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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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The 146-passenger Resolute was the base for the first ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit.

First Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit at Sea.

By Ben Lyons, CEO of EYOS Expeditions.

As anyone who has sailed on a small or quirky ship knows, a sense of community and shared experience is one of the biggest joys of being onboard. With the idea to foster that communal spirit, One Ocean Expedition’s 146-passenger RCGS Resolute was transformed from expedition cruise ship into a floating summit recently.

On board was a diverse group of key influencers and corporations came together to address the increasing problem of ocean plastic.

The 146-passenger Resolute was the base for the first ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit.

The 146-passenger Resolute was the base for the first ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

First Ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit at Sea

Called the Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit, the meeting was the brain child of SoulBuffalo Expeditions, which organizes purpose driven, socially responsible conferences. Working with expedition specialists EYOS Expeditions, SoulBuffalo chartered the Resolute and invited various stakeholders to Bermuda for the four-night conference at sea.

Attendees spanned the entire spectrum from large corporations such as Dow, Proctor and Gamble, and Hasbro; NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working to reduce plastic consumption; waste management organizations that collect and recycle plastics; and artists and activists.

Attendees at the 4-day conference at sea represented stakeholders across many sectors.

Attendees at the 4-day conference at sea represented stakeholders across many sectors. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

Media, including National Geographic and Outside magazine, were also onboard to cover the expedition.

The summit began with a beach clean-up on one of Bermuda’s beaches that, at first glance, seems pristine. Digging closer, however, participants found a plethora of small “micro” plastics that littered the beach and were embedded in the washed-up sargassum. Large pieces of plastic were also recovered, as well, such as a 50-gallon plastic drum that had to be dug out of the sand.

Sailing into the Middle of a Gyre

The next morning, Resolute sailed out of Bermuda and into the open Atlantic. We cruised right into the middle of the North Atlantic Gyre, one of the world’s five main gyres (or vortex)  where plastic tends to accumulate due to ocean currents.

After a morning session hearing from various stakeholders, the expedition capability of Resolute was put to use. All 160 participants were able to take to Zodiacs in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and go snorkeling on a large patch of sargassum in almost 8,000 feet of water.

The group snorkeled around a large patch of sargassum in almost 8,000 feet of water.

The group snorkeled around a large patch of sargassum in almost 8,000 feet of water. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

Seeing firsthand what was floating just at the surface in and around the sargassum in this one stretch of ocean was startling. The common perception of these “garbage patches” is perhaps a bit inaccurate — the ocean still looked pristine from the Zodiacs. However, once we were in the water snorkeling, large pieces of plastic were quickly recovered — a toilet seat, a speaker, several cups, toothbrushes and more.

The group found toothbrushes floating around the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The group found toothbrushes floating around the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. * Photo: Tom Gruber

The Microplastic Menace

And it was evident how numerous the microplastics were. One participant described it as a “plastic smog.” Trawling for microplastics was also conducted by several Zodiacs, and an onboard lab dissected locally-caught fish to examine the presence of microplastics in the food chain.

An onboard lab dissected locally-caught fish to examine the presence of microplastics in the food chain.

An onboard lab dissected locally-caught fish to examine the presence of microplastics in the food chain. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

Throughout the next two days, Resolute sailed the waters of the North Atlantic as participants broke into working groups throughout the ship — some in the lounge, some enjoying the beautiful weather by electing to work on deck — to tackle the challenges in their respective fields.

The unique location of having everyone together on a ship — whether enjoying a BBQ on deck or stepping into a Zodiac — allowed participants with very different perspectives to engage directly in a way that a normal conference could never achieve.

The Resolute sailed the waters of the North Atlantic as participants broke into working groups.

The Resolute sailed the waters of the North Atlantic as participants broke into working groups to discuss solutions and strategies to the scourge of plastic waste. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

At the end of the expedition, numerous pledges were made and roadmaps laid out. Collectively we also presented 30-, 60- and 90-day plans for review. And most significantly, dialogue is now ongoing and energized.

There are already plans for a similar summit to follow up on the success of this year’s expedition.

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

By Ted Scull.

For small ship cruising, it is not always fair winds and calm seas. Some parts of the world see more chop than others, and to be in the know before booking, here below are the regions that have a bit of a reputation.

Now let’s begin with the good news. Advance weather forecasts give ship captains ample warning to steer clear of a hurricane’s track by altering course. A diversion may result in skipping a port or two and substituting others, and while you might still feel the swell from the storm, it is unlikely that the ship’s movement will be more than a gentle rise and fall.

Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

Some major white water in the Atlantic, off Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Stabilizers help reduce side-to-side rolling, but not the up and down pitching motions into oncoming swells. The smaller the small ship, the less likely it will have the stabilizing fins. Large cruise ships’ massive blunt bows tend to slam into head seas, and to lessen the unpleasant sensation, the captain may drastically reduce his speed to lessen the impact.

The bodies of water below have the potential for the being the choppiest in world; in no particular order:

1)  Caribbean

The Caribbean’s hurricane season (roughly June to October) tops the list in terms of the number of passengers potentially affected because of the large number of ships cruising here. However, with so many alternative routes and ports of call, in most instances, ships can avoid the storm’s fury and still provide a satisfying cruise.

