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kayaking in Alaska

Alaska Expedition Style

By Cele & Lynn Seldon.

We have cruised in Alaska quite a bit over the years, but we had never done it expedition-style, on a small ship with few passengers, exploring the nooks and crannies of Alaska’s Inside Passage. So, we decided to pursue just that last summer and chose to take it one step further by sailing with Alaskan Dream Cruises—an Alaska Native owned and operated line—to immerse ourselves completely in the Last Frontier.

Whale watching in Alaska

Whale watching off the bridge deck of the Admiralty Dream, Alaskan Dream Cruises. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Offering both “Signature” and “Adventure” itineraries, we decided to channel our inner explorer and chose the new seven-night “Last Frontier Adventure” from Juneau to Sitka.

Inside Passage itinerary

The new seven-night “Last Frontier Adventure” from Juneau to Sitka.

It offered more wilderness and a higher level of activity than many of their other itineraries,

We were attracted to the idea of hiking in rainforests, kayaking amongst the glaciers and exploring the glacial fjords of Alaska’s more remote locations—places the larger ships don’t go—instead of simply watching from the ship.

And, we weren’t disappointed.

kayaking in Alaska

Kayaking amongst the glaciers of Fords Terror, Endicott Arm, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Our trip started with an overnight in Juneau to adjust to the time change and the light change. Yep, it’s true what they say about close to 20 hours of daylight in the summer.

After a good night’s sleep (with the blackout curtains tightly closed), we dropped off our luggage at the Alaskan Dream Cruises (ADC) hospitality desk in our hotel. Then we had the rest of the morning free to explore Juneau’s compact and very walkable downtown, as well as enjoy a cup ‘o joe and some breakfast at Juneau’s own Heritage Coffee Roasting Company’s Glacier Café.

We met back at the hotel at noon for an ADC-hosted tour of the Alaska State Museum featuring world-class exhibits on the history, art and culture of the diverse people of Alaska’s varied regions. One of the highlights for us was the more than 15,000 Alaska native objects that depicted daily life, as well as ceremonial events. Alaska’s Russian heritage was also well represented with varied objects from the Russian colonial era including one of only two bronze double-headed eagle emblems in the world, a medallion presented to Alexander Baranov by Catherine the Great, and much more from the period. We also enjoyed the extensive Alaskan fine art collection featuring paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures.

Afterward, we boarded a bus and headed 12 miles out of town to what would be the first of many glaciers to come, Mendenhall Glacier. With plenty of time to explore the glacier and take a hike, we knew we were off to a good start when we (and lots of other people) stumbled upon a mother black bear and two cubs off the boardwalk at Steep Creek Trail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQApYMTFzVU

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The Cozy Admiralty Dream

Back on the bus, we drove the rest of the short distance to Auke Bay, the location of the 54-passenger Admiralty Dream, our home away from home for the next week. At 143 feet in length and with 27 cabins, the ship is the second largest in ADC’s five-ship fleet. And, with just 32 passengers onboard for this sailing, it was going to feel even more spacious.

The Admiralty Dream

The Admiralty Dream, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

We were escorted to our cabin on the Upper Deck (there are three decks in total) and given a brief introduction to the few amenities. At 95 square feet, it wasn’t the smallest cabin we had experienced, but it was cozy. With two fixed twin beds along two of the walls, the third long wall consisted of a “shoilet” (a combined toilet and shower unit), a sink and vanity, and a closet. There was a small window next to the door that opened to let the fresh Alaskan air in and to watch the scenery sail by.

Although there was plenty of storage on shelves above the beds, underneath the beds and in the closet, there wasn’t a lot of room to move about. So we chose to let one person dress at a time while the other waited patiently on the bed or headed to the lounge for a cup of coffee. Perhaps next time, we’ll consider a larger cabin option or even a suite.

There weren’t any amenities found on most larger cruise ships (like television and copious electrical and USB outlets), but the beds were comfortable, and we slept like babies in our snug abode.

cabin aboard Admiralty Dream

The basic cabin aboard Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Alaskan Dream Cruises

We then headed to the lounge for our passenger welcome which, with such a small ship, wasn’t hard to find. Our expedition leader, also an Alaska native, did the introductions of the entire staff, explained the ship layout and details, gave us a brief rundown of the itinerary and performed a brief safety drill.

The lounge was a utilitarian space, with a well-stocked bar, plenty of seating, a 24-hour beverage station, fresh fruit and granola bars stashed on the bar and games, books, reference materials and a real-time radar map at the bow. The bulletin board leading into the lounge housed the weekly itinerary, staff bios, daily activities and any updates that would need to be disseminated.

bar on the Alaskan Dream Cruises

The Admiralty Dream bar. * Photo: Alaskan Dream Cruises

Related: Ted’s Alaska Small Ship Primer

Related: Big Ships vs Small Ships to Alaska

Mingling & Mealtime

Once we set sail, we enjoyed the first of nightly happy hours, along with featured hors d’oeuvres. It gave us an opportunity to size up the rest of the passengers, most of whom were fit and active 50- to 70-year olds, although there was a smattering of mid-30-year olds looking for a bit of adventure.

We were looking forward to a unique evening, in that the ship was making its first stop at the company-owned Orca Lodge for dinner. Located about 10 miles from Juneau, it is a private retreat along Stephens Passage that hosts a seafood feast for almost all ADC sailings. Since our itinerary was traveling from Juneau to Sitka, it was a wonderful way to kick off the cruise. Housed in a purpose-built resort setting with all the modern conveniences, amidst the idyllic wilderness of Colt Island and the sweeping snow-capped mountain views of Admiralty Island, it was a perfect spot to stop for the evening.

Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Orca Point Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Featuring an open and bright dining room, gift shop, touch tank, deck with picnic tables, lawn games like cornhole, a simmering campfire and a beach for strolling in the near perfect weather, it had the makings of a quintessential Alaska evening. It was a great way to get to know our fellow passengers, enjoy a cocktail (the ship operates on a cash bar system, settled at the end of the cruise by cash or credit card), play a round of cornhole or listen to the Native interpreter tell Tlingit stories around the campfire.

When the dinner bell rang, it was a feast of Alaskan King Crab legs, salmon, prime rib, salad, sides and blueberry cobbler and chocolate fondue for dessert.

Alaskan King Crab legs

Alaskan King Crab legs at Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Orca Point Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

For an authentic touch, they even had the fixings for s’mores over the open fire. Once back on board, we settled in for our first night’s sleep aboard Admiralty Dream as we set sail towards Glacier Bay.

Orca Point Lodge in Alaska

Cooking up s’mores over the campfire at Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Orca Point Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Related: QuirkyCruise contributor Judi Cohen’s UnCruise Alaska Adventure

Alaska — Day 1

Mornings on ADC offer an early riser continental breakfast in the lounge or open seating breakfast with a full menu, including a daily special, in the dining room a bit later.

In the wee hours, we had stopped at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve where a park ranger and Tlingit culturalist had boarded the ship. So, during breakfast, we enjoyed a birding lesson of what we’d be seeing in Glacier Bay over our eggs and salmon hash. Shortly afterwards, we spotted dozens of nesting tufted puffins, horned puffins, pigeon guillemots, cormorants and more on South Marble Island. There were also seals, sea lions, otters and even a humpback whale welcoming us to Glacier Bay.

This video from ADC highlights the wildlife you’re likely to see in Alaska.

As we continued sailing into 65-mile long Glacier Bay, we spent time chatting with the first mate in the open bridge, listening to a history lesson of Glacier Bay National Park in the lounge, and bird (and mountain goat) watching at Gloomy Knob.

We arrived at Reid Glacier just about noon and enjoyed the view over lunch in the dining room, featuring a daily choice of soup, two sandwiches, a salad or a burger (including a unique and tasty black bean option).

After lunch, we donned our ADC-provided rain jackets, pants, boots and lifejackets and broke into three groups for a Demaree Inflatable Boat (DIB) ride to the gravel mouth of the glacier and a hike along the silt bed up to the mass itself. We were able to touch it and some even climbed its craggy face.

Demaree Inflatable Boat (DIB)

DIB ride, Alaskan Dream Cruises, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Reid Glacier

Exploring Reid Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

After a DIB ride back to the ship, we spent the rest of the day reading, chatting with other guests and quizzing the ranger about the history of Glacier Bay National Park. We asked him why some glaciers look blue (with little internal air or reflective surfaces, the frozen water is free of contaminants and the absorbed sun is transmitted through the ice and returns as blue) and about the mating habits of tufted puffins.

Happy hour featured smoked salmon with tomatoes, red onion and capers on crackers, while dinner was a three-course regional cuisine affair with a nightly choice of two salads, one soup, two entrees and dessert. Baked salmon and roasted chicken breast were available every night as ADC classics. One free beer or glass of wine is served with dinner, but you are on your own after that. As we enjoyed our meal, the increase of icebergs floating by let us know we were getting close to the epicenter of Glacier Bay.

Salmon in Alaska

Alaskan salmon dinner aboard the Admiralty Dream, Alaskan Dream Cruises. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Over dessert, we came into view of the crown jewels—Glacier Bay, Marjorie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier—and anchored for the night.

One of the biggest selling points of ADC ships is their ability to navigate and anchor in some of the most spectacular places within the Inside Passage due to their vessels’ small size.

Marjorie Glacier in Alaska

Marjorie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

The rest of the evening was spent viewing these majestic glaciers on the bow and in the lounge, along with commentary by the park ranger. Although it was nighttime, it was still light enough to ooh and aah over the brilliant blue ice and occasional calving.

Alaska — Day 2

After a hearty Alaskan breakfast (think smoked salmon and blueberry pancakes), we donned our rain gear and went wildlife viewing in Geikie Inlet, where we spotted otters and bald eagles.

wildlife viewing in Glacier Bay National Park

Wildlife viewing at Geikie Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

As we pulled up the anchor to head to Bartlett Cove, we enjoyed lunch and a cultural session—complete with stories, music and regalia—with Mami, our onboard Huna Tlingit cultural heritage ambassador. She shared stories of her ancestors, sang native Tlingit songs and described what it was like to grow up in rural Alaska.

Hoonah Tlingit cultural heritage ambassador in Alaska

Mami, the Hoonah Tlingit cultural heritage ambassador aboard Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Seldon Ink

We spent the afternoon exploring Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove. The only commercial property within Glacier Bay National Park, the lodge features two Glacier Bay Visitor Centers, lodging, a restaurant, gift shop and Glacier Bay exhibits.

There are also hiking trails, kayak rentals, boat tours, a Tlingit totem pole and a Tlingit Tribal house with an on-site storyteller sharing history of the Huna people and their relationship with Glacier Bay. The evening was spent over cocktails, dinner and an evening presentation on plankton with the onboard naturalist.

Huna Tribal House, Glacier Bay Lodge, Alaska

Huna Tribal House, Glacier Bay Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Alaska — Day 3

Probably our favorite day of the cruise was spent surrounded by the waterfalls and icebergs of Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, a very steep, narrow fjord carved out by glacial ice within Endicott Arm. With sign-ups for kayaking and DIB trips, all guests could take advantage of both throughout the day.

Kayaking lessons in Alaska

Kayak briefing. * Photo: Seldon Ink

We opted to be one of the first groups to kayak in the morning, in case we wanted to go out again in the afternoon. After a brief safety lesson, we boarded our tandem kayaks and were free to explore the massive waterfalls and stunning blue icebergs up close and personal.

kayaking among the icebergs

Kayaking amongst the glaciers in Fords Terror, Endicott Arm, Alaska. * Photo: Bret Love courtesy GreenGlobalTravel.com.

After a late-morning DIB ride deeper into Fords Terror, we enjoyed a second kayak paddle that afternoon and literally had the waterfalls and icebergs to ourselves.

Kayaking in Ford's Terror,

Kayaking in Ford’s Terror, Endicott Arm, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Warm cookies and hot chocolate were waiting back on the ship (as they were every afternoon), along with happy hour, dinner and communal whale watching from the lounge, bow or bridge as we set sail for our next destination.

Open bridge on an Alaska cruise

Open bridge of Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Related: Ted’s Alaska Adventures Over the Years

Alaska — Day 4

Hump day was spent in our only true port-of-call, the town of Wrangell (population 2,400). Groups boarded small buses for a morning tour, including a tour of the well-done Wrangell Museum. We paid a visit to the Native American natural rock carvings that depicted whales, salmon, native symbols and faces of the community at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site and we also did a mile-high hike up to Rainbow Falls.

Petroglyphs in Alaska

Petroglyphs at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site, Wrangell, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Afterwards, we enjoyed a fish chowder lunch on our own at Hungry Beaver Pizza & Marine Bar (they only serve their scratch pizzas after 4pm) and explored the charming Northern Exposure-esque town.

Alaska — Day 5

Back in natural Alaska, we spent the morning hiking up to Cascade Falls in Thomas Bay—divided into three groups: active, intermediate and leisurely. With a short DIB ride to the shore, each group took off deep into the rainforest for a moist hike following along the pounding waters coming off the mountain. The active group made it all the way to Falls Lake, while the other two groups enjoyed shorter versions and lots of Alaska flora and fauna.

The violent waters of Cascade Fall

The violent waters of Cascade Falls, Thomas Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Cascade Falls, Thomas Bay, Alaska

The crashing waters of Cascade Falls, Thomas Bay. * Photo: Seldon Ink

The plan after lunch was to take a DIB ride to Baird Glacier, but after a failed attempt by the first group—due to low tides—everyone spent the afternoon reading, napping, watching for wildlife or playing games in the lounge. Happy hour and dinner were pleasant affairs and the evening was spent with a Q&A about plankton with the naturalist and a bedtime story about the discovery of Alaska and how it impacts us today by the expedition leader.

Alaska — Day 6

The sun came out on our final day and we enjoyed an unseasonably warm hike through an old growth rainforest to Lake Eva on Baranof Island. Once back on board, a polar plunge was arranged off the stern of the ship for those interested. A hot bowl of smoked salmon chowder or spot prawn boil waited for lunch afterward.

Naturally the testosterone-leaning member of Team Seldon participated and he found himself questioning his manhood afterwards.

Another DIB ride to Basket Beach and a short walk for those interested was the afternoon activity.

After happy hour, everyone enjoyed the captain’s reception in the dining room, with the entire staff in attendance, the captain holding court and a celebratory dinner of Beef Wellington or butter braised halibut. The evening continued back in the lounge with a decadent dessert display and a slideshow recap of our wild week.

And, in fitting fashion, we were escorted by a group of frolicking orcas as we literally sailed into the sunset towards our port of disembarkation in Sitka.

For booking info, visit Alaskan Dream Cruises.

Read more about cruising Alaska on a small ship.

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Both Sea Cloud ships sailing

Canary Islands and Morocco on Sea Cloud II

By Gene Sloan.

I am standing near the front of Sea Cloud II, along the teak-lined walkway that wraps around its bridge, watching a scene straight out of the 19th century.

Moving quickly to the captain’s orders, nearly a dozen deck hands are scrambling up the ladder-like “shrouds” along the sailing ship’s masts to unfurl its sails.

Canary Islands sailing cruise

The deckhands climb up the rope ladder. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Ascending high into the rigging, they shimmy along the horizontal “yards” that cross the masts with the confidence of trapeze artists, undoing the ties, known as gaskets, that hold up the giant sheets of sailcloth. They then scurry back down to the deck below and begin heaving on the many thick ropes that are used to pull the sails into position.

Canary Islands on a sailing ship

The crew shimmy along the horizontal “yards” with the confidence of trapeze artists. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Soon the massive Sea Cloud Cruises‘ vessel — four decks high and 384 feet long — catches the wind and surges forward. We are underway, sailing under the power of the wind alone.

Even for a seen-it-all traveler like me, the setting by hand of the many sails of Sea Cloud II — there are 23 in all — is an exhilarating sight. It’s also a rare one. In the (small) world of large sailing ships that can be booked for multi-day cruises, there only are a handful of vessels where the sails still are set the old-fashioned way with crew climbing into the rigging. Most large sailing ships that offer multi-day trips, such as those operated by Windstar and Star Clippers, have automated sails.

Related: Star Clippers in Thailand.

This is where the allure of Sea Cloud II begins. It is an old-style tall ship that, above all, is about an authentic sailing experience. But its allure doesn’t end there. As I saw recently on a nine-night voyage from Malaga, Spain, to Morocco and the Canary Islands, Sea Cloud II also is an elegant vessel with an intimate and upscale on-board experience.

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A THROWBACK TO A BYGONE ERA

Carrying just 94 passengers, Sea Cloud II is a three-masted barque of the sort that hasn’t been common on the world’s oceans for more than a century. Still, it’s no relic of the grand age of sail. While it’s modeled on classic sailing vessels of old, it was built just 18 years ago and features such modern comforts as spacious cabins with marble-lined bathrooms, an upscale restaurant and spa services.

