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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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G Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Windstar Cruises.

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Zegrahm Expeditions

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

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

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

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

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

Passengers

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

Price

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

Included Features

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

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

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

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

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

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

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

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

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

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

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

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

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

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

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

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: LE PONANT

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

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

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

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

TWS

 

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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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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Since it was founded in 1990, Crystal Cruises has been a beloved high-end line, with ships in the 800- to 1,000-passenger range, twice the size of the ships of near-peers Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas. Crystal’s strength has always been their wide scope of dining choices (with Asian and Italian specialty restaurants before everyone else jumped on that boat) and activities (offering onboard computer workshops before such things were popular). They have also always excelled in their lecture program, with most cruises featuring numerous experts giving talks about the destination as well as other topics. Now with its Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises brand,  Crystal is taking what it does best and adapting it to a small upscale expedition-style ship called CRYSTAL ESPRIT, the focus of this review. It was built in 1989 and then purchased by Star Cruises in 1994 and known as the MEGASTAR TAURUS (a private vessel for Star’s parent company Genting’s high-roller casino clients) until its recent conversion to ESPRIT.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The 62-passenger Crystal Esprit. * Photo: Crystal

In mid 2015, Crystal was bought by Genting Hong Kong and soon after in a series of announcements outlined a new chapter for the company, an aggressive expansion program that months later was watered down. Currently, the new offerings include the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015, and for now three river “yachts,” including a pair of brand new vessels that launched in 2017: the 110-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL MAHLER to cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers (two more new river yachts are planned for 2018 and another pair at an unspecified date). The 158-passenger CRYSTAL MOZART river yacht (a 1987-built ship formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises) debuted for Crystal in Europe in July 2016. Click here for more details on Crystal River Cruises.

To join the ESPRIT, Crystal launched the 200-passenger CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR in the summer of 2019.  Down the road, Crystal wants to build a trio of new 1,000-passenger luxury ships to sail in polar regions; they’ve changed their target date several times, and are currently shooting for a 2022 launch.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Rendering of the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor. * Rendering: Crystal Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CRYSTAL ESPRIT (built 1989 & 62 passengers); CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR (b. 2019 & 200 p)

Passenger Profile

Well-to-do couples 40s on up, with some senior singles and families during summers and holidays, from North America mainly, plus a sprinkling from the UK, Europe and Asia. Many have cruised on Crystal’s larger ships.

Passenger Decks

4 (no elevators)

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Just about everything — wine, spirits, soft drinks, tips, watersports, one excursion in every port, WiFi (an hour a day), self-serve laundry, butler service, and 24-hour in-room dining from the restaurant menu.

Itineraries

Winters, 7-night Seychelles Islands round-trip from Mahe, Seychelles, calling on St. Anne Island; La Passe, la Digue Island; Baie Ste. Anne, Praslin Island; Laraie Bay, Curieuse Island; Anse Saint Jose, Curieuse Island; Cousin Island; Aride Island; Big Sister Island; and Desroches Island. These cruises are packaged with a 2-night hotel stay in Dubai before the cruise.

  • Spring, Summer and Fall, 7-night Adriatic Sea between or round-trip from mostly Venice, Dubrovnik and/or Athens, with various combinations of ports that may include Rovinj, Sibenik, Trogir, Vis, Hvar, Split, Zadar, Opatija, and Korcula, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Piran, Slovenia; and Corfu, Parga, Itea, Hydra, and Navplion, Greece. Each of the 7-night cruises can be combined with the following one to create a 14-night cruise without repeating ports.
  • December, 9-, 10- and 11-night Middle East round-trip from Dubai, calling on Khasab and Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; and Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi, UAB.
  • CRYSTAL ENDEAVOUR entered service in mid-summer 2019 with initial expedition cruises in Japan and the Russian Far East, Indonesia, Borneo, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, including the Ross Sea, and Antarctica from Ushuaia where it will operate will the highest ice classification for an expedition cruise vessel. In August 2021, the ship will undertake a 28-night westward voyage via the Northeast Passage. The new ship’s amenities include two helicopters and two 7-passenger submarines.
When to Go?

ESPRIT does its Europe cruises in the summer and the Middle East/Africa itineraries in the winter months.

