Blount's Mount HOpe

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

By Theodore W. Scull.

Once “The World is Our Oyster” literally as well as figuratively contributed to the start of Blount Small Ships Adventures.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

Grande Mariner & Grande Caribe share a berth at New Bedford. * Photo: Ted Scull

So, it is with great sadness that this pioneering U.S.-flag cruise line has called it a day 51 years after the company founder, Captain Luther H. Blount, set out with 40 paying passengers aboard the Blount-built Mount Hope in 1969 bound from the company’s HQ along the waterfront of Warren, Rhode Island, into Long Island Sound, around New York City’s Battery and northward up the Hudson and through the locks into Lake Champlain.

Blount's Mount HOpe

The cover of the August 1969 “Maritime Reporter Magazine” featured Mount Hope. * Source:

Luther Blount’s Legacy

He pioneered modern-day overnight cruises along the length of the Erie Canal even though the railroads had built bridges in the 19th century to kill the lucrative freight and passenger traffic.

Not to be stopped dead in the water with too low bridges over the Erie Canal, Blount’s answer was to create a pilothouse that could be lowered into the vessel’s main body and the railings folded to the deck.

Captain Luther Blount

Captain Luther Blount on board. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

I recall intensely watching from the bow of the Niagara Prince as the captain inched his way under a railroad bridge with his wife’s eagle eye on the narrowing gap, to within maybe two inches to spare until the vessel was clear. I think I may have stopped breathing for a few seconds.

On another occasion aboard the same ship heading from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi, we passed under a railroad bridge with slightly more clearance, and seconds later Amtrak’s Super Chief bound from Chicago to Los Angeles thundered across the same span. I did notice that one bit of deck railing had a dent in it, from an earlier encounter.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Inches to spare. * Photo: Ted Scull

“Go where the big ships cannot” became the slogan.

However, the two most recently-built Blount vessels, the Grande Caribe and the Grande Mariner, actually had a problem. They were too high in clearance to pass along the western end of the Erie Canal. Hence cruises between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes would enter the canal just north of Albany then switched over to the Oswego Canal near Syracuse leading to Lake Ontario for onward passage through the Welland Canal and into Lakes Erie, Huron, Superior and Michigan.

RELATED: Ted’s Erie Canal Cruise with Blount Small Ship Adventures.

Luther’s Ingenuity

Now back to oysters. Luther Blount, born at Warren, Rhode Island, near the Head of Narragansett Bay, grew into adulthood and joined the family business – oystering – with its base of operations in the same waterfront location where the cruise line and shipyard exist all these many decades later.

Then came the legendary 1938 hurricane, the largest storm to hit the Northeast in modern times, and in a few short hours the oyster beds and the business were in shambles. Luther, a graduate of Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, then set out on a different course — briefly.

With his inventive nature and New England pluck, Luther developed a steaming process for his brother’s clam business that attracted Campbell Soup as big buyers for the firm’s clam chowder.

Luther’s association with oysters returned when he built a highly-successful new type of steel oyster boat and that led to large and more diverse vessels such as small tankers, launches for the Panama Canal Company, passenger vessels for the Circle Line, ferries for owners throughout the northeast, Spirit-class dinner boats, and as reported earlier, the company’s first cruise vessel, the 40-passenger Mount Hope in 1969.

Blount’s Shipyard

Then followed the New Shoreham, New Shoreham II, Mayan Prince and so on, each slightly larger than the previous new builds.

Blount's New Shoreham

New Shoreham. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Sometimes he would start constructing a hull and if he received an order for a dinner boat, he would complete it as such, and then start another that might end up in his own fleet.

Bllount Small Ship Adventures

Blount Boats – The yard in October 1999. * Photo: Ted Scull

The boats he built for the Circle Line in New York have carried over 75 million passengers.

Blount Marine Corporation eventually became Blount Boats, Inc. and the yard, built on top of a shell dump, has always had a reputation for quality and reliability.

The Blount 65 (a 65-foot passenger boat) was and still is found all over North America in multiple roles as excursion boats, dinner boats and ferries. One of the newest that I am fully aware of is the passenger and vehicle ferry for Governors Island, that separated piece of New York sitting just off the Battery in Lower Manhattan.

Three Daughters

Luther’s daughter Marcia is president and daughter Julie vice president, and Blount Boats has an enviable reputation in otherwise a largely man’s world. His third daughter, Nancy, joined the cruise side.

Blount Sisters

The Blount Sisters Three — Julie, Marcia & Nancy. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Their father died in 2006 at the age of 90. Nancy had started as a stewardess aboard the boats in 1966, then when she complained about being away from her friends during the summer months, she asked for a job closer to home. Luther made room for her as a welder in his shipyard.

By 1979, she was number two at the cruise line, back then known as American Canadian Line with Caribbean inserted later to form ACCL. The more recent change to Blount Small Ship Adventures came under her watch, to honor her father and more clearly define the cruise line’s mission — “Go where the big ships cannot.”

As Luther, a tried and true Yankee, did not believe in buying or building anything that he could not pay for, the company had no debt and that firm foundation put them in good stead during the last recession.

Blount's Grand Caribe

The Grand Caribe on a fall foliage cruise. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Go Where the Big Ships Cannot

Luther’s thrust was “go where the big ships cannot,” and the signature itinerary became the inland water cruise between home base at Warren, Rhode Island and Montreal and Quebec in Canada.

Blount Small Ship Cruises Bows out

The morning sun reflected in the Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Leaving Narragansett Bay, the route passes through Long Island Sound, skirts by New York City via the East and Hudson Rivers, then above Albany turns west into the Erie Canal and Oswego Canal to enter Lake Ontario and continue on eastward along the St. Lawrence River and Seaway to French Canada. Passengers are never out of sight of scenery, and there is little chance of being seasick. No other line, not even competing coastal cruisers, can do this itinerary as we will see.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Passing West Point sailing south along the Hudson River. * Photo: Ted Scull

He established winter itineraries that cruised amongst the Bahamas, Caribbean islands and Belize and its impressive barrier reef. Then there were the Intracoastal Waterway cruises from Florida and the Deep South, an inland route bypassing Cape Hatteras into the Chesapeake Bay, thence through the Chesapeake and Delaware  Canal, along the New Jersey Coast, past New York and onto Long Island Sound and finally passing through the choppy waters off Point Judith and into Narragansett Bay to the Blount’s HQ.

So “go where the big ships cannot” morphed into landings directly on the subtropical beaches via Luther’s patented bow ramp allowing passengers to go ashore almost anywhere there was a few feet of water and without resorting to tenders.

In fact, his patents eventually numbered 20, a Yankee entrepreneur par excellence.

Luther Blount's bow ramp

Luther’s patented bow ramp. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Blount bow ramp

The bow ramp was super convenient for passengers. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Pint-A-Flush Toilets

One device that he was particularly proud of — though not all his passengers might agree — was the Pint-A-Flush toilet, the pint being the minuscule amount of water needed the complete the job. Simplicity reigned and that meant accordion type folding bathroom doors and hand-held showers in the same space as the toilet. Cabins were tiny, and still are by industry standards, but each cabin had its own separate air supply instead of the same stale air being circulated throughout the accommodations.

Most passengers soon got past the diminutive scale and appreciated the comparatively reasonable, but hardly cheap, fares and not being lured into dropping lots of extra money once aboard, other than for gratuities and shore excursions.

There were no casinos, spas, bars, extra tariff restaurants, shopping malls, inches of gold, or art auctions.

The line always had a BYOB policy as it did not sell alcohol. Passengers brought their own wine and spirits, and BSSA provided free storage, ice, set-ups and help about where they can top up ashore. On special evenings, the line offered fancy hors d’oeuvres and complimentary wine. Later wine at meals was included.

Meals were single sitting affairs where passengers freely join whomever they wish. Tables had places for six or eight, setting the scene for the fast-developing social atmosphere. Most came from the U.S. and Canada and occasionally, English-speaking foreigners found their way aboard. Generally, Blount’s clientele was retired or getting there, college educated and either refugees from the mega ships or never had a bit of interest in them in the first place.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Large tables attract those who like meeting and mingle with fellow passengers. * Photo: A crew member

Young American Crews

The crew numbering 17-18 were all Americans, and most of college age or older. They received a wage, shared in the pool of tips, and got medical insurance and a 401K plan. The captains often started as deck hands and rose to mate and captain. Many stewardesses came for the travel experience and training in the hospitality industry. There was no question that they developed a work ethic as well as living in close proximity to one another over long periods of time.

Breakfast times catered to early or late risers, and the buffet set up included juices, cereals, fresh fruit and yoghurt. Once seated the stewardesses brought the hot entrée of the day that might be blueberry pancakes and bacon, omelets and sausages or French toast.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

The table is set for lunch. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lunch and dinner were at set times, with at lunch, a tureen of soup set on the table and at dinner, a salad at one’s places as one sat down. The main entrée at lunch might be a quiche or make your own sandwich and at dinner, tender roast beef, pork loin, breast of chicken, grilled salmon, and thick lamb chops.

A serving window looked right into the galley, and what passes through the opening was very good American cooking, and the type of food that most North Americans eat at home. Of course, vegetarian, vegan and restricted diets were catered to with advance notice. Over the 35 years that I have known Blount, the food had in more recent times taken a noticeable step up in quality, preparation and presentation.

Since 1986, I have made Blount trips among the New England Islands, along the Intracoastal Waterway between Rhode Island and Georgia, and from Toronto via the canals and Hudson River to New York.

Toronto to New York

For the most recent cruise beginning on Toronto’s waterfront, my wife and I occupied a Grande Mariner twin-bedded cabin on the main deck aft with the new-style bathroom now dividing the toilet and sink compartment from the shower stall. The attractive bed fabrics were dark blue and red, with signal flags decorating the curtains. The picture window slid open to bring in the fresh summer air, and stowage was more than adequate for what is always a casual dress code.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

A typical double cabin with a window that opens. * Photo: Ted Scull

The lounge had comfortable seating and became the social center where passengers got acquainted, form friendships and have a drink before dining together.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

The forward lounge is a social and reading center. * Photo: Ted Scull

It’s hard to imagine a more relaxed venue to meet others from all parts of the U.S. and Canada and share what we were all about.

The Grande Mariner sailed across Lake Ontario to spend the day at Niagara Falls on both sides, including a ride on the Maid of the Mist, lunch in the flower-bedecked town of Niagara-on-the-Lake that hosted a summer-long Shaw Festival and ending with a Niagara Peninsula vineyard visit conducted by an excellent tour guide.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

A stately Victorian has many impressive neighbors in residential Kingston. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing nearly the full length of Lake Ontario, we called in at Kingston, once capital of Upper Canada, docking adjacent to the city center where a jazz festival was taking place and enjoying its lovely commercial and residential architecture on a walking tour. Cruising amongst the Thousand Islands, the captain gave a running commentary of the sights and famous people who frequented the resort region.

At Ogdensburg, we toured painter Frederick Remington’s house and art collection, then entered the Oswego Canal that led to the Erie Canal running nearly the full east-west length of New York State. Sections of the present canal use the Mohawk River, and bits of the earlier 1825 canal. The canal’s completion was a boon to New York City as its port became directly connected to the rest of the then known U.S.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Early travel on the Erie Canal

Near Amsterdam, a member of the Oneida tribe came aboard to give us a talk about the traditional crafts her people are engaged in, and a local historian told stories of early canal travel and introduced us to some of the historic writings and songs of the era. A photographer accompanied the cruise and gave popular talks and private lessons on camera use.

We passed under lots of low bridges and descended through a series of locks to the Hudson River just above Albany. Docking at nearby Troy, the city’s local historian gave us a wonderful tour of this once rich manufacturing center with its important civic buildings, handsome residential architecture and preservation successes.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

The crew prepare to lower the pilothouse to enter the Oswego Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull


Blount Small Ship Adventures

The pilothouse has disappeared into the cavity. * Photo: Ted Scull

There was much to see on the all-day trip down the Hudson, including a top deck barbecue, so we would miss nothing en route. We passed historic houses with glorious Hudson River views, fringing Catskill Mountains, numerous lighthouses in the river and ashore, while sliding by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and slipping under stately suspension bridges.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

Buffet lunch while sailing the Hudson River. * Photo: Ted Scull

Then the grand finale, passing Manhattan skyline’s at dusk and docking at the West Side’s Chelsea Piers, with city life less than a block away.

Other Connections to Blount

My direct connections to Blount continued on in an additional manner. When the Grande Caribe and Grande Mariner docked at the Chelsea Recreation Piers, once serving the White Star Line, and latterly excursion and dinner boats, sailing vessels and visiting yachts, I would take the subway from my New York apartment, meet the newly embarked passengers at dinner, then give a Power Point talk about New York harbor and the adjacent neighborhood.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

Grande Caribe docked at the Chelsea Piers, embarkation and disembarkation port. * Photo: Ted Scull

After a night in one of the vessel’s cabins, I would lead an after-breakfast walk into the fast-changing Chelsea neighborhood and take a hike along the High Line, a former elevated freight rail line. Its new role caused a post-industrial district morph into more of a residential neighborhood and a destination for the art world, including the relocated Whitney Museum, and a bar and restaurant scene.

