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Both Sea Cloud ships sailing

Canary Islands and Morocco on Sea Cloud II

By Gene Sloan.

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

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

Canary Islands sailing cruise

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

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

Canary Islands on a sailing ship

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

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

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

Related: Star Clippers in Thailand.

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

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A THROWBACK TO A BYGONE ERA

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

The Sea Cloud II on a Canary Islands cruise

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

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

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

THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING AT SEA

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

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

The ropes and pegs of the Sea Cloud II

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

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

Sea Cloud decks

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

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

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

ONE NOTABLE QUIRK 

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

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

A German sailing ship in the Canary Islands

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

CABINS AND PUBLIC AREAS    

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

Sea Cloud II cabin

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

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

Sea Cloud II cabin bathroom

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

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

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

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

Clubby Lounge on Sea Cloud

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

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

Canary islands cruising on the Sea Cloud II

Lido deck bar area. * Photo: Gene Sloan

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

Sea Cloud II library with views of Canary Islands

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

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

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

ONE MAIN EATERY

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

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

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

buffet on the Sea Cloud II

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

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

dinner on the Sea Cloud II in the Canary Islands

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

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

cheese on the Sea Cloud II

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

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

the dinner bell on a Canary Islands cruise

Dinner is served! * Photo: Gene Sloan

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

Buffet on the Lido deck aboard Sea Cloud II

Dinner on the Lido deck. * Photo: Gene Sloan

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

ONE WAY FROM MOROCCO TO THE CANARY ISLANDS

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

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

Both Sea Cloud ships sailing

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

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

DAY 1: MALAGA, SPAIN

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

Malaga Spain plaza

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

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

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

Malaga's Roman antiquities

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

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

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

Sea Cloud II about to begin a Canary Islands cruise

All aboard. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Canary Islands cruise aboard the Sea Cloud II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAY 2: SAILING IN TANDEM WITH SEA CLOUD

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

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

Canary Island cruising on the Sea Cloud II

Hit the rig! * Photo: Gene Sloan

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

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

Gene Sloan on a Canary Islands cruise

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

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

The Sea Cloud sisters sailing together

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

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMEgmi3GeLs

DAY 3-4: CASABLANCA, MOROCCO AND AT SEA

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

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

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

A visit to Rabat on a Canary Islands cruise

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

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

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

Rabat's old quarter

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

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

An unfinished mosque

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

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

Morocco on a Canary Islands cruise

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

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

Grand Hassan II Mosque in Rabat

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

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

DAY 5-6: AGADIR, MOROCCO AND AT SEA

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

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

Taroudant old city

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

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

spice market in Taroudant

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

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

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

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

Moroccan-themed entertainment

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

Morocco

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

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

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

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

DAY 7-8: LANZAROTE AND FUERTEVENTURA, CANARY ISLANDS

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

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

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

lava tube grotto

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

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

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

A stop Lanzarote on a Canary Islands cruise

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

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

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

A huge tuna on a canary islands cru

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

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

Ses Cloud II old cabins

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

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

engine room of Sea Cloud II

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

DAY 9: TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS

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

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

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

Tenerife theater

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

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

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

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

Until we meet again.

A FINAL WORD ON SAILING WITH GERMAN SPEAKERS 

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

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

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

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

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

Gene Sloan

Gene … the lone American. * Photo: Gene Sloan

IF YOU GO …

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In a Nutshell, Gene Says ….

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

 

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

READ more of Gene Sloan’s fab QuirkyCruise articles:

>>Ukraine River Cruising on Viking Sineus

>>The New Double-Wide AmaMagna.

 

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French canal cruising

French Canal Cruising: My French Love Affair

Crew, Excursions & Paris!

By Elysa Leonard.

Crazy Crew Crush

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

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

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

Mathias Giles, Barge Owner & Host Extraordinaire

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

French canal cruising - Esperance owner Mathias Giles

Mathias Giles. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Rex, Our Fearless Guide

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

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

French Canal Cruising- Reitze Lemstra

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

Captain Corey Shelley, Our Captain

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

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

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

french canal cruising- Corey Shelley

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

Helen Toy, Our “Jane” of All Trades

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

French Barge Cruise - Helen Toy, Stewardess and Deckhand

Helen Toy ready for anything! * Photo: Corey Shelley

Chef Jean Luc Poulet, Our Chef de Cuisine

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

French canal cruising - Chef Jean Luc Poulet

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

Cooking Lessons with a French Flair

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

French Canal Cruising- Samantha Leonard

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

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

The Excursions 

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

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

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

Day 1: The Village of Penzenas

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

French canal cruising- Village of Penzenas

Pretty Penzenas. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

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

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

French Canal Cruising-King's Chariot

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

Day 2: Olives & Panoramic Views

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

French Canal Cruising- French Olive Groves of L’Oulibo

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

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

French Canal Cruising-Olive Oil Tasting

Olive Oil Tasting – Samantha Leonard *Photo: Elysa Leonard

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

French Canal Cruising-Village of Minerve

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

French Canal Cruising- Village of Minerve

City of Minerve. *Photo: Elysa Leonard

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

Coffee break in the village of Minerve, southern France

Coffee Break in Minerve *Photo: Elysa Leonard

Day 3: The Narbonne Market

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

Narbonne Market Hall on a French canal cruise

Narbonne Market Hall. * Photo: Didier Descouens

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

Narbonne Market - southern France

Fresh French produce. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

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

French Barge Cruise - Esperance - Chef Travis Quin Olfers

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

Day 4: Carcassonne Castles

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

Carcassone citadel, southern France

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

Exploring the citadel of Carcasonne, southern France

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

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

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

Citadel of Carcasonne - historic walls

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

Day 5: Our Final Excursion 

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

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

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

Esperance Luxury Barge Cruise - Excursions

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

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

French Barge Cruise - Special Chef's Dinner Excursion

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

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

French Chef Stephanie Asco's baked mussels appetizer

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

Main Course at French Chef Stephanie Asco's dinner

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

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

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

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

Our Bonus Days in Paris

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

XO Hotel - Boutique Hotel in Paris, France

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

Paris Day 1

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

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

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

XO Hotel Wine Bar Paris, France

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

Paris Day 2

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

The gardens of Versailles

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

Paris Day 3

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

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

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

Palace of Versaille - Gardens by Golf Cart

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

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

Paris Day 4

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

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

Batobus Tickets Paris France

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

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

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

Notre Dame - after fire

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

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

Artist portrait sketched outside of Notre Dame

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

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

The Skinny on Barge Lady Cruises

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

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

French Canal Cruising with Stephanie Sack

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

 

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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of travel industry brands. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market, operating a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, Ganges and the Nile.

The line’s affiliation with the Cosmos and Monograms travel brands means Avalon Waterways offers countless add-on itineraries for before and after your cruise, and can coordinate the various legs seamlessly.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

COVID-19 UPDATE

Avalon Waterways will resume cruising in November 2020.

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

FLEET
Europe (Avalon Suite Ships)

Avalon Panorama (b. 2011 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Vista (b. 2012 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Visionary (b. 2012 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Artistry II (b. 2013 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Expression (b. 2013 & 12 8p) – Danube, Rhine & Rhône Rivers

Avalon Impression (b. 2014 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon Illumination (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Poetry II (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Rhine, Rhône & Saône Rivers

Avalon Tapestry II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Seine River

Avalon Tranquility II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Imagery II (b. 2016 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Passion (b. 2016 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Envision (b. 2019 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon View (b. 2020 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Asia

Avalon Siem Reap (b. 2015 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Avalon Saigon (b. 2017 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Ganges Voyager (b. 2015 & 56 p) – Ganges River

South America

Treasure of Galapagos (b. 2009 & 16 p) – Galapagos Islands

Delfin III (b. 2015 & 44 p) – Amazon River

Egypt

MS Farah (b. 2011 & 124 p) – Nile River

Passenger Profile

Most, age 50 and above, hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia, with some younger passengers on the shorter itineraries.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features
  • Onboard meals
  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks & water
  • Wine, beer & spirits with dinner, sparkling wine with breakfast
  • Wi-Fi (including in cabins for Europe cruises)
  • Most shore excursions
Itineraries

Avalon Waterways’ cruise itineraries are packed with options to extend your cruise with land tours.

In Europe, the huge variety offers cruise tours lasting from 5 to 22 nights, generally adding a land portion at one or both ends of the river cruise. Land travel may be by high-speed train such as TGV, Thalys, and Eurostar or motorcoach.

Springtime tulip bulb season cruises navigate the intricate waterways of Belgium and Holland; French rivers include the Seine, Rhône and Saône; the Rhine with or without the Moselle; combine the Rhine and Rhône between Amsterdam and Cote D’Azur; the Upper and/or Lower Danube, the latter including, on some cruises, sailing all the way to the Danube Delta just in from the Black Sea.

Longer European itineraries may cover, for instance, the Upper Rhine and then via the Main, Main-Danube Canal and the Danube all the way to Vienna; with the granddaddy of all from the North Sea to the Black Sea (22 nights).

In South America, cruises to Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon include a 7-night Galapagos cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador; 14-night cruise tour that combines the Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 17- to 19-night cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

For Asia, cruises along the Mekong include 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and (near) Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Longer itineraries of 12 or 17 nights include Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Halong Bay in Vietnam, respectively. On India’s Ganges River, there are 6-night cruises round-trip from Kolkata and 12-night journeys from Delhi to Kolkata.

In Egypt, Nile River itineraries include 9 nights round-trip from Cairo, and 13 nights from Cairo to the Dead Sea, exploring Jordan.

Sample Itineraries

The best way to explore Central Europe, the Magnificent Europe cruise on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers is a 14-night itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest. The cruise begins with a canal tour from Holland’s capital, then it’s on to Germany to visit Cologne and sail through the dramatic Rhine Gorge. In Germany, you’ll also call at Rüdesheim, Würzburg, Volkach, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Regensburg before sailing through the Main Danube Canal to Melk, Austria. Finally, the journey passes through the Wachau Valley to Vienna and on to its final stop in Budapest, Hungary.

