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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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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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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.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Windstar Cruises.

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

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

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

N.B. WIND SPIRIT will further delay return to service from Tahiti to October 15, 2020 due to Centers for Disease Control “No Sail” date of September 20. 2020. The other five ships are scheduled for late 2020 and onto July 2021. In the interim, major HVAC updates will take place.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Zegrahm Expeditions

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

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

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

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

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

Passengers

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

Price

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

Included Features

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

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

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

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

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

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

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

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

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

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

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

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

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

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

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

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: LE PONANT

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

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

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

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

TWS

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Star Clippers

Star Clippers offers the perfect marriage of adventure, romance and comfort, not to mention the thrill of sailing on a gorgeous replica of a 19th-century Clipper Ship. The company’s trio of swashbucklers feels like they belong in the Caribbean,  Mediterranean and Far East, bucking through the surf and wind like ships are meant to. Watching sunsets melt behind the rigging or a port come into focus from a front row perch at the rails, a Star Clippers cruise is best spent on deck — that is whenever you’re not relaxing in the cozy nautical cabins or having a tasty meal in the dining room.

Owner and company founder Mikael Krafft, a Swedish-born industrialist and real estate developer, spared no detail or expense to design and build his fleet of three square-rigged clippers in the likeness of their speedy predecessors — Krafft and his team referred to the original drawings and specifications of Scottish-born Donald McKay, a leading naval architect of 19th-century clipper-ship technology.

The newest and largest of the three (until the new 300-passenger FLYING CLIPPER launches), the 227-passenger five-masted ROYAL CLIPPER, was modeled on the famed Preussen, a 1902-built German clipper. She is the largest square-rigged in service with 5,202 square meters of sail, hence she holds the honorary title Queen of the Seas. All three sport towering masts, sails, rigging, wooden decks and chunky ventilators. Facing forward on the top deck, if you didn’t hear the murmur of the engines much of the time (and could ignore the small pool and all those people in 21st century clothes), it’s not a leap to imagine being a crew member cranking winches on a three-month run to England with a cargo of tea and opium from China.

The Star Clippers’ ships typically rely on sails alone about 25% to 50% of the time; otherwise, the sails are used with the engines to maintain speeds of about 9 to 14 knots for the comfort of passengers — though occasionally in strong winds they clock speeds in the neighborhood of 15 knots. Hold on!

Sunset through the sails

Sunset through the sails. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Of course the beauty of a Star Clippers cruise is you feel like you’re on a real working ship without having to doing any work. While you can help pull in the sails a few times throughout the week or climb the masts (with a harness) at designated times, most passengers choose to be voyeurs, gazing out at the sea and distant landscape through the lens of the ships’ masts and lines. Sunrise and sunset through the sails, lines and masts are magical.

Fans were thrilled to learn that Star Clippers would be building a fourth ship, the FLYING CLIPPER, a much anticipated and complex construction project that has been an ongoing saga due to two years of shipyard delays. Now completed there is a dispute between Star Clippers and the shipyard, and it is unclear what will transpire. The FLYING CLIPPER’s details are 300 passengers and measures 8,770 tons. It is powered by more than 6,350 square meters of sails.  Technically a five-masted, square-rigged barque, it’s a near-replica of the FRANCE II, commissioned in 1911 and the largest square rigger ever built.

Just as the original FRANCE II eclipsed PREUSSEN (which the line’s ROYAL CLIPPER is modeled on) more than a century ago as the world’s largest square rigger, the newbuild will replace the ROYAL CLIPPER, as the largest ship of its kind afloat today. The vessel has have generous deck space, three pools, and a watersports platform in the stern. One restaurant will accommodate all guests and cabin choices include 34 suites with balconies and four luxurious owner’s suites. Like those of the Star Clippers’ fleet, there will also be a library and an al fresco Tropical Bar. The ship will likely start out sailing in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Stayed tuned to when all this begins to happen!

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count 

STAR FLYER (built 1991 & 172 passengers); STAR CLIPPER (b. 1992 & 172 p); ROYAL CLIPPER (b. 2000 & 227 p); and FLYING CLIPPER (2019 & 300p)

Star Clippers Passenger Profile

A mix of mostly Europeans, British and Americans in their 50s on up, plus a fair number of families with children aboard in summer and holiday weeks. In our opinion, it’s best for children to be at least 10 years old. Many passengers own their boats and just love to sail, with a huge number of repeat passengers who keep coming back for more. Repeaters get a 3% discount, not a lot yet a nod to their loyalty. Some passengers would never consider a standard cruise ship. Note: Announcements are made in English, German, and French.

Passenger Decks

4: No elevators.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Watersports, weather and conditions permitting.