The Sea Cloud II on a Canary Islands cruise

The 94-passenger Sea Cloud II tied up in Agadir, Morocco. * Photo: Gene Sloan

One of just two ships in the Sea Cloud fleet, Sea Cloud II was designed to offer a taste of what crossing the world’s oceans was like before the arrival of modern motor vessels without the hardships that were common for travelers of that era. Unveiled in 2001, it is a bigger, more modern sister to the 64-passenger Sea Cloud, a legendary sailing ship that dates to the 1930s and has operated as a cruise vessel since the 1980s.

Unlike Sea Cloud, which was created as a private yacht for Postum Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post (and was, at one time, the largest private yacht in the world), Sea Cloud II doesn’t have a storied history. But among large sailing ships that can be booked for multi-day cruises, it still ranks among the loveliest.

THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING AT SEA

If you’re the sort of cruiser who doesn’t think a ship is complete without a smorgasbord of gee-whiz amusements on its top deck — you know, go-kart tracks, zip lines and the like — Sea Cloud II is definitely not the vessel for you. Its top deck, known as the Lido Deck, doesn’t even have a pool or a hot tub.

In contrast to what you’ll find on so many recently built cruise vessels, the experience on Sea Cloud II isn’t about being amused at sea. It’s about just being at sea.

The ropes and pegs of the Sea Cloud II

A seemingly endless amount of sailing gear lines the top deck of Sea Cloud II, including heavy ropes for pulling on sails that are tied off along the ship’s “pin rails.” * Photo: Gene Sloan

The idea is to soak in a true sailing experience. The Lido Deck is sprinkled with those classic teak lounge chairs of the type that once were de rigueur on ocean liners, and the big deck-top activity is to lounge in one of them and gaze up at the billowing sails or out over the ocean. That or just drift off to sleep to the sway of the waves. During a succession of sea days as we traveled south and west along the coast of Morocco to the Canary Islands, I saw many passengers do just that.

Sea Cloud decks

The Sea Cloud II’s top deck is lined with classic teak lounge chairs facing out to the sea. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Walking around Sea Cloud II’s graciously curved teak deck, with its endless coils of rope and winches and other gear needed to operate a giant tall ship, you’ll also find crew members only too happy to explain how it all works. You even can stop in the bridge to talk sailing with the officers of the watch. Sea Cloud II operates under an open-bridge policy in which visitors are almost always welcome.

One of the things that they’ll explain to you is that, like most modern sailing vessels, Sea Cloud II has engines and a propeller for propulsion as well as sails. Under motor power alone, it can run at speeds of up to 12 knots. But it’s tradition at the line to have Sea Cloud II operate under wind power alone whenever possible. With the sails up, it can do at least seven or eight knots.

ONE NOTABLE QUIRK 

For an American traveler, there is one small quirk to sailing on Sea Cloud II. Okay, maybe a big quirk. The vessel’s operator, Sea Cloud Cruises, is a German company, and often a large percentage of the passengers on board are German.

The company markets internationally, and the on-board program, officially, is bi-lingual. Announcements are made in both German and English, and the crew easily switches between the two languages. But on sailings where only a few native English speakers are on board (as was the case with my voyage), an American can feel just a tad out of place.

A German sailing ship in the Canary Islands

A significant percentage of passengers who sail with Sea Cloud II and its sister ship, Sea Cloud, are German speakers who come from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. * Photo: Gene Sloan

CABINS AND PUBLIC AREAS    

Sea Cloud II’s cabins are notably roomy for a sailing vessel, with all but three measuring more than 200 square feet. They also are relatively well-appointed with such modern amenities as televisions with built-in DVD players (a selection of movies on DVD are available at the front desk), miniature refrigerators stocked with sodas, and personal safes. On the downside, storage space is somewhat limited, at least in the smaller-size cabins.

Sea Cloud II cabin

All but three of the 47 cabins on Sea Cloud II measure more than 200 square feet. Here, the “Category E” cabin where the author stayed, one of the smallest cabins on the vessel. * Photo: Gene Sloan

There are 47 cabins in all, including two large Owner’s Suites on the Lido Deck and 16 slightly smaller Junior Suites that fill most of the deck below, which is known as the Promenade Deck. All feature décor that draws its inspiration from the 1930s design of Sea Cloud, with classical motifs, wood paneling and, in suites, decorative fireplaces. Cabin bathrooms are heavy with marble and feature gold-plated fixtures.

Sea Cloud II cabin bathroom

Cabin bathrooms are marble clad and ornate. * Photo: Gene Sloan

As is typical with sailing vessels, none of the cabins have balconies. Twenty-seven cabins located on the lowest passenger deck (appropriately called the Cabin Deck) have either two or three portholes a piece looking out onto the ocean.

Cabins on the Lido and Promenade decks have bigger windows with ocean views. It should be noted, though, that these windows look out to the ocean across promenade or deck areas that can be accessed by other passengers. If you book one of these rooms, you may find yourself keeping your drapes closed much of the time for privacy.

Interior public areas on Sea Cloud II include a clubby lounge on the Lido Deck with brown leather chairs, an ornate ceiling and a decorative fireplace. Called, simply, the Lounge, it is the site of daily lectures and port talks as well as a venue for evening cocktails.

Clubby Lounge on Sea Cloud

The clubby lounge is the locale for daily lectures and port talks as well as a venue for afternoon snacks and evening cocktails. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The Lido Deck also is home to a covered outdoor bar area that, on all but the worst weather days, is the much-preferred hub for pre-dinner drinks. Located at the back of the vessel, it has a flat canvas roof as well as canvas siding that can be folded down on colder or rainy days.

Canary islands cruising on the Sea Cloud II

Lido deck bar area. * Photo: Gene Sloan

At the time of my sailing earlier this month, Sea Cloud II also had a cozy library at the front of its top deck with panoramic views. But it was a space in flux. A short overhaul this month will see it transformed into a new fitness center (replacing the current fitness center on the Cabin Deck).

Sea Cloud II library with views of Canary Islands

The top deck library which will soon be transformed into an oceanivew gym. * Photo: Gene Sloan

While I’m a big fan of better fitness centers on ships, this is one change that I am sad to see. That said, the moving of the fitness center eventually will make way for an improved spa area on the ship.

The current spa situation is a bit convoluted, with a sauna that only can be accessed through the ship’s treatment room. This means the sauna must close when treatments are scheduled.

ONE MAIN EATERY

As is typical for small vessels, there is just one eatery on Sea Cloud II, the 96-seat Restaurant. Located at the back of the ship on the Promenade Deck, the room offers open seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a mix of tables for two, four, six and eight.

Note there are just two tables for two. If you’re a couple looking for privacy, you’ll want to arrive promptly when the Restaurant opens to get one.

Breakfast and lunch in the Restaurant are mostly buffet style, albeit with high-end touches such as fresh berries at breakfast and hand-carved meats at lunch. At breakfast, in addition to such staples as scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, cheeses, fruit, cereals and pastries along a buffet, there are made-to-order items such as pancakes, omelets, fried eggs and porridge available from servers. Lunch brings about a dozen hot and cold dishes plus a soup, a sweet dessert, fruit and a cheese selection.

buffet on the Sea Cloud II

Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Dinner in the Restaurant is a table-served affair with changing four-course menus. Each night brings a single starter, a single soup, a choice of three main courses, and a single dessert. The three main courses always include a vegetarian option as well as a fish dish and meat dish, and the cuisine generally is Continental. Often the side elements of the three main courses are the same. One night of our voyage brought a choice of pork fillet, roasted gilthead or stuffed zucchini, each served with the same stirred polenta and green asparagus.

dinner on the Sea Cloud II in the Canary Islands

A perfectly medium-rare plate of venison with a celery mash, baked semolina dumplings and cooked cherries is one of the courses during a captain’s welcome dinner. * Photo: Gene Sloan

In addition, an “also available” section of the menu at dinner always offers a classic Caesar salad as a starter and a steak or spaghetti (with alternating sauces) as main courses. There are two also-available desserts, usually a cheese plate and a fruit plate.

cheese on the Sea Cloud II

The lunch buffet on Sea Cloud II always includes an array of gourmet cheeses (all labeled in German, take note), with the offerings changing daily. * Photo: Gene Sloan

In a charming Sea Cloud tradition, the start of both lunch and dinner are announced by a crew member walking through the ship ringing a bell.

the dinner bell on a Canary Islands cruise

Dinner is served! * Photo: Gene Sloan

While breakfast and dinner always are served in the Restaurant, the ship’s staff will move lunch up to the open-air Lido Deck as often as the weather allows. The dishes of the day are served buffet-style along a long table temporarily set up in front of the Lido Bar.

Buffet on the Lido deck aboard Sea Cloud II

Dinner on the Lido deck. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The Lido Bar also is where early risers will find coffee and tea. Late risers will find coffee, tea, juices, pastries and fruit either at the Lido Bar or in a corner of the Lounge. There’s also a “tea time” spread of coffee, tea, sweets and sandwiches that appears on the Lido Bar each afternoon.

ONE WAY FROM MOROCCO TO THE CANARY ISLANDS

As noted above, I experienced Sea Cloud II on a nine-night sailing from Malaga, Spain, to Morocco and the Canary Islands. The ship operates this itinerary or something similar every fall as it works its way from Europe to the Caribbean for the winter. Typically, the route includes a couple stops in Morocco and visits to multiple islands in the Canaries.

On my trip, Sea Cloud II was sailing in tandem with sister Sea Cloud, as it often does in the fall as the latter ship, too, begins a journey to the Caribbean for winter.

Both Sea Cloud ships sailing

The two Sea Cloud ships sailing in tandem. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Here, a day-by-day look at the itinerary:

DAY 1: MALAGA, SPAIN

It’s not all that common for a cruise to begin in Malaga, the southerly Spanish city known as the gateway to the sun-kissed Costa del Sol.

Malaga Spain plaza

The lovely Plaza del Obispo, or Bishop’s Plaza, in Malaga sits alongside the city’s soaring cathedral. * Photo: Gene Sloan

But it’s a fitting place for the start of a voyage to North Africa. For nearly eight centuries, Malaga was ruled by the Moors, invaders from North Africa, and the history of Malaga and North Africa are inexorably linked.

Sea Cloud doesn’t offer a pre-departure tour program in Malaga. But if, like me, you arrive in the city the night before the voyage, you’ll have plenty of time to hit the highlights on your own. They include the Alcazaba, an imposing, 11th-century Moorish fortress that was the seat of Moorish power; the colorful Mercado de Atarazanas, with its original Moorish archway; and the Roman-built Teatro Romano.

Malaga's Roman antiquities

Gene takes a selfie in front of the Roman-built Teatro Romano in Malaga. * Photo: Gene Sloan

My pre-departure wanderings include all the above plus the soaring Catedral de la Encarnacion. Begun in 1528, it offers an electric mix of Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture — the result of an extended construction period that ran well into the 1700s.

Boarding for Sea Cloud II is at 4 p.m., with passengers expected to arrive promptly for a 6 p.m. departure. With just 71 people on this sailing, it doesn’t take long to get everyone checked in, and within an hour we have assembled up top for a safety briefing and introductory port talk.

Sea Cloud II about to begin a Canary Islands cruise

All aboard. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Canary Islands cruise aboard the Sea Cloud II

A Sea Cloud II staffer offers arriving passengers champagne as they first step aboard the vessel. * Photo: Gene Sloan

It is at this moment that I discover that I am in a distinct minority. A very distinct minority.

The ship’s bi-lingual lecturer, Constantin, asks how many of us are English speakers. Typically, around a quarter to a third of passengers on any given Sea Cloud sailing are Americans or Brits. But I am the only one to raise my hand. In what the crew says is a bit of a fluke, every other passenger on board — all 70 of them — is a German speaker.

“You have nine days to learn German,” the man sitting next to me quips in a distinct German accent.

As we prepare to pull out of Malaga for the Moroccan port of Casablanca, a single phrase pops into my mind: This could be a very quirky cruise, indeed.

As it turns out, the language barrier proves less daunting than I first imagine. At dinner, I pick a table for two in a corner, resigned to nine nights of language-induced isolation. But within a few minutes, the hotel manager, Rene, stops by with a surprise: A retired engineer from Munich who speaks perfect English. He’s only too happy to be my dinner companion. Like me, he is traveling solo.

Over the next few days, I will find quite a few more passengers willing to spend some time practicing their (invariably impeccable) English with a seemingly misplaced American.

DAY 2: SAILING IN TANDEM WITH SEA CLOUD

Today is a day for playing pirate on the top deck.

We had left Malaga with our sails tied up, operating on motor power alone. For safety reasons, large sailing ships must transit the busy Strait of Gibraltar on motor power. But shortly after breakfast, with the Strait behind us, the order goes out for the crew to “hit the rig” — begin climbing into the rigging to unfurl the sails.

Canary Island cruising on the Sea Cloud II

Hit the rig! * Photo: Gene Sloan

As we watch the spectacle that is the setting of the sails, our eyes are drawn to a marvel of another sort: Sea Cloud II’s nearly century-old sister ship, the majestic Sea Cloud, approaching over the horizon. Like Sea Cloud II, it is unfurling its sails, preparing to travel in tandem with us for the day.

Like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean, Sea Cloud II and Sea Cloud spend the rest of the day racing side-by-side, sails up, engines off, about 1,000 yards apart, in what is a rare and marvelous sight. Pacing the top deck, I imagine myself as Jack Sparrow on the Black Pearl, chasing down my enemies. Or maybe I am the Russell Crowe character in Master and Commander. Hey, why not!

Gene Sloan on a Canary Islands cruise

Gene on deck enjoying sailing in the tandem with Sea Cloud. * Photo: Gene Sloan

This is a seafaring experiencing of a type that you don’t get with a traditional cruise ship, even a small one. As is typical with sailing ships, the top deck of Sea Cloud II is close to the water line, allowing for an unusually intimate connection to the sea. Without engines running, you hear every whoosh of the waves against the vessel and every creak and groan of the ship’s wooden decks and ropes.

The Sea Cloud sisters sailing together

Up close and personal with the sea. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Speaking of the waves, a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) sway is definitely part of the Sea Cloud II experience. Indeed, for days after entering the Atlantic, we are rolled significantly from side to side by large swells, sometimes sharply enough to send items tumbling from tables. Unlike more traditional cruise ships, Sea Cloud II doesn’t have stabilizers that dampen its movement from side to side. That said, the sails themselves act as a bit of a stabilizer, calming the motion of the ship in the waves.

The Atlantic, of course, can be rougher than the Caribbean, where Sea Cloud II often is based — something to consider if you book at itinerary such as this one with long open sails in Atlantic waters. (The view from my cabin porthole below!)

DAY 3-4: CASABLANCA, MOROCCO AND AT SEA

After a day-and-a-half of traveling down the coast of North Africa with Sea Cloud, we finally pull into our first port, Casablanca, around breakfast time on the third day of the trip. Sea Cloud is right behind us. Both the vessels will remain here into the evening before setting off on another day-and-a-half-long journey southward to Agadir, Morocco.

Many first-time visitors to Casablanca arrive expecting something exotic. Thanks to Casablanca, the classic 1942 film that portrays the coastal city as a murky backwater with an “anything goes” vibe, its name alone evokes an air of intrigue and mystery. But most seasoned travelers will tell you that Casablanca is best viewed as a jumping off point for more alluring places in the region.

Along with about 20 other passengers, I sign up for an all-day, Sea Cloud-organized tour to Rabat, the lovely capital city about an hour’s drive to the north. As tidy as Casablanca is gritty, with large, landscaped boulevards and well-preserved historical sites, Rabat sits at the point where Morocco’s Bou Regreg River meets the Atlantic. It has been a significant settlement since Roman times.

A visit to Rabat on a Canary Islands cruise

Rabat sits at the point where Morocco’s Bou Regreg River meets the Atlantic. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Sea Cloud normally offers its tours in both English and German. But with so few English speakers on this sailing, the Rabat tour is being run in German only. Not that I am completely in the dark as a German-speaking guide leads us around Rabat. In a thoughtful accommodation, the ship’s lecturer, Constantin, has been sent along to whisper English translations into my ear.

Our main destination during the tour is Rabat’s Kasbah des Oudaias, the lived-in walled fortress on a hill that dominates the historic center of the city. We spend about a half hour wandering its narrow streets, which are lined with white-and-blue-painted houses with iron-studded doors.

Rabat's old quarter

Rabat’s Kasbah des Oudaias “old quarter.” * Photo: Gene Sloan

We also stop at Rabat’s exquisitely carved, 12th-century Hassan Tower, which was begun as a minaret for a mosque by a powerful sultan but never finished. A forest of marble columns that was to be the backbone of the mosque is nearby.

An unfinished mosque

The fascinating 12th-century Hassan Tower, which was begun as a minaret for a mosque that was never finished. * Photo: Gene Sloan

In addition, the site now is home to the spectacular, marble-and-tile-lined mausoleum of Morocco’s two most recent kings, Mohammad V and Hassan II. It’s guarded — selfie alert! — by mounted soldiers in wonderfully over-the-top red uniforms.

