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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 (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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UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures

Seattle-based UnCruise operates a fleet of nine expedition vessels taking from 22 to 90 passengers for those seeking adventure cruises in North America’s coastal, island and inland waters from Alaska south to Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, out amongst Hawaiian Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the Galapagos Archipelago off Ecuador.

The American firm, with origins dating back to 1996, has the largest selection of small ship cruises in Alaska, varied enough for return exploratory voyages. UnCruise Adventures is a shared, unrushed experience. For those who like off-season travel, some Alaska itineraries begin in April as the state’s wildlife is waking up, and the spring months are generally drier than later on.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

WILDERNESS ADVENTURER (b. 1984 & 60 passengers); WILDERNESS DISCOVERER (b. 1992 & 76 p); WILDERNESS EXPLORER (b. 1976 & 74 p); SAFARI ENDEAVOUR (b. 1983 & 84 p); SAFARI EXPLORER (b. 1988 & 36 p); SAFARI QUEST (b. 1992 & 22 p) and SAFARI VOYAGER (b. 1982/renovated 2015 & 64 p).

Replica Coastal Steamer: S.S. LEGACY (b. 1983 & 90 p).

For the LA PINTA (b.   & 48 pax), see Galapagos below. The fleet comparison chart  on the website is useful for what features one ship has that another may not such as single cabins and triples.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Passenger Profile

A varied lot spanning the ages who come for itineraries that combine popular and off-beat destinations. Cruises are as informal as they come, and the emphasis is outdoor activities and exploring, with activities designed for children. The Columbia-Snake cruises had always attracted generally older passengers for its specific slants on history, cultural traditions and scenery, though now with a big focus on active adventure, the passengers ages should go down. As all but one of these ships are American-flagged, and the crews hail from the US of A. The SAFARI VOYAGER is registered in St.Kitts.

Passenger Decks

3 or 4 and no elevators except for the S.S. LEGACY, connecting the three public decks.

Price
$$ – $$$

Weeklong cruises are typically upwards of $3,200 per person, and include shore excursions, booze and other perks. Some 7-night itineraries command twice that, while early spring dates (14 nights) may begin below $5,000. Peruse the lot to find the price you can afford.

Included Features

Shore excursions; use of the skiffs, kayaks and paddle boards; and non-alcoholic beverages. Spirits, wines and microbrews and a complimentary massage are included on all ships (though no massages on Safari Quest or SS Legacy).

Itineraries

Most cruises last 7 nights, and some Alaska cruises may be combined to create 14-night trips. Some cruises have special themes: marine biology, photography, storytellers, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine, Alaska Insiders and a wellness cruise. Here’s the link to UnCruise’s theme offerings. 

The numerous cruising regions are:

Alaska

The 49th state is the line’s prime summer focus involving six ships and 13 different itineraries of 7 nights plus one 8-nighter April to September, in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage embarking in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka. Beginning and end of season one-way repositioning 14-night voyages between Seattle and Juneau operate in April, August and September.

The emphasis is on avoiding the big cruise ship ports and offering outdoor boating activities in scenic coves and fjords, sea life watching, and Native American cultural life. Glacier Bay is on some itineraries. Some expeditions offer wet suit immersions.

UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking is a big part of the UnCruise ethos. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Land tours of 4- and 5-night may be added to include Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad, Kenai Fjords National Park, Anchorage, Seward, and Girdwood, a small mountain town near the Chugach Mountains. Activities featured are guided hikes, dogsled rides, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, river floats, and scenic train rides. Included features are hotels, meals, transfers between the vessel, hotels and airports, and baggage handling. Check out the land operator at Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Related: UnCruise in Alaska … by Judi Cohen.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up. * Photo: Ted Scull

Columbia & Snake – OR & WA

From Portland covering almost one thousand round-trip miles along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far inland as Idaho’s Hells Canyon. The 7-night Rivers of Adventure, running September-October, travel between Portland, OR and Clarkston, and includes an expedition team, kayaking, hiking on the Rowena Plateau, whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River and biking along the Columbia Gorge. Paddle boards and skiffs have been added to the activities.

The 7-night Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruises are offered in November 2018 and  September-November 2019 roundtrip from Portland aboard the 90-passenger S.S. LEGACY and showcasing famed Oregon and Washington State vineyards and produce.

Related: Rivers of Adventure on the Columbia & Snake Rivers  …  by John Roberts

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho's Hells Canyon.

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho’s Hells Canyon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

7-night cruises aboard the 84-passenger SAFARI ENDEAVOUR December 2019 to April 2020 and December 2020 to April 2021 leave from San José del Cabo to islands in the Sea of Cortés and coastal towns, along with hikes for viewing wildlife and landscapes, kayaking and snorkeling, and whale watching (January-March) via overland transfer to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Coast.

Swim alongside sea lions and whale sharks in Bahia de la Paz dubbed the “aquarium of the world.” Take a mule ride into the arroyo with local rancheros. Stargazing and bioluminescence in the water at night.

Hawaiian Islands

From Hawaii (Big Island) or Moloka’i and including Maui and Lana’i. 7-night weekly departures July-August and November December 2019 and year-round in 2020 and 2021 aboard the 36-passenger SAFARI EXPLORER, for water sport activities in the world’s largest marine sanctuary, beach relaxation, searching for Great Pacific manta rays and humpback whales, viewing astounding landscapes and seascapes and taking in cultural activities.

Pacific Northwest – San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and Olympic National Park

Roundtrip from Seattle:

7 nights to the Olympic Peninsula’s mountain wilderness and San Juan Islands for attractive port towns, looking for sea life (seals, sea lions, orcas, whales), and enjoying waterborne activities (hiking, birding, kayaking, paddle boarding). Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April-May and September-November 2019 & 2020.

7 nights to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, exploring deep incisive inlets on the B.C. mainland, and wildlife watching. Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April and September to November.

Friday Harbor in Washington's San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when ships leave Seattle.

Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when Un-Cruise ships leave Seattle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Galapagos

7-night Galapagos cruise in the 48-passenger LA PINTA. Departures April-August & October 2012 & 2020. Optional add-ons: pre-cruise 4-night Amazon rainforest cruise in Ecuador or post-cruise 6-night Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco & Guayaquil land extension.

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Costa Rica  & Panama Canal

7 and 10 nights Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Panama with a canal transit and Colombia (one itinerary) and visits to islands and national wildlife parks, hiking, kayaking, paddle boards, skiffs, and snorkeling. Departures: 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER.  November-March.

Why Go?

The majestic nature of Alaska, the Columbia-Snake rivers, and the Hawaiian Islands are best seen from the decks of a small ship; the varieties of wildlife living in Alaska, Sea of Cortés, Galapagos and Central America; and the cultural connections in all the regions shared close up with less than 100 others (and often below 50) rather than amongst multiple thousands in the mega-ship ports.

When to Go?

The cruises are scheduled for the best weather times of the year, and the UnCruise brochure and website outline with easily understood bar charts the prime months for whale watching or enjoying the wild flowers in Mexico, and in Alaska, wildlife sightings and Northern Lights, plus the optimum driest and sunniest periods. For instance, in Alaska, spring means lots of newly-born animals, migrating birds and whales, lots of snow on the mountains, waterfalls at their peak with runoff, and the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis (other than in winter).

Cabins

The Wilderness prefix vessels have all outside, windowed and mostly small cabins with some double, but mostly queen and twin beds located on two or three decks, TV/DVD players, and iPod docking stations. The Safari-named offer queen, twin or king-size beds, TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. Larger cabins have sitting areas and a few cabins come with French doors and step-out balconies.

The ENDEAVOUR adds a refrigerator to these cabins. The S.S. LEGACY has all outside cabins with view windows; queen, double or twin beds; TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. The top two categories add refrigerators, and the 300 sq. ft. Owner’s Suite goes all the way with a separate bedroom and a large lounge with wet bar and media center for entertaining. it’s a wow for a small ship.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Public Rooms

The Wilderness- and Safari-prefixed ships have one forward lounge and a top deck sun lounge or covered area and a hot tub or sauna. S.S. LEGACY adds a second aft-facing bar-lounge.

Safari Voyager's Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Voyager’s Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Dining

All ships have a single open seating, with a window of time at breakfast and set times for the other meals. The food will be well prepared and reflect the cruising region. Lunches tend to be lighter fare—soups, salads and sandwiches. Occasional barbecues are set up on deck in good weather. Spirits, wine and microbrews are now complimentary at lunch and dinner aboard the entire fleet.

Klondike Dining Saloon. * Photo: Ted Scull

S.S. Legacy – Klondike Dining Saloon and aft lounge and embarkation access through the swinging doors. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

All ships carry expedition teams who give (often illustrated) talks, some based on what the bow camera catches and the underwater hydrophone sees and hears. They organize adventures ashore, guided shore walks and rigorous hikes and explain use of the available craft such as kayaks, inflatable skiffs, and paddle boards.

The fleet has stern boarding platforms (now including S.S. LEGACY) with its Sea Dragon landing), and snorkeling is offered in short sessions, even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, using a supplied wet suit. Note: The line’s website features a comprehensive fleet amenities chart showing what’s available on every vessel.

There are a number of theme cruises including photography, marine biology, ornithology and wellness where experts are on board to offer talks and guidance (see UnCruise’s website). All vessels also have fitness equipment, TV and DVD players in the lounge, and small book libraries.

Hiking in Baja California's Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Hiking in Baja California’s Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Special Notes

The UnCruise Adventures’ 148-page brochure is amazingly well-detailed in all aspects of their expedition business.

For adventure trips, UnCruise has a wide variety of price points and a fleet that includes 22- and 36-berth yachts, 60- to 84-berth small coastal-style ships, and a remarkably winsome Victorian atmosphere aboard the one-of-a-kind S.S. LEGACY. Private charters are available for all ships.

