goes into a theatrical Kathakali dance performance — a mellow-dramatic dance form that tells stories from the Hindu epics.

Kerala performance prep

The elaborate preparation needed for a traditional theatrical Kathakali performance we enjoyed. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

traditional Kerala dance

This man did an amazing job in his role. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Another day we watched an age-old martial arts performance, called kalaripayattu, some segments with knives and spears. Mid-way through the cruise, a troupe of young girls and their teacher performed classical dances for us on the bow before dinner.

dance performance by a troupe of local girls

A dance performance by a troupe of local girls. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Throughout the week, Kabir framed the region’s history and culture by telling us about the Hindus, Jews, Christians, and Muslims who came to Kerala to trade spices with the Arabs and Chinese, long before the Portuguese, Dutch, and British came to stake their claim in the lucrative business of black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, chilis and more. And of course, the immigrants brought their religion with them.

village walk in Kerala with guide

Village walk with guide Kabir. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

guide Kabir

Our guide Kabir (in light blue) with our small group on a village walk. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Houses of Worship

In Kochi, we went inside the lovely 16th-century Paradesi synagogue with its beautiful Belgian glass chandeliers.

16th-century Paradesi synagogue

The lovely 16th-century Paradesi synagogue. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

We also saw the 500-year-old Portuguese church where explorer Vasso da Gama was buried in 1524, and in Champakulam, admired the grand old St. Mary’s Basilica with its ornately painted wooden interior.

church Vasso da Gama was buried in in 1524.

Vasso da Gama was buried here in 1524. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Catholic churches were ubiquitous, with many being white-washed, and others painted in pastels.

Catholic church in Kerala

A Catholic church in Kerala. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

We visited several of Kerala’s Hindu temples, most low and flat (in contrast to the tall colorful gopuram towers of some Hindu temples in southern India) with horizontal wooden planks and niches for small oil lamps.

Typical village temple in Kerala Backwaters

A typical village temple. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Pink temple in Kerala

Pink temple gates. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

One temple we visited had a resident elephant who lived under a tall open-sided shed. Its legs were chained and it was fed bundles of fresh grasses by its keeper; captive yet coddled. While it seemed cruel to foreign eyes to see the giant animal in shackles, Keralites revere elephants and for centuries they’ve been an important part of religious ceremonies and festivals.

temple elephant in Kerala India

A chained temple elephant. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Thuravoor Narsimha Hindu temple we visited at the end of the cruise near Kochi was the scene of such a procession. It happened to be an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar, Pooram, and so we witnessed a dozen elephants adorned in gilded festival regalia being paraded around the temple grounds, accompanied by rhythmic drumming and the squawking of the clarinet-like nadasvaram. A bare-chested priest sat astride each elephant’s neck, and handlers or mahouts were at their beck and call. It was a sight to behold.

Kerala temple elephants

Festival day at the Thuravoor Narsimha Hindu temple near Kochi. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Kerala temple elephants

An auspicious day in the Hindu calendar, Pooram, saw these temple elephants adorned to the hilt. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Daily Life

Maybe most appealing about our week on the Vaikundam, was being privy to a slice of real life along the banks of the backwaters and in the villages and small towns we visited. From markets and stores, to buskers and street vendors, to families and folks out and about on their daily commutes, India is a fascinating place for people watching.

balloon seller in Kerala

Balloons anyone? * Photo: Heidi Sarna

ice cream Arun in Kerala town

Heidi spots an ice-cream that sports her husband’s first name! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

colorful shop in Kochi

Colorful shops every where. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Kerala backwaters chilis

Chilis are ubiquitous! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

village festival in Kerala

Happening upon a village festival. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Avian Delights

For birders, the Kerala backwaters are cause for major delight. Our guide Kabir had an eagle’s eye for spotting birds in trees, flying overhead and fishing in the water. Passengers’ zoom lenses were out in full force.

Zooming in on the birdlife of Kerala backwaters

Zooming in on the birdlife. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

From fruit bats with a wingspan of a meter to brilliant kingfishers and bee eaters, flycatchers, larks, parrots and so many more, our avian friends swooped, called and flapped to and fro across Vaikundam’s bow.

Egrets, heron, ducks, and elegant snake birds (so named for their long thin necks) were easy to spot on excursions in small skiffs, which we enjoyed on more than one occasion.

Kerala birds

The Kerala backwaters are a birders dream. * Photo: Scott Anderson

One early morning we visited the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary on the edge of Lake Vembanad, which was carpeted in brilliant fuchsia water lilies. We traveled in a private sightseeing boat and the mini cruise was a bird and nature lovers’ paradise.

Kerala Backwaters bird life

A morning skiff ride was a bird lovers paradise. * Photo: Scott Anderson

Delicious Home Cooking

For many of us, the biggest joy was eating. A range of Indian dishes were served buffet-style on board, and there was also a delicious lunch and a dinner planned in local homes on shore.

South India’s beloved fresh fish, caught nearby and cooked whole, was always on the menu, from pearl spot to silver mullet, snapper, catfish and other varieties.

For anyone who craves some western comfort food, the chefs will happily comply. The beauty of a small-ship cruise like the Vaikundam, is that service is personal and flexible. “No” is rarely heard and there are few “rules.”

Vaikundam dining

Delicious spread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

There were excellent vegetable dishes made with okra, pumpkin, lentils and carrots, and Kerala rice served straight up or as steamed idly and puttu “cakes.” There was butter chicken, mutton dishes and the range of breads India is so well known for, including fried puri and parathas.

Dinner aboard the Vaikundam

Mealtime was happy time for all of us! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Vaikundam lunch in Kerala

Lunch is served. YUM! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

And Kerala’s famous coconut seemed to make its way into nearly everything. The delicious pickled chutneys and relishes were also a big hit with our group.