Star Clippers Itineraries
  • Generally, all three ships  (only two in 2019)  summer in the Mediterranean between late April and October doing mostly one-week itineraries, plus a handful of longer 10- and 11-night sailings. ROYAL CLIPPER is based in the Western Mediterranean calling at ports in Spain, France and Italy and the islands: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and the Balearics. STAR FLYER undertakes some cruises in the Western Medit. to then position in the Adriatic along the Croatian coast, Greek islands and the Turkish coast but not Istanbul, for mostly 7 nights but a few 10 and 11. To reposition between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean in the spring and fall, longer trans-oceanic positioning voyages are the target for those who wants days under sail between ports with perhaps calls in the Canaries or Azores, and of course, one may begin or finish the voyage  with a string of Western Mediterranean ports calls. These voyages may be as short as 15 nights or as long as 28.
  • Two ships winter in Caribbean on mostly 7-night sailings (November-March), ROYAL CLIPPER offers varied 7-night itineraries from Barbados, longer 14-nighters through the islands and along the coast of Colombia to Panama including a canal transit.  STAR FLYER makes 7-night cruises from St. Maarten and longer 14-nighters along the coast and amongst the island to Panama including canal transit.
  • Through 2019, the STAR CLIPPER is in Asia spending half the year doing Andaman Sea mostly 7-night cruises off the coast of southwestern Thailand (October-April) and 7-, 10- & 11-night itineraries in the Indonesian archipelago the other half of the year. New 10- and 11-night itineraries will sail from Singapore to ports along the Malaysian coast and to the island of Borneo, including Kota Kinabalu and Brunei.
Approaching lovely Monemvassia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Approaching lovely Monemvassia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

For the great mix of adventure and comfort, you can feel like an old salt soaking in the sailing scene without giving up the luxury of nice cabins, good dining and even massages.

When to Go?

Two generally winter in the Caribbean and Central America and this pair then spends the summer in various parts of the Mediterranean with spring and fall transats to connect the two seasons.. The third is based in Southeast Asia and the Indonesian islands for the foreseeable future.

Star Clippers Cabins

Cabins are nautical, with wood-paneling, navy blue fabrics and brass details. The ROYAL CLIPPER’s standard cabins measure 148 square feet, while the CLIPPER’s and FLYER’s are a bit smaller at 120 to 130 square feet. The vast majority of cabins on all three ships are outside rooms with portholes (some with a pull down third birth); a handful is smaller inside cabins without portholes.

Each of the trio has a handful of suites, including six on the CLIPPER and FLYER, plus one large oddly configured owners’ suite. The 14 Deluxe Suites on ROYAL CLIPPER’s Main Deck measure 255 square feet and have private balconies, sitting areas, minibars, whirlpool tubs and 24-hour butler service; the two Owner’s Suites measure 355 square feet and have two marble bathrooms, though no balcony.

All cabins have TVs with DVD players, private bathrooms with showers, hair dryers, small vanity table with stool, and surprisingly ample storage space unless you’re a major clothes horse.

Consider that the lowest deck cabins near the stern will be close to the rumbling engines, and the cabins bordering the entrance to the dining room get residual noise and traffic and meal time.

A triple cabin, room 206.

A triple cabin, room 206. When not in use, the upper berth will be folded up and away.* Photo: Heidi Sarna

Star Clippers Public Rooms

On all three ships, the open air Tropical Bar is the hub of activity. Passengers gather around the chunky wooden bar for drinks and daily afternoon canapés are served there, and sometimes special theme lunch bunches as well. It’s the spot for evening entertainment (local talent that often comes aboard while the ship is at anchor) and informal briefings about the day’s schedules.

Adjacent is an indoor wood-paneled Edwardian-style library and card room, and also an indoor piano lounge mainly used for people who want a quiet place to read during the day. Each of the trio has one restaurant; the ROYAL CLIPPER’s fussier and multi-level. The ROYAL CLIPPER also has a small gym and spa and health club on a lower deck below the waterline with portholes to look out into the deep.

Star Clippers Dining

Each ship has one restaurant with open seating and tables for mostly six or eight, encouraging passengers to meet and mingle. The dress code is casual, though some guests enjoy wearing jackets on the captain’s gala night. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, with made-to-order omelet and pasta stations, respectively, while dinner is served a la carte. The FLYER and CLIPPER’s restaurant is one story, while the frillier dining room on the ROYAL CLIPPER is multi-level with a vaguely 19th-century Mississippi steamboat look.

The continental cuisine is simple and delicately spiced, with several options for dinner entrees, plus soup, salad and appetisers. To please the mainly European clientele, there are plenty of cheeses and marinated meats and fish at breakfast and lunch, and at dinner there are always pasta and fish dishes, plus choices like eggplant Parmesan and broiled lobster.

The staff is happy to accommodate special orders and second helpings, and several theme nights per cruise see them donning Italian garb or other fun costumes. A 24-hour coffee and tea station is set up on the bar, and each afternoon a complimentary snack is offered at the Tropical Bar, from waffles with chocolate sauce to fried plantains and salsa. About 11:30pm each night, a cheese board, fruit, or another snack is set out by the piano bar for late-night noshing.