Morocco on a Canary Islands cruise

Red-uniformed horsemen are on guard near the entrance to the marble-and-tile-lined mausoleum of Morocco’s two most recent kings, Mohammad V and Hassan II. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Rabat is far more charming than Casablanca, Morocco’s largest and most commercial city with a population of more than three million people. But Casablanca does have one standout attraction, which we visit briefly on our way back to Sea Cloud II: The giant Grand Hassan II Mosque. With a single minaret that soars 689 feet high, it is Morocco’s tallest structure and can hold more than 20,000 people. Only the main mosque in Mecca is bigger.

Grand Hassan II Mosque in Rabat

The Grand Hassan II Mosque with its single minaret that soars 689 feet high. * Photo: Gene Sloan

After a stroll around the towering structure, which overlooks the Atlantic, and a quick photo stop at a nearby replica of the Rick’s Café seen in Casablanca the movie (you knew someone would have thought of this), we soon are back on board Sea Cloud II just in time for a special dinner prepared by a Michelin-starred chef, Wahabi Nouri. In a typical upscale Sea Cloud touch, the Moroccan-born, Hamburg, Germany-based culinary whiz is sailing on this voyage as a guest chef.

DAY 5-6: AGADIR, MOROCCO AND AT SEA

We are still traveling with Sea Cloud as we arrive in Agadir, a city of 422,000 people known for its wide crescent beach, golf courses and seaside promenade.

While the ships are offering shuttles to the beach, I join a significant percentage of passengers on an-all-day tour inland to Taroudant, an ancient capital of the region that is completely encircled by marvelous, 12th-century crenelated walls (and — good news! — I’m now on an English-speaking tour, merged into a group of more than a dozen English speakers sailing on Sea Cloud).

Taroudant old city

The ancient walled city of Taroudant. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Unlike Agadir, which lost most of its historic sites during a devastating earthquake in 1960, Taroudant offers a taste of old-timey Morocco with its labyrinth-like souks filled with spices, carpets, handicrafts, jewelry and more. Horse-drawn carriages, known as caleches, and hand-pulled carts still are a common mode of transportation in the low-slung town’s narrow alleys. Many locals still wear traditional dress.

spice market in Taroudant

Old-school markets in Taroudant. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Alas, we don’t have nearly enough time to wander in Taroudant. Much of the day is taken up with long drives to and from the city (at least 90 minutes each way) and an extended lunch at a resort-like hotel hidden just inside its walls. Still, it’s a worthwhile experience.

After returning to Agadir in the late afternoon, we have just 90 minutes to prepare for a Moroccan experience of a decidedly different sort: An evening at a made-for-tourists, Moroccan-themed entertainment and dinner venue called Chems Ayour.

Joining passengers from Sea Cloud, we ride in buses to the site, which is about 15 miles away, and are immediately greeted by a cacophony of traditional Moroccan music from elaborately costumed drummers and trumpeters; white-robed horsemen; bedazzled maidens tossing rose petals; and other characters seemingly ripped from the Disney version of Aladdin. There also is a faux square with a snake charmer, women in traditional dress hand-grinding olive oil, a tea vendor and other Moroccan-themed vignettes.

Moroccan-themed entertainment

The Moroccan-themed entertainment and dinner venue called Chems Ayour. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Morocco

An evening out at a Moroccan-themed entertainment complex. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Later, after feasting on classic Moroccan dishes in adjacent tents, we are treated to a display of Moroccan horsemanship and a short acrobatic show.

It’s all a bit over-the-top, for sure, and obviously touristy, but a surprisingly good time.

We return late in the evening to Sea Cloud II, which along with Sea Cloud immediately departs for another long sail. For the next 36 hours, we will be traveling almost due west to the Canary Islands.

DAY 7-8: LANZAROTE AND FUERTEVENTURA, CANARY ISLANDS

It is a bit of an adventure getting to the Canary Islands, as Sea Cloud II pitches and rolls significantly at times due to continued large swells from the north. But we finally make it to the safe harbor of Arrecife, the principal port of the easternmost Canary island, Lanzarote.

Listed as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, Lanzarote is known for its rain-starved, lunar-like landscape created by more than 100 volcanoes — the highest concentration outside of the Hawaiian Islands. But it also is celebrated as the home of the late Cesar Manrique, an iconic Spanish artist, sculptor and architect of the 20th century who left a deep imprint on the island.

Along with about half of the ship’s passengers, I get a taste of both allures on a tour of “Cesar Manrique’s Lanzarote” that consumes much of our short stay at the island (just four-and-a-half hours). Traveling by bus through the island’s desolate landscape of volcanic hills and lava fields, we marvel at its unusual vineyards. Each vine is set into its own little crater of rich volcanic soil, protected from wind and excessive sun by a semi-circle of lava rock. The volcanic landscape also is the backdrop for postcard-perfect villages of all-white, flat-roofed homes. But the main attractions on the outing are three marvelous structures designed by Manrique.

lava tube grotto

A huge grotto built into a cooled lava tube called Jameos del Aqua. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The first of the structures, a huge grotto built into a cooled lava tube called Jameos del Aqua, is the island’s crown jewel, dazzling with its semi-underground restaurant and cafe overlooking a natural pool filled with rare colorless crayfish. The structure, notably, includes a built-into-the lava concert hall.

The other stops, a built-into-a-cliff overlook known as Mirador del Rio and a built-into-a-volcanic-cone home called Lagomar, are nearly as intoxicating. The latter, famously, was owned for just a single day by film legend Omar Sharif. He lost it in a card game.

A stop Lanzarote on a Canary Islands cruise

From Lanzarote’s Mirador del Rio, a built-into-a-cliff, Cesar Manrique-designed overlook, visitors can see the nearby island of La Graciosa. * Photo: Gene Sloan

After a short concert at Lagomar that perfectly rounds out the morning, we return to Sea Cloud II for lunch — and a tad of bad news. Heavy winds at the western Canary island of La Gomera, where we are due tomorrow, will make it impossible to visit. Instead, we will spend the night safely ensconced with Sea Cloud in the nearby harbor of Rosario on the island of Fuerteventura.

Despite windy conditions, an already-planned deck-top barbecue — another Sea Cloud tradition — goes on as scheduled in the evening under the Lido tent. Culinary highlights include carvings from a roasted whole pig and a fresh-caught tuna cooked on deck.

A huge tuna on a canary islands cru

Check out that tuna, WOW! * Photo: Gene Sloan

The next morning, still in the harbor of Rosario, we are offered the chance to tour the nearby Sea Cloud. Nearby everybody jumps at the opportunity for a glimpse of the historic, wood-paneled lounge and dining room where Marjorie Merriweather Post once entertained some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people. We also peek into one of the vessel’s original, 1930s-era cabins.

Ses Cloud II old cabins

Visitors to Sea Cloud get a glimpse of Cabin No. 7, where Marjorie Merriweather Post’s daughter, the late actress Dina Merrill, lived while on board as a child. It’s now available for booking on Sea Cloud trips as is Post’s personal suite and the sleeping quarters of her second husband, the financier and EF Hutton co-founder Edward Hutton. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Later in the day, after departing for our final stop, Tenerife, we get yet one more unusual touring opportunity: A trip down to the Sea Cloud II’s engine room.

engine room of Sea Cloud II

A tour of the engine room included a look at the two four-stroke engines that create power for the vessel. * Photo: Gene Sloan

DAY 9: TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS

The big outing that Sea Cloud has planned for Tenerife is a tour to the volcanic crater at its center, Teide, which soars more than 10,000 feet. Protected as a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is the highest spot in Spain. Another tour heads to a winery for a tasting.

But after heavy touring during our other port stops, I am ready for something lower key. Striking out on my own from Sea Cloud II, which is roped up along the waterfront of Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz, I ramble into the center of the city of 206,000 with nothing much on the agenda except to see its iconic Santiago Calatrava-designed Auditorio de Tenerife, and maybe grab a coffee.

Opened in 2003 and resembling a giant white wave, or maybe the wing of a bird, the Auditorio is nearly two miles down the waterfront from where the ship is docked, well past the city’s main Plaza de Espana. I admit, I waver a bit about continuing my wander all the way there. But I’m so glad I do. It’s a stunning structure.

Tenerife theater

The iconic Santiago Calatrava-designed Auditorio de Tenerife. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Rounding out my architecture appreciation day, I also make a stop at the relatively new Herzog & de Meuron-designed art and photography exhibition building, the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes.

The two contemporary buildings are, no doubt, the highlights of Santa Cruz, which lacks the historic charm of some other Spanish cities of its size.

I return to Sea Cloud II just before dinnertime, as a celebratory “captain’s farewell cocktail” is just getting underway. After a final sail overnight to Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, it is, sadly, time to say goodbye to this cozy barque. Or, as the Germans say, auf wiedersehen.

Until we meet again.

A FINAL WORD ON SAILING WITH GERMAN SPEAKERS 

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably at least mildly interested in the idea of booking a voyage on Sea Cloud II. But, assuming you’re an English speaker, you may still be iffy about the prospect of spending a week or more on a vessel where, more than likely, most passengers will be German speakers. Will you feel out of place? Will you have trouble mixing and mingling and making friends?

The answer depends in part on your personality. But I will say that almost from the start of my voyage, I felt like I fit right in on Sea Cloud II, and I was experiencing the most extreme possible situation in that there wasn’t even one other native English-speaking passenger on board. Keep in mind that many sailings have quite a few more.

As noted above, the German-speaking passengers that I encountered for the most part spoke almost flawless English (kudos to the German school system, which clearly is way ahead of ours when it comes to languages), and they were a very friendly and welcoming crowd. Quite a few passengers, seeing me wandering alone on the top deck or standing by myself at the Lido Bar, came over and struck up a conversation. I had no problem finding new friends to sit with at dinner.

The crew also was super welcoming — and toggled seamlessly between German and English. There was one very gracious server in the dining room who would always seek me out to ensure I had the proper English menu (even though I found it a fun game to decipher the German version).

Note that while a good number of the dining and bar staff are German, there are some Filipino servers, too, for whom English is a more familiar language than German. They seemed thrilled to strike up a conversation with “the lone American.” In addition, the working language of the bridge officers and deck crew, who come from a number of countries, is English.

Gene Sloan

Gene … the lone American. * Photo: Gene Sloan

IF YOU GO …

Sea Cloud II traditionally spends summers in Europe and winters in the Caribbean with itineraries varying widely from month-to-month. For 2020, the ship’s Europe season will include a range of four- to 14-night sailings out of a dozen ports including Copenhagen, Denmark; Dublin, Ireland; Naples, Italy; and Valencia, Spain. Caribbean sailings will range in length from seven to 14 nights and depart from such ports as Bridgetown, Barbados, and Philipsburg, St. Maarten. One voyage will include a transit of the Panama Canal and stops along the Pacific side of Costa Rica and Panama.

Sea Cloud II’s 2020 schedule includes a sailing similar to this year’s Morocco and Canary Islands voyage that begins on Nov. 4. Departing from Casablanca instead of Malaga, the 10-night trip includes calls at Agadir, Morocco, and six of the seven Canary Islands. Fares start at $5,975 per person, based on double occupancy.

Unlike this year’s Morocco and Canary Islands voyage, the 2020 version of the trip will not include tandem sailing with Sea Cloud. That experience has been moved to the preceding Sea Cloud II sailing, a seven-night voyage from Valencia, Spain to Casablanca that starts on Oct. 28. It’ll include several days of tandem sailing with Sea Cloud as well as a visit to the ship. Fares start at $4,695 per person, based on double occupancy.

Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II also will sail in tandem in the Caribbean in March.

Rates for all Sea Cloud Cruises itineraries include accommodations; meals; wine, beer and sodas with lunch and dinner; gratuities; and laundry service for top cabins. Excursions are extra.

Information; +49-(0)40-30 95 92-50.

 

In a Nutshell, Gene Says ….

Why Go?
  • For a taste of what traveling the world’s oceans was like during the golden age of sailing ships
  • For a cruise experience that revolves heavily around the simple joys of being at sea
  • For an intimate, upscale cruise experience
Caveats?
  • There sometimes can be few English speakers on board

 

Gene SloanGene Sloan has written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. He’s sailed on nearly 150 ships.

READ more of Gene Sloan’s fab QuirkyCruise articles:

>>Ukraine River Cruising on Viking Sineus

>>The New Double-Wide AmaMagna.

 

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French canal cruising

French Canal Cruising: My French Love Affair

Crew, Excursions & Paris!

By Elysa Leonard.

Crazy Crew Crush

The staff on a small-ship cruise, especially a barge cruise carrying only six passengers, is a vital ingredient for a memorable holiday. French canal cruising is all about being coddled while inching along the canals of gorgeous France soaking up all the amazing scenery, history, cuisine and wine.

Aboard the six-passenger Esperance, our crew comprised Captain Corey Shelley; Chief Steward, Deckhand, and Hostess, Helen Toy; and Chef du Cuisine, Jean Luc Poulet. This trio worked like a well-oiled machine. They knew their roles and worked together to make sure we were safe, happy and well-fed, anticipating what we needed before we did. 

Read Part 1  of Elysa’s French Love Affair with Barge Cruising.

Mathias Giles, Barge Owner & Host Extraordinaire

The owner of Esperance, Matthias Giles, was also a big part of the experience. He met the boat at each docking point, providing any needed supplies and supplemental groceries for Chef Jean Luc. He pitched in wherever he was needed, from giving us the skinny on a wine choice during a pre-dinner tasting to making sure the table settings were always perfect. Mathias always had a smile and a story and had a unique way of making us feel at home on his luxury hotel barge.

French canal cruising - Esperance owner Mathias Giles

Mathias Giles. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Rex, Our Fearless Guide

Our tour guide for the week was Reitze Lemstra, a.k.a. Rex. On a barge cruise, the land excursions are just as important as the journey on the canal. Each day, Rex would arrive in a luxury van where the barge was docked. He’d share stories about the history of the place we were visiting, always with a comical twist that would lead to a van filled with laughter.

He was extremely knowledgeable about the places we visited, the wines of the area, and the history of both. During the drive, he would prep us on what to expect, and then he would join us on each tour, answering questions and pointing out the important parts. By the end of the week, I knew I would miss these daily excursions with Rex.

French Canal Cruising- Reitze Lemstra

Tour Guide Reitze Lemstra of the Esperance! * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Captain Corey Shelley, Our Captain

We learned different history lessons from Captain Corey Shelley. Unfortunately, Corey didn’t share any poetry with us even though he is a direct relative to the famous English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley!

Captain Shelley knows the community who lives along the banks of the Canal du Midi very well as he has spent many seasons navigating there. He gave us the inside scoop on what life was really like along the canal. He knew many of the boat owners and lock keepers and told us stories about the canal and the Esperance. Captain Shelley even showed us a few of his recent barge renovation projects as we traveled along the canal.

It was remarkable to see how he got our barge through so many tight spaces without a single mishap. Good thing he never let me take the wheel!

french canal cruising- Corey Shelley

Our Captain, Corey Shelley at the helm! *Photo: Helen Toy

Helen Toy, Our “Jane” of All Trades

But it was Helen Toy, our steward, deckhand and hostess, who seemed to be the glue that held it all together. She quickly learned our preferences and seemed to always be right on hand. I dubbed her “the fairy” because she seemed to fly around the barge, cleaning, pouring wine, setting a table, throwing a line to the lock-keeper, and translating for us. She was always where she was needed, and everything she did was with a smile or a sweet giggle.

French Barge Cruise - Helen Toy, Stewardess and Deckhand

Helen Toy ready for anything! * Photo: Corey Shelley

Chef Jean Luc Poulet, Our Chef de Cuisine

Food is a big part of French canal cruising, and on this trip, Chef Jean Luc Poulet was always working in the galley to make sure we had the very best cuisine. Many of the dishes required meticulous prep work that could take a few days before creating one of our memorable courses. Daily, he was up on deck planning his menus, visiting local markets, or spending many early hours in the small barge galley. 

French canal cruising - Chef Jean Luc Poulet

Chef Jean Luc graciously teaching some new cooking techniques to CIA student Samantha * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Cooking Lessons with a French Flair

My daughter Samantha, a student at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, was eager for the chance to learn from a seasoned French chef and he was encouraging, kind and willing to share his knowledge with her. It made for a very special experience that she will never forget.

French Canal Cruising- Samantha Leonard

Samantha getting ready to learn from Chef Jean Luc Poulet. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Samantha helped Chef Jean Luc with several dishes, but his biggest lesson for her was teaching her how to completely debone a guinea fowl and then help to stuff it for one of our main courses.

The Excursions 

The southern French countryside was the embodiment of beauty, charm, and of course history. Whenever I visit Europe I am always impressed with, well, how wonderfully old things are.

Our celebrated colonial history in the United States pales in comparison to centuries-old European villages where history seems to be steeped into every cobblestone. Some buildings and ruins we visited on this trip date back more than 1,000 years.

French canal cruising is an ideal way to get a taste of France’s impressive heritage.