A full bar on board offers humble Indian wines (including the Sula brand), beers (Kingfisher) and soda (Thums Up) as well as spirits, all at a la carte pricing.

Even if you vow to yourself, you’ll eat less tomorrow, it won’t happen. We always intended to take just one helping at dinner, to skip dessert, to decline a mug of refreshing beer after lunch. Oh well!

mugs of beer on the Vaikundam

Cheers! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

But no, this was a cruise of going with the flow in more ways than one. It was about indulging our senses, all of them, in the sights, the sounds and the tastes of Kerala’s backwaters. And what a sensory adventure it was.

Heidi and Harman on a Kerala Backwaters cruise.

Wonderful memories waiting to be created on a Kerala Backwaters cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

RELATED:  Cruising India’s Brahmaputra River. by Heidi Sarna

RELATED:  Adventures on India’s Brahmaputra River. by Judi Cohen



7-night Vaikundam cruises start at $2,950 USD per cabin per week (for two people) and include all excursions and meals.


You must fly in and out of Kochi, in Kerala; many flights from the US would connect through Delhi or Mumbai. Before the cruise, we stayed for two nights at the lovely Taj Malabar Resort & Spa in Cochin.

Taj Malabar Resort in Cochin, Kerala

The Taj Malabar Resort & Spa in Cochin. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


  • Water levels and tides can vary, so the itinerary will be somewhat fluid.
  • To visit temples, you must remove your shoes; many will allow socks, so bring extras if you prefer wearing them to being barefooted.
  • Women should dress modestly and not wear sleeveless or crop tops, or shorts; thin cotton tops are a good option as are cargo pants or leggings with long tops over them.
removing your shoes before going into temples

Removing your shoes is several times a day is par for the course. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Kerala’s climate is tropical and so it’s warm and humid all year-round. There are two rainy seasons brought on by the seasonal monsoons, in June and mid-October, when there is typically rain for no more than a few hours a day (note the low-lying backwaters are prone to flooding). Temperatures year-round see highs in the 80s (F) and lows in the 70s (F).

Heidi and friends on Vaikundam

Happy campers aboard the Vaikundam. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Cruising Season

The main Kerala backwaters cruising season is October through April.

Money Matters

The Indian rupee (INR) is the official currency; credit cards are accepted in larger shops.

COVID-19 Travel Updates

From Vaikundam’s owner, Sanjay Basu, chairman of Adventure Resorts & Cruises:

“Domestic tourism is already ramping up steadily in India, while international in-bound tourism is expected to revive once a vaccine is available worldwide. The good news is that some vaccines are anticipated to come out by year-end 2020; and whenever the vaccines are available, we expect billions of doses to be manufactured in India where 60% of the world’s vaccines are made.

“I think that in the COVID and post-COVID times, small ships will be more attractive than ever as their smaller numbers along with proper SOPs (standard operating procedures) being followed will contribute to fewer health risks. The smaller numbers can be cross-checked prior to boarding to be infection-free with testing, and so a clean air bubble can be created on-board.”

For More Info

Contact Adventure Resorts & Cruises at

Kerala backwaters cruise

Chilling out and watching the scenery float by. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


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Uniworld's La Venezia suite interior

Uniworld’s La Venezia & More Small-Ship News

By Anne Kalosh.

Uniworld’s Venice-based River Countess has been fully transformed into the 126-passenger La Venezia with decor inspired by the celebrated Italian artist and textile designer Mariano Fortuny.

More than a century after its founding, the Fortuny design house continues to craft handmade fabrics on Giudecca island in the Venice Lagoon. Uniworld, known for vessels that mirror the destination, has crafted every space of La Venezia to celebrate Venice.

Uniworld's La Venezia

A chair with Fortuny fabric aboard La Venezia. * Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

“Whether guests stay in a classic stateroom, one of the four junior suites or two grand suites, they will experience the unmistakable essence of the city, beginning in the lobby which strikes a bold resemblance to 1930s Venice,” said Toni Tollman, Uniworld artistic director. “Guests will enjoy the artistic touches of the ship as they stroll the marble or brass-inlaid parquet floors. They will see echoes of the portico of the landmark bridges in the patterns of the fabrics or a reference to the local fish dishes, the basis of classic Venetian cuisine, and enjoy the unmistakable swirls and pops of color of Murano blown glass, another signature craft of Venice.”

Uniworld's La Venezia's Suite

La Venezia’s Suite 409 with its Fortuny fabrics. * Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Uniworld's La Venezia suite interior

Venetian-inspired interiors and views of Venice from La Venezia’s Suite 415. * Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Uniworld travelers will also have an exclusive opportunity to visit Fortuny’s private showroom and gardens to learn about the company’s legacy.

Uniworld's La Venezia

Uniworld’s La Venezia sails a signature eight-day itinerary from Venice plus three longer options. * Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Local Gastronomy & Market-Fresh Ingredients

La Venezia’s restaurants and bars will feature local gastronomy and ingredients sourced straight from the market. The main dining venue, Rialto’s, will offer traditional Venetian fare. Surrounded by intricately etched panels inspired by the interior of the Orient Express, the cozy booth seating immerses diners in a bygone era of luxury travel.

Uniworld's La Venezia interior

Cozy booth seating and etched panels inspired by the Orient Express in Rialto’s aboard La Venezia. * Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Hari’s Bar and Lounge is more relaxed, with live music, cocktails and an impressive Champagne list. Patrons can settle into the sumptuously upholstered love seats and choose from a selection of traditional panini.