Cabins

Most of the rooms on the all-suite ship are 280-square-foot Yacht Suites with a queen-size bed, small sitting area with a sofa bed (can be used for a third passenger), full-height hanging closet, and very nice bathrooms with double sinks, rain showers and natural stone flooring. The single 515-sq. ft owner’s suite has a separate dining room with four-seat dining table. None of the suites have balconies and none are wheelchair accessible. There are two self-service laundry rooms.

Public Rooms

The Cove Lounge is the yacht’s main entertainment spot, where you can watch a movie or live sporting event by day, and in the evening enjoy a drink while a piano player/singer provides background music. There’s a mini casino and the lovely outdoor Sunset Bar on Deck 5 speaks for itself. There’s a small pool and two hot tubs on Deck 5, as well as a steam room, sauna and a small gym with a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical machines, Kinesis machines and free weights. You’ll find a micro spa/salon on Deck 3.

Crystal Yacht Cruises

Crystal Endeavour’s solarium transforms into an evening dining venue. * Photo: Crystal Yacht Cruises

Dining

Four venues include The Yacht Club restaurant, which is the ship’s main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner; menus incorporate local ingredients in many dishes. It has large windows and a chic color scheme of steel greys and sharp blues, and tables are set with Riedel crystal, fine china and French linens. Seating is open and there are lots of tables for two. The adjacent outdoor Patio Café at the stern offers great views and waiter-served light meals at breakfast and lunch, when you can choose from interesting salads, cold cuts, cheese and pastries. On Deck 5 near the pool during the day,The Grill offers burgers, wraps and international “street food” reflecting the itinerary. The Compass Room is a small reservations-only specialty dining venue for wine and food pairings, ideal for private parties. Grazers can always stop by the Pantry, a self-serve pit stop on Deck 2 open 24 hours a day with light food and drinks.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The Esprit’s open seating Yacht Club Restaurant. * Photo: Crystal

Activities & Entertainment

An ESPRIT cruise is meant to be active and adventurous (note, there are no elevators on the ship), with adult toys including a two-passenger submarine, four 10-passenger zodiacs for special excursions, and a 12-passenger Wider 32-foot yacht tender for special boating adventures (all complimentary except for sub).  Watersports equipment is carried on board and easily accessible from the stern marina, from water skis to wake boards, kayaks, jet skis, fishing, and snorkel equipment. There are also a few bicycles passengers can use in port. On the cerebral side, on some cruises destination experts will be on board to present talks. Evenings, it’s drinks and chat with fellow guests.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Crystal Espirit’s stern marina for watersports and Zodiac access. * Photo: Crystal

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream Yacht Club.

Contact

Crystal Cruises, 11755 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 1-310-785-9300 or www.crystalyachtcruises.com.

— HMS

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

 

 

Sea Cloud Cruises

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$$

Included Features

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

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

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

Star Clippers comes close-ish.

Contact

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

— HMS

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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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Laura Holman.

Cruise Line: Sail in Greece.

Ship: M/S Alexia.

Destination: The CycladesGreek Isles.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports: July 23, 2016, round-trip from Mykonos.

OVERALL RATING: 4 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? I’ve been on 2 small ship cruises.

Review: Sail Greece for under 35s.

We joined a cruise called YOLO to sail around the Greek Islands with a company called Sail in Greece. We were 25 people on board and had great time. Well priced and ideal for young people.

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Don from Toronto.

Cruise Line: Windstar Cruises.

Ship: Wind Star.

Destination: Greek Isles.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports: July 23, 2016, round-trip from Athens/Piraeus, visiting Mykonos (replaced by Milos), Santorini, Rhodes, Kalymnos/Myrties and Nafplio.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? Yes, 10+ with Windstar.

Review: Great itinerary that included two ports we’ve never been to before.

We had initially booked a 7-day Windstar cruise entitled “Greek Isles and Turkish Delights,” but two weeks before departure Windstar cancelled that itinerary because of the situation in Turkey and replaced it with one that included only the Greek Isles. As this was a special itinerary put together at the last minute, it is no longer available. However, Windstar’s “Treasures of the Greek Isles,” now on offer for 2017, is almost identical.

While disappointed that we couldn’t visit Turkey, this revised itinerary was great nonetheless as it included a couple of places that we hadn’t visited previously including Nafplio, a pleasant seaside town famous for the UNESCO site of Mycenea, and the Isle of Milos, another last-minute switch as the sea was too rough to operate the ship’s tenders in Mykonos.