2)  North Atlantic

The North Atlantic is notorious for its storms at almost any time of the year, and the further north the track the more likely it is to encounter some rough seas along the multi-islands’ passage between the North of Scotland, Shetland/Orkney, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the Canadian maritime provinces and/or the U.S. East Coast. It is positive thinking to note that all islands have a lee side.

The ships that reposition seasonally via the Atlantic between the Mediterranean/Iberia and the Caribbean/Florida are much less likely to encounter storms. However, ships that sail between Northern European ports, Iberia and the Mediterranean pass through the Bay of Biscay. This body of water, west of France and north of Spain, has a long anecdotal history especially with Brits.

In my experience — 16 passages — only one (Santander to Portsmouth) was truly tempestuous and that was quite enough for everybody on board, including me who likes a bit of chop.

3)  Mediterranean

Speaking of the Mediterranean, the Mistral that roars down the Rhone Valley in France and then across the Western Med can stir up heavy seas in winter and spring as does the Meltemi in summer in the Greek Islands. I was aboard the ROYAL CLIPPER during a powerful Mistral and the sail-laden ship reached its maximum hull speed. It was exhilarating and more than a bit dramatic.

4)  Drake Passage

The dreaded Drake Passage between Ushuaia, Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula has a well-deserved reputation, and happily any storm that does occur rarely lasts more than 12 to 24 hours. If you are susceptible to mal de mer, be prepared to deal with any eventuality because the expedition is well worth it.

Longer itineraries that include the Falklands and South Georgia expand the chances for stormy weather.

Cowabunga dude!! That's some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cowabunga dude!! That’s some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

5)  Gulf of Alaska

The Inside Passage to and from Alaska may be well protected apart from a few short-open sea stretches, while ships traversing the Gulf of Alaska to Seward, on the other hand, may encounter North Pacific storms or swells from a more distant storm.

6)  Southeast & East Asia

Typhoons are an occasional worry in Southeast and East Asia from the South China Sea north to Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, but course alterations can minimize discomfort unless the ship must call at a disembarkation port, then arrivals may be delayed until the waters calm.

7)  Trans-Tasman Passage

The Trans-Tasman passage between Australia and New Zealand and the Bass Strait between Southeast Australia and the island of Tasmania can kick up a mighty storm, but few small ships venture into these southern waters.

8)  Point Judith

The only time I ever felt I might be seasick was standing at the bow of a small ship rounding Point Judith where Narragansett Bay meets Long Island Sound. The sea becomes confused here due to colliding waters, and by simply moving amidships, the unpleasant sensation eased.

Charles Darwin was seasick more than not during his three-year voyage on the Beagle, but back then there were few remedies, and today they are many. A truism is that everyone reacts differently, so there is no easy answer. Still, for the small percentage that do experience mal de mer, it is no picnic. Get professional advice before you go.

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Lindblad Expeditions

QC Articles About Lindblad Expeditions

Sven-Olof Lindblad.
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Reader Reviews About Lindblad Expeditions

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Reader Review: Lindblad in Alaska's Inside Passage. REVIEWER Elizabeth Moss from the USA. CRUISE LINE Lindblad Expeditions. SHIP National Geographic ...
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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

Based in New York, Lindblad Expeditions has a long legacy dating back to Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos beginning in the mid-1960s. In the intervening years, the firm, under the leadership of his son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, has expanded its fleet and ship charters to basically blanket the world for those in search of an adventure by sea. Destinations are expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica; natural history and wildlife cruises to the Galapagos, Indonesia and Borneo; cultural and historical voyages to the British Isles, Greek Isles and Morocco, revived cruise tours to Ancient Egypt — the list goes on and on.

The joint venture with the National Geographic Society established in 2004 expanded Lindblad’s passenger base and drew on the Society’s expertise; especially its photographers who enrich the pages of National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveler.  The relationship has expanded from itineraries in the US, Australia and New Zealand to Canada and Latin America.  As a four-time passenger I have always had the strong sense that the expedition and enrichment staff genuinely want to bring you absolutely the best experience possible. The large number on every voyage makes a huge difference in having them readily at hand when ashore or in Zodiacs and providing a rich variety of expertise.

Lindblad Expeditions

The N. G ENDURANCE represents the latest in Expedition ship design. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

In January 2017, Lindblad took delivery of the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II to replace the long-serving N. G. ENDEAVOUR  in the Galapagos. Then in July 2017, a newly-built 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST became the first of two ordered ships to sail alongside the veterans N.G. SEA BIRD and N. G. SEA LION in Alaska, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and to reintroduce Belize itineraries.

The second, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, l entered service in October 2018 on the U.S. west coast. Her seasonal itineraries will be in Baja, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. US-flag ships come from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, near Seattle. Not stopping there, in mid-March 2018, Lindblad held a keel laying ceremony for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE (126 passengers) commencing construction at the Crist Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland. This Polar Class 5 rated ship is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020, and ENDURANCE recalls the name of Ernest Shackleton’s pioneering Antarctic expedition vessel.

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. ENDURANCE offers 13 two-room balcony suites. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

 

The ships vary from perhaps the best-equipped expedition ships afloat to the most nimble for poking around confined spaces, along narrow rivers and into tiny island coves. Here, we treat the ships one by one, to see what they offer and where they venture — some go all over and others stay in one region.