Along the Same Lines

Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions.

Related: Small-Ship Cruising with Alaskan Dream Cruises … by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Contact

UnCruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119; US & Canada 888-862-8881; International (00) 800 12639888.

— TWS

 

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small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Windstar Cruises.

This fleet of six combines Windstar’s three original sailing yachts, groundbreaking at the time for their large size and computer-controlled sails, with Seabourn’s former trio of small cruise ships also groundbreaking back in the day because of their luxurious all-suite accommodation and exquisite cuisine. All were built between 1986 and 1992, making them senior citizens in cruise ship speak, but thanks to repeated upgrades, the oldies remain in remarkably fine shape, and details are now available about the trio’s major reconstruction program.

N.B. The STAR PRIDE, STAR BREEZE and STAR LEGEND will undergo lengthening and the addition of 50 suites, all new bathrooms, two additional dining venues, and more fuel efficient new engines. The deck pool area and spa will be redesigned. The complete project will last from October 2019 to November 2020 with staggered withdrawals from service. The passenger capacities will increase to 312 but never fear, the trio will continue to be covered by QuirkyCruise. STAR BREEZE is currently undergoing its $85 million refit.

The collective aim is to provide a casually elegant no-jackets-required small-ship experience with alfresco dining, sail-away parties on deck, and generally lots of time spent outdoors soaking up the sun and sea. The MO is sophistication without stuffiness on cruises that are not crazy expensive. Windstar Cruises runs frequent promotions, from waiving the single supplement fees to discounts on fares, and free shipboard credits, shore excursions and WiFi.

Note: Check the new European itineraries for 2020 with returns to major ports in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

WIND STAR (built 1986, 148 passengers), WIND SPIRIT (b. 1988, 148 p), WIND SURF (b. 1990, 310 p), STAR PRIDE (b. 1988, 212 p), STAR BREEZE (b. 1989, 312 p I 2020), and STAR LEGEND (b.1992, 212 p).

small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Gorgeous WInd Star under full sail. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Passenger Profile

The majority are North American couples in their 40s to 70s, with a fair number of British and European passengers in the mix.. Older children, 12 and up, might enjoy the sailing ships, especially on warm weather itineraries when there are oodles of opportunities to use the watersports equipment.

Passenger Decks

WIND SPIRIT/WIND STAR have 4 decks and no elevators; WIND SURF and STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND have 6 decks and elevators between them all.

Price

$ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features

All non-alcoholic drinks, bottled water, sodas and specialty coffees.

Itineraries

The Windstar Cruises’ fleet spends a lot of time in the Caribbean and Mediterranean on 7-night sailings, plus hits many other regions of the world as well. For the 2020 European program, Windstar will operate 116 departures and 80 itineraries with returns after several years absence to Ashdod and Haifa for Israel; Alexandria and Port Said for Egypt including Cairo and the Pyramids; and Istanbul with an overnight stay.

  • Three or four of the six ships spend winters in the Caribbean doing mostly 7-night sailings out of Puerto Rico, Barbados and St. Martin.
  • Two ships spend the winter doing 7-night Costa Rica cruises with a Panama Canal transit. Mexico is another destination.
  • In late 2017, the line returned to Asia for the winter with the STAR LEGEND doing mostly 10- to 14-night sailings in the region.
  • WIND SPIRIT resides in French Polynesia year-round doing mostly 7-night sailings round-trip from Papeete, and a handful of longer sailings that also include calls to the dreamy lagoons at Takapoto and Tiputa, Rangiroa.
  • Summers, five of the six ships undertake 7- to 11-night sailings in the Greek Isles, along the Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese coasts, and in northern Europe to Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland and the Baltic countries. Alaska again is part of the summer program along with New England and Canada. The newly overhauled STAR BREEZE will offer 22 Alaska itineraries beginning in 2020 that include Prince William Sound with a call at Valdez and a cruise into College Fjord where five tidewater glaciers are found as well as Hubbard Glacier on the slopes of the St. Elias Mountains.
  • Note: Six new itineraries in 2020-2021 lasting 12-15 days aboard the newly refitted STAR BREEZE will explore Australia and New Zealand such as Cairns to Melbourne and Auckland at the top of the North Island and along he coast of the South Island.
When to Go?

The fleet cruises different regions of the world in the optimum months.

The cabins on WInd Star, Spirit & Surf are compact but offer everything you'll need. * Photo: Roger Paperno

The cabins on WInd Star, Spirit & Surf are compact but offer everything you’ll need. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Cabins

WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF’s standard cabins are 188 square feet with a nautical flair, while the all-suite STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND standard suites are 277 square feet with an elegant posh-hotel feel, thanks to a walk-in closet, sitting area with sofa, desk and marble bathroom with double sinks and both a shower and tub.

Cabins on all six Windstar Cruises’ ships come stocked with L’Occitane bath amenities, bathrobes, slippers, fresh fruit, flat screen TVs with DVD players, wifi access, room service and mini-bars. Suites have additional amenities, and the largest living space on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND is the 575-square-foot owner’s suite with a separate dining and living room area; the WIND SURF’S 495-square-foot Bridge Suite is it’s top accommodation. None have inside cabins.

About one-third of the suites on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND have French balconies (sliding glass doors opening up to a small ledge) and no cabins have balconies on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF.

Marble-clad bathrooms on Star Pride. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

Marble-clad bathrooms on Star Pride. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

Public Rooms

The STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND are mini cruise ships and much of their public space is indoors, while life on the WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF is focused more on the expansive outdoor teak deck space with its inviting bar, pool and hot tub, and lots of seating. The outside decks on the STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND trio also sport a nice bar with great sea views. Otherwise due to the annoying configuration of the wide smoke stacks in the middle of things, the pool is in the shade much of the time and there isn’t the feel of wide open outdoor space like there is on Windstar’s sailing ships.

The interiors on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND, on the other hand, feel spacious. There are two lounges, two bars and two restaurants (one with indoor and outdoor seating), plus a small casino, library, boutique, spa, and gym, plus a three-level atrium in the middle of it all.

The WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF also have multiple restaurants, an indoor lounge and bar, tiny boutique and library, slip of a casino, plus a gym and spa (both of which are larger on WIND SURF).

Dining

Mealtime is a big part of the Windstar Cruises experience, with each of the ships having two, three or four dining venues, including at least one with outdoor seating so diners can soak up the sun or starry nights. The WIND SURF has four restaurants, including a formal venue serving continental, a modern French bistro, a poolside grill for steaks and grilled skewers, and a casual buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch.

The WIND STAR and WIND SPIRIT and STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND have a main formal restaurant (though jackets aren’t required, passengers dress smartly and some men wear jackets anyway) for multi-course fine dining with a continental menu and the more casual indoor/outdoor buffet venue called The Veranda at the stern that’s transformed into the a la carte Candles restaurant for dinner. Dining out on the deck facing the ship’s wake is a lovely experience.

Elegant Amphora Restaurant, this one on Wind Star. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Elegant Amphora Restaurant, this one on Wind Star. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Activities & Entertainment

On some cruises, usually longer itineraries with multiple sea days and cruises with a notable feature (i.e., the Panama Canal), an expert lecturer talks about the destinations. On occasion, a movie is screened in the lounge (STAR BREEZE and STAR LEGEND have a dedicated movie room). The fleet has an open bridge policy, so weather-permitting you are free to wander in and have a chat with the officer on duty, and perhaps the captain.

All six have gyms (and they’re small on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT) and spas (one room on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT), plus outdoor pools and one or two hot tubs. Sea days on the Windstar sailing yachts are meant to be spent sunbathing and relaxing on deck while taking in the majestic beauty of the masted ships. If anchored in calm seas, all six have watersports platforms for easy access to swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing and other water fun right from the ship and all free of charge.

Before and after dinner, passengers enjoy drinks and the company of their shipmates, plus live music from a pianist or singing duo in one of the lounges. Usually once per cruise local performers come on board for a few hours to entertain guests with folkloric dance or other cultural traditional entertainment. In port once per cruise, there is a complimentary special experience, the likes of a wine tasting and traditional lunch in Sicily or in Ephesus, a private dinner under the stars at the stunning ruins of the Celsus Library.

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream Yacht Club is a blend of Windstar’s sailing ships (where life is lived outdoors on deck) and ex-Seabourn ships (mini cruise ships without sails).

Contact

Windstar Cruises, 2101 4th Avenue Suite 210, Seattle, WA 98121; www.windstarcruises.com, 888-216-9373

— HMS

 

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Zegrahm Expeditions

Zegrahm Expeditions got its start in 1990 by a group of men who knew adventure travel with first-hand experience. In fact the company name is derived from their initials. The programs are worldwide and ever changing, and the firm has a very high loyalty factor with many return clients. Some field leaders have their own following amongst past passengers and biographies appear on the website.

While Zegrahm offers land programs in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, it is the unusually comprehensive expedition cruise programs that are the focus here. Most have one annual departure, while the Galapagos has two, so while we aim to update the changing expeditions and vessels chartered, use the itineraries listed below as a guide of both present and past itineraries.

Nearly every cruise has a land extension. Zegrahm has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to give participants a better understanding of the value of nature. They receive a year’s membership while a percentage of the cost of the cruise goes to the organization.

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

As there are many itineraries and multiple ships involved, every destination and the ship used will be treated together as a pair. Zegrahm does not own ships but takes on complete charters of a half-dozen vessels taking from 38 to 110 passengers.

Passengers

Mostly American, active, 50 and up, well-heeled, curious about the world and enjoying sharing the experience with others. Singles are welcome and rates are often favorable, more so than on land itineraries. Children are welcome and families are especially catered for on selected Antarctic and Galapagos itineraries.