Wind Star is not a typical cruise ship. It is described more aptly as a yacht, as it has functioning sails and accommodates only 149 passengers (with almost the same number of crew.) Service is consistently excellent, as is the food, which is served either on deck or in the larger dining room. Cabins are approximately 190 square feet but are designed well so that they seem larger. Bathrooms are nicely appointed with granite counters and high-end toiletries. All cabins have 2 portholes. Cabins are situated on the first and second decks. We always book a cabin on the first deck as they’re identical anyway, slightly less expensive, and more stable should seas be rough. Passengers were about 60% American, with a remaining mix of Europeans, Canadians and Australians. Age range was between 30 years to late 60s, early 70s. As the ship does not have elevators and does not offer much in the way of entertainment it tends to attract an active clientele who are more interested in exploring the ports of call. One of my favourite features of the ship is the watersports platform that is extended when the ship is anchored off shore — great when cruising the Greek Isles.  Overall, a wonderful experience. Highly recommended.

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Biking & Beer on the Danube River

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Scenic Cruises

The river cruise line was founded in Australia in 1986, then expanded in 2007 to the UK and Canada, and to the US in 2008. Most recently the line has expanded from its main focus in Europe, including Russia, to Southeast Asia cruises. Expedition cruising will began in fall 2019. Lots of important features are included. The parent firm also operates the moderately-priced Emerald Waterways. A partnership with National Geographic sees an expert and photographer on board all European cruises.

Scenic prides itself on not taking your credit card details at embarkation because the fare is so inclusive, there’s little chance of spending more on board for anything else. *N.B. Scenic Eclipse entered service in August 2019 with a first cruise from  Reykjavik, Iceland via Greenland, Eastern Canada to Quebec . For a press releases describing the ship’s features, scroll down to the bottom of this review.

Scenic

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

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

There are 11 riverboats referred to as “Space-Ships.” The following European riverboats are remarkably similar: SCENIC JASPER, OPAL & AMBER (built 2015/2016 & 169 passengers); SCENIC CRYSTAL, JEWEL & JADE (b. 2012, 2013, 2014 & 169 p); SCENIC GEM (b. 2014 & 128 p); and SCENIC SAPPHIRE, EMERALD, DIAMOND, RUBY & PEARL (2008-2011/remodeled 2013 & 167 p).

For Russia, SCENIC TSAR (b.2012 & 112 p) and SCENIC AZURE (b.2016 & 96 p).

For Mekong River in Southeast Asia, SCENIC SPIRIT (b. 2016 & 68 p); Irrawaddy in Myanmar, SCENIC AURA (B. 2016 & 44 p).

Scenic

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

For Egypt & the Nile, SANCTUARY SUN BOAT III (b.1993, refitted 2009 & 36p), including 4 large suites).

Expedition ship SCENIC ECLIPSE (b. 2019 & 228 p). A second expedition ship is due 2020.

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$ Expensive

Included Features

Shore excursions, GPS devices for self-guided tours, all drinks including stocked mini-bar, tips, WiFi, use of e-bicycles (in Europe), 24-hour cabin service including services of a butler, wellness facilities, laundry, all meals in multiple dining venues, transfers between airports and the ship. Newly added is travel insurance that covers cancellations, delays, weather-related incidents, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns, and strikes.

Itineraries

With such a large fleet, Scenic offers many itineraries, some simply a cruise and others adding hotel stays in major cities, plus extended 10- to 15-day land tours throughout Europe – Britain and Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Balkans, Baltic States, and Scandinavia,

➢The Europe rivers covered are the Rhine, Moselle, Main, Danube, Rhone and Soane, Seine, Douro in Portugal and the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne in the Bordeaux region, plus Dutch and waterways  as far south as Antwerp.

➢Most Europe itins are offered from late March to October last from 8 to 14 days, and a few ambitious itineraries may start such as this one does in Amsterdam and sail via the Rhine, Main and Danube to Budapest or onto the mouth of the Danube as it enters the Black Sea, with an extension to Gallipoli and Istanbul.

➢Christmas Market cruises operate in November and December mostly along the Rhine and Danube, bracketed by Paris and Prague.

➢Newly added programs offer a Portuguese river cruise, cycling trips in Austria and southern France, and culinary classes in France that include sourcing the ingredients.