Day 1: The Village of Penzenas

The first day of touring, Rex took us to the charming village of Penzenas, lined with tiny cobblestone streets and unique shops. To get there, it was a 30- to 40-minute drive from where the barge was docked the night before. 

French canal cruising- Village of Penzenas

Pretty Penzenas. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

We had time to browse and wander the streets and found beautiful flowers, tiny doors and plenty of presents to buy. I was happy to find a local craftswoman and brought home a gorgeous hand-painted pendant necklace. 

Rex also took us to a spot where we could get into a royal chariot. It was indeed a seat fit for a king or a queen.

French Canal Cruising-King's Chariot

Elysa Leonard in the King’s Chariot. * Picture: Samantha Leonard

Day 2: Olives & Panoramic Views

Day two was the highlight of the trip. We visited the olive groves of  L’Oulibo, a mill producing high-quality olives and olive oils, based in Bize, Minervois since 1942.

French Canal Cruising- French Olive Groves of L’Oulibo

Our tour and lessons about the olive groves of L’Oulibo. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

We took a guided tour of the olive groves and learned about the pressing process and then got to taste the olives and the oil. It was tricky to pick a favorite, they were all so good!

French Canal Cruising-Olive Oil Tasting

Olive Oil Tasting – Samantha Leonard *Photo: Elysa Leonard

After tasting our fill of olives and oils, we headed to the ancient city of Minerve. Rex stopped above the city so we could take pictures, and then we headed down the mountain to this stone covered village for a visit.

French Canal Cruising-Village of Minerve

The hills above the village of Minerve, southern France. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

French Canal Cruising- Village of Minerve

City of Minerve. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

It was breathtaking, with narrow cobblestone streets and tiny shops set up in buildings dating as far back as the 13th century. We walked through the city, stopped for coffee and then headed back to the luxury barge ready to relax, wine, and dine.

Coffee break in the village of Minerve, southern France

Coffee Break in Minerve *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Day 3: The Narbonne Market

The biggest attraction for this excursion was the market in Narbonne. The wrought iron and glass beauty dates back to 1901 and it’s one of the treasures of ancient Narbonne, at one time long ago, an important Roman seaport.

Narbonne Market Hall on a French canal cruise

Narbonne Market Hall. * Photo: Didier Descouens

The produce, cheeses, meats, and fish were exceptional. We decided to give Chef Jean Luc a break and bring back items from the market to share for the appetizer course that evening.

Narbonne Market - southern France

Fresh French produce. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Everyone brought something, including cheeses, fresh fruit, olives and grilled watermelon steaks with feta cheese that were made by the Canadian Chef Travis Quin Olfers. It was fun to share stories of our day over our combined appetizers from the famous Narbonne Market.

French Barge Cruise - Esperance - Chef Travis Quin Olfers

Chef Travis Quin Olfers prepping his grilled watermelon appetizer. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Day 4: Carcassonne Castles

Castles have always impressed me and citadel of Carcassonne was no exception. It is located on a hill on the right bank of the River Aude, in the south-east part of the city. It’s actually not just a castle but a medieval citadel with more than 2,500 years of history. Through the ages, it has been occupied by Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, and Crusaders.

Carcassone citadel, southern France

A bridge through the citadel of Carcassone, southern France *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Exploring the citadel of Carcasonne, southern France

Samantha & Elysa exploring the citadel of Carcassone. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

It is also reportedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom and the similarities are apparent. The views and structures were stunning. It was a 30-minute drive to Carcassonne from where the barge was docked and we had a great day of touring!

Rex showed us sections of the walls and how the different components marked time. You could see how the wall structure had changed and improved over time and how the older sections had been built with more primitive building materials. Amazingly the entire large complex still stands strong.

Citadel of Carcasonne - historic walls

Visiting Carcassonne and viewing the ancient walls and structures. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Day 5: Our Final Excursion 

We left Esperance in the evening this time, after enjoying a day cruise on the Canal du Midi, and drove to Villeseque des Corbieres, a small village in southern France about 45 minutes away from where Esperance was docked for the night. 

Mathias was taking us to meet a chef and friend, Stephanie Asco, who had invited us for dinner at her home. 

This evening was the perfect example of the kind of experiences offered on an intimate barge cruise. As graciously as Mattias had welcomed us onto his luxury barge and treated us like honored guests, he was now thoughtfully ushering us into a friend’s home for dinner. 

Esperance Luxury Barge Cruise - Excursions

Special dinner off-site at Chef Stephanie’s home. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Stephanie had a large wooden farm table set for our dinner and we felt as if we were already old friends.

French Barge Cruise - Special Chef's Dinner Excursion

Special Table at Chef Stephanie’s home for dinner. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

The dishes she served were family-style, with a starter of baked mussels followed by the main course, a rice dish similar to Spanish paella. She had cooked it on a neighbor’s grill, because of the large size of the pan. The dinner ended with a luxurious dark chocolate mousse and there was plenty of wine to enjoy throughout the dinner.

French Chef Stephanie Asco's baked mussels appetizer

Delicious appetizers at Chef Stephanie Asco’s home. *Photo: Samantha Leonard

Main Course at French Chef Stephanie Asco's dinner

Pièce de résistance —French Paella at Chef Stephanie Asco’s home. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

That night when we returned to Esperance, the crew had adorned the walkway to the barge with lights and balloons. It was lovely.

After a nightcap on board, we retired to pack and get ready for our departure to the train station the next morning.

Luckily for Samantha and me, we had a few days left of our French canal cruising adventure. We were returning to Paris to see the sites and take a day trip to the legendary Palace of Versailles.

Our Bonus Days in Paris

The four-star XO Hotel is in a quiet residential neighborhood, very close to all the top attractions and walking distance to the Arch de Triumph and Champs de Elysee. Other major tourist spots were just a quick train ride away. These few extra days in Paris were our chance to see the sites. It didn’t seem right to leave so soon, Samantha had never been to Paris and we had a lot to see! 

XO Hotel - Boutique Hotel in Paris, France

XO Hotel – a boutique hotel in the heart of Paris, France. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Paris Day 1

After a long train ride to Paris from Narbonne, we kept a low profile our first night. We had a quick bite to eat at a local cafe and called it a day.

The XO hotel was quaint and friendly and was a good base for our touring activities. The rooms were on the small side, but in line with most hotels in Europe. The vibe was friendly and there was a happy hour from 7-9pm and a full breakfast in the morning that was included with our stay.

I would stay at this hotel again and would recommend it to others. 

XO Hotel Wine Bar Paris, France

Samantha enjoying a glass of wine at the XO Hotel Wine Bar. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Paris Day 2

Day two we explored by foot, walking to the Louvre, and then the Eiffel Tower. With little to no French language experience, we learned to navigate the train lines and figured out the line to get us to the Palace of Versailles the next day.

The gardens of Versailles

The gardens of Versailles. * Photo: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/

Paris Day 3

Day three was our day to visit the Palace of Versailles. We realized that we would not have time to see it all. It is a huge property and there were garden tours, palace tours, bicycle rentals and golf carts that included an automated drive-yourself-tour. 

It was a beautiful sunny day, which we had not unfortunately experienced on our barge cruise. We really wanted to stay outside and enjoy the day so we opted for the golf cart tour of the grounds.

My daughter Samantha was happy to drive the cart and the auto tour worked nicely, telling us where to go and what we were looking at. It lasted for 90 minutes and told us stories about each place we visited. We noticed many Parisian families had opted for a day trip to the Versailles gardens for a picnic lunch.

Palace of Versaille - Gardens by Golf Cart

Golf Cart Garden Tour, Palace of Versaille. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

When we returned we grabbed dinner at another cafe that was near our hotel. It was easy to find a nice cafe for dinner in Paris, they seemed to be on every street corner.

Paris Day 4

This would be our last day in Paris before heading back to Virginia. We discovered the hop-on hop-off Batobus ferry from one of the passengers on the Esperance, who told us it was a great way to get around Paris to see the sites.

The Batobus open-air ferry travels up and down the River Seine. For a fixed price for the day, you can get on and off as you please to visit Paris’s iconic treasures. If you are there for two days, the cost goes down. 

Batobus Tickets Paris France

Batobus Boat Tickets on the Seine River. A great way to see the sights of Paris, France. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

We went to visit Notre Dame that day and it was so sad to see what was left of the burned structure. When we had first arrived at the Esperance we had found out about the fire, it had happened while we were on the cruise.

However, we were heartened to see that the restoration work had already begun and we look forward to going back and seeing Notre Dame in all of its beauty once the work is complete. 

Notre Dame - after fire

Notre Dame under construction after the tragic fire. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

While we were there, Samantha was approached by an artist who wanted to paint her picture. It was well worth the time and cost, as we now have a hand-drawn caricature of her to remember our visit.

Artist portrait sketched outside of Notre Dame

Samantha having her portrait sketched outside of Notre Dame. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

The length of our visit was perfect as an add-on to the cruise. I think if we could have switched the trip and visited Paris before the cruise, it would have helped with the jet lag, so I would plan to do this prior to the cruise instead of after. Before or after, just make sure you tack on a few days to see beloved Paris. It is a gorgeous city with plenty to do and see.

The Skinny on Barge Lady Cruises

When you book a cruise with Barge Lady Cruises, they take care of all the details. They pair you up with the best barge cruise to fit your style, personality and budget, rating their barges from three to six stars. And they’re also very good at helping you find the best hotels for pre- and post-cruise stays in the region. Stephanie Sack, the daughter of the original Barge Lady, helped us to find the perfect hotel for our extra few days in Paris. Our time in Paris was excellent.

I highly recommend working with the Barge Ladies to find the exact barge trip that fits your family and trip specifications. Stephanie knows the routes, owners, and barges first-hand and can make sure your trip is exactly as you wish.

French Canal Cruising with Stephanie Sack

Stephanie Sack, marketing wizard at Barge Lady Cruises. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

 

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Edward & Cindy Anderson operate the French Canal Barge Grand Victoria

French Canal Barge Q&A

Barge cruises are an excellent way to indulge in fine French wines, cheeses and cuisine while moving at a snail’s pace through historic and beautiful regions of France. Like floating boutique hotels, French barge cruises offer an intimate and personal connection to the culinary and cultural riches of France.

To find out more about this small-ship niche, QuirkyCruise.com’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Edward Anderson, owner-operator of the luxury canal barge, the Grand Victoria “The Queen of Burgundy.” 

Edward & Cindy Anderson operate the French Canal Barge Grand Victoria

Edward & Cindy are the owner-operators of the Grand Victoria (and their cute Lhasa Apso “Angus” is the adorable mascot!). * Photo: Edward Anderson

Q: What makes the Grand Victoria special?

Edward: While it offers the same luxurious amenities and features of other 5-star canal barges in France, the Grand Victoria isn’t technically a barge. It is a purpose-built one-of-a-kind private river yacht commissioned in 1986 by the famous Belgian liqueur family “De Kuyper.”

Madam De Kuyper had the yacht built for her and her family to cruise the rivers and waterways of Europe. It was later repurposed as a cruising hotel, very similar to the canal cruise barge boats seen in France and other parts of Europe.

French Canal Barge Grand Victoria

The lovely 6-passenger Grand Victoria. * Photo: Grand Victoria Cruises

Q: Why should a traveler consider a French barge cruise?

Edward:  It is a magical way to experience a carefree vacation with friends and family

Everything is taken care of so you can just sit back and relax, while learning about the food, wine and culture of a region in France.

Further, a barge cruise allows you to unpack once and spend a week visiting different regions of Burgundy. It sure beats packing and unpacking as you go from one hotel to another.

Q: Why did you choose to be based in Burgundy?

Edward:  Having travelled extensively in France before, Cindy and I knew that the wines and food of Burgundy would be very attractive to visitors. The region is well known for its famous Burgundy wines, delicious food and rich culture and history, from the gorgeous château and medieval towns, to verdant vineyards and vibrant village markets.

special offer on cruises with cheese plates

The ubiquitous cheese platter aboard the Grand Victoria! * Photo: Grand Victoria Cruises

Q: What is your most popular Burgundy itinerary?

Edward:  Our cruises on the Burgundy canal used to be our most sought after cruise, but over the past few years, we have seen an increase in interest to cruise the Saône and Petit Saône rivers. I think the growing interest is because they offer a combination of small canals and twisty river sections as well as the ability to cover some distance and see more of Burgundy than one would normally see on a canal only cruise.

A lock house on a French Canal Barge

Going through locks, and passing quaint lock houses, is part of the fun of a canal cruise. * Photo: Grand Victoria cruises

Q: Where do your French canal barge cruises start and end?

Edward:  Our most popular itinerary between Pontailler-sur-Saône and Tournus covers approximately 130 kilometers.

This allows guests to cruise the magical and scenic Petit Saône with its narrow waterways and locks (much like a canal) and then gradually enter the Saône River to visit places like Chalon-sur-Saône (the birthplace of photography) and Tournus with its impressive Abbey St. Philibert dating back 1,000 years.

French canal barge map

The popular Tournus to Pontailler-sur-Saone River intinerary. * Photo: Google Maps

Meanwhile, another route passenger enjoy is the 100-km journey between Chagny and Auxonne. [You can read more about this itinerary in a recent QuirkyCruise article by Christina Colon.]

Q: How do guests get to the Grand Victoria?

Edward:  We pick our guests up in Paris by chauffeured vehicle or from the Dijon train station, for those who prefer to cut down the journey time in the car and travel on the comfortable high-speed TGV train.

French barge cruise

Most guests spend a few days in Paris before or after a Grand Victoria cruise. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Q: Describe your typical guests.

Edward:  The Grand Victoria tends to attract a slightly younger barge customer than most barges. Perhaps it’s our chíc décor or our cruise itinerary, we’re unsure exactly why.

We’ve had customers from all walks of life, from Hollywood producers to farmers, New York attorneys, Californian thrill seekers, Louisiana oil industry and Montana ranchers.

Most of our guests come for the culture, the food and the wine, combined with a little bicycle riding and walking, visiting new and interesting locations and experiences. Of course our guests’ over-riding goal is to have a relaxing time with family and friends on a luxury French barge cruise.

special offer for a grand victoria barge cruise

The lovely sun deck of the 6-passenger Grand Victoria. * Photo: Grand Victoria Cruises

Q: What is a typical dinner on board like?

Edward:  To really whet your appetite, I’ll share two sample menus with you:

Sample Menu #1

Appetizer

Seared scallops with truffled potato purée and sweet ginger chili, served with a Chablis 2013 Blanc.

Main Course

Roasted duck breast with prosciutto, roasted vegetables, fennel purée, parsnip crisps, and veal demi-glace, accompanied with a glass or two of Santenay 1er Cru “La Comme” 2014.

Cheese

Neufchatel cœur fermier AOP, Morbier AOP lait cru and Fourme d’Ambert AOC.

Dessert

Lemon tart with Italian merengue.

French cheese on French barge cruises aboard the Grand Victoria

Chef Phil’s exquisite French fromage was out of this world! * Photo: Peter Barnes

Sample Menu #2

Appetizer

Spiced duck wontons in a lime and chili broth with cashews and cilantro, accompanied by a bottle of Rully 1er Cru “La Pucelle” 2015 Blanc.

Main Course

Fillet of charolais beef with wild mushroom ragout, baby carrots and parsnip gratin, served with Chambolle Mussigny 1er Cru “Le Charmes” 2010.

Cheese 

Saint Agur, Tom Tomme de Savoie fermière, and Mimolette extra vielle.

Dessert

Summer fruit Millefeuilles.

French barge cruise aboard Grand Victoria

Meals are a highlight of a Grand Victoria cruise. * Photo: Edward Anderson

Q: Are most of your cruises full charters?

Edward:  Yes, most of our cruises are full charter as we accommodate just 6 guests. However we do offer open cruises during the low season, in July and August, when we require a minimum of 4 passengers to set sail.

French Barge cruise is a great option for small groups of friends

A group of 3 couples enjoying a week on the Grand Victoria. * Photo: Edward Anderson

Q: What is your role during a cruise? Are you and Cindy present on every cruise?

Edward:  One of the nice things about the Grand Victoria is we are owner-operated. This means Cindy and I are on board with you as your hosts, and are always there for you when you need us.

I captain the vessel and serve as the tour guide and wine steward.

driving the Grand Victoria

Edward at the helm of the Grand Victoria. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Cindy does an amazing job of keeping the operational and logistical side of the operation running, from managing the interior, to provisioning the vessel. She also manages the chefs and hostess’s daily duties, and handles bookings and guest inquiries.

As owners and operators, it allows us to tweak or customize an itinerary at a moment’s notice. We don’t have to ask permission or check in with corporate offices. We take care of our customers first-hand and are on site always to do so.

Q: Where are you from and how did get into the canal cruise business?

Edward: Cindy is originally from Rochester, New York, and I am originally from southern Africa. I was born in Livingstone, Zambia, famous for the “Victoria Falls.” I then lived in Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) and South Africa, before immigrating to the US. Today we live in Tampa, Florida, where we spend our winters.