Price

$$$ Very Pricey, yet with much included – see below.

Included Features

Zegrahm includes a lot in their pricing, so often there is little else to budget for other than air fare and land extensions, if any. All trips ashore and special events, entrance fees, kayaking, snorkeling and diving (when offered), all gratuities aboard and ashore, and beer and wine with lunch and dinner.

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

Note: Many itineraries are one-of-a-kind and often not repeated from year to year, so the specific destinations and rotation of ports will change. Here, we aim to show you the numerous and ever-changing possibilities for world-wide small ship travel that Zegrahm has offered, does offer and made offer again. Also, all ships are chartered for a specific cruise or a finite period of time, and other ships may take over. The standards will be high throughout the chartered fleet.  

1) Antarctica: The 22-day comprehensive itinerary embarks and disembarks at Ushuaia, Argentina located at the tip of South America and visits the Falklands, makes five landings in South Georgia, then several islands off the Antarctic Peninsula and as many landings on the peninsula as time and weather permit. Highlights are the huge variety of birds, whales, seals and penguins, former whaling stations, places associated with the explorer Ernest Shackleton and his party, often a research station, icebergs, stunning land and ice formations, and some of the clearest atmosphere your will ever experience.

During the time spent aboard, the expedition staff gives talks, share experiences and show films and recently prepared videos. A second 14-day itinerary concentrates on the Antarctic Peninsula plus a foray south across the Antarctic Circle. N.B. For those who have traveled to Antarctica, Zegrahm offers an itinerary that includes the Falklands and South Georgia without Antarctica.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

2) The Philippines: Very few ships visit the Philippines, let along multiple calls, and here is a 17-day interisland itinerary that combines visiting tribal as well as mainstream Filipino communities, beautiful landscapes, a volcano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, orangutan rehabilitation center, coral reefs and marine life seen from boats and snorkeling activities. The main island of Mindanao and Manila, the capital, are not in the plans.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

3) Japan: A 17-day cruise spring cruise features a voyage through the Sea of Japan and up the island country’s West Coast to visit Honshu Island’s fabulous gardens, landscapes, architectural wonders, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, medieval castles, and a sail across to South Korea’s World Heritage Site at Gyeongiu.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

4) Australia’s Kimberley: A 15-day coastal cruise embarks in Broome, a port in Western Australia, famous for its pearl industry, transports you to some of the country’s most remote parts (The Outback) reached by sea. Small-boats take you out to reefs, into river gorges, whirlpools, mangrove swamps and under cliff faces to search out some of the world’s most unusual sea, land and birdlife in the world.

Visit several waterfalls, some tidal and reversible, thousands of years old aboriginal paintings tucked away in cliff caves and an aboriginal village at a island port just off Darwin, the disembarkation port and the Northern Territory’s capital city. There are times that you feel you are stepping on shores that have seen very little human activity. The May 2018 Kimberley coastal cruise embarks in Darwin and disembarks in Broome.

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

4A) Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: An in-depth 15-day exploration embarking in Cairns (Queensland) and sailing northward to much less visited Ribbon Reef #3, 9 & 10, Rachel Carson Reef, Cod Hole (giant potato cod), and Lizard Island with focus on seabirds, monitor lizards, and minke whales including close contacts by diving and snorkeling. N.B. The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from global warming.

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

5) Melanesia: A 17-day interisland cruise embarking in major South Pacific city of Port Moresby, New Guinea and sailing through the Melanesian islands to Port Vila, Vanuatu. The emphasis is on the local Melanesia culture (customs, ceremonies, dress, art, music, boat building) in several very isolated communities and great variety of exotic sea and birdlife amongst the coral reefs. There will be many chances to snorkel and dive over around coral reefs looking for clownfish, damsels, Moorish idols, and butterflyfish. One dive visits the USS President Coolidge that sank in 1942. From the disembarkation port, fly to Brisbane, Australia.

5A) Micronesia: A truly off-beat 18-day cruise embarks in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and island hops (with no less than 13 calls) to Palau for diving, snorkeling, meeting the locals, birding, and an archeological site.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

6) Patagonia: Two cruises back-to-back feature first an 18-day voyage beginning in the Falklands and exploring the dramatic narrow waterways from Cape Horn into Patagonia and north along the Chilean fjords to Puerto Montt, just south of Santiago, Chile. This portion is nature at its most beautiful and rugged. Leaving penguins sightings in the Falkands, visit one of the world’s great national parks – Torres del Paine – for its birdlife and incredible mountain scenery. Cruise for whales, seals and sail up to the base of South America’s longest glacier, then navigate the fjords northward to Puerto Montt.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

7) West Coast of South America: The second portion, is an 18-day cruise visiting coastal Chile, Peru and Ecuador to see historic architecture, some pre-Columbian, some Spanish, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and the driest place on earth, settings of volcanoes and glacier lakes, and unusual South American birds and sealife, some via Zodiacs amongst off-shore islands. The voyage ends near Guayaquil, Ecuador.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

8) Central America: This 15-day voyage begins in the Costa Rican port of Puerto Caldera via a flight to San José and sails south scouting out the huge variety of birds in Costa Rica via Zodiac cruises and hikes, visiting the Panamanian marine park on Isla Coibe, the Embera Indians of the Darien jungle and the Kuna of San Blas Islands. Linking the two coasts is a Panama Canal transit with views of the second canal under construction. On the Caribbean side, explore the Tortuguero Canals near Puerto Limon for monkeys, sloths, caimans, iguanas, lizards and crocodiles and finish off by visiting the coastal reefs of Honduras’ Bay Islands and Lighthouse Reef off Belize where the cruise ends (Belize City).

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

9) Galapagos: 13 days amongst no less than ten islands may provide one of the most thorough explorations of the islands that Charles Darwin made so famous, as most cruises are three, four, or seven days. As well as the endemic sea and birdlife, there is time to study the land forms, the active and dormant volcanoes and the lava fields. See the section on the Galapagos for more details. In July/August 2018, the Wild Galapagos itinerary lasts 10 days (still longer than most).

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

10) Circumnavigation of Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA . 14 days beginning with two hotel nights in Havana then joining the ship for nine ports calls, one sea day and return directly to Havana. Highlights are Old Havana, City of Bridges at Matanzas, exploring mangrove forest of Cayo Guillermo, snorkeling the reefs, nature reserve at Cayo Saetia to see water buffalo, wild boar and exotic birds, the World Heritage Site at Santiago de Cuba including the famous San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War (1898), the Spanish colonial town of Trinidad also a World Heritage Site, Cienfuegos for Zapata Wetlands and the Bay of Pigs where an unsuccessful American invasion took place in 1961, beaches at Cayo Largo, nature at its most diverse at Isla de la Juventud, and the biological diversity of Maria La Gorda. Note: this cruise is one of the most comprehensive offered by any cruise line.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

11) Canal to Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA. 16 days embarking in Panama City, Panama thence to the huge marine park at Isla Coiba, the Embera community in Darién Province, a daylight Canal Transit, San Blas Archipelago, Spanish fortifications at  Portobelo, Tortuguero Canals at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, the English-speaking island of Isla de Providencia, Colombia, then the Cuba ports (see above itinerary for descriptions) of Cienfuegos, Isla de la Juventud, Maria la Gorda and Havana with a hotel night.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

12) The Hidden Gems of the Caribbean: For the tropical island buff, this 14-day cruise of the Grenadines will show you all aspects of island life, their natural beauty, sea and bird life, coral reef diving and snorkeling, as well as the long histories of individual islands, their conquest by European powers and struggle for independence to today’s varied lifestyles.

Ship: LE PONANT

11) Coastal Europe: A lot of variety is packed into this 16-day voyage that starts out in Lisbon and works its way northeastward calling Spanish, French, English, Belgian and Dutch ports with just one day at sea. Destinations ashore include UNESCO sites at Santiago de Compostela, Mont St. Michel and the Frisian Islands; the wine county upriver from Bordeaux; World War II history on the French coast; three of the Channel Islands – Guernsey, Jersey and the tiny utterly charming Duchy of Sark; medieval Brugge and ending in Amsterdam. The 14-day itinerary has similar ports but does not call at Brugge or Amsterdam and ends in Portsmouth, England. Another all Spanish itinerary (apart from a call at Porto) begins in Barcelona and sails south, around through the Strait of Gibraltar up the west coast, and across the north coast as far as Bilbao.

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

11A) Wild & Ancient Britain: A 14-day cruise nearly circumnavigates the British Isles leaving from Portsmouth, England and calls at Falmouth, Isles of Scilly, then islands off Ireland, islands off the West Coast and to the north of Scotland, ending in  Aberdeen. The highlights are seabirds galore, numerous Neolithic monuments, unusual natural features, and architectural treasures.

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

12) The Baltic: A comprehensive 17-day itinerary departs London for ports in Germany, and a Kiel Canal Transit, then Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland and ending in Stockholm.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

13) The Adriatic, Sicily & Malta: The 13-day cruise begins at the Maltese port of Valetta, a World Heritage Site that survived heavy fighting in WWII: visits four Sicilian ports with roots in Greek and Roman times; even more cultural influences with a stop in Albania and another in Montenegro, then successive calls along the Croatian coast, including Dubrovnik and ending in Venice.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

14) Sicily: A more focused itinerary is a 13-day circumnavigation of Sicily calling at ten ports plus Malta and Lipari in the Aeolian Islands.

