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in port in Oxford

Narrowboat Cruise

By Robin Andersen.

Guy uses the long wooden pole to push the narrowboat away from the grassy bank where we moored overnight. I am at the tiller and I push the throttle forward into gear, pointing the boat toward the center of the canal, as our big diesel engine kicks in. We head south on the glassy water toward the next stop we see on the map.

narrowboat cruise in england

Photo: Robin Andersen

We boarded our 47-foot boat “Windsor” in Heyford, where we signed up for a 4-day excursion down to Oxford. There we will turn the boat around, and head back up. How we are to accomplish this feat remains a mystery to me.

narrowboat cruising

Photo: Robin Andersen

We are on the Oxfordshire canal, said to be the most scenic of them all. Though this is our first narrowboat adventure, I’m inclined to agree.

narrowboat cruise on the Oxfordshire canal

Photo: Robin Andersen

Maps of the canal system form an intricate, interlacing set of threads that seem to tie the country together.

route mapNevertheless, the canal system is a well-kept secret even to Britons, and few travelers have ever navigated these waterways.

narrowboat cruise route to Oxford

Photo: Robin Andersen

The most import points on the map, of course, are the pub icons with names like The Rock of Gibraltar, The Plough, and The Boat Inn. They are the constellations we use to find the best places to tie up and spend the night.

After leaving Heyford, our first stop is The Rock, and an evening filled with fish ‘n chips and beer, listening to canal buffs spinning the lore, and explaining the complex rules of etiquette for boating down the canal.

Narrowboating in England

Photo: Robin Andersen

Slow & Steady

We are gliding effortlessly at four knots—about the same speed that it takes to walk the towpaths that run alongside of the canal.

narrowboating

Photo: Robin Andersen

Built in the 18th and 19th centuries, the canals were used as the most efficient way to transport just about everything from coal to beer, as Britain moved into the industrial age. In those days horses on the towpaths pulled the heavily laden boats up and down the canals.

narrowboating canal

Photo: Robin Andersen

Passing under the old stone bridges transports you to the bygone days of a slower time.

Narrowboat Canal cruise

Photo: Guy Robinson

Four knots creates no wake, and the still, calm water, together with the sound of bird chatter and the near total absence of industrial noise creates an ambiance known only to the canal.

narrowboating canal cruise

Photo: Robin Andersen

It puts a smile on Guy’s face.

slow narrowboating cruise

Photo: Robin Andersen

Lots of Locks

But you inevitably must come to a lock. Did I mention this is an 18th-century mode of transport—with 18th-century technology—a time when we were all probably a little more hardy. But going through a lock is the only way to get down the canal.

narrowboat gears

Photo: Robin Andersen

First you pull your boat over to the mooring post, but only after you’ve jumped off a moving vessel, not quite close enough yet to the bank. And here’s a tip; don’t forget to take the line with you before you jump!

Narrowboat canal cruise

Photo: Robin Andersen

You need to approach the lock with determination, windlass in hand. Don’t drop it into the lock!

working a narrowboat

Photo: Robin Andersen

Use your windlass to crank up the “paddle-gear.”

As you crank up the “paddles,” the heavy steel plates on the gate, watch the water rush into the lock. Only after the lock reaches the same level as the canal do you open the gate and pull your boat into the slender passageway. Release the paddles back down slowly, don’t let them drop. Then close the gate.

narrowboat crank

Photo: Robin Andersen

It helps to use gloves.

working a narrowboat canal cruise

Photo: Guy Robinson

Here, you propel your body with all your might, sometimes backwards, to open the lock gate.

hands on narrowboat canal cruise

Photo: Robin Andersen

After closing the gate behind, raise the paddles on the front gate and watch your boat drop hastily to the lower level of the water. Then open the front gate, and you are ready to motor out to the lower level of the canal as it descends in elevation with the land. Here’s a different technique to open the front gate.

narrowboat canal cruise

Photo: Guy Robinson

I love the moss-lined stone walls and the view from inside the lowered lock just as we are about to make our escape through the slim stone arch and get back onto the calm waters of the canal.

narrowboat canal cruising

Photo: Robin Andersen

Close the gate behind you and marvel at the stone steps and grassy slopes of Pigeon Lock, which are exceptionally beautiful.

narrowboat cruising in England

Photo: Robin Andersen

It’s a real sense of accomplishment to succeed, and get on the other side of the lock. But don’t worry, you will repeat this process many times on your journey up and down the canal.

narrowboating in England

Photo: Robin Andersen

Lifting Bridges

Old wooden lifting bridges are easier to tilt up and go under.

narrowboating in Oxford

Photo: Guy Robinson

But they can offer other challenges. Getting through this tight stone passage is tricky.

narrowboating through lifting bridges

Photo: Robin Andersen

They offer another satisfying feeling of success!

narrowboat cruise navigation

Photo: Robin Andersen

Sleeping on a narrowboat in the Oxfordshire countryside is about as restful as it gets. Here we are moored for the night. It’s quiet and comfortable, and you wake up to birdsongs, though they do like to start the day at an early hour. Our boat comes fully equipped with bathroom, shower and running water, but the tank holds only so many gallons.

docked at Thrupp

Photo: Robin Andersen

We fill the water tank using the boat maintenance stations along the way. This one is in the classic little English village of Thrupp.

pubbing in Thrupp

Photo: Guy Robinson

Detective Inspector Morse

We moor at Thrupp to visit the Boat Inn, a favorite hangout of Colin Dexter, the novelist who created the fictional character, Detective Inspector Morse. Dexter roamed up and down the towpaths and frequented the pubs along the canal route. They say, write about what you know, and Dexter seems to have done just that.

Morse likes his pint of beer at any time of day, and in the BBC TV series Morse based on the novels, the detective is frequently seen sitting at one of the pubs along the canal enjoying a pint.

Oxford narrowboating

Photo: Robin Andersen

Narrowboats can be seen floating by on the water in episodes of Morse, and the spin-off series Lewis. An entire episode of Morse was devoted to a cold case from the 1800s when a woman was killed traveling on a narrowboat for hire. One Lewis episode had a suspect living on a moored narrowboat. And more than once, a body has been pulled out of the Oxfordshire canal.

As one of my fan-friends joked after we got back from our cruise, canals seem to be “dangerous places where people often end up murdered. You were lucky to have survived your jaunt.”

narrowboating and pub crawls

Photo: Robin Andersen

We left Thrupp in an early morning mist, just after the boat pictured here.

other boats on the canal

Photo: Robin Andersen

Traffic Jams

The canals are not wide, and at times they can narrow even further. If moored boats crowd both sides of the canal, it can test your nerves, and navigational skills. Just keep the tiller on a steady course and never go over four knots while passing moored boats.

slow and steady goes it while narrowboating

Photo: Robin Andersen

Signs remind those at the helm, or in canal lingo, “elum,” or the “steerer,” to slow down when passing moored boats.

navigating a narrowboat

Photo: Guy Robinson

On our way down the canal we admire boats much longer than ours. This one is at least 72 feet, and is the permanent residence of an entire family. It is well looked after, and its glossy new coat of paint shows it’s also well-loved.

narrowboating in england

Photo: Robin Andersen

Sights Along the Way

Permanent mooring often results in canal-side gardens, this one complete with a chiminea for enjoying a cool spring evening beside your boat, on dry land.

flowers along the canal

Photo: Robin Anderson

This Tea Room is open for business and features a fancifully decorated narrowboat. It can be reached by boat, or on the other side, by car.

colorful narrowboats

Photo: Robin Andersen

Muddy Waters is a children’s book series that tells the stories of fearless narrowboats as they embark on big adventures down the canals and waterways of Britain. You might call them the equivalent of Thomas the Tank Engine for narrowboats. This boat was once owned by the author herself, Sarah Clatcher.

fanciful narrowboat paint jobs

Photo: Robin Andersen

Visitors

Guy’s sister Kate jumped on board when we tied up just before Oxford. She lives in England, and has always wanted to ride down the canal on a narrowboat but never got around to it.

narrowboating is fun!

Photo: Robin Andersen

Kate and her husband Pete parked in the lot at The Plough and walked across the wide expanse of grass, and then a field to get to our mooring site.

narrowboating near Oxford

Photo: Robin Andersen

In this shot we are actually moored, just having a little fun horsing around on the boat at the tiller.

horsing around on deck

Photo: Guy Robinson

As we cruise further south, getting closer to Oxford, the canal begins to pass behind houses, where some owners keep boats alongside the banks for easy escapes on to the waterway.

narrowboat canal cruise

Photo: Robin Andersen

With the rural landscapes of Oxfordshire behind us, the setting gives way to the manicured gardens of the Oxford suburbs that back onto the canal. Fun statuary with an English twist are placed to hail boaters as they glide past.

views along the way

Photo: Robin Andersen

Oxford!

And here we have finally arrived in Oxford, where we must turn the boat around. Guy and Kate try to back the boat in, making a complete hash of it to the amusement of many onlookers. Shouting from the bank of the canal, I yell repeatedly they are doing it wrong, but they are well into sibling shenanigans.

They head in bow-first only after two failed attempts backwards. They tell me later their only regret was being caught without earplugs, so they might better have ignored my shouting.

in port in Oxford

Photo: Robin Andersen

On our way back up the canal after finally, successfully reversing course in Oxford, we pass by once again, the beautiful countryside of the upper portion of the Oxforshire canal.

lovely narrowboating scenery

Photo: Robin Andersen

Where just over the next boat.. is a peaceful herd of cows!

cows along the way

Photo: Robin Andersen

Toward the end of our trip, just as we are feeling terribly accomplished about negotiating all the locks, navigating, and crewing the boat with just the two of us, this hardy fellow passes by all on his own. He single-crews his beloved narrowboat up and down the canal systems of Britain.

other narrowboats

Photo: Robin Andersen

When we get back on the train at Heyford, we are in Oxford in 20 minutes. The same journey there and back just took us four days to complete. But here’s to our narrowboat canal cruise that seemed to us like a dance.

toasting narrowboating

Photo: Guy Robinson

We dance to keep dancing, for the pleasure of it, not necessarily to get to the other side of the dance floor.

Guy's reflection

Photo: Robin Andersen

In the end we are most grateful to the Canal and River Trust for doing such a wonderful job keeping the British canals open and in great working order for recreational boating.

the end of the trip

Photo: Robin Andersen

The words on this boat reflect the best sentiments of those who travel, not necessarily to arrive at a final destination.

narrowboat design

Photo: Robin Andersen

Quick Facts

Deck plan

Finding & booking a narrowboat:

We booked through Oxfordshire Narrowboats online. I also called them to ask questions and they were very helpful.

Price range:

We paid 490 pound sterling for a 47-foot boat for four days and four nights on the narrowboat. Prices vary by excursion, length of the boat and season.

the narrowboat interior

The interior. * Photo: Oxford Narrowboats

Boat capacity:

Our boat had one double-bed berth, and two big fold-out chairs, so it could sleep four.

The longest narrow boat can sleep up to 12 people comfortably.