With its hand-etched glass walls and polished ebonized wood, La Cantinetta is the most intimate of the vessel’s venues. It offers private dining with expert wine pairing. Diners are invited to start their La Cantinetta experience earlier in the day by accompanying their chef to source ingredients at the famous Rialto food market, where local producers sell their wares, from fresh Adriatic fish and fine Italian cheeses and salami to locally grown artichokes and asparagus. These ingredients are then prepared in La Cantinetta’s demonstration kitchen.

For Italian comfort food with great views, travelers can relax at Cielo’s Pizzeria on the Lido di Venezia Deck. This alfresco spot will serve wood-fired pizzas, hot from the oven along with fresh accompaniments from a salad bar.

Uniworld’s La Venezia will explore the Venetian Lagoon during its signature eight-day “Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy” itinerary, with travelers experiencing a private evening opening and lighting ceremony at St. Mark’s Basilica, the peaceful canals of Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello and the famed cities of Bologna and Padua.

Three additional itineraries will be offered throughout 2021 and 2022, including  the 10-day “Milan, Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy” and recently launched 12-day “Cruise & Rail: Venice & the Swiss Alps” and the 14-day “Cruise & Rail: Milan, Venice & the Swiss Alps.”

At AmaWaterways, It’s Bye, Bye, Buffets

In a COVID-19 world, one of the universal changes at sea is the end to self-service buffets. On the rivers, one line, AmaWaterways, is moving away from buffets entirely.

This change is not just for the duration of the pandemic but will be a permanent one, according to Co-founder and President Rudi Schreiner. His reasoning is that buffets are not really a luxurious experience, and AmaWaterways is upgrading every year, he said, to offer more luxury and more dining options.

no more buffets on Amawaterways

Dining at AmaWaterways will shift to fully a-la carte service — no buffet (here the AmaMagnas). * Photo: Amawaterways

The whole fleet will convert to a non-buffet main dining room with a show kitchen added where chefs will cook in view of the diners. All meals, including breakfast, will be served a la carte.

AmaBella (2010) and AmaVerde (2011) are currently being converted and besides the new dining format, they’re being completely refurbished, with new computer systems, carpets and more.

AmaWaterways AmaBella

AmaBella, shown here in Durnstein, is being fully refurbished, including the new no buffet dining service. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Victory’s New Yucatán Mayan Cruise-Tour

Victory Cruise Lines is introducing an in-depth land and sea tour exploring the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico’s Mayan culture and history. Available November through December 2021 on board Victory II, the 11-day program will operate round-trip from Cancún.

Excursion highlights include the awe-inspiring Mayan city of Chichén Itzá and the distinctive cultures of Campeche.

The journey begins with a hotel stay in the heart of Cancún. An excursion to Tulúm takes travelers to the ruins of this 13th-century Mayan city perched on the limestone cliffs overlooking the blue Caribbean. From there, travelers will be transferred to Cozumel where they’ll embark the 202-passenger Victory II.

The third day is spent at Costa Maya, with opportunities to relax on the beach, travel to the ruins of ancient civilizations in the jungle or learn how tequila and chocolate are made. Continuing to Progreso, travelers will take a day trip to colonial Mérida, including a visit to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Mérida to see a magnificent collection of textiles, engravings, ceramics and religious works.

Victory II will operate a new Yucatán Mayan

Victory II will operate a new Yucatán Mayan cruise-tour. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines)

Two Days At Campeche

At Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the restored façades of historic buildings line the cobblestone streets of this colorful fortified city. After a day of exploring, evening entertainment will include an exclusive folkloric show at the Francisco de Paula Toro Theater.

The second day at Campeche presents an opportunity to delve into Spanish military architecture at Fort San Miguel. Following, travelers can take in the city’s famed fountain show and stroll the charming streets during a Tukulna shopping experience. An optional premium tour visits the Mayan site of Edzna.

See Campeche on Victory II

From Campeche, an optional premium tour visits Edzna. * Photo: Visit Mexico

On the eighth day, Victory II sails back through the Gulf of Mexico to Progreso, where passengers will disembark the following morning for a motor coach transfer to spend a night within walking distance of Chichén Itzá. The day features a city tour of Valladolid with its colorful buildings and cenotes (limestone sinkholes), some considered sacred by the Mayas. In the evening, travelers can relax at the Mayaland Hotel. An optional experience tells the story of Chichén Itzá in a sound and light show on the Pyramid of Kukulkán.

Chichen Itzá with Victory Cruise Lines

The awe-inspiring Chichen Itzá. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The next morning, travelers will get the opportunity to see the sunrise over Chichén Itzá followed by breakfast at the Mayaland Hotel and time to explore the architectural wonders at Ek Balam. Lunch will be served at the Hacienda Selva Maya restaurant and the day ends with a transfer back to Cancún for an overnight hotel stay.

American’s New Boats, Routes, Tours & Hotel Packages

In the words of its marketing campaign, American Cruise Lines looks forward to “Cruising Close To Home” again in 2021. Next year, the country’s largest domestic cruise line will have 14 small ships exploring more than 30 U.S. states.

American will introduce new modern riverboats on the Mississippi, three new itineraries, over 50 new shore excursions and an array of pre- and post-cruise packages.

The new vessels are modern-style riverboat American Jazz, recently completed and ready to debut from New Orleans whenever service can resume; American Melody, coming in summer 2021; and an unnamed sister vessel. Each carries 190 passengers.

American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines will have 14 vessels sailing domestically in 2021. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

The new itineraries include the eight-day “Cape Codder,” round-trip from Boston, which visits a variety of small New England ports and features an exclusive partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. An eight-day “Music Cities” cruise between Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, will draw on American musical influences and offers complimentary and extended pre- and post-cruise packages in both cities.