Passengers are free to climb on the bowsprit mast. Weeeeee! Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

Passengers are free to climb on the bowsprit mast. Weeeeee! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Star Clippers Activities & Entertainment

There is rarely more than one sea day on a Star Clippers cruise, though the ships are usually on the move before dinner and early mornings so guests get plenty of time to enjoy the ships at sea. When weather conditions cooperate, the sails are put up and the engines are turned off; otherwise engines power the ship as well as a few sails up for show. The cruise director or captain does at least one talk a day about the ships or the destination, and passengers are welcome to crawl into the bowsprit netting at the front of the ships for an exciting stint sunbathing above the crashing surf.

When in port several times per cruise, you can climb a mast in a harness and stand on the crow’s next 55 feet up for sweeping views. Passengers are free to stroll into the chart house to chat with the captain or officer on duty, and occasionally there are engine room tours, excursions via tender to photograph the ships under sail, and exercise classes on deck. The ROYAL CLIPPER has a small gym and “spa,” while STAR CLIPPER and FLYER offer massages from a tent-like room up on deck within earshot of the crashing surf.

In port, if you don’t go off on a guided excursion or a walkabout on your own, there is free watersports equipment including paddle boards, windsurfers and snorkeling gear which are hauled to a nearby beach (passengers are shuttled back and forth on one of the ships’ pair of zodiac boats, which also offer water skiing) or used right next to the ship if anchored in an appropriate spot, inviting passengers to hop right into the sea. Some itineraries offer scuba diving opportunities for certified divers, including equipment (for an extra charge).

photo safari

The beloved “photo safari” when passengers can take photos of the ship from tenders. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Evenings, it’s drinks before and after dinner at the Tropical Bar, when a key board player is often on had to serenade passengers with evergreens. After dinner, there’s an hour or so of entertainment offered, from a local folk dance troupe when in port late (ie steel drummers in the Caribbean to whirling dervishes in Turkey) to a crew talent show, trivia contest or dress-up dance party. Once in a while a movie may be shown on deck, projected onto a sail. Things rarely howl on too late.

Along the Same Lines

Windstar’s sailing ships are the closest, and Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II are in the ballpark too.

Star Clippers Contact Info

Star Clipper Palace, 4, rue de la Turbie, 98000 Monaco; www.starclippers.com; (377) 97-97-84-00.    

— HMS/TWS

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Sian Appleyard from the UK

Cruise Line

Le Boat

Ship

Crusader; a six-berth canal boat with small kitchen, lounge dining area and sun deck

Destination

Burgundy, France on the Nivernais Canal

# of Nights

4 nights

Departure Date & Ports

June 2017, from Tannay, travelling north and returned at Migennes

OVERALL RATING

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

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating:  4

-Service/Crew Rating:  4

-Itinerary Rating:  5

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

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Review

Le Boat canal cruising in Burgundy France

We hired one of Le Boat’s small private-hire boats that sleeps 6, for 4 nights/5 days — there was just 4 of us. It was enough time for us to enjoy the experience and not lose patience with the relatively cramped conditions of canal boat living.

We collected the boat in Tannay (you can stay overnight in nearby Clamecy which has a direct rail link from Paris), and supplies are available at a local supermarket pre-departure (a short journey by car/taxi). The boat was clean, had bed linen provided, and we requested, and were given, an extra umbrella as we found our boat didn’t have an awning to protect against the hot sun when on deck — this proved essential.

We were given a brief overview/steering lesson in English (but being able to speak French is useful). Then we crewed it ourselves providing both hilarity and hiccups, a few minor collisions, getting the boat caught on the edge of a lock and the slow speed chase of an umbrella when it blew overboard. In June, the canal was largely empty of other vessels and the many locks were all manned making the journey otherwise very easy. The company provided us with excellent maps covering all the French canal systems and it was our choice how many miles of “sailing” we undertook each day, where we stopped for lunch or moored up for the night. The only restriction was where we started from and the date and location for the return of the boat. We paid extra for early collection and late return to give us more flexibility and also for bike hire. In the one case we had an issue (lighting the oven), Le Boat staff responded immediately and resolved the issue.

It was clear from the maps and info provided by Le Boat what you could expect to see and collect in terms of supplies at each official mooring point. We shopped for and prepared simple food (the kitchen was adequate for simple meals although the fridge seal was broken). We also ate at cafes in the numerous pretty villages we passed (notably Clamecy). The optional BBQ also proved useful when moored overnight in the middle of nowhere.

All in all, we had a very enjoyable holiday. The slow pace of travel and attractive rural surroundings were very relaxing and we would recommend Le Boat.

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small ship cruises with Seadream

SeaDream Yacht Club

by Heidi Sarna.

While I am partial to all kinds of small ship cruises, one of my favorites is SeaDream Yacht Club and its twin 112-passenger SeaDream I and SeaDream II. The duo spend most of their time in the warm climes of the Caribbean and Mediterranean, with occasional seasons elsewhere. I’ve cruised with them twice, once round-trip from San Juan to St. Barts and St. John some years ago, and another time more recently, in Southeast Asia from Singapore to Bali.