Operating the boat, tiller, the locks etc:

Oxford Narrowboats provide a handy little well-organized booklet with terms and instructions. In addition, a staff member rides with you for about 15 minutes to the first lock, and shows you how to go through it. After you make your booking, they send you an information booklet and ask that you to read it before you arrive to take your boat out.

Narrowboating season:

We loved our March booking because it was not that cold, and we seemed to have the canal “all to ourselves.” The most popular time are the summer months, but you may have to wait behind several boats to get through the locks at the height of summer on a weekend.

There are permanently moored boats over the winter, and many people boat all year round.

Mealtime:

There is a little fridge and a well-functioning stove on board. We ate at the pubs at night, but the first night we heated up some Indian take-out we brought with us. Al dishes and flatware are provided.

The sleeping arrangements

The sleeping arrangements. * Photo: Oxford Narrowboats

Sleeping compartments:

It was perfectly comfortable. We are both tall, and the berth was long enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Andersen & Guy Robinson are an adventurous couple, who, when they’re not professing at Fordham University, are walking through woods, riding trains or seeking out farmer’s markets for edibles and artisanal treats of all descriptions. They live just a little north of New York City, where Robin writes her books and Guy is close to his field biology research sites.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Hebridean Island Cruises

Based in Great Britain, the independently-owned British cruise line operates a single ship, HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, a lovely floating country house hotel that has had no equal for three decades in atmosphere or price.

She is based largely in Scotland, with the most frequent base port being Oban, for the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles, occasional cruises that calls at Northern Ireland’s ports, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and in 2021, several summertime cruises to the Norwegian Fjords.

This line should not be confused with the pair of 10-passenger yachts operated by Hebrides Cruises.

Note: The rest 2020 season has been cancelled, and the 2021 and 2022 seasons’ itineraries have been announced.  See the website for details, and we will update the review soon.

Hebridean Island Cruises

The Hebridean Princess. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Addendum: Hebridean River Cruises charters the intimate 70-passenger ROYAL CROWN to ply the Belgian and Dutch waterways in the spring and later in the season cruise the Danube between on two cruise between Passau, Germany and Bucharest, Romania. Fares include transfers between Britain and the riverboat, shore excursions, wines and spirits, internet and WiFi, and gratuities. See the website for additional details.

Note: The shortened 2020 season is expected to resume on 7th October.

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS (Built 1964 as COLUMBA and rebuilt into a cruise ship in 1989 & 50 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mainly British aged 50+ with many repeat passengers and occasionally Americans and other Europeans, Australians.

Passenger Decks

5, no elevator

Price

$$$  Very pricey, yet lots of included features.

Itineraries

Cruises operate from March to November to include lots of itineraries amongst Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides, and depending on the year to Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Ireland, South of England, the Channel Islands, French coastal ports, and via the Shetlands and Orkney thence across the North Sea to Norway’s coast and fjords. In any one season, no cruise is repeated. Here are samplings of  itineraries and be sure to check the line’s website for all the wonderful options.

Scotland, Hebridean Island Princess

Eilean Donan, Scotland * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

  • Secret Gardens of the Western Seaboard (7 nights) round trip from Oban, Scotland visiting Plockton, Loch Ewe, Ullapool, Skye, Mull, and Ft. William.
  • St. Kilda and Islands on the Edge (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Colonsay, Tiree,  St. Kilda (the most western isle), Lewis (Callanish Stones), Shiant Islands, Eigg,  and return to Oban.
  • Pearls of the Irish Sea  (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Islay, Bangor, Isle of Man, Cockermouth, Larne, Jura, and return to Oban.
  • Sea Lochs of the Lower Clyde (6 nights) from Greenock ( near the mouth of the Clyde) to Rothesay, Troon, Port Ryan, Holy Isle, Holy Loch and a return to Greenock.
  • Two cruises, marked as Spring Surprise and Autumn Surprise, are seven-night Hebridean itineraries decided upon by the captain. They leave from and arrive back at Oban and are popular with repeat passengers who like the ship so much that they don’t mind where she goes. Footloose indicates a focus on walking and hiking outings.
  • 2021 will see a return to Norway, a North Sea crossing to and from little and will known fjords and inlets and island between Bergen and Stavanger and a pair of cruises based at Bergen.

 

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far Western Isles.

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far out Western Isles.* Photo: Ted Scull.

Special interest cruises include: hiking (marked Footloose), golf, gardens, wildlife and nature, world and highland heritage, architecture, art, classical music, Scottish food and drink; bicycles available. Look for designations.

Generally, the vessel either docks or anchors at night and travels during breakfast or lunch to the next location. Occasional overnight sails take place when the itinerary stretches south to and from English Channel ports.

Included Features

All drinks; tips; shore excursions; bicycles; speed boat rides; fishing trips; Internet; transfers between airports and railway stations; free parking.

Why Go?

If you crave an authentic upscale Scottish country hotel atmosphere and would like it to move about seeking the most wondrous and obscure locales in the northern British Isles, this is your conveyance, and it is limited to 50 like-minded souls. Additional cruises, depending on the year, head south to Ireland, Wales, Channel Islands, South of England, Channel Islands and French coastal ports and coastal Norway.

Most amazingly, the HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS was created from a hard-working, well-engineered ferry that plied the Western Isles for a quarter century before being transformed into something quite different, yet retaining much of its traditional profile. Ted slept aboard her in one of the tiny below deck cabins as a ferry and returned for two wonderful cruise voyages in island-studded Scotland and coastal Ireland.

Scotland. Hebridean Island Cruises

Some cruises specialize in hiking. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

When to Go?

The weather in the British Isles is notoriously fickle, so you take your chances. You won’t find a cozier ship to retreat into on a foul day.

Cabins

All accommodations are individually decorated in beautiful colors and fabrics and are named after Scottish isles, castles, lochs and sounds, with wildly varying layouts. Many are roomy for a small ship, and those without windows have portholes, while six are inside without natural light. Beds may be king-size or twins, double or single. Two cabins have private balconies and ten are singles. Cabins along with the bathrooms were refitted for the 2019 season.

Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Above: Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

Renovated cabin - Isle of bute

Renovated cabin – Isle of Bute – use of Scottish plaids and Harris tweed

Amenities include a dressing table, ample storage space, fridge stocked with soft drinks, milk, coffee/tea making facilities, TV, personal safe, hairdryer, trouser press, iron and ironing board, bathrobes and slippers.

Public Rooms

In the forward-facing Tiree Lounge, the ship excels in that special small country hotel feeling with a brick and timber fireplace, comfy sofas and chairs and a cozy bar in one corner. The snug library draws readers to its tartan upholstered and leather seating, and two sides lounges — the Look-Out and wicker-furnished Conservatory are venues for morning coffee and afternoon tea.

In fine weather, passengers gather on the open afterdeck for pre-dinner cocktail receptions with hot hors d’oeuvres. On the topmost Boat Deck, windbreaks protect partitioned sections furnished with sun loungers and chairs.

Hebbridean Island Cruises

A cozy light-filled lounge. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Dining

The restaurant, refurbished for the 2019 season, operates like a hotel dining room with tables for two or up to eight for those traveling together. Single passengers sit at an officer’s table. Presentation and service from a European staff are tops with the menu thoroughly British such as a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding and sliced duckling , while Scottish specialties may be highland game, sautéed and smoked salmon, and fresh oysters. You might wish to, or not, sample haggis, a concoction of calf or lamb hearts, lungs and liver with onion, suet and seasonings and kedgeree made from rice and smoked fish. Dinner sees men in jackets and ties with women in equivalent attire; some are formal nights.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Restaurant. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

Shore trips (included) visit near and remote islands, castles, stately homes, and gardens, fishing villages and for walks of varying difficulty on rugged islands. The ship is also equipped bicycles for touring and fishing tackle, so you can try your luck.  In Scotland and Ireland, be prepared for Scottish mists and uncertain weather. Entertainment aboard is geared toward individual musicians.

Activities: How about enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Staying aboard and enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

Children under the age of nine not accepted. With a high rate of British repeaters, Anglophilia helps.

Along the Same Lines

Equally small and less pricey ships of Hebridean Cruises, Magna Carta Steamship Company, and The Majestic Line.

Contact

Hebridean Island Cruises, Kintail House, Carleton New Road, Skipton, Yorkshire BD23 2DE, www.hebridean.co.uk; from the US 011 44 (0)756 704 704, UK 01756 704 704; Also, contact a US rep. at 877-600-2648. Be sure to mention promo code HEB2020.

— TWS

 

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Viking River Cruises

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Viking (was Viking River Cruises)

Viking River Cruises (now Viking), established by former officials of the old Royal Viking Line, has grown by leaps and bounds, including introducing more ships in one year than has ever occurred before. More than a score of itineraries covers the European waterway network from Portugal’s Douro River that empties into the Atlantic eastward to Russia’s and Ukraine’s canals and rivers, and from the Dutch and Belgian waterways bordering on the North Sea across Europe to the mouth of the Danube as it flows into the Black Sea.

Viking goes most everywhere the other lines go and offers more choices of itineraries, length of cruises and land and air packages. Simply, Viking dominates the European river cruise market because it operates more boats (presently 72) than any other line, by far, and still growing.  In Asia, riverboats explore the Yangtze in China, and the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam. Egypt is again offered with cruises on the Upper Nile and Lake Nassar. Viking also operates well-received deep-sea cruise ships to establish Viking Ocean Cruises (now just Viking) but their passenger capacities exceeding 900 are well beyond our small-ship passenger limit. More are under construction and under option along with expedition ships.

Note: In 2020, four 168-passenger Viking Longships (similar features but smaller in size for operations on the Seine) will be delivered and then actively participate on 8-day Paris and the Heart of Normandy cruises. Passengers will embark alongside the Eiffel Tower.

Note: Viking has also long made hints about entering the river cruise market along the Mississippi and its tributaries with a fleet of European-style riverboats. Now, an official announcement was made in April 2020 in New Orleans that the first of a fleet of large riverboats will be built for the Upper and Lower Mississippi. The first five-deck vessel will take up to 386 passengers and appear in August 2022. While the capacity exceeds our 300-passenger limit, all other American Cruise Lines riverboats have been covered by Quirky Cruise, hence this one, the first of several, will be covered too. By law, the vessels must be built in the U.S. to sail along American inland waterways. Stay tuned for the location and progress while construction gets underway.

Note: Without missing a beat, Viking will also enter the expedition market when the VIKING OCTANTIS enters service in January 2022 with a program in Antarctica and the Great Lakes. While the passenger complement of 378 exceeds the QuirkyCruise limit of 300, we will include the most important features on this page.

Viking River Cruises

RELATED:  New Viking Einar Impresses a First Timer … by Judi Cohen.

Passengers

Most passengers are 50+ and American or at least English-speaking who are looking for a relaxed and convenient way to see the regions of Europe. Children under are not permitted.

Price

$ to $$$  Moderate/Expensive/Very Pricey. Huge variations in rates occur, especially when 2 for 1 promotions are offered.

Included Features

Shore excursion in every port; wine, beer, soft drinks at lunch & dinner; bottled water, cappuccino, coffee & tea at a 24-hour beverage bar; Cabin TVs with movies on demand, CNBC, CNN, National Geographic, and other channels, Internet/Wi-Fi (connection speed varies widely); cruise tours include hotel stays and transfers between hotel and ship; airport transfers included when air travel is purchased from Viking.

