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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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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

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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

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Variety Cruises

Variety Cruises (formerly known as Zeus Casual Cruises) is one of the world’s largest small-ship cruise companies. Founded in 1968, it’s still going strong with a fleet of 12 fully owned yachts carrying between 8 and 72 passengers on intimate voyages in warm-weather regions around the world. They often stay late in a given port if the nightlife and restaurant scene is worth exploring.

The fleet comprises eight motor yachts and sail-assisted motor sailers (34 to 72 passengers a piece), and four private yachts (with 5 or 6 cabins a piece). The entire Variety fleet is popular with private charter groups, including college alumni groups and travel companies that charter the vessels for photography, birdwatchers, wine, history, archeology and other themed cruises. (The four private yachts are only sold as full-ship charters with a crew, while the eight larger vessels also operate scheduled cruises.)

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The Harmony V in Santorini. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Divided into two groups: Private yachts — OBSESSION (built 2002, 5 cabins), MONTE CARLO (b. 2000, 5 cabins), ABSOLUTE KING (b. 2002, 5 cabins), and S/Y CHRISTIANA VIII (b. 2005, 6 cabins); and Mini cruise ships (motor yachts/motor sailers) — VARIETY VOYAGER (built 2012, 72 passengers), HARMONY V (b. 2003 & rebuilt 2009, 49 p), HARMONY G (b. 2001, 44 p), CALLISTO (b. 2000, 34 p), PANORAMA (b. 1993 & rebuilt 2001, 46 p), PANORAMA II (b. 2004, 49 p), GALILEO (b. 1992 & rebuilt 2007, 49 p), and PEGASUS (b. 1990 & rebuilt 1997, 44 p).

Imagine the views from this sun deck! * Photo: Variety Cruises

Imagine the views from this sun deck! * Photo: Variety Cruises

Passenger Decks

3 – 4 (no elevators)

Price

$ – $$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Drinking water, coffee and tea.

Itineraries

At any given time there are about a dozen cruise itineraries to choose from, mostly seven nights, including:

  • Year-round, 3-, 4- and 7-night Seychelles cruises aboard PEGASOS from Mahe or Praslin
  • Summers April – Nov, various 7-night Greek Isles cruises round-trip from Athens, and between Athens and Istanbul (including some with an expert lecturers, generally offered on PANORAMA II or GALILEO, speaking about the archaeology and history of the islands)
  • Winters Dec – March, 7 nights Costa Rica cruises between Colon, Panama and Puntarenas Port, Costa Rica
  • Winters Dec – April, 7 nights Cuba cruises round-trip from Havana NO CUBA CRUISES LISTED ON THE LINE’S WEBSITE FOR LATE FALL  INTO WINTER & SPRING 2019/2020
  • Winters Dec – March, 7 nights Canary Islands between Las Palmas and Tenerife
  • Winters Nov, 7 nights Cape Verde (south of Canary Islands) round-trip from Praia, Sao Tiago
Galileo is as gorgeous as her surroundings. * Photo: Variety Cruises

WOW! Galileo is as gorgeous as her surroundings. * Photo: Variety Cruises

 

Why Go

To feel like you own the ship and aren’t bound by rigid schedules or bogged down by big crowds.

When to Go?

Variety positions its fleet in the regions at the best time to be there.

Cabins

Across the fleet, each cabin has a window or porthole, twin or a queen bed, and private bathrooms with branded toiletries and showers — some top suites have marble clad bathrooms. All rooms have flat screen TVs, DVD players, mini fridges, individually controlled A/C, safes and Wi-Fi (for a fee). VARIETY VOYAGER also has robes for passengers’ use.

Variety Voyager's very posh Category P Cabin. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Variety Voyager’s very posh Category P Cabin. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Public Rooms

The interior spaces are sleek in elegant wood paneling and buttery leather upholstery. All the vessels have an indoor lounge, bar and dining area. Some of the larger vessels also have outdoor dining space and a second bar, mini spa, and a small library. The sundeck on each has loungers and/or sun beds and a swimming platform at the stern provides easy access for watersports. Each boat carries aboard kayaks, and VARIETY VOYAGER and PANORAMA II also have stand-up paddle boards.

Dining

All offer one, open seating in an indoor dining room for all meals; some ships also have outdoor seating. Breakfasts are buffet style, and lunch and/or dinners are a combination of buffet and a la carte services, with BBQs offered on deck and on shore from time to time. Meals with an international appeal might include cream of asparagus soup and an endive and radicchio salad followed by a main course such as a smoked salmon fillet or roast veal, ending with something delicious and decadent like vanilla profiteroles drizzled with hot chocolate fudge. Various dietary needs are happily accommodated.

Activities & Entertainment

There are typically multiple swim stops throughout the week when passengers can hop into the water right from the vessels when at anchor in calm seas. Free snorkeling equipment is supplied on each boat. The ships stop at a port once per day, sometimes twice, and each carries one or two zodiacs for quick trips to shore. Except for complimentary walking tours in the Seychelles, shore excursions are optional (for a fee) and the greatest number are offered on itineraries in Costa Rica, Cuba and Canary Islands, with fewer options in the Greek Isles where many passengers want to explore on their own. Picnics on picturesque beaches are scheduled where possible.

Variety Cruises

Snorkeling in the Seychelles. * Photo: Variety Cruises

When at sea, it’s all about cool drinks and sunbathing on deck, and on the largest ships (including VOYAGER, HARMONY V and PEGASOS), working in a visit to the mini spa or massage room. There are a handful of theme cruises throughout the year usually in the Greek Isles with an archaeologist on board to lecture about various cultural and historical aspects of the destination. On the Costa Rica and Panama cruises, a naturalist sails with the group and presents talks. Otherwise, all scheduled cruises have a cruise director on board to assist passengers with the optional excursions and to share port information, and sometimes there’s an additional lecturer as well.

It's paradise aboard the 5-cabin Obsession. * Photo: Variety Cruises

It’s paradise aboard the 5-cabin Obsession. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Along the Same Lines

In Costa Rica and in Cuba, Pearl Seas Cruises; in Greece and the Adriatic there’s no real competition.

Contact

Variety Cruises House, 214-216 Syngrou Ave, 17672, Athens Greece; www.varietycruises.com, +30 210 6919191

­— HMS

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