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Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises is a newish (2014) subsidiary of the firm that owns American Cruise Lines with its large and ever-growing fleet of coastal and river ships. Its one ship, the 210-passenger PEARL MIST, shares many of the characteristics of the U.S. flag fleet yet it is an ocean-going vessel, registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely non-American crew.

With this new ship, the firm’s cruise itineraries have expanded to New England, Eastern Seaboard, Eastern Canada, and the Great Lakes. Circumnavigations of Cuba were cancelled due to US government orders. Costa Rica and Panama, including canal transit, now cover the winter months. The ship is stabilized.

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

PEARL MIST (built 2014 & 210 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans and some Canadians, largely 50+ and many will be loyal American Cruise Lines’ passengers. Unlike the US-flag ACL, this ship is registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely foreign national crew.

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all cabin decks.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

Internet/WiFi; a daily cocktail hour before dinner, wine with lunch and dinner, open bar with hors d’oeuvres in the evening. Suggested tipping is high at $125 for a seven-day cruise or $18 a day.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

➢For spring 2020, the PEARL MIST will makes its way up the Eastern Seaboard on a 10-day itinerary embarking at Charleston, then calling at Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newport, Portland, Bar Harbor and Halifax.

➢After that the ship heads to the St. Lawrence River and Seaway with port calls such as in the Saguenay Fjord, Quebec Montreal and Toronto and into the Great Lakes.

➢May and September, 11 and 15-day cruises sees the ship operating between Portland, Maine and Toronto calling at Canadian Maritimes ports, plying the St. Lawrence River (Quebec City & Montreal), St. Lawrence Seaway and into Lake Ontario for Toronto. Additional 7-day spring and fall cruises from Portland visit three ports in Maine and three ports in New Brunswick.

➢11-day cruises, June to September, sail between Toronto and Chicago passing through four Great Lakes and Georgian Bay and stopping at Mackinac Island and Sault Ste. Marie, and shorter 7-day itineraries operate in August between Toronto and Chicago.

Pearl Seas Cruises

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

➢Leaving the Great Lakes in September, the ship takes advantage of the fall foliage season in Canadian Maritimes and New England with 10- and 14-day trips between Quebec City and Boston.

➢ In October, at the end of the Canada season, the ship heads south along the Eastern Seaboard (a reverse of the northbound itinerary; see  above).

Note: The PEARL MIST will then make its way to a series of weekly 7-night cruises operating between December 1, 2020 and February 2, 2021 that feature the Panama Canal. Alternate cruises will begin in Cartagena, a port in Colombia and once the capital of the Spanish Empire in America, then proceed to visit the Kuna people in the San Blas Islands and pause at Colon at the entrance to the Panama Canal. The passage includes several sets of locks, often filled with impressive container ships. a crossing of Gatun Lake and lovely tropical landscape either side. Once in the Pacific Ocean, there is a day call in at the beautiful Las Perlas Archipelago before returning to Balboa for a final visit to nearby Panama City, a modern metropolis peppered with French and Spanish colonial architecture. The cruise ends here, and the next one embarks for the itinerary in reverse.

 

Pearl Seas Cruises adds Panama Canal

Panama Canal. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Why Go?

PEARL MIST is a small ship with just 210 passengers, roomy within, and one of the few lines that covers the Great Lakes, plus the St. Lawrence River, Canadian Maritime Provinces, New England and the East Coast. New for the winter months, Costa Rica and Panama with a canal transit, a pioneering possibility.

When to Go?

As the ship moves around according to the seasons, the when to go is already obvious. One point to keep in mind is that fall foliage in Canada occurs about a month ahead of New England.

Cabins

All are outside with sliding glass doors leading to a balcony with table and two chairs, and some additionally also have large picture windows. They are arranged over four decks and divided into five categories. 12 are set aside as singles. Oddly, cabin 302 is alone in having no balcony. Amenities include flat-screen TV, DVD player, and complimentary WiFi. Connection speed will vary widely by location. Be patient and remember it’s free.

Public Rooms

Two lounges are located forward. The Pacific Lounge has good views over the bow and to either side while the Atlantic Lounge, two decks below, has views to port and starboard. Additional small lounges are located on the next to lowest (2nd) deck and the Library Lounge on the 4th deck. The highest (6th deck) offers both covered and open seating.

Dining

The dining room, located aft on the main (lowest) deck, seats all at one open seating. Meals receive high marks and cater to North American tastes. Wine is included at lunch and dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

Exercise equipment resides outside on the 5th or Sun Deck. One or two lecturers travel with the ship to prepare passengers for what’s ashore. Mostly musical entertainment comes aboard in some ports.

Special Notes

While the ship has much in common with some of the larger vessels in the American Cruise Lines fleet, a sister company, the crew here is international. Many passengers will come over from ACL, hence a largely North American passenger list.

Along the Same Lines

Victory Cruise Lines operates similar itineraries on the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence River, and in the Canadian maritime provinces.

Contact

Pearl Seas Cruises, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 250, Guilford, CT 06437. 1-888-882-1595. PearlSeasCruises.com

 

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Victory I of Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines began operating with a short first season in 2016 along the St. Lawrence River and in the Great Lakes, using the American-built coastal ship Cape May Light (built in 2001), which had operated for Delta Queen Coastal Cruises until that company went bankrupt. After a lay-up period and work for other firms, she joined the new line in 2016 as Victory I.

A second unit, built as the US-flag Cape Cod Light, most recently sailed as the Sea Discoverer until chartered by this line in 2017. Following a refit in Europe, it appeared in summer 2018 as Victory II and focused on New England, Eastern Canada, St. Lawrence Valley, and the Great Lakes.

In 2019, both ships were purchased by American Queen Steamboat Company, and the pair will continue to operate as a brand, retaining the name Victory Cruise Lines. They expanded their horizons to include the American Southeast and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

The line also includes the charter of a small 200-passenger ship called Ocean Victory, which was built for Miami-based SunStone Ships, offering Alaska and Pacific Coast cruises. Another operator, Albatros Expeditions, will charter the vessel for the rest of the year.

An interesting aside, sister-company Hornblower Cruises & Events operates dinner cruises, chartered private events and sightseeing tours from major American cities and destinations, including Niagara Falls, Liberty Island and Alcatraz.

RELATED: AQSC Acquires Victory Cruise Lines.  by Anne Kalosh

Victory Cruise Lines

OCEAN VICTORY will cruise Alaska in summer 2021. Here is a rendering of the splendid library. * SunStone Ships

COVID-19 UPDATE

Victory Cruise Lines will resume cruising in April 2021.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

FLEET
  • Victory I (built 2001 & 202 passengers) – Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River
  • Victory II (b. 2004 & 202 p) – Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, New England, American Southeast & Mexico
  • Ocean Victory (b. 2020 & 200 p) – Alaska & Pacific Northwest
Victory Cruise Lines

The Victory I . * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

RELATED: Writer Peter Knego reports on his Great Lakes cruise aboard Victory I.

RELATED: Judi Cohen shares details about her Victory II cruise.

Passenger Profile

Americans, Canadians, and a few Europeans mainly 50 and up. Many passengers will be veterans of American Queen Steamboat Company who will have broader horizons to pursue.