Another popular itinerary is the Mekong Discovery, a 7-night cruise that starts at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, exploring the city and smaller local village via sampan. Cruising up the Mekong, stops at rural villages reveal temples, local cottage industries and cultures. The cruise finishes near Phnom Penh, Cambodia with tours of the city.

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks. In Asia, South America and Egypt, river cruises access cultures, natural scenery and wildlife, and historical wonders in ways that overland touring can’t.

When to Go?

In Europe, most cruises operate from April through October, while some begin in March and end in November. Christmas markets cruises have increasing appeal.

South American cruises generally take place from January to July and September to November. In India, cruises generally take place in the cooler months of January and February, and September to November, while Mekong cruises are generally year-round. In Egypt, cruises are also offered year-round.

Sustainability Initiatives

The company has removed all single use plastics from their cruises and supports The Ocean Cleanup organization.

Activities & Entertainment

The line offers a lot of included excursions and activities. Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus and offer a range of interest levels with local guides, from classic sightseeing to hands-on discovery experiences to active ventures.

The AvalonGo Mobile App aids in self-guided exploration. The onboard cruise director provides commentary at significant locations throughout the cruise. An Adventure host guides fitness activities and active excursions. The “Active Discovery” cruises on the Danube offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine. Other activities can include archery or cooking lessons.

Onboard entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway.

Avalon Waterways

Entertainment in the Panorama Lounge of the Avalon Artistry II. * Photo: Avalon

SHIPS 
Avalon Suite Ships (Europe)

Avalon’s European fleet of 14 riverboats, known as Suite Ships, are almost identical, so this write up refers to all of them. Built for a capacity of either 128 or 166 passengers, all of them have four decks, with elevator access.

Avalon Illumination

The Avalon Illumination, a Suite Ship. * Photo: Avalon

 

Passengers have a choice of three dining venues, from the al fresco Sky Grill to casual meals at the Panorama Bistro or an elegant 4-course dinner under floor-to-ceiling windows at the Panorama dining room or 24-hour coffee and snacks. Menus feature regional cuisines and have an abundance of healthy choices.

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar and aft-facing Club Lounge with a book and games library. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool and game area. There’s also a fitness center.

Avalon Suite Ships come with large cabins and substantially different configuration — for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside.

In cabin: en suite, TV with entertainment options, complementary Wi-Fi, minibar.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Avalon Siem Reap

Avalon Saigon

Along the Mekong, Avalon Waterways operates two 36-passenger sister ships, Avalon Siem Reap and Avalon Saigon.

Avalon Saigon

The Avalon Saigon. * Photo: Avalon

Despite their diminutive size (each has only two decks), they are still Avalon Suite Ships, as each has signature cabins open to the outside with 14-ft. sliding glass doors and windows; they measure 245 sq. ft. A forward-facing covered lounge provides a 180-degree view and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar.

The aft dining room seats all at once for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

An Avalon meal on a southeast Asia river cruise. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

The ships also have a fitness room, sundeck with plenty of shade, a spa treatment room and library with games.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, in-house telephone, safe, hair dryer, and complimentary bottled water

Avalon Cruise, Mekong

The mighty Mekong rises in China and passes through three Southeast Asian countries. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

If you’re lucky, this is Angkor Wat at sunrise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ganges Voyager

A 56-passenger riverboat decorated in colonial-era style, Ganges Voyager has three decks (there is no elevator).

The Panorama Dining Room offers Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

There’s also an air-conditioned lounge with glass walls and another shady al fresco lounge, a fitness room, spa treatment room and library with games.

Most cabins measure between 260-280 sq. ft., some with pretty four-poster beds, all with French balcony. 

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with on-demand movies, in-house telephone, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Ganges Voyager

Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon

Ganges Voyager

Heritage Suite on Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon Cruises

Treasure of Galapagos

Accommodating 16 passengers, Treasure of the Galapagos has cabins and common areas on three decks (no elevator).

Common areas include a dining room, indoor lounge and bar, shaded outdoor lounge, sun deck with Jacuzzi and observation area.

Cabins measure 215 sq. ft., and all have balconies, while the master suite is 430 sq. ft. with two balconies.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, safe, hair dryer.

Treasure of Galapagos

Treasure of Galapagos. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Delphin III

Cruising the Amazon, Delphin III’s three decks are built to accommodate 44 passengers with a dining room, indoor and outdoor lounge (with nightly entertainment), an outdoor plunge pool, exercise room, spa, and excursion skiffs on board.

Most cabins are 237 sq. ft. and all have large picture windows.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, complimentary filtered water, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

The Delfin III, seen here when still called Amazon Discovery. * Photo: Steve Cukrov for Globlus/Avalon.

Avalon Waterways

The silt-laden waters of the Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

MS Farah

On five decks, MS Farah has a lot of facilities including a large restaurant (with vegetarian options on the menu), barbecue on the sun deck, pool and pool bar, lounge bar, library dedicated to Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho and fitness center with sauna and steam rooms. They even hold cooking classes on board.

Avalon Farah

The 120-passenger Farah. * Photo: Avalon

There are 60 cabins, most of which are 239 sq. ft. All have floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows for excellent views. There are also a pair of royal suites

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with cable programming, Internet, tea & coffee-making facilities, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

A camel watches over its territory, the site of the pyramids at Giza. * Photo: Ted Scull

Along the Same Lines

Emerald Waterways and AmaWaterways offer comparable itineraries on Europe’s rivers and canals.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, US-based; Avalonwaterways.com; +1 (877) 797-8791

TWS

 

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Biking & Beer on the Danube River

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This luxury river cruise line was founded in Australia in 1986, expanded to the UK and Canada in 2007, and to the US in 2008. Most recently the line has broadened from its main focus in Europe, including Russia, to include Southeast Asia cruises. Expedition cruising began in autumn 2019.

Scenic includes lots of important features on its cruises and prides itself on not taking passenger credit card details at embarkation as there’s little chance of making additional purchases on board. A partnership with National Geographic sees an expert and photographer on board all European cruises.

The parent firm also operates the more moderately-priced Emerald Waterways.

Scenic

Scenic cruises the great rivers of Europe. * Photo: Scenic

COVID-19 UPDATE

Scenic is aiming to restart operations Oct 31, 2020.

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

To encourage bookings, for a limited time, Scenic is offering discounts on their European River cruises, plus chauffeured transfers and free deposit payment protection coverage.

Fleet

Space-Ships

Scenic Crystal (built 2012 & 163 passengers) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jewel (b 2013 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jade (b. 2014 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jasper (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Opal (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Amber (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Ruby (rebuilt 2019 & 159p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Pearl (rebuilt 2019 &159p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Diamond (remodeled 2013, 149p) — Rhône & Saône Rivers & Bordeaux, France

Scenic Sapphire (remodeled 2013, 149p) — Rhône and Saône Rivers & Bordeaux, France

Scenic Azure (b. 2016 & 96p) — Douro River, Portugal

Scenic Gem (b. 2014 & 126p) — Seine River, France

Scenic

Embarking the Scenic Spirit in Cambodia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Other River Boats 

Scenic Tsar (b. 2013 & 112 p) — Volga River, Russia

Scenic Spirit (b. 2016 & 68p) — Mekong River, Southeast Asia

Scenic Aura (b. 2016 & 44p) — Irrawaddy River, Myanmar

Expedition Ships

Scenic Eclipse (b. 2019 & 228p) — Oceangoing expedition ship 

Future Plans

Second expedition ship scheduled to debut TK.

Scenic Spirit seen in the early evening on the Mekong River. * Photo: Gillies and Zeiser

Scenic Spirit seen in the early evening on the Mekong River. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

Passenger Profile

Seniors from 60s on up hailing from Australia and Britain primarily, followed by US and Canada.

Passenger Decks

Most of the riverboats have elevators that serve the two principal cabin and public room decks, and none reach the Sun Deck. SCENIC TSAR’s elevator connects the three cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$ Expensive

Note: Emerald (partner company) is less expensive than Scenic.

For selected off-peak itineraries, the single passenger supplement is reduced by 50% or eliminated entirely.

Included Features
  • Shore excursions, divided into active, moderate and relaxed pace activity level
  • Scenic “Tailormade” app for self-guided tours
  • Unlimited beverages including stocked mini-bar
  • Picnics and bottled water for shore excursions
  • All meals in multiple dining venues
  • Wellness facilities
  • Tips
  • Wi-Fi
  • Use of e-bicycles (in Europe)
  • 24-hour cabin service including butler service
  • Laundry service
  • Airport transfers
Itineraries

With so many riverboats in operation, Scenic offers many itineraries to choose from.

In Europe, itineraries from 7 nights explore the Seine, Danube, Rhine and Moselle, Rhône and Saône rivers, the rivers of Bordeaux and Portugal’s Douro River. Many itineraries combine destinations and can last as long as a month exploring France or throughout Europe. Christmas-themed cruises at the end of the year are always popular.

Scenic

Eiffel Tower from Pont Alexandre III, Paris. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

In Russia, cruises tour the Volga River on 14- to 28-night itineraries.

Southeast Asia river cruises comprise 10 to 17 nights along the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, 7 to 12 nights on the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, or a 25-night combination of both rivers.

Scenic Eclipse sails to every region of the world, for excursion cruises that last anywhere from one week to one month.

Scenic also offers several land-and-river packages in China, South Korea, South India, Egypt and Jordan.

Sample Itineraries

In Europe, the 7-night Gems of the Danube begins in Budapest, cruising to Vienna, Dürnstein (with a relaxing cycling tour to visit Melk), either Salzburg or Cesky Krumlov, Regensburg and ending in Nuremburg before transferring to Munich for departure.