An 11-day “Alaskan Explorers” cruise, round-trip from Juneau, will visit more Alaskan ports than American ever has before, with two days in Glacier Bay plus an included pre-cruise package in Juneau.

The line’s 50 new shore excursions feature many active options, from kayaking and hiking to wildlife- and whale-watching adventures.

Pre-cruise hotel packages are complimentary with 2021 Mississippi and Columbia/Snake rivers cruises and select coastal cruises. American will also offer several longer premium pre- and post-cruise packages, including new Four Seasons hotel stays in cities like Boston, St. Louis, New Orleans and Baltimore.

In Memphis, the Line has a new VIP Graceland package with private tours and presentations of Elvis Presley’s home and artifacts, as well as two nights at the Guest House Hotel next door to Graceland.

Small-ship construction updates

With nine months until the introduction of its first ship, Atlas Ocean Voyages announced World Navigator was floated out at Portugal’s WestSea Viana Shipyard. As well, the keel was laid there for World Traveller.

Atlas Ocean Voyages' World Navigator

World Navigator was floated out at WestSea Viana shipyard in Portugal. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

World Navigator and World Traveller are scheduled to enter service in July 2021 and mid-2022, respectively.

Atlas promises a “luxe-adventure” experience, positioned between the “strong expedition, science focus” and the “top luxury” lines, according to President Aliberto Aliberti. The “All Inclusive All the Way” pricing bundles in airfare, drinks, emergency evacuation insurance and one excursion per trip.

Atlas will be known for its adventure excursions. Examples include a visit to the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant with a visit to the reactor (Russia), glamping under the stars at Petra (Jordan), white-water rafting to a wine tasting (Georgia), sand surfing beyond the pyramids (Egypt), hot-air ballooning (Turkey) and a mud-buggy adventure (Israel).

Vantage Travel ships advance

Meanwhile, across the globe, China Merchants Heavy Industry cut steel for Ocean Odyssey, the fifth in SunStone Ships’ Infinity series of vessels that will be chartered to a variety of expedition cruise operators. It’s traditional to hold a ceremony when the first steel is cut, marking the start of construction.

Vantage Travel's Ocean Odyssey

The first steel was cut for Ocean Odyssey, also for Vantage Travel. Here, executives push the button to commence the cutting. * Photo: SunStone Ships

Ocean Odyssey is scheduled for delivery in 2022 and will sail year-round for Boston-based Vantage Travel.

SunStone said the Infinity project marries European design and quality with Chinese shipbuilding efficiency for cutting-edge design, innovations like X-BOW technology and significant operating efficiencies.

Ocean Explorer for SunStone ships

Ocean Explorer, which will sail for Vantage Travel, was launched at China Merchant Heavy Industry shipyard. It has the patented X-BOW. * Photo: SunStone Ships

Infinity-class vessels measure 104 meters/341 feet, 18 meters/59 feet at the beam and with a draft of 5.1 meters/17 feet. They have capacity for 130 to 200 passengers with space for 85 to 115 crew.

The vessels are being built to Ice Class 1A/Polar Code 6 and feature the patented X-BOW by Ulstein Design & Solutions. This hull shape promises better seakeeping for a smoother ride and greater fuel efficiency.

The first Infinity ship, Greg Mortimer, which sails for Australia’s Aurora Expeditions, was handed over in 2019.

Ocean Explorer, fourth in the series and also planned for Vantage Travel, was floated out at the same Chinese shipyard on Aug. 14.

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Heading up the Forth

Nova Spero Cruises the Scottish East Coast

By Robin McKelvie.

Tell a Scot you plan to cruise the Scottish coast and they will presume you mean the west coast; a littoral served by an ever-growing flotilla of small ships. Nova Spero steers away from the herd though and not just because she also ventures to the east to take on the North Sea.

This former fishing vessel also likes to go alongside rather than anchor, and she still looks like a proper fishing boat. And she is definitely the only ship currently cruising Scotland’s waters that sports a wood-burning stove in her cozy saloon.

Scottish East Coast cruising

The Nova Spero. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Why Scotland’s east coast?

Ironically the man driving force behind the Nova Spero, John MacInnes, is Hebridean born and bred, earning his sailing stripes amongst the sheltered bays and numerous anchorages of Scotland’s west coast, then moving on to tankers. His first tanker trip took on the big seas across the Atlantic from Marseille to New York. In winter.

Standing proudly on the compact, working wheelhouse, MacInnes explains the thinking behind the Nova Spero:

We do offer west coast options, but I also wanted to try something a little different. No one else cruises the Scottish east coast, but I think it is seriously underrated with its big skies, wildlife and characterful harbors.

Swirl in the fact that the Nova Spero was built on the east coast and was designed here, and it all starts to make sense.

Scottish East Coast cruising on Nova Spero

Nova Spero home in Arbroath. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

A luxurious fishing boat

The rugged Nova Spero dates back to 1972, when she was fashioned as a sturdy fishing vessel built to take on the often-tumultuous North Sea. Arriving at Seaport Marina in Inverness I see immediately that she has retained that rugged feel. She startles in turquoise. Her wheelhouse sits low to the water, almost hidden into the foredeck, as if anticipating bad weather at any moment.

MacInnes has worked hard to retain her working boat spirit, and it has paid off as she turns heads everywhere we go. Being aboard again is like sailing in a different era. At her heart is a swarthy Caterpillar engine that makes short work of the seas.

Robin in the saloon.

The interior passenger space is entirely a different kettle of fish. The large wood-paneled saloon is bathed in light not just from the windows, but from the skylight where the fish hatch used to be. Two comfy benches with tables beckon at meal times, while further cushioned seats sit closer to that wood-burning stove.

MacInnes wants to sail when other vessels are shored up for winter so that wood-burning stove is inspired, coming into its own during the chilly, short days of the Scottish winter.