Price

$$ to $$$ – Pricey

Included Features
  • Pre-voyage hotel stay
  • On-board meals, afternoon tea service & evening cocktails
  • Wine, spirits, beer, coffee, tea & soft drinks
  • Wi-Fi in public areas
  • One shore excursion in each port

Tips are not included; the recommended amounts are $15 per person per day for the ship’s crew, and ashore, $5 per person for guides and $2 for the bus driver.

Itineraries

Victory Cruise Lines is known for Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River cruises, which run from between 8 to 16 nights, and Canada and New England cruises, which run from between 8 to 13 nights.

victory-cruise-lines

Toronto’s skyline seen from Center Island, reached by passenger ferry from downtown. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Gardens, Halifax

Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia. * Photo: Ted Scull

After the autumn foliage changes, the ships sail south for 12- to 13-night cruises of the historic American Southeast and the Bahamas (they cruise this region in the spring months as well, when the ships are repositioning back north).

Over the winter, the ships cruise Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula with 10-night itineraries. The line also offers an Alaskan and Pacific Northwest cruise, ranging from 11 to 16 nights, during the summer months.

Sample Itinerary

Yucatán’s Mayan Cruise Tour begins with an overnight in Cancun, Mexico before embarking in Cozumel/Tulum for 9 nights of sailing on the scenic Gulf of Mexico with calls at Costa Maya, Progresso, Campeche and Valladolid before returning to Cancun.

Why Go?

The key is the ease of cruising on a small ship to attractive ports, large and small, in the US and Canada. Few ships cruise the Great Lakes, though the numbers are growing. So it’s less charted territory for the many aficionados of exploring inland waters — lakes, rivers and canals.

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, lives up to its name. *Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and Alaska cruises operate from May to October, the best months for touring the region.

Mexico is visited in the winter, with the U.S. Southeast in the shoulder months.

Sustainability Initiatives

On Ocean Victory, passengers are given personal water bottles that can be refilled at various on-board water stations.

RELATED: Ocean Victory Heading to Alaska.  By Anne Kalosh.

Activities & Entertainment

Victory I and Victory II host on-board lectures and have games in the lounge. Each night there’s live entertainment from the in-house band. Each port has a free excursion or optional premium experience led by local guides.

SHIPS 

Victory I

Victory II

These 202-passenger sister ships each have 5 decks accessed by elevator.

There are two dining rooms, the main Coastal Dining Room serves regional and seasonal fare and there’s a contemporary and casual Grill.

A cozy tavern serves up cocktails, while the Compass Lounge handles lectures and larger gatherings in a bright and airy space.

Victory I tavern

The cozy Seascape Tavern aboard Victory I * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

The sun deck provides an aft-facing observation lounge, and a wraparound promenade has a narrow path for constitutional walkers. Victory I & II also have a fitness center, spa, salon and medical clinic.

All cabins are doubles with twin or queen-size beds, picture windows and measurements of 146 to 185 sq. ft., and a single owner’s suite at 335 sq. ft.

Single travelers normally pay 160% for single occupancy of a double cabin.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV, minifridge, safe.

Victory Cruise Lines

An AA Category cabin aboard VICTORY I * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Ocean Victory

A contemporary expedition ship, the 200-passenger Ocean Victory packs a lot on its six spacious passenger decks (all of which have elevator service).

Meals are served in the Main Restaurant, the Panorama Specialty Restaurant, at an outdoor bistro and barbeque deck. Enjoy coffee, tea and cocktails at the Explorer Bar and an observation lounge that wraps around the front of the ship for optimal views.

Passengers can attend programs in the Expedition Lecture Room and learn on their own at the Voyager Library.

For relaxation, there’s a showpiece pool that has glass infinity-style walls, two Jacuzzis, a fitness center, spa and boutique. Ocean Victory has Zodiacs and kayaks, a mudroom and medical clinic.

Cabins have queen and twin beds and desks, many have private balconies, a few have French balconies, still others have porthole views.

In cabin: en suite, TV, minifridge, safe, hair dryer.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory with its distinctive X-Bow profile. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Special Notes

A doctor is carried on all cruises, operating out of an infirmary.

Along the Same Lines

Pearl Seas Cruises operates some similar itineraries, while Croisieres Saint Jacques and St. Lawrence Cruise Lines exclusively cruise the St. Lawrence River.

Contact

Victory Cruise Lines, US-based; www.victorycruiselines.com; +1 (833) 548 0187.

— TWS

 

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G Adventures

For more than 30 years, G Adventures has been offering affordable adventure travel around the world including small-ship cruises (about 10-15% of their total annual business) on private yachts, catamarans and oceangoing expedition-style ships, with more recent offerings on riverboats. They also sell travel by rail, road and air. Their MO is providing small groups with authentic cultural experiences, through local guides, cuisine, and transport and uncontrived excursions. The target skews younger — 20s to 50s — than most other travel companies; though any age will be comfortable if they’ve got a young-at-heart attitude and a decent level of fitness.

A trained, local CEO, or Chief Experience Officer, guides all trips and acts as the point person to make sure things run smoothly. (On the G EXPEDITION ship, there are additional expert guides in various disciplines). The emphasis is on active exploring, using bicycles for example, and on supporting local businesses and communities (i.e. through visits to schools and charity-supported restaurants in Cambodia).

To keep rates reasonable on the various sailing trips, meals are not included, instead the skipper collects a modest amount of money from passengers who want to share a simple breakfast and lunch on board (skipper goes grocery shopping for the basics); for dinner, it’s expected that passengers will want to eat dinner in port on the islands (who wouldn’t want to!). A BYOB policy (bring your own booze) is in effect on board most of the Europe-based sailing and river cruises. The line matches same sex passengers to avoid single fares.

With 700 itineraries in more than 90 countries (including the new series of in-depth riverboat tours called National Geographic Journeys), G Adventures excels in offering trips geared to various ages, styles and interests — from families with young children to budget-minded “yolo’s” (the 18- to 39-year-old set).  Adventures is dynamic, cutting-edge, socially minded and hip (cue the great photos and video on their website), and definitely thinks outside of the typical travel company box. Quirky cruise anyone?

The line owns the G EXPEDITION ship for trips to the Arctic and Antarctica, and does full-ship charters for its many other small-ship offerings (hence ships may vary from year to year, and listings below reflect a portion of their current fleet). Consult their 150-page encyclopedia!

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

XAVIER III (built 1996, refurbished 2004; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

MONSERRAT (built 2005, refurbished 2016; 20 passengers) – Galapagos

QUEEN OF THE GALAPAGOS (built 2007; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

YOLITA (built 2007, refurbished 2016; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (built 1990, refurbished 2014; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

REINA SILVIA VOYAGER  (built 2020; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

EDEN  (built 2000, refurbished 2012; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

G EXPEDITION (built 1972, refurbished 2008; 134 passengers) – Arctic/Antarctica, designed to Ice Class 1B specifications

DANIELE (built 2015; 22 passengers) – Burgundy, France

TOUM TIOU II (built 2008; 28 passengers) – Mekong

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

SAILING VESSELS in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia may change from year to year, but those chartered generally carry about 8 to 16 passengers.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passenger Profile

Adventurous couples, singles, and families of all ages (though especially the under 40 set) mostly from North America, and a handful from the UK, Europe and other places. The ocean expedition cruises tend to attract largely couples, average age mid-50s, while the sailing tours draw mostly 30s singles.