Itineraries

Europe, Russia, Egypt, Southeast Asia and China, most 8 to 15 days; some cruise tours in Asia extend to 18 days; the granddaddy of all European river journeys stretches from Amsterdam to Bucharest, lasting 23 days. All cruises operate in both directions. See details below when discussing the ships.

Why Go?

Years ago before river cruising took hold in a big way, many travelers desirous of seeing several countries in one trip booked a bus tour and that meant multiple one and two-night hotel stays in a half-dozen, maybe more, cities. With the rivers and canals already in place to move cargo on barges between ocean ports and inland cities, long-distance river travel was a natural outgrowth. Then in 1992 a construction project linked the Rhine and Main to the Danube, and it became possible to embark in a Viking Longship in Amsterdam located just in from the North Sea and sail more less southeast all the way to the Danube Delta on Black Sea coast of Romania.

Riverboats once seen as merely comfy conveyances with mostly picture window cabins, an observation lounge and a windowed dining room, now boast suites, French balconies, true verandas, and alternate dining venues and more activities off the boats than bus and walking tours with such diversions as cycling (independently or in a small group) and hiking.

The bottom line for river cruising is convenience, as in many cases, the riverboat ties up next to the heart of the city and you simply walk ashore. In between, instead of driving along a busy highway, the getting there is via scenic river cruising with some of the intercity travel taking place as you sleep. Sun decks provide 360-degree views while underway.

Opera House, Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Opera House, Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

Most European itineraries are seasonal with April to October the norm though some cruises begin as early as March and run as late as December for the Christmas markets. Summer months will find many riverboats following roughly the same popular itineraries with busy, and sometime crowded, sites ashore. The fringe seasons have the advantage of fewer boats sharing the same docking facilities and disadvantage, for some, of cooler and less predictable weather. Beyond Europe, the itineraries may be almost year-round, and note that the Yangtze River Valley can feel like a furnace from June through August.

Activities & Entertainment

Applies to all ships. Onboard, the offerings are daytime lectures, demonstrations, cooking classes, wine tasting and light entertainment such as a pianist and/or local musicians in port. Included shore excursions using audio headsets allow participants to hear the guide out-of-doors and inside museums and churches while  speaking in a normal voice. On board, a concierge can arrange ballet and theater tickets, restaurant reservations and help you plan an independent day ashore.

Walking the Charles Bridge, Prague. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walking the Charles Bridge, Prague. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years delivered

The number of passengers; number of passenger decks; layouts; special features; and cabin details will be outlined for each class of riverboat under the cruising regions that begin below.

European Rivers

The Viking Longships class number almost four score at present dating from a building spree that began in 2012 and continues into the present with six new ships added in 2016 and six more in 2018. In spring 2019, another seven were launched on a single day at different shipyards, with seven more under construction. The list of names runs from Viking Aegir to Viking Vili. These spiffy new riverboats carry 190 passengers on four decks in a bright and airy, understated Scandinavian atmosphere using big picture windows, light fabrics and colors, skylights, atriums and indoor/outdoor lounges, restaurants, and bars.

Cabins number 95 of which nine are 2-room suites with veranda & French balconies*; 39 verandas; 22 French balconies*; and 25 standard (located on the lowest deck and with smaller windows). Note here and for some other Viking vessels that *French balconies are not balconies at all but with the cabins having sliding doors that open to a railing.

The Observation Lounge, located behind the indoor/outdoor terrace, has a sit-up bar, for drinks, daytime activities, lectures, and light entertainment. A library corner and Internet access are located just aft of that and share the second level of the atrium, with the reception and shop below. The Sun Deck has covered and open lounge space spanning nearly the vessel’s full length, plus an oval walking track and putting green. An herb garden is located aft. The elevator connects only the Upper and Middle decks, and not cabins on Main Deck nor the Sun Deck.

Viking has upgraded its menus following the introduction of the new ships, and as the line caters to mostly middle American tastes, don’t expect gourmet meals or rich sauces as one would experience on an ocean-going luxury line or a truly upscale river fleet. The Longships have two dining venues, the main restaurant (buffet & served meals) and the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace (light meals and an alfresco grill). It’s open seating and you dine with whom you wish. Chances are you will be sailing on a Longship in Europe on most all itineraries but the Douro in Portugal and the Elbe in Germany and the Czech Republic where smaller purpose-built ships operate.

RELATED: Viking River Cruise in the Ukraine … by Gene Sloan.

DSC_6134

Viking Longships Deck Plan * Photo: Viking

The following preceded the Viking Longships on European itineraries, plus one trio specifically designed for the confines of the Douro in Portugal and a pair to sail under low bridges for the Elbe.

*Viking Fontaine, *Viking Schumann (older ships/refurbished 2010/2011) carry 112 passengers on three decks with observation lounge forward and restaurant on the deck below. Cabins are all outside with eight having French balconies, while the Upper Deck cabins have picture windows that open while Main Deck windows are fixed.

*Viking Astrild, *Viking Beyla (2015) carry 98 passengers, have three decks and operate the Elbe cruises with low bridge clearances in Germany and the Czech Republic. The observation lounge is forward with the Aquavit Terrace facing over the bow for light meals and refreshments, while the restaurant is on the deck below. Cabins include 2 suites, 19 veranda cabins and 14 with French balconies, all located on the Upper deck. Main Deck cabins have windows.

*Viking Hemming,*Viking Torgil, *Viking Osfrid (2014 & 2016) carry 106 passengers, have four decks and sail exclusively on the Douro Rover in Portugal. The observation lounge is forward with the Aquavit Terrace facing over the bow for light meals and refreshments, while the restaurant is on the Middle Deck below along with an adjacent Al Fresco Restaurant. The Sun Deck has tables for outdoor meals, a small pool, golf putting range, and loungers with covered and open sections. Cabins include 11 veranda suites, 23 verandas, 3 French balcony cabins and 16 window cabins on Main Deck. An elevator connects cabin and public room decks.

Europe note: With such a large fleet, riverboats assigned to specific itineraries are subject to change.

Aquavit Terrace for an outdoor meal. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Aquavit Terrace for an outdoor meal. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Below is a healthy sampling of nearly two dozen European itineraries combining hotel stays bracketing a river cruise. If you are a first time river cruiser, good luck deciding which one to take. If a veteran cruise maven, most of Europe is your oyster.

  • Grand European Tour (15-day cruise, April to October) from Amsterdam, Netherlands via the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers and sailing through Germany, Austria, Slovakia to Budapest in Hungary.
  • Romantic Danube (8-day cruise, late March to October) from Nuremburg, Germany via Main-Danube Canal and Danube River through Austria to Budapest, Hungary.
  • Danube Waltz (8-day cruise, late March to October) from Passau, Germany via the Danube through Austria to Budapest.
  • Rhine Getaway (8-day cruise, mid-March to October) from Amsterdam in the Netherlands via the Rhine, calling at Cologne, Koblenz, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, south through to Basel, Switzerland.
  • Tulips & Windmills (10-day cruise, March and April) from Amsterdam including 2.5 days sightseeing via Dutch and Belgian rivers and canals to the Islemeer at Hoorn, Arnhem, Ghent, Rotterdam and more then back to Amsterdam. Additional itineraries include calls at Antwerp and Nijmegen (SE Netherlands)
  • Cities of Light (12-day cruise-tour, April to October) from Paris (2 hotel nights) then coach transfer via Luxembourg (sightseeing) to the riverboat at Trier, then along the Mosel, Rhine and Main rivers to Bamburg, Germany and coach transfer via Nuremburg to Prague, Czech Republic (2 hotel nights).
  • Paris to the Swiss Alps (12-day cruise-tour, March to October) from Paris (2 hotel nights) then coach transfer to Luxembourg (sightseeing) to the riverboat at Trier, then along the Mossel past vineyards to the Rhine and Mainz, Speyer, and Strasbourg to Basel, Switzerland with a transfer to Zurich (2 hotel nights).
  • Passage to Eastern Europe (11-day cruise-tour, late March to late October) from Budapest, Hungary (2 hotel nights) then riverboat down the Danube through Serbia, Bulgaria to Giurgiu and coach transfer to Bucharest, Romania (1 hotel night).
  • European Sojourn (23-day cruise, mid-March to late October) from Amsterdam via the Waal, Rhine, Main-Danube Canal and Danube through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria to Giurgiu and transfer to Bucharest, Romania (1 hotel night).
  • Elegant Elbe (10-day cruise-tour, mid-March to October) from Berlin (2 hotel nights) then coach transfer to the riverboat at Wittenberg and via the Elbe and Vltava rivers through Germany (Saxon Switzerland) and Czech Republic to Decin and coach transfer to Prague, Czech Republic (2 hotel nights).
  • Portugal’s River of Gold (10-day cruise-tour, late March to October) from Lisbon (2 hotel nights) via coach transfer to Coimbra and the riverboat at Porto, then along the Douro River with a full-day coach excursion to Salamanca, Spain and back along the Douro with port calls for lunch and wine tasting, a castle and religious site to Porto, Portugal.
  • Paris & the Heart of Normandy (8-day cruise, mid-March to October) from Paris via the Seine to Claude Monet’s Giverny, Rouen (for the cathedral and Normandy Beaches) then upstream with port calls to visit chateaux back to Paris. New itineraries along the Seine also include WWII sites and D-Day beaches.
  • Lyon & Provence (8-day cruise, mid-March to October) from Marseille to the Rhone at Arles, then Avignon, Viviers, Tournon, Vienne, Lyon and along the Soane to Macon, Cluny Abbey and Beaujolais wine country, ending at Lyon Airport.
  • Chateaux, Rivers & Wine (8-day cruise, late March to October) from Bordeaux along both the Dordogne and Garonne rivers to Sauternes, St. Emilion, Médoc, and Margaux wine regions, two UNESCO sites and Cadillac, returning to Bordeaux.
Russia & Ukraine
Visiting Moscow's Red Square at the end of Viking River cruise along the Russian waterways.

Visiting Moscow’s Red Square at the end of Viking river cruise along the Russian waterways. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viking Akun, Viking Helgi, Viking Ingvar, Viking Truvor (older ships refurbished 2013/2014) carry 204 passengers on five decks and operate the 13-day St. Petersburg-Moscow Waterways of the Tsars itineraries. The Panorama Bar looks forward on the Upper Deck with a large restaurant aft on the Middle Deck below. A windowless library with Internet is on Main Deck. Cabins include 2 suites, 2 junior suites, 67 verandas, and the remaining with windows that open facing the side wraparound promenade. Elevators link the cabin and public room decks. A similar vessel, Viking Sineus, plies Ukraine’s Dnieper River between the capital at Kiev and Odessa facing the Black Sea, and 11-day cruise tour.

Waterways of the Czars (13-day cruise, early May to mid-October) from St. Petersburg (3-day stay on riverboat) via the Neva and Svir rivers, Lake Onega, Volga-Baltic Waterway, Rybinsk Resevoir, Volga River, and Moscow Canal to Moscow (3-stay stay on the riverboat). Ashore, attend dance and music performances, and aboard the guides share Russian and Soviet history and current affairs, cooking and Russian language classes.