I have happy memories of all my associations over the years, but as the cruising world kept growing (until the COVID-19 pandemic), the new small- and medium-size cruise vessels being launched were more upscale than Luther Blount’s idea of New England simplicity and down-home atmosphere.

Today’s older generation seems to want larger accommodations, plusher atmosphere and more amenities and willing to pay for it. Those who cannot afford all that, and want to sail aboard smaller and less costly cruises, may now be out of luck. Much lower per-diem fares are readily available — on the big ships with their economies of scale — if that is any attraction.

Finished With Engines. R.I.P.

The current three-vessel fleet is for sale: 68-passenger Niagara Prince (1994), 96-passenger Grande Caribe (1997) and 96-passenger Grande Mariner (1998).

Note: This essay is partly adapted from a piece I wrote for Cruise Travel magazine centering on Blount’s boat building side, a thriving business.

quirkycruise bird



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colorful luggage

Colorful Luggage.

By Elise Lentz.

I’m going to start this packing tips article by borrowing a line from one of my favorite movies The Birdcage: “Well, one does want a hint of color.“

colorful luggage

Elise at the Amsterdam train station. * Photo: Tim Lentz

As tour leaders, one of our many tasks is being responsible for the movement of luggage. For us, it is typically accounting for the groups’ luggage being moved from a hotel to the cruise ship. It is not uncommon for us to handle 100+ pieces of luggage in a single move.

Tim and I have often commented, “If we had $1 for every black bag we have counted over the years, we would be gabillionaires.” And YES that is a real word.

It would never fail, that after we accounted for all 100+ bags (which were strategically stacked like a life-sized Jenga game), Mable would approach us demanding that she needed to get something critical out of her bag. It shouldn’t surprise you that my first reaction starts off with my eyes rolling into the back of my skull. This is then followed by the phrase “lady, you’re kidding me…” screamed loudly inside my head.

This exchange is then finished with me actually offering a gentle smile. And in my most congenial tone I ask for a description of the bag.

“It’s black”… REALLY!!! At that time my face writhes in agony as I realize I’m about to dive into the deep, dark abyss of black bags to look for Mable’s needle in the proverbial stack of luggage.

So as I continued to think about this universal invasion of the black bags, my mind began to drift towards the dark side. I became curious as to what was the favorite luggage color of bag thieves? The answer was shocking…basic black.

I found an article by Bob Arno, author of “Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams While Traveling. The article said that when police arrested a Phoenix couple for baggage theft from the Sky Harbor International airport, almost every one of the roughly 1,000 stolen bags found at their home, was black.

He further remarked by saying: “Stealing black bags is a snap. If the thief is caught red-handed by the bag’s owner, he only has to say ‘Sorry, it looks just like mine.’ And he’s out of there, scot-free.”

I always hear travelers explain: “Well Black won’t show the dirt.”

Ok fine, but that logic doesn’t stop you from buying a white pair of sneakers, does it? People, it’s a piece of luggage  meant to offer a utilitarian way of transporting your underwear. Which by the end of the trip will be dirty. So I ask you, do you travel with all black undies so they don’t show the dirt?

Because Tim and I have to transport a lot of work supplies, we don’t travel light. It looks like we are running away from home and it’s not uncommon for us to travel with four large hard-sided bags, two carry-on bags and two backpacks. We have been told that we stand out in a crowd because our multi-hued ensemble looks like the Easter Bunny puked all over our luggage. Sorry, but we swear by colorful luggage.

lots of colorful luggage

Elise & Tim’s colorful collection of luggage.

It is true, when we shop for a bag we look for the brightest, boldest color available. I want to be able to quickly locate my bag. Whether it is coming off the luggage carrousel in the airport or it is a part of the mélange of bags lined up in the cruise ship terminal, the sooner I spot my bag, the sooner I can relax knowing all of my ‘gear’ has arrived.

As you know from my previous article — “Some Like it Hard” — we are also hard-sided luggage fans. It can’t be too hard or too bright for me. And while we are at it, let’s add into the mix — CHEAP.

We typically pay less than $100 per bag and we frequently shop at the discount department store chains like TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Ross. Now I know what you are thinking… ‘Why wouldn’t professional travelers invest in high-end quality bags with lifetime warranties?’

Well, to start, our luggage typically travels on a plane or cruise ship. It is rare that our bags get damaged while sitting in the closet.  So, before you file your damage claim with the manufacturer, you need to identify the perpetrator of the damage. Typically manufacture warranties only cover manufacture defects. The loving, gentle caresses bestowed upon your case by the under-paid, under-appreciated airport baggage handler are not going to be covered by most manufacture warranties.

Additionally, our schedule does not warrant the three weeks (or more) it may take to send our bag to a repair center and wait for its return. So, we chalk up this unpleasant annoyance to just being a part of the job hazard. When damage (beyond our standard home repair of Gorilla Tape and super glue) happens, we hop in the car and drive to TJ Maxx (or similar) and buy another bag. Once back home, we celebrate the arrival of our brightly-colored, new member of our family, with a tasty beverage.

Have we ever filed a damage claim with the airlines? No. However, if you are so inclined, give it a try. If the airlines can’t repair your bag (which is the cheapest option for them), you may be entitled to a reimbursement based on the value of the bag minus its depreciation. If you calculate that the airlines reimbursement value exceeds the value of your time and sanity — go for it!

Bob Hope once said “I love flying. I’ve been to almost as many places as my luggage.”

Venice water taxi

Luggage in a water taxi on route to Venice. * Photo: Elise Lentz

Join us next time when we will share some tips on increasing the odds of you getting your colorful luggage back after the airlines have sent it on an itinerary that is different than yours.


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First Small-Ship Cruise

Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise

By Ted Scull.

Heading into my senior year in college, I had one empty slot to round out my final academic schedule. Sitting with a good friend one day, we both decided to study Russian, the language. We were bound for Europe in the months after graduation, and the professor, though known to be a tough taskmaster, also had a great reputation.

At the end of the first day of class when we had been introduced to the Russian alphabet and how the letters were pronounced, Dr. B. gave us our assignment. Be prepared for a quiz, and if you passed to his satisfaction, you could continue, otherwise you will have to find another course to complete your credits.

We attacked the task with relish and stayed up half the night testing each other, and the next day we returned to class and passed muster. A few fell by the wayside.

The language study included quite a lot of Russian history and politics, and I became so intrigued by the world’s other superpower, I decided to plan a trip there. After graduation from college, I had six weeks between a summer job and starting an academic year abroad in Paris. My friend Bob planned a motorcycle trip deep into Eastern Europe, and we would rendezvous in Paris in October.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Russian riverboat AMUR, named after a river in eastern Siberia.

Heading off to Europe

After graduation, I sailed over on the German liner Hanseatic and connected to the boat train for Paris where I stashed my belongings, those not needed for traveling east. At Gare de L’Est I boarded an overnight train for Prague, the start of a month and a half of travel. The next day, while I was beginning lunch in the restaurant car, we made a stop at Pilsen. Cartons of Pilsner beer came aboard, my favorite foreign beer at home.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Prague (Praha) Central Station. * Photo: Ted Scull

Arriving at Prague Central Station late in the day, I had failed to look up where my hotel was located. So, I showed the taxi driver the name, Esplanade, and we took a strange meandering route arriving at my destination about 15 minutes later. When I entered my hotel room, I looked out the window and what did I see – the railway station just two blocks away.

I stayed two full days, seeing the city on foot, and while a beautiful and intriguing place, it had nowhere near the bustle and excitement of Paris. The train to Vienna took just four hours and there I teamed up with another college friend and his new wife for a Danube River cruise all the way to the Black Sea and onward by overnight ship to Yalta.

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Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise: Vienna & Boarding the Riverboat

All travel from now was through Intourist, the Russian government travel agency. One either picked the tourist or first-class level and the hotel charge included three meals a day. It was only permitted to stay in cities on the Intourist list, and the major ones had a limit of five days. Yalta, an inexpensive resort town, permitted up to four weeks. For travel between most cities, you could choose to fly or take the train.

First Small-Sip Cruise

Russian riverboat AMUR at a landing along the Danube, * Photo: Ted Scull

Two nights in Vienna revealed a stunning city of art, music and architecture, and its lively atmosphere would be hard to match in the Czechoslovakian, Yugoslavian, Romanian and Bulgarian cities in route to the Black Sea.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Vienna where private palaces and grounds are opened to the public. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Soviet-owned riverboat Amur (named after a river is eastern Siberia) we boarded had been built on the Danube as one of a pair, qualifying as war reparations for the damage done to Russia in WWII. Its purpose was to bring foreign currency to an economically struggling Russia. The riverboat was white with a red stripe along the main deck and hammer and sickle on the funnel.

Passengers occupied three decks, one full deck of windowed outside twin-bedded cabins with private facilities, and a second higher deck with more cabins, an observation lounge, large windowed dining saloon, and a bar. A wraparound promenade allowed complete circumnavigations. Open space included a large portion of the top (navigating) deck and a small area at the bow one level below.

Danube River

The Danube River & the Black Sea.

Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise: Settling In

My first riverboat, fairly new and seemingly well-maintained, was a pleasant surprise, but then I had no idea really know what to expect. Upon casting off, we had some 60 passengers, about half capacity but then it was near the season’s end.

Dinner, however, got off to a shaky start. We were amongst the last to board, and there was no place for us to sit together at the long, shared table. As we knew no one and heard no English spoken among the others, we stood there looking helpless. Eventually one of the stewardesses came to our rescue, and I launched into my first attempt with Russian. She smiled patiently and moved around some chairs and set up a table for three off to one side. After that we would be assigned seats together at the main table. We did meet a few of the European passengers, but overall, not much English was spoken.

The food was decent and forgettable: soup, some sort of meat (occasionally fish), potatoes, and a vegetable for lunch and dinner. Breakfast offered a dollop of large lump red caviar, bread and a boiled egg. Drink choices were soda, beer and wine.

Our ports were Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, Iron Gate (passage), Giurgiu, and Ismail.

The Iron Gate

The Iron Gate today has been tamed by a dam and locks.* Photo: Ted Scull

The real excitement began the next morning when we were underway. I had never sailed along a major river before, not even in a small boat, and this river was just amazing, taking us from Central Europe through the Balkans to the Black Sea, from democracies to Communist dictatorships. The era was the height of the so-called Cold War — for some, us against them, but it was more complicated than that. One could not simply say that Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania could be lumped together willy-nilly or that all four felt the same toward Moscow, capital of Russia and the Soviet Union.

Communist propaganda

Communist propaganda showing a heroic worker shoveling land mines marked US. * Photo: Ted Scull

RELATED: Mother Russia River Cruising.  by Ted Scull

Tricky Navigation

Back to the Danube. We were going with the flow and moving rather fast. From time to time we came up behind slower traffic such as powered barges and others that needed a tug to push or pull the load. They needed to be overtaken, and at the same time make sure there was enough room to pass, and taking into account the bends in the river, plus if anything was coming upstream.

First Small-Ship Cruise

A twin funnel sidewheel towboat down bound on the Danube. * Photo: Ted Scull

Barges and tows moved very slowly, and for the most part we were faster, bigger and more maneuverable. Cargoes consisted of coal, iron ore, rock, gravel, petroleum products, lumber and grain.

Following a few meets and overtakings, I began to realize that people actually made their homes on the barges. Clothes lines had laundry drying, some carried bicycles, and others an open deck for relaxing, attractively surrounded by plants.

Our vessel had an illustrated booklet of national flags so we could understand where the traffic came from or was going to. The Rhine-Main Canal was not open yet so southern Germany was as far inland as one could go.

During the day we passed the upbound sistership Donau with an exchange of whistles. Curiously, there were no cheers or waves between the sisterships, just people lining the railings. And we never saw another riverboat.

First Small-Ship Cruise

AMUR’s sistership DONAU (Danube) heading upriver. * Photo: Ted Scull


Our first port was Bratislava, a major city in Czechoslovakia, and before that a longtime German city with the name Pressburg. The Ottoman Empire attacked many cities along the Danube using it as the conquering route inland, but Pressburg never fell.

Because we were the only native English-speaking passengers on the boat, we were pretty much on our own, so we made our own way from the landing to the attractive city center and main square, churches that dated to the 14th and 15th century. Making a loop, we passed through small squares and along narrow lanes that led to wide boulevards. A fortified citadel towered over the city, but then there was not the buzz there is today.

Budapest (Two Cities)

Budapest was altogether different. Originally two cities, Buda and Pest were separated by the Danube, with the former overlooking the more important side with an imposing gothic-style Parliament modeled after the British counterpart fronting on the river.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Gothic-style Parliament building, modeled after the Btitish Parliament fronting on the Danube at Budapest. * Photo: Ted Scull taken aboard riverboat AMUR

Impressed by this architecturally rich city, we set out from the Pest side where riverboats dock today. Once a wealthy city, Budapest built the first subway in Continental Europe, had the first public telephone system and first telephone exchange, and stimulated by an order from the Parliament builders, the first mass production of light bulbs.