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Generally meals are included across the board except on the small sailing yachts. For Galapagos and South America coastal cruises, snorkeling gear is part of the package, while bicycles are carried on French rivers and on the Mekong. On some itineraries guided shore excursions are also included.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Itineraries
  • Galapagos: There are mostly 7, 10 and up to 17-day cruises either round-trip from Baltra or San Cristobal islands, packaged with a 1- or 2-night hotel stay in mainland Quito, Ecuador with the longest more elaborate stays in Ecuador. Itineraries focus mostly on the Central (including Santa Cruz Santiago), Western (Isabela and Fernandina) and Southern (Floreana and Espanola) island groups, to get up close and personal with the amazing wildlife and diverse landscape. (Note: airfare between Quito and the islands is not included in the rates as it often is with other lines).
G Adventures

Estrella Del Mar in the Galapagos. * Photo- © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Europe Rivers: 6-night cruises round-trip from Dijon through France’s Burgundy region visit small villages and wineries, with excursions on foot and by bicycle.
  • India Rivers: 15-night cruises from Patna to Kolkata (Calcutta) on the Ganges River visit ancient temples, ornate palaces and sixth-century rock carvings. South, east and north coast catamaran sailing in Sri Lanka.
  • Southeast Asia Rivers: 7-night cruises (plus 2 hotel nights) on classic-style riverboats between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap go to wet and floating markets, temples (including a sunrise visit to the legendary Angkor Wat on the longer itins), stilt villages, and Vietnam war sites (such as the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace, associated with the Fall of Saigon in 1975).
  • Turkey & Croatia: 9-night super casual catamaran cruises travel between Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and between Bodrum and Fethiye, Turkey.
  • Greek Isles: 7-night super casual yacht cruises sail between Santorini and Mykonos with stops at untouristy offbeat islands in the Cyclades; maybe including Folegandros, Sifnos, Ios, Antiparos, Paros and/or Naxos.
  • Cuba: 6-night super casual catamaran cruises sail round-trip out of Havana and visit points on the Canarreos Archipelago with a focus on snorkeling, swimming and beach-bumming.
  • British Virgin Islands: 6-night catamaran cruises are round-trip from Tortola and hit all the best offbeat swimming, snorkeling and beach sites.
  • Maldives: 6-night cruises aboard a traditional dhoni (a dhow-like fishing boat) spend a week snorkeling and diving in the gorgeous waters of the Maldives islands, and its lagoons and atolls.
  • Thailand: Choose from 6 nighters round-trip from Phuket and 3-night cruises between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Indonesia Interisland catamaran cruising from Bali to nearby islands and Lombok.
Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Amazon River: 7-night cruises on the Amazon depart from Iquitos, Peru; with optional pre- or post land trips to Machu Picchu.
  • Antarctica: 10- to 22-night cruises round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina visit points throughout the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula. Longest cruises add the Falklands and South Georgia..
  • Arctic/Norwegian Fjords: 10- to 14-night cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Longyearbyen, Norway, visit ports along the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard.
  • South America: 4- to 5-week-long cruises along the west coast of South America (Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) are offered as the G EXPEDITION repositions between Antarctica and the Arctic region, with excursions to fjords, glaciers, national parks and rain forests, plus a 3-day overland trip to Machu Picchu.
No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

When to Go?

Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica late October through mid-March; Arctic late May through mid-September, SE Asia July-April, Maldives year-round, Thailand October-April, and Europe April-October.

Cabins

G EXPEDITION (Polar) is G Adventures’ owned ship for polar travel; it has five different cabin categories that range in size and layout. All have private bathrooms with showers, and a porthole or window. The two lowest categories are quads and triples with upper and lower bunk beds. All other categories have two lower beds, except for four larger suites that have a queen bed.

QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS (Galapagos) the most high-end of the company’s five Galapagos ships, has 9 luxury cabins all with windows, private bathroom and air conditioning, TV and DVD players — 7 have queen or twin beds, and 1 is a suite with a sitting area.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

YOLITA’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins have queen or twin beds, large windows, and TVs with DVD players. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

XAVIER III’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins are all double-occupancy with twin beds; 4 on the upper deck cabins with windows, and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All come with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

MONSERRAT’s (Galapagos) 10 cabins comprise 6 double-occupancy upper deck cabins with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All are equipped with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

EDEN (Galapagos) takes 16 passengers and a two wraparound decks to easily access all directions. 4 cabins are twin lowers, a double bed cabin, and  3 twin-share bunk cabins, all with private facilities and A/C.

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (Galapagos) has 8 double-occupancy cabins with bunk beds, 4 on the upper deck with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

DANIELE (France) is a canal barge with 12 lower deck cabins all with windows and private bathrooms, TV, radio, and air-conditioning.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong) has 6 upper deck cabins and 8 lower deck cabins, all with windows and en-suite bathrooms.

AMATISTA (Amazon) has 15 cabins — 7 upper deck and 8 lower deck, all with windows and private bathrooms.

VARUNA (Ganges) has 12 air-conditioned cabins, all with en suite bathrooms.

CATAMARANS/SAILING YACHTS (Cuba, BVIs, Greece, Croatia, Thailand, Maldives), the vessels may vary from year to year, but generally have 4 to 8 double cabins often (but not always) with private bathrooms.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Public Rooms & Dining

All Galapagos vessels and the polar ship G EXPEDITION have an indoor observation lounge for talks by the naturalists, plus a bar, small library, outdoor observation deck with chairs for relaxing, and indoor dining area for casual and relaxed meals. The menus where possible incorporate local ingredients, such as fish.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong River) has a main lounge with a large-screen TV for watching a limited selection of DVDs, a library, bar, and open-air dining area and indoor/outdoor lounges. DANIELE (France) has a lounge with bar, dining area, sun deck with loungers and parasols, and a hot tub.

The small catamarans and yachts in the Caribbean, Europe, Thailand and the Maldives, and the riverboat on the Amazon, all have a combination lounge and dining area indoors, plus outdoor seating for sunbathing and hanging out.

Some vessels have reliable Wi-Fi, including G EXPEDITION, but on many, connectivity is spotty.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Activities & Entertainment

In general, the entertainment is the destination and interaction with fellow passengers, sharing conversation and drinks on deck. Activities happen in port or in the water while snorkeling, diving, kayaking or zipping around in zodiacs or small skiffs. The Galapagos boats carry 2 zodiacs for expeditions and snorkeling equipment for passengers’ use (wet suits are free of charge on QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS and YOLITA only). DANIELE (France) has a hot tub, and it and the Mekong riverboat carry a handful of bicycles.

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

G Adventures, 19 Charlotte Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H5; 416-260-0999. US office: 179 South Street, 1st floor, Boston, MA 0211, 877 390 9050. Additionally in USA & Canada 1-888-8000-4100; UK 0344 272 2060; Australia 1300 853 325; New Zealand 0800 333 415. Consult the website for additional international telephone numbers.

— HMS

 

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SeaDream Yacht Club

COVID-19 UPDATE

SeaDream started sailing again in June 202o.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

RELATED: SeaDream to Resume Caribbean Cruises. by Anne Kalosh.

SeaDream was created for lovers of luxury who shun formality and stiff upper lips and instead embrace a casual “no-jackets-required” elegance on route to the British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Italian Riviera, Adriatic Sea and other chic pockets of the world. SeaDream’s two mini cruisers feel like yachts in many ways, with their classic thick wooden doors, bar tops and furniture, and all the brass details and navy-blue fabrics. There’s lots of outdoor deck space for passengers to hang out on sipping endless glasses of Prosecco or other free-flow libations, all included in the fares.