Egypt

Mayfair (150p) and Omar El Kayam (160p) form the 4-night and 3-night cruise portions of a 12-day itinerary that includes Cairo for the Pyramids, Sphinx and Cairo Museum, a cruise along the Upper Nile for Luxor, Karnak, Edfu, and Kom Ombo and another cruise just above the Aswan Dam on Lake Nassar for Abu Simbel and other temples. Viking Ra, Viking-owned and operated (52p), made its debut in 2018 as a completely rebuilt riverboat offering all two-room suites (291 sq. ft.), making it one of the most luxurious vessels on the Nile. To follow in September 2020, Viking will begin operating the 82-passenger Viking Osiris , the first European built, owned and operated Nile cruiser, if that is all important to some seeking an Egyptian cruise.

Southeast & East Asia

Viking Mandalay (2012 & 56p) had operated Irrawaddy Cruises in Myanmar (Burma). However, four-deck Viking Mekong (b. 2012 & 56p) plies the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam. The replica-style riverboats evoke an appealing colonial atmosphere with lots of wood paneling and airy public spaces. The indoor lounge is forward and the Sun Deck lounge and bar is sheltered from the sun by a canvas awning. With floor to ceiling French doors that open during cool weather, the restaurant serves Vietnamese and Western dishes at breakfast and luncheon buffets plus served dishes and a served dinner. All cabins are outside, with two of the three cabin decks offering sliding French doors that open to side promenade equipped with rattan style chairs and decorative potted palms.

Mekong River: Cambodia & Vietnam
A Cambodian food market along the Mekong.

A Cambodian food market along the Mekong. * Photo: Ted Scull

Magnificent Mekong (15-day cruise-tour, early January to March then July to October) from Hanoi, Vietnam (2 hotel nights), fly to Siam Reap, Cambodia (3 hotel nights), coach transfer to riverboat at Kampong Cham then 8 days along the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam to My Tho and coach transfer to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam for 2 hotel nights. Viking Mekong.

Irrawaddy River: Myanmar (Burma) 

*This itinerary is not now operating. However, details are included for reference in case these trips resume.

Myanmar Explorer (15-day cruise-tour, September to December) from Bangkok, Thailand (3 hotel nights) then fly to Yangon, Myanmar (4 nights) and fly to Mandalay embark in the riverboat for 8 nights along the Irrawaddy back to Mandalay and fly to Bangkok (1 night). Viking Mandalay.

Yangtze River: China
Mother and child pass during a village stop along the Yangtze.

Mother and child pass during a village stop along the Yangtze. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viking Emerald (2011) carries 256 passengers on five decks while operating the Yangtze River cruises. The Sun Deck houses the Emerald Bar with high-up views, a reading room, massage room, sauna, gym and outdoor deck space aft. The observation Lounge with a bar is on the deck below and the restaurant resides on Main Deck aft. The menus include Chinese and Western dishes. Cabin accommodations include 2 suites, 14 partitioned suites, 4 junior (one-room) suites and the rest, 108 with verandas. An elevator serves all decks.

Imperial Jewels of China (14-day cruise-tour, February to October) from Shanghai (2 nights) then fly to Wuhan to join the riverboat for a 7-day cruise along the Yangtze River via the Three Gorges and Three Gorges Dam to Chongqing then fly to Xian (2 hotel nights) and fly to Beijing (3 hotel nights).

Roof of the World (17-day cruise-tour, March to October) from Beijing (3 hotel nights), fly to Xian (2 hotel nights), fly to Lhasa (3 hotel nights), fly to Chongqing , join riverboat for a 7-day cruise down the Yangtze via Three Gorges and Three Gorges Dam to Wuhan and fly to Shanghai (2 hotel nights).

Undiscovered China  (19-day cruise-tour, March to October) from Beijing (3 hotel nights), fly to Xian (2 hotel nights), Chengdu (2 hotel nights}, Lijiang (2 nights) and Chongqing to join the riverboat for 7 days along the Yangtze via the Three Gorges, Three Gorges Dam to Wuhan and fly to Shanghai (2 hotel nights).

Special Notes

Water levels along European rivers rise and fall with the seasons and/or heavy rain falls and long dry periods. Occasionally, if the waters rise to flood stage, the riverboats may not be able to pass under low bridges, or the reverse, insufficient water to proceed without possible grounding. In that case, you may be bused to another vessel on the far side of the blockage and/or put up in hotels.

Along the Same Lines

The stable of river cruise lines is ever expanding, and Viking happens offer the largest fleet.

Contact Info

Viking, 5700 Canoga Avenue, Suite 200, Woodland Hills, CA 91367;  www.viking.com; 877-668-4546

— TWS

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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quirky-cruise-trinity-sailing-brixham-heritage-trawler-in-the-river

N.B. Part of Brixham’s heritage fleet is to be sold after The Trinity Sailing Foundation, a charity which has taken thousands of disadvantaged people to sea for 20 years, announced it has to cease current operations and redefine its mission. The Brixham-based charity’s three historic vessels — Leader (1892), Provident (1924), and Golden Vanity (1908) — will be sold after the charity said that changing conditions in recent years mean its previous operating model is no longer viable. If any further details about the future of the three historic ships become available, the news will appear here. Sad news indeed.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Trinity Sailing operates a fleet of three historic gaff-rigged sailing ships based primarily in Brixham, still an important South Devon fishing port, and also a tourist attraction thanks to the lovely setting. The fleet also cruises from other ports along the south coast of England, and up in Scotland for exploring the Western Isles.

Trinity Sailing

Brixham sailing trawlers with Leader (left) and Provident (right). * Photo: Trinity Sailing

In addition, the firm operates a foundation, a registered charity founded in 1999, taking 600 children annually from all backgrounds, including the disadvantaged, on sail training cruises where they learn teamwork, develop skills that they did not know they had, gain confidence in themselves and make new friends. The website provides more information and videos illustrating this important program.

Sail the scenic coastal waters around Britain aboard wooden sail-powered former Brixham fishing trawlers that take 7 to 12 passengers. Built on the River Dart in South Devon between 1892 and 1924, the cruises begin at one or two nights and then on up to a week or more. In the late 19th century, these fast sailing vessels once formed the backbone of Britain’s most important fishing fleet.

 

Trinity Sailing

Three crew aboard the Leader. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

LEADER built 1892, two masts, 12 passengers; PROVIDENT built 1924, two masts, 12 passengers; GOLDEN VANITY built 1908, one mast, 7 passengers.

Passenger Decks

Just two and no elevators (after all, these are historic sailing ships).

Passenger Profile

British, other Europeans, Australians, Americans, and Canadian of all ages.

Price

$ or approximately $130 per day

Itineraries

Operating season is end of March to late September.

  • Brittany (France) & Channel Islands (6-12 nights from Brixham).
  • Devon & Cornwall (1-9 nights from Brixham & Falmouth).
  • Dorset & Isle of Wight (6 nights from Poole); Isles of Scilly (6 nights from Falmouth).
  • West Coast of Scotland (6, 9 & 10 nights from Oban) with the first departure of the year from Falmouth and last ending at Falmouth.

Vessels are available for charter.

Trinity Sailing

Brixham heritage trawler in the River Dart, Dartmouth in Devon. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Included Features

Excursions, sail training, meals, snacks between meals, and soft drinks.

Why Go?

Cruise in an historic wooden sailing vessel (a Brixham trawler) that once numbered in the thousands, and now just a few remain as heritage vessels. Share the experience with up to 12 like-minded adventurers who come for the sailing experience, coastal and island scenery, specific destinations to explore, and camaraderie. Anchor at night in a sheltered location, sail for part of the day and then go ashore. The skipper will lay out the day every morning at breakfast.

Trinity Sailing

Skipper Toni Knights may host art sessions during the cruise.

When to Go?

The season begins at the end of March and continues into late September.

Cabins

PROVIDENT has three double cabins with upper and lower berths, and a cabin for four in the fore peak. LEADER offers open dormitory-style accommodation for 12 passengers (with privacy curtains), and same for GOLD VANITY, which sleeps seven. All three offer shared toilets and hot showers.

Public Rooms

A saloon serves as the lounge and dining room, with additional space to hang out on the open decks.

Dining

Food is sourced locally at the embarkation ports and en route the emphasis is on fresh seafood and Britain’s bounty. A typical lunch would be a cold meat platter, with cheeses, salad and freshly baked bread, while for dinner, expect something the likes of freshly-caught Brixham fish, such as Hake or Lemon Sole, served with potatoes and vegetables followed by a crème brulle. (Reports indicate glowing satisfaction!) A bar on board stocks wine, beer and cider for purchase; soft drinks are included in the fares.

Trinity Sailing

Fresh oysters while enjoying a cruise on a former Brixham fishing trawler. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Activities & Entertainment

Participate in sailing during the passage to the next destination; go ashore on walks and hikes and general explorations along the shoreline, to beaches and into villages. Perhaps enjoy an evening BBQ ashore and a few hours of sailing after dark. Scheduled theme cruises: art, music, birdwatching, wildlife, family.

Consider a charter of a vessel and establish your own special interests.

Special Notes

The British Isles and coastal France have fickle weather and often cool temperatures when at sea so come prepared for all types of conditions that may also involve changes in the itinerary when the weather dictates. The website also introduces the foundations work and the once huge importance of the Brixham fishing trawler to the country’s economy.

Trinity Sailing

Dolphins leaping for joy alongside Trinity Sailing’s historic Brixham trawler. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Along the Same Lines

This is a unique sailing experience in Britain’s coastal waters from the Channel Islands in the south to Scotland up north.

Contact

Trinity Sailing, The Sail Loft, Pump Street, Brixham TQ5 8ED UK; +44 (0) 1803 88 33 55; www.trinitysailing.org.

 

🚃 🚃 AND be sure to read Ted’s related article, “A Chance Meeting on a Scottish Train” HERE, about how Ted first discovered Trinity Sailing!   🚃 🚃

 

 

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Scottish Train

By Ted Scull.

In early June at the end of a 10-day visit to Scotland, my wife and I boarded the morning train from Oban to Glasgow, the first of two train journeys down to London. We occupied a pair of assigned seats facing each other while next to me was an Englishman who said he was bound for Brixham on Devon’s South Coast.

I knew Brixham, an important fishing port, as one of my oldest friends grew up there and recently his wife had her ashes cast into the sea nearby.

The man seated to me introduced himself as Toni Knights, a skipper aboard an historic Brixham sail-powered fishing trawler outfitted to take a handful of cruise passengers for a firm called Trinity Sailing. In winter, to make ends meet, he is a commercial fisherman working on a modern diesel-powered fishing boat based in Brixham.

Scottish Train

Ted meets Toni. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Toni’s just completed trip was skippering the Leader, a two-masted, wooden-hulled Brixham trawler, built way back in 1892, from Falmouth in Cornwall around Lands End and up through the Irish Sea to Oban on the West Coast of Scotland where she would be based for two months for cruises to the Western Isles.