The catalyst for our starting on this adventure was when our son Alex was involved in a serious car accident whilst riding his bicycle, suffering a traumatic brain injury. We decided to change our careers, and create a new life that allowed us all to work together operating a beautiful boat in a beautiful part of the world.

And so, we operate the Grand Victoria as a family venture with our son Alex as the deck hand adding to the team. Alex has recovered, going from strength to strength, and Cindy and I have fallen in love with our life aboard the Grand Victoria in Burgundy.

Q: Do you have special offers to share with QuirkyCruise readers?

Edward:  In fact we do! We’re offering QuirkyCruise readers an exclusive 20% off full-boat French barge canal charters when booked before Jan 2, 2020. Mention code QC2020. Here are more details.

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Going through locks, and passing quaint lock houses, is part of the fun of a canal cruise

Vineyard visits and wine tasting are a big draw. Cheers! * Photo: Grand Victoria Cruises

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Brahmaputra River cruise tips

Brahmaputra River Cruise Tips.

By Judi Cohen.

Few travelers go to India for just one week unless you live in a neighbouring country. Our recent India adventure was nearly one-month long, with a Brahmaputra River cruise scheduled in the middle.

➢Click here for Judi’s story about her recent Brahmaputra River cruise.

➢And check out Heidi’s article about her Brahmaputra River cruise with the same company, Far Horizon Tours.

Here’s are some tips to make the most of your Brahmaputra River cruise and the time you spend touring India before and after. Our pre-and post-cruise travel in India was based based on my own research and knowledge of India from previous visits, combined with with the assistance of local Indian tour companies.

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Tips

Bring Small Notes

Carry small denomination rupee notes in good condition to buy local handicrafts from the villagers on the excursions. Note that torn or ragged notes may not be accepted.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include bringing small notes

Carry small denominations or Indian Rupees (INR) for shopping and haggling. 100 INR is about $1.40 USD. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Embrace Change

Be flexible and accepting of the changing weather and itinerary. Our itinerary changed many times due to thick fog that either delayed our morning sailing, or prevented it entirely, one time necessitating a full day on the ship. The ship can only sail during daylight hours due to the challenging river conditions.

Dress in Layers

In Assam, the weather can change from a low of 2C degrees to a high of 25C degrees daily (or in Fahrenheit, from the 30s or 40s on up to the low 80s). I started the day at Kaziranga wearing a merino wool underlayer, a sweatshirt and a puffy down jacket (below), and ended the day in a T-shirt.

jeep safari in Kaziranga

Judi and her family on the jeep safari. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The tender rides to and from the ship were quite windy and cool requiring a sweater or jacket. With the strict baggage weight restrictions on many internal flights in India, packing layers can save considerable money in excess baggage fees.

A big lightweight scarf comes in very handy, and can be used as a shawl for warmth, a head covering, sun protection, a fashion statement and even a skirt!

Bring Sun Protection

Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat — by midday it gets hot and very sunny.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include hats and sunscreen

Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must for any visit to India. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Use Insect Repellant

Apply it before excursions, particularly those to Kaziranga during the elephant-back, Jeep and boat safaris, as well as for late afternoon excursions to villages.

Embrace Authentic over Luxury

MV Mahabaahu provides an authentic Indian experience in terms of food, hospitality and accommodation. It is by no means a Crystal or Silversea luxury experience, but in my view the authenticity is what made it so special for me.

bamboo gangway to the Mahabaah

The gangway to the quirky Mahabaahu. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Wear the Right Shoes

Bring comfortable and sturdy walking shoes (preferably closed) and a collapsible walking stick (if you like) to help with the mildly challenging climb up on the sandy dunes when arriving by tender on the daily excursions.

Stow Socks

To enter a temple or mosque in India, you must remove your shoes. Carry socks if you don’t want to go barefoot! Though, keep in mind, some temples don’t allow any kind of foot covering at all, including socks.

Many guides will hand out wet wipes before you put your shoes back on, though keep in mind, wet wipes are not bio-degradable. Which brings me to the next tip.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include bringing extra socks and small travel towels

Shoe storage outside of a temple. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Carry Small Cloth Towels

Way more eco-friendly compared to wet wipes, which wind up in the garbage and polluting our beaches and waterways, wipe your feet and hands throughout a visit to India with light cotton handkerchiefs, washcloths or small thin travel towels (like this QuirkyCruise Turkish towel below!). Wash them out each evening and use again the next day!

bring small cloth towels for your visit to India

More eco-friendly that wet wipes, carry a couple of small cloth travel towels with you to India. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Do You Need a Lift/Elevator?

Check with the cruise line to make sure their lift is working on the ship if you will be requiring it. It was broken throughout our sailing unfortunately.

Drink Only Bottled Water

And wash your hands often, on and off the ship.

Pack an Open Mind!

Oh yes…and bring your best camera to capture the incredible wildlife in the sky, along the river, and on the land.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include an open mind

Open your mind and heart to all the riches of India! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Definitely Travel in India Before & After the Cruise

Pre-Cruise

Our 23-day itinerary started with Varanasi, the most sacred city on the Ganges River. We stayed on the river, high atop the ghats at the 5-star Brijrama Palace at a nightly cost of approximately $350 USD per room.

Brahmaputra River Cruise Tips include visiting Varanasi

The 5-star BrijRama Palace sits at the top of the ghats. * Photo: Judi Cohen

From our hotel we watched Mother Ganges come alive in the morning, observing the Ganga aarti ceremonies at night at the Dashashwamedh Ghat when the priests, waving oil lamps, lighting incense and blowing conch shells, would put the river to bed. We went out on a small wooden boat to place small lamps with flowers in the river. We also walked freely through the narrow laneways near Manikarnika, the main cremation ghat that operates day and night.

Funeral pyres burned brightly in full view of the passing boats on the river and we stood and watched wondrously for hours, absorbing the chaotic local commerce and rituals of death.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips

Funeral pyres on the Ganga. * Photo: Judi Cohen

This was my third visit to Varanasi and I could easily go back again and again.

We then flew to Kolkata for two nights at the Oberoi Grand Hotel at about $250 USD per night.

We visited three remaining synagogues, hidden behind street level shops. A handful of Jews live in Kolkata today, and services alternate among the three synagogues. The original congregant’s prayer books and shawls are still in the tiny cubbyholes in the seats.

Brahmaputra Cruise Tips include a visit to Kolkata

A Kolkata synagogue. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We enjoyed the sprawling flower market with its fragrant smells and rich yellow and saffron colors. The opulent Queen Victoria monument was a sight to behold with thousands of Christmas lights twinkling under a full moon.

Visiting Mother Teresa’s “Missionaries of Charity” in the heart of Kolkata was a highlight. Seeing the small room with the desk and bed that Saint Mother Teresa did her work from was an emotional and moving experience.

The poverty we saw in Kolkata underscored the remarkable nature of the work being done at the Missionaries of Charity’s “Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center” today and the unthinkable disease, hunger and suffering that Mother Teresa would have seen and tended to.

Brahmaputra River Cruise tips

Mother Teresa was of Albanian decent and moved to Calcutta, India when she was 21, joining the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Post-Cruise

As our fabulous cruise on the MV Mahabaahu came to an end, our land-based adventure, designed by me and organized locally by Peirce and Leslie ( www.peirceandleslie.com) was just beginning!

Building this cruise into our longer Indian holiday was a very good decision. We all flew to New Delhi to celebrate New Year’s at the Leela Palace at about $300 USD per night, and spent the next eight days in colorful Rajasthan visiting Agra, Jaipur, Jodphur and Udaipur.

Raas Hotel Jodphur is a great add on to a Brahmaputra River cruise

The atmospheric Raas Hotel Jodphur. * Photo: Judi Cohen

My husband and I along with our friends, Valerie and Howard, capped off the trip with three days in Mumbai touring with Perfect Travels and Tours.

A stay at Mumbai's Taj Mahal is a Brahmaputra RIver cruise tip

The iconic Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We stayed at the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel at about $350 USD per night before flying back to Toronto on a direct flight.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips

Until next time …

Click here for Brahmaputra River cruise booking info.

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The 18-passenger Tucano.

Amazon Expedition Cruises.

By Anne Kalosh.

QuirkyCruise’s Anne Kalosh talks with Mark Baker, the founder of Amazon Nature Tours (www.amazon-nature-tours.com). Sailing in Brazil’s deep Amazon aboard the small, eco-friendly vessel Tucano, travelers explore the dense forests and small tributaries within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the planet’s richest places in terms of biodiversity.

Brazil map

Map: commons.wikimedia

Most of the four- and six-night journeys are spent on the Rio Negro, the least inhabited major river in the Amazon basin. Led by trained naturalists, these expedition cruises include kayak and launch excursions, hikes, visits to native villages, fishing for piranhas and beach outings.

The Amazon & Rio Negro map

The Amazon & Rio Negro.

Recently Brazil eliminated the tourist visa requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia, making it easier and less costly to travel to the country. However, there’s been an international outcry over fires in the Amazon, which have sharply increased this year. Activists say the anti-environment rhetoric of President Jair Bolsonaro has emboldened tree-clearing by farmers and ranchers since he took office in January.

QC: Given the Amazon fires and some calls to boycott trips to Brazil as a result, what would you advise mindful travelers?

Mark Baker: A boycott of travel to Brazil would have a very negative consequence on rain forest preservation. The travel industry is one of the strongest voices in conservation and has a very positive effect on public policy. By enabling travelers to experience the natural wonders of the Amazon, the travel industry helps generate international will to support conservation as well as serve in the vital role of environmental education, one of the most powerful forces for change.

Amazon Expedition Cruises' Mark Baker

Mark Baker, a boatbuilder from Rhode Island, fell in love with the Amazon and created a tour company in 1988. * Photo: Amazon-Nature-Tours.com

QC: Do your trips go anywhere near the fires?

Mark Baker: What may be hard for many of us to grasp is the grand size of the Amazon. It’s as big as the continental United States. While the pace of deforestation has increased this year, fortunately, the scale of the region is so large that it is not perceivable where we operate. We voyage in the state of Amazonas which, if it were a country, would be the 13th biggest in the world.

The forest in the grand extent of the Amazonas is not at all impacted by the fires. There is no smoke in the air. We are fortunate that the state of Amazonas is only about 3 percent deforested and where the cruises take place, on the Rio Negro, there is no commercial logging or agricultural development so we are able to enjoy the wild forest.

We absolutely support efforts for rain forest conservation, and one of the most important and necessary steps in this endeavor is environmental education. This is a mission of ours for our 30 years of operations and we remain dedicated and committed to sharing the beauties of the Amazon and the need to preserve them.

Amazon Expedition Cruises

A brilliant macaw. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: What drew you to the Amazon?

Mark Baker: It’s truly a quirky story. There’s a family myth: My great great-great-grandfather was Daniel Boone. I’ve always been a lover of nature, since I was small, poking around in the woods. I had a coonskin cap.

I’m a boatbuilder by trade, in Rhode Island. I took a vacation in 1980. As a professional mariner, I took a position on a sailboat as a crew member. When I finally got to Manaus I was so captivated, I decided I was going to make a life out of this somehow.

I started a lumber company, importing wood from Brazil into the United States. I would fly all over the Amazon to zones where big machines were cutting down trees. I did that for eight years. In the end, I just could not do it any more.

I realized you can appreciate the nature of this place but not support the destruction of the forest. So in 1988, I transitioned to a travel company.

In the Brazilian Amazon, you’re surrounded by thousands of miles forest, but it’s almost impenetrable. The way to get into it is by boat. It is a perfect way to see it and explore. So this was a very happy meeting of my two passions.

QC: Your company promises “true expedition cruises.” What does that mean?

Mark Baker: It’s not a boat experience. It’s an expedition experience. We use the boat as a vehicle to explore. It’s really about getting us to where we want to be. We take four or five excursions a day, so we’re only on the boat 10 or 11 hours.

Our six-night cruises are 230 miles one-way. We go into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’re pretty much the only regular boat. There are few people. No extractions of any kind are allowed. Fishing is limited. It’s a true wilderness.

When you come into a really remote place, you start to really understand what nature is like. There are no engine sounds. You have a true sense of the howling wilderness. You don’t walk off 100 yards on your own. We’d never find you.

It’s scary, thrilling and, in the end, captivating.

QC: What kind of experiences can people have on your trips?

Mark Baker: They’re very active. We offer four or more excursions every day. We divide into two groups, a science group and an adventure group. People can choose which one (for each excursion), so everyone’s happy.

The science group goes out in 10-meter launches, birdwatching, learning about plants and animals. It’s a wilderness experience but not physically taxing.

The adventure group goes hiking or kayaking. It’s a really physical experience.

The 18-passenger Tucano.

Passengers can kayak directly from the 18-passenger Tucano. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

The science group goes out first in the morning, at 6 a.m., when the birds are out, feeding. They come back and have a big breakfast. Everybody goes out at 10. Both groups walk in the forest for about an hour. These are really wilderness trails but travelers don’t have to use a machete. The adventure group continues for about two hours.

Everyone comes back at about noon, when it’s getting hot. We fire up the main engine and travel until 3:30 or 4.

In the afternoon, everybody goes out in the launches. They’re back around 6 or 6:30. The sun goes down. They have dinner.

At 7:30 or 8, they go out for the night wildlife, always by launch, to see the nocturnal animals. It can be a little bit scary.

sloth on an Amazon Expedition Cruise

A sloth in the Amazon. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: What’s the boat like?

Mark Baker: We built Tucano. It’s been in service since 1997. It’s had four refits since then. You want it to feel new. Most recently it was out of service for a month. I am by profession a boatbuilder so we did it ourselves. We took it apart and put it back together.

We were really pressing on sustainability and made substantial modifications to make Tucano more thermally insulated, in order to expand solar energy use. We peeled off the exterior vertical walls and added double and triple insulation in the interstices and put in new windows that are thermally protected. Almost 25 percent of the energy used on board is solar.

We’ve replaced the exterior with a type of aluminum. We designed a method to not use wood. Our process is solar-powered electricity. There’s not a lack of it but we don’t want to waste it. We store the solar power because we have electric launches that we use every day. We’re making ice with it. Our galley refrigerator and freezer run on solar power. We heat the water for showers with it as well.

My goal is to make our main salon air-conditioned by solar power. This enables us to turn off all the machines and have absolute silence for four hours a day. The solar power hours are generally in the early morning and late afternoon when the boat is at anchor and most people are on excursions. The air-conditioning system does not operate during this time but because of the insulation, the boat stays cool.

These hours are a good time to enjoy the stillness and appreciate the sounds of the forest.

Iguana on an Amazon expedition cruise

An Amazon iguana. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Are people roughing it on Tucano then?

Mark Baker: Tucano has air-conditioned cabins with 700-thread-count Egyptian cottons, chocolates on the beds. It’s not a luxury experience but very comfortable, very sophisticated.

Each cabin has a private bathroom. There are two showers, one with solar-heated water, the other, diesel-electric-heated water.

At lunch and dinner, you get choices of entrees. It’s Brazilian cuisine. Lots of fruits, fish, quite sophisticated flavors and presentation. We have five kinds of fruit-flavored ice creams.

We carry lots of vegetarians and vegans. We ask everyone to fill out an information sheet so we can design the menus accordingly.

Our staff have worked with us for decades. We have eight crew members, all Brazilians. There are just 18 travelers.

Read QuirkyCruise contributor David Cogwell’s article about his week on the Tucano.

The Tucano's dining area.

Tucano’s ample salon has large windows and serves as the dining area and lounge. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Who are your customers?

Mark Baker: People from all around the globe. This notion of exploring the Amazon features in the dreams of people from around the world. There may be four or five languages or nationalities on our cruises. The common point is they all love nature. They have a sense of adventure.

One-third are from the U.S. One-third are from Europe, a lot from the U.K. and Benelux. We have people from as far away as India.

Some travelers take our cruise as part of a Brazil package.

There’s always a real affinity with the other travelers. We want to have a congenial group. Some people form lifelong bonds.

QC: Should people be fit?

Mark Baker: We ask that people be healthy. Some people will come and stay on the boat (and not take the excursions). We’re always at anchor and they can see interesting things. Good health is necessary but athleticism is not.

QC: Do you allow children?

Mark Baker: It’s absolutely appropriate for children. We have some discounts for them, too. They need to be at least 7 years old. It’s a lot of fun to have children with us. In July and August we have lots of extended families — grandparents, parents, children. They go swimming, catch piranhas and we eat them. We find all kinds of strange creatures.

QC: What kind of wildlife can travelers see?

Mark Baker: One hundred kinds of birds — pygmy kingfishers, hoatzins, harpy eagles, king vultures with a wingspan of seven feet.

The primates include big groups of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, two to three species of tiny marmosets.

amazon expedition cruises

See (and hear!) gorgeous howler monkeys in the Amazon. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Collared peccaries are really unusual. Giant river otters.

It takes real discipline to see some things. We teach people how to watch in the forest. We’re quiet and use hand signals. We try not to wear bright colors.

Outboard motors make noise that scares off animals. We use electric motors.