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

15) Black Sea Circumnavigation: A 15-day spin begins and ends in Istanbul and proceeds counterclockwise with three stops along the Turkish coast; a call at Batumi in Georgia, the spas at Sochi, then skipping the Crimea and stopping at the crossroads city of Odessa, two ports in Romania (including seldom-visited Histria, the country’s oldest settlement) and lastly Varna, with its Greek and Roman connections. 10 ports and cruising the Danube delta (home to 200 species of birds) makes this a thorough study of Black Sea history and communities today. All that is missing is Russia (Crimea).

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

16) Iceland & Greenland: A 16-day voyage aims to combine searching in Zodiacs for sea life and birdlife, dramatic scenery that includes glaciers, fjords, icebergs, and vast expanses of tundra, Viking settlements and the colorful modern-day fishing villages and their cultural attributes. In June/July 2018, the 15-day expedition embarked in Narsarsuaq, Greenland by charter flight from Reykjavik and concentrates on Greenland’s south and east coast then crosses to northwest Iceland ending in Iceland’s capital.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

16A) Svalbard: A-14 day expedition uses flights to and from Oslo to join the ship at Longyearbyen, the island’s  principal port. The emphasis is on wildlife, especially polar bears, seals, walrus, whales and Arctic foxes; seabirds such as kittiwakes, guillemots, dovekies, puffins and ivory gulls, and the natural beauty of the lush tundra, fjords and glaciers. Touring off the ship is on foot, and in kayaks and Zodiacs.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

17) Indonesia: A 19-day linear voyage begins at the northern tip of Sulawesi and heads along the chain of Indonesian islands to Papua and Papua New Guinea, with a call at Australia’s Thursday Island. Activities are diving and snorkeling amongst the coral reefs, visits to Asmat’s warrior tribes and West Papua’s seafarers, and looking for birds of paradise, doves, parrots, cockatoos, friarbirds and flying foxes.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

18) Vietnam: Zegrahm began trips to Vietnam 25 years ago shortly after travel was permitted. A 16-day coastal cruise begins in Hanoi with a transfer to Haiphong Harbor for embarkation. Eight calls are made en route to Ho Chi Minh City including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Chinese-style “Forbidden City” of Hue and a leisurely sail amongst the sculpted islands in Halong Bay. A special activity is discovering Vietnamese and French-influenced cuisine where passengers tour local markets and vegetable and herb gardens, sample treats at food stalls such as prawn cakes and grilled port patties with sticky noodles, and participate in cooking classes on board. In November/December 2018, a 19-day mostly land and air tour to Myanmar and Laos slotted in a two-day river cruise between Mandalay and Bagan and another two-day cruise on a less visited portion of the Mekong in Laos. Both use Pandaw river boats.

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

19) Cuba: Travel to Cuba on a humanitarian project, a 17-day itinerary that includes a partial circumnavigation of the island and then onward land travel returning to Havana. The 56-passenger Le Ponant, a motor/sail vessel provides comfortable accommodations at sea and the nimbleness to get into small ports. Activities combine cultural, water sports and people-to-people encounters. In April 2018, there are two Cuban itineraries, the first one including Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama before sailing north to Cuba for three days, and the second, a 14-night cruise that completely circumnavigates the island calling at 9 ports and with flights to and from Havana.

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

OCEAN ADVENTURER, formerly SEA ADVENTURER: Renewed in 2017, this traditional 120-passenger vessel was built in 1975 for the Russians to operate rugged sea routes especially in the Arctic has been refitted several times to offer a steady, stabilized oceangoing experience, including strengthening for ice. It has two lounges, including a lovely library, and an aft-located dining room with wraparound glass windows. Cabins are of small to moderate size and all are outside. Zodiacs carried.

CALEDONIAN SKY: Built in 1992 as one of the original six small Renaissance ships, she carries 100 passengers in roomy one-room suites with sitting areas, including eight cabins with balconies, many positioned in the forward half of the ship. One lounge is located above the bridge for glass-protected viewing and the other, with a bar, seats all passengers at once for lectures and socializing. In addition, there is a small library and gym. The dining room is aft on the lowest deck with portholes. A lido deck serves informal outdoor meals in good weather. Zodiacs and scuba diving gear are carried.

ISLAND SKY: Built in 1992, she is also one of the original Renaissance ships (100 passengers) though while her roomy one-room forward-located suites are similar (four with balconies), her layout is somewhat different with two aft lounges including a good-sized library, in place of a forward-viewing lounge. The dining room is on the lowest deck with portholes, and the aft-lido deck serves informal meals in good weather conditions.

HEBRIDEAN SKY: As with the two sisters above, the ship was first completed as one of the Renaissance ships in 1992 and most recently refitted in 2014 and 2016. Passenger capacity is 112 and roomy cabins with sitting areas measure 225, 266 and 325 square feet. The owner’s suite is even larger. The sofa bed will sleep a third person. An elevator serves all decks, and an observation platform is popular for spotting wildlife. Zodiacs are carried for exploring near land, edging up to glaciers and sailing into fjords.

LE PONANT: Completed in 1991, with French registry, as a sail-assisted motor ship, she has three masts and takes just 56 passengers in moderate-size outside cabins, most located on the lowest passenger deck and with portholes. Five others are clustered two decks higher amidships. The lounge is aft opening onto a deck at the stern. Dining is either in the forward restaurant, or in favorable weather, one deck above, aft and outside. Zodiacs, snorkeling and scuba diving gear are carried.

CORAL DISCOVERER, formerly Oceanic Discoverer: Built in 2005, this small Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins, most with view windows. A lounge, seating all, faces aft to an open deck, and the dining room is on the lowest passenger deck with a long rectangular window on either side. The top deck has a Jacuzzi. The vessel carries Zodiacs, a glass-bottom boat, and a tender taking all passengers ashore at one time.

ISABELA II: Completed in 1979, she was heavily refitted and last refurbished in 2012. Good-size cabins are all outside with two partial-view singles, to accommodate 39 passengers. The dining room, lounge and library are on the lowest passenger deck. The Sun Deck has a covered aft bar and lounge for informal dining. The vessel carries Zodiacs, sea kayaks and a glass-bottom boat.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I, formerly Coral Princess: Completed in 1988 and refitted 2005, this 4-deck Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins. The lounge seats all for lectures, often illustrated on two large plasma TV screens. The open top deck has a Jacuzzi, and for sightseeing, there is a glass bottom boat, Zodiacs, and an excursion vessel that can take all passengers at one time.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS II, formerly Coral Princess II (Completed in 1985 and refitted in 2015, the three-deck ship carries 44 passengers in all outside cabins with the 4 D-Deck units having portholes rather than windows. A glass bottom boat is available for watching tropical fishes.

VARIETY VOYAGER: Built in 2012, this sleek-looking yacht handles 72 passengers in all outside cabins located on three of the four decks. Public areas include a lounge, single-seating dining, outdoor dining, library, gym, spa and top deck outdoor bar lounge.

Why Go?

If you long to visit off-beat places around the world, or popular expedition destinations, you will be in good company enjoying the experiences with other like-minded modern-day explorers. Many Zegrahm cruises offer longer itineraries than other operators giving you more in-depth connections but also increasingly the monetary outlay.

When to Go

All Zegrahm Expeditions are geared to the best season or seasons to travel to a particular region.

Activities & Entertainment

These cruises are designed for the active traveler with lots of destinations and as few sea days as possible. Time aboard, however, will be well spend with lectures and audio-visual presentations presented by the expedition staff who will bring their expertise to you on board and on excursions ashore. Excursions will be in vehicles, on foot and in kayaks and Zodiacs and some itineraries offer snorkeling and diving. Two vessels have glass-bottom boats — ISABELA II and OCEANIC DISCOVERER.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

Zegrahm Expeditions, 3131 Elliott Avenue, Ste 205, Seattle, WA 98121; www.zegrahm.com 855-276-8849 or 206-745-9364

TWS

 

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Lindblad Expeditions

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

Overseas Adventure Travel

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

Overseas Adventure Travel

South China Seas sunset. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships

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

Passenger Profile

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

Price

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

Antarctica

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

Itineraries

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

Sample Itineraries

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

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

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

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

Overseas Adventure Travel

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

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

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

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

Overseas Adventure Tours

100-passenger VENTUS AUSTRALS. * Photo: Australis

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

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

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

Included Features

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins, Public Rooms, Dining, Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Overseas Adventure Travel

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

 

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National Geographic Quest

By Lynn & Cele Seldon.

With the addition of the National Geographic Quest last summer, Lindblad Expeditions welcomed a host of firsts for the line and for expedition cruise ships in general. We found out first hand when we were aboard the Quest shortly after it debuted. The seventh in Lindblad’s fleet, the Quest is the company’s first-ever new build and the most advanced expedition ship — and first vessel of its kind — to be built entirely from scratch in the United States. Nichols Bros. Boat Builders on Whidby Island, Washington, used its 50 years of experience to help Lindblad celebrate its 50th anniversary in style.

Built for the state-of-the-art expeditionary travel that Lindblad is known for, the four-deck Quest accommodates 100 passengers in 50 outside cabins, including 22 with step-out balconies — the most of any ship in the fleet — and six sets of adjoining cabins for families and groups. Also of note: she is the first ship traveling in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Central America to have a designated mud room for expedition gear.

National Geographic Quest

National Geographic Quest. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

The Lounge is Command Central

The heartbeat of the 2,920-gross-ton ship is the lounge, found forward on the Lounge Deck. This hub of activity provides a large space for hosting cocktail hours, daily recaps, presentations about the destinations and underwater world, photography talks and guest speakers. Featuring comfortable seating with banquettes, cozy sofas and coffee tables, the circular design takes full advantage of floor-to-ceiling wraparound windows.

There are eight flat-screen televisions for slide shows, destination briefings, documentaries and other movies. The lounge has a 24-hour, self-service beverage station with complimentary coffee, tea, espresso, soft drinks, beer, water, ice and snacks. Its cocktail bar is typically open from 11 a.m. until an hour after lunch begins and from 5 p.m. until late, offering a variety of beverages for purchase, including wines by the glass or bottle, spirits, cocktails and specialty drinks.

