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First Small-Ship Cruise

Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise

By Ted Scull.

Heading into my senior year in college, I had one empty slot to round out my final academic schedule. Sitting with a good friend one day, we both decided to study Russian, the language. We were bound for Europe in the months after graduation, and the professor, though known to be a tough taskmaster, also had a great reputation.

At the end of the first day of class when we had been introduced to the Russian alphabet and how the letters were pronounced, Dr. B. gave us our assignment. Be prepared for a quiz, and if you passed to his satisfaction, you could continue, otherwise you will have to find another course to complete your credits.

We attacked the task with relish and stayed up half the night testing each other, and the next day we returned to class and passed muster. A few fell by the wayside.

The language study included quite a lot of Russian history and politics, and I became so intrigued by the world’s other superpower, I decided to plan a trip there. After graduation from college, I had six weeks between a summer job and starting an academic year abroad in Paris. My friend Bob planned a motorcycle trip deep into Eastern Europe, and we would rendezvous in Paris in October.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Russian riverboat AMUR, named after a river in eastern Siberia.

Heading off to Europe

After graduation, I sailed over on the German liner Hanseatic and connected to the boat train for Paris where I stashed my belongings, those not needed for traveling east. At Gare de L’Est I boarded an overnight train for Prague, the start of a month and a half of travel. The next day, while I was beginning lunch in the restaurant car, we made a stop at Pilsen. Cartons of Pilsner beer came aboard, my favorite foreign beer at home.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Prague (Praha) Central Station. * Photo: Ted Scull

Arriving at Prague Central Station late in the day, I had failed to look up where my hotel was located. So, I showed the taxi driver the name, Esplanade, and we took a strange meandering route arriving at my destination about 15 minutes later. When I entered my hotel room, I looked out the window and what did I see – the railway station just two blocks away.

I stayed two full days, seeing the city on foot, and while a beautiful and intriguing place, it had nowhere near the bustle and excitement of Paris. The train to Vienna took just four hours and there I teamed up with another college friend and his new wife for a Danube River cruise all the way to the Black Sea and onward by overnight ship to Yalta.

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Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise: Vienna & Boarding the Riverboat

All travel from now was through Intourist, the Russian government travel agency. One either picked the tourist or first-class level and the hotel charge included three meals a day. It was only permitted to stay in cities on the Intourist list, and the major ones had a limit of five days. Yalta, an inexpensive resort town, permitted up to four weeks. For travel between most cities, you could choose to fly or take the train.

First Small-Sip Cruise

Russian riverboat AMUR at a landing along the Danube, * Photo: Ted Scull

Two nights in Vienna revealed a stunning city of art, music and architecture, and its lively atmosphere would be hard to match in the Czechoslovakian, Yugoslavian, Romanian and Bulgarian cities in route to the Black Sea.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Vienna where private palaces and grounds are opened to the public. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Soviet-owned riverboat Amur (named after a river is eastern Siberia) we boarded had been built on the Danube as one of a pair, qualifying as war reparations for the damage done to Russia in WWII. Its purpose was to bring foreign currency to an economically struggling Russia. The riverboat was white with a red stripe along the main deck and hammer and sickle on the funnel.

Passengers occupied three decks, one full deck of windowed outside twin-bedded cabins with private facilities, and a second higher deck with more cabins, an observation lounge, large windowed dining saloon, and a bar. A wraparound promenade allowed complete circumnavigations. Open space included a large portion of the top (navigating) deck and a small area at the bow one level below.

Danube River

The Danube River & the Black Sea.

Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise: Settling In

My first riverboat, fairly new and seemingly well-maintained, was a pleasant surprise, but then I had no idea really know what to expect. Upon casting off, we had some 60 passengers, about half capacity but then it was near the season’s end.