Champagne and caviar in the surf with SeaDream

SeaDream’s beloved champagne and caviar beach party.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

In port, the SeaDream MO is to stay late in places like St. Barts and St. Tropez so passengers can sample the local restaurant and bar scene. When possible, the ships anchor in places where passengers can zip through the surf on a WaveRunner, and in port, pedal around on a bicycle, both stowed on board. The line’s beloved champagne and caviar party on a remote beach is a cruise highlight and epitomizes SeaDream’s laid-back style of indulgence.

Before SeaDream was founded in 2001, its two ships had another life; they were originally built for Sea Goddess Cruises and named SEA GODDESS I and SEA GODDESS II. From their launch in the mid-80s, the pair was considered two of the poshest small-ships on the high seas. They changed hands a few times over the years, becoming a part of the Cunard and then Seabourn fleets, before joining SeaDream.

Note: In Spring 2019, the line announced the building of a brand-new yacht for 220 passengers occupying 110 veranda suites. Constructed in the Damen shipyard in the Netherlands. However, in early December 2019 the order for the new ship was cancelled, no reason given. All initial bookings will be refunded, and at the time, it was hoped a new ship order would be announced in 2020.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers
  • SeaDream I (built 1984, 112 passengers)
  • SeaDream II (b. 1985, 112 p)
Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans and some Europeans and Canadians, majority 50+. Holidays and summers you’ll see extended family groups too, sometimes several generations; though these ships are not geared in any way to young kids under about age 12. A good slice of the line’s business comes from full-ship charters, often by large (rich) families. Occasionally there are big groups on board that take over half the ship; when booking ask if there are any on your sailing to avoid feeling like an outsider.

Passenger Decks

5; an elevator connects all but top deck.

Price

$$-$$$  Expensive

Included Features

Wine at lunch and dinner, spirits and all drinks throughout cruise, gratuities, use of water “toys” from the yacht’s marina and mountain bikes.

Itineraries

Note: June 4, 2019, the U.S. government announced new travel restrictions for Cuba that directly impact cruise travel to the Caribbean nation. After much consideration and extensive discussions with travel partners, SeaDream Yacht Club has decided to cancel its 2020 Cuba Collection. At this time, there are no future Cuba sailings on SeaDream itineraries.

  • Many 7 days and others 5- to 9-night Eastern Caribbean cruises mostly from Barbados, St. Martin, St. Thomas and San Juan. CANCELLED: Now many cruises include some or a heavy focus on Cuban ports with one end embarking or disembarking in Havana or Cienfuegos. CANCELLED
  • 5- to 11-night cruises in the Med, between ports including Lisbon, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Nice, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Adriatic ports, Piraeus (for Athens), Greek Islands, and Turkish coast. Cruises may easily be combined without any repeat port calls.
  • 12-14 day transatlantic positioning cruises between the Caribbean and Mediterranean seasons have the option of tacking on a Caribbean and/or a Mediterranean itinerary at either or both ends.
The mini SeaDream cruisers can slip into ports and waterways the biggies cannot. Photo: Ben Lyons

The mini SeaDream cruisers can slip into ports and waterways the biggies cannot. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Why Go?  

The ships are casually chic and all-inclusive, and you can’t beat the size: large enough for two restaurants, a pool and a hot tub, and small enough to feel intimate enough to make friends easily. A crew of 95 means there’s almost one crewmember for every passenger; they may even lead walking tours or bike rides in port, called “shore-side casuals.” Service isn’t stuffy or cloying, but trust us, you’ll want for nothing.

When to Go?

The SeaDream twins cruise in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

All the cabins feature lots of real wood furniture and cabinetry for a nautical feel, plus an efficient entertainment center with a flat screen TV, DVD/CD player and iPod docking station that also incorporates a vanity, desk and mini-bar, stocked with beer, soft drinks and water. A sofa can accommodate a third guest in all cabins, ideal for an older child.

There are 54 Yacht Club cabins measuring a comfortable 195 square feet, and 16 of them can be combined to create 8 double rooms called Commodore Suites (cabins on Deck 2 have portholes, those on Decks 3 and 4 have large picture windows). There are also two large suites. Beds are clad in Belgian linens are very comfortable, though on the narrow side, and storage space is generous.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Cabins = simple beauty. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Marble covered bathrooms have showers and are small, but functional. The Bulgari toiletries are appreciated and so are the free cotton SeaDream-logo pajamas. Other extras include cotton robes, slippers, personal safe, individually controlled AC, make-up mirror, personal stationary and hair dryer. Cabins have dataports for Internet Access (for a fee), but on our last cruise, it was veryyyy slow. These ships are not recommended for passengers using wheelchairs, as doorways to cabins are not wide enough and elevators don’t reach all decks.

Public Rooms

There are two restaurants — one indoor, one out — plus the roomy Main Salon lounge with a dance floor and small bar, that’s used for port talks, movies, and pre- and post-dinner dancing. It leads out to the stern-facing pool deck and bar. One level up on Deck 4 is the Piano Bar, often the scene of sing-alongs, and adjacent to it, a tiny casino and a small library.

Forward on Deck 4 is the surprisingly well-equipped ocean-view gym with half a dozen cardio machines and a spa with four treatment rooms and outdoor space. Up on Deck 6, is the Top of the Yacht Bar, where a thick wooden U-shaped bar holds pride of place under a sail-like roof with the rest of wonderfully open to the elements. It’s the place for drinks any time, and it’s especially fab at sunset. If the crowd is eager, the bartenders will crank up dance music after dinner and patrons can dance and let their hair down.

A typical delicious lunch buffet on board. Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

A typical delicious lunch buffet on board.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

Dining

Eating is a high point, especially when the weather allows dining in the open-air Topside Restaurant up on Deck 5; otherwise, it’s the more traditional Dining Salon inside down on Deck 2. The Topside’s cozy tables for two or three tucked into the wooden banquets along the edges are much sought after, while the wake-facing tables for four are wonderful if the wind isn’t too strong. Seating is open, with plenty of tables for two and four, but a few days into the cruise, most people are eager to dine with new friends at larger combined tables.

In Topsiders, breakfast and lunch are buffet style, with elaborate displays of homemade breads and pastries, as well as fruits. Similarly, at lunch, the buffet is generously laid out with a variety of salads, cold cuts and cheeses; at both meals there are ala carte items prepared in the galley, from eggs Benedict and crepes at breakfast, to grilled fish or a noodle dish at lunch.

For dinner in the Dining Salon, choose a de Degustation (tasting) menu or go with Japanese, raw food or pan-Asian dishes in addition to popular western standards. Mid afternoon snacks are served poolside and if you’re hankering for caviar, just ask for it if you don’t mind paying extra. There’s 24-hour room service for snacks and lite meals.

Life on a SeaDream cruise is lived up on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Life on a SeaDream cruise is lived up on deck.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

When the ships are on the move, passengers love sunbathing and snoozing on the firm Queen-sized sunbeds that line the top-most deck (though depending on the wind direction, soot from the funnels can make things a tad unpleasant). They also love sipping a refreshing glass or two (or more) of refreshing Sauvignon Blanc at the open-air bar or around the small pool on the protruding aft deck, with great views of the ship’s wake.