In Southeast Asia, along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River, the Mystical Irrawaddy cruise begins in the capital city of Yangon for a few days of sightseeing before flying to Bagan, where passengers will embark on their cruise, with stops at Magwe, Minhla, Salay, Pakkoku, Yandabo, Mingun, Sagaing and Mandalay, where passengers disembark for a flight back to Yangon.

Scenic

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, a pre- or post-Mekong River cruise stopover. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

Aboard the Scenic Eclipse, the 15-day Arctic Islands cruise begins at Reykjavik in Iceland, sailing to Greenland’s east coast to cruise along the coast and visit the fjords, to north-east Greenland to tour Greenland National Park, sailing on to the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway for arctic wildlife spotting and disembarking at Longyearbyen before flying to Oslo.

Why Go?

The passengers are truly an English-speaking union coming as they do primarily from Australia, Britain, Canada and the U.S.

When to Go?

The departures coincide with the better expected weather conditions with the busiest tourist season mid-June to September. Off-season allows you to share the trips ashore with fewer people  descending on the main attractions, and some of these sailings may be less expensive and/or offer single rates without a supplement.

 SHIPS
  •  Space-Ships
  • Scenic Crystal
  • Scenic Jewel
  • Scenic Jade
  • Scenic Jasper
  • Scenic Opal
  • Scenic Amber
  • Scenic Ruby
  • Scenic Pearl
  • Scenic Sapphire
  • Scenic Diamond

The fleet’s 15 “Space-Ships” are similar across the board, with some slight variations that are identified in the write-ups below. For the most part, however, these luxury boats are similar in length and have four decks, three of which house cabins, connected by elevator except to the uppermost sun deck.

Passengers can take their meals in any of four fine dining rooms or in the casual café, with cuisines taking inspiration and seasonal ingredients from the surrounding locales. Special dining events can include high tea, al fresco barbecue and seafood galas. Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond also hold small cooking classes on board. Drinks are served in the lounge and bar areas.

For down time, the “Space-Ships” have a sun deck, wellness area with massage services, fitness center, walking track, salon and gift shop. Scenic Crystal, Scenic Jewel and Scenic Jade have an additional salt therapy lounge while Scenic Jasper, Scenic Opal and Scenic Amber each have a Vitality Pool on the sun deck; Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond have no salon.

While most carry up to 163 passengers in 82 cabins, Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond have 75 each for up to 149 passengers. Cabins are proportioned similarly on each ship, the average sizes measuring between 215 – 430 ft2. All are outward-facing with large picture windows; most have a balcony, created with the top of the window lowered to open the space to the great outdoors. Cabins are nicely appointed and include butler service.

“More effort than the norm is spent providing memorable meals in a variety of settings. Multiple venues include the Crystal Dining Room, the main restaurant with tables for parties of two to eight and views through picture windows; River Café, casual dining for breakfast and a light lunch; Portobello, 5-course Italian fare for 32 passengers; and Table La Rive, a 6-course degustation menu for 10 diners at a time, reserved for Diamond Deck passengers.” — Ted Scull

Scenic Azure

This smaller 96-passenger “Space-Ship” still maintains the same overall design and quality of the group (see longer review above), complete with four fine dining venues, casual café, lounge and bar, sun deck, wellness area, fitness center, walking track and gift shop.

Cabins are still as large as those on sister ships, but here there are only 48.

Scenic Gem

This 126-passenger Scenic Gem offers the same facilities as the rest of the fleet, with the addition of L’Amour fine dining.

The 63 cabins measure, for the most part, between 160 – 305 ft2.

Scenic Aura

Carrying a maximum of 44 passengers, Scenic Aura is the smallest river boat in the fleet, with five decks instead of four. It has the signature features of the “Space-Ships” with the inclusion of Vitality pool and bar, library and guest laundry.

All 22 cabins have balconies, most measuring between 258 – 430 ft2.

Scenic Spirit

This 68-passenger riverboat comprises five decks connected by an elevator. It also has an almost 1:1 crew-to-passenger ratio. Facilities include a dining room, café, sun deck, pool and pool bar, steam sauna, open-air cinema, library, wellness center, gym, library, and gift shop.

All 34 cabins have a balcony, with most between 344 – 430 ft2.

Scenic

The sitting room of suite #211. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Scenic Tsar

At its debut, the 112-passenger Tsar was Scenic’s first new-build ship to launch onto Russia’s waterways for over 25 years.

Expedition ship

Scenic Eclipse

A 6-star luxury experience, the Scenic Eclipse expedition ship offers facilities and cabins located on 10 decks, serviced by an elevator. For dining, there are nine intimate venues plus 24-hour cabin service and eight bars and lounges.

Recreational facilities include a sun terrace, indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzis, yoga and pilates rooms, gym and fitness area, spa with Jaccuzzi, plunge pool, sauna, steam room and salon, library, boutique, theater, medical center, self-service laundry and Discovery Center.

Guided journeys are led by “Discovery Leaders,” field experts, regional specialists and local guides, with tours via Zodiac, kayak, e-bike, plus two Airbus H130-T2 helicopters and a U-Boat Worx “Cruise Submarine 7” for underwater exploration.

The 114 cabins have a balcony, with most cabins measuring between 344 and 430 ft2.

RELATED: Peter Knego Cruises on the New Scenic Eclipse.

Christmas markets cruises are popular on Rhine and Danube river itineraries. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser.

Christmas markets cruises are popular on Rhine and Danube river itineraries. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser.

Activities & Entertainment

There are three types of shore excursions: Enrich, Freechoice, and Tailormade.

Tailormade excursions are designed for independent exploration at your own pace by foot or bicycle using a app providing the commentary and an interactive map. Subjects covered may be art, architecture, and history, and they are available in 140 locations. You can also use these tools on board.

Freechoice allows you to concentrate on your interests and whether you want an active, moderate or relaxed pace. Active might involve a hike or cycling outing; moderate, a city walking tour, and relaxed a museum visit or a canal cruise. Favorite hiking routes are the Danube Path through Austria’s Wachau Valley and a coastal path near Bordeaux along Arcachon Bay.

Enrich excursions are led by an expert in history or local culture to get beneath the surface. On board cooking school, Scenic Culinaire, operates on the French waterways and that includes going to local markets to buy the ingredients for the onboard cooking component.

For a number of its European cruises, Scenic partners with National Geographic to offer National Geographic Expeditions, cruises with presentations from the magazine’s acclaimed experts, photography lessons from its award-winning photographers and behind-the-scenes access during sightseeing excursions.

Scenic riverboats in Europe carry a fleet of e-bikes that help you propel your way into villages and vineyards so you become part of life ashore and not just a spectator. A handful of departures between May and September will come under the titles “Gems of the Danube,” sailing between Budapest and Nuremburg, and “Rhine Highlights” between Amsterdam and Basel.

During the former, specialists in guiding bicycle tours of 15 to 60 miles will take passengers to breweries for beer tasting, along paths in the Wachau Valley, to Austrian grape wine-growing country, into Vienna Woods and through the hills of Buda in Budapest. The latter will visit the Alsace Wine Route, the Rhine Gorge, Cologne’s network of cycling paths, and the outskirts of Amsterdam for cheese tasting. Non-cycling activities will also be offered.

Biking & Beer on the Danube River

The boat’s bikers stop to see the ship. * Photo: John Roberts

Special Notes

Single travelers pay no single supplements on selected departures in March, April and October to December. 50% of the single supplement is available on selected sailings May to September.

Along the Same Lines

Scenic is among the top lines to offer in-depth river cruising with lots of choices for sightseeing and enjoying meals aboard.

Contacts

USA —  One Financial Center, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02111; scenicusa.com. 855-517-1200; scenicusa.com

CANADA — Suite 1025, 401 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 5A1; Scenic.ca, 866-689-8611; scenic.ca

UK — 13th Floor, 111 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2HY; Scenic.co.uk,  0161 236 2444; scenic.co.uk

AUSTRALIA — Level 15, 56 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW 2000; Scenic.co.au, info@scenic.com.au; scenic.com.au

Pont du Gard, South of France

Pont du Gard, a Roman masterpiece built in the first half of the 1st century, South of France

 

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venice lagoon

Venice & its Lagoon.

By Dana Rebmann.

We just kept thinking, please don’t rain. The sky was growling and ominous, growing darker and darker by the minute as we waited to board the vaporetto from St. Mark’s Square to San Basilio Quay. We got lucky. When the clouds finally let loose with their full fury, my daughter and I were happily sitting in the lounge of CroisiEurope’s Michelangelo.

The Lounge of the CroisiEurope's Michelangelo

The Lounge of the CroisiEurope’s Michelangelo. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

With just four nights aboard, our cruise was relatively short. The Venice and its Lagoon itinerary differs from what most travelers would expect.

Focused solely on the islands of Venice, there is very little cruising.

When excursions aren’t within comfortable walking distance, private water buses and taxis are used to navigate the city’s famous canals.

Getting to Know the Islands of Venice

Excursions took us to Doge’s Palace and a variety of other sought after spots. In awe, we watched glass making demonstrations on Murano Island. Colorful Burano reminded us to smile, when an unusual spring storm soaked us to the bone.

Free time gave us opportunity to roam and make sense of Venice’s maze of canals and bridges. We quickly learned how to best escape the crowds, spot gondoliers in action, and find tasty gelato.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aholKfr3iD8&feature=youtu.be

Life on Board

CroisiEuropes’ 156-passenger Michelangelo was built in 1999. For the Venice and its Lagoon sailing, it serves primarily as a floating hotel with a primo location.

There are no cabins with balconies, but Upper Deck accommodations have large windows that let in Venice views along with welcome natural light; a small top area slides open for ventilation. Because of the layout of the room, the pair of twin beds cannot be separated.

