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African River Cruising

Africa River Cruises on the Chobe and Zambezi.

By Ted Scull.

African geography is not well understood for a whole host of reasons.

It is off the map for most people until some news event comes splashing across the screen — a new Ebola outbreak, seemingly endless warfare in obscure lands, continuing slaughter of elephants, and on and on. And yes, Egypt is part of Africa, but most people associate it with the Middle East and the Mediterranean world.

What most people do associate with Africa is wildlife. Thus, the major draw of Africa for most travel aficionados are the many threatened wildlife species.

African River Cruising

Elephants come down to the Chobe River for an evening drink. * Photo: Ted Scull

Wildlife Viewing from a Cruise & a Lodge

If thinking of Africa and rivers or lakes in the same sentence, the pickings generally center on the Nile and Lake Nassar, an integral component of any trip to ancient and modern Egypt. However, Africa does come up occasionally on cruise itineraries that call at ports along the East African or South African coasts, but few venture very far inland.

Further, it’s rarer still, to tie an African river or lake with game viewing from a small overnight cruise vessel.

QuirkyCruise was started to inform those who like offbeat travel and cruises in small ships.

And so we’re glad to tell you about a handful of river cruises that can be easily combined with land stays in south-central Africa.

Africa River Cruising

Ted Scull at a game lodge in Namibia. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

The Chobe & Zambezi Rivers

The Chobe and Zambezi rivers are the only locations that combine game viewing and small-ship cruising. It’s an awesome combo that gets you up close to a splendid adjoining game park and a natural wonder too — Victoria Falls.

All of this comes together in south-central Africa, roughly where Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe meet.

Africa River Cruises map

The Chobe & Zambezi rivers in South-Central Africa * Map: CroisiEurope

At one point, the Chobe joins the Zambezi and forms the northern boundary of Chobe National Park. Its waters plunge off a plateau via Victoria Falls.

The lake is Kariba, created in 1955 when a dam was built across the Zambezi. It’s long at 125 miles and relatively narrow, forming a section of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Africa River Cruising

Victoria Falls where the Zambezi River plunges off a plateau on the Border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

I have arrived in this wondrous region by train from the east and south and via a self-drive safari itinerary from Namibia. We, as with most travelers, stayed within the northwest corner of Zimbabwe, the extreme eastern strip of Namibia and the northern tip of Botswana.

It’s a compact area offering what you have come for without long and often bumpy drives and multiple flights.

Africa river cruising

From the left: my brother, a friend, my wife, me. * Botswana guide

River Cruise … Plus

When a river cruise is included in a tour package, it’s normally part of a larger itinerary that includes much of what’s written just above. However, you can also include a short river cruise in your own private plans. Consider it a game lodge on the water.

The extreme pleasures I have gotten out of game viewing have not come from checking off a list of animals to be seen before moving on to fulfill the still missing, rather the pleasure comes from finding or being shown a location where the wildlife comes near to you.

Some safari lodges dig waterholes to attract game and that can be both exciting and convenient. But, one part is missing, it’s not viewing animals in truly natural surroundings.

Africa River Cruising

A giraffe plays peekaboo. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Evening Scene on the Chobe River

Consider this alternative, sitting on the deck of a small vessel at dusk just off the riverbank watching the cloudless sky change colors, and maybe hearing the sounds of insects beginning their sundown routine. Nobody is talking, perhaps just whispering.

Africa River Cruising

Hippos having a go. * Photo: Ted Scull

Flocks of birds sweep about in unison for some time before alighting on open ground. Little fish chased by unseen bigger fish break the river’s surface. Fish eagles may dive bomb targets just beneath the surface.

Then in the bush land ashore, you see large shapes moving toward the river. One by one elephant adults and their offspring work their way toward the nightly drink and maybe splash about or even take a swim. You can see close up the mutual affection they exhibit, or adult impatience.

It’s all happening right before your eyes and ever-changing. The longer you stay, and the less attention you pay to taking photos, the more interaction and individual personalities you absorb. Then the stars shine as if never seen before and not to end the show, you fantasize lying on a soft mattress and gently tune out.

Africa River Cruising

Sunset over the Chobe. * Photo: Ted Scull

Daytime Game Watching

During the day, visitors travel in small boats along the river while the guides know where game may be seen. Watch giraffes, munching on the vegetation, reaching higher and higher to get what they want. And when it comes to drinking, spreading long legs apart, and looking slightly awkward when leaning over to take that first mouthful.

By hanging about, you see both their graceful and not-so movements.

Africa River cruising

Giraffes can be graceful but when having a drink… * Photo: Ted Scull

Grunting warthogs and various species of gazelle mingle with the elephants and giraffes as the larger animals provide protection against lions and leopards. Both are elusive creatures, but the better guides know their routines, especially those of the lions.

Later hippos lounge in the waters, sometimes only their eyes and ears above the surface. And another similar sight will be nearly submerged crocodiles that may also be basking on the riverbank.

Who Goes There?

Following are a few options for short 2- or 3-night cruises inserted into longer land-based itineraries.

African Dream

Moving eastward, there are 3-night cruise options located on Lake Kariba, a dammed section of the Zambezi River east of Victoria Falls. Besides the vast waters, cruise a connecting river and sail into a deep gorge.

Some species of game, mostly the non-swimmers, were moved to the adjacent Matsudona National Park. The birds and animals seen roughly match those along the Chobe River such as the African Sea Eagle, Yellow-billed Stork, and Black Heron.

The three-deck African Dream, completed in 2018, takes 16 passengers in eight double cabins with private facilities, along with a lounge bar, dining room and top viewing deck.

Africa River Cruises on the African Dream

The 3-deck African Dream. * Photo: CroisiEurope

African Dream lounge

The salon of the African Dream. * Photo: CroisiEurope

The cruise may be combined with a game lodge and a Victoria Falls stay.

Two small-ship companies covered in QuirkyCruise offer cruise-tour packages incorporating the African Dream:

Chobe Princess

Surf Chobe.com for information on the Chobe Princess. It’s actually the name for three similar vessels (identified with a number), each with four or five cabins. The larger Zambezi Queen has 14 cabins.

Africa River Cruises on Chobe Princess

The Chobe Princess. * Photo: Chobe.com

All accommodations are outside with private facilities. The large expanses of glass in the dining area and lounge keep you in touch with your surroundings. There’s even a hot tub.

hot tub on deck of Chobe Princess

The hot tub on deck of the Chobe Princess, what a view! * Photo: Chobe.com

Chobe.com also describes the lodges available in adjacent Chobe National Park for land-based game viewing. Some face the river and others have inland park locations.

Combine a cruise and lodge stay to maximize the experience.

🦒🦒🦒

Africa River Cruising

Sunset in Namibia. * Photo: Ted Scull

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© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

AmaWaterways

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About AmaWaterways

Founded in 2002 as Amadeus Waterways, the company changed its name in 2008 to AmaWaterways. It is generally regarded as one of the world’s top river cruise lines and operates a large fleet of beautifully designed ships in Europe and others in Asia and Africa. Most river cruise itineraries should be paired with a land package including at least one hotel stay. As the riverboats are similar, they will be described as a class and grouped under the destination they frequentThe line offers the utmost flexibility with guided tours at three different paces (gentle, regular & active), a late risers tour, guided bike and hiking tours as well as optional Limited Edition Tours.

For Spanish-speaking passengers, a guide accompanies designated departures. See With a Latin Touch.

EUROPEAN RIVERS

Ships & Years Delivered

Europe – AmaBella (built 2010 & 161 passengers), AmaCello (b. 2008 & 148 p), AmaCerto (b. 2012 & 164 p), AmaDante (b. 2008 & 146 p), AmaDolce (b. 2009 & 146 p), AmaLyra (b. 2009 & 146 p), AmaPrima (b.2013 & 164 p), AmaReina (b. 2014 & 164 p), AmaSerena (b. 2015 & 164 p), AmaSonata (b. 2015 & 164 p), AmaStella (b 2016. & 158 p), AmaVerde (b. 2011 & 174p), AmaViola (b. 2016 & 158 p), AmaKristina (b. 2017 & 158 p), and AmaVida (b. 2013 & 106 p), AmaLea (b. 2018 & 156 p), *AmaMagna (b. 2018 & 194 p), AmaMora (b. 2019 & 196 p) , AmaDouro (b. 2019 & 102 p) and AmaSiena (b. 2020 & 158 p).

*AmaMagna deserves special note as the boat is twice as wide as standard riverboats and this allows for much larger cabins, expanded restaurant offerings (4), larger spa and wellness facilities and water-sports platform. The thrust here is to attract more deep-sea cruisers who might feel that riverboats are too small and limited in their amenities. The vessel sticks to the Danube where it does not face locks that would be to narrow to enter. Some cruises sail as far downriver as Giurgiu for access to Bulgaria’s capital of Bucharest.

RELATED: Read Gene Sloan’s AmaMagna review here.

Passengers

146 to 196 (except smaller Douro River ships AmaVida (106 p) and AmaDouro  (102 p).

Passenger Decks

4 with most ships having elevators between the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$$

NOTE:

Solo passengers may have the single supplement waived on selected sailings. On others, special discounts are applied after the supplement is added.

Included Features

Free Wi-Fi in the cabins, unlimited wines, beers, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, bottled water, Chef’s Table specialty restaurant, shore excursion in every port, bicycles (Europe), transfers between hotel and ship when buying a land package, airport transfers if buying AmaWaterways’ airfare. These extras upfront keep the final bill in check.

Cruising the Douro River in Portugal is a new offering. * Photo: AamaWaterways

Cruising the Douro River in Portugal is a new offering. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Itineraries (through 2020)

European river cruises operate from March to December. Popular itineraries are:

  • Prague hotel stay then sail between Nuremburg along the Danube and Main-Danube Canal and taking in a Benedictine Abbey, wines of the Wachau Valley, Vienna and Budapest. Lots of itinerary variations.
  • The Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel stopping at cathedral cities and picturesque castles and towns. Continue by train to Zurich.
  • Paris and the Seine to Monet’s home and gardens at Giverny, cathedral city of Rouen and WWII Normandy beaches.
  • Paris and TGV (high-speed train) to Lyon (gastronomic capital) then cruise the Rhone south to medieval and Roman antiquities, Avignon and Arles, and ending with a hotel stay in Lyon (settled across two rivers with a peninsula in between.) or Marseille (multi-ethnic city has risen in popularity) or Barcelona (for some, the favorite city).
  • Something newer and different along Portugal’s Douro River from Oporto with visits to castles, palaces and museums, and a stay in Lisbon.
  • Bordeaux along the Dordogne and Garonne to Pauillac (Medoc) and St. Emilion for vineyard visits, plus castles, biking and hiking. Add stays in Bilbao and/or San Sebastian and linger with lots to see in Bordeaux.
  • New for 2020 are 7-night Rhine and Moselle cruises concentrating on Vineyards and sailing between Amsterdam and Luxembourg, and 7-night Main and Rhine cruises linking Amsterdam and Nuremberg via the Main-Danube Canal.
  • Note: Not currently operating: Russian itineraries between St. Petersburg and Moscow, and Moscow via the Volga River to Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).
Claude Monet's gardens at Giverny. * Photo: Ted Scull

Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny. * Photo: Ted Scull

Many river itineraries are seven nights with extended ones first cruising the Danube and then connecting to the Main and Rhine. Cruise-tours include hotel stays in Amsterdam, Paris, Marseille, Barcelona, Lucerne, Zurich, Munich, Prague, Budapest or Istanbul.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

European themed cruises include a highlighted focus such as art, wine (expanding considerably), culinary, wellness, tulip time, and Christmas markets. Adventure by Disney departures appeal to families.

Why Go?

River cruising is arguably the easiest and most relaxing way to see a lot of Europe with a choice of a dozen different rivers to access cities, small towns, historic sites, wine regions and enchanting scenery. AmaWaterways gives you a vast choice and provides some of the best accommodations aboard in Europe. As the riverboats in this fleet are somewhat similar, with a couple of exceptions, they will be described as a class.

When to Go?

Some itineraries are specifically geared to the best seasons or offer a special theme appropriate to the season, such as tulip time, vineyard visits, and Christmas markets.

German rivers such as the Moselle and Rhine provide spectacular secenery. * Photo: Ted Scull

German rivers such as the Moselle and Rhine provide spectacular scenery. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

160 to 350 square feet (170-235 the average range) with most having full balconies and/or French step-to-the railing balconies with fixed windows on the lowest deck. Amenities are desk and sitting area, multi-jet showerhead, complimentary Internet access and Wi-Fi, TV, music and movies on demand, bottled water, safe and some cabins with mini-fridge.

Public Rooms

Main lounge and bar (all drinks and snacks included throughout the day) with a forward viewing/seating area; Sun Deck seating open and under a canopy, walking track, small pool or whirlpool; massage and hair salon, fitness room.

Dining

The line includes higher grade wines, plus beer and sodas with lunch and dinner, and sparkling wine at breakfast. The European ships belong to the culinary organization La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Breakfast and lunch may be taken in the main restaurant from a menu or buffet, and lighter choices are available in the main lounge. Dinner is open seating with menus reflecting the cruising area. Some ships have a second specialty restaurant, the Chef’s Table, with limited seating and reservations, but at no extra cost.

Activities & Entertainment

Musicians come aboard nightly in ports; take advantage of a dip in the pool or whirlpool, fitness room and massage services. Tours ashore are on foot and in vehicles, with headsets for the guide’s commentary. Some tours allow you to chose your own pace. Bicycles are available and particularily useful for independent touring along a path between Durnstein and Melk in the Danube’s beautiful Wachau Valley; along the Rhine in/near Cologne; paralleling the canals and waterways in Belgium and the Netherlands, to highlight just a few locations. Inquire about the options when boarding. Small group tours by bicycle and longer hikes are also offered.