It is hard to beat Lindblad for its creative and professional approach to expedition cruising, so be prepared to pay for the high standards.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (148 passengers & built 1982 as the rugged Norwegian coastal passenger and roll-on, roll-off ferry liner MIDNATSOL, enlarged for the same service 1989, and rebuilt into an expedition ship in 2008).

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers come on selected expeditions and so do families; Lindblad has a fine program for children, best in the Polar Regions and Galapagos.

Passenger Decks

6. An elevator serves all decks apart from B-Deck for Internet center, Mud Room and lockers.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to the crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (NGEX) covers more territory in one calendar year than any other in the fleet. In winter, the polar regions include Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia (along with N.G. ORION); in summer the Norwegian fjords, Arctic Norway, Svalbard, Iceland (including a circumnavigation), Greenland, Canadian Arctic and Canadian Maritimes; Fall down South America’s west coast from Peru south to Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) for another Antarctic season; and closing the circle, a spring return to Europe via the Atlantic Islands, Iberia and onto the British Isles and Ireland. Watch for new itineraries. One Iceland and Greenland itinerary includes flights over the latter’s remote glaciers as well as land and sea travel.

Why Go?

The NGEX is  one of the best equipped expedition ship afloat with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as sophisticated equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for underwater exploration, hydrophone, underwater video camera, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore via Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor. On European itineraries, cultural experts and historians are aboard.

When to Go?

The ship ventures to various regions in the most suitable season such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic regions in summer.

Cabins

All cabins, of mostly moderate size (some larger suites), are outside, majority with windows, eight with portholes, and all thankfully have blackout curtains for 24-hour daylight sailings. Beds are queen-size, twins with some convertible to queens, and seven can take a third person at 50% reduction of the double occupancy rate; 13 have balconies. A nice extra is a World Atlas placed in cabins and open to the page you will be exploring. How about that for service?

Public Rooms

Main lounge (seats everyone) with bar equipped for films, slide shows and presentations; observation lounge on Bridge Deck with domed-roof and adjacent library; navigation bridge is generally open to passengers for meeting officers, learning about navigation and spotting wildlife; chart room for studying the region sailing to; fitness center, spa and sauna, Internet café.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is often another public room for the passengers.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is popular gathering place for  passengers, one of the delights of expedition cruising. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Single seating dining room forward and adjacent Bistro (same menu) has additional seating (some tables for two) in a more relaxed arrangement. Meals also offer buffet items at breakfast and lunch. The food is of good quality and well prepared, though that extra freshness may be lacking in remote regions. Lunch buffets also take place up in the domed observation lounge. Go for it; the view while eating is great!

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the excursions ashore and in Zodiacs accompanied by the expedition staff, sharing pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights — with underwater videos shot that day being shown, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the expedition staff. Unscheduled Zodiac excursions may occur when wildlife appears along the shore.

On Svalbard, for example, a polar bear may be spotted as a tiny speck on the ice, and passengers begin to gather, standing in total silence at the bow to watch the distance between the ship nosed into the pack ice and curious bear get ever shorter. I have seen polar bears walk up to the bow and sniff the smells we give off.

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during a cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen)

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during an expedition cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen) * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Orion

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia's Kimberley Coast.

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION (102 passengers & built 2003 as ORION for Australian-based Orion Cruises, acquired by Lindblad in 2013 and underwent a major refit.

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers and families come on selected voyages. Given the cruising areas, now Antarctica and the South Pacific, expect some Europeans and Australians.

Passenger Decks

5 decks with an elevator connecting all but the Expedition Deck for the Mud Room, Zodiac boarding and Doctor’s Office.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

Winter in Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia from Ushuaia, Argentina (along with N.G. EXPLORER);  in spring, the NGOR heads first to Chile then across the South Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island for cruises to Tahiti and around French Polynesia. Also, in the summer in Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea, and the Russian Arctic and Russian Far East.

Why Go?

Here is a prime example of an expedition ship that excels for its comforts, style and travel adventure. The N.G. ORION is particularly well-equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, snorkeling gear, scuba diving gear for 24 passengers (on certain itineraries), a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, underwater video cameras, video microscope, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore and in Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor.

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to the best season exploring a specific region such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter November to March, while the rest of the year most other cruising areas are in tropical waters.

Cabins

Roomy for a small ship and beautifully-designed and furnished; twin beds that convert to queens, all are outside, 19 with oval windows; 9 with balconies, some of which are small and some shared with neighbors (no partitions); flat-screen TV with DVD/CD player, mini-fridge, personal safe, Internet access for laptops, shower except 4 suites with bathtub. Third person pays 50% of double-occupancy rate in triple-bed cabins. 4 single cabins.

Public Rooms

Attractive main lounge with sit-up bar that seats all for talks and films; renovated observation lounge and library; open bridge policy makes the navigation center another well-used public room.

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Orion: Lunchtime on deck in Australia.
* Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Meals are served at one open seating in a restaurant with large-view windows; delightful outdoor café serves buffet breakfast and lunches, and barbecue dinners when the weather is warm. Food is very good and often connected to the cruising region.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the guided excursions ashore, including on foot and bicycles, and in Zodiacs, the evening pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights with a film of underwater videos shot that day, a recap of the day’s happenings, and the presentation by the expedition and the lecture staff of the plan for tomorrow. Small hot tub aft on Observation Deck. Fitness center, sauna and spa.