Tucked into a corner of the lounge is a small library with reference materials, along with fiction and non-fiction books, board games, cards, and binoculars and musical instruments for use by staff and passengers. The library also houses two Apple photo-editing stations for use on a first-come, first-served basis to sort and transfer photos; there’s even a photo instructor to assist passengers.

National Geographic Quest

Library and photo kiosk aboard National Geographic Quest. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

A doorway on the lounge’s starboard side provides access to the bow for unobstructed viewing of wildlife and scenery. The specially-designed, multi-level bow observation area can accommodate the entire expedition community for shared wildlife viewing and expedition-leader commentary.

With sharp attention to the observation experience, they have separated the anchoring gear from the guest space, allowing for multiple tiers of guests with clear viewing lines. Staircases on either side of the bow lead to another expansive observation deck one level up.

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Other Public Spaces

Aft on the Lounge Deck is a corridor with restrooms and an elevator that accesses all four decks. Public spaces-including the corridors and hallways-feature stunning photography by National Geographic and Lindblad Expedition photographers and naturalists. Beyond the corridor is the Global Gallery, a market with items made by artisans in places that Lindblad explores.

Merchandise includes silver jewelry crafted in Alaska, woven baskets from Panama, expedition clothing, Lindblad- and National Geographic-branded items, and paintings, photography and books by the naturalist staff. Five percent of all purchases in the Global Gallery are contributed to the Lindblad Artisan Fund, which supports artisan communities around the world in helping develop artistic potential, and are matched dollar-for-dollar by the Lindblad-National Geographic Fund.

Spiritual and physical wellness are cornerstones for Lindblad, and that commitment is found at the ship’s fitness center and spa. The surprisingly large gym is outfitted with treadmills, exercise bikes, elliptical machines,  exercise bands and hand weights. The adjacent LEXspa offers massages, body treatments, facials, and hand and foot services. Both are staffed by an onboard wellness specialist, who leads revitalizing outings that complement onboard efforts to explore, uplift and rejuvenate.

Expedition Dining Adventures

The back of the Lounge Deck houses a bright, spacious dining room decorated in cool blues and beiges. Wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows bring in plenty of natural light and take advantage of the passing scenery. Meals feature fresh, local foods sourced from suppliers that share Lindblad’s commitment to sustainability.

The single, open seating helps create an informal and jovial dining atmosphere. Expedition leaders, naturalists and guest speakers often mingle with guests in the dining room, sharing stories about their experiences and the destinations.

National Geographic Quest

Dining room aboard National Geographic Quest. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

The double-sided buffet hosts a station for made-to-order egg dishes for breakfast and pastas and roasted carved meats for lunch. While breakfast is served buffet style, lunch is a hybrid between buffet and family style, with soups, composed salads and a complete salad bar, plus a dessert/bread station offering all types of made-on-board breads with jams and spreads, miniature desserts, a beverage station with fruit juices and flavored waters, and a gluten-free station.

Dinner is served as a three-course plated menu and typically features a meat, a local sustainable fish and a vegetarian option, along with an appetizer and dessert. Menus are designed to highlight the region where the ship is traveling. The chef will occasionally take advantage of a destination by serving special menus of indigenous items, like a crab feast in Petersburg, Alaska, or a traditional Panamanian menu during a Panama Canal crossing. Wine and cocktails are available for purchase, while coffee, coffee drinks and tea are complimentary.

One level up is the Observation Deck, which houses eight suite cabins as well as the Sundeck and Bridge. The aft sundeck hosts morning stretching and yoga classes when the weather permits and becomes a lounging deck afterwards, complete with tables and chairs and chaise lounges. It can accommodate all 100 passengers at one time. The sundeck bar serves beverages and light food when weather conditions allow.

The Observation Deck offers a 360-degree promenade that allows for walking from the sundeck to the forward bridge/observation area. Lindblad Expeditions operates with an open bridge policy, inviting guests to observe the navigation process. The bridge has been designed to welcome guests with forward standing areas and comfortable spaces to sit while enjoying the view, drinking their morning coffee, and chatting with the officers about the ship, navigation or the destination.

Expedition Toys & Gear

The Upper Deck and Main Deck house varied categories of cabins. The mud room is all the way aft on the Main Deck. Taking cues from several of Lindblad’s other ships, the Quest will be the only ship in the Alaska/Pacific Northwest and Central America regions of exploration to feature such a room for the storage of guest expedition gear. This area, where passengers embark and disembark expedition landing craft, has lockers that provide storage of boots, snorkeling equipment and other gear, making excursions more efficient and leaving cabins cleaner.

The exploration side of things is truly what sets Lindblad, and especially the Quest, apart in the expedition-ship category. Featuring twin expedition craft landing platforms off the back of the mud room, the Quest can transfer guests quickly to the fleet of eight Mark V ‘ Zodiacs. Built entirely in the U.S ., these 19-foot, top-of-the-line, military-grade Zodiacs were designed specifically for the Quest and are powered by four-stroke outboard engines. They are capable of comfortably carrying 10 to 12 people and have enhanced safety measures like non-skid surfaces to improve footing and extra grab holds for passenger stability.

National Geographic Quest

At the aft deck, twin marina platforms are used to disembark guests quickly and safely— to start exploring with no idle waiting. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

For additional exploration possibilities, the Quest carries 24 two-person kayaks, 10 paddleboards, and snorkeling gear and wetsuits. It also features cutting-edge imaging and audio equipment to explore the world below, including a remotely operated vehicle capable of reaching 1,000 feet below the surface, far below the range of any scuba diver; an underwater camera that the onboard undersea specialist will use to shoot high-definition footage; a video microscope to help explain the natural environment; and a hydrophone (an underwater microphone deployed to listen to the sounds of marine mammals).

Adventures in Sleeping

Accommodations on board the Quest are comfortable and quite plush for the expedition genre. Cabins range from the 136-square-foot Category 1 to the 187-square-foot Category 5 suite. Category 1 and 2 cabins on the Main Deck feature two twin beds that can convert to a queen, nightstands, a writing desk and two portholes. The en suite bathrooms are a bit snug, with those in Category 2 being slightly larger.

National Geographic Quest

National Geographic Quest. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Category 3 cabins on the Upper Deck have a layout similar to those on the Main Deck with the biggest advantage being a large window. The 22 Category 4 cabins on the Upper Deck have a sliding glass door and a small, private balcony. Cabins on the Observation Deck are Category 5 suites. They feature two lower single beds that can convert to a queen, large windows, an expanded bathroom, writing desk, ample storage space and a convertible sofa to accommodate a third person.

All cabins have Wi-Fi access (which is available throughout the ship), individual temperature controls, standard and USB outlets, writing desk and chair, magazine racks with National Geographic publications and an atlas, shelving and ample closet space, a full mirror, refillable water bottles and space for luggage storage. Bathrooms are stocked with botanically-inspired hair products, soap and shower gel, a hairdryer and an “Expedition Essentials Kit” containing moisturizer, lip balm, sunscreen and a loofah.

Although the Quest may not cater to the luxury or traditional family vacation market, she overachieves on her mission of hands-on exploration and observation of the world. The experience will appeal to passengers with a quest for discovery and preservation of the planet.

After her inaugural season in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, the Quest repositioned to Costa Rica and Panama in late 2017 with eight-, 11- and 15-day itineraries. A series of voyages in Belize and Guatemala started in mid-February 2018. She will return to the Pacific Northwest, sailing the Columbia and Snake rivers, in April 2018 before heading back to coastal Alaska for the spring and summer season.

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

David R. Perry from the USA

Cruise Line

UnCruise Adventures

Ship

Safari Voyager

Destination

Costa Rica & the Panama Canal

# of Nights

7

Departure Date & Port of Embarkation

November 2017 — Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars      (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating:  5.

-Cabin Rating:  5.

-Service/Crew Rating:  5.

-Itinerary Rating:  5.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I’ve been on 2 small ship cruises.

Review

A Fantastic Adventure

We sailed on the Safari Voyager on her east-bound trip, Costa Rica to Panama and it was an fantastic adventure.

Having previously cruised with UnCruise in Alaksa, we knew to expect high standards in customer service and excellent backcountry knowledge. What we encountered went far beyond my expectations. On the Costa Rica & Panama trip, all of the UnCruise expedition leader and guides were either from Costa Rica or Panama — to hear their infectious love for their countries really made a big difference as we experienced the amazing wildlife, jungles, and beaches. When we got to Panama, to have the trip through the canal narrated by a former employee of the canal system was a treat.

We travelled with several family members, our age range was for 44 to 77; there was always something for everyone to do that matched their ability and or desire for adventure.

The food was fantastic. The chef and his onboard team make really excellent food in a tiny kitchen that spends a lot of time moving around. Fresh bread baked daily, a consistently excellent vegetarian course, and a great selection of wine beer and spirits. On beach party days, the crew would setup a small bar on land, so we could come out of the ocean and grab a tasty beverage.

All in all, just like the Alaska cruise before, this was the trip of a lifetime. I can’t wait to UnCruise again.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews HERE, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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Ted Talks Expedition Cruising

QuirkyCruise’s Heidi Sarna puts partner Ted Scull on the hot seat for a “Ted Talks Expedition Cruising” Q&A, with Ted sharing memories of his first expedition-style cruise, to Central America.

 

Q: Look back and tell us what prompted you to first consider an expedition cruise?

Ted: I longed to go to some remote parts of the world that otherwise seemed too difficult or potentially dangerous to independently travel to by land.