Canals and dolphins

The Caledonian Canal is a fitting start point for a vessel that celebrates great Scottish engineering. Thomas Telford’s 19th-century marvel was built to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the North Sea — 60 miles, three lochs and numerous locks away. We just have to descend a brace of locks to take us into the North Sea’s Beauly Firth.

I say just, but that involves rotating a swing bridge that brings all mainland train traffic from Inverness to points north to a halt. A crowd gathers as we descend like a submarine in the shadow of the bridge as a collie dog stares on in disbelief.

We gun due east now, soon swapping the Beauly Firth for the Moray Firth, the latter famous for its dolphins. It doesn’t disappoint as there they are in the narrows off Chanonry Point, one of the best places in the UK for shore-based dolphin spotting. They are a decent size too; in fact, the largest and most northerly pod of bottlenose dolphins in the world.

It’s not the only wildlife we encounter as we are accompanied by a never-ending array of seabirds, the odd pod of porpoises and — the highlight — a minke whale. We don’t see the sunfish — just days before we set sail a sunfish was spotted off Chanonry, a highly unusual sighting in these chill waters, but the east coast proves full of surprises.

Nova Spero on a North Sea cruise

Robin aboard the Nova Spero.

Built to take the big seas

As we enter the harbor at Buckie on the second night a northerly wind is gathering strength, never a good sign in this part of the world. As we motor out the next morning the big seas are soon upon us with 3-4m swells and breaking waves.

North Sea surf

The North Sea surf. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

“She’s built to take this weather,” smiles John in the wheelhouse as he stares out at cresting waves he greets like old friends.

Some of Scotland’s small ships tend to be a bit timid; a trip on the Nova Spero gives you the opportunity to sample some real weather. In safety. And staying dry too as they provide full wet weather gear.

scottish east coast cruising

Robin all geared up.

Kitted out from toe to tip I bash around on the stern feeling like one of the fishermen you see in those TV documentaries. I feel secure in John’s hands and doubly safe as there is never actually any time in the five-night voyage when we cannot see land. That said, it definitely helps to have your sea legs cruising in these parts.

waves on a North Sea cruise

Bashing through the North Sea. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Savoring seafood en route

The Nova Spero remains conscious of passenger comfort too, so we choose to take a break from the weather in Peterhead, a huge harbor that protects the largest white fish fleet in the UK. Just on the quayside sits the Dolphin Café — it seems a shame not to try the local seafood. You can get haddock and chips all over Scotland, but it’s boat fresh delicious here. They also offer sole and even queen scallops ‘suppers’ (with chips).

Our passage from Peterhead south to Arbroath is much smoother and even allows for a quick swing around the Bell Rock, where a famous lighthouse has stood tall since 1810. It’s a sturdy brute that not only stands firm against the North Sea, but also repelled repeated attacks from the Luftwaffe during World War Two.

Bell Rock on a Scottish cruise

The famous Bell Rock. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

We make good time into Arbroath, where more superb seafood awaits. This time it’s the famous Arbroath Smokies, which are caught locally then smoked in the traditional wooden houses I visit by the quayside.

Arbroath Smokies on a Scottish east coast cruise

Arbroath Smokies for breakfast. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

They are delicious fresh off the smoker and also when chef Jim serves them with butter for breakfast the next day. He proves a whiz with seafood, conjuring up a heaving platter on the last night of our cruise too.

Seafood on Nova Spero

Seafood platter on board. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

The homecoming queen

It’s unusual as a journalist to be the story, but I am, or rather we are, in Arbroath. This is the first time MacInnes has sailed the Nova Spero back to the port where she was built. The wee shipbuilders, Mackays, is still open right by the harbor. The local newspaper is here to shoot photos and cover the return maiden arrival.

I speak to Harry Simpson who was just an apprentice when he worked on the Nova Spero in the early 1970s — he later went on to own the yard. Simpson admits to ‘having a wee tear in my eye’ when her steady bow appeared around harbor walls little changed since those days.

Nova Spero 'home' in Arbroath

Nova Spero ‘home’ in Arbroath. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Simpson explains to me that the Nova Spero was actually designed a little further south down the east coast at JW Miller in St Monans in the Kingdom of Fife. He is delighted to find her back in Arbroath rather than being cut up for scrap: “It’s interesting to see how she looks nowadays. A lot of the old fishing boats were decommissioned and cut up. It’s nice to see a traditional-style boat coming back into Arbroath harbor and actually be used for something else.”

Southwards in search of the Three Bridges

Under brilliant blue skies — and hardly a puff of wind — we set sail south again across calm seas in search of the mouth of the Firth of Forth, the last of the trio of firths we have to negotiate. It’s my home firth too, as I live in South Queensferry (just west of Edinburgh). The sail up the Forth alone is worth coming on this trip.

Heading up the Forth

Heading up the Forth. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

First up are its necklace of islands — the east coast may not have as many islands as the west, but it offers some gorgeous ones. Bass Rock stars with thousands of pairs of gannets, while Fidra blinks back, a wee isle said to have been the inspiration for author Robert Louis Stevenson when he penned his novel Treasure Island. Then it is on to the Scottish capital. Edinburgh looks every bit the ‘Athens of the North’ as she strides in the sunshine across a volley of hills, topped off by its vaulting medieval castle atop a hulking volcano.

Journey’s end comes in spectacular fashion cruising right under the trio of Forth Bridges.

The Queensferry Crossing is a twenty-first century wonder, the largest triple cable stayed bridge in the world and the tallest bridge in the British Isles. The Forth Road Bridge was the longest suspension bridge outside North America when it opened in 1964, and its span echoes the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Last, but certainly not least, is the epic UNESCO World Heritage listed Forth Bridge. This striking red iron cantilever confection dates back to 1889, when the car had just been invented and before the advent of the airplane.