Special Notes

While AmaWaterways’ European riverboats share many of the same amenities, the Asian and African vessels are considerably different, but no less comfortable. See below for details. Single fares without a supplement are available for all cruises, though dependent on the category available,

Along the Same Lines

Other European operators.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA & VIETNAM

AmaWaterways operates two somewhat similar high-standard ships that are smaller than the European riverboats, yet offer most of the same amenities. The Mekong (Cambodia and Vietnam) and Irrawaddy (Myanmar) are ideal for river travel as so much activity is river-focused. Note:  Irrawaddy Cruises are not currently operating.

RELATED: Anne Kalosh’s AmaWaterways’ Mekong River adventure.

Ships & Years Delivered

AmaDara (built 2015 & 124 passengers).

Passengers

Mainly North Americans 50 and up.

Passenger Decks

4 decks, no elevator.

Price

$$$

Included Features

During a 7-night cruise, all excursions, wine, local beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner; all house-brand spirits, local beer, soft drinks from the bar; bottled water; all transfers with an air package. Cruise tours include hotel stays in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) with buffet breakfasts, transfers between hotels and ship and Hanoi to Siem Reap flight.

Itineraries

The 7-night cruise portion operates August to April in both directions on Tonle Sap Lake (except during low-water season) and along the Mekong between Siem Reap (Cambodia) and My Tho (near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). Calls are made to small river villages to observe daily life, local crafts production, floating markets, a Buddhist Monastery, Cambodia capital at Phnom Penh, and the ever-fascinating river traffic.

Hotel stays include sightseeing. Nearly everyone who books a river cruise adds at least a couple of nights at Siem Reap for the Angkor Archaeological Park and its temples, terraces and stone sculptures.

Why Go?

Southeast Asia is a culturally and historically rich part of the world, and Mekong River cruises has opened up easy access to life in the big cities, small towns and archaeological sites that previously involved long bus rides on congested roads. The Mekong is full of commercial activity linked industrial and farm production and to the inhabitants who live along the river banks.

Most add the Siem Reap extension for archaeological sites, Vietnam’s two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and maybe the Laotian cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the latter the country’s capital. All flights within Southeast Asia are short and well-operated.

Flower market in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). * Photo: Ted Scull

Flower market in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

Cruises operate between August and April; the rains are heavier in the summer months matched with slightly lower fares.

Cabins

The majority of the wood-trimmed cabins are a roomy 226 square feet, and all have French or outside balconies, apart from six with portholes on AmaLotus lowest deck. Beds are twins or queen-size. Top deck suites are larger, and two on each ship are huge (452 sq. ft. on AmaDara and 624 sq. ft. on AmaLotus). Cabins open to a traditional central corridor. Amenities are: sitting area with writing desk, mini-bar, safe, in-house phone, flat-screen monitor and hairdryer. Suites have bathtubs.

Public Rooms

AmaDara has main lounge forward while AmaLotus has it aft with a small forward-facing lounge. Both vessels have covered top decks with seating and a small pool with AmaDara’s forward and AmaLotus’ aft. Both vessels have a fitness room, hair salon and spa.

Dining

Both have open-seating restaurants (AmaDara forward and AmaLotus aft) with North American menu choices as well as flavorful local Southeast Asian cooking. AmaDara has a small specialty eatery aft called the Tarantula Grill — and as a personal injection and recommendation, I have eaten grilled tarantula legs, but I did not and would not touch the body.

Activities & Entertainment

Cultural entertainment aboard features musical groups in costume, plus films, and a small pool, an ideal way to relax after a hot day ashore. Excursions are on foot, by boat, trishaw, oxcart and in buses to villages, palaces, museums, temples, schools, markets and workshops making handcrafts in silk, wood, rattan and paper.

IRRAWADDY RIVER IN MYANMAR (BURMA)

(Note: Not currently operating)

AmaWaterways operates one vessel, the high-standard 56-passenger AmaPura built in 2014, on 14-night cruise tours that feature hotel stays in Yangon (Rangoon) and a 10-night cruise on the Irrawaddy (also Ayeyarwady) on roughly monthly sailings, except from mid-April to mid-September. The cruise is accessed at Pyay, north of Yangon or Mandalay, with a flight to or from Yangon.

The sights are villages, craft-making, monasteries, scenic vistas, and temples, with the highlight spending a full day amongst the huge collection of stupas, pagodas and temples at Pagan and a full day touring Mandalay.

Accommodations aboard are designated all-suites measuring from 285 sq. ft. to 420 sq. ft. with either two balconies or one sitting balcony and one French balcony. Although a smaller vessel, the amenities, public spaces, dining, what’s included, the entertainment and activities are similar to the two Mekong River vessels.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: ZAMBEZI RIVER IN BOTSWANA

In Brief

Between mid-March and mid-November, AmaWaterways offers a cruise-tour that includes four nights aboard the 28-passenger ZAMBEZI QUEEN, built in the early 1990s and refitted for its current role in 2009. Accommodations are 10 large cabins and four suites, all with private balconies, a light-filled lounge and bar, dining room and pool. Every enclosed space has floor to ceiling windows with open decks fore and aft to watch for game.

The cruise follows the Chobe River embarking at Kasane, Botswana with additional close-up sightseeing in smaller boats to look for wildlife on land, in the river and flying above, plus trips ashore to visit African villages. The land portions that bracket the cruise can include hotel stays in Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Victoria Falls. Add a 3-night journey aboard the luxurious, vintage Rovos Rail between the falls and Pretoria, South Africa.

Giraffes in Nambia

Giraffes in Nambia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Contact Info

26010 Mureau Road, Calabasas, CA 91302; www.AmaWaterways.com; 800-626-0126.

— TWS

 

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Viking River Cruises

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Viking (was Viking River Cruises)

Viking River Cruises (now Viking), established by former officials of the old Royal Viking Line, has grown by leaps and bounds, including introducing more ships in one year than has ever occurred before. More than a score of itineraries covers the European waterway network from Portugal’s Douro River that empties into the Atlantic eastward to Russia’s and Ukraine’s canals and rivers, and from the Dutch and Belgian waterways bordering on the North Sea across Europe to the mouth of the Danube as it flows into the Black Sea.

Viking goes most everywhere the other lines go and offers more choices of itineraries, length of cruises and land and air packages. Simply, Viking dominates the European river cruise market because it operates more boats (presently 72) than any other line, by far, and still growing.  In Asia, riverboats explore the Yangtze in China, and the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam. Egypt is again offered with cruises on the Upper Nile and Lake Nassar. Viking also operates well-received deep-sea cruise ships to establish Viking Ocean Cruises (now just Viking) but their passenger capacities exceeding 900 are well beyond our small-ship passenger limit. More are under construction and under option along with expedition ships.

Note: In 2020, four 168-passenger Viking Longships (similar features but smaller in size for operations on the Seine) will be delivered and then actively participate on 8-day Paris and the Heart of Normandy cruises. Passengers will embark alongside the Eiffel Tower.

Note: Viking has also long made hints about entering the river cruise market along the Mississippi and its tributaries with a fleet of European-style riverboats. Now, an official announcement was made in April 2020 in New Orleans that the first of a fleet of large riverboats will be built for the Upper and Lower Mississippi. The first five-deck vessel will take up to 386 passengers and appear in August 2022. While the capacity exceeds our 300-passenger limit, all other American Cruise Lines riverboats have been covered by Quirky Cruise, hence this one, the first of several, will be covered too. By law, the vessels must be built in the U.S. to sail along American inland waterways. Stay tuned for the location and progress while construction gets underway.

Note: Without missing a beat, Viking will also enter the expedition market when the VIKING OCTANTIS enters service in January 2022 with a program in Antarctica and the Great Lakes. While the passenger complement of 378 exceeds the QuirkyCruise limit of 300, we will include the most important features on this page.

Viking River Cruises

RELATED:  New Viking Einar Impresses a First Timer … by Judi Cohen.

Passengers

Most passengers are 50+ and American or at least English-speaking who are looking for a relaxed and convenient way to see the regions of Europe. Children under are not permitted.

Price

$ to $$$  Moderate/Expensive/Very Pricey. Huge variations in rates occur, especially when 2 for 1 promotions are offered.

Included Features

Shore excursion in every port; wine, beer, soft drinks at lunch & dinner; bottled water, cappuccino, coffee & tea at a 24-hour beverage bar; Cabin TVs with movies on demand, CNBC, CNN, National Geographic, and other channels, Internet/Wi-Fi (connection speed varies widely); cruise tours include hotel stays and transfers between hotel and ship; airport transfers included when air travel is purchased from Viking.

Itineraries

Europe, Russia, Egypt, Southeast Asia and China, most 8 to 15 days; some cruise tours in Asia extend to 18 days; the granddaddy of all European river journeys stretches from Amsterdam to Bucharest, lasting 23 days. All cruises operate in both directions. See details below when discussing the ships.

Why Go?

Years ago before river cruising took hold in a big way, many travelers desirous of seeing several countries in one trip booked a bus tour and that meant multiple one and two-night hotel stays in a half-dozen, maybe more, cities. With the rivers and canals already in place to move cargo on barges between ocean ports and inland cities, long-distance river travel was a natural outgrowth. Then in 1992 a construction project linked the Rhine and Main to the Danube, and it became possible to embark in a Viking Longship in Amsterdam located just in from the North Sea and sail more less southeast all the way to the Danube Delta on Black Sea coast of Romania.

Riverboats once seen as merely comfy conveyances with mostly picture window cabins, an observation lounge and a windowed dining room, now boast suites, French balconies, true verandas, and alternate dining venues and more activities off the boats than bus and walking tours with such diversions as cycling (independently or in a small group) and hiking.

The bottom line for river cruising is convenience, as in many cases, the riverboat ties up next to the heart of the city and you simply walk ashore. In between, instead of driving along a busy highway, the getting there is via scenic river cruising with some of the intercity travel taking place as you sleep. Sun decks provide 360-degree views while underway.

Opera House, Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Opera House, Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

Most European itineraries are seasonal with April to October the norm though some cruises begin as early as March and run as late as December for the Christmas markets. Summer months will find many riverboats following roughly the same popular itineraries with busy, and sometime crowded, sites ashore. The fringe seasons have the advantage of fewer boats sharing the same docking facilities and disadvantage, for some, of cooler and less predictable weather. Beyond Europe, the itineraries may be almost year-round, and note that the Yangtze River Valley can feel like a furnace from June through August.

Activities & Entertainment

Applies to all ships. Onboard, the offerings are daytime lectures, demonstrations, cooking classes, wine tasting and light entertainment such as a pianist and/or local musicians in port. Included shore excursions using audio headsets allow participants to hear the guide out-of-doors and inside museums and churches while  speaking in a normal voice. On board, a concierge can arrange ballet and theater tickets, restaurant reservations and help you plan an independent day ashore.

Walking the Charles Bridge, Prague. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walking the Charles Bridge, Prague. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years delivered

The number of passengers; number of passenger decks; layouts; special features; and cabin details will be outlined for each class of riverboat under the cruising regions that begin below.

European Rivers

The Viking Longships class number almost four score at present dating from a building spree that began in 2012 and continues into the present with six new ships added in 2016 and six more in 2018. In spring 2019, another seven were launched on a single day at different shipyards, with seven more under construction. The list of names runs from Viking Aegir to Viking Vili. These spiffy new riverboats carry 190 passengers on four decks in a bright and airy, understated Scandinavian atmosphere using big picture windows, light fabrics and colors, skylights, atriums and indoor/outdoor lounges, restaurants, and bars.

Cabins number 95 of which nine are 2-room suites with veranda & French balconies*; 39 verandas; 22 French balconies*; and 25 standard (located on the lowest deck and with smaller windows). Note here and for some other Viking vessels that *French balconies are not balconies at all but with the cabins having sliding doors that open to a railing.

The Observation Lounge, located behind the indoor/outdoor terrace, has a sit-up bar, for drinks, daytime activities, lectures, and light entertainment. A library corner and Internet access are located just aft of that and share the second level of the atrium, with the reception and shop below. The Sun Deck has covered and open lounge space spanning nearly the vessel’s full length, plus an oval walking track and putting green. An herb garden is located aft. The elevator connects only the Upper and Middle decks, and not cabins on Main Deck nor the Sun Deck.

Viking has upgraded its menus following the introduction of the new ships, and as the line caters to mostly middle American tastes, don’t expect gourmet meals or rich sauces as one would experience on an ocean-going luxury line or a truly upscale river fleet. The Longships have two dining venues, the main restaurant (buffet & served meals) and the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace (light meals and an alfresco grill). It’s open seating and you dine with whom you wish. Chances are you will be sailing on a Longship in Europe on most all itineraries but the Douro in Portugal and the Elbe in Germany and the Czech Republic where smaller purpose-built ships operate.

RELATED: Viking River Cruise in the Ukraine … by Gene Sloan.

DSC_6134

Viking Longships Deck Plan * Photo: Viking

The following preceded the Viking Longships on European itineraries, plus one trio specifically designed for the confines of the Douro in Portugal and a pair to sail under low bridges for the Elbe.

*Viking Fontaine, *Viking Schumann (older ships/refurbished 2010/2011) carry 112 passengers on three decks with observation lounge forward and restaurant on the deck below. Cabins are all outside with eight having French balconies, while the Upper Deck cabins have picture windows that open while Main Deck windows are fixed.