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

QuirkyCruise Review

National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

This ship replaced the long-serving NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR  in early January 2017. The replacement started life as the VIA AUSTRALIS (b. 2005 & 136 passengers), and after major refit now carries just 96 passengers. The family friendly ship will has seven sets of connecting cabins and six triples, and for solo passengers, nine single cabins.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, with some other nationalities, and as Lindblad is well-prepared to handle children, families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

If swimming with sea lions and sidestepping marine iguanas stretched out in the sun sounds intriguing, then think about a week’s small-ship adventure in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago. Even wildlife names and antics are intriguing, such as blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance by lifting one foot, bending their wings and whistling. Days are spent on the water in Zodiacs, in the water snorkeling, and on land hiking with a trained naturalist guide.

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

That requires a somewhat complex answer. The peak seasons, because of the school holidays, last from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. December through May, the water is warm for snorkeling and swimming but there will be fewer fish to see. Most days in the first months will see some rain.

The latter part of the season is spring mating time for animals and birds on land, especially sea lions and turtles, plus wild flowers in bloom. June through November brings on the colder waters of the Humboldt Current, therefore, more fish and sea birds are looking for prey, but snorkeling is going to be less comfortable and the ocean is rougher.

Cabins

56, all outside with windows or portholes on Main and A decks. Most cabins are smallish and have compact bathrooms with showers. Amenities are a small fridge and video player.

Public Rooms

Lounge with bar seats all passengers; separate library on the deck above; open bridge policy provides another room and fraternizing with the officers; spa, sauna and fitness center.

Dining

Restaurant is forward on Upper Deck with large view windows either side, and the food is of good quality with some local island ingredients, and Ecuadorian fish such as Wahoo and Dorado.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and the glass-bottom boat with guides and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera screened, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the naturalists. Small dip-in pool on Veranda Deck aft.

A newly introduced  activity is plein air drawing where a resident artist instructs passengers during regular sessions on board and shore to create images of the wildlife they see, and many are tame enough to pose for you. Look for the departure dates that include this activity.

Lindblad Expeditioins

Sea lion and pup in Galapagos Islands. National Geographic Islander in background. * Photo: David Vargas

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Naturalists that Lindblad hires are likely to be amongst the best available in a very active cruising area. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadorean.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER (48 passengers & built as the twin-hulled catamaran ISLANDER in 1995, first cruised in Scotland, and taken on by Lindblad in 2004 and renamed).

Passenger Profile

Largely Americans and some Europeans; varied ages and families at holiday periods.

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above, plus the advantage, for some, choosing a ship with half the number of passengers compared to N.G. ENDEAVOUR. Also see this ship above for “Why Go.”

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

24 outside, mostly compact cabins on three decks, all with windows. Twins may be arranged as a double or as queen beds. Two cabins can accommodate a third person. Eight cabins on the Upper Deck have glassed-in terraces.

Public Rooms

Aft lounge seats all passengers for evening recaps, lectures and films; adjacent library and Internet Café, fitness center, covered seating aft on Upper Deck, open bridge policy.

Dining

Restaurant is aft on Bridge Deck with open seating for all to dine at one time. Food is average to good with some tasty Ecuadorian specialties.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and glass-bottom boat with guides, and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera shown, a look back at the recent happenings, and a plan for tomorrow by the naturalists. See additional Activities under the N.G. ENDEAVOUR.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadoran.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  QUEST  (built in 2017 and 100 passengers); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE followed in 2018.

Passenger Profile

Varies depending on the itinerary but mostly Americans, and some Europeans and Australians. Family during the school holidays, attracted by special programs and connecting cabins.

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

All sightseeing excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking, snorkeling gear, wet suits, non-alcoholic drinks..

Itineraries

The NG QUEST expedition ship offers many options, depending on the season and in brief they are: Alaska and Inside Passage (along B. C. coast at the beginning & end of season); Columbia and Snake rivers; Channel Islands off California; Baja California; along the Costa Rican coast and islands and Panama, including a canal transit; and Belize for the reefs, rivers and Mayan ruins.

NG VENTURE covers Alaska and B. C. coast; San Juan Islands; Channel Islands off California; and a long stint in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

The NG QUEST, completed in 2017, and NG VENTURE in 2018 have many of the latest features for an expedition vessel and a wide variety of destinations.

When to Go?

The itineraries are geared to the best season for visiting  the destinations.

Cabins

50 outside cabins(136 to 185 sq.ft., and 22 of these with step-out balconies). 6 cabins connect providing side-by-side accommodations for families.

Public Rooms

Large lounge for gathering before meals, including the day’s recap, lectures and videos, and leads out to a viewing platform; dining room aft with windows on three sides; gym and spa; open and partly covered sun deck; and open bridge policy, in effect providing another public room.

Dining

All dining is at one open seating, and the menus will reflect the wide-ranging itineraries.

Activities & Entertainment

While the so-called entertainment category includes presentations by the expedition staff before and after dinner and time at sea; the activities ashore will vary according to the specific itinerary; equipment available includes 10-12 passenger landing craft embarked from two landing platforms and 24 sea kayaks and a fleet of paddelboats; remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for exploring the sea beneath the ship and bringing back images; bow camera, underwater camera, hydrophone for collecting sounds that sea creatures make, video microscope, kayaks, wet suits and snorkeling equipment.