Forth Bridges Scotland

The Forth Bridges. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

This engineering drama is a fitting end to my cruise on the Nova Spero. She herself is a fine example of sturdy Scottish engineering, built to last and steadfast against anything the North Sea can throw at her. For now, she is the only small ship cruising Scotland’s beguiling east coast and if you’re looking for a life affirming cruise off the beaten charts John MacInnes and his steady steed await.

North Sea Sunrise

Gorgeous North Sea sunrise. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

map of Scotland

Robin’s route between Iverness and South Queensferry, just west of Edinburgh. * Goggle maps



Skarv Lines are offering public cruises, plus private charters for single families, for the rest of 2020, with a full schedule of cruising for 2021 now available to book online. The full 10-night return Forth Bridges cruise from and to Inverness starts at around US$4,000 per person including all meals (lots of seafood!) and wine with dinner. (Robin only cruised from north to south one way.)

lobster on a Scottish cruise

Lobster served on the Nova Spero. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Getting There

The Nova Spero will primarily cruise out of Corpach or Inverness and on occasion Kyle of Lochalsh.

These days there are a number of direct flights from North America to Scotland. Depending on your airline, many flights connect through London. You can choose to arrive in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh or Glasgow. Trains run from Edinburgh and Glasgow direct to Inverness.


For those concerned about COVID-19 the Nova Spero is currently running at limited capacity (normally 11 passengers), with passenger temperatures checked daily, hand sanitizer available and face masks worn by the staff at all times. Guests have to wear them in public areas inside when not eating or drinking, plus when going ashore.

Robin with a mask

Robin all masked up.


Scotland is this green with a reason as it can rain whenever you visit. The cruising season usually runs from spring in April through to autumn in October, but Skarv Lines are breaking the mold with some winter cruising. May and September are good choices as they tend to be drier and there is less chance of having to contend with the baleful midge, a harmless but annoying small insect ashore. August is the warmest month, but can also be very wet.

Money Matters

The British Pound is the official currency, with Scottish banks printing their own notes that are legal tender throughout the UK. Credit cards and cash widely accepted.

For more information on cruising on Skarv Lines check out

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Tradewind Voyages's Golden Horizon

Tradewind Voyages


Tradewind Voyages is scheduled to begin sailing in May 2021.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

With the launch of Golden Horizon in May of 2021, Tradewind Voyages introduces tall ship sailing with a philosophy of authenticity — to journey the way the old ships of maritime trade once did, following the monsoons and currents, powered by the wind, and calling at ports along traditional trading routes of yore.

It was built as a near replica of 1913’s France II, the world’s largest square-rigged vessel.

Tradewind Voyages's Golden Horizon

The Golden Horizon. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

(Originally the ship was designed, planned and executed by Star Clippers, to be called Flying Clipper, but it became caught up in a dispute between the line and the shipyard, Brodosplit in Croatia, and was not delivered to Star Clippers in the end.)

The ship will power most of its journey using 6,300 sq. m. of sails when possible, with the goal of using its propulsion engines a mere 30% of each season. To that end, the company has a built-in sustainability model.

The ship will launch with a series of itineraries from the UK, sailing the northern European coast, after which she will sail through the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and the Middle East, following the coast to India and on to Southeast Asia ending in Australia. When the winds change direction, Golden Horizon will follow the same journey back to her starting point.

Tradewind Voyages has mentioned plans to expand the fleet in the future.


Golden Horizon (built 2021 & 272 passengers) — coastal Europe, Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia & Australia

Passenger Profile

Sailing buffs and lovers of old ships and tall ships, who appreciate the journey as much as the destination, are the typical passengers.

Tradewind Voyage ships wheel

The pretty ship’s wheel. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Golden Horizon is geared to couples, singles and friend groups in their 30s and 40s on up, predominantly from North America, UK, and Europe, and other places too.


$$ — Expensive

Included Features
  • Wine, beer and soft drinks are included at meal time
  • Complimentary water sports from the ship’s marina

Voyages from the UK begin mainly from Harwich, with two Glasgow embarkations, for 7- to 21-night exploring northern European coastlines.

The Maritime Silk Route cruises ply the coastal waters of France, Spain and Portugal into the Mediterranean, visiting ports in southern Spain and Italy to Croatia, then through the Suez Canal to Middle Eastern shores, India, Ceylon, Southeast Asia including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Christmas Island turtle

Stunning sea life of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, south of Java, Indonesia. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

A circumnavigation of Australia includes the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays, Yarra Valley and coastal scenery.

The journey back to the UK traverses Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean stopping at the Maldives and Sri Lanka to eastern African ports including Zanzibar.

Nosy Iranja the beautiful little island of Madagascar

Nosy Iranja, a beautiful little island belonging to Madagascar. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Sample itinerary

The Bay of Bengal and The Malacca Straits is a 15-nights itinerary from Sri Lanka, where passengers will go wildlife spotting at the Yala and Bundala National Parks before embarking, and then cross the Andaman Sea to Thailand’s Phuket and Phi Phi Islands, sailing onward into the Strait of Malacca to Port Klang to finish in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

When to Go?

The summer months are spent in northern Europe.

Come autumn, Golden Horizon heads to the Mediterranean and sails through the Indian Ocean, Andaman Sea and through Southeast Asia.

Winter months are spent in Australia. In the spring, voyages back track to begin the summer season in northern Europe.

Sustainability Initiatives

The ship sails without using propulsion engines for around 70% of each season.

Activities & Entertainment

Onboard activities include wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, upper-deck games, movies under the stars and quizzes. Yoga and Pilates classes are held on the Sun Deck. There’s also a small gym and spa.