*Viking Astrild, *Viking Beyla (2015) carry 98 passengers, have three decks and operate the Elbe cruises with low bridge clearances in Germany and the Czech Republic. The observation lounge is forward with the Aquavit Terrace facing over the bow for light meals and refreshments, while the restaurant is on the deck below. Cabins include 2 suites, 19 veranda cabins and 14 with French balconies, all located on the Upper deck. Main Deck cabins have windows.

*Viking Hemming,*Viking Torgil, *Viking Osfrid (2014 & 2016) carry 106 passengers, have four decks and sail exclusively on the Douro Rover in Portugal. The observation lounge is forward with the Aquavit Terrace facing over the bow for light meals and refreshments, while the restaurant is on the Middle Deck below along with an adjacent Al Fresco Restaurant. The Sun Deck has tables for outdoor meals, a small pool, golf putting range, and loungers with covered and open sections. Cabins include 11 veranda suites, 23 verandas, 3 French balcony cabins and 16 window cabins on Main Deck. An elevator connects cabin and public room decks.

Europe note: With such a large fleet, riverboats assigned to specific itineraries are subject to change.

Aquavit Terrace for an outdoor meal. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Aquavit Terrace for an outdoor meal. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Below is a healthy sampling of nearly two dozen European itineraries combining hotel stays bracketing a river cruise. If you are a first time river cruiser, good luck deciding which one to take. If a veteran cruise maven, most of Europe is your oyster.

  • Grand European Tour (15-day cruise, April to October) from Amsterdam, Netherlands via the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers and sailing through Germany, Austria, Slovakia to Budapest in Hungary.
  • Romantic Danube (8-day cruise, late March to October) from Nuremburg, Germany via Main-Danube Canal and Danube River through Austria to Budapest, Hungary.
  • Danube Waltz (8-day cruise, late March to October) from Passau, Germany via the Danube through Austria to Budapest.
  • Rhine Getaway (8-day cruise, mid-March to October) from Amsterdam in the Netherlands via the Rhine, calling at Cologne, Koblenz, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, south through to Basel, Switzerland.
  • Tulips & Windmills (10-day cruise, March and April) from Amsterdam including 2.5 days sightseeing via Dutch and Belgian rivers and canals to the Islemeer at Hoorn, Arnhem, Ghent, Rotterdam and more then back to Amsterdam. Additional itineraries include calls at Antwerp and Nijmegen (SE Netherlands)
  • Cities of Light (12-day cruise-tour, April to October) from Paris (2 hotel nights) then coach transfer via Luxembourg (sightseeing) to the riverboat at Trier, then along the Mosel, Rhine and Main rivers to Bamburg, Germany and coach transfer via Nuremburg to Prague, Czech Republic (2 hotel nights).
  • Paris to the Swiss Alps (12-day cruise-tour, March to October) from Paris (2 hotel nights) then coach transfer to Luxembourg (sightseeing) to the riverboat at Trier, then along the Mossel past vineyards to the Rhine and Mainz, Speyer, and Strasbourg to Basel, Switzerland with a transfer to Zurich (2 hotel nights).
  • Passage to Eastern Europe (11-day cruise-tour, late March to late October) from Budapest, Hungary (2 hotel nights) then riverboat down the Danube through Serbia, Bulgaria to Giurgiu and coach transfer to Bucharest, Romania (1 hotel night).
  • European Sojourn (23-day cruise, mid-March to late October) from Amsterdam via the Waal, Rhine, Main-Danube Canal and Danube through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria to Giurgiu and transfer to Bucharest, Romania (1 hotel night).
  • Elegant Elbe (10-day cruise-tour, mid-March to October) from Berlin (2 hotel nights) then coach transfer to the riverboat at Wittenberg and via the Elbe and Vltava rivers through Germany (Saxon Switzerland) and Czech Republic to Decin and coach transfer to Prague, Czech Republic (2 hotel nights).
  • Portugal’s River of Gold (10-day cruise-tour, late March to October) from Lisbon (2 hotel nights) via coach transfer to Coimbra and the riverboat at Porto, then along the Douro River with a full-day coach excursion to Salamanca, Spain and back along the Douro with port calls for lunch and wine tasting, a castle and religious site to Porto, Portugal.
  • Paris & the Heart of Normandy (8-day cruise, mid-March to October) from Paris via the Seine to Claude Monet’s Giverny, Rouen (for the cathedral and Normandy Beaches) then upstream with port calls to visit chateaux back to Paris. New itineraries along the Seine also include WWII sites and D-Day beaches.
  • Lyon & Provence (8-day cruise, mid-March to October) from Marseille to the Rhone at Arles, then Avignon, Viviers, Tournon, Vienne, Lyon and along the Soane to Macon, Cluny Abbey and Beaujolais wine country, ending at Lyon Airport.
  • Chateaux, Rivers & Wine (8-day cruise, late March to October) from Bordeaux along both the Dordogne and Garonne rivers to Sauternes, St. Emilion, Médoc, and Margaux wine regions, two UNESCO sites and Cadillac, returning to Bordeaux.
Russia & Ukraine
Visiting Moscow's Red Square at the end of Viking River cruise along the Russian waterways.

Visiting Moscow’s Red Square at the end of Viking river cruise along the Russian waterways. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viking Akun, Viking Helgi, Viking Ingvar, Viking Truvor (older ships refurbished 2013/2014) carry 204 passengers on five decks and operate the 13-day St. Petersburg-Moscow Waterways of the Tsars itineraries. The Panorama Bar looks forward on the Upper Deck with a large restaurant aft on the Middle Deck below. A windowless library with Internet is on Main Deck. Cabins include 2 suites, 2 junior suites, 67 verandas, and the remaining with windows that open facing the side wraparound promenade. Elevators link the cabin and public room decks. A similar vessel, Viking Sineus, plies Ukraine’s Dnieper River between the capital at Kiev and Odessa facing the Black Sea, and 11-day cruise tour.

Waterways of the Czars (13-day cruise, early May to mid-October) from St. Petersburg (3-day stay on riverboat) via the Neva and Svir rivers, Lake Onega, Volga-Baltic Waterway, Rybinsk Resevoir, Volga River, and Moscow Canal to Moscow (3-stay stay on the riverboat). Ashore, attend dance and music performances, and aboard the guides share Russian and Soviet history and current affairs, cooking and Russian language classes.

Egypt

Mayfair (150p) and Omar El Kayam (160p) form the 4-night and 3-night cruise portions of a 12-day itinerary that includes Cairo for the Pyramids, Sphinx and Cairo Museum, a cruise along the Upper Nile for Luxor, Karnak, Edfu, and Kom Ombo and another cruise just above the Aswan Dam on Lake Nassar for Abu Simbel and other temples. Viking Ra, Viking-owned and operated (52p), made its debut in 2018 as a completely rebuilt riverboat offering all two-room suites (291 sq. ft.), making it one of the most luxurious vessels on the Nile. To follow in September 2020, Viking will begin operating the 82-passenger Viking Osiris , the first European built, owned and operated Nile cruiser, if that is all important to some seeking an Egyptian cruise.

Southeast & East Asia

Viking Mandalay (2012 & 56p) had operated Irrawaddy Cruises in Myanmar (Burma). However, four-deck Viking Mekong (b. 2012 & 56p) plies the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam. The replica-style riverboats evoke an appealing colonial atmosphere with lots of wood paneling and airy public spaces. The indoor lounge is forward and the Sun Deck lounge and bar is sheltered from the sun by a canvas awning. With floor to ceiling French doors that open during cool weather, the restaurant serves Vietnamese and Western dishes at breakfast and luncheon buffets plus served dishes and a served dinner. All cabins are outside, with two of the three cabin decks offering sliding French doors that open to side promenade equipped with rattan style chairs and decorative potted palms.

Mekong River: Cambodia & Vietnam
A Cambodian food market along the Mekong.

A Cambodian food market along the Mekong. * Photo: Ted Scull

Magnificent Mekong (15-day cruise-tour, early January to March then July to October) from Hanoi, Vietnam (2 hotel nights), fly to Siam Reap, Cambodia (3 hotel nights), coach transfer to riverboat at Kampong Cham then 8 days along the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam to My Tho and coach transfer to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam for 2 hotel nights. Viking Mekong.

Irrawaddy River: Myanmar (Burma) 

*This itinerary is not now operating. However, details are included for reference in case these trips resume.

Myanmar Explorer (15-day cruise-tour, September to December) from Bangkok, Thailand (3 hotel nights) then fly to Yangon, Myanmar (4 nights) and fly to Mandalay embark in the riverboat for 8 nights along the Irrawaddy back to Mandalay and fly to Bangkok (1 night). Viking Mandalay.

Yangtze River: China
Mother and child pass during a village stop along the Yangtze.

Mother and child pass during a village stop along the Yangtze. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viking Emerald (2011) carries 256 passengers on five decks while operating the Yangtze River cruises. The Sun Deck houses the Emerald Bar with high-up views, a reading room, massage room, sauna, gym and outdoor deck space aft. The observation Lounge with a bar is on the deck below and the restaurant resides on Main Deck aft. The menus include Chinese and Western dishes. Cabin accommodations include 2 suites, 14 partitioned suites, 4 junior (one-room) suites and the rest, 108 with verandas. An elevator serves all decks.

Imperial Jewels of China (14-day cruise-tour, February to October) from Shanghai (2 nights) then fly to Wuhan to join the riverboat for a 7-day cruise along the Yangtze River via the Three Gorges and Three Gorges Dam to Chongqing then fly to Xian (2 hotel nights) and fly to Beijing (3 hotel nights).

Roof of the World (17-day cruise-tour, March to October) from Beijing (3 hotel nights), fly to Xian (2 hotel nights), fly to Lhasa (3 hotel nights), fly to Chongqing , join riverboat for a 7-day cruise down the Yangtze via Three Gorges and Three Gorges Dam to Wuhan and fly to Shanghai (2 hotel nights).

Undiscovered China  (19-day cruise-tour, March to October) from Beijing (3 hotel nights), fly to Xian (2 hotel nights), Chengdu (2 hotel nights}, Lijiang (2 nights) and Chongqing to join the riverboat for 7 days along the Yangtze via the Three Gorges, Three Gorges Dam to Wuhan and fly to Shanghai (2 hotel nights).

Special Notes

Water levels along European rivers rise and fall with the seasons and/or heavy rain falls and long dry periods. Occasionally, if the waters rise to flood stage, the riverboats may not be able to pass under low bridges, or the reverse, insufficient water to proceed without possible grounding. In that case, you may be bused to another vessel on the far side of the blockage and/or put up in hotels.

Along the Same Lines

The stable of river cruise lines is ever expanding, and Viking happens offer the largest fleet.

Contact Info

Viking, 5700 Canoga Avenue, Suite 200, Woodland Hills, CA 91367;  www.viking.com; 877-668-4546

— TWS

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

Cruising for over a quarter century, this chic French line is a Francophile’s dream. Ponant’s crew is discreet, the décor is subtle and the food is tantalizing. French desserts, French cheeses and French wines accompany passengers on cruises around the world, from French Polynesia and the Caribbean to the North and South Poles, and lots in between.

Passengers are a well-traveled, well-dressed international lot and the handsome captains stroll around the ship in short sleeves chatting to guests as if they are one of the passengers. Ponant is a bit of Europe no matter where the ships are sailing.

In late 2014, the company’s name was simplified from the French Compagnie du Ponant, to just Ponant, a simpler name for the company’s growing international audience, though Ponant still remains the only French-flagged, French-flavored cruise line out there. Ponant is in the midst of building frenzy, with six 184-passenger expedition vessels in the pipeline between now and 2021. As they are delivered, itineraries will be expanded to offer more frequent sailings and brand-new destinations.

A hybrid electric icebreaker is to appear in 2021 and be able to make it to Geographic 90 Degrees North — The North Pole.

Note: Some sailings are directly operated by Ponant and others are under charter to well-known firms for individual sales as well as for special interest groups.

N.B. In August 2019, Ponant announced that the French-owned line has bought Paul Gauguin Cruises, operating the ship PAUL GAUGUIN in French Polynesia and that the ship will continue to operate under its current name.

Ponant's fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ponant’s fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LE BOREAL (built 2010, 132 passengers), L’AUSTRAL (b. 2011, 132 p), LE SOLEAL (b. 2013, 132 p), LE LYRIAL (b. 2014, 122 p), LE PONANT (b. 1991, 64 p), LE LAPEROUSE (b. 2018, 184 p), LE CHAMPLAIN (b. 2018, 184 p),  LE  BOUGAINVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p) and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p), LE BELLOT (due April 2020, 184p), LE JACQUES CARTIER, the sixth Explorer-class ship (due July 2020, 184p), and LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT (due April 2021, 270 p), specifically designed for polar explorations.

Ponant's mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant’s mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Profile

Mostly Europeans, heavy on French, Swiss and Germans, with a sprinkling of Francophiles from everywhere else — North America, Brazil, you name it. Children are welcome, but are expected to be well behaved; there is a children’s menu, Wii gaming console, and when there are a number of kids on board, a few activities are organized by a staff member.

On a handful of special family-friendly sailings per year (often a Med itinerary in the summer), a Kids Club is offered with kids’ counselors supervising games and activities for ages 4+. Several firms charter Ponant ships, so they will determine the languages, and a number of them are in the English-speaking markets.