We zigzagged amongst the monumental buildings, many in Art Nouveau style, crossing to Buda on one suspension bridge to then climb up to the medieval battlements to a viewpoint overlooking the Danube. Winding back down, we took in the famous Gellert Hotel and its spa to then to cross back over a handsome suspension bridge decorated with tongue-less lion statues. The architect was said to have committed suicide when he saw the empty mouths at the opening ceremony.


For the stop at Belgrade, Yugoslavia’s capital, Marshal Tito, the dictator, did his best to keep the Soviet Union at bay. We tied up in a small cove off the main channel and had a bit of a climb to reach the city center. The city has foundations of many previous incarnations.

Belgrade experienced 115 major battles, and since Roman rule, has been completely destroyed 44 times, had 40 different names and served as a capital of five different states. It was a bit much to even try to take but a superficial overview in the time allotted.

First Small-Ship Cruise

It’s a bit of a climb from the Danube to the center of Belgrade. * Photo: Ted Scull

Drama at the Iron Gate

Continuing on down the Danube, we next came to the Iron Gate, a dramatic series of gorges created by the Transylvanian Alps crossing the river. The Danube changes its character to a rapidly flowing torrent with waters roughed up by its narrowing and dropping fast enough to create dangerous rapids. Our pace quickened, and I could sense tension in my body. To the left we passed a pair of steam locomotives standing by to haul the upriver traffic. Now, for safety reasons, that traffic had stopped to permit the downriver traffic to pass.

Today, the rapids have now been tamed by dams and locks providing safe navigation and hydroelectricity. The passage is scenic and safer but no longer genuinely dramatic.

Welcome to Romania (Not)

Cruising overnight, the Amur eased up to a landing marked Giurgiu, a river port with road access to Bucharest, the Romanian capital. Across the river was the port of Ruse in Bulgaria. Our crew had the lines ready to hand over to the Romanian receivers but they just stood there looking at us. With our boat now alongside the floating landing stage, the captain ordered the crew to jump ashore and tie up the boat.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Landing station at Giurgiu, Romania before troops arrived to prevent going ashore. * Photo: Ted Scull

The men hesitated, and then without any warning, a contingent of Romanian soldiers marched around both sides of the terminal and stood at attention. A Romanian officer yelled something across to our captain, now standing outside the pilothouse, first in Romanian (a Romance and not a Slavic language). There was silence, and the Romanian officer gave an order, and his troops lowered their weapons then took several thumping steps forward.

That was it, we were not welcome. Our captain rang the telegraph, and we moved off the landing and made a wide arc to dock at Ruse, across the river in Bulgaria.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Ruse, Bulgaria’s most prominent government, a billboard to post portraits of heroic leaders. The red letters are a salute to the 9th of September. * Photo: Ted Scull

Not Wanted

The Romanian demonstration provided an official snub against Russia, something that increasingly became a pattern prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union many years later. As the Bulgarian stop was scheduled for the upriver transit, nothing was planned, so we simply spent a few hours ashore wandering through a sleepy, medium-size Bulgarian river city.

With a full moon rising above the river, we proceeded in the growing darkness, and during the night, the Danube would turn north and then east through Romanian territory. In the morning we eased over to a landing at Ismail, a Romanian port about 50 miles in from the Black Sea.

RELATED:  Cruising the Danube River on the New AMA Magna.  by Gene Sloan.

RELATED:  Beer & Biking on the Danube River with Scenic.  by John Roberts.

Changing from a Boat to a Ship (Small)

The Amur pulled up astern of the small Soviet passenger vessel Kolchida. Those who were leaving here, including our trio, disembarked and walked forward a few hundred feet to the Black Sea ship and boarded for our one-night voyage.

We sailed about an hour later through the marshy, flat Danube Delta. There were lots of birds about and still enough evening light when the ship sailed out into the Black Sea for the overnight sail to Yalta.

The Kolchida on the Danube

The Kolchida.* Photo: Ted Scull

Chess, and the Winner Is …

Some Russians my age approached me asking, in Russian, if I played chess, and when I indicated yes, they set up a table at the stern. About a dozen others, college students returning home, surrounded the two players. Everything happened so fast, with my Russian opponent moving his pieces very quickly. I did not play that way. I concentrated as hard as I could and tried not to take too long, and after about 20 minutes, I had him in checkmate. I was not sure how it all happened. Did he let me win? Anyway, I was rewarded with a beer with the ship now rolling to the Black Sea swells.

Dinner was just passable as I assume all the ingredients had come from Russia, while the riverboat took on stores in Vienna its turnaround port. It would be an introduction to the Russian menus that would little from day to day and eventually became a non-topic. You just ate what was put in front of you. Then I took to my bunk, and in the morning, when I awoke, we were approaching a steep coastal landscape with Yalta sprawled at its base.

Yalta and Beyond

My friends stayed several days, and I remained in a seafront hotel for two weeks, as it was cheap and I could practice my Russian on anyone who would talk to me. My tourist level included a guide and car every five days, so I managed to see the site of the Yalta Conference and the Valley of Balaclava, the location for the charge of the Light Brigade, a battle between the British and Russians.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Ted atop a large hill overlooking Yalta and the Black Sea. * Photo: Tony Milbank

Leaving Yalta, I then another five weeks, traveling independently by train, and in between, a 21-day tour starting out in Moscow and then to Stalingrad (now Volgograd), followed by a two-day paddle steamer voyage to Rostov, Sochi, Kiev, and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

First Small-Ship Cruise

Soviet sidewheel riverboat at a landing on the Volga River. * Photo: Ted Scull

Again, on my own, by train to Riga, Latvia’s capital, Moscow, Warsaw and Paris where, in the latter, I resided for eight months. But that story is for another day.

RELATED:  Danube River Cruise with Aboard the New AMA Magna.  by Gene Sloan. 

RELATED:  Beer & Biking on the Danube with Scenic.  by John Roberts.

Looking Back

My basic Russian came in handy when traveling on trains, trams, buses, seeking directions, ordering meals and having a minimal chat. Visiting the Soviet Union was time well spent, if not unsettling at times.

During the group tour, one member, a young English fellow who spoke fluent Russian, vanished about 10 days into the itinerary, and there was no explanation forthcoming from our guide.

Ted in Red Square

The author in Red Square, Moscow.

On the riverboat between Stalingrad and Rostov, some of us apparently fraternized a bit too much with the Russian passengers. We were relegated to one lounge and sat at separate tables at one end of the dining saloon.

When in Moscow, I meet some students in Red Square, and they invited me to their homes. Later, when I returned to the city by train, I was discreetly handed a message as I walked along the platform warning me that my friends would be arrested if I met up with them again.

Ted in Paris

The author on the Pont Alexandre III, Paris, named after a Russian czar,

Soon after settling in Paris, my friend from college, who shared the Russian language class, came to visit for several days. We exchanged stories and there were plenty. He then sold his motorcycle and headed home. We still connect all these years later.

My six weeks in the Soviet Union and eight months in Paris were life changing. I had grown up quite a bit by the time I stepped onto the pier in New York.

Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise Was Just the Beginning …

Beginning with the Danube just after graduating from college, I became smitten by rivers and river cruising. When I had the time and money, I began to collect them with subsequent travels: Rhine, Rhone, Moselle, Elbe, Soane, Volga, Don, Nile, Yangtze, Mekong, Amazon, and closer to home, St. Lawrence, Ohio, Mississippi, Columbia, Snake and less than an hour’s walk, the Hudson.

Every one is different and has stories galore to tell, and I find them all intriguing in their unique ways.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Pandaw’s colonial design fits well into the Mekong River setting. * Photo: Ted Scull

The growth of river cruising has been a phenomenon, adding a fabulous new way to see our world, and so much of it developed along rivers. They provided routes of discovery, development, conquest, retreat and travel before decent roads and steam railways.

Leisure cruising started first on the Nile in the late 19th century on a river that was the most important geographical factor in the development of early civilization.

Nile River cruise vessel

SS SUDAN recalls the early style of Nile River cruise vessels. 

Modern river cruising has developed so fast, especially in Europe, and the resulting competition has driven innovation and cruise ship-style luxuries. Travelers can still choose between the plain and fancy.

I happen to prefer the riverboats that don’t try to be the be all and end all of the latest luxury cruise package. I like to concentrate on the river, its scenic delights and commerce and to go ashore in ports to see what this river is responsible for.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Today’s much larger riverboats, seen here on Russia’s Volga River. * Photo: Ted Scull

My favorite riverboats have been the 1926-built Delta Queen, built for transportation, then a long life of cruising with a genuine link to the past, the outstanding replica stern-wheeler, American Queen, and Pandaw ‘s fleet of small-size boats with their fetching colonial atmosphere.

I would also be more than happy to sail again in the likes of the Amur, the riverboat that began my story. It gave me the initial entry into a new means of travel and the results are evident. I don’t know what happened to her, but her sister Donau has continued on for decades, most recently housing cyclists who sleep on board and cycle from a different port during the day.

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ted at sea

International Cruising

By Ted Scull.

Years ago before I settled down to gainful employment, I planned a seven-month west-about trip around the world using eight scheduled passenger vessels that flew the flags of a half-dozen countries. Passenger counts ranged from 25 to several hundred, plus most ships carried general cargo. The one exception was the transatlantic liner SS France that counted 2,000 aboard, plus mail but no cargo.

international cruising

One Yank amidst a score of Tanganyikans * Photo: Dr. Ursula M. Hay

The itinerary starting in the US, continued to Japan with stopovers in Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, India, the Seychelles, East and South Africa, England and a return by sea to New York. Some sea voyages were linked by train such as Bangkok to Singapore and Madras (now Chennai) to Bombay (now Mumbai).

During this January-to-July adventure, with the sea portions totaling 70 days, I encountered Americans (Yanks) on only two of the eight ships, one single soul on the French ship SS Laos from Hong Kong to Bangkok, and then as expected, many hundreds aboard the SS France from England to New York.

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Chinese & Japanese

Was that a problem? Not at all, or nearly so, aboard the SS Oriental Pearl on a 10-day passage from Yokohama to Hong Kong. Passengers were Chinese or Japanese and at the first meal, I knew which place was mine as it was the only one set with a fork and knife. I had never used chopsticks but I asked to have the cutlery replaced. Big mistake.

Dressed for arrival, Hong Kong, British Crown Colony. * Photo by the chief steward

While the other passengers pretended not to stare, they couldn’t help themselves. I ended the meal still hungry with food still on my plate. Happily, the Hong Kong Chinese chief steward, who spoke excellent English, rescued me by suggesting I stay back and share dinner and a chopstick lesson with him.

We both had a passion for Scrabble, and with British and American English words and spellings permitted, we played daily when at sea, quick to cover the words with our hands when the ship took to rolling. He won most of the time.

international cruising

Johnny, the Chinese bartender became my companion ashore. * Photo: Ted Scull

The only other person aboard who cared to speak English was the bartender, a young Chinese my age who had worked for the U.S. Army in the Philippines. His exceedingly thick accent took time getting used to, but we spent fun times ashore together in Japanese and Taiwanese ports.

I ate foods that I had never seen before, but mother said try everything once, so I did and much enjoyed the adventure.

Happily, nothing I ate disagreed with me.

Indians (South Asians) 

On an Indian ship crossing the Bay of Bengal (8 days), almost all passengers were South Indians and the Europeans numbered 12, all overlanders my age who were making the well-traveled trek by surface (bus, ship and train) from Australia to Europe. As one was not permitted to cross Burma (Myanmar) by land, they had go by ship if staying with surface travel, including hitchhiking.

international cruising

TSS STATE OF MADRAS, owned by the Shipping Corporation of India operated between Singapore, Malaysian ports and South India (Madras).

All spoke English as did many of the Indians, and we played Scrabble with some of the officers when they were off-duty.

international cruising

The overlanders bound from Australia to Europe gather on the promenade deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

My cabin mate turned out to be a delightful Indian bookstore owner living in Singapore, and we had nighttime conversations before drifting off to sleep.

I could have flown but money and the absence of any cultural experience easily nixed that. These first two ships were complex (to me) foreign floating countries. All in all, a great experience.

One Remote Island Chain

The stopover in the Seychelles, before airport access, required a minimum of two weeks until the next ship appeared, and I learned a lot about how this ever-so-isolated British colonial dependency operated.

international cruising

On the launch between the Long Pier, Mahe, Seychelles and an Indian ship at anchor bound for Mombasa.

The island chain was beautiful but with the only regular news access to the outside world, BBC Radio broadcasts, everything and everyone turned inward and life became a hierarchical interracial playground with the same participants day in and day out. The lucky ones amongst the Europeans had short-term contracts, yet long-term island living seemed suited to some.


The remaining ships were also rich cultural experiences because of those who were traveling mostly for reasons other than pleasure. Colonialism was rapidly receding, and many had left their jobs and home in East Africa and were heading for somewhere to settle.

international cruising

On board a train to Mombasa to meet the ship for South Africa

Where they planned to go to begin a completely new life varied widely, but as most were English-speaking, the favored choices were Britain, South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia or New Zealand. Some had connections in the arrival country and others none at all, but they had to give somewhere a chance. It was uncertain times for many especially if they had young children.

international cruising

Left, one of three cabin mates and social hostess aboard the RMS Windsor Castle from South Africa to England. * Photo: Ship’s Photographer

South Africans Scatter

On the leg from South Africa to England, there were lots of passengers my age who wanted to experience another country, the way I did when I chose to spend a year’s study program in Paris and another acquiring a master’s degree in London. New worlds opened up living on my own in modest digs, and in the first instance, having to cope with another language.