He then opened his computer and showed me a video of his handsome ship under way using all eight sails and taking up to 12 passengers and a crew of six. The firm’s fleet of three sailing trawlers is based in ports largely on England’s South Coast and available for overnight cruises from short getaways on up to a week or more.

Toni then opened an envelope and shared with me a lovely set of watercolors he had painted showing the fleet and the waters through which they sailed. He sells his work to the passengers as a memento of their cruise. On the sailing schedule are cruises offering art classes under his supervision for those interested in painting landscapes, seascapes, bird and animal life.

 

Scottish Train

A Brixham trawler by Toni Kinghts

Most intrigued, I shared my connection to QuirkyCruise, and we started talking business while the two-car Scotrail train wound its way through the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

Thanks to Ted’s chance meeting of Toni, QuirkyCruise has added a review of Trinity Sailing to our roster of small ship cruises. Have a gander as it looks to be great fun if seeking a genuine sailing experience on an historic vessel and happily, not at all expensive.

 

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com HERE for monthly updates! 

 

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

Lindblad Expeditions

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Reader Reviews About Lindblad Expeditions

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Reader Review: Lindblad in Alaska's Inside Passage. REVIEWER Elizabeth Moss from the USA. CRUISE LINE Lindblad Expeditions. SHIP National Geographic ...
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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

Based in New York, Lindblad Expeditions has a long legacy dating back to Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos beginning in the mid-1960s. In the intervening years, the firm, under the leadership of his son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, has expanded its fleet and ship charters to basically blanket the world for those in search of an adventure by sea. Destinations are expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica; natural history and wildlife cruises to the Galapagos, Indonesia and Borneo; cultural and historical voyages to the British Isles, Greek Isles and Morocco, revived cruise tours to Ancient Egypt — the list goes on and on.

The joint venture with the National Geographic Society established in 2004 expanded Lindblad’s passenger base and drew on the Society’s expertise; especially its photographers who enrich the pages of National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveler.  The relationship has expanded from itineraries in the US, Australia and New Zealand to Canada and Latin America.  As a four-time passenger I have always had the strong sense that the expedition and enrichment staff genuinely want to bring you absolutely the best experience possible. The large number on every voyage makes a huge difference in having them readily at hand when ashore or in Zodiacs and providing a rich variety of expertise.

Lindblad Expeditions

The N. G ENDURANCE represents the latest in Expedition ship design. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

In January 2017, Lindblad took delivery of the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II to replace the long-serving N. G. ENDEAVOUR  in the Galapagos. Then in July 2017, a newly-built 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST became the first of two ordered ships to sail alongside the veterans N.G. SEA BIRD and N. G. SEA LION in Alaska, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and to reintroduce Belize itineraries.

The second, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, l entered service in October 2018 on the U.S. west coast. Her seasonal itineraries will be in Baja, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. US-flag ships come from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, near Seattle. Not stopping there, in mid-March 2018, Lindblad held a keel laying ceremony for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE (126 passengers) commencing construction at the Crist Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland. This Polar Class 5 rated ship is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020, and ENDURANCE recalls the name of Ernest Shackleton’s pioneering Antarctic expedition vessel.

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. ENDURANCE offers 13 two-room balcony suites. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

 

The ships vary from perhaps the best-equipped expedition ships afloat to the most nimble for poking around confined spaces, along narrow rivers and into tiny island coves. Here, we treat the ships one by one, to see what they offer and where they venture — some go all over and others stay in one region.

It is hard to beat Lindblad for its creative and professional approach to expedition cruising, so be prepared to pay for the high standards.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (148 passengers & built 1982 as the rugged Norwegian coastal passenger and roll-on, roll-off ferry liner MIDNATSOL, enlarged for the same service 1989, and rebuilt into an expedition ship in 2008).

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers come on selected expeditions and so do families; Lindblad has a fine program for children, best in the Polar Regions and Galapagos.

Passenger Decks

6. An elevator serves all decks apart from B-Deck for Internet center, Mud Room and lockers.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to the crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (NGEX) covers more territory in one calendar year than any other in the fleet. In winter, the polar regions include Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia (along with N.G. ORION); in summer the Norwegian fjords, Arctic Norway, Svalbard, Iceland (including a circumnavigation), Greenland, Canadian Arctic and Canadian Maritimes; Fall down South America’s west coast from Peru south to Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) for another Antarctic season; and closing the circle, a spring return to Europe via the Atlantic Islands, Iberia and onto the British Isles and Ireland. Watch for new itineraries. One Iceland and Greenland itinerary includes flights over the latter’s remote glaciers as well as land and sea travel.

Why Go?

The NGEX is  one of the best equipped expedition ship afloat with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as sophisticated equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for underwater exploration, hydrophone, underwater video camera, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore via Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor. On European itineraries, cultural experts and historians are aboard.

When to Go?

The ship ventures to various regions in the most suitable season such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic regions in summer.

Cabins

All cabins, of mostly moderate size (some larger suites), are outside, majority with windows, eight with portholes, and all thankfully have blackout curtains for 24-hour daylight sailings. Beds are queen-size, twins with some convertible to queens, and seven can take a third person at 50% reduction of the double occupancy rate; 13 have balconies. A nice extra is a World Atlas placed in cabins and open to the page you will be exploring. How about that for service?

Public Rooms

Main lounge (seats everyone) with bar equipped for films, slide shows and presentations; observation lounge on Bridge Deck with domed-roof and adjacent library; navigation bridge is generally open to passengers for meeting officers, learning about navigation and spotting wildlife; chart room for studying the region sailing to; fitness center, spa and sauna, Internet café.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is often another public room for the passengers.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is popular gathering place for  passengers, one of the delights of expedition cruising. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Single seating dining room forward and adjacent Bistro (same menu) has additional seating (some tables for two) in a more relaxed arrangement. Meals also offer buffet items at breakfast and lunch. The food is of good quality and well prepared, though that extra freshness may be lacking in remote regions. Lunch buffets also take place up in the domed observation lounge. Go for it; the view while eating is great!

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the excursions ashore and in Zodiacs accompanied by the expedition staff, sharing pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights — with underwater videos shot that day being shown, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the expedition staff. Unscheduled Zodiac excursions may occur when wildlife appears along the shore.

On Svalbard, for example, a polar bear may be spotted as a tiny speck on the ice, and passengers begin to gather, standing in total silence at the bow to watch the distance between the ship nosed into the pack ice and curious bear get ever shorter. I have seen polar bears walk up to the bow and sniff the smells we give off.

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during a cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen)

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during an expedition cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen) * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Orion

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia's Kimberley Coast.

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION (102 passengers & built 2003 as ORION for Australian-based Orion Cruises, acquired by Lindblad in 2013 and underwent a major refit.

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers and families come on selected voyages. Given the cruising areas, now Antarctica and the South Pacific, expect some Europeans and Australians.

Passenger Decks

5 decks with an elevator connecting all but the Expedition Deck for the Mud Room, Zodiac boarding and Doctor’s Office.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

Winter in Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia from Ushuaia, Argentina (along with N.G. EXPLORER);  in spring, the NGOR heads first to Chile then across the South Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island for cruises to Tahiti and around French Polynesia. Also, in the summer in Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea, and the Russian Arctic and Russian Far East.

Why Go?

Here is a prime example of an expedition ship that excels for its comforts, style and travel adventure. The N.G. ORION is particularly well-equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, snorkeling gear, scuba diving gear for 24 passengers (on certain itineraries), a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, underwater video cameras, video microscope, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore and in Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor.

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to the best season exploring a specific region such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter November to March, while the rest of the year most other cruising areas are in tropical waters.

Cabins

Roomy for a small ship and beautifully-designed and furnished; twin beds that convert to queens, all are outside, 19 with oval windows; 9 with balconies, some of which are small and some shared with neighbors (no partitions); flat-screen TV with DVD/CD player, mini-fridge, personal safe, Internet access for laptops, shower except 4 suites with bathtub. Third person pays 50% of double-occupancy rate in triple-bed cabins. 4 single cabins.

Public Rooms

Attractive main lounge with sit-up bar that seats all for talks and films; renovated observation lounge and library; open bridge policy makes the navigation center another well-used public room.

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Orion: Lunchtime on deck in Australia.
* Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Meals are served at one open seating in a restaurant with large-view windows; delightful outdoor café serves buffet breakfast and lunches, and barbecue dinners when the weather is warm. Food is very good and often connected to the cruising region.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the guided excursions ashore, including on foot and bicycles, and in Zodiacs, the evening pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights with a film of underwater videos shot that day, a recap of the day’s happenings, and the presentation by the expedition and the lecture staff of the plan for tomorrow. Small hot tub aft on Observation Deck. Fitness center, sauna and spa.

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

QuirkyCruise Review

National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

This ship replaced the long-serving NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR  in early January 2017. The replacement started life as the VIA AUSTRALIS (b. 2005 & 136 passengers), and after major refit now carries just 96 passengers. The family friendly ship will has seven sets of connecting cabins and six triples, and for solo passengers, nine single cabins.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, with some other nationalities, and as Lindblad is well-prepared to handle children, families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

If swimming with sea lions and sidestepping marine iguanas stretched out in the sun sounds intriguing, then think about a week’s small-ship adventure in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago. Even wildlife names and antics are intriguing, such as blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance by lifting one foot, bending their wings and whistling. Days are spent on the water in Zodiacs, in the water snorkeling, and on land hiking with a trained naturalist guide.

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

That requires a somewhat complex answer. The peak seasons, because of the school holidays, last from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. December through May, the water is warm for snorkeling and swimming but there will be fewer fish to see. Most days in the first months will see some rain.

The latter part of the season is spring mating time for animals and birds on land, especially sea lions and turtles, plus wild flowers in bloom. June through November brings on the colder waters of the Humboldt Current, therefore, more fish and sea birds are looking for prey, but snorkeling is going to be less comfortable and the ocean is rougher.

Cabins

56, all outside with windows or portholes on Main and A decks. Most cabins are smallish and have compact bathrooms with showers. Amenities are a small fridge and video player.

Public Rooms

Lounge with bar seats all passengers; separate library on the deck above; open bridge policy provides another room and fraternizing with the officers; spa, sauna and fitness center.

Dining

Restaurant is forward on Upper Deck with large view windows either side, and the food is of good quality with some local island ingredients, and Ecuadorian fish such as Wahoo and Dorado.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and the glass-bottom boat with guides and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera screened, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the naturalists. Small dip-in pool on Veranda Deck aft.

A newly introduced  activity is plein air drawing where a resident artist instructs passengers during regular sessions on board and shore to create images of the wildlife they see, and many are tame enough to pose for you. Look for the departure dates that include this activity.

Lindblad Expeditioins

Sea lion and pup in Galapagos Islands. National Geographic Islander in background. * Photo: David Vargas

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Naturalists that Lindblad hires are likely to be amongst the best available in a very active cruising area. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadorean.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER (48 passengers & built as the twin-hulled catamaran ISLANDER in 1995, first cruised in Scotland, and taken on by Lindblad in 2004 and renamed).

Passenger Profile

Largely Americans and some Europeans; varied ages and families at holiday periods.