Passenger Decks

6 with elevators to all decks (4 on LE PONANT, the motor sailing yatch, and no elevator)

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Open bar throughout ship, stocked cabin mini-bar, and all soft drinks. New for 2019 is free WiFi in all cabin categories on all ships.

PONANT                                                                                 LE BOUGAINVILLE delivered in 2019 as the third ship in the explorer class. * Photo: Ponant

Itineraries

The ships, with such an expanding fleet, roam all over the world on one- to two-week cruises (some longer): Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, Caribbean, Central America, both coasts of South America, West Africa and Southern Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, French Polynesia and Oceania, Hawaii,  Indonesia, East Asia and focus on Japan, Eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Antarctica, the Arctic including the Northwest Passage, trans0ocean positioning voyages. A few highlights include (and it’s a moveable feast:

  • 10- and 16-night Antarctica cruises November – February
  • Iceland & Arctic Circle cruises in summer; also Northwest Passage, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes
  • 6- and 7-night cruises out of Martinique to the Grenadine Islands in the winter; also Cuba (Cuban calls suspended due to a US government ban.
  • 7-night Croatia cruises round-trip out of Venice between May and September; also Western & Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt
  • 9-night New Zealand cruises in January and February; also Australia’s eastern coast
  • 7- to 13-night Alaska cruises in June and July; including Aleutian Islands
  • 13-night Chile cruises in November and February; also Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Sea of Cortez
  • New tropical destinations are being added to include the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, also Maldives and Madagascar, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, also French Polynesia, Easter Island
  • South and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Eastern Russia.
Why Go?

The French flare, the amazing food, the gorgeous interiors — tres chic. In 2018 Ponant signed an agreement with National Geographic Expeditions to have the latter’s experts and photographers come aboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia/Pacific.

When to Go?

The fleet cruises in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

LE PONANT is an 88-meter, three-masted sailing ship with lots of wood and nautical touches such as navy blue and white bedding and fabrics in the rooms. Most cabins are on the lowest of the four passenger decks and have twin beds — two rooms have king beds — and there are a few triples. Five larger cabins are higher up on the Antigua Deck.

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL are nearly identical sister ships with the majority of cabins measuring between 200 and 236 square feet, not including the balconies (which all but eight cabins have). Cabins are designed in stylish neutrals of champagne, smoky greys or blues, and crisp whites with pops of color, like a red border on a bed throw or pillow.

All cabins are stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, mini bars and iPods, and a have a great split bathroom set-up — toilet in one little room and a large shower (and/or tub) and sink in another. They also have a desk and great adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed. Many standard cabins can accommodate three people with one on a sofa bed; ideal for families are the Prestige suites, which are ostensibly two connecting standard cabins. There are four large suites on the Deck 6 near the top of the ship.

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

The new 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER  began arriving in mid-2018 and will continue into 2020. A feature on the new ships is the Blue Eye, an underwater sightseeing lounge. They make up what is termed Ponant Explorer Class with enhanced ice-breaking capabilities.

Public Rooms

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL have two restaurants, one main entertainment lounge, one combination lounge/bar, and a lovely outdoor bar with sea views. There is no casino. Each has a spa with a Turkish steam room, hair salon, and an excellent ocean-view gym with a row of treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus a Kinesis wall with weights, pulls and grips for weight training.

A small library area (with a Wii console nearby) and a boutique round out the public areas, unless you also count the medical clinic. The smaller LE PONANT has two restaurants, two indoor lounges and lots of deck space for sunbathing. All five of the vessels have a platform for watersports when anchored in favorable conditions.

Dining

Cuisine is a big part of the Ponant experience, and I still sometimes dream about the dark chocolate mousses we devoured on a L’AUSTRAL cruise to Croatia (I gained several solid pounds on that cruise). Each of the five ships has two restaurants, one a more formal fine-dining multi-course French gourmet venue for dinner and the other a casual buffet restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating and themed offerings. Some of the chefs are French (the pastry chef was on my last cruise) and no matter where they are from, they’ve been schooled in the French culinary tradition.

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Meals incorporate fish and grilled seafood, and plenty of delicious soups and salads of all kinds. When possible, local ingredients are used, from cherries in Kotor, Croatia, to rainbow trout from Nunavut, in the Arctic. Amazing desserts on offer might comprise a hazelnut mousse cake, lemon meringue tarts and that to die-to-for chocolate mousse already mentioned; easily the best desserts I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

A selection of cheeses from France and Italy are a staple in the buffet and of the complimentary wines generously poured, I remember an especially refreshing French rose at lunch on route to our next Croatian port of call. You can always order a bottle off the extensive menu if you want something extra special.

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

Activities & Entertainment

The ships are in port every day, or nearly so, but if there’s a sea day, most people enjoy simply sunbathing by the pool and soaking up the scenery. In the French way of doing things, there isn’t an abundance of scheduled activities or group events. There are theme cruises from time to time focused on gourmet food and wine, film and topics like oceanography, with experts on board giving talks and demonstrations.

Evenings, a singing duo moves around the ship before and after dinner to serenade passengers as they sip cocktails and chat about the day’s adventures and the ones that lay ahead. At the top of the tiered decks at the stern on LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL is a wonderful al-fresco bar, an ideal place to plant yourself as the ship sails off into the sunset — likewise on LE PONANT’s sun deck. After dinner from time to time, a dance performance or film screening may be scheduled in the show lounge of the four sister ships.

The new and larger 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE, LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER started to debut in mid-2018 and continued into 2020, and the larger 270-passenger LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT will launch polar explorations in April 2021.

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 2838, New York, NY 10170; us.ponant.com, 1-888-400-1082.

— HMS

 

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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of brands that also includes Cosmos. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market and is adding new ships with suite features that are unique to the line. Avalon operates a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as relatively new programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy (not 2019),  Ganges (began 2019) and the Nile (2020).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

European Rivers
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AVALON IMAGERY II (built 2016 & 128 passengers); AVALON PASSION (b. 2016 & 166p); AVALON TAPESTRY II & AVALON TRANQUILITY II (b. 2015 & 128 p); AVALON IMPRESSION (b. 2014 & 166p); AVALON POETRY II (b. 2014 & 128 p); AVALON ARTISTRY II (b. 2013 & 128 p); AVALON VISTA (b. 2012 & 166p); AVALON VISIONARY (b. 2012 & 128 p); AVALON LUMINARY & AVALON FELICITY (b. 2010 & 138 p); AVALON PANORAMA (b. 2011 & 166p); AVALON AFFINITY (b. 2009 & 138p); AVALON CREATIVITY( b. 2009 & 128p) and AVALON SCENERY (b. 2008 & 216 p). An addition to the fleet in 2019 will be AVALON ENVISION (b. 2019 & 166 passengers).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Passenger Profile

Most, age 50 and above, hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia with some younger passengers on the shorter itineraries.

Passenger Decks

All riverboats have four decks, and an elevator connects the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Most shore excursions, WiFi (including in cabins), minibar with bottled water, regional wines and beers with dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast, coffees, teas and hot chocolate throughout the day, cabin TV with English-speaking channels and 100 movie options.

Itineraries

The huge variety offers cruise tours lasting from 5 to 22 nights, generally adding a land portion at one or both ends of the river cruise. Land travel may be by high-speed train such as TGV, Thalys, and Eurostar or coach.

Springtime tulip bulb season cruises along the intricate waterways of Belgium and Holland; French rivers include the Seine, Rhone and Soane; the Rhine with or without the Moselle; combine the Rhine and Rhone between Amsterdam and Cote D’Azur; the Upper and/or Lower Danube, the latter including, on some cruises, sailing all the way to the Danube Delta just in from the Black Sea.

Longer itineraries may cover, for instance, the Upper Rhine and then via the Main, Main-Danube Canal and the Danube all the way to Vienna; with the granddaddy of all from the North Sea to the Black Sea (22 nights).

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks.

When to Go?

Most cruises operate from April through October, while some begin in March and end in November. Christmas markets cruises have increasing appeal.

Cabins

All riverboats, except the five built between 2008 and 2010, are designated Avalon Suite Ships and come with larger cabins and substantially different configuration – for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a large 11-foot glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside. The remaining five boats offer four 258 sq. ft. Royal Suites with a similar layout but where the TV interrupts the continuous glass window, and 172 sq. ft. Avalon Deluxe Suites. All Indigo Deck (lowest) deck cabins have small rectangular windows set high in the wall as they are located just above the waterline.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Public Rooms

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar, aft facing Club Lounge, and main dining room. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool, Sky Bistro for light meals and navigation bridge.

Dining

The pattern for meals is pretty much the same throughout the fleet of European riverboats, though the boats built in the last few years have more sophisticated alternative meal set ups. The food is geared for those who would like to branch out and taste regional offerings or stick with what one likes to eat at home.

Breakfast has an open window of times to cater to early risers or those who want to sleep in. Breakfast and lunch are buffet with the latter available at the top deck Sky Bistro (a grill), inside the Panorama Lounge (light fare) or in the big-windowed main dining room.

Dinner is served here as well, while those wanting something lighter than a served three-course, can frequent the Panorama Lounge’s more informal setting.

An Avalon meal on a southeast Asia river cruise. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Activities & Entertainment

Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus. On board entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway. All vessels have a top deck whirlpool and small fitness centers on the lowest decks. Newish are Active Discovery cruises on the Danube that offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine and take archery lessons.

Avalon Waterways

Entertainment in the Panorama Lounge of the Avalon Artistry II. * Photo: Avalon

Special Notes

While this high-quality fleet is of basically a similar design, and the itinerary likely the deciding factor, having a bed configuration that allows you to wake up and linger between the sheets while watching the river scene pass above your toes just may dictate an Avalon Suite Ship.

Along the Same Lines

Many other European river cruise lines.

 

Avalon’s cruise tour programs to South America, Asia and Eqypt are briefly outlined below.

GALAPAGOS & AMAZON

Avalon Waterways charters the TREASURE OF GALAPAGOS, a catamaran with accommodations for 18 (b. 2009 and refurbished 2017) for a 4-night Galapagos cruise that adds up to a 8-day cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador. It also does a 12-day cruise tour that adds a 3-night Amazon River lodge stay; a 15-day cruise tour that combines the 4-night Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 20-day cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

Treasure of Galapagos, Avalonn Waterways

Avalon Waterways, Treasure of Galapagos

Another option includes a 3-night Amazon River cruise aboard the 44-passenger DELFIN III (formerly AMAZON DISCOVERY; b.2015), which Avalon charters. The ship’s cabins are all outside and consists of staterooms measuring 237 sq. ft. , corner staterooms 253 sq. ft. and the owner’s at 537 sq. ft. Departures are January to July and September to November.

There are also 3-night cruises of the Peruvian Amazon from Iquitos, to look for wildlife in the river and the surrounding rain forest landscapes plus village visits both combined with 11- and 13-day land tours that include Lima, the capital of Peru, Cusco and Machu Picchu and the longest, the Nazca Lines.

Avalon Waterways

The Delfin III, seen here when still called Amazon Discovery. * Photo: Steve Cukrov for Globlus/Avalon.

A selection of 18- and 20-day cruise tours combine the Amazon River cruise with the land destinations in Peru and Ecuador plus a Galapagos cruise. The river boat’s 237- and 253-sq. ft. cabins with huge floor-to-ceiling picture windows are spread over two of the three decks. Beds may be configured as twins or king-size. In addition, there is one single and a 597-sq. ft. suite that faces forward. Public spaces are an indoor and covered outdoor lounge, aft dining room with large view windows, a spa, small gym and plunge pool. A 24-hour medic is aboard. Departures are January-June and September to November.

Avalon Waterways

The silt-laden waters of the Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

EGYPT
The Nile

(Note: Nile cruises begin in 2020).

Avalon Waterways

A camel watches over its territory, the site of the pyramids at Giza. * Photo: Ted Scull

10-day Egyptian cruise tours, operating year-round, include hotel stays in Cairo for the museum and the Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis and more that bracket a 4-night Nile cruise to Luxor, Karnak, Aswan, Edfu and Kom Ombo. The MS FARAH, built in 2011, provides the cruise. 58 cabins and two suites provide large picture windows, Internet and bathrooms have bathtubs.

INDIA

Ganges River

Avalon Cruise began Ganges River cruises in 2019, operating the 56-passenger GANGES VOYAGER in the cooler months of January and February and September to November. The shortest 13-day cruise-tour begins in New Delhi or Kolkata and includes a 6-night cruise plus hotel stays in Agra for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. 16-day cruise tours add Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, and 18-days add Mumbai and Kochi (Cochin) but not Kathmandu. The riverboat decorated in colonial-era style has cabins measuring 260, 280, 360, and 400 square feet, offer Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

GANGES VOYAGER, Avalonn Cruises

GANGES VOYAGER, Heritage Suite Avalon Cruises

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA & CHINA
Mekong River

The mighty Mekong rises in China and passes through three Southeast Asian countries. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avalon Waterways operates the 2015-built, 36-passenger AVALON SIEM REAP and 2018-built sistership AVALON SAIGON cruising on 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City’s waterfront, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The riverboats’ 245 sq. ft. cabins, located in two decks, all open to the outside with 14-foot sliding glass doors and windows. A forward-facing covered lounge give a 180-degree and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar. The aft dining room seats all at once for buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The wide-ranging itineraries, in time and places visited, combine a 7-night cruise with a hotel stay and sightseeing at both ends that can add up to 13- to 21-day cruise tours to include — your choice of  extensions — Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Halong Bay in Vietnam; Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos; and Bangkok, Thailand. Departures are January to April and July to December.

Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River – N.B. THIS CRUISE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon operates its own riverboat some 1,300 miles along the Upper Irrawaddy River between Yangon and Bhamo (northern limit if navigation) with a hotel stay in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital adding up to 14 days and an extension to Bangkok that creates a 17-day cruise tour.

The 36-passenger AVALON MYANMAR was completed in 2015 and takes up to 36 passengers. Sights visited along the river are pagodas, Buddhist monasteries, and riverside villages where the local activities produce candy made from palm trees, pottery, and food from adjacent farms. Note: These itineraries operated September-December in 2018, and none are scheduled for 2019.

The well-fitted out riverboat offers 245-sq.ft. Avalon Suites spread over two decks where the twin or king-size beds face a 14-foot-wide wall of glass that opens to a railing and the world outside, similar in layout to many of the line’s European riverboat fleet. A forward open-air covered lounge shares the Mandalay Deck with an adjacent enclosed lounge and an aft dining room. The Sky Deck’s lounge is covered and next to the spa treatment room and gym.

China and the Yangtze River: N.B. THESE CRUISES ARE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon takes space for up 20 passengers on two Yangtze River vessels that combine a 3- or 4-night, 650-mile cruise between Yichang and Chongqing into 11- and up to 17-day cruise tours that include major sights in China such as Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong on the longer cruise tours. The 7-deck riverboat CENTURY LEGEND, completed in 2013, handles up to 392 passengers (oops, higher than QC’s 300-pax max!).

To personalize the cruise portion, all meals, apart from the farewell banquet, take place in the Sun Deck VIP restaurant. Meals feature Chinese buffets and a la carte Western dishes. Wine, beer, and soda are complimentary at dinner. Cabins (266 sq. ft.) are all outside with balconies and separate bathtubs and 24-hour access to an Executive Lounge. The boat’s amenities include an indoor swimming pool (unusual feature), library, game room, cinema, and gym.

All land tours are private to Avalon and land extensions do not exceed 20. Itineraries extend from April to October, though some specific tours do not include the searingly hot months of mid-June to mid-August.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, P.O. Box 3219, Highland Park, MI 48203;  Avalonwaterways.com; 877-380-1540

TWS

 

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CrosiEurope

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A family-owned French firm based in Strasbourg that started up in 1976 now operates one of the largest inland waters’ fleets in Europe with both river and canal boats. The river cruises travel on waterways throughout Europe, providing one of the main attractions for those looking for less traveled destinations.

In addition, coastal cruises fan out from Naples to the Amalfi Coast, Aeolian Islands, and Sicily, from Naples to Greece, and along Croatian coast and Montenegro. Additional river and island coastal cruises, beyond Europe, appear below. The total fleet worldwide now numbers almost 50 vessels. The firm caters to English speakers as well as European nationalities, and bien sur, the French.

CroisiEurope

Danube River scene. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

The river fleet numbers 40+. A sample listing follows. A “P” following a ship’s name indicates Premium, the newest and heavily remodeled vessels with larger cabins and more amenities.

Seine: SEINE PRINCESS-P (b. 2002, renovated 2012, 134p); BOTTICELLI (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 150p); RENOIR-P (b. 2018, 110p)

Rhine & Danube: LA BOHEME (built 1995, renovated 2011, 162 passengers, 108 sq. ft. cabins); BEETHOVEN (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 180p, cabins 140 sq. ft.); LAFAYETTE-P (b. 2014, 86p, cabin size N.A.); VIVALDI-P (b. 2009, 176p); GERARD SCHMITTER-P (b. 2012, 174p); EUROPE (b. 2006, renovated, 2011, 180p); FRANCE (b. 1999, renovated 2011, 156p); LEONARDO DA VINCI (b. 2oo3, renovated 2011, 174p); MODIGLIANI (b. 2001, renovated 2011, 156p); VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 96p); SYMPHONIE-P (b. 2010, renovated 2017, 108p); MONET (b. 1999, renovated 2007, 156p); DOUCE FRANCE (b. 1997, renovated 2017, 110p). N.B. The Moselle has been added with cruises embarking in Basel.

Rhone & Soane: MISTRAL (b. 1999, 158p, cabins 118 sq. ft.); VAN GOGH-P (b. 2018, 110p); CAMARGUE-P (b. 2015, 108p); RHONE PRINCESS (b. 2001/renovated 2011, 138p)

Garonne/Dordogne: CYRANO DE BERGERAC-P (b. 2013, 174p, 140 sq. ft)

CroisiEurope

Cyrano in Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Loire: LOIRE PRINCESS-P (b. 2014, 96 p, cabin size N.A.), a sidewheel paddle boat with a shallow draft designed to negotiate shallow waters.

Douro: GIL EANES-P (b. 2015, 32p, cabin size N.A.); MIGUEL TORGA-P (b. 2016, 136p); VASCO DA GAMA (b. 2002, 142p, cabins 129 sq. ft.); INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE (b. 2003, renovated 2014, 142p); FERNAO DE MAGALHAES (b. 2003, renovated 2011, 142p); AMALIA RODRIGUES (b. 2019)

SW Spain: LA BELLE DE CADIZ-P (b. 2005, renovated 2010, 176p, cabins 118 sq. ft.)

Po (Italy): MICHELANGELO (b. 2000, renovated 2011, 156p, cabin size N.A.)

Elbe & Moldau: L’ELBE PRINCESSE-P (b. 2016, 80p, cabin size N.A.); L’ELBE PRINCESSE II-P  (b. 2018, 86p, cabin size N.A.); N.B. These two are paddle wheelers with the ability to navigate shallow waters to reach the center of Prague. VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 48p)

Russia & the Volga: ROSTROPOVITCH (b. 1980, rebuilt 2010, 212p, cabins 126-243 sq.ft).

French Canals: Six French hotel canal barges built 2014-2016 and one renovated 2013; five taking 22p and one 24p, operating in Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire & Provence.

Coastal Ships: In addition, the CroisiEurope also runs LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIQUE-P (b. 2007, renovated 2017, 198p), a five-deck oceangoing ship operating in the Mediterranean (Italy, Sicily, Croatia & Greece) with all outside 151sq. ft. cabins.  In October 2019, the line takes on the former Silver Discoverer (Silverseas and originally built for the Japanese market as the Oceanic Grace in 1989)  to operate as LA BELLE DES OCEANS (120 passengers) on itineraries beginning in East Asia then working its way westward to Europe. SEE BELOW.

Canada & the St. Lawrence: New for 2020: Cruises (11 nights) will begin at Montreal with an overnight then a flight to St. Pierre et Miquelon, French territorial islands near the mouth of the St. Lawrence and just south of Newfoundland. The coastal vessel LA BELLE DE OCEANS (120 passengers) will cruise to Cap-aux-Meules (Magdalen Islands), Gaspe and Perce Rock, Baie-Comeau, Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay then upriver to Chicoutimi and along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City and Montreal (with a full day and overnight aboard before disembarking. This itinerary is likely to appeal to the French from France and to the growing North American market. Cruises operate between mid-June and mid-September (the beginning of fall footage).

Mekong River: INDOCHINE, a colonial-style boat operates on the Mekong (b. 2008 and taking 48 passengers in 172 sq, ft. all outside cabins); INDOCHINE II-P (b. 2017, 62 passengers, in 242 sq. ft. all outside cabins; LAN-DIEP (b. 2007, 44p), TOUM TIOU I (b. 2002, 20p) and TOUM TIOU II (b. 2008, 28p).

Southeast Asia, South Asia, Persian Gulf & Middle East: BELLE DES OCEANS (built 1989 & 120p) Cruises November 2019 to February 2020. Thailand & Malaysia 9 days; India & Sri Lanka 11 days; Dubai & Oman 8 days; and Jordan, Egypt, Israel & Cyprus 10 days.

CroisiEurope

Belle des Océans. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Inland Southern Africa: A relatively new offering is the riverboat AFRICAN DREAM (b. 2017, 16p) operating on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, southern Africa. The cruises are paired with a land stay at a lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River on the Border of Namibia and Botswana.The vessel takes just 16 passengers with 8 suites, including two with balconies. In 2020, the 16-passenger ZIMBABWEAN DREAM, built locally at Harare, will arrive to provide a second vessel for the Lake Kariba cruise portion of a longer tour that includes Victoria Falls and Botswana’s Chobe National Park with stays in riverside lodges.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by Croisieurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by CroisiEurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

While the first language aboard is French, English is also used for all announcements and entertainment, and is widely spoken amongst the crew. For some British and North Americans, the international experience is a major plus, though you will likely be in the minority. German, Italian and Spanish passengers may also be aboard.

Passenger Decks

The riverboat fleet includes three and four deckers, including the top open deck.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

All drinks, from wines to beer, cocktails and soft drinks, are included in fares during the main season from April to October. For North American passengers, all excursions are included, from walking and motor coach tours, to even, for instance, a thrilling helicopter ride on the Bordeaux itineraries from Pauillac over the vineyards of the Medoc region.

CroisiEurope Cruises

A helicopter ride over the vineyards near Bordeaux is a highlight of a Garonne River cruise. Photo: Heidi Sarna

Itineraries

The usual Europe rivers are included such as Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Main, Danube, Seine, Soane, Rhone, Douro (Portugal), Gironde and Garonne (SW France), and St. Petersburg to Moscow along rivers, canals and across lake and reservoirs.

More unusual are the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Andalusia (Southern Spain); the Po in Northern Italy; the Loire from St. Nazaire inland to Nantes and Angers (via shallow-draft paddleboat); Amsterdam to Berlin (unusual route) via waterways that connect the Rhine and tributaries with the Elbe across Northern Germany; and the Elbe and Moldau inland as far as central Prague by new shallow-draft sternwheelers 80-passenger L’ELBE PRINCESSE and L’ELBE PRINCESSE II (2018) taking 86 passengers. European river cruises operate nearly year-round.

Beyond Europe, Botswana‘s Chobe River in southern Africa plus Victoria Falls, and Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, are exotic options, plus ocean cruises to Malaysia and Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, the Persian Gulf, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

In another category, canal cruises operate on waterways throughout France using 22-passenger barges. Coastal cruises operate from Naples to Italian ports, islands and Sicily, and in the Adriatic to mostly Croatian ports and Montenegro and Greece, including Corfu.

Since 2018, CroisiEurope is a booking agent for selected 9-night cruises of the St. Lawrence River aboard the newly rebuilt MS JACQUES CARTIER, calling at Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Niagara Falls and passing along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIC operates in the Mediterranean. * Photo: Croisieurope

Why Go?

A French cruise line with an international passenger list may appeal to English speakers who would like to travel with Europeans (with French, Belgian and French-speaking Swiss in the majority), rather than just mostly North Americans.

When to Go?

The cruises operate during the best weather seasons, and the busy travel months of mid-June to September can often be avoided by choosing a spring or autumn date. Some departures are geared to the flowering bulb season in Belgian and the Netherlands, grape wine harvest in France and Germany, and a European-style Christmas (with markets) and New Year’s.

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

Most are of small to moderate size, outside with windows, beds in twin or double configuration. Some newer boats have larger cabins if that is an important factor, and some offer a few single cabins. Amenities include radio and TV.

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A standard cabin aboard Cyrano de Bergerac. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Public Rooms

All boats offer a forward lounge with bar for viewing and enjoying the entertainment, a dining room that seats all at the same time, and a top deck with both open and sheltered seating. During passages under very low bridges, the deck may have to be cleared of seating and railings.

Dining

Breakfast is a buffet while lunch and dinner are fine French cuisine set served three-course meals with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks. It pays to like the local food; there is a lot of duck on the menu as that’s a very popular French dish in its various permutations. Passengers are assigned tables according to their language. Some North Americans may find the full lunch menu a bit much, so you may wish to skip a course.

CroiseEurope

An elegant lunch onboard with complimentary wine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

Pre-dinner and sometimes post-dinner games, dancing and live music from a duo on the electronic piano and guitar. Basically, the it’s social interaction amongst the passengers that holds sway rather than sophisticated entertainment.

The Salon Bar on the Symphonie. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Special Notes

Consider the international flavor, which might be a plus or minus for you.

Along the Same Lines

CroisiEurope is probably the most international of the riverboat lines we cover. Others may cater only to English speakers (including those who speak the language well in addition to their native tongue) or specific nationalities such as German and Swiss or Spanish.

Contact

Go to www.croisieuroperivercruises.com; 800-768-7232.

TWS

 

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quirky-cruise-phinisi-cruise-around-komodo-islands-photo-of-passengers-on-boat

Silhouette Cruises, established in 1997 with one traditional motor-assisted sailing vessel, expanded over a 10-year period to develop a four-ship motor-sailer fleet at two different price levels to cruise amongst several granite-based islands and the oldest of their type in the world. British General Charles Gordon (aka Gordon of Khartoum) considered them to be the Garden of Eden. The ships sail year-round from Mahé, the main island and the island chain’s capital, where you’ll find the international air and seaport. The Seychelles are located in the Indian Ocean east of East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), northeast of Madagascar, and southwest of India. Until 1971, the islands were accessed by ship once or twice a month from Mombasa or Bombay, and during that period, visited by very few tourists, maybe a thousand a year. The Indian Ocean is blessed with two outstanding island archipelagos — the Seychelles and Maldives — for small-ship cruising interisland and for taking up a variety of activities such as diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and swimming. You can also choose to do little or nothing if you can resist all the temptations of this pair of tropical paradises. And yes, they are far far away from just about everything. The line’s name comes from Silhouette Island, a popular eye-catching island rising from the sea off Beau Vallon on the main island of Mahé.