Ted Talks Expedition Cruising

Coming ashore on the Chagres River, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: What was your first expedition-style cruise?         

Ted: I chose Central America — including Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama — for an expedition-style voyage of two weeks, operated by Lindblad.

Tikal, a pyramid in Belize.

Tikal, a Mayan pyramid in Belize. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: Why did you pick that destination?

Ted: I had not been to any of these places expect for a passage through the Panama Canal, and these countries were noted for the variety of wildlife you might see on land, in the air and on and under the sea, and a chance to see close up how remote people lived.

Visiting a village in the remote Darien jungle, Panama

Visiting a village in the remote Darien jungle, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: What time of year was it? Was it peak season for the destination?

Ted: It was March, and yes one of the peak periods. But with much of the destination being so remote, it would not be crowded with other adventurers.

As it turned out, we never encountered another group.

Q: Did you take different clothes from other ship trips you had taken?

Ted: Yes, fewer and simpler clothes as it would be warm and no need for layers. Expedition trips tend to casual affairs clothing-wise.

Q: Before you left home, what expectations did you have?

Ted: Since I often traveled independently, I hoped the others would be compatible, flexible, interested in seeing as much as possible, and non-complainers.

Q: What was your first impression when you met the other passengers?

Ted: They were an older lot who seemed relaxed with no preconceived ideas and desirous of having a bit of an adventure. Just my cup of tea!

Q: When you first saw the ship what did you think?

Ted: It looked kind of dumpy and obviously was not new, yet trim and well looked after. (The ship, then named Polaris, had started life as a day ferry in 1960 sailing between Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden and then converted to a small cruise ship.)

Ted Talks Expedition Cruising

The Polaris, originally built as a Scandinavian day ferry, then refitted as a small 80-passenger expedition ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: Did you explore the ship straightaway?

Ted: I sure did. The main lounge and dining room looked comfy and inviting with large picture windows, and deck space was generous for viewing the surroundings.

You would never get lost on this ship.

Q: What happened at the first gathering?

Ted: We met in the main lounge and were introduced to the large expedition staff that numbered 10, each one with an expertise in such areas as marine biology, ornithology, geography, or history and some with long careers exploring remote areas. Then we learned about the program for the next day and had a rundown of all the safety features.

Ted Talks Expedition Cruising

William Lopez Forment aka “Batman” shows off his charge at a cocktail hour briefing. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: What was the buzz at dinner?

Ted: There was a lot of discussion about past travels and how this already seemed to be completely different in so many ways, not the least being how tiny the ship was and the delight of being a small group of 80 passengers instead of 800 or more.

Q: On the first day, what made you realize that you were on something different from an ordinary destination cruise?

Ted: Well, we started out being summoned to the mudroom to get geared up with snorkeling equipment, being fitted for boots and stashing the belongings we did not need for this particular morning. We then climbed into rubber boats with an outboard motor and a naturalist at the helm. Referred to as Zodiacs, they were then new to me.

We sputtered off to explore nature’s aquarium to then encounter queen angelfish, blue tang, stoplight parrotfish, doctor fish, trumpet fish, yellowtail damselfish, Spanish grunt and dozens more exotic sea creatures. On this cruise, there would be no line of motor coaches waiting on the pier.

Q: How did you occupy yourself before dinner?

Ted: Nearly everyone headed to the lounge to have a drink and attend what was known as a briefing, where the guides highlighted some of the day’s events, what we had experienced, and then outlined the next day’s outing about what would be seen. We started a list of birds seen and added to it every day. On one night, some of the staff collected a container full of land crabs, numbered them for betting purposes, and released them in the center of a wide circle. We cheered them on hoping ours would cross the outer limit first. The crabs were then released the next day into their original habitat.

The crab scoots over the finish line to be declared winner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: On the forays ashore, what were some of the highlights?

Ted: Exploring a national park that the Peace Corps was helping establish in northern Honduras, and hearing howler monkeys erupt in warning and then looking down at us as we passed through their territory. There were even iguanas lounging in the trees. On another walk along coastal Nicaragua, we encountered eyelash vipers, army ants, beetles and spiders at home in their webs. A green vine snake dropped out of a tree nearby to where we were having lunch. It was all pretty adventurous with one surprise after another.

At the end of two weeks, the number of bird species we spotted topped out at 189!

Q: Do you find any of this scary business?

Ted: Yes, when walking through the rain forest. I made sure I was not one of the first in line to surprise some sleeping horror or the one who brought up the rear and got picked off and carried away.

I definetly preferred traveling trhough the rainforst by Zodiac.

I definitely preferred traveling through the rain forest by Zodiac rather than walking. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: Were there disappointments or aspects that could have been done better?

Ted: No, none that I can think of. One did have to get used to the ship moving about as it was rather flat-bottomed.

Q: How do you think the other passengers felt about the voyage?

Ted: Those who were fit enough to traipse through the rain forest, go snorkeling and enjoy having a good look at what was underwater, had a ball. The guides and their varied personalities and interests added a positive personal element to the voyage. Some had great stories to share.

Snorkeling was a favoriute activity.

Snokeling was a favorite activity, and the variety of fish seen amazing. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: Did this trip inspire you to look for more expedition destinations?

Ted: It sure did and in the next 10 years, I joined expeditions to the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica and the Spice Islands of Indonesia.

Q: When you look back to this first trip, how did it compare to some of your most recent voyages?

Ted: There is far more technology available now like underwater cameras, high-tech photography, instant replays of what we had done that day and the like, but being the first, I look back at the novelty of negotiating narrow waters and rain forest paths to get close to the wildlife, walking along completely deserted beaches and landing on tiny deserted islands to see what we might find.

Some of the newer expeditions have fancy accommodations, extensive spas and gourmet food, but I don’t need that. For me, it takes the focus off the adventure aspects that might include some discomfort and coping with the unexpected. All part of the adventure.

 

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Sea Cloud Cruises

Germany-based Sea Cloud Cruises operates two (three beginning August 2020) of the poshest old-world sailing ships you can find. The four-masted SEA CLOUD was commissioned by super rich Wall Street tycoon E. F. Hutton in 1931 and decorated by his extravagant heiress and businesswoman wife Marjorie Merriweather Post, who spared no expense outfitting the ship in the finest marble, gold-trim and mahogany.

The ship has changed hands several times over the years (including a stint as a floating weather station for the US Navy during WWII) and, after being virtually abandoned in the 1960s, was purchased in 1978 by the present owners and restored to its glorious beginnings.

Fleetmate SEA CLOUD II was built in a somewhat similar style in 2001, albeit a bit larger and with less wood paneling in the cabins and public rooms. Both attract travelers who appreciate tradition and elegance, along with good food and well-traveled shipmates.

N.B. In late August 2020, a third sailing ship – SEA CLOUD SPIRIT will begin sailing in the Mediterranean. Details to follow.

Sea Cloud under full sail -- WOW! * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Sea Cloud under full sail — WOW! * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SEA CLOUD (built 1931, 64 p), SEA CLOUD II (b. 2001, 94 p) and SEA CLOUD SPIRIT (b. 2020, 138 p)

Passenger Profile

On Europe cruises expect mostly Germans, plus some other Europeans and a sprinkling of North Americans and others, majority 50+. In the Caribbean, it’s about 30% American passengers, 30% German, 20% British, and the rest from elsewhere in Europe.

Passenger Decks

3 (SEA CLOUD), 4 (SEA CLOUD II); no elevators. (SEA CLOUD SPIRIT) elevator connects five decks.

Price

$$$

Included Features

Wine and beer at lunch and dinner; all soft drinks and coffees throughout cruise; and an English-speaking tour guide on every sailing.

Itineraries
  • Winters see both ships in the Caribbean doing 7- to 26-night itineraries, many from Barbados including a handful that focus on Cuba; and others that go to Costa Rica and other parts of Central America.
  • Summers, both are in the Mediterranean, doing 4- to 19-night cruises from ports including Venice, Valletta, Barcelona and Malaga, plus a handful of cruises in the North Sea and in the Canary Islands.
  • SEA CLOUD SPIRIT will also cruise the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Central America (Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, including the canal, for ports along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
Why Go?

To step back in time on elegant old-world ships that are as much a part of the travel experience, if not more so, than the destinations visited.

When to Go?

The Sea Cloud “grand dames” cruise in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud's Opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud’s opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Cabins

Aboard SEA CLOUD the ultimate abode is Post’s own museum-like suite, with its Louis XIV–style bed and nightstands, marble fireplace and bathroom, chandeliers, and intricate moldings. There are a total of 10 original cabins with stunning interiors, plus four former officers’ cabins that appeal to ship buffs, with bunk beds and a door that leads straight out onto the covered section of the promenade deck. CLOUD II also has several opulent suites, one with burled wood paneling and a canopy bed, but they can’t compete with the originals on SEA CLOUD. SEA CLOUD SPIRIT will offer 69 cabins, 25 with private balconies.

Otherwise, the standard cabins on both ships are roomy and very comfortable, but nothing out of the ordinary. Those on SEA CLOUD II have small sitting areas and marble bathrooms, and TV/VCRs (SEA CLOUD cabins do not have TVs). All cabins on both ships have telephones, safes, hair dryers, and bathrobes, and cabins with either a shower or tub.

Not too shabby. Sea Cloud's Category 3B cabin. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Not too shabby. Sea Cloud’s Category 3B cabin. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Public Rooms

Each ship has one restaurant, a bar on the lido deck, and a lounge for reading, board games and surfing the Internet on the resident laptop. Inside and out, SEA CLOUD feels like a floating museum in many ways, with antiques, marble fireplaces and abundant wood decking, paneling and furniture, including an arc of padded mahogany benches at the stern of the Promenade for excellent views of the majestic masts, sails and rigging.