When anchored, weather and conditions permitting, a watersports platform at the stern allows you easy access to kayaks, sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear, personal water craft (Jet Skis), water skis and a floating island/trampoline. There are also mountain bikes for use in port (mostly in Europe and the Caribbean) and each ship has a golf simulator and wii gaming consoles for use in the Main Salon.

On all cruises in the Caribbean, and in the past in Asia too, the high point of the week’s activities is SeaDream’s indulgent “Caviar and Champagne Splash” held on a remote stretch of beach somewhere. Passengers happily wade through the surf to grab plastic glasses of champagne and dollops of caviar from waiters standing chest high in the ocean and serving the goodies from floating life rings and surfboards.

It’s all giggles and guzzles, as passenger revel in the frivolous (and fun) absurdity of it all. The beach bubbles are followed by a full lunch at tables set up in the sand. Evenings on board, entertainment consists of drinks with new friends, sing-alongs at the piano bar, gambling in the tiny casino, dancing on deck at the Top of the Yacht Bar, and a weekly outdoor movie shown under the stars.

During the day, occasionally there are talks or special films shown about the destination, but generally SeaDream does not host expert lecturers. There are however, a handful of wine appreciation theme cruises every year, with tastings and a winemaker’s dinner hosted by a guest winemaker or winery owner.

Along the Same Lines

Windstar may be the closest, especially its sailing ships but with less pampering and less expensive fares.

The nimble Sea Dream ships can cruise close to shore. Photo credit: Christina Colon

The nimble Sea Dream ships can cruise close to shore.  *  Photo: Christina Colon

Contact Info

601 Brickell Key Drive, Suite 1050 Miami, FL 33131; www.seadream.com; 800-707-4911 or 305-631-6100.

— 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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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Photo-Feature by Cele & Lynn Seldon.

There may be no better way to immerse oneself in the enigmatic culture and people of Cuba than on small ship Cuba cruises with International Expeditions aboard the intimate 46-passenger Panorama. Here’s Part 2 of our 8-night voyage, which sailed from Havana to Cienfuegos.

small ship Cuba cruise

Editor’s Note: International Expeditions’ current itineraries are land only as US citizens and most residents of the US are not permitted to cruise to Cuba. The cruise itinerary described here is no longer offered.

Click here to read “A Small Ship Cuba Cruise with International Expeditions (Part 1),” which covers historic and colorful Havana. 

Part 2: This half of the story picks up after departing Havana…
Guanahacabibbes National Park

The next day was our first taste of the rest of our small ship Cuba cruise as we visited the Guanahacabibbes Peninsula and the Maria la Gorda beach resort. Located on the westernmost tip of the main island, the peninsula is home to several remote villages, as well as a local school in little El Valle. The uniformed school children were highly inquisitive, asking as many questions of us as we did of them. It was an eye-opening glimpse into how the Cuban rural school system operates and the importance that the Cuban people place on education.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Children in class at an elementary school in El Valle, a small rural town on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

We also stopped at Guanahacabibbes National Park. Cuba’s first protected and preserved region after the revolution, the area became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1987 (one of six in all of Cuba) and a National Park in 2001. A major eco-tourism attraction, the National Park consists of about 125,000 acres, with more than 170 species of birds and tropical fauna, flora, and marine life.

The afternoon was spent at the dive resort of Maria la Gorda. Although a far cry from typical Caribbean resorts, the beach featured fine white sand, calm crystal-blue waters, and a chance to swim, snorkel, and lounge on the beach. A traditional Cuban barbecue lunch was served on the beach.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Swimming at Villa Maria la Gorda Hotel & International Diving Center, Maria la Gorda, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Isla de la Juventud

The next stop was Isla de la Juventud, or the Isle of Youth, the largest of the 350 islets of Cuba, with a population of about 100,000. Our day was filled with people-to-people activities, including: a visit to the local maternity house, where we met with doctors, nurses, and several expectant women; Museo Municipal (City Museum) and its history of this remote island; the island’s capital city of Nueva Gerona; and a visit to Presidio Modelo, the massive jail that once held more than 5,000 varied prisoners, including Fidel Castro and his comrades, in the mid-1950s. Today, the shell of Presidio Modelo houses a museum that offers a glimpse into the grueling penal system.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Presidio Modelo, the jail where Fidel Castro was held prisoner, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Trinidad

After another day at sea, with more lectures, movies, and free time, we docked in the coastal colonial town of Trinidad in early-evening. A UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its pastel-colored 18th– and 19th-century houses, cobblestoned streets, palaces, and plazas, Trinidad was easily explored on foot with a group sightseeing tour and dinner at local a paladar.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Shopping for local artwork and handicrafts in the street market along the cobblestoned streets, Trinidad, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink

The next morning featured more exploration, including stops at the Museum of Architecture, the Romantic Museum, the many palaces and churches surrounding Plaza Mayor, a visit to a scale model of the city, and people-to-people exchanges with local wood-working artist Lazaro Niebla and potter Chichi Santandar in their studios.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Lazaro Nieble in front of some of his wood carving portraits, Trinidad, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Cienfuegos

From there, we rode about 90 minutes northwest to the town of Cienfuegos. This colonial town was initially settled by French immigrants and retains a French feel, with 19th-century buildings, a congenial street life, and a lovely waterfront that opens to the Caribbean Sea. An outdoor spit-roasted lunch was served at Los Laureles in Hotel Jagua, with stunning panoramic bay views from the rooftop.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Traditional pig roast and lunch at Dos Laureles in the Hotel Jagua, Cienfuegos, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral along Parque Jose Marti, Cienfuegos, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink

After lunch, we were treated to an array of the city’s charms including: a festive and interactive children’s musical performance of “La Cucarachita Martina” at the Julio Antonio Mella Cultural Center; a walking tour of central José Marti Park, with its Arch of Triumph, Tomas Terry Theatre, and the Cienfuegos Cathedral; an inspiring and elegant choral performance by the Cienfuegos Choir; a visit to a graphic artist studio; and free time to shop along Paseo El Prado.

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

People-to-people children’s musical performance of Cucarachita Martina at the Julio Antonio Mella Cultural Center, Cienfuegos, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink

After our last dinner and evening onboard Panorama, we packed our bags and set out early the next morning by bus to Santa Clara for our flight back to Miami. Girded for a reprise of our rather chaotic arrival in Cuba at Havana Airport, we were pleasantly surprised when our final people-to-people experience was met with few crowds, a serene calm, and an on-time departure.

Statue of Jose Marti in Parque Jose Marti, Cienfuegos, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Click here to read “A Small Ship Cuba Cruise with International Expeditions (Part 1),” which covers historic and colorful Havana. 

International Expeditions sets sail for Cuba with seven Cuba Voyages in 2018, sailing from Cienfuegos to Havana. The 9-night 2018 itineraries include 7 nights on board, one night in Miami pre-cruise, and an overnight stay in the Viñales Valley, allowing passengers fewer sea days and the opportunity to experience the stunning mountain vistas. With all cruises, but especially cruises involving Cuba, itineraries are subject to change.

N.B. Because of recent US Government regulations, U.S. citizens and most permanent resident are no longer permitted to cruise to Cuba. As the Editor’s Note says below, you may get updates by clicking on the link.

For more information about International Expeditions, go to ietravel.com or call 800-633-4734.