➢Newly added to the Russia program — St. Petersburg-Moscow — will be an unusual and intriguing 15-day itinerary from Volgograd (Stalingrad) to Moscow via the Volga River.

Scenic

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

➢The Moscow-St. Petersburg waterway cruise uses the riverboat as the hotel for multiple nights in both cities. In both cases, the boats tend to be moored well out of the city center with longish bus rides for sightseeing excursions.

➢The Wonder of Egypt is an 12-day itinerary with Cairo and Southern Egypt, including a Nile cruise. A 20-day Egypt with Jordan extension visits Amman, Petra, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba on the Red Sea. An escorted 8-day Israel tour can be added.

➢The 11-day Mekong River cruise tours with a stay in Siem Reap may be combined with land extensions for 18 days that take in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam including a 2-night Halong Bay cruise.

➢11 and 18-day y cruise tours on the Irrawaddy in Myanmar see the river portion operating between Bagan, and to the South and Bagan to the north to Mandalay, and beyond. The longer itinerary has more hotel nights in Yangon and Inle Lake. Cruises operate October 2019 to March 2020.

Scenic

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

*Note — Beginning in August 2019, the delayed SCENIC ECLIPSE, a brand-new luxury Discovery Yacht,began operating largely in the polar regions with season-changing repositioning voyages and offering 114 veranda suites that begin at 345 sq. ft. with private verandahs and lounges, nine dining experiences at no extra charge, extra powerful stabilizers that operate at zero speed, a submarine for underwater exploration, and two twin-engine helicopters for exploring away from the ship. Antarctica cruises will begin in fall 2019. Additional year-round itineraries include the Arctic, Western Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords, Baltic, Cuba & Caribbean, Panama, Colombia, Chilean Fjords and the Falklands, Argentina and Brazil.  Even more recently, Scenic announced the construction of a second Discovery Yacht for delivery in May 2020. Itineraries will expand even further to include the Northwest Passage, Russia’s White Sea and the North American East Coast.

For examples of SCENIC ECLIPSE’S  Arctic itineraries, what follows applies to 2020. 13-day circumnavigation of Svalbard; 15-day voyage from Svalbard to Greenland’s east coast and Iceland; 12 days beginning in Iceland then proceeding to southern Greenland’s east and west coasts. Later in the season an unusual 15-day Alaska voyage embarking in Nome and south to the Aleutian Islands, south-central Alaska, then into the Inside Passage and on south to Vancouver.

Then for 2021, two Arctic expedition cruises include a 9-day circumnavigation of Iceland, followed late in the summer season by an ambitious 19-day voyage commencing in Dublin, Ireland then north to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Canada’s maritime provinces, ending in Boston.

For examples of SCENIC ECLIPSE’S Antarctica itineraries, a 13-day voyage includes six days along the Antarctic Peninsula, two sea days each way across the Drake Passage and two in Buenos Aires, and a longer 19-day venture spends two days in the Falkland Islands, five days in South Georgia, and five days on the Antarctic Peninsula, plus sea days and Buenos Aires. A 16-member discovery team provides the enrichment program ashore and aboard.

SCENIC

2019-2020 routes of the SCENIC ECLIPSE

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

A whopping 82 per cent have balconies. On the two principal cabin decks, the generously proportioned accommodations have large view windows and on the lowest (Jewel) deck, a shallow rectangular double pane of glass high in the cabin bulkhead. The Royal One-Bedroom Suites are two rooms with a separate lounge and balcony. SCENIC TSAR in Russia has two decks of balcony cabins and just four that are standard grade with windows. SCENIC SPIRIT in SE Asia has all balcony suites (344 to 867 sq. ft.) with separate lounge. SCENIC AURA, with four decks, has all two-room suites, plus a small pool on the Sun Deck.

Scenic

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

Public Rooms

On all the riverboats (except SCENIC TSAR), the forward Panorama Deck lounge (covered and open to the sides) connects aft to Portobellos Restaurant, the River Café and the main lounge with bar. The main Crystal Dining venue is one deck below shared with the Table La Rive specialty dining section. The Riverview Terrace with umbrellas occupies Sun Deck forward of the navigation bridge, and the rest of this deck has canvas awning coverings or is open with a surrounding circular walking track. SCENIC TSAR has a midships lounge with bar and an aft dining room on the same lower deck and a second aft-facing lounge with bar two decks above.