Special Notes

This pair was built by Nichols Brothers, Whidbey Island, Washington, the same yard that completed the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD. They fly the US flag hence they can sail on domestic itineraries without having to call at a foreign port, although the pair does venture south to Mexico and Central America.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD (62 passengers & built 1981, later upgraded and reduction in passenger capacity by eliminating lowest-deck cabins.

Most recently with the arrival of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST and NG VENTURE the old pair were further refitted with newly redecorated interiors for the lounge and bar, dining room and cabins. They carry sea kayaks, a fleet of paddleboats, video microscope, hydrophone and bow camera.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, generally 50+ and few families on the Columbia-Snake itineraries, and more likely on the other trips, especially during school holidays.

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

$$ Expensive but less pricey than the two new US flag vessels.

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries
  • Southeast Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka.
  • One-way positioning cruises early May and early September between Seattle via the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast, calling at Haida Gwaii (island) and into Southeast Alaska.
  • Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coast of Baja California for serious whale watching. In the height of whale watching season — gray and hopefully sperm, blue and fin whales in the lagoons along the Pacific Coast, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Channel Islands and Santa Catalina from Los Angeles for the beach life, hiking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and meditation sessions.

Intense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted ScullIntense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

Every itinerary has its numerous attractions. Alaska: glaciers, fjords, wildlife on land and sea and with the grandeur of Glacier Bay National the highlight, especially enjoyed on such a small ship; Baja California on both coasts for the varieties of birds; snorkeling among sea lions; coastal and island hikes.

Both vessels are about as simple as any small ships get, a bit pokey, past their prime, yet well maintained with excellent expedition staffs. So forget any thought of luxury and go for the wonderful experience. The Columbia-Snake rivers route was my first soft-adventure by ship – the Sea Lion, some 30 years ago.

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The two ships are positioned where the weather is best for expedition and soft adventure activities, so there are no cautions needed.

Cabins

Small and all outside with view windows, some twins may be converted to a double bed, and a few can take a third person at 50% of the double occupancy rate. Cabins on Bridge and Upper decks open onto a side promenade, while Main Deck cabins are accessed from a central corridor. These latter six cabins are also adjacent to the dining room, therefore a convenient, but also trafficked corridor.

Public Rooms

A single forward observation lounge with a bar; forward outdoor open observation deck and partly covered Bridge Deck. Spa and exercise equipment.

Dining

Food is good with buffet at breakfast, family-style service at lunch and served dinners.

Activities & Entertainment

Evening recaps of the day; plans for the day ahead and talks (some illustrated) by the naturalist staff using results of underwater video and video microscope. Depending on the itinerary, kayaking, snorkeling (with wet suits in Baja), and expedition landing craft for going ashore on hikes.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard on in Baja and Costa Rica/Panama and an undersea specialist in Alaska and Baja.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

Sea Cloud
SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lindblad charters the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD ($$$), a legendary sailing vessel built in Germany as a private yacht in 1931 and converted to a cruise vessel in 1979. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to sail in her —  in the Mediterranean, the Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens); along the Greek and Dalmatian coasts between Piraeus (Athens) and Dubrovnik; and Sicily and Malta.

The best, and the most expensive cabins, are the beautifully furnished eight originals on Main Deck when the Sea Cloud was E.F. Hutton’s private yacht built for his wife, Marjorie Meriweather Post (cereal heiress). The added cabins are modern, very attractively fitted and considerably less expensive, though not cheap. The main lounge is beautifully paneled and with parquet floors. Food and service are great, and some meals are taken out on deck. The Caribbean offers just the occasional one-week cruise from Barbados in winter.

Delfin II

Lindblad has chartered the Amazon riverboat DEFLIN II ($$$) since 2010 taking 28 passengers in 14 luxurious cabins on one-week cruises along two of the river’s upper tributaries. The riverboat has an enclosed lounge, an open lounge and bar under a top deck canopy. The dining saloon is the deck below with big windows facing aft, and the food is quite special and sometimes exotically sourced from the rain forest.

The cabins, with a desk and chair, are lovely with wood trim, wooden floors, large view windows, twin beds that can form kings; and two suites have king-size beds only. Some can be interconnected for families, and four face forward with terrific views. Bathrooms are roomy. Excursions ashore are made in 10-person skiffs and kayaks, plus some walking where paths exist.

A national reserve in remote Amazonia is the highlight, looking out for exotic bird species, monkeys and anacondas of the rain forest, and pink and gray dolphins, piranhas and red-eyed caiman in the dark waters, sometimes decorated with giant water lilies. Cruises operate year-round except April and September.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

The more than comfortable 48-passenger riverboat JAHAN ($$$) cruises the Mekong between Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia and My Tho (near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) on 15-day cruise-tours from January to March. The famous temple complex, Cambodia’s capital at Phnom Penh, and the teeming life along the river are the highlights.

Harmon V  (Note: This ship is not currently operating.)

This chartered 46-passenger ship, with stabilizers, will take 46 passengers in all outside cabins with windows on 11-day cruise tours beginning in December and running through March. Days 1-3 are spent in Havana then 4-11 on board the ship calling at the colonial cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, located on Cuba’s south coast, Islas de la Juventud and the Bay of Pigs where a failed U.S. invasion took place in 1961.