It took time but I thrived with the challenge, and the years abroad encouraged me to keep traveling when time and money permitted and to develop into a quasi citizen of the world.

Crossing the Line Ceremony

During the 18-day passage, I had a lot of great conversations amongst my age group. And as it turned out, being the only Yank aboard, the chief steward thought me an ideal choice to take part in the “Crossing the Line (Equator) Ceremony.” I had no idea what I was in store for but he indicated it would be fun and to be prepared for some roughhousing.

international cruising

Ted being dragged by Bobbies during the Crossing the Line Ceremony.  * Photo: Ship’s Photographer

The four chosen were subjected to being plastered with all sorts of goo during a mock botched surgical operation, reprimanded for imaginary misdoings, seated in a barber’s chair and messed up some more, then catapulted backwards into the swimming pool to be attacked by London Bobbies.

All this was performed before several hundred cheering passengers. One thing I learned from a few sympathetic souls was you only have to partake once, then you are no longer a neophyte. Good to know, and that became handy when I was offered two more “invitations.”

international cruising

Ted and two Rhodesians arriving Southampton, England

What Now?

So what is all this leading to?

Well, when I go abroad now, I want to be truly in the country I am visiting whenever possible, and sometimes that works just fine and other times it can be very limiting when I don’t even know a smattering of the local language. I do okay with French, know railroad German (can get about by train), and understand a bit of Spanish because it is widely spoken where I live. I can at least pronounce the Cyrillic words and that then might reveal the meaning such as recognizing the correct metro stop in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Today, with so many people speaking at least some English, you can often have successful conversations that broaden one’s knowledge of the “neighborhood.”

international cruising

Aboard a Norwegian train, many will speak English. Strike up a conversation. * Photo: Ted Scull

Making Choices

With QuirkyCruise hoping to help travelers find a small ship or riverboat to their liking, one needs to decide how deeply to venture into foreign territory. That means choosing a ship with an itinerary you like; one that may be populated with many foreigners. To broaden the situation beyond a Yank and foreigners, let’s also be inclusive with just the reverse.

Germans Visit the Upper Midwest

Let’s say you are a German who speaks some English and wants to go on an Upper Mississippi River cruise because the largest European nationality that populated parts of the Midwest were Germans. If you have done your homework, you will know that few of the descendants speak German today, because much of that settlement happened in the 19th century. Your facility with English will have to do, and you will be most likely sailing with mostly Americans traveling in their own country.

international cruising

Start a conversation, “What do you think that barge is carrying?” * Photo: Ted Scull

Your quest, if you work at it, will unearth some German heritage but you need to be ready for it to be an American atmosphere on board and likely many, after the initial polite exchange, will not want to bother to develop an ongoing conversation unless your English is pretty fluent. Keep at it, as some will respond, and if you are open minded, you can have a more in-depth experience, with minor hiccups, than if you traveled with an all-German tour group.

Countries Full of English Speakers

Europeans from countries with relatively small populations such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, tend to speak English and many with fluency, and it may only be some of the older generations that don’t.

international cruising

Helsinki: Who speaks Finnish other than a Finn? So they learn English and maybe Swedish from the country next door. * Photo: Ted Scull

For Americans, Canadians, Brits, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders, and many Indians, that opens wide access to these countries, so when you want directions on a street in Sweden, find the right tram in Amsterdam, deal with the post office in India or order a meal in Finland, language will likely not be a barrier, though the name of the local fish may not translate at all.

After feeling comfortable that you are not alone with foreigners who don’t speak your language, you can relax and begin to chat with the locals to get a better understanding of their country. You may have to initiate the conversation, so get used to it.

international cruising

You might start with, “What ship is that?” Answer: Aurora – fired the first shot that signaled the start of the Russian Revolution. *Photo: Ted Scull

Returning to Your Roots

In the English-speaking world, Irish, Australians and New Zealanders, in particular, may have very recent connections to the country of their ancestors, so if they are genuinely interested in their homeland culture, they might think of researching a small ship or riverboat line that does not cater heavily to their nationality.

Small-ship travel can be a shared international experience and with most vessels having open seating, you may pick with whom you want to sit – your nationality or other English speakers. Then when you go ashore in your country of ancestry you are more likely to get more out of the visit than if you only palled around with your country folk aboard and ashore. You will have some experiences that are uniquely all your own.

Some Travelers Never Leave Home

One of my least successful riverboat experiences was sitting at a table (fixed seating) with just Americans, who never discussed what they had seen along the Moselle River or looked ahead to the next stop. It was all minutiae about home. I was traveling alone then and I was trapped. Eventually, someone acknowledged that I did not seem to be having a good time. How right they were, and happily I never faced that crushing confinement again.

A close second took place on a 14-day German riverboat sailing from Amsterdam, then across Germany and up the Elbe to Prague. The itinerary was outstanding but as a policy of fixed seating was in effect for all meals, my wife and I ended up having 42 meals with the same six people. Happily, one couple was a delight but…

international cruising

Happily, most riverboats have open seating and occasional buffet meals as here on the Moselle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luckily, most riverboats offer open seating, and so you can go with your instincts when you are choosing table mates.

My wife and I often stand briefly at the entrance before agreeing on the target table.

Usually, we have made good choices.

Take Some Initiative Going Ashore

Going ashore is often a group experience, and your cruise may include all the excursions, so it makes monetary sense to join in. Then when you have free time, often before or after dinner, as the boat may be tied up for the night, go ashore again on your own or with your traveling companions and explore a neighborhood a bit away from the ship or sit at a café and take in the passing scene.

international cruising

See that black hole on the right, let’s go exploring after dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Travel to foreign parts can be as rewarding as you make it, and it requires some research to find the combination that delivers the experience you want. For some, it is staying with the foods you like at home, socializing with people just like you and being carefully shepherded so as not to get lost or confused by people who don’t speak like you.

At the other end, open up a bit and test the local food, look forward to meeting others from another country on the ship and ashore.

Don’t be too timid to break out from your comfort zone in a direction that looks interesting.

You may well come back feeling you have truly been somewhere different, and at enjoyed it at your own pace.

international cruising

Mother said, “Try everything once.” I am preparing to. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Father vs Mother

When we traveled abroad as a family, father would say, “Your mother likes to strike up a conversation with complete strangers. She is always talking to people.”

When I became less timid, sometimes I would follow her so I could see what I might learn. After she died, father would say when we were away from home and I struck up a conversation with a stranger, “You are just like your mother.”

By then, even if he was reticent to follow suit, I think he liked that I did because he saw I enjoyed it.

Travel is places and people.

international cruising

Plenty of relaxed people to meet. Now to find a seat. * Photo: Ted Scull

Test the Waters

So, don’t be shy and give it a try — test the waters. Strike up a conversation with someone while sharing a meal or in the seat next to you on the coach. If it does not work the first time, look to a second try. You never know what and who you might be missing out on unless you make a little effort.

For some this is a cliché, but Churchill’s pronouncement that Brits and Yanks are separated by a common language is quite true. That may also include Irish, Scots, Aussies, and Kiwis (New Zealanders). Some expressions may be understood right away if they are in context and some not.

Where’s the loo? She’s wasted and he’s hammered. That’s fair dinkum. Do you wear a singlet?

The mozzies are bad tonight. Crack on. He’s a real whinger. Now archaic, let’s go to the bioscope.

Joining a QuirkyCruise ship

While many lines attract an international mix of passengers, the exact demographics will vary.

Here’s a look at some small-ship lines we cover and very roughly who represents their main clientele.

Line & Dominant Nationalities

American Cruise Lines — North Americans

Aurora Expeditions — Aussies & Kiwis

Australis — Europeans & South Americans

Blue Lagoon Cruises — Aussies & Kiwis

Blount Small Ship Adventures — North Americans

Captain Cook Cruises — Aussies & Kiwis

Compagnie Polynesienne (Aranui) — French, Germans, Aussies & Kiwis

CroisiEurope — French & other Europeans

Coral Expeditions — Aussies & Kiwis

Deep Blue Holidays — English speaking & International

Emerald Waterways — Aussies & Kiwis

Gota Canal Steamship Company — Europeans

Hapag Lloyd — German-language-only cruises on some ships with one catering to English speakers

Hurtigruten — Norwegian Coastal Cruises & Antarctic Expeditions – Europeans

Lindblad Expeditions — North Americans

Murray River Cruise — Aussies & Kiwis

Pandaw River Cruises — Europeans, Aussies & Kiwis

Patricia Cruises — Brits

Paul Gaugin Cruises — French & English speakers

Pitcairn Island Link — Variety of English speakers

Ponant — French but not when the ship is chartered for English speakers

Riviera River Cruises — British

Scenic — Aussies & Kiwis

Scotland’s small ships: Argyll Cruising, Hebrides Cruises, Hebridean Islands Cruises, Magna Carta Steamship Company, The Majestic Line, Puffer Steamboat Holidays, St. Hilda Sea Adventures, Trinity Sailing — Mostly British

Sea Cloud Cruises — Germans and English-speaking charters

Sea Trek Sailing Adventures — English speaking & International

Silhouette Cruises — English speaking & international

Silolona Sojourns — English speaking & international

UnCruise Adventures — North Americans

Victoria Cruises — English speaking & international

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Happy Holidays from Quirky Cruise

Happy Holidays from the QuirkyCruise Tribe

by Heidi & Ted. wouldn’t be what it is today with our tribe of excellent contributing writers. They’re a well-traveled and experienced group with impressive pedigrees, a flair for writing and many years plying the world’s rivers, lakes, coastal areas and oceans on small-ship cruises under 300 passengers.

A big big thank you to all of them wherever they cruising this holiday season!

Happy Holidays from Quirky Cruise

Happy Holidays from Quirky Cruise

And as a gift to you…
Our experts share their favorite small-ship cruises.
Enjoy! And Happy Traveling in 2020!
Happy Holidays from Anne

Anne Kalosh

Anne Kalosh

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I love small ships because they’re able to go to the most interesting places without impacting the environment and they attract the most interesting passengers — people traveling with a purpose.

My favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

I like them all! 

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

  • Climbing the mast on Star Clipper. I was scared to death, but a handsome officer came along to help.
  • Crunching through the ice in the otherworldly atmosphere of Antarctica aboard A&K’s Explorer (now gone).
  • Nudged against a riverbank in Cambodia where kids jumped rope beneath my AmaDara balcony.
  • Stepping back centuries from Kristina Regina at the Solovetsky Monastery in the White Sea.
  • Dazzled by the colored lights and glinting gold of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on Aegean Odyssey.
  • Hiking amid puffins on Fair Isle from Clipper Adventurer.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

I love sharing my enthusiasm for small ships and am thrilled to be among thoughtful and inspiring writers like Heidi, Ted, Peter Knego, Ben Lyons and so many others.

Tell us about YOU!

I’m a long-time editor for and I freelance for many others.

Anne’s articles for (some of them!)

Mekong River Cruise Adventure with AmaWaterways

Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators Voluntarily Ban Heavy Fuel Oil

More of Anne’s articles here …


John Roberts at the Holidays

John Roberts

John Roberts

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I really enjoy the intimacy and flexibility. You are more likely to meet like-minded travelers who are seeking immersive experiences and regard the vessel as merely a way to get there. The atmosphere is more conducive to meeting people and creating new friendships.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • My favorite experiences have been with UnCruise Adventures (I have taken five expeditions with them) because the guides and crew are so passionate about wildlife and conservation, and the program offers so many thrilling activities that adventure-seekers would love.
  • Avalon Waterways is an amazing line, with especially outstanding sailings on their small ships in Southeast Asia.
  • AmaWaterways is my top river line for exploring historic European waterways like the Danube and Rhine. They offer a great wellness program and wonderful cuisine and service onboard.

My favorite small-ship cruise memory is …

I sailed on Avalon Myanmar along the Irawaddy River. This 36-passenger ship offered an amazing experience visiting such a remote and exotic place. The people are so warm and inviting and the children just precious, curious and an overall delight.

We had a similarly outstanding experience on Avalon Siem Reap sailing the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam. We can’t wait to return. We learned so much about the culture and history on these voyages.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise? has been a great outlet for me to tell the stories of my travels and adventures in fun ways using my voice. Plus, the story designs encourage the use of a lot of photos and videos, so readers get a lot of information and can get a true feel of what the experience on a voyage will be like for them.

Tell us about YOU!

I write for Porthole magazine, Cruise Travel magazine, Cruise Passenger magazine in Australia, Travel Age West, Cruise Fever, Cruise Addicts and my site In The Loop Travel, among others. I also have a fun YouTube channel that features a lot of trip highlights and ship tours. Follow me on TWITTER @ InTheLoopTravel & INSTAGRAM @ LoopTravelPics.

John’s articles for (some of them!)