Dining

Multiple venues starting with the Crystal Dining Room, the big-window main restaurant with tables from 2 to eight; River Café, casual with buffet dining for breakfast and a light lunch; Portobellos, 5-course Italian for 32 passengers; and Table La Rive, a 6-course degustation menu for 10 at a time and reserved for Diamond Deck passengers and located in a curtained off section of the main restaurant. More effort than the norm is spent providing memorable meals in a variety of settings. SCENIC TSAR has no alternate dining other than light food selections in the second lounge.

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

There are three types of shore excursions: Enrich, Free Choice, and Tailormade. The last-named excursions are designed for you to go ashore on your own and at your own pace by foot or bicycle with a GPS locator providing the commentary and an interactive map. Subjects covered may be art, architecture, and history, and they are available in 140 locations. You can also use these tools on board while ensconced in a lounge chair on the Sun Deck or in the Panorama Lounge. Free Choice allows you to concentrate on your interests and whether you want an active, moderate or relaxed pace. Active might involve a hike or cycling outing; moderate, a city walking tour, and relaxed a museum visit or a canal cruise. Favorite hiking routes are the Danube Path through Austria’s Wachau Valley and a coastal path near Bordeaux along Arcachon Bay. Enrich excursions are led by an expert in history or local culture to get beneath the surface. On board cooking school, Scenic Culinaire, operates on the French waterways and that includes going to local markets to buy the ingredients for the onboard cooking component. Partnership with National Geographic for all European cruises sees an NG expert giving talks and leading excursions ashore and an NG photography provided tips and classes.

Scenic riverboats in Europe carry a fleet of e-bikes that help you propel your way into villages and vineyards so you become part of life ashore and not just a spectator. A Bike and River Cruise program is operated by Trek Travel, specialists in high-end bicycle tours. Nine departures between May and September will come under the titles Gems of the Danube sailing between Budapest and Nuremburg and Rhine Highlights between Amsterdam and Basel. During the former, specialists in guiding bicycle tours of 15 to 60 miles will take passengers to breweries for beer tasting, along paths in the Wachau Valley, Austrian grape wine-growing country, into Vienna Woods and the hills of Buda in Budapest. The latter will visit the Alsace Wine Route, the Rhine Gorge, Cologne’s network of cycling paths, and cheese tasting in the village outside Amsterdam. Non-cycling activities will also be offered.

Biking & Beer on the Danube River

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

Special Notes

SCENIC draws English-speaking passengers from around the world, something that may appeal to the international-minded.

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contacts

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

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

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

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

Pont du Gard, South of France

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

 

Scenic’s Scenic Eclipse; a wondrous 228-passenger expedition ship.

After Scenic Eclipse’s christening in New York City by Godmother Dame Helen Mirren, the long-awaited and highly innovative expedition vessel makes it way to South America and the inaugural Antarctica season.
Some attributes are zero-speed stabilizer fins, 50% larger than the standard style to reduce the ship’s roll by more than 85%; Polar Class 6 ice rating, the highest available for a passenger vessel; redundancy features for the propulsion, navigation, and safety systems, and food refrigeration; and a GPS dynamic positioning system that maintains its position without dropping at anchor onto a potentially fragile seabed.

Passengers can choose from ten included dining options that range from the Yacht Club’s alfresco meals, the Azure Bar & Cafés casual fare, Lumiere’s French haute cuisine and the Chefs Table degustation.
The ship’s 114 all-verandah suites range in size from 345 square feet up to the super roomy 2,645 square-foot two-bedroom Owners Penthouse Suite with a separate sleep, lounge and dining areas, spa bathroom and a large private terrace with jacuzzi. The ship’s Senses Spa offers a wide range of treatments, infra-red and Finnish sauna, and spa and plunge pools.

Excursions offered include two six-passenger helicopters and a six-passenger submarine, capable of diving to nearly 1,000 feet. For land exploration, the discovery team and guides escorts guests on nature and cultural outings visiting historic cities, ancient monuments, and natural wonders.

Worldwide 2020-2022 itineraries take in Antarctica, the Northwest Passage, North and South America’s coastal cities and landscapes, Europe’s northern reaches, the Mediterranean and Greek Islands. A digital brochure of the complete Scenic cruise coverage can be downloaded or for a printed version go to: Canada: www.scenic.ca/request-a-brochure, and for the USA: www.scenicusa.com/brochures.