Silhouette Cruise

Sunrise in the Seychelles

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

SEA SHELL (built 1920 as a pilot vessel, converted in 1997 & 23 passengers); SEA PEARL (b. 1915 as a sailing/fishing vessel, converted in 1999 & 27p); SEA STAR (b. 2004, 30p); and SEA BIRD (redesigned 2007 & 27p).

Passenger Decks

SEA SHELL & SEA PEARL two decks; SEA STAR & SEA BIRD three decks. No elevators.

Silhouette Cruises

The Sea Bird. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

Passenger Profile

International English-speaking clientele of all ages with a mix of interests — serious and novice divers and sailors, active types, and those who like “take it or leave it” activities.

Price

$ to $$ — Lower range applies to SEA SHELL and SEA PEARL where cabins are without private facilities.

Itineraries

Yearround cruising of 6 and 7 nights from Port Victoria on Mahé to several out islands and atolls. The island of Praslin is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and noted for giant Coco de Mer (palms trees) and the island of La Digue is known for giant tortoises and beautiful beaches framed by granite outcroppings that are also found on coral atolls. The local inhabitants are multi-cultural. with the French being the first European power to rule the archipelago and then the British, until independence in 1976. Between them, the two nations are responsible for bringing Africans, South Asian, Southeast Asians, and Chinese to the islands.

A few departures have specific themes such as diving, sea kayaking and natural history.

Silhouette Cruises

The main island Mahé

Included Features

Snorkeking equipment (mask & fins), kayaking, and bottom line fishing.

Why Go?

The main attractions are remoteness and the sheer beauty of the seascapes, coral atolls, fine sandy beaches, granite outcroppings, tropical vegetation, birds and marine life, appealing climate and unique attractions such as the coco de mer and tortoises.

Silhouette Cruises

Praslin – The Seychelles

When to Go?

The islands have no extremes with the average high temperature varying between 85-89F and lows 79-83F. Slightly more rain falls November to January.

Cabins
Silhouette Cruises

A Category A cabin on the Sea Pearl. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

SEA SHELL & SEA PEARL, the heritage pair, have both double bed and twin-bedded cabins with extra bunks and shared shower facilities, while SEA STAR & SEA BIRD have double-bed cabins and some with an extra bed or bunk and private shower facilities. The latter pair have A/C in cabins.

Public Rooms

As these vessels sail in tropical climes, the waking hours are spent out of doors with the lounge/bar and dining area used at meal times, and if there is a rain shower or squall. All vessels have an air-conditioned dining saloon and STAR and BIRD have A/C lounges. All offer on deck outdoor seating areas, including covered sections. TV, DVD, washing machines and dryers on all vessels.

 

Dining
Silhouette Cruises

The Sea Pearl’s dining area. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

Mealtimes are shared at open sittings with buffet-served meals. While the Seychelles are relatively remote islands, they do produce lots of fruit, some vegetables, and lots of fish and shellfish. Menus are international and creole.

Activities & Entertainment

Serious and novice diving comes with an instructor, plus there’s snorkeling, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, bottom fishing, sailing instruction, and cruising into colorful marine parks, isolated bays and coves. Enjoy short hikes to beauty spots, mangrove forests, birding, a vanilla plantation, copra mill, former leper colony, Vallee de Mai for coco de mer, and of course, good ‘ole fashioned beach bumming.

 

Special Notes

Given the long trek to get there and the expense involved, a visit Seychelles may include extra days at a beach resort or planning a completely different add-on such as an East African game park safari in Kenya or Tanzania.

Along the Same Lines

Variety Cruises and others. See also Deep Blue Holidays, similar tropical inter-island cruising in the Maldive Islands.

Contact

Silhouette Cruises Ltd., Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles; +248 4 324 026; www.seychelles-cruises.com.

Shilouette Cruises

Turtles – The Seychelles

 

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quirky-cruise-overseas-adventure-travel-asiya-river-yacht-egypt

Overseas Adventure Travel

Here is a major travel firm that covers the world with land tours and many integrated with a cruise component, some as short as 3 nights and on up to 2 weeks and a bit more. Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) has been in business for over 40 years and is part of Grand Circle Travel, so there may be overlapping bookings from both sources. The multitude of O.A.T. itineraries are highly creative, and often they are cruises on ships taking between 16 and 210 passengers, many with land extensions, and land tours only. Here we cover a sampling of travel choices where a small ship cruise forms an integral part.

Overseas Adventure Travel

South China Seas sunset. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships

Because there are so many choices, numerous ships are involved, some owned by Grand Circle Cruise Line, others chartered by Grand Circle or Overseas Adventure Travel, and in two cases, ships that also carry passengers who are not booked through O.A.T. or Grand Circle. These are cruise tours that include the Chilean fjords and the Yangtze River portion of a much longer China/Tibet cruise tour.

Passenger Profile

Americans, mostly 50+ and active. Levels of activities are noted with every departure — most cruise tours rate 2 on a scale of 1 to 6, but overall they range from 1 to 4 in terms of level of how active they are. With every itinerary, there is additional specific information about the distance to be covered on foot, the presence of uneven surfaces, and if significant, the number of stairs to be climbed.

Price

$ to $$$ — A wide range of rates depends on the ship involved, with most moderately priced. Singles are well catered for, and often there is no single supplement, and if there is, it is a smallish extra charge. Passengers who wish to share can apply for a roommate. Every cruise tour has a chart that includes the availability of single accommodations.

Antarctica

250 foot tower of ice. Antarctica * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

O.A.T. offers a huge range of small-ship cruises in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Middle East, Central and South America, Egypt, China and Antarctica. Groups of no more than 25 go ashore with separate guides. There are simply too many choices, especially in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, to list them all here. Where the ship is not specifically named, the number passengers carried is mentioned.

Sample Itineraries

Mediterranean: 16 days from Athens (Piraeus) to six Aegean Islands and Ephesus (Turkey); 16 days beginning in Zagreb to sail along the Croatian and Dalmatian Coasts, calling in at Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Kotor, a stop in Albania and onto the Corfu, Delphi and Athens  aboard Grand Circle’s 50-passenger ATHENA. Other regional itineraries include Portugal, Spain, France, Italy (including Sicily), Malta, Adriatic ports, and Cyprus. Groups of 22-25 go ashore with a licensed guide.

New 15-day cruise tour returns to Turkey, including Istanbul and the Turkish coast, the via the Dardanelles to the Greek Islands and Athens. 7 days is spent aboard the company-owned 50-passenger ATHENA.

Northern Europe: 15 days England, Wales (3 ports), Ireland, Northern Island, and Scotland (5 ports including three isles) aboard the 98-passenger CORINTHIAN operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line. Additional cruises feature the Baltic ports, north of Norway (using Hurtigruten coastal ships that generally exceed our 300 passenger limit) and Finland, and Iceland.

Egypt: 16-day cruise-tour includes Cairo and the Pyramids, a 7-night Nile cruise from Karnak to Aswan aboard the privately-chartered 75-passenger NEFERTITI. N.B. The day visit to Abu Simbel facing Lake Nasser involves a very early start and a four-hour bus ride in each direction. Participants have the option to remain in Aswan for the day.

Overseas Adventure Travel

Nile riverboat NEFERTITI takes 75 passengers. * Photo: Overseas Adventure Travel

Israel, Egypt & Jordan: 18-day land & cruise tour begins and ends in Israel with 7 nights aboard the 89-passenger CLIO operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line. The cruise leaves Israel (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Dead Sea) and sails for Egypt with calls that give access to Cairo and the pyramids, and after a Suez Canal transit, the Nile Valley (Karnak, Luxor) and Jordan, including Petra. Then return to Israel.

Panama: 12-day cruise tour of Panama, the country and the canal, including kayaking on Gatun Lake. Cruise transits the canal, taking 3 nights with stops along the way to view the canal operations, wildlife and local people, plus a land tour to visit indigenous people and Panama City. The privately-chartered catamaran 24-passenger M/S DISCOVERY is operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line.

South America: Itineraries with a cruise element include the Galapagos Islands, a 3- or 4-night cruise aboard an exclusively chartered 16-passenger yacht, plus Machu Picchu and Cusco; a 6-night Amazon and tributaries cruise aboard an exclusively chartered 24-passenger riverboat; and Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean fjords and glaciers aboard either the 100-passenger  STELLA AUSTRALIS or VENTUS AUSTRALIS shared with other passengers, while ashore with a guide it is no more than 25 O.A.T. passengers.

Overseas Adventure Tours

100-passenger VENTUS AUSTRALS. * Photo: Australis

Antarctica: 15-day cruise tour from Buenos Aires includes a 9-night expedition cruise aboard the company-owned 98-passenger CORINTHIAN sailing from Ushuaia.  Groups of no more than 22 passengers go ashore at landings along the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands.

China and Tibet: A 22-day land tour uses air, coach, train and a 3-night downstream Yangtze River cruise. Riverboat (various used) holds from 208-378 passengers, and O.A.T. group never exceeds 25 when going ashore. Itinerary includes Beijing, Xian and the terra cotta warriors, Chengdu (panda sanctuary), Wuhan, 3 nights in Lhasa, Tibet and finishes up in Hong Kong.

Note: New are women only departures, and those that include a small ship cruise component are to Argentina’s Patagonia region and a Chilean cruise aboard an Cuceros Australis ship, and another including the Galapagos and the Peruvian Amazon. .

Included Features

It varies as so many different types of trips are involved, but it is safe to say most meals (all on ships), excursions and most tips are included in fares.

Why Go?

Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle Line are long-time professionals in the travel business, and if you (as an American) prefer traveling with your own country folk, then you have found your operator. The firms offer worldwide itineraries so someone who wants a one-stop shop, here it is.

When to Go?

All itineraries include the best time of the year to go, and also fringe season when the weather may be hot, rainy or cold. Check the climate averages for wherever and whenever you are thinking of going.

Cabins, Public Rooms, Dining, Activities & Entertainment

With so many different ships used, but most under control of O.A.T. or Grand Circle Travel and Grand Circle Cruise Line, the ships will be of a high, if not necessarily a luxurious standard.

Special Notes

The Overseas Adventure Travel website has an abundance of resources to help visualize and understand the part of the world in which you are interested. If you are anxious to know your ship’s reputation, just Google the ship’s name and add “reviews.”

Overseas Adventure Travel

Mekong River fish market, Vietnam. * Photo: Ted Scull

Along the Same Lines

Zegrahm Expeditions with its worldwide itineraries though with decidedly fewer departures.

Contact

Overseas Adventure Travel, 347 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210; 800-955-1925 for new bookings & information; 800-221-0814 for existing bookings.

 

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© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Lindblad Expeditions returns to Egypt

by Anne Kalosh.

Lindblad Expeditions returns to Egypt this year, after an absence of more than seven years, with a journey that combines Cairo and beyond with a six-night Nile cruise. The 13-day “Passage Through Egypt” will be guided by Egyptologists and offers privileged access to some remarkable sites. A Lindblad-certified photo instructor will be along to help travelers take their best pictures of iconic places.

“I am so pleased to announce the resumption of our program in 2018,” said Sven Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions. He first traveled to Egypt with his father in 1961, when Lars-Eric Lindblad was researching his first expedition there.

“The journey was epic, and the experience was indelible. Things are very much on the upswing, and there is a pervasive optimism there about the future,” Lindblad said. “And the resplendent antiquities remain.”

The program in Cairo features a visit to Tutankhamun’s treasures at the Egyptian Museum; Old Cairo, known for its Coptic churches; and the thousand-year-old Ben Ezra Synagogue. The Gayer-Anderson Museum, the former residence of a British officer in the Egyptian army who was a great art collector of art, furniture and carpets, is on the agenda, too.

In Luxor travelers will trek to the Karnak Temple, where 30 pharaohs over millennia added their own monuments and shrines, and Luxor Temple, guarded by giant statues of Ramses II. In the Valley of the Kings they’ll see tombs of some of the greatest pharaohs including Tutankhamun and Seti I, which require special permits. Also by special permit is a visit to one of the most remarkable tombs of all: that of Nefertari, located in the Valley of the Queens.

Read Ted’s Egypt River Cruise overview here.

Lindblad travelers will sail to Edfu Temple, dedicated to the falcon god Horus, and Kom Ombo, for the worship of Horus and the crocodile god Sobek. In Aswan they’ll tour the island temple of Philae and the Nubian Museum, take tea at the legendary Old Cataract Hotel and sail on a felucca. In Abu Simbel, they’ll see the two great temples built by Ramses II, disassembled and moved, block by massive block, to higher ground when the Nile was dammed at Aswan.

The adventure continues at Giza where the necropolis of Saqqara includes the step pyramid of the Pharaoh Zoser, a revolutionary design that initiated the art of pyramid-building. Travelers will see the Sphinx, ride a camel if they wish and go inside the Great Pyramid, following a narrow passageway to the burial chamber of Cheops.

The Nile cruise is aboard the luxurious OBEROI PHILAE, built for 100 passengers then completely remodeled to accommodate just 42 in 22 cabins, including four suites. Nearly floor-to-ceiling windows offer idyllic views, while the top deck has a swimming pool and an alfresco restaurant. Inside is another restaurant, several lounges and a spa.

Lindblad Expeditions returns to Egypt

The luxurious 22-cabin Oberoi Philae. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

The Cairo sojourn begins in the heart of the city at the Nile Ritz-Carlton, in a room overlooking the river. After returning to Cairo from Upper Egypt, Lindblad travelers will stay at the historic Mena House, located at the foot of the Giza Plateau, with rooms featuring pyramid views from their balconies.