Venice lagoon cruise aboard the Michelangelo

CroisiEurope Michelangelo Upper Deck cabin. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

Along with being home to the bar, the lounge serves as the meeting point for program updates, excursions and organized activities. On a couple evenings, a local musician came aboard to perform. On sunny days, the spacious sundeck is ideal for taking in the Venice skyline.

The primary language spoken is French, but announcements are also provided in English.

Taking in the sights from deck on the Venice & Its Lagoon itinerary

Taking in the sights from deck. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

Ship Cuisine

CroisiEurope is known for serving French-focused cuisine, but a handful of Italian dishes including veal osso buco, chicken saltimboca, melon wrapped in prosciutto, and tartufo made appearances throughout our sailing.

Venice Lagoon cruise onboard dining

Melon with prosciutto. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

Served with wine, lunch and dinner were typically 3- and 4-course meals, respectively. Menus are set, so American travelers might be disappointed by the lack of options.

There is more choice to be had during breakfast. Served buffet style, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, cheese, cold cuts, and pastries are always available. Cooked-to-order eggs are available by request, and all tables are topped with a generous basket of baguettes and croissants.

Passengers are assigned seating for the entire sailing based on the language they speak.

Venice lagoon cruise dining on cod

Cod with white butter and pesto sauce. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

Day 1: Welcome Aboard in Venice

Guests are welcome to start boarding the Michelangelo earlier, but check-in is at 5pm. (Luggage can typically be dropped and stored earlier in the day.) Our first evening aboard was all about relaxing and meeting the crew and fellow travelers.

With 78 cabins, Michelangelo can carry a maximum of 154 passengers. My 20-year-old daughter and I were the only Americans aboard the early-season sailing — guests came predominantly from France, the U.K., and China.

We spent all but a couple hours of the entire itinerary docked about a 25-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYgYNJ6Duyg&feature=youtu.be

It would have been nice to spend more time cruising, however being somewhat permanently docked made exploring Venice easy.

A printed program provided a basic schedule for the days ahead, but actual daily starting times were provided the evening before during dinner. After announcements, specifics could also be reviewed on cabin televisions, and a monitor near reception.

Day 2: Doge’s Palace & the Islands of Murano and Burano

Our first full day of activities kicked off at 8am when a majority of the ship’s passengers boarded a private water bus to reach Doge’s Palace. After arriving and being split into groups based on language, we moved relatively quickly to join the lines that had already formed for early entrance.

As sheets of rain began to fall, we considered ourselves lucky it was a covered area.

Once inside, the first glimpse of the palace courtyard, makes a lasting first impression. But on a stormy day, it takes little time to feel chilled to the bone.

“We go up, otherwise we freeze. Mamma Mia!” said our tour guide Laura.

Doge's Palace on the Venice & Its Lagoons itinerary

Doge’s Palace. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

For the next couple hours, we roamed through the lavish palace, learning its rich history as a residence, seat of the Venetian government, and prison.

The sound of thunder outside helped convince us to take our time, and not be in a rush to finish in order to get elsewhere.

After a bit of downtime on the ship to dry off and have lunch, we boarded another private boat for Murano and Burano. On a sunny day, the half-hour or so sailing to Murano provides postcard worthy views, but unfortunately the wind and rain seemed determined to stick with us for the day.

Venice Lagoon cruise stop in Murano

Glass blowing on Murano. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

It couldn’t dampen the impressive glass-blowing demonstration provided by one of the island’s famous glass-making factories. Making good use of strategically covered walkways, we squeezed in some window shopping before heading off for Burano.

Our time in Burano was our own. Lace making demonstrations in shops throughout town drew people in, but with buildings every color of the rainbow, Burano is best enjoyed outside, even in the pouring rain.

Dana jumping in the rain on a Venice Lagoon cruise

Dana jumping in rain in Burano.

Day 3: Venetian Traditions — Gondolas and Masks

What a difference a day makes. Under sunny morning skies, we set out on foot to the studio of a local mask maker. Skilled hands made the detailed process of creating Venice’s famous, colorful masks look easy.

It was equally impressive to watch the construction of gondolas along the shores of the canals. Each one takes about six months from start to finish. Although all gondolas are the same size and shape, the decorative details are determined by the gondolier.

Gondola yard on the Venice & Its Lagoon itinerary

Gondola yard. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

As we moved throughout Venice, our guide was fantastic about pointing out things we might have missed on our own. From the water cisterns still visible in most squares, to a floating produce market, and even a bar with great Venice skyline views.

A majority of our afternoon was spent aboard the Michelangelo on the Northern Lagoon. The return of the sun was reason to celebrate. Countless pleasure boats dotted the water with the snow-topped mountains of Italy, Austria, and Slovenia in the background.

Sailing Venice's Northern lagoon on a Venice Lagoon cruise

Sailing Venice’s Northern lagoon. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

Day 4: Padua

When our morning sailing on the Southern Lagoon was cancelled due to engine problems, we didn’t hesitate to use the unexpected couple of hours to explore more of Venice.

It was easy to lose track of time wandering around a new neighborhood, not far from St. Mark’s Square, but seemingly out of the reach of the crowds. We missed lunch aboard the ship, but happily enjoyed the pizza and gelato that took its place.

We were sure to be back for the afternoon bus trip to Padua. Once home to the legendary Galileo, it only took about an hour to reach Padua’s welcoming square, Prato della Valle, where we met up with our guide.

Most of our hour with her was spent inside the Basilica of St. Anthony, considered by many to be the highlight of a visit to Padua. We also trekked through the historic old town and university before getting time to wander on our own. Entry tickets to view the frescos inside Scrovegni Chapel weren’t available during our time in Padua, ensuring a return visit.

The bus was quiet as we made our way back to the ship. Many passengers used the opportunity to grab a power nap before the evening’s farewell gala dinner.

There was plenty of packing to be done, but on a spring night the sun deck was the place to be, to take in those Venice views one last time.

Venice is like no other place

Venice is like no other place. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

New Venice Itinerary!

Starting in March 2020, the Michelangelo will begin a new 7-night itinerary that will operate year-round, with the occasional shorter cruise thrown into the mix. This wonderfully quirky route sails round-trip from Venice to Mantua along the Canal Bianco. It covers three regions: Veneto (where Venice is); Lombardy (to see the cities of Mantua and Cremona — Claudio Monteverdi’s and Stradivarius’s birthplace); and the region of Emilia-Romagna with its traditional cuisine (and its famous Parma ham and cheese!). Here’s more info.

A map of the new 7-night Italy itinerary.

 

A Few More Facts ….

  • As one of CroisiEurope’s older river boats, Michelangelo is known for having an especially dedicated and long-serving crew. Many have worked aboard Michelangelo for years.
  • Michelangelo initially cruised on Italy’s Po River from Venice, but when navigating the Po became difficult due to silting a decade or so ago, the itinerary was changed to focus on the Venetian Lagoon.
  • The 4-night “Gems of Venice” cruise is all inclusive (meals, drinks, daily tours and taxes) and starts at $1,183 USD per person.
La salle de Restaurant aboard the Michelangelo.

The happy crew in the La salle de Restaurant aboard the Michelangelo. * Photo: Herve for CroisiEurope

 

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Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays in Cannes & Rome

By Christina Colon.

Few other destinations can conjure a sense of vacation opulence and romantic anticipation quite like the French Riviera. Upon learning that the port of embarkation for our Star Clippers cruise was Cannes, we decided it would be foolish and downright wrong not to arrive a few days early and take in some of the Euro charm and subdued elegance of the French Riviera. We also booked several nights in a hotel after the cruise in magical Rome, near the port of Civitavecchia where the cruise ended. We spent our days exploring nearby villas, galleries and small museums, which ran us about €15 (Euro) each per visit, including audio tour headphones.

Click here for Christina’s Royal Clipper article!

The French Riviera

From New York’s JFK airport, we flew non-stop to Paris’ Charles De Gaul airport on American Airlines, then onward to Nice, before taking a taxi the 16 km to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The road hugged the coast before winding through narrow streets and up steep roads to our hotel, the posh Royal Riviera.

We booked in to their smallest room for two nights, at about €500 per night. Nestled on the seaside with a pool and private beach, this sleek hotel evoked the image of the nearby villas built at the turn of the 20th century during the Belle Époque period (1871-1914).

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Hotel Royal Riviera in Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat. * Photo: Peter Barnes

The breezy lobby had large glass doors that opened onto a green lawn and tall hedges hiding a rectangular pool and open-air casual restaurant serving cocktails and Thai themed lunch fare. Like everything else in this hotel, it was all about the views of the coastline and the cool ocean breezes.

While the lunch fare was passable (if you’ve never been to Thailand) the primary restaurant back in the main hotel was far superior. The indoor seating was empty thanks to an expansive balcony which could accommodate the diners who all opted to dine under the stars.

A live jazz quartet made their rounds taking requests in French and English, serenading each table in succession. While proximity to the sea and beaches was clearly important to us, there was also a desire to stay within walking distance of two renowned villas which were high on our wish list.

Villa Ephrussi was top of our must-see list. This Gatsby-esque villa built in the early 1900s felt more like a bonafide palace and was the pet project of the eccentric and very wealthy Rothschild heiress. The façade was a strange composite of bay windows, gables and stone arches from old churches that were literally attached onto the front of the building.

It felt suspiciously like the inspiration for more than one American robber baron villa somewhere in Florida or perhaps Newport Rhode Island.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. * Photo: Peter Barnes

The main entrance hall decorated with marble columns formed an open square meticulously designed to echo the vaulted ceilings of a church and open courtyard of a cloister. The lavish rooms were overfilled with clocks, mantles, tapestries Royal French 17th-century furniture and priceless art, all bought at auction from cash-strapped European royals.

The only thing more lavish than the house were the outrageous gardens with dancing fountains, reflecting pools, secret paths below dripping trellises, geometric rose gardens, stone pergolas and an impressive assortment of cacti and arid plants.