There are water sports from the marine platform. A resident destination speaker and visiting local speakers will present on areas of history and culture, maritime history and astronomy.

Optional shore excursions visit cultural attractions and natural sights.

In the evenings there’s a resident pianist and jazz duo in the piano bar who are sometimes joined by local dance and musical talents along the journey.


Seating is open in the main two-story dining room with its dramatic 19th-century maritime flair. Menus comprise dishes representing the local flavours of the region.

Tradewind Golden Horizon's restaurant

Golden Horizon’s two-level restaurant. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages


Golden Horizon

A 272-passenger tall ship, Golden Horizon may be a copy of a vintage ocean vessel, but the facilities are modern. Decor throughout is distinctly nautical. The dining room is grand two-level affair, where dishes are prepared with local flavours and a focus on fresh, sustainable and healthy ingredients.

There are two outside bars, which also serve light meals, and also a piano bar with resident pianist and a cozy premium beverage bar. In the late afternoons, snacks are provided by a trolley service.

For down time there’s a spa with sauna, hammam, snow room and Jacuzzi, salon, sun deck, gym and library.

Golden Horizon's library

Golden Horizon’s library. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages


The lowest category cabins have two portholes for views and accommodate two guests. Some of these rooms also accommodate solo passengers. Deluxe balcony cabins can sleep three adult guests — cabins in this category and higher have 24-hour room service and a free minibar.

All cabins have slippers, bathrobes, hairdryer, shampoo and conditioner.

Tradewind's Twin cabin with portholes

Twin cabin with portholes. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Tradewind cabin

Deluxe balcony cabins can sleep 3. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Tradewind Cabin bathroom

Cabin bathroom. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Along the Same Lines

The tall ships of Star Clippers and Sea Cloud Cruises offer a similar experience.


Tradewind Voyages, UK-based


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Sea Cloud cancels winter Caribbean

Sea Cloud Cancels Winter Caribbean & More News

by Anne Kalosh.

Sea Cloud delays until spring

Sea Cloud Cruises canceled its winter Caribbean and Central America program and plans to resume sailing with all three ships, including the new Sea Cloud Spirit, in Europe in the spring.

The Hamburg, Germany-based company explained the past months have shown that immigration regulations can shift on very short notice due to changes in COVID-19 infection rates.

“Since infection rates are continuing to rise worldwide, almost all the islands in the Caribbean still do not allow ships to enter their territory,” Sea Cloud Managing Director Daniel Schäfer said.

Uncertainties also remain about airlift, along with the classification of most of the islands in the region as risk areas by Germany’s Robert Koch Institute. The United States has still not given cruising the green light.

Travelers may transfer their deposits to voyages in the coming year or in 2022 and will get an on-board beverage credit. Or they may request a refund.

Sea Cloud cancels winter Caribbean

The classic tall ship Sea Cloud will not be sailing in the Americas this winter because of the pandemic. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Mediterranean and Canary Islands

Sea Cloud Cruises is now concentrating on the Mediterranean and Canary Islands itineraries that are scheduled in the current 2021 brochure, starting in the spring. In case the situation hasn’t changed then, the company is also preparing an alternative program based on the current E.U. requirements for ocean voyages, for example, with departures and arrivals from the same port.

In addition, should COVID-19 still give cause for concern in 2021, new or rebooked voyages can be canceled up to six weeks prior to departure for a full refund, minus a small processing fee ($25 per person for U.S. customers, for example).

Sea Cloud cancels Caribbean and looks to Europe for 2021

New tall ship Sea Cloud Spirit is now scheduled to debut in Europe. * Rendering: Sea Cloud Cruises

Coronavirus on Aranui 5

Ten crew members aboard the South Pacific passenger freighter Aranui 5 tested positive for COVID-19, according to news reports.

The ship, which was en route to Moorea, immediately turned back to nearby Papeete, Tahiti.

None of the 79 passengers were reported infected. Residents returned home and tourists were being repatriated. The 10 crew were taken to a dedicated quarantine facility.

RELATED: Peter Knego Shares his Aranui 5 Adventure.

Lindblad’s first Japan voyages

Lindblad Expeditions will explore Japan for the first time on two adventurous itineraries in 2021. Travelers will roam shores brimming with temples, teahouses and ancient traditions and discover a seldom-seen wild side on subtropical islands where azure waters meet verdant forests.

The itineraries provide a taste of Taiwan and Korea, too.

“Coastal Japan: Imperial Dynasties and Modern Culture” will examine the country’s riveting history, from the historic castle towns of the Edo period to the elegant shrines and merchant districts of the Meiji era to poignant World War II sites. Travelers will trace the shores of Honshu and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea, venture into the homes of samurai and feudal lords and discover exquisite centuries-old gardens.

They may find inspiration on the art-filled island of Naoshima, and visit museums and studios dedicated to artists and traditional handicrafts in Matsue and on Shikoku. A day in South Korea will be spent exploring the rich cultural legacy of Korea’s Silla Dynasty among the incredible ancient ruins of Gyeongju.

This 14-night trip departs Sept. 15, 2021, with rates starting at $20,800 per person, double occupancy.

Lindblad to visit Japan

The “floating” torii gate in Miyajima, Hiroshima, Japan. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Island hop from Japan to Taiwan

On “Sailing the East China Sea: Japan, Okinawa And Taiwan,” Lindblad travelers will island hop from Japan to Taiwan, experiencing a wide array of natural wonders, historic sites and cultural treasures. They’ll have the chance to visit some of Japan’s most cherished sites, from Himeji Castle and the historic merchant towns of Ozu and Uchiko to the “floating” torii gate at Miyajima. Art-filled Naoshima is on this itinerary, too.