Here’s why I love this line and why you might too.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Visiting Bonifacio, southern Corsica, Italy. The SeaDream twins can dock where the biggies can’t. * Photo: SeaDream

1. Casual but still elegant. It’s nice to be around people who care about how they look, but not that much. SeaDream’s clientele make the effort to get out of their flip flops and safari pants (you know, the ones with zippers that can be transformed into shorts) and dress up a bit for dinner without going overboard. Ladies wear flowy dresses or pants, and men, smart trousers or jeans with nice shirts and maybe a brightly colored sports jacket, though they’re not required. It certainly isn’t impossible to pack everything you’ll need in a carry-on!

2. Champagne & caviar beach party. One of the highlights of a SeaDream cruise is the line’s signature beach party held along a remote stretch of sand and surf on every voyage. Passengers in their bathing suits easily morph into their younger carefree selves to enjoy champagne in plastic flutes from smiling waiters wading through the water with trays. Giggling merry makers hover around crew serving dollops of caviar from a silver bowl atop a floating surfboard. It’s a silly and wonderfully indulgent romp in the surf.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

The highlight of the week, champagne and caviar in the surf! * Photo: SeaDream

3. Water sports. The ships’ mini stern marina gives easy access to kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, banana boating and swimming when at anchor in some ports. There is also a pair of wave runners to use. You’re often able to hop in the water right from the marina, or if not, the crew will set up the water toys on a nearby beach. For landlubbers, a fleet of mountain bikes is carried on board for use in some ports.

Oceangoing

4. Open bar. No need to sign chits all day long, SeaDream is all inclusive. Sip a Prosecco or sauv blanc, or “buy” a round for new friends whenever the mood strikes. It fosters a carefree environment and makes you feel like you’re on a rich uncle’s yacht and not a commercial cruise.

Fares are all-inclusive. Drink up! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Polished staff. The gracious, hardworking crew of 95 strikes the perfect balance between being friendly, chatty and at your beck and call, while not being cloying or obsequious. On my SeaDream cruises, the handsome ex-model waiters were as smooth and skilled as you would encounter in five-star hotels in Europe.

6. The other passengers. Worldly and well-travelled, yet unpretentious, SeaDream cruisers tend to be people who appreciate adventure and off-the-grid experiences as well as good food, wine and service. Most are couples in their 40s to 70s, so there’s a nice wide range of people to meet and mingle with.

7. Classic decor with lots of wood. I don’t know about you, but I’m over the generic St. Regis brand of marble and brocade luxury and prefer the SeaDream yachts’ nautical flair; they look like ships with the generous use of real wood and brass fittings, from the decks to the cabins, furniture, doors and bar tops.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

The ships’ al fresco watering hole. * Photo: SeaDream

8. Lunch buffets. The food is good at every meal, but I particularly enjoyed the lunch buffets up on deck enjoying the views and the fresh sea air. On my SeaDream cruise in Asia, I gravitated toward the heaps of chilled shrimp, and various healthy salads and fruit, plus the option to try one of the featured dishes from the ala carte menu, like a yummy Pad Thai noodles or steamed dim sum dumplings.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Delicious food, especially the lunches. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

9. Open decks. To me, the point of a cruise is to be out on deck enjoying the wind in your hair and the water all around you. The ships’ comfy futon-style sun bed loungers up top are a great place to catch some rays and chill out (though depending how the wind is blowing, the ash from the nearby funnel may rain on your parade). Nearby, the open-air Top of the Yacht Bar is an appealing spot for drinks all day and into the evening; after dinner some folks head up there to dance to the bartenders’ favorite playlist and enjoy nightcaps under the stars.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Feels like your rich uncle’s private yacht. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

10. Pool & hot tub. Many small ships don’t have the space, but the SeaDream duo each have a hot tub and a small deep pool on the open stern deck. They’re excellent places to soak, especially in the late afternoon and early evening hours as the sun begins to set and a glass of bubbly seams most apropos.

small ship cruises with Seadream

Relaxing by the pool with stunning views. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

11. Spa & gym. Though the ships carry just 112 passengers, they still make room for an impressive little spa with five treatment rooms and an ocean-view gym with treadmills, weights and more.

12. The cabins. The identical 195-square-foot cabins are smart and comfortable, and not over done with veneers and fussy fabrics. The rooms are bright with a large window, blond wood panelling, sitting area and long wooden credenza where the electronics and mini-bar reside. The bedding is plush and the bathrooms with showers are small, but efficiently designed, as you’d expect from a yacht.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Cabins = simple beauty. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The SeaDream ships may be more than 30 years old, but they’re well maintained and appealing all the more for their classic lines and solid build. They’re not super over-the-top-luxurious and neither are they cerebral (expert lectures are rarely offered), SeaDream excels at offering a high-end island-hopping party on a yacht. Sunbathing, watersports and drinks on deck are most people’s main focus when they’re not off exploring some sexy port the likes of Jost Van Dyke and Saint John in the Caribbean, or Monte Carlo and Saint-Tropez in the Med.