Active European River Cruises

Sporty New Zealand Cruise

More of John’s articles here …


Happy Holidays from Gene Sloan

Gene Sloan

Gene Sloan

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

To me, the travel experience is always richer and deeper when you’re in a small group. Small ships are more intimate, and they can get you more off-the-beaten-path.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are ….

  • I’m a big fan of UnCruise’s super-small vessels in Alaska, which can get you deep into the wilderness of the region far from the tourist hordes in Juneau and Ketchikan. They carry Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring. They’re not the newest or snazziest ships, but that’s not what matters in a destination like that.”
  • I also love Windstar. They’ve got this wonderful collection of small vessels that go to both mainstream and off-the-beaten-path places all over the world. Former Seabourn executive John Delaney has done a great job with that line since he took over in 2016. He’s really expanded the itinerary offerings, and he’s also overseeing a major update of the ships, which all are around 30 years old. For the record, these mostly are vessels in the 150 to 200 passenger range. What John has done in keeping these small ships alive is great news for the small-ship lover.
  • I also will give a shout-out to tiny Adventure Canada, which offers expedition-style cruises in the Canadian Arctic each summer. The ship they charter for the trips isn’t fancy. It’s the old Ocean Endeavour, which dates to the early 1980s and is about as no-frills as it gets. But the breadth and depth of the team of onboard experts and guides that they put together for the sailings is stunning. They really know Arctic Canada — including the fabled Northwest Passage — like no other company. 

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

Bumping through the ice in the Arctic Sea above Russia on a small but rugged Hapag-Lloyd Cruises expedition ship. You feel like you’re a million miles away from the world.

Also, sailing through the Caribbean on a Star Clippers sailing ship. I love the feeling of being under sail, experiencing the awesome power of the wind. Star Clippers ships also visit some wonderfully out-of-the-way places in the Caribbean that are off limits to bigger ships.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

QuirkyCruise focuses on small vessels that often are overlooked by the mainstream travel media but shouldn’t be. I truly love the opportunity to bring attention to some of these lesser-known cruise offerings, which often are wonderful experiences. QuirkyCruise also gives its writers a lot of freedom in their writing.

Tell us about YOU!

I’ve written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. These days I mostly write for The Points Guy, the fast-growing travel site that points-and-miles expert Brian Kelly started about a decade ago as a blog (it now has an editorial staff of over 40 people and 7 million unique visitors a month). I’m also writing quite a bit for Afar Magazine, both print and online. On social, you can follow my cruise travels on my Twitter page and Facebook page.

I’ve sailed on nearly 150 ships and have served as a cruise expert for The Travel Channel. I’ve written travel guides for Frommer’s and my work has appeared in more than 70 outlets. I’m the proud winner of a Lowell Thomas Award (Society of American Travel Writers) and a Gold Prize Award (North American Travel Journalists Association).

Gene’s articles for (some of them!)

Sailing to the Canary Islands with Sea Cloud

Viking River Cruise in the Ukraine

More of Gene’s articles here …


Holiday Greetings from Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I love small ship cruising because (often) it is all about using the ships as platforms to reach areas that are otherwise inaccessible. There also develops  a wonderful sense of community on smaller ships — an element that I think many first-time small-ship cruisers overlook or don’t expect.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • A “footloose” hiking cruise through Scotland on the Hebridean Princess is absolutely one of my favorite cruise experiences. I love the charm of the ship, and it fits perfectly into the destination.
  • I love what Windstar is doing on many levels. Sailing on the Wind Star around Tahiti with the sails up… a spectacular combination.
  • I’ve always had a soft spot for the ships of SeaDream dating back to when they were the Sea Goddesses. They were trailblazers in the small-ship industry and the ships have actually gotten better as they get older.

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

Undoubtedly my first trip to Antarctica has to stand out — I can still clearly remember my first ice berg, my first King Penguin, etc. My highlight from that trip: spending 4 hours just cruising through thick ice south of the Antarctic Circle. It was for me — as a ship’s officer used to larger ships — a real eye opening moment in what was possible.

Why do you like writing for

I enjoy helping to bring attention to many of  these smaller operators. I love the diversity in the cruise industry and want there to be more and more of these smaller ships and operators, so anything I can do to help bring attention to them, the better.

Tell us about YOU!

I was thrilled to make the Seatrade 20 under 40 list!

Ben’s articles for (some of them!)

Barge Cruising in France

An UnCruise Adventure to Alaska

More of Ben’s articles here …


Seasons Greetings from Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

There is no better way to see the world than by water and small ships are the ideal way to do it.  As much as I’m impressed with the technology and engineering, I’m not fond of the crowds, amusement parks, casinos and the whole over-the-top aspects of modern mega ship cruising.

Smaller ships enable travelers to mingle with and get to know like-minded people in an intimate setting and not overwhelm the places they visit.  They also can get into more remote ports that are not yet spoiled by tourism.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are ….

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

Hard to limit to just two! A few years ago on the former Hapag-Lloyd ship HANSEATIC, I enjoyed a rather thrilling zodiac ride only a few feet away from the prow of the moving ship. The first officer was driving the zodiac at exactly the same speed as the HANSEATIC while the ship entered Alaska’s magical Misty Fjords on a brilliantly sunny morning — we were literally in the shadow of the moving bow, bone in teeth lurking within arm’s reach!

Another favorite experience was a nighttime stingray encounter with UnCruises’ SAFARI EXPLORER off Hilo. We gathered in a circle at the surface as the massive rays swam up from the depths to feed, gently brushing against us in the process.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

I started writing blogs over 20 years ago, so it is nice to be able to do so again with Perhaps fittingly, my writing style is a bit quirky, so it’s nice to be able to inject a little personality into my experiences when I contribute to Quirky, something that is not always possible when writing for industry trades or more nuts and bolts consumer markets. And, as a cruise fan, I’m so happy there is a site exclusively dedicated to smaller ship cruising.

Tell us about YOU!

My other outlets are USA Today Travel, Cruise Travel Magazine, TravelAgeWest, Ocean and Cruise News, Porthole, Ships Monthly and

I own, which is a website and e-commerce site dedicated to the classic cruise ships and ocean liners broken up at Alang, India in the past two decades, featuring artworks, furniture and fittings that I have rescued.

In 2014, I was the recipient of the Samuel Ward Stanton Lifetime Achievement Award from the Steamship Historical Society of America for my contributions to the world of ocean liners and cruise ships.

Peter’s articles for (some of them!)

Great Lakes Cruising Aboard Victory I

Lindblad Adventure in Baja California

More of Peter’s articles here …. 


Happiest Holidays from Judi Cohen

Judi Cohen

Judi Cohen

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

Because they are not big!! I enjoy getting to know the other passengers and the crew, the casual style for meals, and the opportunity to see and learn about our close encounters in places many larger ships might not be able to visit.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are …

Spending Christmas and New Years aboard the Pandaw Kalaw in Myanmar with only 18 guests including some friends and my family. Partying with the crew and captain into the wee hours under the stars along the Irrawaddy was just magical.

Many memorable moments on UnCruise in Alaska when the captain turned the boat for a pod of Orcas. Breathtaking moments approaching the glaciers and watching global warming in action (sadly) as massive sheets of ice and snow collapsed into the water around our skiff.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

QC is a treasure chest of interesting and current information on small-ship cruises. Writing for Heidi has allowed me to connect with like-minded small-ship cruise lovers and share my first hand off-the beaten-path experiences.

Tell us about YOU!

My website is and I also write for, Food Wine Travel Magazine and Travel World International Magazine. Follow me on Instagram & Twitter @TravelingJudi.

Judi’s articles for (some of them!)

Brahmaputra River in India

Antarctica on a Russian Research Vessel

More of Judi’s articles here …


Sarah says Happy Holidays

Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon

Sarah GreavesGabbadon

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

Because it combines the convenience and many of the amenities of modern cruising with the intimacy and romance of sailing. And when a small ship enters a port with a couple of hundred passengers or fewer, I believe you get a more authentic experience of the destination. Because when 3,000+ people disembark in any given place, there’s no way it can remain unchanged!

What are your favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax)?

My favorite small-ship cruise memory is ….

My circumnavigation of Iceland on Windstar last summer was unforgettable. I was awed by the beauty of the landscape and discovered that I’m a natural-born hiker!

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

I appreciate that the site is run by editors who truly care about the subject and spreading the word about small-ship cruising.

Tell us about YOU!

You can follow my globetrotting, fitness and shopping adventures on my website and on my @JetSetSarah social media channels. I’m kind of a big deal on Instagram! 😉

Sarah’s articles & videos for

Iceland Circumnavigation with Windstar (article)

Iceland Cruise Excursions (video)

Iceland Cruise ABCs (video)

JetSet Sarah Takes the Polar Plunge (video)


Randy Mink

Randy Mink

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I love small-ship cruising because, as in real life, I can’t deal with big complicated things.

My favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • Scenic (Europe rivers)
  • Iceland ProCruises
  • Latin Trails (Galapagos)

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

I loved sharing a Galapagos cruise with my veterinarian daughter. There were only 16 people onboard Latin Trails’ yacht-like Sea Star Journey, and three were dad-daughter groups, including two Australians with their 83-year-old dad.

On my circumnavigation of Iceland, I treasured the free time I had to poke around the little port towns — peeking into backyard gardens, talking to Icelandic ponies on the other side of the fence and just getting a sense of how people live in this isolated country at the top of the world.

Why do you like writing for

I like writing for because I feel I’m part of a community.

Tell us about YOU!

In everyday life, I am editor of Cruise Travel Magazine, which has been published since 1979.

Randy’s articles for (some of them!)

Galapagos Islands Cruise

Circumnavigating Iceland with Iceland ProCruises

More of Randy’s articles here …


Seldon Ink says Happy Holidays

Lynn & Cele Seldon

Lynn & Cele Seldon

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

We prefer the intimacy of a smaller group of like-minded travelers. And the ease of everything from embarkation to excursions to less choice. We also love the shared experience with the other passengers. And we love getting to know the staff and crew. It usually adds to the experience.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are ….

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are …

We loved exploring the nooks and crannies of Cuba while circumnavigating the island with International Expeditions. It was the perfect way to immerse ourselves in the culture, from visiting a local school house to exploring the prison where Fidel and Raul Castro were held. One of our favorite memories was going to the Tropicana in Havana on New Year’s Eve and celebrating with the incredible music, costumes, dancing, and, oh yes, the Cuba Libres!

Kayaking amongst the crystal-blue glaciers of Fords Terror in Alaska with Alaskan Dream Cruises is also a memory we will not soon forget.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

We love sharing our experiences and spreading the gospel of small-ship cruising with others.

Tell us about YOU!

We also write for Cruise Travel magazine; Porthole; AAA Carolinas GO Magazine; AAA Carolinas Traveler; Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and Follow us on Instagram @SeldonInk and on our site:

Lynn & Cele’s articles for (some of them!)

Alaska with Alaskan Dream Cruises

Cuba with International Expeditions

More of Lynn & Cele Seldon’s articles …


Happy Hols from Elise

Elise Lentz

Elise Lentz

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

If you’re reading this post, chances are, you are an avid fan of quirky cruises, and a member of the small-ship cruising community thus sharing a like-minded approach to travel. We tend to thrive on the ways small cruising gives us the ability to more easily interact with and get to know our fellow cruisers. I love being able to access unique and remote ports of call that only small-ship cruising can offer.

My favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • Tauck’s River Cruises are great for chartered groups. The tour operator staffs the riverboats with their own tour leaders and cruise director, and packages the excursions and programs specific for group travel. The food gets great reviews and the ability to easily venture off the boat for independent exploration is a definite plus.
  • Ponant ships offer chic accommodations and smooth sailing. The line is continuing to expand their fleet so some of the ships are “hot off the presses.” This line offers a cruising clientele with an International flare and the ships present themselves with a sleek/modern design.

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

When I was first introduced to the QuirkyCruise family, I remember seeing a post from Ted Scull about a Panamanian indigenous group, the Embera. When I reflect on one of my favorite small-ship cruise memories, my numerous visits to this beautiful and amazing group of people, always rises as #1.

My voyages to the Darien were onboard the Le Levant (also previously known as the Tere Moana). The Darien is so remote; there are only a small number of cruise/tour operators that are able to arrange these visits.

Why do you like writing for

Writing for QuirkyCruise has allowed me to share some of my behind-the-scenes’ drama that happens while working in the travel industry. I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t change it for the world. So, thanks to you, the loyal fans and readers of QuirkyCruise, for your continued support of QuirkyCruise and its contributing writers.

Tell us about YOU!

Want to hear what others have to say about us?  Visit our website at Global Tour Management. Tim and I also teach for the International Guide Academy (IGA); check out their website if you have an interest in becoming a tour leader.

Elise’s articles for (some of them!)

Packing Tips: Some Like it Hard

Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 12)

More of Elise’s articles …. 


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Ship Vs. Boat

The Ship Vs. Boat Debate

By Ted Scull.

Does it matter?

Some people can get pretty worked up about the designation. I think it is all fun, because language is fun, and the proper use of language is important for communicating. So, I enter the fray.

Let’s play with the topic a bit before we get to the defining details about what is that floating object or moving vessel out there in the bay.

Vessel is a pretty neutral term that may apply to both — boat or ship — though the word seems a bit archaic and has other meanings.