Villa Kerylos was a far a more modest yet still amazing full reconstruction of a Greek villa, complete with elaborate baths, Grecian style furniture, and fanciful custom woven fabrics, all still intact to this day. The “patron archaeologist” owner created this in part to house his private collection of Greek antiquities which were on display in behind glass in floor to ceiling built in cases in the main library.

On display during our visit was a collection of fanciful turn-of-the-century clothing inspired by Greek garb and displayed in each room on mannequins. Below the house in what used to be a workshop was a collection of 19th-century reproductions of ancient Greek statues.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Chrissy with the statutes at Villa Kerylos. * Photo: Peter Barnes

 

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Fun with statues in Villa Kerylos. * Photo: Christina Colon

Both villas were a pleasant stroll from our hotel up steep roads that pass by elegant private homes and overlook the sea. They were each a dazzling way to fritter away an afternoon while taking in the breathtaking landscape, rocky coastline and serene seascape below.

Nearly every street in town was pleasant to walk along and offered views of the nearby coastline. A series of small parks in town supported diverse vegetation ranging from fig trees to cacti while cafes and shops offered refuge from the beating sun. After two days we were ready to make our way to the nearby train station continue our journey. It was short ride to Cannes (under 10 euros each) on a clean and efficient rail line.

Civitavecchia … When in Rome

While difficult to pronounce, this port city of Rome is relatively easy to navigate. Many cruises start out or wind up here so its port runs like a well-oiled machine. Upon arriving at the port and collecting our luggage, we boarded a free shuttle bus that whisked us out of the port where we breezed past a scrum of eager tour guides and taxi drivers.

We then boarded a city bus to the train station. After side stepping yet another tour bus ticket scalper and opting instead to use a ticket vending machine, we caught a high-speed train directly into the heart of Rome.

A short taxi ride down a small side street brought us to a set of large wooden doors set into a non-descript yet elegant building next to a small park. The demure Spalletti Trivelli Via Piacenza Hotel is located near the presidential Palace, also known as Palazzo Quirinale, and cost us about €500 per night.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

In elegant interior of the Spalletti Trivelli Via Piacenza Hotel. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Until recently it was a private home and retained that feel as we were welcomed by the concierge into a vestibule that opened onto several sizeable rooms. One was an oak library, another was a dining room so large it required two complete sofa sets, and a third was  small dining room where complimentary breakfast was served.

Our room had high ceilings and was dominated by a window bigger than most doors. The large bathroom had double sinks and an inviting marble tub. We didn’t have time to linger, however, as we were on a very tight sightseeing schedule.

Roman Holiday

No trip to Rome is complete without the obligatory romp through the main tourist attractions including the 2,ooo-year-old Colosseum, Roman Forum, Victory Monument and of course the 18th-century Baroque Trevi Fountain.

Because this was not our first trip to the Eternal City, we opted to avoid the Vatican, which requires a minimum of several days to thoroughly explore. If time is limited, a wander through or at least above the Forum is an amazing trip through literally thousands of years of history all in one place.

Remnants of palaces, monuments, basilicas, temples and cloisters are preserved so well that in the cases of the Temple of Romulus, the bronze doors not only remain on their hinges, but the locks on the doors still work.  On the first Sunday of every month, admission to many of Rome’s monuments and museums is free. While a boon for the bargain hunter, it can make for big crowds and long lines.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

A section of the Roman Forum. * Photo: Peter Barnes

If ruins, crowds and long lines are not your thing, you are in luck as there are a nearly endless assortment of villas, museums and galleries throughout Rome. They house some of the world’s finest art and antiquities, some of which rival pieces and works found in the Vatican.

In fact, many of these palatial villas are former homes of popes and their descendants who came into great wealth and notoriety by virtue of being related to the Pope. In fact this is where the term nepotism comes from, as the nephew (nepote) of the Pope was given an honorary title and great power to boot.

Galleria Colonna

One such collection can be found in a building whose garden was originally constructed on the site of an ancient Roman temple and adjacent to the current residence of the Prime Minister. It towers above the street level with a modest entrance up a cheery but obscure alley.

Once inside, this palatial Baroque abode reveals its riches in a series of rooms with intricate ceiling frescoes and spectacular intricate marble floor designs, one from an ancient Roman house.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Stunning artwork in Galleria Colonna. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Built in the 17th century by descendants of Pope Martin the 5th, works of art adorn the walls and ancient statues dot the rooms interspersed with modern furnishings lamps and framed family photos, revealing a lived-in aspect. On the other side of the family courtyard lies the magnificent great hall, built to impress, dazzle and intimidate all who enter.

As such it bears a similarity to the great hall of mirrors in Versailles. Paintings, frescoes and statues create such a visual overload you easily could miss the cannonball lodged into the steps, a reminder of an historic episode where the French attacked Rome. Perhaps the most famous aspect of this hall is that it was the setting for the final scene in the film Roman Holiday where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck say their last farewells.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

The statue garden in Galleria Colonna. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Galleria Borghese

Requiring timed tickets booked in advanced with a rigid two-hour visitation, this palazzo contains some of the greatest marble masterpieces by artists such as Canova. Stepping into this building is like climbing into a gilded jewelry box packed with royal treasures, jewels and gems.

The crown jewels are the world-class marble sculptures including Daphne and Apollo by the great 17th-century sculptor by Bernini and the scandalously sensuous Canova nude reclining sculpture of Pauline, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte.  A well narrated audio guide makes these works of art come to life not only through descriptions of their finer points, but by placing them into an historic and cultural context.

The large Baroque marble sculpture Rape of Proserpina by Bernini in the Galleria Borghese. * Photo: Christina Colon

Palazzo Dora Pamphilj

This privately-run gallery has a wonderful audio-guide narrated by the current owner and descendant of Pope Innocent the 10th. Walking through the rooms, the narrator imparted a personal narrative about roller-skating on the newly polished tile floors as a child.

The walls were covered with paintings from floor to ceiling with almost no room between frames. The apartments have been recently opened to the public and are separated from the gallery by a small gift shop. Most notable in this impressive collection is a portrait of Pope Innocent by Velasquez along with several works by the great Caravaggio.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Galleria Doria Pamphilj. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Capitaline Museum

This large museum houses many of the antiquities unearthed in the nearby Roman Forum and displays them in several buildings situated around a plaza. It also contains remains of an ancient Roman temple which are now enclosed within the building. An encyclopedic audio guide contains narration on most of the seemingly endless works.

Most notable is the original bronze statue from antiquity of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback which is remarkably well preserved considering it was first erected in 175 AD. Until recently it stood outside in the plaza but was wisely moved indoors and replaced with a full-size replica.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

The Emperor Marcus Aurelius statue in the Capitaline Museum. * Photo: Peter Barnes

And More ….

The best and worst thing about Rome is there is far too much to do and see in one trip. One could spend a lifetime exploring this city and just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s more. You find out there have been more archaeological discoveries unearthed or yet another ancient papal villa restored, or forfeit by the family (who are not allowed to sell off the treasures) and opened to the public for the people of Rome and all the world to appreciate.

In addition, there are over 900 churches that also contain some of the world’s greatest works of art, all in a continual rotation of renovations and restorations. For example, a visit to the Jesuit Church rewarded us with jaw dropping frescoes and sculptures on the ceiling, that just 10 years ago were obscured by soot and nearly invisible.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

The riches of the Jesuit Church. * Photo: Peter Barnes

We also noticed several parks in disrepair and others closed to the public, all in desperate need of renovation, and even the botanic garden was mysteriously closed due to “fumigation.” When we return, we hope to explore these and many other outdoor treasures that we sadly missed this time.

Luckily, we both threw a coin in Trevi Fountain, so if the legend proves correct, we will return for more explorations through history in the Eternal City.

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

The famous Trevi Fountain. * Photo: Peter Barnes

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

By Christina P. Colon.

To cruise or not to cruise? Long ago I took the plunge and have enjoyed endless ports of call and midnight buffets ever since. But when I suggested we try a small-ship cruise on Star Clippers’ 227-passenger Royal Clipper, I wondered if my landlubber boyfriend would be “onboard” with the idea. This would be his very first cruise.

The 7-night itinerary sure was tempting. Embarking in Cannes, France, and ending in Civitavecchia (near Rome), Italy, we’d cruise the islands of Corsica, Elba and Sardinia, each packed with old-world towns, seductive coastlines, and excellent food.

The ship was sufficiently intimate and elegant to feel exclusive, with a casual vibe that sidestepped the clichéd shows and flashy casinos. It took little persuading to whet his appetite for a sailing cruise on the Royal Clipper.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The 227-passenger Royal Clipper. * Photo: Star Clippers

Anchored in the harbor like a tiara, the Royal Clipper towered above the sleek monochrome mega yachts of Cannes. After a forgettable lunch and some people watching on a touristy pedestrian strip, we made our way to the ship. Check in was painless although tendering to the ship in a high chop was a soggy proposition for both passengers and luggage. Oh well.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The appealing itinerary.

Impressive Inside & Out

The Royal Clipper is as impressive up close as she is from afar. Polished wood railings, teak decks and massive white sails above deck are in juxtaposition to the luxurious satin fabrics in the piano lounge, winding staircases, wrought iron balconies and opulent dining room below.

Our snug cabin decorated with nautical blue fabrics and hardwood furniture was very comfortable. In addition to a sizable closet, storage nooks were to be found under the desk, under the bed, above the bed, and behind the mirror.

A standard cabin with portholes. * Photo: Star Clippers

Given the bathroom shower was cramped, we preferred to shower instead in the spa after enjoying the spacious marble and mosaicked sauna complete with frigidarium (a cool dipping pool) kept brisk via a brass slot dispensing cubes into the shin deep water.