Plus, travelers can visit culinary hub of Shodoshima, snorkel the coral reefs of Kerama Island and venture into the mangrove forests of the Yaeyama Islands by Zodiac or kayak. They’ll have the chance to hike among ancient cedar trees in Yakushima’s rain forest and marvel at the incredible hoodoo spires in Taiwan’s Yehliu Geopark.

This trip, 13 nights, departs Sept. 28, 2021. Rates begin at $19,320.

The 102-passenger National Geographic Orion will operate both itineraries.

The National Geographic Orion

The National Geographic Orion will operate Lindblad’s first Japan itineraries. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Barging through Europe

Abercrombie & Kent said it has curated the best vessels for a private holiday with family and friends along Europe’s waterways, with up to 20 percent savings.

As travelers plan 2021 holidays, A&K said many are looking to combine privacy, freedom and flexibility. A chartered barge in Europe checks all the boxes.

“Barge cruising encompasses so much of what we’ve learned to appreciate over the last few months at home. It’s all about traveling at a slower pace to immerse yourself in one region, and spending time outside — biking along picturesque towpaths, strolling through uncrowded local villages or simply watching the passing scenery from a cozy deck chair,” said Liam Dunch, A&K product manager, Europe.

A highlight, he added, is “relaxing as a private chef prepares farm-to-table meals with the freshest ingredients from local markets, served alfresco on deck.”

By privately chartering a barge, family and friends have exclusive use of the vessel. A&K’s 2021 portfolio features what it said are more than 30 of the most coveted barges on the waterways of Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Alsace-Lorraine, the south of France, Champagne, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland.

Le Phenicien canal Barge

Le Phenicien barge travels on the Canal du Rhône à Sète and Rhône River. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Starting at $3,438 per person

Travelers can save up to 20 percent on select 2021 charters when booked by Oct. 31, 2020.

What’s the price? Seven-day/six-night charters begin at $3,438 per person and include gourmet meals, all beverages, guided sightseeing and entry fees. Each vessel’s cabins have en-suite facilities. Many offer spacious lounges and sun decks for alfresco dining.

Abercrombie & Kent barge breakfast

Alfresco breakfast on a barge in southern Burgundy. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Some examples: For Le Phénicien, traveling on the Canal du Rhône à Sète and Rhône River, a weeklong charter starts at $61,890 for up to 18 travelers, with 20 percent savings in 2021. A week on La Bella Vita in the Po Valley and Venetian Lagoon is priced from $75,500 per charter for up to 20 people, with 10 percent off charters from April to August.

Scottish Highlander on the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness can carry up to eight passengers, and a weeklong charter starts at $35,500. And Magna Carta on the Thames River is priced starting at $36,000 for a week, for up to eight people. Both barges offer 10 percent off the charter price in April and May.

Travelers who book any A&K canal barge cruise by Dec. 31, 2020, have the flexibility to change plans up to 30 days prior to departure in the event of a COVID-19-related reason, at home or in the destination, and receive a credit toward future travel.

La Belle Epoque barge in France

The Burgundy Canal in France, with La Belle Epoque approaching a lock. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Crystal turnover at the top

Longtime cruise industry executive Jack Anderson stepped in as interim president and CEO at Crystal.

This came as Tom Wolber, at the helm since September 2017, completed his three-year contract with the company.

Crystal said Wolber plans to spend time with his family and pursue other interests.

His expertise in ship operations and construction have been a guiding force in the expansion of Crystal experiences that now include four new river vessels and the brand’s first expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor. (It had been due in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic until 2021.)

Jack Anderson at Crystal

Jack Anderson has deep roots with Crystal and has been consulting for the company since 2017. * Photo: Crystal

Anderson’s Crystal history runs deep

Since 2017, Anderson has overseen Crystal’s commercial efforts, serving as adviser to Wolber. Previously he was vice chairman and, before that, senior vice president, marketing and sales.

Jack’s history with Crystal runs deep; with nearly a decade of senior leadership and executive consultant roles at the company — combined with his 30-plus years of cruise industry experience — he possesses a profound knowledge of the Crystal brand and the luxury cruise market,” according to Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, CEO and chairman of Crystal’s parent company, Genting Hong Kong. “He is uniquely suited to step into this role during this pivotal time in travel, ensuring a seamless transition.”

Earlier, Anderson held senior positions at Seabourn, Holland America Line and Windstar Cruises, and he was senior vice president of marketing for Carnival Corp. & plc.

“We are grateful to Tom for his dedicated leadership, the successful introduction of our river ships and expanding Crystal into the expedition market, while maintaining Crystal’s commitment to an award-winning luxury experience,” Lim added.

Atlas bundles in emergency evacuation insurance

New “luxe-adventure” brand Atlas Ocean Voyages is including emergency evacuation and return-to-home insurance for all travelers.

“Because safety and the health of our guests is our top priority, we are proud to be the first cruise brand to include emergency medical evacuation and return-to-home insurance as part of every booking,” said Alberto Aliberti, president of Atlas Ocean Voyages. He added this will give travelers peace of mind when exploring far-flung destinations.

The insurance covers emergency medical transportation from the ship to a local treatment center, as well as return transportation home or to a medical facility close to home, as required.

The first Atlas ship, World Navigator, is scheduled to debut in July 2021. Its inaugural program includes seven- to 24-night cruises in the Holy Land, Black Sea and Mediterranean in the summer, followed by nine- to 13-night cruises in the Caribbean, South America and Antarctica in late 2021/22.

World Navigator of Atlas Ocean Voyages

World Navigator is depicted in Antarctica, where the ship is scheduled to spend the 2021:22 austral summer season. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages


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