On the larger SEA CLOUD II, the elegant lounge is designed with rich mahogany woodwork, ornate ceiling moldings, leather club couches, and overstuffed bucket chairs; and there’s also a separate library. SEA CLOUD II has a small exercise room with a few machines and free weights, plus there’s a sauna and swim platform at the stern.

Both ships have small medical centers and Wi-Fi access is available for a fee.

The interior lounge aboard Sea Cloud II. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

The interior lounge aboard Sea Cloud II. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Dining

Mealtime is a big part of the Sea Cloud experience and the dining room on each ship accommodates all guests in a single, open seating. Cuisine is continental and wines and beer are complimentary at lunch and dinner. Breakfast and some lunches are provided buffet-style, with lunch served up on deck as often as possible, while the more formal dinners are served on elegant candlelit tables set with white linens, china, and silver.

Expect dishes like a Parmesan cheese soufflé, grilled scallops or lobster, and veal tenderloin. The majority of men wear jackets nightly, and with the addition of ties for the two formal nights on each cruise. Most cruises also feature a barbecue night out on deck.

SEA CLOUD’S lovely dining room, the original owner’s salon, is paneled in oak and set with long elegant tables. Aboard SEA CLOUD II, the dining room has tables for 2, 4, 6 and 8. In both you can sit where you wish.

Dining on deck aboard Sea Cloud. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Dining on deck aboard Sea Cloud. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

The favorite pastime for most is to merely sit on deck to admire the tall ship scene — the sails, masts, winches, ropes and cleats against all that teak — and watch the crew work the riggings. Typically one day on a weeklong cruise is spent at sea. Weather permitting, the bridge is always open and officers are happy to answer questions. Unlike the Star Clipper’s three ships, though, for insurance reasons passengers are not allowed to help handle the sails as the crew does everything by hand.

Throughout the week there are talks by guest lecturers on most cruises as well as daily briefings by the cruise director. Occasionally there are theme cruises featuring noted artists, chefs or vintners who give talks and presentations. The ultimate event aboard SEA CLOUD is the highly popular “open house,” where passengers dress up and enjoy champagne and caviar on the Main Deck and then tour each other’s cabins (with the residents’ permission, of course).

CLOUD II also has a library, a small gym, a sauna, and a swimming platform for use when the ship is anchored in some gorgeous place and conditions permit swimming right then and there. Each ship carries aboard zodiacs to shuttle passengers ashore when anchored or for snorkeling excursions or water-skiing. Evenings a pianist serenades passengers as they mingle over drinks and typically once per cruise local musicians come aboard for an evening. A crewmember choral group is another popular after-dinner diversion.

For many, SEA CLOUD II’s big advantage is her larger size and interior public rooms — she is a cruise ship, while SEA CLOUD is a yacht — which comes in handy, for instance, on rainy days when cruising on the Northern and Baltic seas.

Along the Same Lines

Star Clippers comes close-ish.

Contact

SeaCloud Cruises, An der Alster 9, 20099 Hamburg, Germany; www.seacloud.com; 888/732-2568 and 201/227-9404

— HMS

Mahabaahu on Brahmaputra River

International Expeditions ranks amongst the top adventure travel firms and is known for its creative itineraries and highly qualified staff who accompany its small group land and sea tours.

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Snapshot

International Expeditions (I.E.) belongs to a consortium of high-end travel firms that include Quark Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions, both covered on QuirkyCruise.com, and TCS World Travel and TRAVCOA (not yet covered), both with selections of small-ship travel in their overall land and air programs. While I.E. offers mostly adventure land travel, there are some excellent small expedition ship itineraries offered as well.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

As several very different ships are involved in the expedition program they will be matched with the specific itineraries. See the itinerary details below, which at any given time are representative of I.E.’s offerings.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Very Pricey. Included features will vary greatly from tour to tour, as the boats are chartered not owned by International Expeditions.

Itineraries – A Sampling as itineraries changes from year to year

Cuba Voyage: A 10-day land and cruise itinerary includes two full days on land with nights on board in Havana and visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Juventud (Isle of Youth) and a nature reserve. Then embark in the 46-passenger PANORAMA, a sleek motor sailer for the rest of the itinerary, including docking near Havana for three days with access to the capital city. Excursions include visits to historic town centers, national scenic areas and meeting locals while visiting student activities, art and music workshops, shop owners, markets and museums. The itinerary also operates in the opposition direction. Departures: January to April.
Ship: PANORAMA

See the following website to answer questions that allow US citizens to travel to Cuba with International Expeditions: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

Internatioal Expeditions

Colorful arcaded buildings along a Havana street. * Photo: Cuba Tourism

Amazon River Cruise: A 9-night cruise tour with two nights in Iquitos that emphasizes the Amazon River and its tributaries with seven nights aboard the 38-passenger ZAFIRO, while visiting local villages (which vary between cruises) to see their way of life, the key feature is Peru’s Pacaya-Samiria Reserve to look for sloths, monkeys, pink and gray dolphins, and a wide variety of tropical birds. The check list runs to 143 different birds from the Amazonian Umbrellabird to Long-billed Woodcreeper. Departures: year-round except a brief hiatus at the beginning of the year. Available extensions to Guayaquil, Machu Picchu, Ecuador’s Amazon.
Ship: ZAFIRO 

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unkown

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unknown

Galapagos Islands: 10-day itineraries cover two different island itineraries with all year-round departures, beginning with a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the islands and a week aboard the 32-passenger expedition vessel EVOLUTION noted for its roomy public spaces, indoor/outdoor dining, open decks with outdoor bar, hot tub, and comfortable cabins ranging in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Some departures are geared to families. The islands are noted for highly diverse landscapes from desert dry to well-watered forests, and some of the wildlife is unique to these islands. Enjoy walking amongst penguins (yes, not only Antarctica), sea lions, marine iguanas, tortoises and those blue-footed boobies. Talks aboard from the Darwin Station staff and small groups ashore. Departures: Year-round except September.
Ship: EVOLUTION

Panama Cruise: This 9-day cruise embarks in Panama City aboard the 24-passenger DISCOVERY to seek wildlife and visit with distinctive local inhabitants living in relative isolation much as they always have, and transit a good portion of the Panama Canal, quite a different experience on a small ship. Sail out into the Pacific Ocean and enter the Darian jungle region via narrow waterways in a small launch to visit with the Embera Indians. Then as a complete contrast onto the Pearl Islands just off the coast for some snorkeling and swimming. Enter the Panama Canal and sail through two separate sets of locks that raise the ship 85 feet while hearing about the recent enlargement of the canal to handle the world’s largest container vessels. Enter Gatun Lake and stop at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Center located on one of the islands. Wildlife to be seen include crocodiles, iguana, sloths, and monkeys, then enter the Chagres River for bird sightseeing and a visit to a 16th-century Spanish fort, built to protect the gold mining trade. Travel back to Panama City via the Panama Railroad, the world’s shortest transcontinental railroad at 48 miles in length, and predating the Panama Canal.
Ship: DISCOVERY

Diccovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Discovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Papua New Guinea: This 16-day tour to Papua New Guinea is largely by air beginning and ending in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. However, three nights along the Sepik River aboard the SEPIK SPIRIT positions you well inland to remote backwater people who first had outside contact in the 1930’s. Besides visiting the Huli “wigmen” and hearing Mt. Hagen’s “sing sing” performed by locals in elaborate costumes and body paint, there is much wildlife to see — some only seen in this part of the world such as cassowaries, kookaburras, bowerbirds, lorikeets, cockatoos and birds of paradise. Departure dates are on request.
Ship: SEPIK SPIRIT

Kaziranga's one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Kaziranga’s one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

India’s Kaziranga and Brahmaputra: This 12-day itinerary combines land travel to Indian state of Assam and its Kaziranga National Park and a 6-night cruise on the Brahmaputra River, plus a stay in Kolkata (Calcutta), Bengal’s capital city. After two nights seeing the city’s distinctly Bengali and British colonial sections, head north via a short flight to Assam for a jeep safari to Kaziranga National Park to see the world’s only one-horned rhinos, plus wild Asian elephants, water buffalo and hog deer. The cruise aboard the riverboat MAHABAAHU lasts for six days following a portion of the massive Brahmaputra River that spreads far and wide in Assam before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. (The river starts high up in the Himalayan range and tumbles down the steepest gorge in the world, eroding and picking up sediment as it goes, passing through China before reaching India, and then finally flowing through Bangladesh and to the sea via the Bay of Bengal.) The cruise visits Assam tribal villages and tea plantations, with gangetic dolphins leaping in and out of the river and Kaziranga’s wildlife coming down to the banks to drink at dawn. Depending on the river levels when you travel, marvel at the vast expanse of sand bars within the striated Brahmaputra. Visit Mishing villages built on platforms over the river, watch priests performing religious services, and view Hindu temples to the Lord Shiva as well as indigenous Tai Ahom architecture. Cruises operate for International Expeditions in the cooler months.
Ship: MAHABAAHU

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

The Ships Used in the Above Itineraries

DISCOVERY is a 24-passenger catamaran built in 1994 manned by 11 crew. The 12 cabins have either queen or twin beds and windows that stretch the length of the rooms. The dining room and bar on the upper deck are enveloped by floor-to-ceiling glass. Above that the observation deck has lounge chairs and a BBQ. At the stern, there is a platform for lowering kayaks and Zodiacs.

EVOLUTION, completed in 2005, takes 32 passengers in double, queen and twin-bedded cabins that range in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Meals offer both Ecuadoran and Continental choices at one sitting. The observation deck is canopied covered and has a bar for relaxing at the end of the day’s activities ashore or in the water. Two kayaks are available for passenger use, and the bridge has an open policy most of the time. A doctor is carried and may accompany passengers on excursions.