Underused, open all day and complimentary, the spa became one of my secret haunts.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Royal Clipper’s spa was Chrissy’s favorite place. * Photo: Star Clippers

Another favorite spot was the expansive piano lounge, flanked by low couches and dotted with drink tables and barstools all surrounding the atrium below. Round-the-clock complimentary coffee and tea made this a cozy retreat away from the overpopulated deck chairs surrounding the pair of shallow pools and two outdoor bars, where smokers gathered at one end of each bar.

The library was another hideout, with comfortable seating, a cozy faux fireplace and daily news briefings in multiple languages. Its sparse collection of books and maps related to our ports of call, however, was a disappointment. The few guidebooks at the shore excursion desk were woefully out of date and far too general to be of much use.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The elegant library. * Photo: Star Clippers

Activities & Entertainment Onboard

The daily sail-away was attended by a cohort of diehard ship lovers, who reveled (and sometimes participated) in hoisting the sails with the crew, and in watching the daring speedboat arrival/departure of the pilot. Watching the ship glide out of the harbor past striking landscapes all set to a quasi-Soviet theme song was moving.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Deck hands keeping the ship ship-shape. * Photo: Christina Colon

Mast Climbing

Another time-tested ritual was the climbing of the mast and scrambling into the bowsprit netting.

The author Chrissy on the ropes. * Photo: Peter Barnes

When not in motion, the sports deck offered kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, wind surfing and swimming right off the back of the ship. Lifejackets and towels were provided and close supervision ensured everyone’s safety.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The convenient watersports marina. * Photo: Star Clippers

Morning on-deck calisthenics with Kyrylo and calming yoga with Paige were enjoyable alternatives to a workout in the below-deck gym with its low ceilings and limited space.

Yoga on deck aboard Royal Clipper. * Photo: Christina Colon

Spa Time

An assortment of spa treatments was on offer in Captain Nemo’s spa and my 30-minute back and neck massage was well worth the 40 euros.

Other Pursuits

Knot tying, napkin folding, towel origami and mixology demonstrations were regularly offered by the friendly crew, while bridge tours were on available upon request.

When the skies were clear, nautical astronomy with the knowledgeable Second Officer Vivek was a great way to get in some stargazing. And story time with Captain Sergey always drew a packed house.

Dima played standard tunes in the piano bar before dinner and later out on deck to lure passengers to the bar and the dance floor. On the last night, an old movie of life aboard the tall ship Pommern was played in the lounge.

Activities were punctuated with afternoon nibbles, midnight snacks and daily cocktail specials.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

A waffle buffet one afternoon. * Photo: Christina Colon

Home Grown Fun

If paying for your own drinks is not your thing, there were fun ways to snag a freebie by participating in the nightly after-dinner entertainment. The first involved a call for models willing to parade the Sloop Shop’s tony togs around the deck. A 20% discount off all purchases sweetened the deal.

Free drinks were also on offer for winners of each night’s entertainment, included bilingual (English and German) Name That Tune, pirate Olympics, and a hilarious guest and crew talent show.

Pirate night fun! * Photo: Peter Barnes

Going Ashore

Daily port briefings were given in the spacious forward lounge around 5pm each day, sometimes before the last tender arrived back from shore with passengers. Oh well. These talks described the shore excursions and offered basic logistics on times and locations of arrival and departure.

The new and inexperienced Cruise Director Camila was unfamiliar with the destinations, but offered a Xeroxed page with a brief intro and history of the next day’s port.

With this one-page handout and with limited and expensive onboard Wi-Fi, it sure wasn’t easy to plan our time ashore.

Some folks who booked the line’s shore excursions told us they found the tour write-ups had not always accurately described the actual tour.

We definitely recommend you do some port research and planning before the cruise.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Elba’s Fort Falcone. * Photo: Christina Colon

Good thing, we aren’t the group tour types anyway. We were happy to avoid costly, time consuming bus rides to modest ruins and small vineyards, and go it alone. Our daily mission was foregoing lunch onboard and seeking local eats ashore (not to mention a good wifi connection!), thanks to my foodie and wine loving boyfriend!

We enjoyed the relaxed cadence, local specialities and hospitality of each town on our own terms.

🍝🥗🍤 Watch this space for an upcoming taste of Chrissy & Peter’s lunch adventures! 🍝🥗🍤

Tourism kiosks at the ports provided useful maps of highlights within walking distance and most had a helpful English-speaking rep. With at least one port each day, we covered a lot of ground, some more interesting than others.

Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

With a noon arrival, we were among a small cohort on the first tender, with most others opting to eat aboard ship. Waving hello to the statues of Christopher Columbus and King Victor Emmanuel, we made a beeline past the larger waterfront restaurants, opting for a small restaurant on a side street patronized by boisterous locals.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Chrissy in front of the Columbus fountain in Santa Margharita-Ligure, Italy. * Photo: Peter Barnes

While bread and water are not free, prices were surprisingly reasonable, the seafood remarkably fresh, and the local house wines all excellent. Desserts were underwhelming and no competition with the ubiquitous and unmatched gelato on offer nearly everywhere.

Walking off lunchtime calories was easy given the steep terrain and streets that morph into cobbled staircases at nearly every turn. The famed town of Portofino was a tempting short ferry ride away, but we opted to walk up to the picturesque Villa Durazzo, its Pompei-red stucco façade visible next to a shining white church.

Unfortunately, it was closed for a private function, but we enjoyed walking the grounds, visiting the church and meandering back down to the ship, showing off in the harbor below.

L’Ile Rousse, Corsica

Appropriately named for the red bits of porphyry, a type of volcanic rock that gives the sand a charming rosy tint, this seaside town was clearly all about the beaches and waterfront. Following the tourist map, we walked around the tiny harbor, up to a picturesque lighthouse and ancient Genoese tower perched atop spectacular cliffs.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The Genoese Tower on L’lle Rousse, with the Royal Clipper anchored in the background. * Photo: Christina Colon

A modern commuter train and a dinky tourist tram provided alternatives to those less inclined toward steep hikes in the noon heat. On our way down we passed small paths off the paved road that led to pocket beaches below.

However, we opted instead to hit the main beach in town where Star Clippers’ watersport staff provided wind surfing and paddle boards for our use. Unfortunately, they had not brought towels and could only offer basic windsurf instructions, when I would have preferred more in-depth guidance.

L’lle Rousse Beach in Corsica. * Photo: Christina Colon

An endless parade of adorable beachside restaurants offered views of the water and casual local cuisine. Our Corsican salad overflowed with local meat, cheese, honey, nuts and greens, and the grilled whole fish was so fresh it was definitely caught that day.

Plage Larinella and the town of Bastia, Corsica

The beach was a long, narrow, desolate strip accessible only by a bumpy Zodiac ride — by far the highlight of the experience! Its proximity to a partially dismantled almost abandoned vacation camp for municipal workers, added an eerie vibe.

The port of Bastia, Corsica. * Photo: Christina Colon

An hour delay in Royal Clippers’ arrival to Bastia meant we missed lunch ashore as the restaurants were closing. We parked ourselves outside a small café serving charcuterie, sandwiches and drinks amid a fog of cigarette smoke from a small army of chain-smoking locals. Forgetting to change money in our haste, and unable to use credit cards as no businesses seem to take them, we were politely directed to a nearby cash machine so we could pay our bill.

Portoferraio, Elba

Our prior day’s disappointment was quickly forgotten upon arrival at the rocky island where Napoleon Bonaparte was briefly exiled. This gorgeous confection of a town offered boundless natural charm and endless architectural intrigue amid a maze of hilltop fortresses zigzagging in every direction.

The Napoleon Museum was a short walk from the pier and a mere euro to enter. The modest residence was furnished with some lavish period pieces, some owned by the Emperor himself.

The old port of Porto Ferraio, Elba. * Photo: Christina Colon

Also on display was an emerald green velvet Empire waist train worn by his sister Pauline, a famed beauty throughout Europe. The small garden was spartanly filled with agaves and yuccas, and overlooked the glinting sea below.

After an indulgent lunch of shrimp scampi with gnocchi, grilled octopus, and swordfish, we meandered down to a hidden beach accessible only by a switchback paved trail. Smooth pebbles in every color made getting in and out of the water challenging, but were fun to gather up as souvenirs.

Pebbles on the beach in Elba. * Photo: Christina Colon

Porto Vecchio, Corsica

At the fortress town, the ship backed up to the pier allowing disembarkation via the sports deck. An awaiting minivan whisked us up to the citadel where we meandered through a labyrinth of pedestrian streets frequented by tourists and the occasional local mutt.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

A medieval church in Porto Vecchio, Corsica. * Photo: Christina Colon

A sleepy town square surrounded by relaxed Wi Fi cafes was dominated by a lilliputian merry-go-round, playing random song snippets with each ride. After lunch, we briefly perused the endless shops selling Corsican knives (Corsica has a long dagger- and knife-making tradition, going back to Roman times), and other touristy trinkets before running out of excuses to stay ashore.

Porto Cervo, Sardinia

The Aga Khan (a supremely wealthy religious leader) built this posh resort town in the 1960’s as a playground of kings and celebrities. It’s set along an emerald coastline dotted with a jumble of contrived round adobe chalets topped by terra cotta chimneys, an architectural mash-up resembling part Mediterranean villa and part Arizona pueblo with a Moorish flair.

Stepping ashore amid the sleek yachts, sports cars and high-end retail, the town feels like a Hollywood movie set.

Chrissy in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Shops resemble art galleries, and those selling consumables are stocked with impossibly priced buckets of caviar, truffles and Champagne. After some window gawking we boarded a free ferry to the nearby yacht club (presided over by the royal family) to do some boat gawking.

While the sleek racers were sexy, they really could not compete with the classic rigging and elegant profile of our Royal Clipper.

Peter in front of fancy yacht in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. * Photo: Christina Colon

Being that the cruise started and ended in two fabulous ports — sailing from Cannes, in France, to Civitavecchia (near Rome) in Italy — we of course just had to tack on a few days at either end. We booked several hotel nights and enjoyed the amazing historic and cultural sights each city had to offer.