➢➢ Read about SeaDream’s brand new build, the SeaDream Innovation to debut in Sept 2021.

 

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By Theodore W. Scull.

I would like to share some of my varied experiences as an American traveling aboard European ships.

Love thy neighbor.

Love thy neighbor.

When cruising European waters, Americans can choose a small oceangoing ship or riverboat that caters primarily to them, completely so if it’s a charter, or select one where they may well be in the minority amongst Europeans.

There are pros and cons to making this third choice, and on recent cruises, the experiences varied widely, but for the most part, I found them to be positive and culturally rewarding.

At the outset, I should add that I lived in London and Paris during my now distant graduate school days, and with annual European trips since them, I qualify as an ardent Europhile.

Winston Churchill, who had trans-Atlantic parents, once said that Britons and Americans were divided by a common language and that is not all. One can encounter considerable cultural differences, especially for Americans traveling on British ships.

In my case, they were aboard Swan Hellenic’s Minerva and Hebridean Island Cruises’ tiny Hebridean Princess.

The smaller the ship the more likely British passengers will consider it Union Jack territory, and the Americans who come aboard are overseas guests. That puts you into a secondary position.

While American television and its powerful cultural impact are known in nearly every British household, there are many levels of reaction to this, some positive and some negative.

Generally, those who have traveled to the U.S.A. like most of what we represent, and those who haven’t may sometimes resent or dislike it. That’s understandable if they have not directly experienced our ways.

We tend to be fairly open and full of questions when traveling, and many Americans admire British ways, but reactions by the British to have an American in their midst varies from an open welcome, to being reserved or even mildly hostile, at least initially.

Cocktail parties that allow you to move about are ideal for meeting other people. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cocktail parties that allow you to move about are ideal for meeting other people. * Photo: Ted Scull

My wife and I have traveled on Swan Hellenic’s Minerva several times, and on one occasion we ran into four well-traveled American women of our parents’ generation that I had known since childhood.

When we joined them for drinks before dinner, great laughter ensued, and the British around us looked on very disapprovingly, and one could feel the tension. Maybe we were having a better time than they were. But all that passed as we got to know one another.

Americans are in the habit of asking the newly encountered, “Where are you from, and even perhaps what do you do?” Or, this alternate approach. “We are from New York, and where are you from?”

The British don’t much care for that style of personal questioning, but on the Minerva, they feel quite comfortable asking something equally incisive, “Have you traveled with Swan before?” I like answering, “Yes, several times.”

We were then accepted almost as equals and as Anglophiles.

The floating Scottish country house hotel, known as the Hebridean Princess, works best when there are only two and three American couples in the passenger list, keeping the balance in Favor of the locals. The statement is a paraphrase of what some passengers and the previous owners have said to me, and I would agree.

The few number of people aboard the Hebridean Princess provides an intimate shared experience. * Photo: Ted Scull

The few number of people aboard the Hebridean Princess provides an intimate shared experience. * Photo: Ted Scull

On our two cruises, we (an American-Australian couple) gradually became subjects of curiosity in the intimate setting of the forward lounge with its brick and timber fireplace. It is amazing how much more permissible lively conversation can be after the meal and a little wine. On the third night of our first cruise, an Englishman, seated with a small group, asked, “Where do you two come from?” We then knew we were accepted and our social milieu expanded from that moment on.

A good topic of discussion is British English vs. American English, and as with most nationalities, the young are more accepting of American culture and phrasing than their parents.

When kids have a strong focus they can easily mix with each other. * Photo: Ted Scull

When kids have a strong focus they can easily mix with each other. * Photo: Ted Scull

Scandinavian ships pose very few language problems, and aboard the Hurtigruten’s popular Norwegian coastal voyages, the lounges and open decks are conducive to mixing, using the splendid scenery as the initial shared focus.

A shared event like crossing the Arctic Circle is an icebreaker (literally). * Photo: TedScull

A shared event like crossing the Arctic Circle is an icebreaker (literally). * Photo: TedScull

Most Scandinavians have a positive attitude towards Americans, and it may help that often they have relations in the US. Also many speak very good English.

Large numbers of Germans on any ship, be they aboard the Hurtigruten ships or some European riverboats, have a considerable effect on the atmosphere and demonstrate significant cultural differences.

In my half-dozen experiences, where they were aboard in large numbers, they tended to be indifferent to meeting other nationalities, notwithstanding a language problem for some. A few may be more open, but Americans tend to break the ice.

One characteristic has become a cliché, but it should be added that Germans do not have an exclusive on this practice.

Coming from a relatively cold and cloudy country, Germans take to the sun when they have the opportunity to go aboard, and they often snap up the deck chairs early, and if they can get away with it, save them for the entire day with books and towels. Also, Germans tend not to queue up the way Brits and most Americans do. That can cause friction.

Once, a cruise aboard a riverboat on the Rhine and Moselle was a thoroughly Germanic experience. We were a dozen Americans amongst a nearly all German passenger list, and fully half made no attempt at eye contact or greeting when meeting on the stairs, in the corridor or on deck.