Amazon Nature Expeditions

Part of Tucano’s Sun Deck is covered with a shade canopy. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Does the experience vary by season?

Mark Baker: We begin our voyages at about two degrees from the equator. There are rainy and dry seasons, but it doesn’t rain as much in this central part as in other places in the Amazon.

The rainy season is from about mid-December to mid-May. There’s really interesting bird life from February to April/May.

The dry season runs August to November. From June to September, the water depth is lower so it’s a really good time to see pretty much everything — lots of birds, primates, plants.

In September you start to see dramatic changes. The water goes down. It’s much hotter. There are countless fish. Lots of dolphins. Every kind of fishing bird. Caiman. It’s a really good time for raptors.

In October-November, it’s extremely hot.

QC:  What does a trip cost, and what’s included?

Mark Baker: There are nine cabins. The daily rate is $600 to $650 per person, and the lower category rooms cost 30 percent less. There are two single cabins.

The cost includes excursions, meals, water. There are very few extras, with the exception of alcohol and soda. We’re sober naturalists, but we do have a party the last night with music and caipirinhas for everybody.

QC: How should people prepare for a trip like this?

Mark Baker: We send a 24-page pre-departure booklet that tells about some suggested equipment and the perspective travelers should have. We ask people to focus on the nature and history and think of themselves as explorers for knowledge.

Stay focused. That’s what hunters do. They are ecological hunters. Look and listen.

When people are focused, we see lots more than would be possible otherwise.

🦜

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bamboo gangway to the Mahabaah

Brahmaputra River Cruise.

By Judi Cohen.

I booked a river cruise on the Lower Ganges with Pandaw Cruises six months prior for my family of four and a couple of friends. You can only imagine my shock on receiving an email a few weeks before departure that the cruise was cancelled. (We were told the boat had not arrived in India from Myanmar in time, as apparently there is a lot of paperwork involved in moving boats from one country to another.)

Given a choice by Pandaw of getting a refund or doing a land tour in India, neither of which interested me, I took it upon myself to fill the 8-day hole in our family’s month-long India adventure. QuirkyCruise’s co-founder Heidi Sarna, and a few other travel colleagues, suggested a Brahmaputra River cruise aboard the 46-passenger MV Mahabaahu.

RELATED: Heidi’s article about her Brahmaputra cruise adventure

Not only did Pandaw book us on the alternate cruise, but they also covered the costs for changes to our airfare. I never would have imagined that we’d be cruising in a remote part of India rarely visited by tourists, but it wound up being super memorable.

So, here’s my story of our journey on the mighty Brahmaputra River from Guwahati to Jorhat.

SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates & special offers… and to be inspired to go small-ship cruising!

Brahmaputra River Cruise

Judi loving her Mahabahuu cruise on the Brahmaputra River. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The Brahmaputra: No Ordinary River

The Brahmaputra is a destination unto itself. It’s the only river, apart from the Zambezi in Africa, from which you can easily access a game park. Kaziranga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site referred to by National Geographic as “the Serengeti of India.”

You’ll see that the Brahmaputra’s ever-shifting sandy banks are also home to colorful birdlife, herds of deer and antelope, and elusive tigers.

Sandy banks of the Brahmaputra River

The sandy banks of the Brahmaputra River. * Photo: Judi Cohen

With its fast-moving currents originating in the Himalayan mountain range, the water levels rise and fall, and sandbanks form and then disappear, almost as if they were melting before one’s eyes. A small pilot boat accompanied us and used bamboo sticks to test the river depth ahead.

The Brahmaputra River was a fascinating backdrop to a week spotting wildlife and exploring remote villages.

The MV Mahabaahu

Mahabaahu, one of the very few riverboats sailing on the Brahmaputra River, was launched in 2011 by Adventure River Cruises (ARC).

Our home for seven nights was comfortable and unassuming, with a somewhat industrial-looking exterior and a homey interior.

bamboo gangway to the Mahabaah

The gangway to the quirky Mahabaahu. * Photo: Judi Cohen

All cabins had large windows, and some, including ours, had a small balcony. We had a comfortable king bed, loads of closet and storage space, as well as a fridge and safe. The bathroom had a surprisingly large shower with strong water pressure.

Mahabaahu balcony cabin

Judi’s balcony cabin had great views. * Photo: Judi Cohen

While cabins had TVs, none worked, and the air-conditioning units were difficult to control so we were either too hot or too cold. These were small concerns relative to the unique experience.

The ship has five decks, with cabins on the second and third decks. There are two suites, two luxury cabins, seven deluxe cabins, and 12 superior cabins (without balconies). While the ship has a capacity of 46 passengers, we had just 26 guests aboard our week.

All decks are easily accessible from a central staircase. There is also a lift, however, it was out of service during our sailing. Although the weather at this time of year made it too cold to swim, around 22C (71F) degrees during the day and 11C (42F) degrees at night, there was a lovely little pool.

Swimming Pool on the Mahabaahu

The Mahabaahu has a small pool at the stern near the smokestacks. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The sun deck was the “go to” spot to enjoy the lounge chairs, bar, and a panoramic view of the riverbanks.

Neena, the CEO of ARC, managed every aspect of the guest experience on the ship, and worked closely with her team of 28, including Sandeep, manager of hospitality; Cruise Director Rajeesh; and Mayuresh, destination manager, naturalist and photographer.

There was even a tailor on the boat who made clothing for guests out of fabric sold in the pop-up gift shop in the reception area. My friend had several pants made and was very happy with the results.

Reception area of the Mahabaahu

Reception area had a pool table and was also used as a pop-up gift shop. * Photo: Judi Cohen

While the ship’s marketing characterizes the MV Mahabaahu as a “luxury ship,” in my opinion, the ship would not be considered luxury by international standards. However, there are very few other tourist-class vessels that traverse the Brahmaputra, as cruising along the rivers in India has only recently become practical and fashionable.

Experientially, this small-ship Brahmaputra River cruise met all my expectations.

MV Mahabaahu Inclusions

All shore excursions and transfers to and from the airports were included. Bottled water was freely available at no charge; while alcoholic beverages were available in the bars and in the dining room at reasonable prices.

A recommended tipping guide for the crew and staff was provided and was optional at the end of the cruise. Ayurvedic massages in the spa were also extra, though reasonably priced. 

Fellow Passengers

Passengers ranged in age from 6 to 65 and were all very adventurous. The well-travelled group was English-speaking from Australia, England, Singapore, Denmark, Canada, and some from India exploring their own country.

The ages on our cruise skewed a bit lower than normal as we were cruising at Christmas, when families travel together. Children are rare on this cruise.

Family group aboard the Mahabahuu

Judi and her family. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Daily Routine

My general routine started with an hour of morning yoga, led by Neena, on the sundeck. This was an invigorating, crisp way to start the day, and nearly half the guests tried yoga at least once.

Yoga on top deck of ship

Yoga on top deck of boat. * Photo: Judi Cohen

There was a morning excursion, departing by tender, with a return for a buffet lunch. Following lunch, we either relaxed on the ship or set out again on an afternoon excursion. At some point each day, we could attend an informative short lecture by Mayuresh, highlighting the next day’s stops.

In the evening, cocktails were served (at a charge) in the Soma Lounge bar and following dinner we returned to the lounge for mingling, movies, games like getting the ring over the bottle (to win a bottle of beer), board games and more drinks.

Dining with Local Flair & Flavours

The Mungri Mingrum dining room featured large windows and warm woods. I must admit, however, I would have enjoyed some al fresco dining, particularly at lunch. In fact, some of the guests did take their food up to the sundeck for a change of scenery.

Breakfast was available between 8-10am, with Indian and international choices, including an omelette and pancake station.

Lunch buffets included tasty curries, varieties of paneer and rice, fresh local vegetables and salads, Indian breads, and tempting Indian sweets.

Indian food on Mahabaahu

Delicious Indian fare. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Neena, the boat’s general manager and cruise director, quickly learned about our tolerance for spice and food preferences. She guided guests with food allergies and special orders were accommodated without hesitation.

Dinner was a sit-down meal. Orders were taken at lunch each day for our dinner choices (vegetarian, non-vegetarian, Continental and Indian Cuisine). Highlights included the palak paneer, butter chicken, paneer tikka masala, and the traditional Assamese dishes.

Following dinner, the lounge was open again for after-dinner drinks, however we often retreated to our cabin for a good night’s sleep after a tiring day.

Brahmaputra River Cruise Excursions

We flew from Kolkata to Guwahati, the largest city in the Indian state of Assam. Bordered on the northeast by Bhutan, south by Bangladesh, and west by Bengal, Assam is known for the vast Kaziranga game park.

Our group was met at the airport and transferred to the boat for our Brahmaputra River cruise, with a short stop at the Hindu Kamakhya Temple. According to legend, this is where the gods Sati and Shiva met, and it remains an important center for followers of Tantra, or the esoteric traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Boarding the Mahabaahu for arahmaputra river cruise

The lovely welcome aboard ritual entails being given an Assamese scarf and a marigold garland. * Photo: Judi Cohen

As we travelled upstream, we visited a number of small villages. Approaching each one in our open-top tenders, we were greeted by curious families with many children watching as we trundled from the tenders and along the sloped sandy shores holding onto make-shift bamboo railings.

Check out  Judi’s TIPS to help you prepare for your very own Brahmaputra River adventure!

Day 1: Embarkation & Peacock Island

Our first visit was to Peacock Island, a tiny tree-covered island with a small temple and one outgoing Golden Langur monkey, who came down from the trees to pose for photos.

Golden Langur on Peacock Island

A cheeky Golden Langur on Peacock Island. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The sunset views from the island cast a stunning golden hue across the water as we returned to the ship.

Sunset over the Brahmaputra

Gorgeous Brahmaputra sunsets were daily affairs. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 2: Bangla Village

Our next visit was to Upera, a Bangla Muslim farming village. We walked through sprawling fields of yellow mustard flowers and cabbages, passed cows and goats, and were struck by how beautiful the girls and women were.

Always asking permission to take photos, the villagers were happy to oblige, and they all wanted us to show them the photos, giggling with us.

Village in India

The Bangla Village Welcome Wagon! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 3: Sea Day on our Brahmaputra River Cruise

Our third day became a sea-day due to unexpectedly foggy conditions, which we were told only occur on 19 days out of each season.

No problem, everyone welcomed the relaxation time. I used my afternoon to try an exceptional two-hour Ayurvedic massage for the first time. Very different from other massages I have had, the Ayervedic holistic techniques focused on the relief of both physical and emotional stress.

It was heavenly having four-hands (two people) apply gallons of hot essential oils and a variety of herbs as they massaged every inch of my body. While I was lying directly on a hard teakwood slab table, I felt far more relaxed than I have ever felt during a massage and even nodded off a couple of times, something I normally can’t do while being massaged.

My daughter and I each had two massages over the course of the week.

Day 4: Kaziranga National Park

Elephant-back Safari & Jeep Safari

The highlight of our Brahmaputra River cruise was the safari experience over two days in the 430-square-mile Kaziranga National Park, home to the endangered one-horned white rhinoceros. We were told poaching is ever-present and a controversial “shoot-to-kill” policy is in place if rangers discover poachers. Despite this, poachers do still hunt rhinos, although thankfully we did not encounter any.

Nobody minded the 3am wake-up as we headed out in four-wheel drive vehicles to Kaziranga for an elephant-back safari. In twos and threes we climbed on top of these majestic elephants escorted by mahouts and armed guards for a 90-minute safari. As the red sun came up, we watched the mist rising from the tall elephant grass, with warm rays streaming through the mist.

Elephant Back safari

Judi & Lawrence on an elephant Back safari in the misty morning. * Photo: Judi Cohen

elephant safari Brahmaputra river cruise

The baby elephants are free to follow their mothers on the 90-minute safari. * Photo: Judi Cohen

While I was conflicted about riding an elephant, we were told that these elephants do only two morning rides, and then are free to graze in the grasslands for the rest of the day. Further, their babies were allowed to playfully follow alongside their mothers.

 

As the one-horned rhinos, along with wild boars, deer, antelope and buffalo, appeared out of the morning mist, we saw mounds of bright pink flowers that grow on rhino dung. The rhinos were an awesome sight, looking downright prehistoric with their many folds of “armour.”

one-horned white rhino on Brahmaputra River cruise

It wasn’t hard to spot the one-horned white rhinos. * Photo: Dustin Cohen

Riding these elephants at sunrise and seeing the one-horned rhinos up close in the tall grasses was one of the most memorable experiences in all my years of travelling.

one-horned white rhino in Kazi

Seeing a one-horned white rhino up close is a thrill. * Photo: Alison Cohen

In the afternoon we set out on a Jeep safari. Unfortunately, the park was busy with tourists visiting Kaziranga over Christmas and New Year’s, and the jeeps were following one another closely on a narrow dusty road, which created a less than optimal experience.

jeep safari in Kaziranga

Judi and her family on the jeep safari. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Nonetheless we were glad to spot more rhinos, deer and buffalos. There are 3,400 wild water buffalo worldwide, with half living in Kaziranga. And, the eastern swamp deer are only found in Assam. While I am not a birder, I still enjoyed seeing hornbills, kingfishers, and giant storks.

Tea & Jute

On the way back to the ship, we stopped to watch a traditional Assamese dance performance with colourful costumes at a tea plantation.

We also visited the a jute factory. Dating back to 1959, this was a genuine throwback. Walking through the factory with our masks on and ear plugs in, I could only imagine this factory operating in earlier times, with its archaic softening, spinning, twisting and spool-winding equipment.

The factory employs over 300 men, and while the government could mechanize jute production, we were told by our guide that it keeps it in operation to support the workers, whose jobs are coveted.

Jute factory in India

The Victorian jute factory is a fascinating stop. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 5: Bishwanath Ghat & Boat Safari

In the morning, we took our tender and visited Bishwanath Ghat, a weaving village, with looms in almost every house.

The bright coloured textiles made the village look beautiful and they, of course, were for sale. Many of the passengers tried on the clothing and wrapped themselves in fabrics before carefully choosing their purchases.

The children played happily in the dusty laneways and gave us a very warm welcome.

saress and textiles for sale in a village

Sarees and fabrics for sale. * Photo: Judi Cohen

A boat safari using our tender in the eastern range of Kaziranga National Park capped off our day. Our naturalist, Mayuresh, told us that a few months prior they spotted a tiger at the base of the steep cliffs.

While we were hopeful, there were no elusive Bengal tigers to be seen. We did see many birds, deer and buffalo as we cruised upstream against the strong current.

That night we anchored at a large sandbank where we made a campfire. We walked across the narrow gangway onto the sandbank and were welcomed to “the Island” with drinks, music and a barbecue.

bonfire on the banks of the Brahmaputra

Cocktail hour on the sandbanks with a bonfire. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We played a lively game of charades under the stars, and capped off the evening by releasing traditional lanterns into the river while making a wish.

It was a magical evening.

sunset on the Brahmaputra River

Lovely sunsets nearly every day. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 6: Mishing Village

Our last two days featured visits to two unique villages. The first was the ethnic village of the Mishing with their bamboo homes on stilts. Their ancestry can be traced to Tibet and they are followers of Donyi-Polo animistic worship.

We stopped in the centre of the village to watch a demonstration on the tying of the Mishing’s traditional clothing. My 34-year-old son was dressed by the villagers in a dhoti and kurta, with a red and white traditional scarf, while one of our shipmates was dressed in a colourful silk Mekhela Chaadar sari.

The children followed my son, still dressed in his dhoti and kurta, for the rest of the day. I am not sure who enjoyed this more, my son or all of the children!

Mishing village with the locals

Judi’s son Dustin dressed in a kurta during a stop at the Mishing village. * Photo: Judi Cohen

To top off a perfect day we were treated to an Assamese-themed evening, which included being outfitted in local garb by Neena, dancing in the lounge with cocktails, and a traditional Assamese dinner. The maasai tinga (fish curry) and baanhgajor lagos kukura (chicken with bamboo shoots) were very tasty.

Just like Cinderella, we took off our beautiful outfits (mine was a stunning lime green sari and my daughter’s was rich red and purple), and placed them in front of our cabin doors before we went to bed, and they were gone by the morning.

This was another very special and memorable night for all of us on our Brahmaputra River cruise.

passengers in traditional Assamese clothes

Judi’s family dressed in traditional Assamese outfits. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 7: Majuli Island & Sivasagar

Our last sailing day proved to be busy with a morning visit to Majuli Island for immersion into the Neo-Vaishnav Hindu sect who calls this island home. The Neo-Vaishnavite movement started in Assam in the 16th century and reached its climax in the middle of the 17th century.  It had missionary components lifting up the lower classes and minimizing caste distinctions.

public ferry to Manjuli Island

A public ferry on the way to Manjuli Island. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We learned about the island’s many different dance forms and philosophies, and at the Kamalabari Satra temple, we watched an intriguing and complex dance performance by priests called “Gayan Bayan.”

brahmaputra river cruise dancing monks

Dancing priests performed the entrancing “Gayan Bayan” music. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The afternoon excursion took us by road on a five-hour visit to Sivasagar to learn about the history of the Ahom Kingdom, which had 600 years of influence on the history of Assam.