Editor’s Note: As with any travel, we would recommend staying on top of the Cuba travel policy changes in your resident country, as well as following International Expeditions notifications at https://www.ietravel.com/blog/what-people-people-cuba-travel.

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

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

N.B. Please be advised that due to recent U.S. Government regulations, U.S. citizens and most non-U.S. residents are no longer permitted to cruise to Cuba, hence I.E. is currently only offering land tours. We have decided to save this report as it gives good information about what travelers will find on land.

G Adventures, a Canadian firm, operates three cruises itineraries of 6, 8 and 13 days aboard a small catamaran taking 16 passengers with pairs of double cabins sharing the shower and toilet facilities. Fares are very reasonable. The website makes it quite clear that the firm will not accept U.S. and foreign U.S. residents on Cuba cruises.

Also, Variety Cruises, a Greek-based cruise line operates the more upscale 46-passenger Panorama on 8-day cruise circuits, the same vessel that is described in the article below.

More lines will be added to the site as they become known.

By Cele & Lynn Seldon.

Travel to Cuba is hotter than a July day in the Caribbean. It’s not surprising when you think that visiting Cuba just a short three years ago wasn’t even a possibility for most Americans. But, along with Obama’s 2014 restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the subsequent easing of restrictions, and with airlines, hotels, tour operators, and cruise lines getting into the action, exploring Cuba by sea is easier than ever.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Classic car parade, Havana, Cuba

Many cruise lines have added stops in Cuba to their Caribbean itineraries, offering a day or overnight in Havana. Plus, some smaller lines stop in other Cuban cities, like Cienfuegos or Santa Clara, as a port call. However, there may be no better way to immerse oneself in the enigmatic culture and people of Cuba than with a Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions aboard the intimate 46-passenger Panorama.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

The intimate 46-passenger Panorama. * Photo: International Expeditions

Known as a pioneer in ecotourism and conservation, International Expeditions was first able to take Americans to Cuba in 2003, and in 2012, introduced their land-based Complete Cuba itinerary. Interacting with the Cuban people and exploring the largest Caribbean island as a true ambassador through their “people-to-people” program, International Expeditions offers a schedule of immersive and interactive activities and events with the movers, shakers, entrepreneurs, and artists of this colorful nation.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

People-to-people children’s musical performance of Cucarachita Martina at the Julio Antonio Mella Cultural Center, Cienfuegos, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

These same activities and personal interactions are the cornerstones of their 9-night Cuba Voyage itinerary. Led by three guides—a U.S.-based Cuba expert who is available through the entire trip, a ship guide who acts as a hotel director once onboard, and a Cuba-based tour guide for the day-to-day travel—who address every detail, this small group experience is best suited for travelers who have a sense of adventure and deal well with travel curveballs.

Cuba is still new to tourism—especially by American standards—and the one constant is that things will not always go as planned. An open mind, patience, and spontaneity will enhance exploration of this magical island and prepare expedition participants for the uncertainties that make travel to new horizons transformative opportunities.

Our 8-night Cuba Voyage started in Miami with a welcome reception, briefing, and overnight in a nearby airport hotel. This gave us the opportunity to meet our fellow travelers, ask questions, and complete the required paperwork. Cuba requires a VISA for all U.S. citizens and, although International Expeditions did much of the legwork ahead of time, there are still some final forms that need to be completed, as well as detailed information about the flight and arrival in Cuba.

Editor’s Note: International Expeditions’ 2018 itineraries are slightly different, sailing from Cienfuegos to Havana with 7 nights on board, plus the one night in a Miami hotel and one night in a hotel in Vinales during the middle of the cruise to explore the lush Sierra de los Organos mountains and the Viñales Valley of western Cuba. Otherwise, the ports and experiences in the Seldons’ story are exactly what you’d get on the current itinerary.

Rise & Shine

The next morning came very early with a 3:00 a.m. departure for the airport and our 6:00 a.m. Eastern Airlines chartered flight. Our Washington State-based guide, Brian, was on-hand every step of the way to help guests with their luggage, security, and to answer any questions. After the short 45-minute flight—complete with flight attendants in retro Eastern Airline uniforms—Brian guided us through passport control, immigration, and the somewhat chaotic baggage claim area. The long luggage wait time also gave everyone a chance to change their U.S. dollars into the tourist-based currency of Cuban Convertible Pesos (known as CUCs). Once outside the airport, we were met by the International Expeditions cruise director and our Cuba-based national guide.

Our first stop was to board our home-away-from-home for the week, the Panorama. Owned and operated by Greek Variety Cruises (and chartered to International Expeditions), the Panorama is a three-masted yacht built in 1993 and refurbished in 2014. It houses cabins on three decks, as well as an indoor reception area, library, dining area, and outdoor seating on the main deck. There’s also a separate inside lounge and bar, aft outdoor seating, and a sun deck on the upper deck. Although a bit smaller and less luxurious than traditional ocean liner vessels, all cabins featured individually controlled air conditioning, televisions (although there was no programming available on our sailing), hairdryers, mini-refrigerators, and bathrooms. Upper and main deck cabins feature windows, while cabins on the lower deck have portholes.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

A twin cabin on the Panorama. * Photo: International Expeditions

Three Days in Havana

On the way to the Panorama, we made a brief stop at Havana’s iconic Plaza De La Revolucion. Home to the many political rallies that happen in Havana and the 31st largest square in the world, Revolution Square is dominated by the José Martí Memorial, a 358-foot tower and 59-foot statue of this national hero. Highlights include the National Library, many government ministries, and the Palace of the Revolution, which houses the seat of the Cuban government and Communist party, and oversized iron outlines of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. A classic Havana photo opportunity also awaited us in the square, with dozens of brightly colored retro automobiles that enterprising Cubans will allow visitors to sit or ride in for a pre-negotiated fee.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Revolution Square, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

After a short briefing onboard, we headed out as a group into the sensory-overloaded cobblestoned pedestrian streets of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) for a lobster lunch at the state-owned La Imprenta restaurant, plus a walking tour.  While we gawked at the colorful sights and music- leaden sounds of Old Town, our guide pointed out many of the architectural wonders of the city, including: Casa de Gobierno y Palacid Municipal on the Plaza des Armas; the star-shaped Castillo de la Real Fureza, which now houses a maritime museum; the imposing Cathedral of the Virgin Mary; Hotel Ambos Mundos, a residence of Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s; the Museum of Natural History; shopping in Plaza Vieja and on many side streets; and watering holes cum tourist destinations made famous by Hemingway, including La Bodeguita de Media (where the Mojito was reputedly invented) and La Floridita (known for their daiquiris).

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Floridita Restaurant, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Once back onboard the Panorama, we enjoyed a cocktail hour and an international meal in the dining area. Dinner every evening was a festive experience, with salad, soup, a choice of two entrées, and dessert, all served by the small staff who did double-duty as bartenders and cabin stewards. Cocktails and wines from a varied list were available for purchase. After dinner, we were free to head back into town—the port is conveniently located across the street from Old Town.