➢➢Watch this space for an article highlighting our pre- and post-cruise adventures and itinerary!

Dining Aboard Ship

Open seating ensures that everyone eats when and with whom they like, even in a small quieter overflow room.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The multi-tiered dining room. * Photo: Star Clippers

Despite our top notch-shore side lunches, we were more impressed with dinners aboard ship which included some of the best meals we’ve had on land or sea.

Each night’s offerings were displayed near the entrance to the dining room alongside the menu and small but excellent wine list. Seeing each dish plated makes it easy to see what to expect, and nearly impossible to decide which to select.

Among our favorite mains were a tender braised lamb shank, rich and hearty lobster thermidor, and generous and perfectly grilled lamb chops. The mushroom, carrot and spinach soups were sufficiently delicious and hearty to enjoy on their own while the lobster bisque was outstanding.

Lobster thermidor anyone? * Photo: Christina Colon

Desserts were less memorable with tiramisu and baked Alaska far out front.

The service was impressive, and the wine steward always knew exactly which bottles were ours, and who drank which.

With wines so affordably priced and such great options, it made sense to have a red and a white open at any given time.

Capping off each meal was an espresso, served only at the Tropical Bar, followed by a prosecco (€ 3.50) and a generous pour of top-shelf cognac (€ 6.50).

Time and again, we marveled at the great value of this cruise.

Farewell… For Now

On our final night, we were awed at how far we traveled, how many ports we had explored, how much we ate, and how quickly our time aboard the Royal Clipper had passed.

With our new Sloop Shop threads, mast climbing skills, pirate eye patches and nautical friends, and with the launch of a fourth Star Clipper ship (the Flying Clipper) on the horizon, we were glad to step ashore knowing we’d be back again one day.

Needlessly to say, my cruise-newbie boyfriend was hooked.

Peter the pirate. * Photo: Christina Colon

Fares for this itinerary for August 2019 start at € 2,085 per person (or about $2,360 USD per person).

For more info on this cruise and others, check out our Star Clippers line review.

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Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

By Ted Scull.

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

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

Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

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

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

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

1)  Caribbean

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

2)  North Atlantic

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

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

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

3)  Mediterranean

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

4)  Drake Passage

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

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

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

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

5)  Gulf of Alaska

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

6)  Southeast & East Asia

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

7)  Trans-Tasman Passage

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

8)  Point Judith

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

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

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CrosiEurope

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A family-owned French firm based in Strasbourg that started up in 1976 now operates one of the largest inland waters’ fleets in Europe with both river and canal boats. The river cruises travel on waterways throughout Europe, providing one of the main attractions for those looking for less traveled destinations.

In addition, coastal cruises fan out from Naples to the Amalfi Coast, Aeolian Islands, and Sicily, from Naples to Greece, and along Croatian coast and Montenegro. Additional river and island coastal cruises, beyond Europe, appear below. The total fleet worldwide now numbers almost 50 vessels. The firm caters to English speakers as well as European nationalities, and bien sur, the French.

CroisiEurope

Danube River scene. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

The river fleet numbers 40+. A sample listing follows. A “P” following a ship’s name indicates Premium, the newest and heavily remodeled vessels with larger cabins and more amenities.

Seine: SEINE PRINCESS-P (b. 2002, renovated 2012, 134p); BOTTICELLI (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 150p); RENOIR-P (b. 2018, 110p)

Rhine & Danube: LA BOHEME (built 1995, renovated 2011, 162 passengers, 108 sq. ft. cabins); BEETHOVEN (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 180p, cabins 140 sq. ft.); LAFAYETTE-P (b. 2014, 86p, cabin size N.A.); VIVALDI-P (b. 2009, 176p); GERARD SCHMITTER-P (b. 2012, 174p); EUROPE (b. 2006, renovated, 2011, 180p); FRANCE (b. 1999, renovated 2011, 156p); LEONARDO DA VINCI (b. 2oo3, renovated 2011, 174p); MODIGLIANI (b. 2001, renovated 2011, 156p); VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 96p); SYMPHONIE-P (b. 2010, renovated 2017, 108p); MONET (b. 1999, renovated 2007, 156p); DOUCE FRANCE (b. 1997, renovated 2017, 110p). N.B. The Moselle has been added with cruises embarking in Basel.

Rhone & Soane: MISTRAL (b. 1999, 158p, cabins 118 sq. ft.); VAN GOGH-P (b. 2018, 110p); CAMARGUE-P (b. 2015, 108p); RHONE PRINCESS (b. 2001/renovated 2011, 138p)

Garonne/Dordogne: CYRANO DE BERGERAC-P (b. 2013, 174p, 140 sq. ft)

CroisiEurope

Cyrano in Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Loire: LOIRE PRINCESS-P (b. 2014, 96 p, cabin size N.A.), a sidewheel paddle boat with a shallow draft designed to negotiate shallow waters.

Douro: GIL EANES-P (b. 2015, 32p, cabin size N.A.); MIGUEL TORGA-P (b. 2016, 136p); VASCO DA GAMA (b. 2002, 142p, cabins 129 sq. ft.); INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE (b. 2003, renovated 2014, 142p); FERNAO DE MAGALHAES (b. 2003, renovated 2011, 142p); AMALIA RODRIGUES (b. 2019)

SW Spain: LA BELLE DE CADIZ-P (b. 2005, renovated 2010, 176p, cabins 118 sq. ft.)

Po (Italy): MICHELANGELO (b. 2000, renovated 2011, 156p, cabin size N.A.)

Elbe & Moldau: L’ELBE PRINCESSE-P (b. 2016, 80p, cabin size N.A.); L’ELBE PRINCESSE II-P  (b. 2018, 86p, cabin size N.A.); N.B. These two are paddle wheelers with the ability to navigate shallow waters to reach the center of Prague. VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 48p)

Russia & the Volga: ROSTROPOVITCH (b. 1980, rebuilt 2010, 212p, cabins 126-243 sq.ft).

French Canals: Six French hotel canal barges built 2014-2016 and one renovated 2013; five taking 22p and one 24p, operating in Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire & Provence.

Coastal Ships: In addition, the CroisiEurope also runs LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIQUE-P (b. 2007, renovated 2017, 198p), a five-deck oceangoing ship operating in the Mediterranean (Italy, Sicily, Croatia & Greece) with all outside 151sq. ft. cabins.  In October 2019, the line takes on the former Silver Discoverer (Silverseas and originally built for the Japanese market as the Oceanic Grace in 1989)  to operate as LA BELLE DES OCEANS (120 passengers) on itineraries beginning in East Asia then working its way westward to Europe. SEE BELOW.

Canada & the St. Lawrence: New for 2020: Cruises (11 nights) will begin at Montreal with an overnight then a flight to St. Pierre et Miquelon, French territorial islands near the mouth of the St. Lawrence and just south of Newfoundland. The coastal vessel LA BELLE DE OCEANS (120 passengers) will cruise to Cap-aux-Meules (Magdalen Islands), Gaspe and Perce Rock, Baie-Comeau, Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay then upriver to Chicoutimi and along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City and Montreal (with a full day and overnight aboard before disembarking. This itinerary is likely to appeal to the French from France and to the growing North American market. Cruises operate between mid-June and mid-September (the beginning of fall footage).

Mekong River: INDOCHINE, a colonial-style boat operates on the Mekong (b. 2008 and taking 48 passengers in 172 sq, ft. all outside cabins); INDOCHINE II-P (b. 2017, 62 passengers, in 242 sq. ft. all outside cabins; LAN-DIEP (b. 2007, 44p), TOUM TIOU I (b. 2002, 20p) and TOUM TIOU II (b. 2008, 28p).

Southeast Asia, South Asia, Persian Gulf & Middle East: BELLE DES OCEANS (built 1989 & 120p) Cruises November 2019 to February 2020. Thailand & Malaysia 9 days; India & Sri Lanka 11 days; Dubai & Oman 8 days; and Jordan, Egypt, Israel & Cyprus 10 days.

CroisiEurope

Belle des Océans. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Inland Southern Africa: A relatively new offering is the riverboat AFRICAN DREAM (b. 2017, 16p) operating on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, southern Africa. The cruises are paired with a land stay at a lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River on the Border of Namibia and Botswana.The vessel takes just 16 passengers with 8 suites, including two with balconies. In 2020, the 16-passenger ZIMBABWEAN DREAM, built locally at Harare, will arrive to provide a second vessel for the Lake Kariba cruise portion of a longer tour that includes Victoria Falls and Botswana’s Chobe National Park with stays in riverside lodges.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by Croisieurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by CroisiEurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

While the first language aboard is French, English is also used for all announcements and entertainment, and is widely spoken amongst the crew. For some British and North Americans, the international experience is a major plus, though you will likely be in the minority. German, Italian and Spanish passengers may also be aboard.

Passenger Decks

The riverboat fleet includes three and four deckers, including the top open deck.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

All drinks, from wines to beer, cocktails and soft drinks, are included in fares during the main season from April to October. For North American passengers, all excursions are included, from walking and motor coach tours, to even, for instance, a thrilling helicopter ride on the Bordeaux itineraries from Pauillac over the vineyards of the Medoc region.

CroisiEurope Cruises

A helicopter ride over the vineyards near Bordeaux is a highlight of a Garonne River cruise. Photo: Heidi Sarna

Itineraries

The usual Europe rivers are included such as Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Main, Danube, Seine, Soane, Rhone, Douro (Portugal), Gironde and Garonne (SW France), and St. Petersburg to Moscow along rivers, canals and across lake and reservoirs.

More unusual are the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Andalusia (Southern Spain); the Po in Northern Italy; the Loire from St. Nazaire inland to Nantes and Angers (via shallow-draft paddleboat); Amsterdam to Berlin (unusual route) via waterways that connect the Rhine and tributaries with the Elbe across Northern Germany; and the Elbe and Moldau inland as far as central Prague by new shallow-draft sternwheelers 80-passenger L’ELBE PRINCESSE and L’ELBE PRINCESSE II (2018) taking 86 passengers. European river cruises operate nearly year-round.