Departures are Oct. 28 and Nov. 25, 2018, and Jan. 20 and March 17, 2019. Rates begin at $8,480 per person, double occupancy. An optional five-day post-voyage extension to Jordan is available.

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Articles About Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Q&A with Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises' Mark Spillane
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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Since it was founded in 1990, Crystal Cruises has been a beloved high-end line, with ships in the 800- to 1,000-passenger range, twice the size of the ships of near-peers Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas. Crystal’s strength has always been their wide scope of dining choices (with Asian and Italian specialty restaurants before everyone else jumped on that boat) and activities (offering onboard computer workshops before such things were popular). They have also always excelled in their lecture program, with most cruises featuring numerous experts giving talks about the destination as well as other topics. Now with its Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises brand,  Crystal is taking what it does best and adapting it to a small upscale expedition-style ship called CRYSTAL ESPRIT, the focus of this review. It was built in 1989 and then purchased by Star Cruises in 1994 and known as the MEGASTAR TAURUS (a private vessel for Star’s parent company Genting’s high-roller casino clients) until its recent conversion to ESPRIT.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The 62-passenger Crystal Esprit. * Photo: Crystal

In mid 2015, Crystal was bought by Genting Hong Kong and soon after in a series of announcements outlined a new chapter for the company, an aggressive expansion program that months later was watered down. Currently, the new offerings include the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015, and for now three river “yachts,” including a pair of brand new vessels that launched in 2017: the 110-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL MAHLER to cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers (two more new river yachts are planned for 2018 and another pair at an unspecified date). The 158-passenger CRYSTAL MOZART river yacht (a 1987-built ship formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises) debuted for Crystal in Europe in July 2016. Click here for more details on Crystal River Cruises.

To join the ESPRIT, Crystal launched the 200-passenger CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR in the summer of 2019.  Down the road, Crystal wants to build a trio of new 1,000-passenger luxury ships to sail in polar regions; they’ve changed their target date several times, and are currently shooting for a 2022 launch.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Rendering of the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor. * Rendering: Crystal Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CRYSTAL ESPRIT (built 1989 & 62 passengers); CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR (b. 2019 & 200 p)

Passenger Profile

Well-to-do couples 40s on up, with some senior singles and families during summers and holidays, from North America mainly, plus a sprinkling from the UK, Europe and Asia. Many have cruised on Crystal’s larger ships.

Passenger Decks

4 (no elevators)

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Just about everything — wine, spirits, soft drinks, tips, watersports, one excursion in every port, WiFi (an hour a day), self-serve laundry, butler service, and 24-hour in-room dining from the restaurant menu.

Itineraries

Winters, 7-night Seychelles Islands round-trip from Mahe, Seychelles, calling on St. Anne Island; La Passe, la Digue Island; Baie Ste. Anne, Praslin Island; Laraie Bay, Curieuse Island; Anse Saint Jose, Curieuse Island; Cousin Island; Aride Island; Big Sister Island; and Desroches Island. These cruises are packaged with a 2-night hotel stay in Dubai before the cruise.

  • Spring, Summer and Fall, 7-night Adriatic Sea between or round-trip from mostly Venice, Dubrovnik and/or Athens, with various combinations of ports that may include Rovinj, Sibenik, Trogir, Vis, Hvar, Split, Zadar, Opatija, and Korcula, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Piran, Slovenia; and Corfu, Parga, Itea, Hydra, and Navplion, Greece. Each of the 7-night cruises can be combined with the following one to create a 14-night cruise without repeating ports.
  • December, 9-, 10- and 11-night Middle East round-trip from Dubai, calling on Khasab and Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; and Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi, UAB.
  • CRYSTAL ENDEAVOUR entered service in mid-summer 2019 with initial expedition cruises in Japan and the Russian Far East, Indonesia, Borneo, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, including the Ross Sea, and Antarctica from Ushuaia where it will operate will the highest ice classification for an expedition cruise vessel. In August 2021, the ship will undertake a 28-night westward voyage via the Northeast Passage. The new ship’s amenities include two helicopters and two 7-passenger submarines.
When to Go?

ESPRIT does its Europe cruises in the summer and the Middle East/Africa itineraries in the winter months.

Cabins

Most of the rooms on the all-suite ship are 280-square-foot Yacht Suites with a queen-size bed, small sitting area with a sofa bed (can be used for a third passenger), full-height hanging closet, and very nice bathrooms with double sinks, rain showers and natural stone flooring. The single 515-sq. ft owner’s suite has a separate dining room with four-seat dining table. None of the suites have balconies and none are wheelchair accessible. There are two self-service laundry rooms.

Public Rooms

The Cove Lounge is the yacht’s main entertainment spot, where you can watch a movie or live sporting event by day, and in the evening enjoy a drink while a piano player/singer provides background music. There’s a mini casino and the lovely outdoor Sunset Bar on Deck 5 speaks for itself. There’s a small pool and two hot tubs on Deck 5, as well as a steam room, sauna and a small gym with a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical machines, Kinesis machines and free weights. You’ll find a micro spa/salon on Deck 3.

Crystal Yacht Cruises

Crystal Endeavour’s solarium transforms into an evening dining venue. * Photo: Crystal Yacht Cruises

Dining

Four venues include The Yacht Club restaurant, which is the ship’s main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner; menus incorporate local ingredients in many dishes. It has large windows and a chic color scheme of steel greys and sharp blues, and tables are set with Riedel crystal, fine china and French linens. Seating is open and there are lots of tables for two. The adjacent outdoor Patio Café at the stern offers great views and waiter-served light meals at breakfast and lunch, when you can choose from interesting salads, cold cuts, cheese and pastries. On Deck 5 near the pool during the day,The Grill offers burgers, wraps and international “street food” reflecting the itinerary. The Compass Room is a small reservations-only specialty dining venue for wine and food pairings, ideal for private parties. Grazers can always stop by the Pantry, a self-serve pit stop on Deck 2 open 24 hours a day with light food and drinks.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The Esprit’s open seating Yacht Club Restaurant. * Photo: Crystal

Activities & Entertainment

An ESPRIT cruise is meant to be active and adventurous (note, there are no elevators on the ship), with adult toys including a two-passenger submarine, four 10-passenger zodiacs for special excursions, and a 12-passenger Wider 32-foot yacht tender for special boating adventures (all complimentary except for sub).  Watersports equipment is carried on board and easily accessible from the stern marina, from water skis to wake boards, kayaks, jet skis, fishing, and snorkel equipment. There are also a few bicycles passengers can use in port. On the cerebral side, on some cruises destination experts will be on board to present talks. Evenings, it’s drinks and chat with fellow guests.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Crystal Espirit’s stern marina for watersports and Zodiac access. * Photo: Crystal

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream Yacht Club.

Contact

Crystal Cruises, 11755 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 1-310-785-9300 or www.crystalyachtcruises.com.

— HMS

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

 

 

Nile River Overview

By Ted Scull.

Egypt has been largely off the travel map for some time, and now tourism is slowly returning so QuirkyCruise.com decided to bring the legendary Nile cruise to your attention. Most important historic sites can now be enjoyed with far less crowding than in the past when the major sites were often overwhelmed with visitors.

The Nile is the world’s longest river at some 4,160 miles from source to mouth — in Egypt, the Upper Nile is in the south and the Lower Nile is up north. Most Nile River cruises sail between Luxor and Aswan, a 120-mile stretch. The four-night option visits the ancient temples and monuments at Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, Kom Ombo, Edfu, and Esna; longer seven- and eight-night options add on the bit north of Luxor, stopping at Dendera and Abydos.

Nile River Overview

The Sphinx and the Pyramid of Cheops in Giza. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

When contemplating a trip to Egypt and the Nile Valley, be sure to go prepared. Those who don’t know Isis from Osiris (wife and sister; husband and brother) and who think that they are looking at Cleopatra’s Needles (chiseled 12 centuries before she was born) in Central Park, London, Paris, Rome and Istanbul will be crying uncle after a few days exploring the temples and tombs of Ancient Egypt.

Nile River Overview

Uniworld’s River Tosca on the Nile River. * Photo: Uniworld Cruises

The high-end operators provide not only good reading lists, but also suggest which ones to read if you have limited time. Take the suggestions to heart or be prepared to get stuffed with more myths, tales and hieroglyphs than you can keep straight.

While some travelers shy away from taking an organized tour, it is really the only way to navigate the Nile Valley and come away with a successful trip, rather than one beset by having to deal with overly eager “official” guides, touts galore, canceled reservations, long queues to get into nearly everything, and far too many other tourists intruding into your space.

Nile River Overview

This posh 12-passenger boat, “Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau,” cruises the Nile River in luxury. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Before the events of the Arab Spring in 2011, when many travel companies and cruise lines stopped offering Egypt trips due to security issues and waning demand, there were many river cruise lines offering Nile Rivers cruises. Seven years later, the region still hasn’t bounced back to the old days, but there are a handful of river cruise lines committed to this stunning part of the world. (The number of tourists visiting Egypt dropped from 14.7 million in 2010 to 5.4 million in 2016, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.)

Read more about Egypt’s tourism decline in this recent Al Jazeera article. In addition, here is a link to the July 2017 State Department warning about travel to Egypt.

This picture may not sound very appealing, but Egypt, ancient and modern, Coptic and Muslim, is a fascinating place, and a cruise on the Nile transports one back to pre-biblical times.

Nile River Valley Cruise-Tour Combo

Our cruise-tour with Lindblad Expeditions lasted 16 days (note: in January 2018, Lindblad announced it was resuming Nile River cruises after it had pulled out of the region in January 2011 due to the uprising.) Two Egyptologists ­— in our case two highly professional Coptic Christian women — divided the group in half. Not only did they present their considerable knowledge in a most appealing way, but they were experts in helping us avoid the worst of the crowds and in getting tickets to hard-to-obtain Nefertari’s tomb. Lindblad also guaranteed Nile-view rooms in Cairo and pyramid views at the Oberoi Mena House in Giza, on the west bank of the Nile a few miles southwest of central Cairo.

Pre-cruise Stay in Cairo

Cairo has many layers to explore amidst quite a lot of chaotic street traffic. The Cairo Museum’s treasures are well known, as is its dustiness, but there is also modern-day Muslim Cairo and a Coptic Christian culture that represents 15 per cent of Egypt’s population. Even coming from New York, I found crossing the street intimidating and downright frightening at times. Cross with the locals. But it was worth the effort to get into the perfectly safe back streets or to walk the banks of the Nile for a glimpse of action on the river.

Cruising Luxor to Aswan

Our Lindblad trip spent eight nights on the river, and the passing scene kept lots of us out on deck. The Nile in Upper Egypt is the highway for barges laden with sugarcane and feluccas taking sacks of fertilizer to farm landings. Cattle and goats came down to drink from the Nile, and small boys yodeled and waved as we passed. It took on a magical quality one evening when the moon rose in the East and the set in the Western Desert.

Nile River Overview

A caro-carrying felucca. * Photo: Ted Scull

With so few other cruise boats presently operating on the Nile, the rafting side by side at night that used to be the norm is much less common, and you are less likely to be looking into someone else’s cabin.

Lindblad’s 16-day cruise tour spent a full week on the riverboat allowing more time at Luxor and area and including Dendara, an outstanding and less visited Greco-Roman site down river.

Between Luxor and Aswan, most sites are from the Greco-Roman period, but executed in the Egyptian style. The settings, on the riverbank, inland and below ground, vary more than the content, so those who have done their homework and have a sense of anticipation fare better than those who come unprepared.

Because of the current heightened security with reassuring police presence, you are not likely to feel uncomfortable after a day or two.

Valley of the Kings

The narrow West Bank of the Nile represents Ancient Egypt at its peak. Part of the ancient city of Thebes, the Valley of the Kings was the burial place of almost all the pharaohs (kings) between 1539 and 1075 BC, from Thutmose to Ramses X. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the area also comprises Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Queens.

There is lots of sightseeing variety, including massive temples, statuary, an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes and tombs of pharaohs. The best of underground chambers are few and small, and unable to handle many visitors, and with some sites not open on a given day, it is not always certain which interior spaces you will see.

Nile River Overview

Valley of the Queens, located on the West Bank of the Nile. * Photo: Ted Scull

At the Valley of the Kings, we got into several tombs, including Tutankhamen’s and Nefertari’s, though the latter visit has a limit of 10 minutes to minimize the chances of damage due to our breathing. The hieroglyphs are spectacular.

The only disappointment was Karnak’s sound and light show that consisted of mostly booming voices of British dramatic actors, yet offering little historical content. The show at the Great Pyramids was much better.

Luxor

Luxor, today a modern city of nearly one-half million, was at the peak of Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom, Upper Egypt’s capital city of Thebes. Luxor Temple, is a massive complex to explore, with its centerpiece the Colossus of Ramesses II. Movie buffs who know the film “Death on the Nile” will be delighted to see the spot where the huge stone slab came crashing down. If the guide adds a bit of drama, he will have you look up straight up, an exercise that can be a bit unnerving.

Nile River Overview

Luxor. * Photo: Ted Scull

A multi-kilometer avenue lined with hundreds of Sphinxes led from here to Karnak. In the early 21st century, a large section was unearthed to give a sense of majesty. Luxor also has interesting markets, both for the locals and visitors, and a fine corniche above the Nile to stroll along in the evening.

Aswan

Aswan is the most visitable city, and the parallel streets in from the river have a lively market atmosphere, and as most goods are not tourist-oriented, one can explore without being harassed. The felucca cruise around Elephantine Island and to the botanical gardens allows for a peaceful enjoyment of the sites and the urban and desert landscapes. The Island of Philae between the British-built dam and the High Dam is a lovely setting and provides an interesting story of saving a highly valued ancient monument from the rising waters.