They might or might not respond if you spoke first, more likely if you used a simple German greeting such as “gute morgan” (good morning).

I chose this particular cruise to get to know Germany better, so I made an extra effort to meet the locals, and it was tough sledding for the first few days, but those who finally did respond were pleased to share knowledge of their country.

Dining demonstrated another big cultural difference, and as the ship was geared to Germans, it served an elaborate multi-course sit-down meal at lunch, while Americans tend to eat lightly at midday. The buffet selections were pretty meager, but when you ordered just one or two menu items, you waited patiently until it was time for that course to be served, while the others went right through the menu.

Meals, however, can also be an easy way to mix Germans, English, Australians, and Americans. * Photo: Ted Scull

Meals, however, can also be an easy way to mix Germans, English, Australians, and Americans. * Photo: Ted Scull

Smoking on any ship where lots of Europeans are present will pose problems for some Americans, and with the practice so much more widespread, Europeans do not always pay heed to designated smoking and non-smoking areas.

As a non-smoker, I try not to let it bother me and concentrate on the overall travel experience, while on this side of the pond, I will be among first to speak up if the rule is broken.

Mediterranean cruises aboard two large Costa ships were perhaps the most intense blend of many European nationalities and English speakers. It also meant announcements were given in five languages — French, German, Italian, Spanish and English. By the time the cruise director got to English, everyone else had resumed their normal conversations.

My wife and I did feel isolated at times as we were in a tiny minority, but it’s not a bad thing to sit back and observe, and then choose the right moment to strike up a conversation with a foreigner to see if we have a common language. But masses of people representing different nationalities is not my cup of tea, as they tend to remain apart, while on small ships the different nationalities can blend more easily and often quickly find a common second language. Europeans are more likely to speak English than Americans are to have a facility in a second language with which they are comfortable.

Europeans may enjoy using their English, and then all sorts of doors of communication open.

That’s foreign travel at its best.

After all, we are all in the same boat, or here, boats. * Photo: ted Scull

After all, we are all in the same boat, or here, boats.
* Photo: ted Scull

PollyPurple8 copy

QC copyright

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent

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

Itineraries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

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

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

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

— TWS

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

 

SeaDream's beloved champagne and caviar beach party. Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

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

Snapshot: SeaDream was created for lovers of luxury who shun formality and stiff upper lips and instead embrace a casual “no-jackets-required” elegance on route to the British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Italian Riviera, Adriatic Sea and other chic pockets of the world. SeaDream’s two mini cruisers feel like yachts in many ways, with their classic thick wooden doors, bar tops and furniture, and all the brass details and navy-blue fabrics. There’s lots of outdoor deck space for passengers to hang out on sipping endless glasses of Prosecco or other free-flow libations, all included in the fares. In port, the SeaDream MO is to stay late in places like St. Barts and St. Tropez so passengers can sample the local restaurant and bar scene. When possible, the ships anchor in places where passengers can zip through the surf on a WaveRunner, and in port, pedal around on a bicycle, both stowed on board. The line’s beloved champagne and caviar party on a remote beach is a cruise highlight and epitomizes SeaDream’s laid-back style of indulgence.

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

N.B. In Spring 2019, the line announced the building of a brand-new yacht for 220 passengers occupying 110 veranda suites. Constructed in the Damen shipyard in the Netherlands, the ship is expected to debut in September 2021 and to make a series of worldwide cruises that will take the ship to all seven continents. More details as they are revealed. N.B. In early December 2019 the order for the new ship was cancelled,  no reason given. However, all initial bookings will be refunded, and it is hoped to announce a new ship order in 2020, and meantime, the refurbishment of suites aboard SeaDream II will begin as planned in early 2020. 

Ship, Year Delivered & PassengersSeaDream I (built 1984, 112 passengers) and SeaDream II (b. 1985, 112 p)

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

Passenger Decks: 5; an elevator connects all but top deck.

Price: $$-$$$  Expensive

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

Itineraries:

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

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

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

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

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

Cabins: All the cabins feature lots of real wood furniture and cabinetry for a nautical feel, plus an efficient entertainment center with a flat screen TV, DVD/CD player and iPod docking station that also incorporates a vanity, desk and mini-bar, stocked with beer, soft drinks and water. A sofa can accommodate a third guest in all cabins, ideal for an older child. There are 54 Yacht Club cabins measuring a comfortable 195 square feet, and 16 of them can be combined to create 8 double rooms called Commodore Suites (cabins on Deck 2 have portholes, those on Decks 3 and 4 have large picture windows). There are also two large suites. Beds are clad in Belgian linens are very comfortable, though on the narrow side, and storage space is generous.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Cabins = simple beauty. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