The Panorama’s lounge. * Photo: International Expeditions

Havana’s Fusterlandia, Finca la Vigia & More…

After a breakfast buffet the next morning, we boarded a bus and made our way to Fusterlandia. Located in the modest district of Jaimanitas, Fusterlandia is a mirage-like masterpiece of intricate and whimsical tilework and created by Cuban artist, José Fuster. The home—and much of the surrounding neighborhood—has been transformed into an extravaganza of Gaudi meets Picasso street art, with colorful sculptures, figurines, kaleidoscopes, mosaics, free-flowing fountains, and other objects d’art that attack the senses.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Fusterlandia, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

From there, we explored the literary world of Havana at Finca la Vigia, the home of Ernest Hemingway from 1939 to 1960 and where he penned most of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Today, it serves as a museum and monument to the legendary American novelist. Although visitors can’t go into the house, they can peer in from the many doors and windows, as well as explore the outdoor pool and his 38-foot fishing boat, Pilar.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Finca Vigia, home of Ernest Hemingway, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

The next stop was the Nostalgic Car Garage. Owned by the son of a former GM engineer, owner Julio Alvarez has turned the retro car craze of Cuba into a successful business of automobile tours and taxi services.

After another lobster lunch (Cuba has plenty of lobsters and they seem to save them all for tourists), we set out on our own classic car parade. With a dozen Chevys, Fords, Fairlanes, and more, we were treated to a tour of the city in our very own brightly colored convertibles and felt like royalty as we paraded along the streets of Havana.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Classic car parade, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

The rest of the afternoon was ours to explore Old Town on our own. We wandered through the narrow streets, explored the street markets, took photos with enterprising cigar-smoking Cuban women who’d pose for a CUC, shopped for cigars and rum, and checked our email at one of the relatively few (and slow) wi-fi hotspots in Havana.

Since that night was New Year’s Eve, several of our group made a sojourn to the infamous Tropicana Club for dinner and a show that didn’t disappoint. Over-the-top costumes, risqué dances, and the pulsating beat of Cuban music complemented our three-course dinner and unending Havana Club rum, served with bottles of Coke.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Dancers performing at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Havana’s Museum of the Revolution, Hotel Nacional & More…

The Museum of the Revolution was our first stop the next morning. Housed in a former Presidential Palace, it’s filled with photos, artifacts, and exhibitions. The grounds surrounding feature tanks, planes, and boats—including Granma, the boat that transported Castro back to Cuba from his Mexican exile in 1959.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Revolution Museum, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

The afternoon was spent exploring the famed Hotel Nacional—Havana’s grand dame; the unique Merger’s Art Studio, where we chatted with Sandra Borges, the artist responsible for the contemporary combination of art and mechanical engineering; and a visit to Eastern Havana, with stunning views of Havana from across the water.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

La Nacional Hotel, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Lunch (and dinner) were in thriving paladars—the new wave of privately-owned restaurants housed in homes that have been popping up throughout Havana as governmental restrictions have eased. After dinner, we were treated to the pulsating salsa music of the Buena Vista Social Club at Café Taberna.

And to set the mood, press play to listen to Camila Cabello’s addictive award-winning song Havana!

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Departing Havana the next morning gave everyone an opportunity to enjoy a day at sea on the Panorama. We all caught up on sleep, enjoyed a lecture on 500 years of Cuban history, relaxed and read on the sundeck, watched a movie about Hemingway, and enjoyed delicious meals in the dining room.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

On deck aboard Panorama. * Photo: Michael Gomez/International Expeditions


Here’s Part 2 of the Seldon’s Cuba voyage ….

For more info, visit ietravel.com or call 800-633-4734

International Expeditions sets sail for Cuba with seven Cuba Voyages in 2018. The voyages alternate between Havana to Cienfuegos and reverse. The 2018 itineraries also add in an overnight stay in the Viñales Valley, allowing passengers less sea days and the opportunity to experience the stunning mountain vistas. With all cruises, but especially cruises involving Cuba, itineraries are subject to change.

Editor’s Note: As with any travel, we would recommend staying on top of the Cuba travel policy changes in your resident country, as well as following International Expeditions guidelines.

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

Blount Ship Adventures

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Blount Small Ship Adventures

N.B. COVID-19 news from Blount: The line will not resume cruises in 2021 as had been expected. The line’s three existing vessels now docked at the company’s HQ are for sale: Grande Caribe, Grande Mariner, and Niagara Prince. This is very sad news indeed as Luther Blount was a (perhaps even the) pioneer in small ship cruises.

Blount Small Ship Adventures (BSSA) was founded in 1966 by Yankee entrepreneur Luther Blount as the American Canadian Line headquartered in Warren, Rhode Island. He is largely responsible for the rebirth of US-flag coastal and inland voyages. His three daughters now run the cruise line and shipyard that builds small cruise vessels and excursion  boats.

Since the beginning Blount has operated small American-flagged ships taking less than 100 passengers on an appealing set of creative coastal and inland waters itineraries from New England and its historic islands, via the Hudson River and Erie Canal to the St. Lawrence River and French Canada, through the Great Lakes to Chicago, and south along the East Coast’s Intracoastal Waterway to the Carolinas and Florida. Belize for its islands and barrier reef and Guatemala for its Mayan ruins are a December and January destinations.

The crew is mostly all-American, and captains are Blount veterans and know their waters. Cabins are tiny and the social life amongst mostly senior Americans and Canadians is relaxed and upbeat. It’s destination cruising with few of the frills that characterize the mainstream ships. Most passengers like it that way, that is once they get used to the small quarters. 2016 was Blount’s 50th anniversary for operating small-ship cruises. Blount is the only overnight cruise line that can negotiate Erie and Oswego canals, and New York State’s canal system is now a National Historic Landmark.

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Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

GRANDE CARIBE (built 1997 & 84 passengers) and GRANDE MARINER (b. 1998 & 84 p).

Grande Mariner tied up at Rondout Creek, mid-Hudson River landing. * Photo: Ted Scull

Grande Mariner tied up at Rondout Creek, a mid-Hudson River landing. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

Mostly American seniors who enjoy a casual social setting with like-minded cruisers, while a few Brits and Australians are now finding their way here. Camaraderie develops quite quickly for those open to it.

Passenger Decks

4, electric stair climber between cabins, lounge and dining room on Main and Sun decks.

Cabins

44 doubles, with a few set aside for single occupancy. most cabins are very small even by small ship standards, so if you can afford an outside cabin with a window or one that opens to a side promenade, then go for it. Also, stay away for cabins that are susceptible to engine room noise.

Price

$ to $$ Moderate

Included Features

Beer and wine at lunch and dinner*; soft drinks and setups for passengers own supplies; occasional walking tours. *(No free wine/beer on 4-day New England island breaks.)

Itineraries

Cruises last 6 to 15 nights.