We climbed the Sivasagar Savadol structure built by the Ahoms and enjoyed seeing the local street activities leading to the temple, where we had blessing strings tied on our wrists.

Sivasagar Savadol on a Brahmaputra River cruise

The beautiful Sivasagar Savadol. * Photo: Judi Cohen

After our return to the ship, free cocktails in the Soma Lounge and a farewell dinner was served. We enjoyed the cruise video that Mayuresh put together. A USB drive with professional photos from the week was available for 2300 rupees. (about $33 USD)

Brahmaputra River cruise guide

Mayuresh and Judi in the restaurant. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Day 8: Time to Say Goodbye …

Our final stop was visiting a tea plantation for a home-made lunch and a presentation by a tea master. We met the owners and toured their property.

tea plantation on a Brahmaputra River cruise

A presentation at the tea plantation. * Photo: Judi Cohen

After lunch we were whisked off to the Jorhat Military Airport for our flight to Delhi.

Although this wasn’t the original Lower Ganges cruise that we had planned, this Brahmaputra River cruise offered us a glimpse into an unexpectedly vibrant, diverse, and geographically beautiful area of northeast India that was not at all on our radar.

I look forward to returning to the region again one day.

For booking details, visit Adventure River Cruises.

sunset on the Brahmaputra River

Lovely sunsets nearly every day. * Photo: Judi Cohen

RELATED: Heidi Sarna’s article about her Brahmaputra River cruise.

RELATED: Judi’s TIPS to help you prepare for a Brahmaputra River adventure!

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

 

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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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New England Islands Cruising

By Ted Scull.

(Note: updated from an original December 2015 post.)

To visit New England’s enchanting islands, a small ship cruise is by far the best way to sample them as trying to do the rounds independently involves making individual round-trip ferry reservations to each one, a costly proposition and in the height of the season often very difficult to get. Yes, you could leave the car behind in paid parking lots and then when you arrive, you are on your own to get around, while a small ship cruise will offer half-day and full-day trips to the best of the island’s attractions and advice how to do some of your visits independently. When you return to the car on the mainland, you have to drive to the next ferry landing and park the car again.

Two U.S.-flag lines, American Cruise Lines (ACL) and Blount Small Ship Adventures make the rounds, and I have sampled both on roughly similar itineraries. The price difference between the two is staggering. ACL is very expensive (starting at $3,970 per person), and many who could afford the higher fares would be happy right down to the less expensive cabins. Aboard the 84-passenger Blount pair, the Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe, the difference between higher end cabins and the least expensive is quite pronounced, and the lower end are very small and some are inside with no natural light. However, with the lead in per person rate at $2,259,  they allow some people to travel who cannot afford more, and all share the same ship facilities — dining, lounge, deck space and the itinerary. The highest rate on Blount is still less than the minimum rate on ACL.

Note: Blount’s cruise is six nights and ACL’s is seven. However, on many departures, Blount offers a $150 supplement for early boarding that includes dinner, the night and breakfast, a day in advance of sailing and make the cruise seven nights.

Blount’s New England itinerary is to embark in New York then call at Block Island, Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and ending in Boston, or in reverse by starting in Boston. Go to blountsmallshipadventures.com for a description of the two identical vessels, their layout and accommodations.

To get the full flavor of what the New England Islands’ cruise is all about, I will use an American Cruise Lines cruise I’ve sampled, as the example.

American Cruise Lines

Approaching the Independence, the ship shows off a rakish, four-deck profile with a sharp bow, two backward-leaning masts, sloping red, white and blue funnel, prominent sun visors above the pilot house, and square picture-windows punctuating the length of the superstructure. Not a porthole in sight. A wonderful conveyance for New England Islands cruising.

The cruise line’s American Star is similar and together they operate seven-night cruises May to September from Providence, Rhode Island to New Bedford, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Newport and Bristol/Fall River, then returning to Providence.

Read Ted’s “12 Irresistible Reasons to Visit New England on a Small-ship Cruise.”

For the passenger seeking roominess on a small ship, the Independence offers space in spades. All double cabins measure 265 square feet, and those with balconies add an additional 48 square feet. They come furnished with two chairs and a table, and the four single cabins on these decks also have balconies.

Unlike most other U.S.-flag coastal vessels, the Independence and the rest of the ACL fleet have multiple lounges, allowing passengers to seek a quiet or social place to read, play games, talk or work on the computer. Two rooms have seating for about eight and often double as entrance foyers in port. The forward Chesapeake Lounge, with good views ahead and to both sides, is arranged like a plush extra-large living room with very comfortable upholstered chairs and couches and occasional chairs.

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

The dining room is aft on the lowest passenger deck. Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs for 90 minutes. All meals are open seating at tables of four, six and eight. The buffet offers a small selection of fruit, cereals and freshly baked muffins. Orders are taken for main courses such as blueberry pancakes, Belgian waffles, and eggs Benedict, or eggs any style, served along with bacon, sausages, toast and bagels.

Dining & Lecturers

At breakfast, passengers check off their choices for lunch and dinner, a preparation guide for the chef rather than fixed-in-stone selections. Typical lunch (12:30 p.m.) items on a New England itinerary are Rhode Island clam chowder, oysters Rockefeller and a mixed green salad as appetizers, plus Maine lobster ravioli, shrimp salad sandwich and corned beef Reuben as the main courses.

Dinner (6:30 p.m.) might be soup of the day and shrimp cocktail as appetizers and then grilled swordfish, beef tenderloin or a whole steamed lobster; a vegetarian selection is always available.

The quality of the ingredients is high and preparation ranges from good to excellent. Complimentary red and white wines are on the dinner table, and if the selection does not please, there are other choices. Wine is also available at lunch for the asking.

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lecturer with skills in photography traveled with our cruise, and local guides added regional knowledge. Occasionally, musicians come aboard. Shore excursions by bus and on foot are fairly priced while some are complimentary walks into town or along the waterfront.

Usually the ship is docked by dinnertime and sails to the next port in the early morning or late afternoon. This allows an after dinner walk, often still light enough to enjoy the evening light and possibly a gorgeous sunset with the sun dropping the sea.

Underway

Over a Memorial Day Weekend, my wife and I took a six-night New England Islands cruise from Providence, Rhode Island. The embarkation dock, located at the head of Narragansett Bay, is just 10 minutes by taxi from the Providence railroad station, the city’s airport and several downtown hotels. Passenger boarding started at 9 a.m., and we simply showed a ticket at the gangway and walked aboard with our luggage trailing right behind.

Once all had embarked, the Independence sailed south through Narragansett Bay’s sheltered waters, out into the Atlantic for about an hour, then finally slipping through the flood gates into New Bedford, Massachusetts late in the day, to tie up at State Pier amidst a vast fleet fishing vessels. On a 90-minute harbor tour, we learned that, in terms of value of the catch, New Bedford ranks number one with deep-sea scallops the main source followed by fish, clams, and crabs.

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

The city rivaled Nantucket during the whaling days and shows off outstanding examples of substantial 19th-century houses built by sea captains and local industrialists. With a street map from the tourist office, we took in the rich architectural variety in the space of a delightful hour. In fact, everything of interest is within walking distance or via a rubber-tire-type trolley, including the outstanding whaling museum (allow an hour or more) and the nearby Seamen’s Bethel (Chapel) that featured in the novel “Moby Dick.” In the evening, a semi-retired fisherman boarded and regaled about it is like to make a living at sea. It’s a tough life but the monetary rewards are there for those who hustle.

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford's whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford’s whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nantucket

Leaving New Bedford well before dawn, we crossed Nantucket Sound and slipped between the jetties leading to Nantucket Island’s harbor as a regatta of several dozen sailing yachts headed out. The ship dropped anchor just beyond the huge anchored flotilla of visiting yachts, and a launch took us ashore.

The town is a National Historic District and an absolute treasure trove of New England architecture, from simple grey shingle-style salt boxes, some topped with widow’s walks, to large Federal-Style brick mansions. The most prominent are the elegant “Three Bricks” on cobbled Upper Main Street, built in 1836-38 by whaling merchant Joseph Starbuck for his three sons.

Unlike Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket has very few buildings from the wooden High Victorian period. When the whaling industry collapsed, the island became quite poor; hence there was little new building in the last half of the century. Recovery did not start until the summer resort role took hold in the early 20th century.

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers oeriod rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers period rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

My wife and I planned an all-day trek that would take us to the dozen houses that my family had rented or owned since my grandparents and great aunt and uncle started summering on the island in the 1920s. Situated in town, on high bluffs and close to the beach, most were happily little changed, while two have been enlarged and one torn down to be replaced by something much larger.

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

Meanwhile the other passengers took a three-hour island tour or used the inexpensive local bus system to reach the tiny village of ‘Sconset, eight miles distant on the island’s east side or south to the Atlantic Ocean at Surfside for a beach walk and to watch the breakers.

Some spent their time in the enchanting town center, walking the cobble-stoned Main Street and following a suggested residential district loop. Turn left off Main and follow Orange Street as far as York, then right and right again on Pleasant. The street returns to the upper end of Main Street opposite the Starbuck’s handsome Three Bricks.

The Vineyard & Block Island

During the evening social hour, we sailed around Brant Point Light and across the Sound to Martha’s Vineyard, docking just after dinner at Vineyard Haven. Here we remained for two nights.

Some opted for the island tours to the Victorian village of Oak Bluffs, upscale Edgartown and the dramatic headlands at Aquinnah, while the more independent-minded used the island’s subsidized bus network to visit many of the same places.

We joined friends who own a tiny gingerbread Victorian in Oak Bluffs, one of over 200 built as part of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association in the 19th century and now a National Historic Landmark.

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

In the middle of the night, we pushed off for a seven-hour sail to Block Island, a small dot in the Atlantic that a good walker can navigate on foot in a day. The island rose to utterly charming prominence in the second half of the 19th century when several wooden New England-style hotels were built facing the Old Harbor or on high ground just inland. The prominent ones that remain are the National Hotel fronting directly on the harbor and the Spring House set high on a hill overlooking the sea.

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Vans tours set out from New Harbor to explore the hilly island with its lovely freshwater ponds, steep cliffs, bird sightings, and the main attraction — the impressive Southeast Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic.

As we are walkers, my wife and I followed roughly the same route on foot then found the lighthouse enshrouded in thick fog and doing its thing, sending out a powerful warning that can be heard miles out to sea.

Newport on Many Levels

The short sail to Newport had us tie up at Fort Adams, a military defense built following the War of 1812. We used the launch service to downtown Newport and explored the city’s original 19th-century town center and its narrow lanes, just two blocks inland from Thames Street’s tourist shops.

Scheduled rubber-tire trolleys and a ship’s bus tour operated to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and the Breakers, one of the dozen extravagant mansions along Bellevue Avenue that are open to the public.

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

After our tour of Touro Synagogue, built in 1763 and the oldest remaining synagogue building in the United States, we walked past the Catholic Church where John and Jacky Kennedy were married. Continuing on, we followed Memorial Boulevard to the start of the dramatic Cliff Walk that I frequented during my boarding school years; it offers front-yard views of many estates. The first section is easily walkable passing the Breakers, Rosecliff, the Marble House and its charming Chinese Tea House to Doris Duke’s Rough Point. The path thereafter, badly damaged more than once by hurricanes, is best left to those who can spring from rock to rock. A section may be even closed but there is plenty to see along the initial two-mile route.

Our final stop at Bristol, Rhode Island, a charming waterfront setting facing Narragansett Bay, put us right across the street from the Herreshoff Marine Museum, the site of the former shipyard that once produced eight America’s Cup defenders, sleek private steam and sailing yachts, fast torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy, and waterline models.

Don't miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Don’t miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Later in the afternoon, we sailed north to the head of the bay, returning to Providence for disembarkation the next morning after breakfast.

For most passengers, New England was a first-time experience, and with three off-shore islands involved, an itinerary such as this would be awkward and hugely expensive to drive due to the considerable cost of taking a car on the ferries. For us, this is a region we have known over a lifetime, and one that we cannot get enough of.  And the weeklong New England island-hopping cruises offered by ACL and Blount are a great way to travel!

Click here for booking information on American Cruise Lines.  And here for Blount. 

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French Barge Cruise - Esperance on the Canal du Midi

French Barge Cruising:
My French Love Affair (Part 1)

The Canal, The Boat, The Weather, The Locks, The Food & The Wine

By Elysa Leonard.

To be completely honest, I had mixed feelings about this quirky cruise as we planned it. It was not my norm. I am a scuba girl and love my trips to be sun-kissed and salty. On this French barge cruising adventure, the focus would be on wining and dining, not diving and regulating.

I would be bringing my daughter, Samantha, a budding chef who is halfway through her studies at the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA). A French barge cruise would be a great experience for her to learn some cooking skills from a seasoned French chef and it would of course be a super memorable mother-daughter holiday as well.

But what would I really think about a slow crawl through southern France on a luxury barge?

The truth is, I fell in love with French barge cruising!

French Barge Cruise - Esperance on the Canal du Midi

Elysa and her daughter Sam aboard the 6-passenger Esperance! * Photo: Elysa Leonard

The Canal du Midi … or

Le Canal Charmant Mais Etonnant (The lovely and Remarkable Canal)

The Canal du Midi is set in the lovely region of Languedoc in southern France. It’s a step back in time to motor through this idyllic pastoral countryside. You quickly realize why artists are drawn to this area after seeing firsthand the inspiration surrounding you. From small quaint villages with stone churches and narrow cobblestone streets to vineyards and small farms, this cruise was all about the journey.

A slow-moving barge is a perfect vessel — and speed — to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

French barge cruising aboard Experance

A barge cruise along the Canal du Midi is an excellent to soak up the French countryside. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

What’s not to love!

When you realize this canal was built centuries ago, in a very rural part of the country with no modern equipment, it truly is a remarkable accomplishment. The project began in 1667 and was managed by Pierre-Paul Riquet, taking 14 years to complete. It was built as a working canal to transport goods between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of France. Sadly, Riquet would never see the completed project, he died one year before it was finished.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, the Canal du Midi is considered one of the major civil engineering achievements of the modern age.

Esperance — Love at First Sight

The luxury hotel barge, Esperance, has a capacity for six passengers and three crew members. The word Esperance means hope or promise and this barge delivered on all of her promises.

French Barge Cruising on the Esperance

The 6-passenger Esperance. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Not only that but the barge fits perfectly in some very tight spaces.

As seen here:

The three bedrooms were spacious and charming; ours had a reading area with a sofa and a large closet. Each room has an ensuite bathroom.

Esperance cabin

A charming cabin aboard the Esperance. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

On the top open deck was a dining table, lounge chairs, and a hot tub. The salon was lined with windows and there was a lovely area for lounging, reading or just enjoying one of the freshly prepared snacks made by our on-board chef, with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.

Elegant lounge aboard French Barge Esperance

The elegant salon aboard the Esperance. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

The salon’s high-top table is where we would enjoy most of our meals. It was perfectly sized for six and was always impeccably adorned with a colorful themed tablescape and fresh flowers.

The kitchen was tiny and we were amazed by the dishes that Chef, Jean-Luc, prepared from such a small space.

Dining aboard a French Barge cruise.

The lovely “tablescape” at dinner on the Esperance. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

There was a lot to love about the Esperance. The rooms were big and it felt like a moving luxury hotel; we never felt cramped.

The One Thing Not to Love — The Weather

We were not blessed with perfect weather and much of the time, it was colder than I expected and a bit windy. In fact, there were several days/nights where they had to heat the cabin — we were cruising in early April, so the temperatures were fairly typical.

French Barge Cruise aboard Esperance

My recommendation would be to take this trip in late spring to guarantee that spring in France had indeed sprung. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Sadly, that meant that all of our meals except for one were inside in the salon. It also meant that we didn’t do as much walking and biking as I think we would have if the weather gods had cooperated. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying our time and thankfully, we didn’t get much rain to dampen our excursions.

It was easy to imagine what it would be like to have more meals and happy hours on the deck, and maybe a few more dips in the hot tub, but we will save that dream for future trips. The foliage and flowers were just about to pop and we could only imagine how lush and green things would be in just a few short weeks. It was just on the cusp of gorgeousness during our week and about to get even more so in a few short weeks.

My recommendation would be to take this trip in late spring to guarantee that spring in France had indeed sprung. But you can’t control the weather, so we chose to enjoy the journey and sat out on the deck with layers, including some blankets, so we wouldn’t miss the scenery and especially the passage through the locks.

Esperance barge cruises run from April through October.

The ideal time for a Canal du Midi barge cruise is the spring months of May and June; and for a touch of fall, September and October.

French Barge Cruising: Lovely Locks

When traveling on the Canal du Midi you can’t help but love the locks. They are a marvel of engineering and yet appear to seamlessly work to raise or lower boats.