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

Public Rooms: There are two restaurants — one indoor, one out — plus the roomy Main Salon lounge with a dance floor and small bar, that’s used for port talks, movies, and pre- and post-dinner dancing. It leads out to the stern-facing pool deck and bar. One level up on Deck 4 is the Piano Bar, often the scene of sing-alongs, and adjacent to it, a tiny casino and a small library. Forward on Deck 4 is the surprisingly well-equipped ocean-view gym with half a dozen cardio machines and a spa with four treatment rooms and outdoor space. Up on Deck 6, is the Top of the Yacht Bar, where a thick wooden U-shaped bar holds pride of place under a sail-like roof with the rest of wonderfully open to the elements. It’s the place for drinks any time, and it’s especially fab at sunset. If the crowd is eager, the bartenders will crank up dance music after dinner and patrons can dance and let their hair down.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining: Eating is a high point, especially when the weather allows dining in the open-air Topside Restaurant up on Deck 5; otherwise, it’s the more traditional Dining Salon inside down on Deck 2. The Topside’s cozy tables for two or three tucked into the wooden banquets along the edges are much sought after, while the wake-facing tables for four are wonderful if the wind isn’t too strong. Seating is open, with plenty of tables for two and four, but a few days into the cruise, most people are eager to dine with new friends at larger combined tables. In Topsiders, breakfast and lunch are buffet style, with elaborate displays of homemade breads and pastries, as well as fruits. Similarly, at lunch, the buffet is generously laid out with a variety of salads, cold cuts and cheeses; at both meals there are ala carte items prepared in the galley, from eggs Benedict and crepes at breakfast, to grilled fish or a noodle dish at lunch. For dinner in the Dining Salon, choose a de Degustation (tasting) menu or go with Japanese, raw food or pan-Asian dishes in addition to popular western standards. Mid afternoon snacks are served poolside and if you’re hankering for caviar, just ask for it if you don’t mind paying extra. There’s 24-hour room service for snacks and lite meals.

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

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

Activities & Entertainment: When the ships are on the move, passengers love sunbathing and snoozing on the firm Queen-sized sunbeds that line the top-most deck (though depending on the wind direction, soot from the funnels can make things a tad unpleasant). They also love sipping a refreshing glass or two (or more) of refreshing Sauvignon Blanc at the open-air bar or around the small pool on the protruding aft deck, with great views of the ship’s wake. When anchored, weather and conditions permitting, a watersports platform at the stern allows you easy access to kayaks, sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear, personal water craft (Jet Skis), water skis and a floating island/trampoline. There are also mountain bikes for use in port (mostly in Europe and the Caribbean) and each ship has a golf simulator and wii gaming consoles for use in the Main Salon.

On all cruises in the Caribbean, and in the past in Asia too, the high point of the week’s activities is SeaDream’s indulgent “Caviar and Champagne Splash” held on a remote stretch of beach somewhere. Passengers happily wade through the surf to grab plastic glasses of champagne and dollops of caviar from waiters standing chest high in the ocean and serving the goodies from floating life rings and surfboards. It’s all giggles and guzzles, as passenger revel in the frivolous (and fun) absurdity of it all. The beach bubbles are followed by a full lunch at tables set up in the sand. Evenings on board, entertainment consists of drinks with new friends, sing-alongs at the piano bar, gambling in the tiny casino, dancing on deck at the Top of the Yacht Bar, and a weekly outdoor movie shown under the stars. During the day, occasionally there are talks or special films shown about the destination, but generally SeaDream does not host expert lecturers. There are however, a handful of wine appreciation theme cruises every year, with tastings and a winemaker’s dinner hosted by a guest winemaker or winery owner.

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

Contact Info: 601 Brickell Key Drive, Suite 1050 Miami, FL 33131; www.seadream.com; 800-707-4911 or 305-631-6100. UK freephone 0800-783-1373. See website for other phone numbers for Australia, New Zealand, East & Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America.

— HMS

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

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

 

 

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LE BOREAL in the Elbe WJM IMG_0678

Snapshot: Tauck was founded in 1925 by Arthur Tauck, Sr. ,and the firm is still family-owned with Arthur Tauck Jr. as chairman and son-in- law Dan Mahar CEO. The vast enterprise operates in 70 countries, and for purposes of Quirky Cruise, we’re highlighting their extensive choice of river and small ship cruises.

What’s Included: Quite a lot. On small ship cruises, shore excursions planned for Tauck-only passengers; all gratuities to Tauck guides, ship staff, local guides and drivers, bar and restaurant beverages, port charges, luggage handling, transfers, hotel accommodations and airport transfers upon arrival and departure when noted.

River Cruises:

Tauck riverboat sails into Budapest. * Photo: Tauck

Tauck riverboat sails into Budapest. * Photo: Tauck

-Europe: River itineraries, offered from April through October, include waterways in Belgium and Holland; Rhine and Moselle; Main and Danube; Rhone and Soane, and the Seine. N.B. The Douro will be added in 2020 – see below. In fact, string together cruises and sail from Amsterdam to Budapest (15 days) and even continue on another week to the Danube to the Black Sea.