  • American & Canadian waterways between Warren, RI and Chicago using no less than 3 canals, 3 rivers and 6 lakes (4 of 5 Great Lakes). Inland waterway trip par excellence.
  • Lake Michigan-exclusively, from Chicago with three spots in Wisconsin and three in Michigan and as far north as Mackinac Island. In 2019, one new trip embarks in Chicago, and after traversing four Great Lakes, sails down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal.
  • The Intracoastal Waterway, 10 ports in 6 states between Warren, RI, Blount’s headquarters and  Charleston, SC. Share the bays, rivers and sounds  waterways with small yacht traffic and tie up at towns where you just walk ashore. In 2019, two new trips embark in Philadelphia or Baltimore and your the many historic towns of the Chesapeake Bay and end up in the Baltimore and Philadelphia respectively.
  • New England offers lots of choices: Islands of New England (Block Island, Cuttyhunk, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket) plus inland and coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Activities ashore include sailing in an America’s Cup yacht in Newport, kayaking in Great Salt Pond and communing with birds on Block Island, and learning about oyster farming and fishing at Westport, near the New Bedford port call. Quickie 4-day trips from Warren are available, and, longer 10-day summer cruises depart Boston for the Maine coast and New Brunswick visiting Bath, “City of Ships,” kayaking amidst lobster boats, whales at play near St. Andrews, NB with world-class golf course ashore, and Portland for its waterfront, art museum, and stunningly-sited Portland Head Light. Also, shorter 8-day trips leave Boston and call exclusively at Massachusetts ports: Salem, Newburyport, Provincetown, Plymouth and Martha’s Vineyard. N.B. For the 7-day New England Islands cruise, the five departures scheduled for June into August 2020 will embark in Boston and disembark in New York and or just the reverse.
Navigating New York State's Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Navigating New York State’s Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

  • New York and Montreal via 3 rivers, 3 canals, Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence Seaway, and including Quebec City and some cruises extended to the Saguenay River. This is Blount’s bread & butter route. In fall 2019, one round trip leaves Warren, the line’s home port and sails via Long Island Sound, calling at New York, then sailing 50 miles up the Hudson (superb fall foliage) as far as a Troy, then turns back making different calls emote to Warren.
  • In early 2019, four 12-day departures will explore Belize and Roatan for barrier reef activates, Mayan ruins, birding (500 species in Belize), visiting small towns, paddling the rivers, and jungle hike
  • February and March 2019, 12-day cruises will feature Panama, after a hiatus of several years, to include a complete 48-mile transit, visits on the Pacific Ocean side the Panama City, Pearl Isles and Darien Jungle, and on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side, the San Blas Islands. Meet the local people, take naturalist hike, swim and snorkel.
  • For the foreseeable future, U.S. government regulations disallow Cuba cruises..
A lovely promenade in Old Montreal. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lovely promenade in Old Montreal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

See the U.S. and Canada close up by traveling along North American rivers, canals and sounds where other cruises do not and cannot go, plus a full program exploring the Great Lakes. Social interaction amongst like minded souls. Plus many ship buffs appreciate the ships’ innovations designed by line founder, the late Luther Blount, including retractable pilot houses, bow ramps, and  shallow draft that enables the pair to sail in less than seven feet of water. These unique Blount innovations allow the Mariner and Caribe to go where other ships cannot.

The Blount-designed blow stairs for easy beach landings. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to preferred seasons.

Cabins

Teeny weeny, ranging from 74 to 96 sq. ft. with a dozen different configurations, so study carefully the detailed cabin plans. Beds may be double-size; parallel twins and at right angles; some upper and lower berths. Cabins may have slide-open windows (fresh air and sounds of the sea), tiny potholes or may be inside with neither. Some open to an outside promenade (fun for quick access to the deck) rather than into an inside corridor. Showers may be hand-held within the toilet and wash basin space or in a separate compartment. Storage space is limited to a closet, a few drawers and under the bed. Dress is casual at all times. Tip: ask about engine room noise before booking a Main Deck cabin.

Sun Deck Cabin 55B aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo; Ted Scull

Sun Deck Cabin 55B aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo; Ted Scull

Public Rooms

Pure and simple, there is one forward-facing lounge that seats all passengers, with an open bar for soft drinks and set ups, plus games and a large flat-screen TV. Plenty of covered and open seating is available on the top deck.

Dining

Meals are served in the big-windowed dining room located one deck below the lounge, and all passengers are accommodated in one sitting at four- to eight-seat tables. There are no tables for two — definitely not the scene here. Lunch and dinner are at set times depending on the program, and breakfast entertains a one-hour span of arrival.

Dinnertime aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo: fellow passenger

Dinnertime, shades drawn, aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo: fellow passenger

Breakfast is both buffet-style for cereals, breads, pastries, fruit and juices as well a served  special-of the-day such as blueberry pancakes, omelets or Eggs Benedict. Lunch may start with a communal soup bowl on the table, then perhaps a quiche or make your own sandwich with ingredients set out before you. Dinner is served with an appetizer or salad, choice of entrée and dessert. The food is well prepared with high quality ingredients and reflects what the mostly North American passengers like to eat at home or at a good local restaurant.

Deck barbecue on the Hudson River aboard Grande Mariner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Deck barbecue while cruising the Hudson River aboard Grande Mariner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

A lecturer accompanies most cruises with additional specialist speakers in some ports. Optional shore excursions are available in most ports as well as independent touring. Some evenings may see a musician or local historian come aboard. Bedtime comes early for many, few stay up past 10 p.m.

Special Notes

Line offers a popular BYOB policy and supplies storage and setups; singles have the option of a “willing to share” policy. There is no laundry aboard. The cruise director will know the most convenient “bottle shops” and self-service laundries on longer voyages. Early arrival rates for some dates include an extra dinner and overnight aboard allowing for local independent touring. It’s a nice feature and avoids a one-night hotel stay and another transfer. Sign up for bulletins and keep a keen eye out for special rates.

Along the Same Lines

American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company though plusher cabins; Ontario Waterway Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; UnCruise Adventures (some f the fleet).

Contact

Blount Small Ship Adventures, 461 Water Street, PO Box 368, Warren, RI 02885-3900;  blountsmallshipadventures.com; 800-556-7450.

— TWS

 

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

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

Cuba Cruises

By Anne Kalosh.

The big ships may be flocking to Havana for Cuba cruises, but smaller vessels can access more destinations around the vast, intriguing island, where port facilities are limited.

SeaDream Yacht Club becomes one of just a handful of small-ship lines to plan circumnavigations, with departures from Havana and Cienfuegos to start in spring 2019.

Cuba Cruises

SeaDream II. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

The week-long cruises will visit places including Trinidad, Cayo Largo, Isla de Juventud and Maria la Gorda.

The 112-passenger mega-yacht SEADREAM II will operate the program.

Fares start at $4,599 per person, plus port fees. The price includes gratuities and wine with lunch and dinner.

More details including the number of sailings will be announced in the coming weeks.

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

By Ted Scull.

The thrust of President Trump’s recent directives on travel by Americans to Cuba will close some doors and will likely slow down the visa permission process for those who will ultimately be allowed to go. The good news is that, for now, the cruise lines that have developed Cuban itineraries may continue their programs, and if passengers have to fly to reach their ship they will be allowed to take advantage of the present direct flights between the US and Cuban airports. What they will not be allowed to do is to patronize any Cuban establishments, particularly restaurants and hotels, that are Cuban military-controlled. Private businesses are exempted from this clampdown.

Havana at sunset.. * Photo: Howard Ignatius

Havana at sunset.. * Photo: Howard Ignatius

US citizens who previously were able to arrange private trips under a complex permission system will no longer be able to do so, and presumably that would apply to cruise-bound passengers who might like to fly to Havana in advance of joining their cruise and spend a few days as independent travelers. Some cruise lines have Cuban land portions with hotel stays as part of a cruise-tour, and as that is a pre-approved group package, there should be no problem taking advantage of wiggle room with perhaps a few hours of independent exploring on foot.

Viales Valley, Cuba

Viales Valley, Cuba. * Photo: Shutterstock

If you wish to take a cruise to Cuba, be sure to start the vetting process as early as possible so as to not literally miss the boat. If there are any changes involving cruises, you will see it here.

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