Nile River Valley

A market in Aswan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel may have been the highlight of our itinerary and included an overnight stay at a nearby hotel, affording us the opportunity to stand on the banks of Lake Nasser as the sun set behind the colossal statues of Ramses II and then watch it rise the next morning to bathe the monument in a soft light.

Nile River Overview

Abu Simbel with a full moon above now faces Lake Nasser above the Aswan Dam. * Photo: Ted Scull

Giza & Pre- and Post-Cruise Hotel Stays

Giza, a major city in its own right, has been absorbed into the sprawling Cairo metropolis just a few miles away to the east. Here you’ll see ancient Egypt’s iconic archetypal pyramids and the Sphinx at the base of Giza’s desert plateau. The Pyramids of Giza along with the ancient ruins of Memphis, Ṣaqqārah, Dahshūr, Abū Ruwaysh, and Abū Ṣīr, were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

Nile River Overview

The classic Giza experience. * Photo: Uniworld Cruises

Read more about the pyramids of Giza in this National Geographic article.

The final three nights of our cruise-tour were spent at the Oberoi Mena House, a former 1869-built hunting lodge that has greatly expanded into a major hotel. It’s a most desirable and popular hotel on high-end packages. Our room looked directly across the interior date palm courtyard to two of Giza’s three Great Pyramids, either floodlit or as darkened silhouettes piercing the night sky.

The days were spent visiting Giza and the amazing 4,700-year-old solar boat, the ruins at Memphis and the step pyramid at Saqqara. Descending into a nobleman’s mastaba (burial chamber), beautifully colorful bas-reliefs depict intriguing scenes of daily life — farmers force-feeding cattle, fishermen casting their nets, artists sculpting and making jewelry, dwarfs building a boat, and a hippo biting a crocodile.

Nile River Overview

A step pyramid. * Photo: Ted Scull

I think that our guides made the difference and kept the interest up amongst most of the group. A few people said that if they heard another set of hieroglyphs being translated, they would cover their ears.

For me, this was my third time in Egypt with decades in between, and as archeologists uncover more and it is then interpreted, Egypt’s long history gets richer and more deeply understood.

Nile River Cruise ABC’s
When to go?

Nile River cruises are offered year-round. The best time is December though February, the high season, when yes it’ll still be pleasantly hot, but less humid and quite chilly at night, often down to the low 50s/high 40s F. Summers are broiling hot — more than 100 degrees F — while the shoulder seasons of March/April and October/November can be ok too, though still hot in the middle of the day. Keep in mind the water level of the Nile is usually low between October and May to conserve water in Lake Nasser, the source of much of Egypt’s irrigation supply.

Nile River Cruise Itineraries

Most Nile River cruises are 4 or 8 nights; with the shorter cruises sometimes combined with a 3-night cruise on Lake Nasser; all companies offer optional pre- and post-cruise hotel packages for additional exploring in Cairo, Giza, and Alexandria.

Getting There

Fly into Cairo via major cities like London and New York. Depending on your package, there are likely internal flights on domestic carriers.

Nile River Cruising Do’s & Don’ts:
  • Definitely take a pre-organized tour; it’s really the only sane and safe way to navigate the Nile River Valley.
  • Don’t get into a lazy cruise mode before you go, and do at least some of the reading the cruise tour operator suggests. Your forays into ancient tombs and temples will be much richer for it.
  • Egyptian tourism was a huge part of the economy and is slowly coming back post Arab-spring, so thousands have been unemployed or underemployed. You are part of the paycheck so naturally there may be pressure to buy.
  • Check carefully for the quality of souvenirs; enlist your cruise-sanctioned guide to direct you to shops with legitimate goods.
  • Be on guard at crowded markets and busy tourist sites for pickpockets.
  • The sun god is a powerful force, so cover up when out in the open for any length of time.
Lines Offering Nile River Cruises

Abercrombie & Kent

Lindblad Expeditions

Scenic

Uniworld Cruises

Viking River Cruises

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Uniworld

Snapshot

What more could you ask for in a river cruise: luxury interiors, cushy cabins with amazing beds, all-inclusive fares and a fleet of bicycles on board for pedalling in port whenever the whim strikes.

Uniworld operates river cruises in many parts of the world with a heavy concentration on the rivers of Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe, including Russia. The river cruise line is one of the 30 brands of The Travel Corporation that operates family, youth, guided, independent, safari and adventure travel, as well as river cruising, and hotels in 70 countries on six continents. The river cruise line is considered to be at the top of the market and is known for being truly all-inclusive. A Generations Program designed for families has specific Europe river departures for children, tweens and teens. The newish “U BY UNIWORLD” program originally targeted travelers in the 18 to 40 age range, and now these river cruises are offered to all adult passengers upon two renovated ships — River Baroness and the River Ambassador — redesigned with a more contemporary look and features like communal tables for dining, creative cocktails and international DJ’s onboard while sailing on the major European rivers to exciting ports like Paris, Amsterdam and Budapest.

Uniworld Ships, Years Delivered & Passenger Profile

The European fleet takes from 118 to 159 passengers (Russia 202 passengers), and the riverboats are new or recently rebuilt to provide many of the same amenities as the newest units. S.S. MARINA THERESA (built 2015 & 150 passengers); S.S. CATHERINE (b. 2014 & 159 p); S.S. ANTOINETTE (b. 2011 & 154 p); RIVER BEATRICE (b. 2011 & 156 p); RIVER QUEEN (b. 1999/remodeled 2010 & 128 p); RIVER ROYALE (b. 2006/remodeled 2014 & 130 p) now operates at S.S. BON VOYAGE with added features such as a top deck pool, lounge and three restaurants – casual dining, the main restaurant offering a cooking demonstration area plus a bistro; RIVER COUNTESS (b. 2003/remodeled 2012 & 130 p); RIVER DUCHESS (b. 2003/remodeled 2012 & 130 p); RIVER EMPRESS (b. 2001/remodeled 2014 & 130 p); RIvER BARONESS (b. 1994/remodeled 2011 & 116 p); RIVER PRINCESS (b. 2001/remodeled 2011 &130 p); RIVER AMBASSADOR (b. 1993/remodeled 2011 & 116 p); QUEEN ISABEL (b. 2013 & 118 p); and on the Russian waterways RIVER VICTORIA (b. 2011 & 202 p). Added in 2017 is the 128-passenger S.S. JOIE DE VIVRE that will allow a greater variety of river trips along the Seine, plus excursions to Paris, Versailles and the Normandy beaches. N.B. LA VENEZIA (remodeled 2020 & 126 p) for 8- & 10-day cruises to access destinations on and near the Po River, Venice and nearby islands, and Milan.

DSC_2895 Uniworld S.S. MARIA THERESA

Passing Budapest’s Parliament. * Photo: Uniworld

Uniworld River Cruises Outside Europe are Briefly Listed Here

A 7-night Nile cruise aboard the 82-passenger RIVER TOSCA and a hotel stay in Cairo add up to a 12-day cruise tour, January through May then resuming at the end of September. A 7-night Ganges River cruise aboard the GANGES VOYAGER II and a land tour including New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Kolkata adds up to a 13-day cruise tour with departures September through March. In Southeast Asia, a 7-night Mekong River cruise aboard the French colonial-style MEKONG NAVIGATOR combines with a 7-night hotel stay in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with departures year-round except April and May. The MEKONG JEWEL will double the departures beginning in 2020. Yangtze River and China cruise tours last from 11 to 18 days year-round with a 3- or 4-night river cruise aboard the CENTURY LEGEND or SANCTUARY YANGZI EXPLORER.

N.B. Beginning in September 2020, Uniworld will be offering a Peruvian Amazon program featuring two itineraries: an 11-day cruise tour that include Lima and a cruise to Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and a 15-day combination of Machu Picchu exploration and a week’s Peruvian Amazon cruise. The riverboat ARIA AMAZON offers 15-suites, all with large picture windows. Included are all excursions, wines and spirits, and gratuities.

Uniworld Passenger Profile

While most river cruisers are 50 and up, several offerings will appeal to multi-generational families who would like to vacation together. The latter are scheduled in the summer holidays and December, and extra bicycles (including child sizes) are brought on board for guided and independent pedaling in port whenever the mood strikes. Solo travelers will find that a wide selection of European river departures have a waived or low single supplement.

Uniworld Passenger Decks

The fleet has two or three cabin decks, and elevators operate between all except lowest deck on RIVER QUEEN, RIVER ROYALE and no elevator on RIVER AMBASSADOR & RIVER BARONESS. RIVER VICTORIA has 4 cabin decks and no elevator to the lowest deck. As is common on riverboats, none have elevators that rise to the Sun Deck.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey. For families, some departures offer 50% for ages 4-18, and a few even offer free accommodations when traveling with two adults.

Included Features

All shore excursions at differing levels of activity, gratuities on board and off (ie to tour guides), alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (limited to dinners in Russia), Internet and WiFi, use of bicycles.

Fisherman's Bastion, Buda section of Budapest. * Photo; Ted Scull

Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda section of Budapest. * Photo; Ted Scull

Uniworld Itineraries

Operated as both European river cruises-only and others with land and hotel extensions ranging from 8 to 15 days, with longer travel options lasting up to three and four weeks. European itineraries cover the Rhine, Moselle, Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Rhone & Saone, Gironde, Garonne & Dordogne, Douro, Po & Venice Lagoon and Russian rivers canals and waterways between St. Petersburg and Moscow.

For example: 10-day cruise-tours in North Italy include a land portion from Milan to Venice then on Day 3 to Day 10 live aboard the River Countess docked in Venice and sailing the Po River. 15-day cruise-tours include the above then add four days to visit Florence and Rome.

Further afield are river journeys in Egypt, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, and India’s Ganges River.

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Uniworld’s map of European river cruises.* Photo: Uniworld

Why Go?

Oceangoing cruises touch at coastal ports, while inland cities and scenic destinations are often a longish bus ride there and back (think Berlin, Bruges, Ghent, Paris, Avignon, etc.) while river cruises take you directly to the doorstep and to many other great cities and sights.

When to Go?

River cruises are operated seasonally, and often not at all in November, January, February and often into March. Christmas markets cruises are the exception in December. While there are fewer crowds in the spring, rain may also limit independent activities ashore, while the fall sees less tourists and often nicer weather.

Uniworld Cabins

Attractively and individually furnished with private balconies for some of the top accommodations, and French balconies with small rectangular windows high in the room on the lowest deck. Most standard cabins measure 150-160 sq. ft. with a few as small at 128 sq. ft., and suites 214 to 410 sq. ft. Cabins offer TV, telephone, bottled water, and safe, while many suites have butler service, and all suite offer room service for breakfast, daily fruit and snacks, stocked minibar, bottle of wine upon arrival, and free laundry service.

A lovely standard cabin aboard River Empress. * Credit: Uniworld Cruises

A lovely standard cabin aboard River Empress. * Credit: Uniworld Cruises

Uniworld Public Rooms

The furnishings and original artworks are lavish for riverboats, and the newer vessels have two lounges with bars, while the very newest add heated swimming pools. Nearly all but the oldest have a complimentary guest laundry room — unusual on riverboats — and all have a spa and fitness room, sun deck with open and covered lounge seating, life-size chess pieces and free Internet and WiFi (though signals can be weak).

Uniworld Dining

The main restaurants seat all at one open sitting and dinner is from a menu while breakfast (with eggs to order) and lunch are buffets. In addition, there is an early riser breakfast, and light lunch options are in the main lounge and in the Sky Lounge or on the Sun Deck when weather permits. Afternoon tea is served in the main lounge, and al fresco dinners in the Sun Lounge or on the Sun Deck, again weather permitting. The food is very good and there typically at least one local option at lunch and dinner (ie Wienerschnitzel, sausages and sauerkraut on a Rhine cruise). Beer, wine and soft drinks are complimentary at meal time and any time of day (dinner only in Russia). Family departures offer children’s menus.

Wienershnitzel (pork) for lunch on board. * Heidi Sarna

Wienershnitzel (pork) for lunch on board. * Heidi Sarna

Uniworld Activities & Entertainment

Shore excursion choices fall into several categories: Choice is Yours is either to go on a first timers excursion or one that is less visited; Go Active might mean by bicycle either with a guide (historian or naturalist) or on your own; Do As Locals Do meets with local people; Village Day may involve a visit to a small town, workshop and/or farm; Special Visits are arranged for instance to a noble’s property or an evening visit when a site is normally closed to the public; and Gentle Walking means going at a relaxed pace with a guide, or remain on board and visit the spa or simply relax. While underway or at the end of the day, onboard lectures will feature art and cultural historians. The Generations family program includes some supervised children’s activities aboard, from pastry making demos to face painting and knot tying, and ashore, with excursions to places like interactive museums and forest adventure climbing parks. Uniworld teamed up with top travel operator Butterfield & Robinson to offer special river cruise departures using bicycles for exploring much of the way along the Danube between Passau and Budapest, returning to the boat every afternoon.

Biking along the Rhine in Basel before the it's time to sail. * Heidi Sarna

Biking along the Rhine in Basel before the it’s time to sail. * Heidi Sarna

Special Notes

Singles rates are reduced or waived on a wide selection of dates and itineraries. There are especially marked family departures in the summer.

Along the Same Lines

Scenic & Crystal River Cruises.

Contact

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, 17323 Venture Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91316; Uniworld.com; 800-257-2407

— TWS & HMS

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