N.B. Selected cruises aboard the score of riverboats cater to families with activities ashore such as hiking and cycling, riding a cog railway and how about this, a scavenger hunt in the Louvre! On board, kids hear about the legends of the Lorelei and participate in cooking demonstrations and chocolate tasting. Riverboats EMERALD and SAPPHIRE will each have 14 cabins converted to handle a family of four. See the firm’s website for the Tauck Bridges ebrochure for kids that describes the destinations and activities for a family vacation.

Two riverboats carrying just 130 passengers each entered service in 2016 – the GRACE in April and JOY in June, then in 2018 ESPRIT and TREASURES with 118 passengers.

Riverboat Inspire moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Tauck

Riverboat Inspire moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Tauck

Cruise tours include hotel stays and land extensions, such as adding London and Paris to a Seine River cruise, Switzerland to the Rhine, Prague and Nurnberg to a Danube itinerary and the French Riviera to the Rhone and Soane. The Jewel class ships take up to just 118 passengers with alternate dining in the Bistro and on the Sun Deck, weather permitting. The Inspiration class carries up to 130 with alternate dining at Arthur’s and on the Sun Deck, again, weather permitting. Inclusive features include unlimited beverages include beer, wine, spirits; Internet (reception varies); use of bicycles; shore excursions and all gratuities to staff aboard and guides ashore.

-*Myanmar (Burma): 11-day cruise tours, scattered throughout the year, include a three-night cruise on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River between Bagan and Mandalay aboard the 4-deck, 82-passenger BELMOND ROAD to Mandalay. *N.B. This cruise is currently not operating.

-China: 16- & 17-day cruise tours spend 3 days (downstream) or 4-days (upstream) aboard the 124-passenger YANGZI EXPLORER between Chongqing and Yichang, including passage through the Three Gorges. Tauck reserves 23 cabins, all with balconies, on sailings operating between April and October.

Small Ship Cruises: As Tauck uses a variety of ships, inclusive features vary.

-Europe: A wide variety, and most cruises last 7 days, a few 8 and 9, plus land extensions with hotels, sightseeing and transfers. Spain & Portugal, Aegean Sea, Venice, Croatia & Greece with Windstar ships sail and motor vessels; British Isles & Ireland; Norwegian Fjords, Iceland, Baltic & St. Petersburg; Italy, Sicily, Malta, Corsica & Monte Carlo with Ponant ships LE SOLEAL and LE PONANT. The new purpose-built 84-passenger riverboat ANDORINHA will arrive on Portugal Douro River in spring 2020. May to October itineraries will be 7-night cruise only, 7 nights for families, and 12 nights with 7-night cruise and 2-night hotel stays each in Madrid and Lisbon. Andorinha is a migratory sparrow that returns to Portugal every spring and occupies the same nest with the same mate year after year.

-Cuba: THESE CRUISES HAVE BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO A US GOVERNMENT ORDER FORBIDDING CRUISES TO CUBA. HOWEVER, LAND TOUR ARE AVAILABLE THOUGH TAUCK. 11-day Cuba cruise tours begin and end with flight from and back to Miami using the motor-sail ship LE PONANT (60 passengers) for a six-day cruise between Havana and Santiago de Cuba and calling as three intermediate south coast ports. Dates are December and January.

-Central America: An 11-day cruise-tour, January, February, and March, to Panama and Costa Rica spends 7 nights aboard the 148-passenger WIND STAR passing through the canal and calling at island and coastal ports between Colon, Panama and Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica.

A Cuna boy from the San Blas Islands, Panama comes among side. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Panamanian boy comes among side. * Photo: Ted Scull

-Galapagos: A 8-day cruise tour, March, April, June to August and December, combine a Peruvian tour including Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu with a 4-night Galapagos cruise aboard the 90-passenger, 5-deck SANTA CRUZ II (Tauck passengers only). Cabins are all outside with twin or double beds. December is a family departure.

-Antarctica: 13-day Antarctica cruise tours, January and December 2017, include 2 nights in Buenos Aires and 10 nights aboard Ponant Cruises’ LE SOLEAL or LE BOREAL (224-264 passengers). These 6-deck ships, built since 2010, have all outside cabins, (most with balconies), twin beds or queen-size, some cabins with bathtubs, two restaurants and two panorama lounges, two viewing terraces, open-air bar, and elevators to all but the highest Deck 7.

-New Zealand: A 9-day cruise of the North and South Islands aboard LE LAPEROUSE (184 passengers) with an Australian component to Melbourne, Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. adding up to 20 days.

L'Austral. * Photo: Tauck

L’Austral cruises to Antarctica. * Photo: Tauck

-Japan: A week’s cruise aboard Ponant’s L’AUSTRAL (264 passengers) or LE SOLEOL (244 passengers)  makes a loop around southern Japan with a call at Busan, South Korea as part of a 14-day cruise tour with April departures.

Japanese gardens are a major feature of a cruise tour.

Contact: TAUCK, 10 Westport Road, Wilton, CT 06897-4548. www.tauck.com; 800-468-2825

TWS