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above, plus the advantage, for some, choosing a ship with half the number of passengers compared to N.G. ENDEAVOUR. Also see this ship above for “Why Go.”

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

24 outside, mostly compact cabins on three decks, all with windows. Twins may be arranged as a double or as queen beds. Two cabins can accommodate a third person. Eight cabins on the Upper Deck have glassed-in terraces.

Public Rooms

Aft lounge seats all passengers for evening recaps, lectures and films; adjacent library and Internet Café, fitness center, covered seating aft on Upper Deck, open bridge policy.

Dining

Restaurant is aft on Bridge Deck with open seating for all to dine at one time. Food is average to good with some tasty Ecuadorian specialties.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and glass-bottom boat with guides, and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera shown, a look back at the recent happenings, and a plan for tomorrow by the naturalists. See additional Activities under the N.G. ENDEAVOUR.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadoran.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  QUEST  (built in 2017 and 100 passengers); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE followed in 2018.

Passenger Profile

Varies depending on the itinerary but mostly Americans, and some Europeans and Australians. Family during the school holidays, attracted by special programs and connecting cabins.

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

All sightseeing excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking, snorkeling gear, wet suits, non-alcoholic drinks..

Itineraries

The NG QUEST expedition ship offers many options, depending on the season and in brief they are: Alaska and Inside Passage (along B. C. coast at the beginning & end of season); Columbia and Snake rivers; Channel Islands off California; Baja California; along the Costa Rican coast and islands and Panama, including a canal transit; and Belize for the reefs, rivers and Mayan ruins.

NG VENTURE covers Alaska and B. C. coast; San Juan Islands; Channel Islands off California; and a long stint in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

The NG QUEST, completed in 2017, and NG VENTURE in 2018 have many of the latest features for an expedition vessel and a wide variety of destinations.

When to Go?

The itineraries are geared to the best season for visiting  the destinations.

Cabins

50 outside cabins(136 to 185 sq.ft., and 22 of these with step-out balconies). 6 cabins connect providing side-by-side accommodations for families.

Public Rooms

Large lounge for gathering before meals, including the day’s recap, lectures and videos, and leads out to a viewing platform; dining room aft with windows on three sides; gym and spa; open and partly covered sun deck; and open bridge policy, in effect providing another public room.

Dining

All dining is at one open seating, and the menus will reflect the wide-ranging itineraries.

Activities & Entertainment

While the so-called entertainment category includes presentations by the expedition staff before and after dinner and time at sea; the activities ashore will vary according to the specific itinerary; equipment available includes 10-12 passenger landing craft embarked from two landing platforms and 24 sea kayaks and a fleet of paddelboats; remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for exploring the sea beneath the ship and bringing back images; bow camera, underwater camera, hydrophone for collecting sounds that sea creatures make, video microscope, kayaks, wet suits and snorkeling equipment.

Special Notes

This pair was built by Nichols Brothers, Whidbey Island, Washington, the same yard that completed the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD. They fly the US flag hence they can sail on domestic itineraries without having to call at a foreign port, although the pair does venture south to Mexico and Central America.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD (62 passengers & built 1981, later upgraded and reduction in passenger capacity by eliminating lowest-deck cabins.

Most recently with the arrival of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST and NG VENTURE the old pair were further refitted with newly redecorated interiors for the lounge and bar, dining room and cabins. They carry sea kayaks, a fleet of paddleboats, video microscope, hydrophone and bow camera.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, generally 50+ and few families on the Columbia-Snake itineraries, and more likely on the other trips, especially during school holidays.

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

$$ Expensive but less pricey than the two new US flag vessels.

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries
  • Southeast Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka.
  • One-way positioning cruises early May and early September between Seattle via the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast, calling at Haida Gwaii (island) and into Southeast Alaska.
  • Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coast of Baja California for serious whale watching. In the height of whale watching season — gray and hopefully sperm, blue and fin whales in the lagoons along the Pacific Coast, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Channel Islands and Santa Catalina from Los Angeles for the beach life, hiking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and meditation sessions.

Intense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted ScullIntense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

Every itinerary has its numerous attractions. Alaska: glaciers, fjords, wildlife on land and sea and with the grandeur of Glacier Bay National the highlight, especially enjoyed on such a small ship; Baja California on both coasts for the varieties of birds; snorkeling among sea lions; coastal and island hikes.

Both vessels are about as simple as any small ships get, a bit pokey, past their prime, yet well maintained with excellent expedition staffs. So forget any thought of luxury and go for the wonderful experience. The Columbia-Snake rivers route was my first soft-adventure by ship – the Sea Lion, some 30 years ago.

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The two ships are positioned where the weather is best for expedition and soft adventure activities, so there are no cautions needed.

Cabins

Small and all outside with view windows, some twins may be converted to a double bed, and a few can take a third person at 50% of the double occupancy rate. Cabins on Bridge and Upper decks open onto a side promenade, while Main Deck cabins are accessed from a central corridor. These latter six cabins are also adjacent to the dining room, therefore a convenient, but also trafficked corridor.

Public Rooms

A single forward observation lounge with a bar; forward outdoor open observation deck and partly covered Bridge Deck. Spa and exercise equipment.

Dining

Food is good with buffet at breakfast, family-style service at lunch and served dinners.

Activities & Entertainment

Evening recaps of the day; plans for the day ahead and talks (some illustrated) by the naturalist staff using results of underwater video and video microscope. Depending on the itinerary, kayaking, snorkeling (with wet suits in Baja), and expedition landing craft for going ashore on hikes.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard on in Baja and Costa Rica/Panama and an undersea specialist in Alaska and Baja.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

Sea Cloud
SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lindblad charters the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD ($$$), a legendary sailing vessel built in Germany as a private yacht in 1931 and converted to a cruise vessel in 1979. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to sail in her —  in the Mediterranean, the Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens); along the Greek and Dalmatian coasts between Piraeus (Athens) and Dubrovnik; and Sicily and Malta.

The best, and the most expensive cabins, are the beautifully furnished eight originals on Main Deck when the Sea Cloud was E.F. Hutton’s private yacht built for his wife, Marjorie Meriweather Post (cereal heiress). The added cabins are modern, very attractively fitted and considerably less expensive, though not cheap. The main lounge is beautifully paneled and with parquet floors. Food and service are great, and some meals are taken out on deck. The Caribbean offers just the occasional one-week cruise from Barbados in winter.

Delfin II

Lindblad has chartered the Amazon riverboat DEFLIN II ($$$) since 2010 taking 28 passengers in 14 luxurious cabins on one-week cruises along two of the river’s upper tributaries. The riverboat has an enclosed lounge, an open lounge and bar under a top deck canopy. The dining saloon is the deck below with big windows facing aft, and the food is quite special and sometimes exotically sourced from the rain forest.

The cabins, with a desk and chair, are lovely with wood trim, wooden floors, large view windows, twin beds that can form kings; and two suites have king-size beds only. Some can be interconnected for families, and four face forward with terrific views. Bathrooms are roomy. Excursions ashore are made in 10-person skiffs and kayaks, plus some walking where paths exist.

A national reserve in remote Amazonia is the highlight, looking out for exotic bird species, monkeys and anacondas of the rain forest, and pink and gray dolphins, piranhas and red-eyed caiman in the dark waters, sometimes decorated with giant water lilies. Cruises operate year-round except April and September.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

The more than comfortable 48-passenger riverboat JAHAN ($$$) cruises the Mekong between Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia and My Tho (near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) on 15-day cruise-tours from January to March. The famous temple complex, Cambodia’s capital at Phnom Penh, and the teeming life along the river are the highlights.

Harmon V  (Note: This ship is not currently operating.)

This chartered 46-passenger ship, with stabilizers, will take 46 passengers in all outside cabins with windows on 11-day cruise tours beginning in December and running through March. Days 1-3 are spent in Havana then 4-11 on board the ship calling at the colonial cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, located on Cuba’s south coast, Islas de la Juventud and the Bay of Pigs where a failed U.S. invasion took place in 1961.

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

Lindblad’s building its first ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, a 126-passenger ship with the distinctive X-BOW to provide fuel efficiency and significantly improve passenger comfort in rough seas. Delivery for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE is planned for early 2020.

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Scottish 48-passenger, 4-deck vessel with 52 outside cabins makes 9-day canal, loch and island itineraries in June, July and August between Kyle of Lochalsh (across from the Isle of Skye) and Inverness. The route calls for stops on Skye, Eigg or Rhum, Iona, Oban, Loch Linnhe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Neptune’s Steps (flight of locks) in the Caledonian Canal, then passing through Loch Ness to Inverness, thus having crossed the Scottish mainland to just short of the North Sea.

Note: For a fuller account of the ship and its itinerary, go to the ship’s owner, Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Oberoi Philae

The newly-rebuilt Nile riverboat with enlarged accommodations for 42 in 22 cabins and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, including four suites, has two restaurants with one on the Sun Deck, and several lounges. 13-day cruise tours will operate between January and March and September to December.

The land portion begins in Cairo for the museum, Coptic churches in Old Cairo and Ben Ezra synagogue before flying south to Luxor and boarding the 6-day cruise that give access to the temple at Luxor and Karnak, a felucca sail, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the island temple at Philae on the far side of the Aswan High Dam. After visiting the temple at Abu Simbel, fly back to Cairo to stay at the Mena House (the original and now much enlarged hotel adjacent to the Pyramids at Giza), plus step pyramid at Saqqara. A five-day extension is available to Jordan.

Contact

Lindblad Expeditions, 96 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014; 800-397-3348 or 212-265-3770.

TWS

 

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Patricia Cruises

The Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA serves as a working ship for Trinity House, the British agency that looks after lighthouses and buoys in the waters around England, Wales and the Channel Islands, but not Scotland. In recent years, 12 passengers have been accepted and occupy very comfortable cabins on working voyages that have you following the course of the ship’s duties. While the length of the voyage (a week) is known upon booking, the exact sailing details are usually sent out about 10 days in advance and that includes the dates, times, and ports of embarkation and (usually different) disembarkation. Last-minute alterations can and do happen. Perhaps not until the sailing commences will you know the exact itinerary, and because of the weather or other circumstances, a complete change of course may be required. Accepting these uncertainties, the passenger response has been very positive. It’s living on a floating English country house at sea where most of the crew is engaged in maritime safety tasks.

Note: The bookings go fast for the most popular dates.

Patricia Cruises

Patricia in Harwich. * Photo: Karl Zimmerman

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger

THV PATRICIA (built 1982 & 12 passengers)

Passenger Profile

The dozen passengers are usually older and well-heeled British nationals. While there is no upper age limit, passengers must be able to climb and descend narrow, steep steps into and out of the work boat.

Passenger Decks

The accommodations are arranged on two decks.

Price: $$. Rates quoted are for the cabin (not per person) and for one week or two weeks. Passengers traveling alone will pay a single rate for the double cabin.

Included Features

Wine with dinner.