My First Ship

I probably saw my first ship (and no doubt about it being a ship), when I spied the three stacks of the Queen Mary from the Lincoln Tunnel helix as she (note the feminine and more later about that) was sailing to off Europe.

Ship Vs. Boat

RMS Queen Mary is sailing down the Hudson in the mid-1950s on a five-day crossing to England. * Photographer not known

We were about to drive under the Hudson River (also known as the North River in maritime circles) and on up the coast en route to Woods Hole on Cape Cod and board the boat to Nantucket, arriving three hours later into a harbor full of boats, though not looking at all like ours.

Yes, a long sentence for what was then a very long drive.

Then Steamers

To confuse things a bit, the boats to Nantucket back then were often referred to as steamers or in New England lingo – steamahs. Though some people called them ferry, and indeed it was taking people and vehicles over and back between the mainland and the island. But, they did not look like a Staten Island ferry with both ends the same, a design to eliminate having to turn around for the next trip. It had a bow (pointy end) and stern (backside/rear end).

Ship Vs. Boat

Steamer Nobska leaving Nantucket many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

The steamer term came from the steam engine that propelled it as opposed to a diesel engine. The line that operated the steamers was called The Steamship Authority. The last Nantucket steamer was built in 1957, and after that all vessels were diesel-powered. For some, especially nostalgia buffs who loved the old steamers, or simply out of habit, it took a long time for the term steamer to die out.

But, here’s the rub, the Massachusetts-owned line still calls itself The Steamship Authority, and once some years ago simply The Authority, but that was deemed too threatening. So, it reverted to the old name. Today one boat carries an old steam whistle from one of the original 1920s steamers. Yup, there is still pride and a sense of history.

Now most people say ferry or ferryboat or boat. Most locals and summer people would laugh if you said ship.

Why? Size and where it operates. More about that in a bit.

Taking the Boat

Decades ago, a coveted way of asking someone who was planning a trip to Europe was to inquire, “Are you taking the boat or flying?” rather than using ship which it (she) undoubtably was.

Some English or Brits like to use understatement (as do some Anglophile Americans), hence preferred the diminutive word “boat.” If you wanted to argue about it, they might be prepared to add, “Well then when you get to England, what do you transfer to that takes you up to London?”

The Boat Train

Now there can be no argument here, as that term was the official designation of the connecting railway service from the dock in Southampton or Liverpool. So why not “ship train” after disembarking from a ship?

I have no idea, and I think boat train rolls off the tongue more easily.

Ship Vs. Boat

Standing alongside the Boat Train from Southampton up to London. * Photographer unknown

Another peculiarity with the English is that any train bound for London is always a train up to London, no matter if it started out in Edinburgh and traveled 393 miles south to London. Trains were either up or down and that had nothing to do with the compass direction. The capital city liked a sense of importance.

Do come up to London to see us before you go back down to your residence.

The terminology was also exported to the colonies. If you arrived at Mombasa, Kenya’s main port, the train to Nairobi (the capital) was officially known in the timetables as “UP 1” and from Nairobi to Mombasa “Down 2.”

Now some people thought, with Mombasa at sea level, you climb up 5,889 feet to reach Nairobi. Yup, but no that is not the reason.

Back to Boats & Ships

Now to fresh water and salt water and boats and ships. The Queen Mary, seen many moons ago when I was a kid, is definitely a ship or a liner as in ocean Liner.

The present Queen Mary 2 is also a ship and a liner and a cruise ship.

She’s a ship, apart from easily qualifying size, because she is designed to cross the oceans of the world and not on lakes or very far up rivers.

Ship Vs. Boat

Queen Mary 2 sailing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the start of an Atlantic crossing. Photo: Ted Scull

Introducing Liner

She’s a liner because the QM2 sails more than half the year on liner or line voyages mostly between Southampton, England and New York, where most passengers then disembark and continue on their merry way.

She is also built to liner specifications, having a reinforced hull and fairly sharp bow that can cut through heavy seas, often without reducing speed. And she also make cruises, sailing to a collection of ports such as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and once a year on a long world voyage (or cruise) that may be a circumnavigation of the globe or simply a very long itinerary that sails from Atlantic Ocean ports through the Suez Canal to Southeast Asa and comes back home via Cape Town, South Africa.

Again, a long sentence for such an extended itinerary.

Cruise Liner

Some people use cruise liner, and the Queen Mary 2 is both, a true ocean liner and a cruise ship, a term that satisfies many. I accept that grudgingly, because some people use cruise liner for large, sometimes humongous, cruise ships. They participate only in cruises and do not perform regular liner voyages.

You would not want to sail on one of these vessels through heavy seas at the normal service speed, and in fact, the captain would not allow it.

The ship would take a beating from the pressure on the hull at speed, and all aboard would experience the ship slamming into the repetitive walls of water rather than cutting through them.

Salt Water & Fresh Water

So ships are mainly salt water ocean-going vessels, and the term can be applied right down to those with pretty small dimensions.

Vessels that are designed to generally ply bays, sounds, rivers, and inland lakes are usually boats and generally not as large as ocean-going ships. They have flatter bottoms to their hull design to travel in shallow waters, hence, and without stabilizer fins, they would roll from side to side in heavy ocean seas.

However, large lakes can kick up a nasty storm. Look up what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald crossing Lake Superior.

Excursion boats, dinner boats, ferryboats, tug boats all make sense. Ships they are not.

More Confusion…

But what about some of our Quirky Cruise vessels such as American Cruise Line’s American Star and larger American Constellation and Blount Small Ship AdventuresGrande Caribe and Grande Mariner?

Most mariners would argue that their design is primarily for operating on rivers, inland waterways, lakes, and coastal waters and not to cross oceans and seas and are, therefore, boats.

Blount uses ship in its company title, and I have met captains from both fleets that call them ships. It works, sounds more impressive and nobody really minds, not even me. If asked, the captains would probably agree that they are boats.

Ship Vs. Boat

Blount Small Ship Cruises’ is a boat, seen docked at the Chelsea Piers, New York. * Photo: Ted Scull

Well, if you are not a frequent passenger on cruise vessels, whether the gigantic Symphony of the Seas or the diminutive American Cruise Lines or Blount vessels, it seems reassuringly safer as well as easier to say ship.

The huge iron ore vessels on the Great Lakes are ships in size and largely in design, and they have been called lake boats, or lakers, and ships.

Carriers is another frequently used noun, qualified by bulk carrier or even a bulker as they tend to transport single commodities such as grain or iron ore in vast amounts.

So, did you look up Edmund Fitzgerald? After you do, then listen to this haunting ballad about her disappearance. Click on her photo below.

Ship Vs. Boat

Photo credit to:

Expedition vessels that travel up into the Arctic or south to Antarctica are definitely ships even though many are quite small, taking as few as 100-150 passengers. Most are ruggedly designed as oceangoing ships to handle rough seas.

However, if you have crossed the Drake Passage in truly heavy sea conditions aboard one of these small ships, you may have wished to be on something larger. However, larger is not the only answer. The ship’s inherent design is the key to safety.

One Last Thing: Is a Ship a She or an It?

Ships as “she” came from early mariners who saw their ship as protection, a kind of mother figure. The word ship in English is a neutral term, neither masculine or feminine. However, the French use the masculine “Le” as the article in front of the ship’s name such as Le France, the last of the country’s great ocean liners. The country is a “she” — La France.

President Nixon made a speech in France many years ago, and he ended it with what he thought was the patriotic cheer – Vive Le France – and the audience broke out in laughter.

Classic Richard Nixon. * Photo: Politico

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How to Become a Travel Writer

How to Become a Travel Writer

Quirky’s Heidi Sarna interviews the other quirky, Ted Scull, about how he first got started writing.

QC: What was your first writing experience?

TED: My first semi-serious writing got launched, not by choice, during two eight-week summer sessions at a New Hampshire sleepaway camp. We boys had the task of writing a letter home every Sunday before supper. If not forthcoming and signed off on, we did not get fed.

At age 11, it was my first time away from home for more than two nights. Also, I knew only one other boy, a school chum from home. The rest hailed from all over, though mostly the Northeast, and some had very different accents and used strange phrases.

How to Become a Travel Writer

Teddy (then) out of uniform and missing a front tooth. * Photo:: Camp counselor

QC: Was writing a difficult task for you?

TED: I did not find it at all difficult, nor even a chore, as I had lots to say to my parents given nearly everything was new, starting with camping next to fresh-water Lake Winnipesaukee rather than being surrounded by the much more familiar salty Atlantic on Nantucket Island.

I wrote about large spindly spiders called daddy longlegs that sat on the lake’s surface with their bodies high out of the water and the ominous shapes below the surface that were mostly rotting tree branches. I never quite got used to treading water above them, so I mostly kept splashing and swimming.

QC: Any memorable experiences?

TED: A few days into that first summer at camp, we were shown how to paddle an Old Town canoe, and after we got the hang of it, we were let loose in the cove. I had seen a big white steamer pass the entrance to the cove one morning, so I ventured out into the lake to have a look.

Next thing I knew, I heard repeated blasts of a whistle, and I turned to see a big steamer bearing down on me. I don’t recall what I did next but I do remember seeing it list quite a bit as it angled away and almost swamp me. When it passed, I found myself looking up at the passengers on deck while the captain yelled down at me.

How to become a travel writer

Steamer Mt. Washington at close range on another occasion. *Photo: Ted Scull

QC: What happened next and what did you do with that experience?

TED: Well, first off, the counselor was furious, and the ship line phoned the camp. The punishment, as for many infractions, was to stand facing a tree and stay there until it moved.

My Sunday letter started with the story, then I decided, unless I told the whole truth, it was best not to mention it at all, so I saved that sheet for myself and began a fresh one.

QC: Any poignant experiences on land?

TED: The surrounding woods were really thick, and I would not wander into them without a few buddies, and then we did not go far. The counselors warned there were bears about though we never saw one. We probably made too much noise. I saw my first snakes somewhat camouflaged by tree branches, and I was not afraid then as I am now. That’s a story for another time.

QC: Back at school, what provided the next chance to write?

TED: I do not remember what the exact assignments were, other than opportunities to write about our favorite things. Mine were dogs, fish and gerbils.

My first attempt at a murder story came quite easily when Henry, the gerbil, killed Connie, his mate one night. They squabbled but I had no idea of Henry’s ultimate plan. Then one summer we had a nor’easter that knocked out all power for a couple of days. To save the fish we placed the tank next to the fireplace and kept the hearth lit 24 hours a day which meant alarms going off in the middle of the night. That was heroic fun to write about and the fish survived.

How to Become a Travel Writer

Our second dog Dessie. * Photo: Helen S. Scull

QC: What about in high school?

TED: I had an English teacher who made our class write 300-word essays three times a week for an entire semester. Sometimes, he gave us a topic and sometimes not specifically. That was hard and took a lot of time away from other after-school fun, so writing was a mostly chore. But I guess it was good training.

He must not have had much of a life with all those papers to correct. He put red dots above every “i” not dotted. I still think of the punishment that reduced my grade by one letter almost every time I write anything by hand. I still forget some dots, then remember to go back and finish the job.

QC: Did you parents encourage you?

TED: Mother let me know that she kept most of my letters that included periods when I lived abroad in London and Paris with no phone and during shorter stints in other locales during the summer. This took place before cell phones and laptops.

Pop did not like collect calls as I usually ran over his time limit of five minutes, so writing home was the only way to communicate. In those days, I collected my mail once a week from a poste restante, which while in Paris and London was American Express.

How I became a travel writer

Mother and Son. *Photo: Theodore C. Scull

QC: As a great traveler; did that encourage you to continue to write?

TED: Yes, I kept a daily journal when traveling and still do. Mother encouraged me to try selling some of my experiences. When I went into education, I used my summers to travel and wrote about them.

How to become a travel writer

Paris: Pont Alexandre III. *Photo:: Unknown photographer

QC: How did your first published piece come about?

TED: My first published piece transpired when traveling to the Orkney Islands, a rugged archipelago laid out north of mainland Scotland.

I booked passage on the interisland mailboat Orcadia making its rounds from Kirkwall carrying passengers, cargo and the mails to the outlying islands. Our well-being was in the hands of the long-serving purser, a lovely Scotsman.

He sold passage tickets, took reservations for meals and a proper afternoon tea in the restaurant, announced arrival and departure times, and stopped to have a natter when he had the time. He permitted me to tag along as he went about his duties. I had a nice little travel and human-interest story to flog on some publications when I go home, but where to start?

Hoiw I became a travel writer

Mailboat ORCADIA at Kirkwall, Orkney. *Photo: Ted Scull

QC: So how did you go about that?

TED: A good friend of mine subscribed to the Christian Science Monitor, and she gave me the travel editor’s name and contact address. So, I sent my piece in two versions — long at 2,250 words and short at 1,500 words — along with some color slides.

A few weeks later, the travel editor wrote back that he would use the short one, return the long one and send a check for $55. Digitals did not exist then, and many papers did not take color anything, including slides.

How I became a travel writer

Acceptance from the Christian Science Monitor. *Photo: Original letter

QC: What did it feel like to see your name and words in print?