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

Lindblad’s building its first ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, a 126-passenger ship with the distinctive X-BOW to provide fuel efficiency and significantly improve passenger comfort in rough seas. Delivery for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE is planned for early 2020.

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Scottish 48-passenger, 4-deck vessel with 52 outside cabins makes 9-day canal, loch and island itineraries in June, July and August between Kyle of Lochalsh (across from the Isle of Skye) and Inverness. The route calls for stops on Skye, Eigg or Rhum, Iona, Oban, Loch Linnhe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Neptune’s Steps (flight of locks) in the Caledonian Canal, then passing through Loch Ness to Inverness, thus having crossed the Scottish mainland to just short of the North Sea.

Note: For a fuller account of the ship and its itinerary, go to the ship’s owner, Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Oberoi Philae

The newly-rebuilt Nile riverboat with enlarged accommodations for 42 in 22 cabins and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, including four suites, has two restaurants with one on the Sun Deck, and several lounges. 13-day cruise tours will operate between January and March and September to December.

The land portion begins in Cairo for the museum, Coptic churches in Old Cairo and Ben Ezra synagogue before flying south to Luxor and boarding the 6-day cruise that give access to the temple at Luxor and Karnak, a felucca sail, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the island temple at Philae on the far side of the Aswan High Dam. After visiting the temple at Abu Simbel, fly back to Cairo to stay at the Mena House (the original and now much enlarged hotel adjacent to the Pyramids at Giza), plus step pyramid at Saqqara. A five-day extension is available to Jordan.

Contact

Lindblad Expeditions, 96 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014; 800-397-3348 or 212-265-3770.

TWS

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Alison Johnson from Jersey, Channel Islands, UK

Cruise Line

Star Clippers

Ship

Royal Clipper

Destination

Cross Atlantic to Barbados

# of Nights

14

Departure Date & Ports

Nov 2015, from Lisbon, Portugal to Barbados

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars      (5=EXCELLENT; 4=VERY GOOD; 3=GOOD; 2=POOR; 1=TERRIBLE)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I’ve been on 5 small ship cruises

Review

Best way to sail cross Atlantic

This was an amazing trip. 11 days at sea under sail. The experience was enhanced by the wonderful staff and the excellent food and service provided. We can’t wait to do another trip, but need to save up as not the cheaper end of the market!

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Now Hear This! The Royal Mail Ship service from South Africa to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena  was officially withdrawn in early 2018 as a replacement air service had been approved. The last sailing from Cape Town was January 24, 2018, calling at St. Helena and Ascension then returning to St. Helena and Cape Town, arriving there on February 11, 2018. Then it’s finished with engines. The mail ship had been sold  (April 2018) as an accommodation ships for soldiers fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean. Shortly after that brief period, the ship was resold and is now in England. Future plans for the ship will be revealed for aficionados who follow the ship.  The text below is now one for the history books. You can read what you missed. I am sure glad I didn’t. Ted Scull

Snapshot

The Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA is the very last in a long line of passenger, mail and cargo ships that connected the mother country to her dependents; in this case the dependency is the remote and beautiful South Atlantic island of St. Helena. An airport, nearing completion, will put the island residents within five hours of Johannesburg instead of five days to and from Cape Town, and apart from the convenience for the island’s population, it is hoped that foreign visitors will come in larger numbers for a holiday stay. St. Helena’s remoteness was, for some, its principal attraction, coupled with a true liner voyage albeit rather smaller than the QUEEN MARY 2, the only other true ocean liner afloat.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: ST. HELENA (built 1990 & 156 passengers)

Passenger Profile: The local population is referred to as Saints so they may be of any age, while the generally older visitors hail from South Africa, Great Britain (as the island is a dependency), other Europeans and some Americans. The RMS, as she is affectionately known, also carries passengers’ pets.

Passenger Decks: 4 decks with an elevator serving three of the four.

Price: $ – $$  Moderate to Expensive

Included features: By booking a package, included features would the sea voyage, transfers, hotel accommodation and some sightseeing on St. Helena and perhaps Ascension (a possible port of call).

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain. * Photo:  Ted Scull

 

Itineraries: The most normal route is embarkation at Cape Town, then a five nights’ voyage to St. Helena where most visitors disembark for six days while the RMS unloads cargo and sails two nights north to Ascension where mostly Saints who work overseas disembark or embark. The ship then returns to St. Helena, finishes whatever cargo handling there may be and re-embarks passengers who have spent almost  a week on the island for Cape Town, again a five-night sail. Very occasionally, the RMS also called at Tristan da Cunha, an even more remote British island dependency, inhabited by less that 300 people of British stock, and located deep in the South Atlantic closer to South Africa than to South America. South African lobster boats provide the only passenger access from January 2018.