Itineraries

The PATRICIA operates passenger-carrying voyages between late April and into October. Port calls will usually occur only at embarkation and disembarkation, and the regions accessed may be the East Coast and the North Sea; the South Coast and the English Channel, including the Channel Islands off the coast of France; the Southwest off Cornwall and in the Bristol Channel, and the West Coast of England and Wales in the Irish Sea. The coastline is often in view as are islands. N.B. The website shows the Draft Itinerary for an entire year and the longest block in any one region is the East Coast June to August. However, this is a guide only and circumstances may require the ship to respond to an urgent need elsewhere.

Why Go?

Sailing aboard the PATRICIA is a unique experience that is not available anywhere else in the world, and if you can accept the uncertainties, the voyage could not be more comfortable nor provide a more relaxed social setting shared with fellow passengers and crew.

When to Go?

Anytime during the six-month season that passengers are carried. Early and late season voyages are cooler and cold out on the water. Even summer months can be chilly on deck at all hours.

Stateroom # 1, Prince Philip's cabin when aboard.

Stateroom # 1, Prince Philip’s cabin when aboard. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Cabins

The six cabins are all good-sized twin-bedded, windowed outsides with individual décor, lounge area, private facilities, including bath tub and shower, satellite TV, coffee/tea making facilities, Internet connections, and the very British amenity called a trouser press. Stateroom One is officially reserved for the Duke of Edinburgh and Stateroom Two for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Public Rooms

The main lounge opens to an outside forward viewing deck for watching the ship approach the working locations and then the activities as they unfold. A helicopter landing deck at is the bow.

Elder Brethern Dining Room seats 12. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Elder Brethern Dining Room seats 12. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Dining

The passengers eat at one long table at set times and with a set menu. However, the food is very good British cooking by a chef dedicated to the passengers. Seating changes are encouraged so that everyone gets to meet one another. Service is formal and very attentive. Special dietary requirements are accepted with advance notice. Passengers tend to dress up a bit for dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

They are generally focused on watching the crew lifting and cleaning buoys and attending to and refueling lighthouses, all are now automated and unmanned. Lighthouses mark shoals, dangerous rocks or land masses such as islands and coastlines. Buoys mark safe shipping channels and navigational hazards including shipwrecks. The ship may also respond to emergencies. The bridge has an open policy allowing passengers to learn more about the ship’s activities and navigation in general.

Acting Captain (three stripes) Dave Cooper. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Acting Captain (three stripes) Dave Cooper with a chart of the approaches to Southampton. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Special Notes

If a change of crew (every three weeks) is scheduled at the end of the voyage booked, the ship may arrive at the disembarkation port a day in advance, though you stay aboard until the following day. Be sure you can handle last-minute changes such as the embarking and disembarking ports and even an itinerary that involves working in a completely different region or regions. Inquire well ahead of when you may want to go as bookings go fast for the most popular months.

If you might be interested in staying at a lighthouse cottage (separate from the lighthouse itself), the Trinity House website lists a dozen locations along the English coast and provides a link to the booking agent.

Along the Same Lines

One of a kind, nothing else like it.

Contact

Trinity House, The Quay, Essex, Harwich CO 12 3JW England; www.trinityhouse.co.uk then click on Holidays +11 44 1255 245156 if phoning from outside the United Kingdom

Passenger bookings are made through: Wildwings (incorporating Strand Travel), Davis House, Lodge Causeway, Bristol BS16 3JB England; www.wildwings.co.uk 011 44 117 96 58333 (from outside the UK) www.wildwings.co.uk/app-holidays/patricia-voyages

— TWS

 

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10 Best Small Ship cruises include the Sweden-based Juno

The 10 Quirkiest Cruises.

By Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

This list changes in accordance with the tides, our moods, the stock market, and the new and cool cruises we learn about all the time.

Currently, here are our picks of the 10 quirkiest cruises for those who really want to do something different.

Light Vessel Patricia

Trinity House

Trinity House is a centuries-old British organization that looks after lighthouses and buoys in the waters around England, Wales and the Channel Islands using its spiffy light vessel PATRICIA. This hardworking little ship that has had Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spending time aboard offers comfy accommodations for 12 passengers.

Join for a week, or two, and observe the inspections and replacements of channel markers and fueling and repairing unmanned lighthouses dotting the islands and rugged coastline. Often the itinerary is not known until a week or two before departure and it may change at sudden notice. The cozy social life aboard is a big draw.

Visit the Trinity House site for more info.

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

M/S Juno on Sweden’s Göta Canal

Göta Canal Steamship Company

Launched in 1874, the 29-cabin M/S JUNO is the world’s oldest registered ship with overnight accommodations, and its journeys along the 19th-century Göta Canal system are a fascinating way to experience small-town Sweden. One of our 10 quirkiest cruises for good reason, JUNO’s 3-night cruise between Gothenburg on the west coast and Söderköping near Stockholm on the east coast (a total of 382 miles) takes you through 58 locks, some single and some in stepped sets.

Charming cabins are like train compartments (bathrooms are shared!) and the dining room serves very taste set meals. Daily excursions include visits to old fortresses, churches and Viking sites, as well as the chance to bike or walk along the tow bath.

The whole experience is wonderfully old fashioned.

Visit the Göta Canal Steamship Co website for more info on this amazing cruise.

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

New York to Chicago via 3 Rivers, 3 Canals & 6 Lakes

Blount Small Ship Adventures

(Rivers = Hudson, Mohawk and Detroit; Canals = Erie, Oswego and Well; Lakes = Oneida, Ontario, Erie, St. Claire, Huron and Michigan.)

Yes, they all string together to form a continuous and diverse watery route for Blount’s two super nimble ships to follow while sailing between two of America’s largest cities. Head north from New York to see stately homes with Hudson River views, stopping along the way. Slide under low bridges on the Erie Canal with inches to spare.

Break out into Lake Ontario and lock through the Welland Canal in tandem with giant ore carriers. Navigate the Detroit River with the US to port and Canada to starboard and on into Lakes Huron and Michigan, with pretty towns to visit. Then Chicago’s skyscrapers begin to rise above the horizon a good hour before berthing at the Navy Pier.

Visit Blount’s website for more info.

Blount's Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Blount’s Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Rembrandt Van Rijn in the Arctic

Oceanwide Expeditions

Cruising the poles may be thrilling and exotic enough, but exploring the Arctic on a sailing ship as explorers did centuries ago is out of this world and good reason to deem this one of our 10 quirkiest cruises. The 3-masted, 33-passenger Dutch schooner REMBRANDT VAN RIJN was built in the early 20th-century as a herring lugger and rebuilt in 1994 to operate as a pleasure cruiser in Greenland and occasionally Iceland.

Today it’s a comfy, cozy craft for coastal voyages, and if the wind dies, the auxiliary diesel engine kicks in to keep you on course and into fjords to see Viking ruins and wildlife or just let the sails luff and stay silent while amongst a pod dolphins or whales.

For more details, here’s Oceanwide’s website.

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

M/S Katharina in Eastern Indonesia

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

This 12-passenger Indonesian pinisi schooner has a sheer so dramatic, it’s an uphill walk to get to KATHARINA’S bow. The chunky ironwood workhorse bucks through the seas at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago with an Indonesian crew leading the way.

There are opportunities to snorkel in the middle of nowhere, laze on white-sand beaches, and experience encounters with exotic wildlife and tribal people you’ve definitely never seen before. The best itineraries are the ones with an expert lecturer on board.

For more info visit wwwSeaTrekBali.com.

10 best small ship cruises include SeaTrek Bali

The Bugis schooner Katharina takes the adventurous back in time. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

High-tech Exploring in the Galapagos

Lindblad Expeditions

Since the 1960s, Lindblad Expeditions has been pioneering expeditions to the Galapagos and other far flung places, and in recent years enhanced by a partnership with National Geographic Magazine that brings top photographers and scientists on board. Besides the team of Ecuadorian naturalists, there’s an undersea specialist and a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor on board every Galapagos cruise.

But it’s the techy stuff that pushes the envelope: the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR carries aboard not only a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks and a glass-bottom boat, but also underwater cameras and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that dives down 500 feet to film what lies beneath. After each long and exciting day of exploring, the staff produces an amazing recap of photos and videos for passengers to marvel over.

For more info, contact Lindblad.

10 Quirkiest Cruises include Lindblad in the Galapagos

National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven-Olof Lindblad

Aranui 5 in the South Pacific

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM)

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM) has operated passenger-freighters in the remote South Pacific Marquesas Islands for decades, and the Tahiti-based 254-passenger ARANUI 5 is the latest of them. It’s clear why it’s one of our favorites and makes our 10 quirkiest cruises list. Visit idyllic islands with perfect beaches while observing the workings of a cargo ship.

While the 5th ARANUI carries everything and anything the remote islands need, you travel in great comfort along with an international passenger list that is searching for the paradise that Paul Gauguin sought. Trips ashore head to cultural sites, observe local customs and enjoy a beach barbecue.

For more info, here’s the line’s website.

10 quirkiest cruises include the ARANUI 5 Passenger Cargo Liner

The Aranui 5. * Photo: Peter Knego

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker in the North Pole

Quark Expeditions

Standing on the site 60 Degrees North is made possible by sailing aboard 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, the world’s most powerful icebreaker.

When she is not doing duty keeping the Northeast Passage above Russian Siberia open to commercial traffic, she plows her way through thick ice to reach the North Pole, at one time only accessible on foot and then by air in ideal weather. As a bonus, you can have a bird’s eye view of the icy scene from a hot air balloon.

Click over to Quark’s site for more details.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Mahabaahu on the Brahmaputra River

Adventure River Cruises (ARC)

India’s rivers are holy places, and a cruise on one is to see India in all its glorious contrasts. The Brahmaputra flows from high in the Himalayas of Tibet, down into India’s Assam valley in the northeast and finally into the Bay of Bengal.

Pandaw’s 46-passenger M/V MAHABAAHU traverses part of it, visiting tea plantations, tribal villages and the Kaziranga National Park to see the greater one-horned Indian rhino. The boat has 11 cabins with balconies (and the rest with large windows), a massage room and a small pool, but it’s India that will keep your attention. If you’re looking for something truly different, consider the MAHABAAHU, one of our 10 quirkiest cruises.

Go to Adventure River Cruises (ARC) site for more details.

Pandaw on India's Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

Pandaw on India’s Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

RMS St. Helena to St. Helena Island

RMS St. Helena

Sadly, this ship is due to go out of service sometime in 2018. But up until then, it holds the title of one of the quirkiest ships out there. The 128-passenger Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA is the very last in a long line of passenger, mail and cargo ships that connected the mother country to her dependents; in this case the remote and beautiful South Atlantic island of St. Helena, and intriguingly the last domicile of Emperor Napoleon.

An airport is nearing completion that will put the island residents within five hours of Johannesburg instead of five days to and from Cape Town, and apart from the convenience for the island’s population, it is hoped that foreign visitors will come in larger numbers for a holiday stay.

St. Helena’s remoteness was, for some, its principal attraction, coupled with a true liner voyage albeit rather minuscule compared to the QUEEN MARY 2, the only other true ocean liner afloat. So, if you act fast, there is still time to experience a unique combination — space available. For many, she will be missed.

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

 

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Here’s a spiffy table to compare where the major Europe-based river cruise lines go.