TED: My Christian Science friend (who still is both) phoned me when it came out, and instead of waiting with baited breath for a tear sheet, I rushed down to Hotalings in Times Square, the once hugely popular news agency that stocked scores of daily newspapers from all over the US, Canada and Europe. I was so excited I bought a half dozen copies!

The newsagent smiled and remarked, “I hope to see more of you.” I took it as a kind of a pat on the back, and a week or so later, I had a tear sheet and my very first check for writing. The afternoon tea reference had been deleted as CS followers do not drink tea or coffee or alcohol but the rest seemed to be intact, though somewhat trimmed.

I eventually gave up teaching and went whole hog into the writing business. It wasn’t an easy transition, and the hardest of all was moving from my beloved typewriter to my first word processor. That sorry tale will appear in the next installment.

QuirkyCruise Review



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too much mango

Too Much Mango

By Elise Lentz.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

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

Welcome to the final word in Elise’s monthly series of installments for 2018. Here we go, one last time, following Elise behind the scenes at sea.

A Crappy Story

It’s hard to believe that this is my 12th posting. As I thought about all the stories I’ve shared with you, I’ve realized that writing them has taken me on a yearlong journey down memory lane. I was thinking about a few different travel vignettes that I wanted to write about next, when my focus totally took a different direction.

I was browsing a holiday flyer advertising gift ideas. And there it was, next to the Chia Pet, an ad for Poo Pourri®. My curiosity got the better of me and I had to research this further. I checked out their website that cleverly claims the inventor “hatched” the idea while in a smelly bathroom near Dallas Texas. I chuckled to myself as it made me reminisce about my own bad bathroom memory.

too much mango


It was summertime in PA in the late 80’s. Tim and I and another couple packed up my car to head down to the Jersey shore for a weekend. It was dark outside by the time we pulled into a backwoods gas station to fill up with gas, grab some sodas and use the bathroom.

This was one of those old-school facilities where the bathroom is a unisex room accessed from the outside of the building. You had to ask the attendant inside to get the key to open the door. In order to assure no one walked away with the key, it was normally securely fastened to something large, like a block of wood or a hubcap.

My friend gets the key and bravely makes her way to the bathroom. As swiftly as she entered the room, she ran out even faster, screaming in disgust. She threw the key (still securely attached to its anchor) back at the attendant then ran towards us and jumped into the car.

Once safely inside the car, she proceeded to provide extreme detail of what she witnessed. The picture she painted is best explained as someone taking (what she eloquently described as) a “disco poop.” Keep in mind, this was the 80’s and disco was still around. If you use your imagination and dare to go there, you can paint your own picture of what she must have observed.

Scarred For Life

Her story scarred me for life and to this day, I will never enter a gas station toilet that requires a key (securely attached to a 10-pound weight) and is not located inside the building. Years go by and I continued to pray that I would never have to experience a toilet story that horrific. And then it happened.

So, I’m  with a group getting ready to board a small ship for a cruise through the Panama Canal. We have a shore excursion in Panama City touring the historical ruins of Panama Viejo.

too much mango

Elise transiting the Panama Canal. * Photo: Tim Lentz

We are heading back to the bus to visit the next site when one of my guests, “Grandpa Bob,” approaches me expressing his need to find a bathroom. I knew the only WC on the site was a ¼-mile walk in the opposite direction of the bus. I explained to “Grandpa Bob” that within 20 minutes we would be at the next venue and a toilet would be at his disposal.

I continued to make my way towards the bus, when I realize “Grandpa Bob” is missing. He was traveling with his grandson and I asked him what happened to Grandpa?  In a typical teenage boy response, he shoots me a sideways glance of “who cares” and returns to listening to his music.

I almost reached the bus when I looked behind me to see “Grandpa Bob” running across the field. In the distance behind him, I noticed the outline of a “Porta Potty” positioned behind a tree.  Now I must have been to this same site at least 30 times before and I never noticed that “Porta Potty” before. I greeted  “Grandpa Bob” at the bus, he boarded and off we went to the next site.

Is Grandpa OK?

We now arrived at the museum. I provided the logistics explaining we would use the toilet first then we would tour the museum.  Everyone exited the bus, except “Grandpa Bob.” His grandson walked by me and I inquired “Is Grandpa OK?” This question was met with a roll of the eyes and an indignant shrug of the shoulders.

I got the group situated in the museum and I returned to the bus to look for “Grandpa.” My driver, now with a disgusted look on his face, threw his head towards the back of the bus where the toilet was located.

Now, I need to digress at this point in the story. Anyone in my line of work understands the love/hate relationship bus drivers have with toilets onboard. They “love” to advertise that their bus has one, but they “hate” for anyone to actually use them. Some have even gone so far as to install pad locks on the doors.

too much mango

Locked bus toilet.

So at this time, I walked to the back of the bus and knocked on the door. I asked  “Grandpa Bob” if everything was OK?  I heard some rustling inside and “Grandpa Bob” grunted “I’m OK!”  I advised that I would wait outside for him and as I walked past the driver, I sheepishly glanced his way and whispered “I’m sorry.” 😬 It was at this point I started to realize, this wasn’t going to end well for the driver.

“Grandpa Bob” emerged from the bus. I asked again if everything was OK.  “Grandpa Bob” had sweat rolling down his forehead and replied: “Too much Mango.”

I got “Grandpa Bob” back with the rest of the group in the museum and I proceeded back to the bus to make peace with the driver. That’s when the flood of memories from that traumatic scene of the 80’s gas station toilet poured (flushed?) back into my mind. There was my driver, on his hands and knees in front of the toilet.

Armed with rubber gloves, rags and a large plastic bag, he looked at me with eyes that ached in disbelief. He didn’t speak English, but he didn’t have to for me to understand what was going through his mind. As I sheepishly exited the bus, leaving my driver to deal with the effects of too much mango, I think I heard the faint sound of the Bee Gees playing on the radio.

QuirkyCruise Review



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


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charming older ships

Charming Older Ships

By Ted Scull.

When you are young, you might think something old is not cool and worse, maybe even inferior. Today, with technology changing so fast, it is hard to keep up with what is the newest. And does new automatically mean it is better than something tried and true?

At a relatively early age, I learned what I liked about ships, and most I first encountered were not new, rather middle-aged and beyond. When traveling to and from Nantucket every summer beginning at age eight, the boats we boarded at Woods Hole on the Cape were built before the Great Depression. I loved their old-fashioned stateliness and piercing steam whistle announcing departures and arrivals.

When I went aboard my inaugural transatlantic liner as a teenager, the ship was built well before WWII. At first sight, she was ever so majestic with two tall stacks and with a graceful curve to her hull profile. Her interiors recalled lovely grand hotels I knew in New York and Philadelphia.

In our QuirkyCruise world, I have discussed some of the stately sail-powered tall ships we cover that had early lives as workaday ships rather than as pleasure craft. When their first careers ended because of more modern steamship technology, they found new work as wind-jamming cruise ships, saving them for posterity.

With a handful of engined-powered vessels chosen from our 80-plus reviews, let’s start with those that are old in age and look old. Through many eyes, their presence are distinct reminders of another era when ships like this were commonplace.

charming older ships

VIC 32 – Coal-fired Clyde Puffer takes up to 12 passengers amongst the Scottish isles. * Photo: Puffer Steamboat Holidays

Puffer Steamboat Holidays

Let’s take the tiny Clyde Puffer VIC 32 dating from 1943. She represents an authentic example of a hardworking coal-fired cargo carrier that once numbered in the hundreds, taking aboard almost everything that needed transporting between the Scottish mainland and the islands. VIC 32 and many of her fleet mates even looked old when newly built in the 1940s, as they largely drew on 19th-century design and technology.

While a half-dozen are still afloat, VIC 32 owned by the Puffer Preservation Trust, is the only one taking overnight cruise passengers (12), with additional cabin accommodations occupying space once allocated to freight. Passengers may try their hand at shoveling coal into the furnace and steering the vessel along canals and into scenic lochs.

charming older ships

VIC 32 negotiates a flight of locks en route across Scotland. * Photo: Puffer Steamboat Holidays

Gota Canal Steamship Company

In Sweden, the Gota Canal is a highly scenic 382-mile cross-country waterway constructed in the early 19th century. It connects the capital Stockholm with Gothenburg, the country’s second largest city, using connecting rivers and lakes with the undulating countryside conquered by flights of locks.

The three boats are historic treasures, full of charm and purpose-built to transit the canal, a truly memorable way to see Sweden’s countryside and small towns. The oldest, Juno, was completed in 1874, with Wilhelm Tham following in 1912 and Diana, the newest, dating from 1931.

The boats’ steam engines have long since been replaced by diesels, and the accommodations upgraded for additional comforts, while they retain their heritage look

Read QuirkyCruise co-founder Heidi’s account of her excellent Juno adventure a few summers ago.

charming older ships

Juno sailing across Sweden via the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


In Alaska, AdventureSmith operates the 12-passenger Sea Wolf, first completed in 1941 as the USS Observer, a US Navy minesweeper used for protecting San Francisco Bay. When the 97-foot wooden vessel was decommissioned, she was taken on as a private yacht and ultimately joined the AdventureSmith cruise fleet in 2003.

She operates with a fiercely loyal crew of 5 to 6, and her small size and rugged build allows her to poke around almost anywhere in the Alaska Panhandle.

charming older ships

Sea Wolf cruises Alaska’s panhandle. * Photo: AdventureSmith

The next three companies operate ships that were built over 50 years ago. While they do not necessarily appear old-fashioned, they exude the distinct character of another age.

Hebridean Island Cruises

In Scotland, Hebridean Island Cruises operates a single ship, the 2,112-ton Hebridean Princess, in the manner of a Scottish country house, building on the conversion of a 1964-built car ferry with overnight accommodations.

While the handsome profile remains largely intact, the interior spaces have been remodeled for up to 49 passengers. They occupy cabins that are not numbered but charmingly named after Scottish castles, isles, lochs, and sounds, and each one is individually decorated.

The original observation lounge is fitted with a brick and timber fireplace and flanked by two small side lounges, one serving as the library and the other a cozy setting for afternoon tea or pre-dinner drinks. The Columba Restaurant operates like in a country hotel where couples dine at their own table, friends traveling together at larger ones, and singles fraternize with the officers.

charming older ships

Hebridean Princess’ conversion saved her original profile. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises


Along the Norwegian Coast, the Hurtigruten cargo and passenger service operates daily from Bergen in the south to just beyond the North Cape, calling at over three dozen ports in each direction. Of the dozen ships that hold down the route, one dates from 1965 in the manner of many ships that came before dating back to the 1890s.

The said ship is the Lofoten named for an island archipelago sited off the Norwegian Coast. She measures just 2,621 tons compared to her fleet mates that range up to 16,151 tons. While they all use ramps for loading and unloading the cargo by forklift or driving it onto a vehicle deck, the Lofoten, in the old-fashioned way, crane-loads the cargo stacked on wooden pallets from the pier into the forward hold.

Watching the action is a joyful part of traveling aboard this vessel.

Her public rooms are utterly charming with two forward lounges for reading, playing board and card games and viewing the coastal mountains and seascape ahead, and an aft lounge bar featuring a lovely collection of paintings of earlier ships. She is a true time warp from the 1960s.

charming older ships

Lofoten working cargo north of the Arctic Circle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska Marine Highway

A trio of ships belonging to the Alaska Marine Highway, a vehicle, freight, and passenger carrier that links the Lower 48 states via the inside Passage to Southeast Alaska, and South-Central Alaska to the Aleutian Island chain.

While the Malaspina, Matanuska and Tustumena do not look old inside or out, they are a fine testimony to American shipbuilding, 55 years later providing necessary service to cities and towns with no road access to the outside world.

charming older ships

Malaspina, named after an Alaskan glacier, dates from 1963. * Photo: Ted Scull

Over the decades I have sailed with or at least been aboard all these ships, apart from the Sea Wolf, which I have seen in passing. It’s a lovely collection you might consider when you next want to go exploring.


To recap, here are our favorite ❤️ charming oldies!


Alaska Marine Highway

Gota Canal Steamboat Company

Hebridean Island Cruises


Puffer Steamboat Holidays


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Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

By John Roberts.

Lindblad Expeditions welcomed the newest ship, the 100-passenger, 50-stateroom National Geographic Venture, to its fleet at a ceremony at the historic Treasure Island Pier 1 in San Francisco. My wife Colleen and I joined the inaugural cruise, a quick two-day adventure in San Francisco Bay in early December. The cruise was over much too quickly but gave us a great sense of how wonderful it is to sail an expedition voyage with Lindblad, and in such comfort on a beautiful new vessel.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Lindblad Expeditions founder and CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad tells a little about the Lindblad story during the christening ceremony of the new National Geographic Venture. Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic have had an alliance in cruising since 2004.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Crew line the deck in front of the bridge during the christening alongside the historic Treasure Island Pier 1 in San Francisco. The shiny and new NatGeo Venture, which was built in the U.S. at the Nichols Brothers Shipyard on Whidbey Island in Washington, will sail seasons in Baja California, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.


Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Capt. Andrew Cook — yes, he says he’s proud to live up to his name as a Captain Cook — is master of the vessel.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

There is an open-bridge policy on National Geographic Venture, which means you can stop by to see how the navigation of the ship works.


Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

The bow area is the best spot to enjoy scenic sailing. We all rushed out for our sunset sailaway in San Francisco Bay toward the Golden Gate Bridge.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The bow even has a raised platform in the middle so passengers can better see wildlife in the surrounding waters during the voyage.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The sun is quickly fading in the distance, just past our view of Alcatraz Island.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Capt. Andrew Cook welcomes passengers onboard his spanking-new ship. The lounge area is a comfy space and a natural gathering spot for pre-dinner cocktails and to hear talks from the ship’s field staff and naturalists.


Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

The dining room onboard National Geographic Venture features a buffet for breakfast and lunch. You can find numerous healthy choices, like organic chicken, salads, red and golden beets, and quinoa. There’s also a carving station and you’ll always find sweets to tempt you at the buffet, too.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The open-seating dining room on NatGeo Venture offers a moving window on the world.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

This is my healthy breakfast — an omelet with turkey sausage, some kiwi, yogurt and other fruit.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

I was amazed at my first meal, a lunch that was loaded with goodness from the buffet. I typically have trouble finding healthy choices on most cruise ships but not on National Geographic Venture.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

I chose the rack of lamb for dinner. It was a good pick. The menu also always offers a seafood and vegetarian option.


Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Colleen said this avocado mousse with passionfruit, meringue and hint of beetroot and salt was the best dessert she has ever had.


Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Our cabin had plenty of open shelving, which I found nice to organize and have easy access to my camera equipment and other items.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The bed was fairly comfy in our stateroom No. 217, which has a balcony.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Binoculars are at the ready in the lounge for when wildlife is within sight.


Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Some of your activities take you into chilly waters, and Lindblad Expeditions has you covered with wetsuits.  There’s also a telescope that sits at the front of the lounge so you can peep out on the scenery as you wish.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Or, you can just make like you see something at the front of the ship and sneak off with some more goodies from the snack area. No one will judge you.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

There is a well-stocked bar in the lounge, with cocktails, wines and craft beers at the ready. We found the hotel staff onboard to be unfailingly friendly and good at anticipating passenger needs.


Photo: John Roberts

On Day 2, we headed out for our adventures. The marina at the back of the ship is where you load into Zodiacs.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

We enjoyed a skiff tour around San Francisco Bay with our guide Emily Pickering.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

National Geographic Venture sits off Angel Island in the bay.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The Sun Deck is at the back of the ship. It’s a wonderful place for enjoying the views and it’s also where the morning stretch class takes places each day.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

In the afternoon, we went ashore at Angel Island for a hike at Mount Livermore.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The sunny weather made for ideal hiking conditions on the first day of December.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Nearing the top of Mount Livermore, we can see the skyline of San Francisco and much of the bay.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Two happy hikers enjoying reaching the peak. Our hike was five miles roundtrip.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

We made it back onboard before sunset and settled in with a quick walk around the promenade on NatGeo Venture.


Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Then, it was time to reward ourselves with well-earned brews after a day of thrills. We quickly fell in love with the friendly Sebastian who was always there with a smile — and our beers.


Photo: John Roberts

The author gets another look at San Francisco Bay and breathes in the fresh air aboard the new National Geographic Venture.

Click the photo  ⬆️⬆️⬆️ for John’s VIDEO overview of the Nat Geo Venture!


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Surreal Tour Guide Spiels

Surreal Tour Guide Spiels

By Elise Lentz.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

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

Welcome to the 11th in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story behind the scenes.

From Baloney to Rome: “Hail Caesar”

I have heard of people in near-death situations having out of body experiences. I would often think how surreal that must be to actually witness yourself from a different plane. And then — it happened to me (fortunately not via near-death).

In my college years I worked as a tour guide in a baloney factory. (And that’s no baloney.) Don’t go there; trust me, over the years I heard all of the bad boloney jokes. For those of you who are not familiar with baloney, it’s beef cured in a smoke house — like a sausage. Tourists would visit this rural area of Pennsylvania and want to tour the factory.

Think about it, people vacation and visit the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory, Jelly Belly Jelly Bean factory, breweries and distilleries, and so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a life altering tour of the iconic SPAM® museum and factory. So why wouldn’t you want to add a tour to a Pennsylvania baloney factory as an itinerary highlight of your family vacation?

Surreal Tour Guide Spiels


My job was to walk them through the manufacturing process from conception to consumption. Some days I would give the same tour 10 or more times and my “shtick” soon became very repetitive. It was like I just pressed play and the words would flow from my mouth without me even having to think. And that is when it happened.

I drifted outside of my body and found myself floating above my little tour group. I was looking down, watching myself deliver my “spiel” and looking around the factory grounds contemplating my life and wondering if I would ever totally rid the smell of smoked meat from my hair. That’s when it occurred to me that I could see my mouth moving, but I wasn’t able to hear what I was saying. I freaked out, because I know I inherited what I call the “no-filter gene.” It is a trait that allows me to spew words from my mouth without my brain running it through a filter first. Not exactly sure of what I was saying to these people, but I noticed that my little tour group was laughing. This is not a big deal, except my pre-recorded delivery didn’t offer anything funny at this point in time of the tour.

I decided to force my mind to get back into my body and that is when I realized what I was saying. I was telling them about my college public speaking assignment I just completed. My lecture topic was to demonstrate how baloney is made and I brought visual aids. I built a display smokehouse out of a big cardboard box complete with miniature baloneys hanging in the house. My little tour group was losing it when I explained my miniature baloneys were tampons wrapped in old panty hose. I stapled the “cord” of my tampon baloneys to the roof of the smoke house so my baloneys were hanging in proper smoking form.

Back to the Ships

While working on a cruise ship, I was with passengers who disembarked the ship after a cruise for a tour of the Colosseum in Rome followed by a stay at a hotel. My “no-filter gene” kicked in once again. Things came out of my mouth before my brain could process what I was doing and here is how it all went down.

I had a group of approximately 30 people, 2 of which were single ladies in their 80’s who were traveling together. For this story, I will call then “Marge “and “Betty.” When we arrived at the Colosseum, “Marge” and “Betty” both decided to leave their personal items on the motor coach. Prior to entering the venue, the group stopped at the designated meeting location and all were informed of the time to reconvene in case anyone got separated. When the group finished the tour at the exit of the Colosseum, I noticed “Betty” was missing. I asked her friend “Marge” when she last saw “Betty,” but she couldn’t remember. We exited the venue and went to our meeting location and “Betty” was still M.I.A.

Our company’s policy states if you aren’t at the designated meeting location on time, we assume you left the group and you were on your own to rejoin the group at the next location. Considering “Betty” was alone and in her 80’s, it could have been possible that she was injured or had a medical situation and her wallet and all forms of identification were left on the motor coach. Being concerned for her well-being, I left my group with the local guide and I went back to the Colosseum to find her.

Surreal Tour Guide Spiels

Elise & Tim in Rome

Betty, Betty

In my broken Italian, I explained to a security guard that I was missing an older lady and needed help finding her. The security guard allowed me back into the Colosseum, took me by the hand, and walked me through the Colosseum. He guided me into a side access door which led into a small room. The room was furnished spartanly (no pun intended) and only contained an old desk and a metal file cabinet with a microphone sitting on top. The man handed me the microphone and gestured that I speak into it.

So I made a quick announcement: “Betty, Betty traveling with Elise’s Group please meet me at the exit” and I repeated it. I thanked the man and proceeded to go to the exit to wait.

I waited for 10 minutes and then I decided to call the hotel to see if by chance “Betty” was there. As I was on the phone with the front desk, they advised she had just walked in. Relieved, I took a taxi back to the hotel and met with “Betty. She told me that she did not have her watch set properly and thought she was late for the meeting time and assumed we all left. She knew she did not have her wallet with her, but sweet-talked a taxi driver to take her to the hotel. When she arrived at the hotel, she sweet-talked the doorman to pay the taxi driver and assured him she would repay him when her purse was returned. All was good — “Betty” was safe and happy and reunited with her purse and the group.

Later that day, I shared this story with my husband Tim. He stared at me in disbelief and said: “Wait a minute. Are you telling me you actually made an announcement in the Roman Colosseum?”  That is when it hit me exactly what I did.  There, in this iconic Roman venue, where 42 emperors announced the fate of gladiators, my voice and my name echoed through the arena as I searched for Betty.

I sat there with Tim with my mouth agape and then he added:  “I hope you finished it off with ‘Hail Caesar’!”


QuirkyCruise Review



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


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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.

Losing a Friend at Sea

Losing a Friend at Sea

By Elise Lentz.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

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

Welcome to the tenth in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story behind the scenes.

Part 10: Losing a Friend at Sea

In a prior post, I shared a story of a memorable small ship moment with AC/DC lead singer, Brian Johnson. While that was my only “known” interaction with someone famous, outside of my “stalking” Yoko Ono in the ladies room, there have been other people who have touched my life in special ways too. While my posts generally exude a level of humor, I feel it only fair to issue a spoiler alert — this month’s article may tug a little at your heart.

Because we have spent so many years on some of the same ships, we have become friends with many of the crew members. The world of working on ships is unique. Because you are away from your land-based family and friends, for extended periods of time, the ship becomes your home and those onboard become your surrogate family. You learn to respect and take care of each other, because these people are your support network, in good times and bad. You share laughs together and shoulders to cry on when needed.

We all agree that our career at sea is a strange work/life relationship. When you are on board — you count down the days until your contract is up and you can return to your “real life” on land. Then when you are “home,” you count down the days until you return to your “ship family.” Those of us in the industry can relate to each other and this unique way of life — which is also a major factor in making this bond of  “life at sea” so much stronger.

Over the past 10 years Tim and I have worked on a very small vessel — 88 meters (288 feet) with 30 crew members. As you can imagine, on such a small ship, the crew and passengers have a lot of interaction with each other. This intimate cruising environment makes for very memorable and unique experience for the passengers.

Losing a Friend at Sea

The 64-passenger Le Ponant.

A Kind Soul

It was on this ship that I will never forget the gentle kindness and friendship of one of the crew members. This person happened to be the ship’s Doctor. He loved to interact with the guests and would often participate in the evening entertainment and play games and dance with the passengers. When the ship was chartered with a group, he joined the guests on the shore excursions and brought along his medical bag, just in case anyone had a medical situation needing his attention. Guests felt safe and comfortable in his presence and he would always receive the biggest applause during the crew farewell ceremony at the end of a cruise.

Near the end of the cruising season, I recall the Doctor being very excited. When the ship arrived in Nice, France, his wife would be boarding the vessel for the final cruise. They would then disembark in Marseille, France, for some time off, as the ship was taken out of service for its scheduled technical stop. Before arriving in Nice, I remember the Doctor sitting in a café in Taormina, Sicily, on FaceTime with his wife, expressing how he couldn’t wait to see her again. He showed us photos of them both together and beamed with both pride and love.

Who would have ever thought that moment would be his last conversation with his wife. That evening he had passed away, peacefully, in his sleep. He was only in his early 60s.

The crew members were in shock of his sudden and unexpected passing. In essence, they lost one of their family members. Unlike most of us dealing with a personal loss, where you can mourn in the privacy of your home, the crew was still in the face of the public and had to continue to work and provide service to the 60 passengers. The Captain made the passengers aware of the passing of the Doctor and even though they only spent a few days with this gentle, kind man, many were saddened by the loss of their new friend.

The Captain wanted to honor the memory of his friend and fellow officer by paying tribute with a special memorial. Before sailing away, from the tiny island of Lipari, in Italy, all of the crew and passengers lined up on the top deck of the ship. The crew, dressed in their uniforms, lined the port side of the Sun Deck, while the passengers took their place on the starboard side.

Le Ponant was anchored off the coast of the island of Lipari. * Photo: Elise Lentz

The sun was just starting to set and the air was filled with the sound of Ave Maria gently performed by the ship’s musician. The Captain unfurled the sails and the ship slowly began to turn away from the tiny island where we left our friend, the good Doctor. Tears filled my eyes and my heart was heavy with the emotions of losing a friend. In a moment of silence, as we sailed away, a tiny bird landed next to me on the top deck. It sat there, looking at me, as if it were reassuring me that all was OK.

The next morning, I awoke early and was standing on the outside deck. I was watching the sun rise and composing myself — as I was mentally getting ready to face the passengers. We were still hours away from land and our arrival into Amalfi. All of a sudden, another little bird appeared and landed on the deck next to me.  My eyes immediately teared up again, but my heart felt a sense of lightness.

While my brief moments with the little bird may not mean much to anyone else, to me, it served as a reminder that life is short and to relish the unique moments that unexpectedly touch your life. To this day, that memory still brings a smile to my face as I think about the wonderful man who cared for so many people in such a gentle way.

QuirkyCruise Review



Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Hitting the Road  (Part 1)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Voyage Begins (Part 2)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Sleeping Around (Part 3)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Shook Me All Night Long (Part 4) 
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Say Cheese (Part 5)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Good Cruises Gone Bad (Part 6)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Whatever the Client Wants (Part 7)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Crazy Cruise Charters (Part 8)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Yoko Ono Encounter (Part 9)


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