Beyond Europe, Botswana‘s Chobe River in southern Africa plus Victoria Falls, and Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, are exotic options, plus ocean cruises to Malaysia and Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, the Persian Gulf, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

In another category, canal cruises operate on waterways throughout France using 22-passenger barges. Coastal cruises operate from Naples to Italian ports, islands and Sicily, and in the Adriatic to mostly Croatian ports and Montenegro and Greece, including Corfu.

Since 2018, CroisiEurope is a booking agent for selected 9-night cruises of the St. Lawrence River aboard the newly rebuilt MS JACQUES CARTIER, calling at Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Niagara Falls and passing along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIC operates in the Mediterranean. * Photo: Croisieurope

Why Go?

A French cruise line with an international passenger list may appeal to English speakers who would like to travel with Europeans (with French, Belgian and French-speaking Swiss in the majority), rather than just mostly North Americans.

When to Go?

The cruises operate during the best weather seasons, and the busy travel months of mid-June to September can often be avoided by choosing a spring or autumn date. Some departures are geared to the flowering bulb season in Belgian and the Netherlands, grape wine harvest in France and Germany, and a European-style Christmas (with markets) and New Year’s.

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

Most are of small to moderate size, outside with windows, beds in twin or double configuration. Some newer boats have larger cabins if that is an important factor, and some offer a few single cabins. Amenities include radio and TV.

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A standard cabin aboard Cyrano de Bergerac. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Public Rooms

All boats offer a forward lounge with bar for viewing and enjoying the entertainment, a dining room that seats all at the same time, and a top deck with both open and sheltered seating. During passages under very low bridges, the deck may have to be cleared of seating and railings.

Dining

Breakfast is a buffet while lunch and dinner are fine French cuisine set served three-course meals with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks. It pays to like the local food; there is a lot of duck on the menu as that’s a very popular French dish in its various permutations. Passengers are assigned tables according to their language. Some North Americans may find the full lunch menu a bit much, so you may wish to skip a course.

CroiseEurope

An elegant lunch onboard with complimentary wine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

Pre-dinner and sometimes post-dinner games, dancing and live music from a duo on the electronic piano and guitar. Basically, the it’s social interaction amongst the passengers that holds sway rather than sophisticated entertainment.

The Salon Bar on the Symphonie. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Special Notes

Consider the international flavor, which might be a plus or minus for you.

Along the Same Lines

CroisiEurope is probably the most international of the riverboat lines we cover. Others may cater only to English speakers (including those who speak the language well in addition to their native tongue) or specific nationalities such as German and Swiss or Spanish.

Contact

Go to www.croisieuroperivercruises.com; 800-768-7232.

TWS

 

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G Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Silversea Cruises

Originally family-owned and operated by the Lefebvres of Rome, Royal Caribbean now has a 67% stake in Silversea Cruises. The line has been offering high-end cruises since the early 1990s when it first launched the SILVER CLOUD, joining Seabourn as one of the world’s most upscale cruise lines focused on excellent food and service, posh suites, and exotic itineraries.

A year after the CLOUD, sister ship SILVER WIND debuted — the latter the sole subject of this review — and then in 2000 and 2001, a pair of larger even more luxurious twins hit the water, the 382-passenger SILVER SHADOW and SILVER WHISPER respectively. In 2009, the luxury stakes were raised again when the 540-passenger SILVER SPIRIT was introduced, with six dining venues including an Asian restaurant. SILVER MUSE made its debut in spring 2017 upping the capacity further beyond our 300-passenger limit to be followed by The SILVER MUSE in the autumn of 2020. When considering the entire fleet, Silversea blankets the world with creative itineraries.

In August 2017, the SILVER CLOUD was refurbished and converted into an ice-class expedition ship and at the end of 2017 joined the company’s Silversea Expeditions division, whose fleet consists of the SILVER DISCOVERER, SILVER EXPLORER and SILVER GALAPAGOS.

In summer 2018, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd acquired a stake in privately-owned Silversea Cruises; here are more details.

Beginning in August 2020, SILVER WIND will get a second extensive refurbishment, completing a project started in late 2018, that will include a strengthened, ice-class hull, bigger suites and other upgrades.  The ship will emerge with the ability to operate both classic and expedition itineraries.

Silversea Cruises

The Silver Wind carries 296 passengers double occupancy. * Photo- Silversea Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SILVER CLOUD (built 1994 & 296 passengers) and SILVER WIND (b. 1995 & 296 p).

Passenger Profile

Well-to-do couples 40s on up, and a number of senior singles, from North America, and a handful from the UK and Europe.

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all but the topmost deck.

Price

$$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

Just about everything — wine, spirits, and tips.

Itineraries

SILVER WIND:

  • Winters, 7- to 14-night Caribbean cruises round-trip from or between Fort Lauderdale, Puerto Rico and Barbados, with a vast variety of itineraries to the eastern, western and southern regions; most cruises are a combination of offbeat small-ship ports (such as Tortola and Bequia) and bustling big-ship ports (the likes of Grand Cayman and St. Thomas).
  • Spring and summer months of similar length in Northern Europe, including Norway, the Baltic and around Britain and Ireland from London, then westward to Eastern Canada, and fall foliage cruises between New York, Boston and via the St. Lawrence to Quebec and Montreal. Some transoceanic positioning cruises extend to 22 and 31 days. Following that via U.S. East Coast south to Fort Lauderdale and the resumption of winter Caribbean cruises.

SILVER CLOUD: Now see Silversea Expeditions

When to Go? 

The ship cruises where the optimal weather matches the destination.

Cabins

The all-suite ship has 149 very comfortable ocean-view suites, all with walk-in closets, a sitting area with sofa bed (for a third guest), and marble-clad bathrooms. The majority of rooms are 246 sq. ft. suites with 49 sq. ft. balconies. The 27 Vista Suites measure 240 sq. ft. and are the only rooms on the ship with windows and no balconies.

The largest suites measure 1,214 square feet and top categories have a one- or a two-bedroom configuration, plus a powder room for guests, full-sized whirlpool bathtub, CD player, and espresso machine. All this plus the amenities every accommodation on board boasts — butler service, plush robe, slippers, choice of pillows, choice of Ferragamo, Bvlgari or hypoallergenic bath amenities, ritzy Pratesi bed linens (if they were good enough for Elizabeth Taylor …), and a stocked mini fridge. Each also has a flat screen TV with on-demand movies, direct-dial telephone, Wi-Fi access and cellular service.

The majority of accommodations are 240 square foot suites with balconies. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

The majority of accommodations are 240 square foot suites with balconies. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Public Rooms

Overall, there is an appealing abundance of polished woods and teak decking, unlike newer ships. Up top is the forward-facing Observation Lounge, a quiet place for scenery viewing, reading and crossword puzzles. Just behind it are the spa, gym and hair salon. Otherwise, the public areas are at the stern of the ship. The windowed Panorama Lounge on Deck 8 is popular for daytime activities like dance lessons, and drinks before and after dinner, sometimes with live music; a cozy attached room called Connoisseur’s Corner is for cigar smokers.

Two decks below,  the multi-tiered entertainment lounge hosts mini Broadway-style shows; it’s also used for movies and lectures. Going down to Deck 5 you’ll find the small casino with blackjack, roulette, poker and slot machines, plus another bar and the ship’s boutiques. A small library and Internet room reside on Deck 4.

La Terrazza offers both indoor and outdoor seating, for wonderful stern views. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

La Terrazza offers both indoor and outdoor seating, for wonderful stern views. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Dining

Mealtime is a highlight of a Silversea cruise, with top-end continental fare and gracious five-star service. The four dining venues aboard the WIND include the elegant Restaurant with candle-lit tables, crisp white linens and china and seating capacity for all passengers at once; seating is open and there are tables for two and four passengers as well as larger tables, though you may have to wait for a two-top during the most popular dining times. Adjacent is the intimate Le Champagne, a 40-seat Relais & Châteaux conceived venue offering fine wines complemented by a set six-course tasting menu of regionally-inspired dishes ($40 per person and reservations are recommended).

La Terrazza serves buffet-style breakfast and lunch, with some a la carte options, and in the evening becomes a reservations-required Italian Restaurant inspired by the principals of Slow Food (ie, fresh and sustainable); for example, there is buffalo mozzarella from Naples, air-dried ham out of Parma, 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, and pasta made fresh daily on board.

The casual al fresco Pool Grille serves lite fare for breakfast and at lunch, you’ll get grilled meats, pizza, salads and more. Come evening, it becomes a novel dinner venue where you grill fish, prawns, steaks and other goodies exactly as you like them on a heated volcanic-rock plate right at your table (reservations are suggested). There is also room service that includes the option of ordering the same multi-course meals being served in the restaurants.

Activities & Entertainment

Most cruises have an expert lecturer or two — authors, scientists, professors, diplomats and others — who present day-time talks about the destination or other interesting topics, from foreign affairs to conservation. There’s a card room and some passengers entertain themselves with bridge and other games on long sea days. Others prefer spending time in the spa with its five massage rooms and sauna/steam rooms.

The oceanview gym sports a row of treadmills, stair climbers and stationary bikes, as well as free weights; there are Pilates, yoga and circuit training classes. Amidships on Deck 8 you’ll find the pool and two hot tubs, and a jogging/walking track up on Deck 9. Evenings, drinks with friends before and after dinner are de rigueur, plus there are live musicians in the various lounges and song and dance acts a few times a week in the show lounge.

Along the Same Lines

SEA DREAM I and II, and the ex-Seabourn trio, Windstar’s STAR PRIDE, STAR BREEZE and STAR LEGEND.

Contact

Silverseas Cruises, 110 East Broward Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301; www.silversea.com, 800-722-9955

 

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