ZAFIRO takes 38 passengers in 19 suites (17 at 226 sq. ft., master suite 248 sq. ft., & Zafiro suite 480 sq.ft.) on two decks with floor-to-ceiling windows (Upper Deck suites with balconies), indoor lounge with bar, outdoor deck with bar and Jacuzzi, dining room aft, massage room and gym.

MAHABAAHU, meaning “mighty arms,” is a five-deck 46-passenger Indian riverboat, completed in 2011, with a crew of 28. Good-size windowed cabins with en-suite bathrooms have satellite TV, personal safe and minibar. Meals are a selection of Indian and Continental menus using locally sourced food. As the boat is tied up at night, the evenings present local entertainment, lectures keyed to the sights ashore and atmospheric bonfires and drinks on the remote sandbars where the boat anchors and ties up to stakes banged into the ground. Mornings, an hour of yoga is offered on deck or on a nearby sandbar. The top deck is partly open and partly covered for river viewing while underway, and there is a small swimming pool, spa and library collection. An elevator connects the decks.

small ship India cruises

Yoga on a Brahmaputra River beach. * Photo: Noni Chawla

PANORAMA is a three-masted motor sailer built in 1993 that accommodates 46 passengers in 24 cabins arranged over three decks, the top two with windows and lowest with portholes. Inside spaces are the restaurant, lounge and library with an open foredeck at the bow and after deck at the stern. A swimming platform may be used when conditions permit. The crew numbers 16-18.

SEPIK SPIRIT offers 9 windowed cabins for 18 passengers and a bar-lounge that connects to the restaurant, both spaces decorated with Papua New Guinea carved wooden art. The top deck has both covered and open sections. She is moored in the river as a hotel ship (she does not sail) with excursions undertaken daily in launches.

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

Along the Same Lines

Abercrombie & Kent, G Adventures, Tauck, and Zegrahm Expeditions

Contact

International Expeditions One Environs Park Helena, AL 35080; 855-246-0399 (USA/Canada) Worldwide 205-28-1700; www.ietravel.com.

— TWS

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How to Pick a Small Ship Cruise

KID-FRIENDLY (age 12+) small ship cruises

Thanks to sporty activities like kayaking, hiking and snorkeling, these lines are great for families during summers and holidays. 

Alaskan Dream CruisesAmaWaterways (Disney charter); AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Coral Expeditions; EcoventuraG Adventures; Island WindjammersLe Boat Lindblad Expeditions; Ponant; SeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Silolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionVariety Cruises

WILDLIFE-focused small ship cruises

These lines offer the most opportunities to spot wildlife relatively close up, whether in the sea, up in the sky or on the shoreline.

Abercrombie & Kent; Alaskan Dream Cruises; Aqua Expeditions; AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook CruisesCelebrity CruisesEcoventuraG Adventures; GreenTracksHapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide Expeditions; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark Expeditions; Silolona SojournsUn-Cruise Adventures

HISTORIC small ships (50 years +)

These ships are all more than 50 years old, though some have been rebuilt to varying degrees.

Hurtigruten (Lofoten 1965); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Juno 1874, Wilhelm Tham 1912, Diana 1931); GreenTracks (Rio Amazonas 1899); Hebridean Island Cruises (Hebridean Princess 1964); Oceanwide Expeditions (Rembrandt Van Rijn early 1900s and Noorderlicht 1910); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud 1931)

TRADITIONALLY-DESIGNED small ships

These lines’ ships are based on traditional ship-building styles, but are not actually old in age.

American Queen Steamboat Company (American Queen  19th century steamboat design); Island Windjammers (Diamant  brigantine schooner); Pandaw River Cruises (entire fleet  British colonial river steamer style); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud II  three-masted barque); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (Katharina & Ombak Putih  Indonesian schooners); Silolona Sojourns (Silolona & Sidatu Bua  traditional Indonesia two-masted cargo schooners); Star Clipper (Star Flyer & Star Clipper four-masted barkentine-rigged clipper ship, Royal Clipper  full-rigged five-masted clipper ship); Un-Cruise Adventures (S.S. Legacy  American coastal night boat); Variety Cruises (Galileo only)

Small ship cruises to ALASKA

These lines spend summers in the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska.

Alaskan Dream Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; PonantSilversea Expeditions; Un-Cruise Adventures 

Small ship cruises in the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

These lines offer year-round (or nearly) cruises in the Galapagos (with reviews of more Galapagos-bound QuirkyCruise lines coming soon).

Celebrity CruisesEcoventuraG AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions; Silversea Expeditions; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises in the CARIBBEAN

These lines all spend part of the year cruising the islands of the Caribbean; mostly the southern and eastern regions.

G Adventures; Island Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud Cruises; SeaDream Yacht Club; Silversea Cruises; Star Clippers; Swan Hellenic; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety Cruises; Windstar Cruises; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises going to CUBA

These lines offer cruises focused on Cuba, the hottest cruise destination on the high seas.

Abercrombie & Kent, G AdventuresLindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud CruisesStar Clippers; Swan Hellenic

Small ship cruises in ASIA

These lines have ships in Asia all or part of each year on river and oceangoing cruises.

AmaWaterwaysAqua ExpeditionsG AdventuresHapag-Lloyd Expeditions CruisesLindblad ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonantSeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Scenic CruisesSilolona SojournsSilversea ExpeditionsStar Clippers; Tauck; Vantage Deluxe World CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

SHORT small ship cruises ITINERARIES of less than a week

Below are lines that offer 1- to 5-night itineraries, ideal to tag onto a regional land trip.

Aqua Expeditions (3-4 nights); Australis (3-7 nights);  Captain Cook Cruises (3-4 nights); Gota Canal Steamship Company (1-5 nights); GreenTracks (3-4 nights); Island Windjammers (6 nights); Magna Carta Steamship Company (5 & 7 nights); Majestic Line (3-6 nights); Marine Link Tours (5 nights); Ontario Waterway Cruises (5 nights); Pandaw River Cruises (1-4 nights); SeaDream Yacht Club (4-6 nights); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (4 nights)

ACTIVE small ship cruises

These lines offer opportunities for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, snorkeling and diving; on land, cycling and hiking.

Alaskan Dream CruisesAqua ExpeditionsBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritrime (C.P.T.M.), Coral ExpeditionsEcoventuraEmerald WaterwaysG Adventures; GreenTracksIsland Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonant; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark ExpeditionsSeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure CruisesSilolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

Cruising with NORTH AMERICAN PASSENGERS

These lines see an almost entirely North American passenger contingent.

Alaska Dream Cruises; American Cruise Lines; American Queen Steamboat Company; Blount Small Ship Cruises; Grand Circle Cruise Line; Island Windjammers; Marine Link Tours (mostly Canadians); Ontario Waterway Cruises (mostly Canadians); Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures

Small ship lines cruising UNUSUAL WATERWAYS

By design, most small-ship cruises focus on off-beat routes, but these lines particularly so.

American Cruise Lines (Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Australis (Tierra del Fuego); Blount Small Ship Adventures (New York State rivers and canals, Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Cross-Sweden canals); Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Philippines and eastern Indonesia); Le Boat (canals, lochs, lakes and tributaries of 8 European countries); Magna Carta Steamship Company (canals of Scotland); Majestic Line (Argyll, Western Scotland, Hebridean isles); Marine Link Tours (British Columbia fjords, inlets); Ontario Waterway Cruises (Ontario’s canals, rivers, lakes); Pandaw River Cruises (Upper Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Upper Mekong); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (eastern islands of Indonesia); Silolona Sojourns (eastern islands of Indonesia); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Ottawa River)

Small ship cruises with multiple CULTURE-FOCUSED LECTURERS

While most small-ship cruises are led by an expert guide/lecturer, these lines carry multiple experts, often with audio-visual presentations about the destinations and related topics.

Lindblad Expeditions (Europe with NG Orion); Silversea ExpeditionsSwan Hellenic

Best small ship cruises to access by RAIL CONNECTIONS  

The following ports are served by multiple daily passenger intercity rail services  Amtrak for the USA and Via Rail for Canada. If a port is served by only one train a day, it is not included. A short taxi ride will be all that is required between the railroad station and the port.

USA Ports
Boston, MA American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Portland, Me — American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises; New York, NY American Cruise Lines, Blount SSA, Pearl Seas Cruises; Baltimore, MD American Cruise Lines; Charleston, SC — American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Jacksonville, FL American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Chicago, IL Blount Small Ship Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Louis, MO American Cruise Lines, American SB Co.; Portland, OR American Cruise Lines, American SB Co, Lindblad Expeditions, Un-Cruise Adventures; Vancouver, WA American Steamboat Co; Seattle, WA American Cruise Lines, Un-Cruise Adventures.

Canada Ports
Kingston, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Ottawa, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Quebec, QE Pearl Seas Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Toronto, ON Pearl Seas Cruises.

Absolutely STUNNING SCENERY to ogle from the decks of small ship cruises

All small-ship cruises go to some really attractive places, but these are the prettiest of them all.

Alaska Glacier Bay National Park; New York Hudson River in the fall; Argentina Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park; Antarctica — on a blue sky day; Austria Wachau Valley of the Danube River; France Burgundy along the Soane; Germany Moselle River in fall; Vietnam Halong Bay; Pacific Ocean French Polynesia and Fiji Out Islands; Norwegian Fjords Geirangerfjord; Greek Isles — Santorini; Alaska Misty Fjords; Thailand Phi Phi Islands; Malta Valletta harbor; Caribbean St. John; Caribbean St. Lucia; West Papua, Indonesia Raja Ampat Islands; Russian Far East Kamchatka & Kuril Islands

— TWS & HMS

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