 

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By Heidi Sarna.

Small ships don’t have playrooms, video arcades and waterslides like the mega ships do. In some cases there aren’t even TVs in the cabins and an Internet connection may be spotty or non-existent. Small ships cruises are all about the destination and sometimes also the novelty of traveling aboard a cool sailing ship or interesting river boat. More than anything else, small-ship cruising for families works when the itinerary is chock full of active things to do on shore. It’s better still if there are special family departures (with activities and pricing geared to families), which some small-ship lines like Lindblad Expeditions and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offer in the summer. Opportunities to see wildlife are a huge plus and so are fun ways (think castles and forts) to expose kids to history. A small-ship cruise can be a wonderful learning experience for children and considering the intimate surroundings, a great bonding opportunity for the whole family. Generally, small ships work best for families with children over about age 10; for younger kids there are potential safety issues to consider, from spindly railings and ladders or steep stairs to climb, to getting in and out of zodiac boats and navigating wet landings, narrow gangways and interactions with wildlife.

Here are our top 5 small-ship itinerary picks for families with kids over age 10.

Children can get this close to a Galapagos Giant Tortoise, on Santa Cruz Island with Lindblad Expeditions. * Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Children can get this close to a Galapagos Giant Tortoise, on Santa Cruz Island with Lindblad Expeditions. * Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Galapagos Islands

It’s all about the wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. Being able to get within inches of an adorable seal pup frolicking on the beach or near a flock of pink flamingos can be a life-changing experience for kids. On a Galapagos cruise, every day there are shore excursions and/or activities in the water, so there is zero change of getting bored.

Galapagos highlights for families include:

Seeing seals, giant tortoises, iguanas and endless wildlife up close
Swimming
Snorkeling
Kayaking
Hiking
Zodiac boat rides


 

Soft sand goes a long way in pleasing kids. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Soft sand goes a long way in pleasing kids. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Caribbean

It’s a no-brainer. Most kids love swimming in the ocean and playing in the sand, and the Caribbean harbors the world’s best beaches. There are also rainforest hikes in some ports and visits to old forts where cannons still point out towards the sea where enemy galleons once arrived ready for battle. Today, many small-ship cruises in the Caribbean are aboard sailing ships and they’re inherently adventurous to any Jack Sparrow loving kid.

Family-friendly Caribbean highlights include:

Swimming
Snorkeling
Great beaches
Pirate lore
Old forts
Hiking

 


 

Historic Greece is fun and educational for all ages. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Historic Greece is fun and educational for all ages. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Greek Isles

Greece offers families a bit of everything, from ancient history and mythology that comes alive in the islands’ eons-old amphitheatres, stadiums, libraries and temples to cool beaches framed by interesting rock formations. The food is excellent and the adventures are many — my twin sons will never forget a ride on a motor scooter (one sharing with me and the other with my husband) around the gorgeous (and quiet) island of Amorgos a few summers ago when they were 11.

Highlights of small-ship family-friendly cruises around the Greek Isles include:

Swimming
Snorkeling
Eating
Ancient ruins
Museums
Hiking
Motor scooter rides


 

Active excursions like river rafting in Alaska, keep kids engaged and happy. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Active excursions like river rafting in Alaska, keep kids engaged and happy. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Alaska

Vast, unspoiled tracts of forest and stunning fjords, Alaska is an ideal destination for nature-loving families. Compared to the many mega ships that visit Alaska’s Inside Passage, small-ship cruises can get you much closer to the glaciers, whales and bears everyone goes there to see, as they are able to slip into narrow passageways and fjords.

Alaska small-ship cruise highlights include:

Glaciers
Whales
Hiking
Kayaking
Bicycling
Flightseeing
Gold panning


 

Long gorgeous hikes in Norway, this one near the port of Geiranger, are great for all ages. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Long gorgeous hikes in Norway, this one near the port of Geiranger, are great for all ages. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Norway

This country of just five million people is filled with stunning natural beauty, from its fjord-lined coast that can be enjoyed on family-friendly hikes to its mountainous interior one can explore by trains or buses that zigzag up and down mountain roads. Norway’s maritime and Viking history are also appealing to children, not to mention all of those cute trolls.

Highlights of small-ship Norwegian Fjords cruises include:

Hiking
Vikings
Castles
Forts
Trains

TinyBirdie1

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