The classic view over Jamestown to the tiny speck that is the RMS St. Helena. * Photo: Bruce Heard

The classic view over Jamestown to the tiny speck that is the RMS St. Helena. * Photo: Bruce HeardWhy Go? The RMS ST. HELENA and the ship’s namesake island provide one of the most unusual travel experiences imaginable. You travel, not on a cruise ship, but aboard a pocket cargo-liner, with local islanders and a small group of lucky visitors who will then enjoy a remote island stay. Some book into one of several small hotels, bed and breakfasts (some with half or full board), and self-catered accommodations in Jamestown or in the countryside. The sights are Jamestown, a charming pastel-colored 19th-century Georgian town, its main street serving as the island’s social center and offering a couple of restaurants; Longwood, Napoleon’s exile home and gardens, and official French property; the 1791-built Plantation House, home to the island’s governor and a nearly 200-year-old Seychellois tortoise named Jonathan; lovely island drives on mostly one-lane roads with passing places; wonderful hikes, and deep sea fishing. The island operates a charabanc, a pre-WWII open-top tour bus. You can drive down to the shore, but the volcanic island has very little sand at its edge, except for a small stony beach at Sandy Bay. N.B. The week that my wife and I spent on the island could have easily lasted two.

Admiring Jonathan, the Seychellois turtle and nearly 200 years old, on the grounds of Plantation House. * Photo: Ted Scull

Admiring Jonathan, the Seychellois turtle and nearly 200 years old, on the grounds of Plantation House. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go? The ship offers regular voyages now until September 2016.The island’s subtropical climate is peaceful and calm with no temperature extremes at either end of the scale. The voyage to and from Cape Town can be rough near to South Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winters.

Cabins: Most cabins are outside and of small to moderate size with two lower beds; two lowers and an upper; two lowers and two uppers; or just one upper and one lower. These have private shower and toilet. Economy accommodations are mostly for four, though some are two berths, and without windows or portholes and shared facilities in the corridor.

8K RMS93005A Bruce Heard

An outside upper & lower berth cabin. * Photo: Bruce Heard

A two-berth, twin-bedded outside cabin. * Photo: Ted Scull

A two-berth, twin-bedded outside cabin. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Rooms: The forward observation lounge has a bar, and as does the aft Sun Lounge that opens onto the rear deck where there are deck games and a pool. WiFi is now available.

Dining: The restaurant operates with a main and late seating, and the top officers and purser host tables at dinner. The food is British and South African fare with most of the fresh produce brought aboard in Cape Town. Highlights will be lunchtime curries, evening roasts and fish. A light buffet breakfast and lunch are served daily in the Sun Lounge.

The dining room aboard the RMS St. Helena.* Photo: Bruce Heard

The dining room aboard the RMS St. Helena.* Photo: Bruce Heard

Activities & Entertainment: The ship operates like a traditional liner with deck games such as shuffleboard and skittles, even cricket!, and after dinner, films, bingo, quizzes, and frog races. The last named involve flat wooden “frogs” tethered to a spring line that you tug at to drag the frog across the deck. Pull too fast and the frog flips over; pull too slowly and you are sure to lose.

Deck tennis on the forward hold. * Photo: Ted Scull

Deck tennis on the forward hold. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: The cargo handled will be everything the island needs from fresh and frozen food stuffs to building materials, the Royal Mail, including items that the Saints have ordered on line, medical equipment and drugs, vehicles, possibly live farm animals, and perhaps a shipment of St. Helena stamps, one of the island’s only sources of revenue. The loading whether by container or on pallets is worth watching.

The funnel marking is affectionatelt referred to as the South Atlantic prawn. * Photo: Bruce Heard

The funnel marking is affectionately referred to as the South Atlantic prawn. * Photo: Bruce Heard

Along the Same Lines: Some aspects parallel of C.P.T.M.’s ARANUI 5, where the ship also provides a life line to an island chain but it’s a round voyage with just daytime calls and no island stopover. Most of the accommodations are plusher than the RMS.

Contact: Andrew Weir Shipping (SA) Ltd.,Thibault Square, Foreshore, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa;  rms-st-helena.com, +27 21 425 1165

Special Note: Captain Rodney, master of the RMS St. Helena, died whilst on leave in early January 2017. He joined his ship as a cadet in August 1980 and rose to captain in August 2000, the first St. Helenian to assume this role. He was hugely popular with both crew and passengers, and he will be missed. Adam Smith, also a Saint, is now captain.

TWS

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The new SCENIC ECLIPSE will have two helicopters and a seven-seat submarine for underwater sightseeing * Photo: Scenic Cruises

The new SCENIC ECLIPSE will have two helicopters and a seven-seat submarine for underwater sightseeing * Photo: Scenic Cruises

Scenic, heretofore exclusively a river cruise line, has developed a plan to place into service the super sleek super yacht — SCENIC ECLIPSE — for expedition cruising under its newly established Ocean Cruising Line. The maiden voyage is scheduled for August 31, 2018, sailing from Istanbul to Venice and thereafter to Antarctica, the Arctic, North and South America, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The new ship will take 228 passengers in 114 all-veranda suites beginning at 344 sq. ft. and topping off at a 2,500 sq. ft. two-bedroom Owner’s Penthouse Suite.

Passengers will choose from six dining options — contemporary French cuisine, Pan Asian, Italian, steaks, and al-fresco meals on the Pool Deck and in the Ocean Café Lounge. Amenities include a 5,000 sq. ft. spa, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, plunge pools, and a gym with a separate yoga and Pilates studio.

SCENIC ECLIPSE will operate with zero-speed stabilizer fins, 50% larger than the standard and that work when the ship is stationary. The highest passenger ship ice class rating, Polar Class 6 (Ice Class 1A Super), is shared with only a few other expedition ships when cruising in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Additional equipment includes not one but two helicopters and a seven-seat submarine for underwater sightseeing. More typical activities take place aboard a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks and when using scuba diving and snorkeling equipment.

