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Biking & Beer on the Danube River

Articles About Scenic Cruises

Crystal Endeavor is not sailing yet
Crystal Not Going Out Of Business By Anne Kalosh. With parent company Genting Hong Kong suspending payments to financial creditors ...
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Emerald Azzurra off Italy's Amalfi coast
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Biking & Beer on the Danube River
Articles About Scenic Cruises Reader Reviews About Scenic Cruises Submit Your Own Review Visit Our Reader Review Form QuirkyCruise Review ...
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The New Scenic Eclipse By Anne Kalosh. Expedition cruising is getting glamorous. While the adventures outside may still be rugged, once ...
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Reader Reviews About Scenic Cruises

Scenic Spirit Reader Review
Reader Review: Scenic Spirit. REVIEWER Walt Bruyns/Jan Hayes from Canada. CRUISE LINE Scenic. SHIP Scenic Spirit. DESTINATION Cambodia/Vietnam. # OF ...
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Scenic Spirit on the Mekong (Scenic).
Scenic Spirit on the Mekong (Scenic). REVIEWER Julia Steinmetz from the USA. CRUISE LINE Scenic. SHIP Scenic Spirit. DESTINATION Mekong ...
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Monastery visit on a Scenic Cruise
QuirkyCruise Reader Review Scenic Spirit on Mekong River REVIEWER Sheila Healey from the US. CRUISE LINE Scenic. SHIP Scenic Spirit ...
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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer: Debbie Dutton from the USA. Cruise Line: Scenic. Ship:  Scenic Jasper. Destination: Rhine River. # of Nights: 7. Departure Date & Ports: June ...
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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Scenic Cruises

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

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

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

Scenic

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

COVID-19 UPDATE

Scenic is aiming to restart operations Oct 31, 2020.

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

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

Fleet

Space-Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenic

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

Other River Boats 

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

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

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

Expedition Ships

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

Future Plans

Second expedition ship scheduled to debut TK.

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$ Expensive

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

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

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

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

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

Scenic

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Itineraries

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

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

Scenic

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenic Azure

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

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

Scenic Gem

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

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

Scenic Aura

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

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

Scenic Spirit

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

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

Scenic

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

Scenic Tsar

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

Expedition ship

Scenic Eclipse

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

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

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

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

RELATED: Peter Knego Cruises on the New Scenic Eclipse.

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biking & Beer on the Danube River

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contacts

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

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

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

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

Pont du Gard, South of France

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

 

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venice lagoon

Venice & its Lagoon.

By Dana Rebmann.

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

The Lounge of the CroisiEurope's Michelangelo

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

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

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

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

Getting to Know the Islands of Venice

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

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

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

Life on Board

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

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

Venice lagoon cruise aboard the Michelangelo

CroisiEurope Michelangelo Upper Deck cabin. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

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

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

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

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

Ship Cuisine

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

Venice Lagoon cruise onboard dining

Melon with prosciutto. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

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

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

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

Venice lagoon cruise dining on cod

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

Day 1: Welcome Aboard in Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doge's Palace on the Venice & Its Lagoons itinerary

Doge’s Palace. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

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

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

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

Venice Lagoon cruise stop in Murano

Glass blowing on Murano. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

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

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

Dana jumping in the rain on a Venice Lagoon cruise

Dana jumping in rain in Burano.

Day 3: Venetian Traditions — Gondolas and Masks

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

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

Gondola yard on the Venice & Its Lagoon itinerary

Gondola yard. * Photo: Dana Rebmann

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

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

Sailing Venice's Northern lagoon on a Venice Lagoon cruise

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

Day 4: Padua

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venice is like no other place

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

New Venice Itinerary!

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

A map of the new 7-night Italy itinerary.

 

A Few More Facts ….

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

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

 

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Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays in Cannes & Rome

By Christina Colon.

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

Click here for Christina’s Royal Clipper article!

The French Riviera

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. * Photo: Peter Barnes

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

 

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

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

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

Civitavecchia … When in Rome

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

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

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

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

Roman Holiday

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

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

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

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

Galleria Colonna

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Stunning artwork in Galleria Colonna. * Photo: Peter Barnes

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

Galleria Borghese

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

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

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

Palazzo Dora Pamphilj

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

Galleria Doria Pamphilj. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Capitaline Museum

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

And More ….

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

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

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

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

Mediterranean Cruise Pre & Post Stays

The famous Trevi Fountain. * Photo: Peter Barnes

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Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

By Christina P. Colon.

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

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

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

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

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The appealing itinerary.

Impressive Inside & Out

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

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

A standard cabin with portholes. * Photo: Star Clippers

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

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

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

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

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The elegant library. * Photo: Star Clippers

Activities & Entertainment Onboard

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

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

Mast Climbing

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

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

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The convenient watersports marina. * Photo: Star Clippers

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

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

Spa Time

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

Other Pursuits

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

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

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

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

A waffle buffet one afternoon. * Photo: Christina Colon

Home Grown Fun

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

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

Pirate night fun! * Photo: Peter Barnes

Going Ashore

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

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

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

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

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Elba’s Fort Falcone. * Photo: Christina Colon

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

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

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

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

Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

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

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

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

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

L’Ile Rousse, Corsica

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

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

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

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

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

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

Plage Larinella and the town of Bastia, Corsica

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

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

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

Portoferraio, Elba

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porto Vecchio, Corsica

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

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

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

Porto Cervo, Sardinia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dining Aboard Ship

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

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

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

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

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

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

Lobster thermidor anyone? * Photo: Christina Colon

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell… For Now

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

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

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

Peter the pirate. * Photo: Christina Colon

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

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

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CrosiEurope

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

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

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

CroisiEurope

Danube River scene. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

CroisiEurope

Cyrano in Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CroisiEurope

Belle des Océans. * Photo: CroisiEurope

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

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

CroisiEurope Cruises

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

CroiseEurope

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

TWS

 

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small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Windstar Cruises.

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Zegrahm Expeditions

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

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

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

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

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

Passengers

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

Price

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

Included Features

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

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

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

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

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

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

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

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

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

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

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

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

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

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

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

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: LE PONANT

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

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

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

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

TWS

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Star Clippers

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

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

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

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

Sunset through the sails

Sunset through the sails. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count 

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

Star Clippers Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

4: No elevators.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Watersports, weather and conditions permitting.

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

Approaching lovely Monemvassia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Star Clippers Cabins

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

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

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

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

A triple cabin, room 206.

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

Star Clippers Public Rooms

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

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

Star Clippers Dining

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

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

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

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

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

Star Clippers Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

photo safari

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

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Star Clippers Contact Info

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

— HMS/TWS

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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

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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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By Theodore W. Scull.

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

Love thy neighbor.

Love thy neighbor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were then accepted almost as equals and as Anglophiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s foreign travel at its best.

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

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

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