(click on table for a larger view)

River Tables Excel REGIONS EURO Apr 12 2016 update

 

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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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Swan Hellenic's Minerva at Nice, French Riviera. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Swan Hellenic’s Minerva at Nice, French Riviera. * Photo: William J. Mayes

By Ted Scull.

Swan Hellenic’s origins, offering culturally rich cruises, date back to 1954 when two brothers named Swan began chartering Greek and Turkish ships to explore the Eastern Mediterranean, the Hellenic world of antiquity. More recently, the year-round program of culturally rich cruises have fanned out beyond the Med. to Northern Europe and through Suez to the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.

The lecture program always was and still is Swan Hellenic’s great strength. Every cruise hosts three to five onboard guest speakers aboard appropriate to the itinerary. On a recent voyage that called at English, Irish and French ports, lecturers included an historian, writer, military specialist and an Anglican clergyman and nearly all talks were both informative as well as entertaining.

Entertainment is kept low-key to include a pianist, harpist, a classically trained quartet, house musicians, a crew show, a cinema, team quizzes and bridge instruction.

It was on Swan Hellenic’s chartered Orpheus in 1991 that I discovered my favorite style of cruising (vs crossings) on an itinerary that called at Greek, Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian ports. At breakfast on the first morning, the maitre d’ showed me to a table soon to be joined by Robert Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and his wife. He was traveling as a guest lecturer on Byzantine history. If this was to be a taste of Swan-style democracy, I was going to cotton onto it.

Subsequently, highlights of that cruise included two-day overland trips to Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, and in Jordan, visiting the hidden valley at Petra and standing amongst Jerash’s fantastic ruins as night fell.

Orpheus to Minerva

In 1996, Swan Hellenic took on the charter of the 352-passenger Minerva, the line’s present ship, a vessel originally designed to serve as a Russian spy ship, then completed to Swan’s specifications.

Gone was the Greek décor and Anglo-Greek food and enter the English country-house hotel. Minerva could boast the largest library afloat, and the main lounge held all passengers for the lecture program that might run to four talks on a full sea day. Attendance, of course, was not mandatory but it might as well have been as most showed up or watched on their cabin televisions. That sort of enthusiasm engenders a shared cruise experience.

Business boomed and by 2003, Swan took on the larger 688-passenger Minerva II (that had formerly traded as Renaissance Cruises R Eight). But by 2007, the giant Carnival Corporation, Swan Hellenic’s owners since the take-over of P&O, had pulled the plug on the one-ship operation.

Never underestimate Swan loyaltists. Sir Jeffery Sterling, former chairman of P&O, came to the rescue, buying the Swan name and passenger list, and All Leisure, a UK holding company, got hold of a ship that turned out to be none other than the original Minerva. The cruise program resumed in May 2008. Most who knew the original Minerva, including me, delighted in the return of the smaller ship and its wonderful collection of paintings, prints, maps and photographs.

Ship’s Tour

Minerva’s country hotel atmosphere is perhaps best typified by Shackleton’s Bar, a roomy U-shaped, light-wood-paneled lounge with polished wood floors and oriental-style carpets. A pianist plays in one corner and a stunning set of black and white photographs depicting Ernest Shackleton’s aborted Antarctic expedition and rescue are mounted on the walls.

Forward on the same Main Deck, the Darwin Lounge, held up by white fluted ionic columns, offers theater-style seating for lectures and evening entertainment, and otherwise, lounge-type seating, wooden dance floor, and bandstand.

On Bridge Deck portside, the Wheeler Bar pays homage to Sir Mortimer Wheeler, one of Swan’s founders – scholar, intrepid traveler, and later chairman. One section offers wicker furniture set amidst potted palms and another, overstuffed armchairs and couches facing mahogany tables.

On the same deck, the long gallery-style library, with the lecturers’ spouses in charge, is lined with open book shelves, comfortable reading chairs, reference books, and flat surfaces for studying atlases and using the computer stations. If buying an e-mail package, the rates are remarkably inexpensive. Next-door are the paneled smoking lounge with button leather chairs and card room for bridge players.

High up on Promenade Deck, the Orpheus Lounge serves as an observatory with 270-degree views and a bar with music at night. An outdoor promenade, ideal for that constitutional, wraps around the Orpheus Lounge.

Dining is open seating, a boon for meeting fellow passengers and a boon for single travelers. Meals are invariably lively social events full of good conversation. In the main restaurant, jacket and tie are de rigueur at dinner, while the informal Veranda, an attractive buffet restaurant, is always casual and offers additional outdoor seating in fine weather. Food is good to very good and will suit most American and British tastes.

Cabins are of mostly moderate size with 100 outside and an additional 44 with balconies. Most have showers (some have full-size baths), fridges, safes, and TVs with BBC and Euro news channels.

A swimming pool, located aft, is surrounded by wooden chairs and tables under umbrellas. Additionally, the Promenade Deck up by the funnel has blue and white cushioned plastic deck chairs shared with a small glassed-in gymnasium.

The passenger list is largely British, 60 and up, and cruise packages, including air and transfers, are available to North Americans. The atmosphere is a well-mannered one, and most passengers enjoy the social life and companionship in the lounge bars and during meals. Days at sea bring out avid readers who find ample places to roost.

Embarkation

On a blustery but sunny afternoon in late July, my wife and I embarked in Dover, southeast of London, for a two-week cruise that would circle Ireland and then visit Northern France before returning to England.

Our cabin was a Superior grade outside with a large mirrored picture-window facing the promenade deck, a walk-in closet and a tub bath for a favorite end-of-the-day soak after traipsing across the countryside.

We set sail at 3 p.m., passing beneath the famous White Cliffs of Dover for the overnight run through the English Channel to Dartmouth. After sailing up the impossibly narrow River Dart, filled with small boats and fringed by steep green hills, the ship anchored for the day below the Britannia Royal Naval College.

Swan Hellenic includes shore excursions in the cruise fares and offers optional extra tours at a fair price. Our destination was mystery writer Agatha Christie’s Greenway, once her home and a repository for her books and travel scrapbooks that gave rise to exotic Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt settings in her novels. The homey Georgian house, set in gardens that tumble down to the Dart, was first opened to the public by the National Trust in early 2009.

During the sea day en route to Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in Ireland, we had our first lectures – on Viking incursions, subsequent military invasions by the Spanish and French, and later Irish emigration from our next port to North America and Australia.

Ireland: South & West Coast

We docked at Cobh’s railway pier, the same spot whence 2.5 million Irish had embarked for new lives in North America and Australia. Today, the station houses the Heritage Centre telling the Queenstown Story using drawings, photographs, Movietone News footage, and models of ships and their accommodations. A separate section recalls the off-shore sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania in May 1915 by a German U-boat with a loss of 1,198 lives, including 128 U.S. citizens.

As it is Swan policy not fill excursion buses to capacity, we were just 32 on the trip to Kinsale, a historic port during the wine trade days and now a colorful small town best known as Ireland’s gastronomic center and a yachting harbor. Just out of town, we visited the imposing pentagonal Charles Fort, built in the late 17th century as a coastal defense against French invaders.

The Irish theme continued with a day’s call at Glengarriff and a fetchingly scenic coastal drive to Castletownbere, the country’s second largest fishing port after Killybeggs our next port of call. The deep-sea fleets fish for cod, hake, haddock, salmon, sole and tuna, with mussel farming close in shore. It’s a treat to walk amid the activity of unloading the catch and making boat repairs.

During the passage around the top of Ireland, we attended lectures on early Irish art such as elaborate metalwork in gold, silver and enamel and beautiful scrollwork exemplified by the outstandingly beautiful Book of Kells on display in Dublin. Another talk covered the Scottish invaders, English landholders, Anglo-Irish conflicts and the troubles between the Catholics and Protestants that continue up to the present day.

Belfast & Dublin

During our call at Belfast, Swan provided a free shuttle bus to and from the center of town for those who wished to stay ashore following the tour. Once one of the world’s most important shipbuilding centers, the city shows off its architecturally rich Donegal Square and connecting shopping streets.

We took the tour to Mount Stewart, a National Trust property with its owner still in residence. Built between 1744 and 1820, the imposing seaside house, containing beautiful furnishings, is set amongst sloping landscaped gardens that surround a central lake.

Sailing overnight to Dublin, we docked in the container port. As we had been here several times before, we availed ourselves of the free shuttle to Kildare Street. The city center is compact enough to enjoy an on-foot tour of the 18th-century Georgian architecture typified by the lovely residential squares and row houses with brightly painted doors.

For a different sort of outing, we visited 140-year-old Kilmainham Goal where the leaders of the Irish rebellions were incarcerated and sometimes executed. It serves as a museum of the history of Irish nationalism as well as view into brutal social conditions of the day, including jailing children because their parents were also imprisoned.

After a pub supper and a pint of Guinness on O’Connell Street, the city ‘s main thoroughfare, we returned to the Minerva for a late evening sailing through the Irish Sea en route to the Isles of Scilly, strung out off the southwestern-most point of England.

Isles of Scilly

Disembarking by launch, we landed within easy walking distance of Tresco Abbey Gardens, established in the early 19th century as a fabulous repository of sub-tropical plants and flowers, warmed by the Gulf Stream and protected from strong winds by towering stands of Monterey Pines. The various landscaped gardens exhibit colorful species from the Mediterranean, South America and Australasia, creating a delightful botanical medley.

Onto La Belle France

To prepare for our landings at St. Malo and Caen, the military historian described the events of World War II in a talk about the Battle of the Atlantic and another on the Allied landings at Omaha and Utah beaches, beginning with the elaborate preparations for D- Day (June 6, 1944) and how victory was snatched from possible disaster.

We called first at Caen, where the excursion took us on-site to Gold Beach, Arromanches–Les Bains. Here we viewed the coastal military installations, remnants of the artificial Mulberry Harbor that provided protection from the stormy seas during the Normandy landings and a museum housing a scale model of the operations.

St. Malo provided a far more peaceful visit. Squeezing through a lock into the inner basin, Minerva tied up beneath the walls of the old town, faithfully reconstructed after the WWII bombings. Within, the narrow medieval streets led to a lively quarter packed with stalls and outdoor seafood restaurants serving heaps of crabs, langoustines, mussels and oysters.

The day’s outing headed inland through the hilly Breton countryside to Dinan, a medieval river port surrounded by 11th-century walls and with a labyrinth of narrow streets lined by timbered houses. From the ramparts we looked down on the lower town clustered along the River Rance that connects the city to the sea.

Wrapping it Up

In a brief two-week period, Minerva had taken us to a wide variety of small villages and relatively large cities; landscapes that included rugged coastlines, inland farmlands, and river valleys; and an isolated island all accompanied by expert interpretation on the subjects of ancient Celtic and Viking culture, Irish literature and art, European wars and religious conflicts.

As most places seemed so peaceful today, it was sometimes hard to imagine the conflicts, unrest and destruction of the past until we visited Kilmainham Goal, planted our feet on the Normandy beaches or heard the tales of war from one of the veterans aboard ship who had been there as a young man.

A Swan Hellenic cruise has an uncanny way of bringing passengers together to enjoy a shared experience that engenders a lively social life at meals, gatherings on deck and on tour.

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