The ship is being built in Croatia, and the contract includes an option for a second ship, and if taken up, to be delivered in June of 2019.

Scenic’s all-inclusive pricing incorporates all dining venues, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities, Wi-Fi, shore excursions, a choice of included Scenic Freechoice activities and special events.

Scenic’s current fleet is comprised of 21 river cruise ships plying the rivers of Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia. Detailed itineraries for the SCENIC ECLIPSE will be available in February.

A video is available at www.youtube.com/c/Scenicusa.

 

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Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent was founded in 1962 as a safari tour operator in East Africa and has long since expanded to include much of the world on land tours and a selection of small-ship cruise offerings, on various ships that it charters or books into as well as hotel barge cruises in Europe and the UK. In February 2019, Manfredi Lefebvre, executive chairman of Silversea Cruises, took an 85% share in A&K with the founder Geoffrey Kent keeping just 15%. For the present, A&K’s worldwide operations will continue as is.

Itineraries:

The mighty Rhine flows through the heart of Europe. * Photo: A&K

The mighty Rhine flows through the heart of Europe. * Photo: A&K

Europe: For the riverboat program, with departures scattered throughout the cruising season (April to December/January), A&K uses Amadeus riverboats, such as AMADEUS QUEEN (built 2018, 162 passengers, AMADEUS SILVER III (b. 2016 & 168p), AMADEUS BRILLIANT (b. 2011 & 150p) and AMADEUS DIAMOND (b. 2009 & 14 p). The A&K group aboard each departure is limited to 24, led by an A&K resident tour director in conjunction with a local guide and using a private vehicle when going ashore. Most river cruises last a week, a few longer, and cover the Rhine, Main, Danube, Rhone and Soane, Seine and Loire, plus Belgian and Dutch waterways during the bulb season and the Danube during Christmas season. Cruises are bracketed by hotel stays that add up to 9- to 11-day cruise tours, and one Holland to Hungary 17 days. All cabins have large picture windows and either walkout balconies or French balconies. Beer and wine are included with lunch and dinner, and A&K passengers have separate reserved tables at meals. and occasionally, some are taken ashore. All gratuities included except for the resident tour director.

A&K also sells oodles of hotel barge trips all over France, Italy (Po Valley), Ireland (Shannon), England (Thames),  Scotland (Caledonian Canal) and Holland (numerous waterways).

For sailing ship cruises, the venerable 64-passenger SEA CLOUD (b.1931) and companion ship, the 94-passenger SEA CLOUD II (b. 2001) cover the Mediterranean, Iberian Peninsula and Northern Europe.

In 2018, A&K is also offering luxury expedition-style cruise charters in the Greek Isles aboard the brand new 150-passenger LE LAPEROUSE, described as “mega-yacht,” and including butler service in all suites, spa and gym with a hamman, underwater lounge, heated outdoor infinity pool, and a marina with  hydraulic platform and Zodiacs.

Asia: A&K charters Ponant’s 199-passenger LE SOLEAL  for a 14-day springtime land and sea tour beginning in Osaka then traveling south to Kyoto and Hiroshima and then following West Coast, with a diversion to an historic temple complex in South Korea, then on north to Sapporo finishing with a flight back south to Tokyo. The varied content includes Japanese culture, history, art, architecture, gardens and nature.

Asia Rivers:  In China, a 13-day tour includes a 3-night Yangtze River cruise aboard SANCTUARY YANGTZE EXPLORER (18 passengers aboard a riverboat shared with others); in Myanmar, an Irrawaddy River cruise aboard the SANCTUARY ANANDA (18 passengers) is part of an 11-day cruise tour; and on the Mekong River, sail on MEKONG PRINCESS (24 passengers) as part of a 12-day cruise tour from Bangkok and includes Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Angkor Wat.

Egypt: A&K uses the posh 12-passenger SANCTUARY ZEIN NILE CHATEAU, an intriguing-looking motor yacht with fore and aft felucca-type sails, offering four days aboard, and part of a longer 14-day Egypt and Jordan  itinerary that includes Cairo, the pyramids, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Petra, Jerash and more. Departures September through November.

Expedition Cruises: A&K takes a full ship charter of Ponant Cruises’ LE BOREAL built in 2010, limiting the capacity to 199 in all balcony cabins and  the similar L’AUSTRAL, completed in 2015. On selected dates, expeditions visit the Antarctic Peninsula with others extended to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, the expedition staff caters to children between the ages of 7 and 18 with programs aboard and trips ashore. In the Arctic, a 15-day expedition-style cruise begins in Norway and visits Svalbard, Greenland, and Iceland. A 24-day Northwest Passage voyage embarks in Kangerlussuaq , Greenland and disembarks in Nome, Alaska.

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Cuba: The chartered LE PONANT (built 1991 & 58 passengers) will be the focus of an 11-day Cuba cruise tour from Santiago de Cuba along the south coast to Havana. Hotel stays in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.

Special Notes: See Ponant Cruises for more complete information on their vessels.

Contact: Abercrombie & Kent, 1411 Opus Place, Executive Towers II West, Suite 300, Downer’s Grove, IL 60515-1098;  www.abercrombiekent.com; 800-433-8410.

— TWS

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