French Barge cruising on Canal du Midi

Passing through the locks was a highlight. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

The Canal du Midi locks

Up close and personal with the locks of the Canal du Midi. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Canals are flat bodies of water, but sometimes where you want to build a canal is hilly, so what do you do? You construct a lock to raise or lower the boats to the next stretch of canal at the higher or lower elevation.

The barge enters the lock, the doors close, it fills with water (or the water lowers) and you have now risen (or sunk) to the next level to continue on your journey.

There are 63 working locks on the Canal du Midi. The locks are maintained by a permanent lock keeper. The lock keeper cottages in many cases have been transformed into art galleries, displaying sculptures and paintings. Some of the lock keepers were the artists themselves and they displayed their art for sale.

Canal du Midi lock - Ecluse de Jouarres

Elcuse de Jouarres on the Canal du Midi – Esperance crew would pick up fresh fruits, vegetables, and, wine at this lock. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Canal du Midi French barge cruising

The arty “lawn” of a lock keeper. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

My favorite was Ecluse de L’aiguille or the Aiguille Lock. The lock keeper is a sculptor who has created really interesting art from wood and metal. One group of sculptures are connected to a motion sensor so when you walk by they all move, from a naked biker to a man sticking out his tongue and another that looks like Humpty Dumpty. It was one of my favorite stops and we had time to take a close-up look while the barge went through the lock.

Ecluse de L'aiguille on the Canal du Midi

Strange yet captivating art at the Ecluse de L’aiguille. Photo: Elysa Leonard

I also witnessed a few replenishments of wine handed over from the lock keeper to our crew, so we would always have a glass (or two!) from the local vineyards.

French Cuisine: A Life-Long Crush

When you think of French food, it conjures thoughts of heavy dishes covered in creamy rich sauces. And although we enjoy dishes with luxurious sauces, our Chef, Jean Luc, who had been cooking for 50 years, kept things elegant while also surprisingly light.

A memorable lunch consisted of a bowl of black shelled mussels with bright apricot-colored flesh, plucked from the Mediterranean Sea that morning. The chef knew with shellfish as fresh as this, less was more. He steamed them in olive oil, white wine, and garlic and served them with a crusty French baguette and a salad tossed in a simple but divine dressing that we found out was made with his own black walnut oil.

When we asked about the dressing through a few translations (Chef Luc doesn’t speak English), we discovered the origin of the oil was a black walnut tree in his backyard. He had crushed the black walnuts and made this oil himself, giving new meaning to the phrase, “from scratch.”

Fresh Mussels - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Fresh Mussels in white wine and garlic broth, plucked that morning from the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Green Salad - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Simple Green Salad with a Black Walnut Vinaigrette. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Memorable dinner entrees included a delicious roast duck breast, steak au poivre, stuffed guinea fowl, tender beef roast with root vegetables, and pork tenderloin topped with an onion and mushroom compote.

Roast Duck Breast - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Roast Duck Breast with ratatouille, cauliflower and popovers. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Steak au poivre - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Steak au poivre with whipped potatoes, glazed sugar snap peas, and baby carrots. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Unforgettable appetizers included an asparagus soup served with a straw, a rainbow of caviar on toast, and my favorite, baked leeks wrapped in prosciutto that was sautéed in butter until crispy on the outside with a tender inside.

Rainbow Caviar Canape - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

A rainbow of caviar canapes served with Champagne on our first night. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Baked leeks wrapped in prosciutto - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Baked leeks wrapped in crispy prosciutto. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Cheese courses were a part of all dinners, and I would try to save room to at least sample them. From creamy herbed goat cheese to ripe camembert, they were a perfect pairing with the white, rosé and red wines served with dinner. Yes we did of course drink a lot of good French wine on this trip!

French Cheese Plate with caraway seeds and apples - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

A selection of French cheese with caraway seeds and apples. Photo: Elysa Leonard

A selection of French cheese with honey and rosemary - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

A selection of French cheese with pears, local figs, honey, and rosemary. Photo: Elysa Leonard

French cheese plate from Narbonne - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

A selection of French cheese from the Narbonne Market. Photo: Elysa Leonard

I was inspired to create cheese plates on my own after this trip. I have been treating my neighbors to French cheese and wine all summer long, as I try to hold on to the pleasant memories of my barge cruise.

Desserts were elegant but simple.

They comprised fresh fruit served with a cinnamon cookie that melted in your mouth, gold-dusted strawberries with fresh mint, smooth and creamy vanilla bean ice cream, and a show stopper, puff pastry with a sweet mango filling.

Fruit salad with cinnamon cookie - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Fruit salad with a crispy cinnamon cookie that melted in your mouth. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Gold dusted Strawberries - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Gold dusted fresh strawberries with mint. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Puff pastry with mango filling - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

Puff pastry with mango filling. Photo: Elysa Leonard

The Wine: My Romantic Rendezvous with Rosé

I love wine, that was true long before my visit to France. But, I am very particular in what kinds of wine I drink. I have always been a fan of California whites. I like a buttery Chardonnay from an oak barrel or a crisp Pinot Grigio with a hint of apple and pear, but don’t ever offer me something pink. Pink wines, or so I thought, are sweet and I wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole. Sweet wine is not for me.

French rose - Canal du Midi Luxury Barge Cruise

French rose, crisp, dry, and divine. Photo: Elysa Leonard

Pink French Rose - Canal du Midi luxury barge cruise

Another French rose that became one of my favorites. Photo: Elysa Leonard

So on the barge cruise, when our cruise manager Helen began offering us rosé in the afternoon, I would put my hand over my glass and tell her I would pass. After the first few days, she asked me why I wouldn’t try the rosé.

“Please don’t be offended, I just don’t like pink wines, they are much too sweet for me,” I confided in her.

Helen said, “But they are not all sweet, some are very dry, like this one, you may like it, give it a try.”

And then several of my new passenger friends including my daughter encouraged me to give it a try as well. Suddenly, I was in a real-life version of “Green Eggs and Ham.” And just like Sam, I thought well, one sip won’t hurt me and after that, they will leave me alone and then I can say I tried it and didn’t like it. However, like Sam, that first sip was not my last.

I took a taste and realized that this French rosé was positively pink perfection!

Drinking French Rose - Canal du Midi luxury barge cruise

Drinking French rosé in the South of France, perfection! Photo: Elysa Leonard

The temperature of this wine is important. Rosé is better when it is well chilled, and of course, Helen took great care to make sure that was always the case on Esperance. I have added rosé to my wine list. But of course, it must be French and it must be from Languedoc or Provence!

Please stay tuned for French Barging Cruising Part 2 — “The Love Affair Continues.” I will discuss the crew, my daughter’s French cooking lessons, the daily excursions and our extended trip to Paris after our barge cruise.

À bientôt! (See you soon!)

➢➢ Are you a barge newbie? Here are some BARGE CRUISE TIPS to get you up to speed!

➢➢ And here’s more info on Barge Lady Cruises, the barge brokers who introduced us to Esperance!

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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Elise Lentz's packing tips

Packing Tips: Some like it Hard

By Elise Lentz.

Hard-sided luggage that is.

Being travel directors, the #1 question we get asked all the time is, “What is your favorite destination?”

The #2 question is, “What packing advice do you have?”

During one of our cruises, a guest mentioned that we should do a lecture on travel packing tips. So we did.

During a sea day, we hosted an impromptu lecture aptly titled Travel Tips 101 — Lessons Learned from a Life on the Road.

Our props were easy. We just loaded the contents of our cabin into our suitcases, rolled them into the lounge and started to talk about the items we use. As it turned out, this lecture packed the room.

The guests took notes, snapped pictures of our “junk” and mobbed us with comments and suggestions following the talk. Now I know how a celebrity must feel. (OK – maybe not.)

This article is the first of a series that will offer a few suggestions for you to consider the next time you pack to head out. With that said, there is no right or wrong way to pack (or travel). That’s what makes travel so great. The entire process of the journey allows you the freedom to experience the adventure the way you want.

Back to my title…

Some Like it Hard
Packing Tips include hard luggage

Travel expert Elise Lentz says hard-sided luggage is the only way to go!

I have to admit, at first it started out soft. Our very first contracts on cruise ships saw us embark with four soft-sided rolling duffel bags. We knew crew quarters were compact and stowing four large suitcases would be a challenge. We figured we could find some area to shove four collapsible duffels and still manage room to sleep.

For a while, these soft-side bags worked for us. Then we were exposed to numerous horror stories and what follows is just a sampling… These incidents happened both personally and vicariously through other guests. The olive oil incident was followed by the Venice Canal drenching, and after numerous other tragic sagas, the coup de grâce was the red wine tasting.

Enjoy!

Elise Lentz's packing tips

Elise swears by a hard-sided bag! * Photo: Tim Lentz

The Olive Oil Incident

Many people tell me that they purchase a new clothing item for their trip. I can envision the scenario. You carefully pack your new frock, full of anticipation that when you get to your destination you will “strut your stuff’ in your new outfit. And then it happens.

Your luggage comes off the plane and as it rides carefree along the baggage carousel, you notice a strange discoloration on your bag. You think to yourself, “I didn’t know it was raining outside.” And then, as you retrieve your bag from the belt, your nose catches a whiff of the sweet smell of garlic and spice. One of your fellow passengers on that flight was bringing home a souvenir bottle of infused olive oil, from that adorable little hillside village.

As fate would have it, the baggage handlers, ever so gently, placed that leaking bag next to yours. The contents of their cold-pressed treasure oozed its oily goodness through your bag infusing its stench all over your new outfit.

Quiz time. 10 points for the correct answer — Was this bag: (A) Soft-sided or (B) Hard-sided?

The Venice Canal Drenching

Even if you have never been to Venice, you may still know that it is referred to as the “City of Canals.”

Venice packing tips

Venice is the city of canals! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The canals are the highways of the city and used to transport everything, from food, supplies, garbage, and the mail, to the sick, the dead and yes…luggage.

Guests on a group tour were leaving a Venetian hotel to embark on a cruise ship. The group’s luggage was being transported to the ship via a delivery barge. The bags were precariously perched on top of one another forming an unstable mountain of luggage. Can you see where this story is going???

A “rouge wave” caused the barge to bounce, sending a shockwave through Mount Luggage, thus propelling one of the bags off the barge and into the canal. Said bag was fished out of the canal and returned to the barge — but the contents inside were soaked and left with the lingering scent of “Acqua di Canal.”

Quiz time. 10 points for the correct answer — Was this bag: (A) Soft-sided or (B) Hard-sided?

The Red Wine Tasting

Following one of our Mediterranean assignments, we were anxious to return home and sleep. We spotted one of our suitcases on the baggage carousel that happened to be riding behind a bag with a steady stream of dark liquid leaking from it. Hmmm …  Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet?

cruise backing tips

Be careful of the red wine!

Since the flight was coming from Rome, Chianti seemed more like the logical answer. Oblivious to the liquid flowing from his bag, the owner pulls it off the belt and proceeds to leave a beautiful garnet trail across the floor as he exits the airport. Recovering our bag, there was enough evidence on the outside to confirm it was indeed Chianti.

Quiz time. Bonus question: 20 points for the correct answer — Was our bag:  (A) Soft-sided or (B) Hard-sided?

What’s Your Luggage Horror Story?

We were recently reminded of this story when we ran into one of our recent IGA (International Guide Academy) students working in Alaska. She confessed to us, that because of these stories, she purchased hard-sided luggage for her assignments. Then she laughed, as she recanted personally witnessing her own “Red Wine Tasting” at the airport.

In the deep recesses of your travel memories, you probably have your own luggage horror story (and we’d love to hear them, share below!). And if not — consider yourself lucky.

But remember, just like every good horror movie (cue spooky music), eventually, your luck may run out.

Come back for future postings where we will share with you what we look for when purchasing luggage and travel accessories we have fallen in love with.  We will also include tips on increasing your odds of getting your luggage returned to you when the airlines decide to send it on an itinerary that is different than yours!

____________________

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for more than 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Below, read more of Elise’s fun and quirky take of a life working at sea!

Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Hitting the Road  (Part 1)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Voyage Begins (Part 2)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Sleeping Around (Part 3)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Shook Me All Night Long (Part 4)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Say Cheese (Part 5)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Good Cruises Gone Bad (Part 6)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Whatever the Client Wants (Part 7)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Crazy Cruise Charters (Part 8)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Yoko Ono Encounter (Part 9)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Losing a Friend at Sea (Part 10)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Surreal Tour Guide Spiels (Part 11)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Effects of Too Much Mango (Part 12)

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Asian-fusion restaurant Coocs aboard the new Scenic Eclipse

The New Scenic Eclipse

By Anne Kalosh.

Expedition cruising is getting glamorous. While the adventures outside may still be rugged, once travelers are back on board they’ll have every creature comfort on a growing number of vessels.

Take a look at Scenic’s newly introduced 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, for example.

Billed as a “six-star discovery yacht,” it has all-veranda-suite accommodations, 10 dining venues, a Champagne bar, a spacious spa, a yoga/Pilates studio and butler service. A sleek exterior profile, internal spaciousness, stylish design and original art make Scenic Eclipse a far cry from expedition cruising’s traditionally utilitarian vessels, some of them converted from scientific research use.

The new Scenic Eclipse

Scenic Eclipse sailing off the Outer Hebrides. * Photo: Scenic

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Total Sensory Experience

“This is more than just a cruise ship, this is a total sensory experience,” said project director Karen Moroney of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours. “From the entry foyer to the guest suites and the dining areas, the feel is one of calm, luxury and serenity to allow our guests to truly relax and take in the total voyage experience.”

In addition, a number of artworks were commissioned from renowned international artists and are a focal point of the decor.

Scenic Eclipse can carry up to 228 travelers (200 in the Arctic and Antarctica) on voyages highlighting nature, cultural encounters, historic cities and ancient monuments.

The 114 all-veranda suites range from 345 square feet to a sprawling 2,659 square feet. All accommodations are served by butlers, and the passenger-to-crew ratio is nearly 1:1.

Ocean-view bathroom in a spa suite on Scenic Eclipse

But of course! An ocean-view bathroom in a spa suite. * Photo: Scenic

The 10 dining options include Asian fusion, a sushi bar, an upscale French restaurant, a Chef’s Table, teppanyaki grill, a cooking emporium called Epicure and a poolside grill/buffet.

Dinner in the Chef's Table on Scenic Eclipse

A Chef’s Table creation. * Photo: Scenic

Bars and lounges include the intimate Champagne Bar, elegant Lobby Lounge and the Azure Bar & Café for fare like oysters accompanied by a crisp pinot gris. Top-shelf beverages, fine wine, cocktails, and specialty teas and coffees are included in Scenic’s pricing.

Asian-fusion restaurant Coocs aboard the new Scenic Eclipse

The super glam Asian-fusion restaurant Cocos. * Photo: Scenic

The 5,920-square-foot Senses Spa provides a gym and separate yoga and Pilates studio. A theater hosts entertainment and lectures. There are indoor and outdoor plunge pools.

Yoga and pilates studio aboard the new Scenic Eclipse

The dedicated yoga and pilates studio. * Photo: Scenic

Two Helicopters & a Submarine

Scenic Eclipse has a Polar Class 6 ice rating. The ship’s zero-speed stabilizer fins are 50 percent larger than standard to provide greater stability by cutting roll more than 85 percent. Other technical features include dynamic positioning, a GPS system that holds the vessel in place so anchors don’t have to be dropped with the potential to damage sensitive seabeds. For added safety, there are redundancies in propulsion and navigation systems and food refrigeration.

Adding to its exploration capabilities, Scenic Eclipse carries two six-guest helicopters and one six-guest submarine capable of reaching depths of nearly 1,000 feet.

The new Scenic Eclipse has a heli pad

Two helicopters and a submarine for additional exploration. * Photo: Scenic

“We are extremely proud of this ship and what it brings to the world of cruising,” said Glen Moroney, chairman and founder, Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours. “In terms of innovation, technology and design, it is second to none.”

An Australia-based tour operator that sells internationally, Scenic in recent years branched out to building river vessels for its Scenic and Emerald Waterways brands. Now, having constructed one ocean expedition yacht, a second is due to follow.

Scenic Eclipse is scheduled to be named by the British actress Dame Helen Mirren during festivities in New York on Sept. 10.

The ship will sail between the polar regions, also hitting points in the Caribbean, South America, Alaska, Canada, Europe and Scandinavia, with per diems ranging from $600 to $1,100 depending on the itinerary. Here are more details.

Luxury is the currently the hottest trend in expedition cruising. Luxury line Silversea got into this area in 2008 with refurbished and upgraded ships. And now Silversea, Crystal Expedition Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Ponant, Seabourn and SeaDream Yacht Club are all building sumptuous vessels.

So look for many more top-tier choices in the years to come.

A bar on the New Scenic Eclipse

Cheers! 🥃 One of the ship’s several bars and lounges. Top-shelf brands are included in the fare. * Photo: Scenic

>>Stay tuned for Peter Knego’s story when he sails aboard Scenic Eclipse in early September!

 

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