Dinner, however, got off to a shaky start. We were amongst the last to board, and there was no place for us to sit together at the long, shared table. As we knew no one and heard no English spoken among the others, we stood there looking helpless. Eventually one of the stewardesses came to our rescue, and I launched into my first attempt with Russian. She smiled patiently and moved around some chairs and set up a table for three off to one side. After that we would be assigned seats together at the main table. We did meet a few of the European passengers, but overall, not much English was spoken.

The food was decent and forgettable: soup, some sort of meat (occasionally fish), potatoes, and a vegetable for lunch and dinner. Breakfast offered a dollop of large lump red caviar, bread and a boiled egg. Drink choices were soda, beer and wine.

Our ports were Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, Iron Gate (passage), Giurgiu, and Ismail.

The Iron Gate

The Iron Gate today has been tamed by a dam and locks.* Photo: Ted Scull

The real excitement began the next morning when we were underway. I had never sailed along a major river before, not even in a small boat, and this river was just amazing, taking us from Central Europe through the Balkans to the Black Sea, from democracies to Communist dictatorships. The era was the height of the so-called Cold War — for some, us against them, but it was more complicated than that. One could not simply say that Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania could be lumped together willy-nilly or that all four felt the same toward Moscow, capital of Russia and the Soviet Union.

Communist propaganda

Communist propaganda showing a heroic worker shoveling land mines marked US. * Photo: Ted Scull

RELATED: Mother Russia River Cruising.  by Ted Scull

Tricky Navigation

Back to the Danube. We were going with the flow and moving rather fast. From time to time we came up behind slower traffic such as powered barges and others that needed a tug to push or pull the load. They needed to be overtaken, and at the same time make sure there was enough room to pass, and taking into account the bends in the river, plus if anything was coming upstream.

First Small-Ship Cruise

A twin funnel sidewheel towboat down bound on the Danube. * Photo: Ted Scull

Barges and tows moved very slowly, and for the most part we were faster, bigger and more maneuverable. Cargoes consisted of coal, iron ore, rock, gravel, petroleum products, lumber and grain.

Following a few meets and overtakings, I began to realize that people actually made their homes on the barges. Clothes lines had laundry drying, some carried bicycles, and others an open deck for relaxing, attractively surrounded by plants.

Our vessel had an illustrated booklet of national flags so we could understand where the traffic came from or was going to. The Rhine-Main Canal was not open yet so southern Germany was as far inland as one could go.

During the day we passed the upbound sistership Donau with an exchange of whistles. Curiously, there were no cheers or waves between the sisterships, just people lining the railings. And we never saw another riverboat.

First Small-Ship Cruise

AMUR’s sistership DONAU (Danube) heading upriver. * Photo: Ted Scull

Bratislava

Our first port was Bratislava, a major city in Czechoslovakia, and before that a longtime German city with the name Pressburg. The Ottoman Empire attacked many cities along the Danube using it as the conquering route inland, but Pressburg never fell.

Because we were the only native English-speaking passengers on the boat, we were pretty much on our own, so we made our own way from the landing to the attractive city center and main square, churches that dated to the 14th and 15th century. Making a loop, we passed through small squares and along narrow lanes that led to wide boulevards. A fortified citadel towered over the city, but then there was not the buzz there is today.

Budapest (Two Cities)

Budapest was altogether different. Originally two cities, Buda and Pest were separated by the Danube, with the former overlooking the more important side with an imposing gothic-style Parliament modeled after the British counterpart fronting on the river.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Gothic-style Parliament building, modeled after the Btitish Parliament fronting on the Danube at Budapest. * Photo: Ted Scull taken aboard riverboat AMUR

Impressed by this architecturally rich city, we set out from the Pest side where riverboats dock today. Once a wealthy city, Budapest built the first subway in Continental Europe, had the first public telephone system and first telephone exchange, and stimulated by an order from the Parliament builders, the first mass production of light bulbs.

We zigzagged amongst the monumental buildings, many in Art Nouveau style, crossing to Buda on one suspension bridge to then climb up to the medieval battlements to a viewpoint overlooking the Danube. Winding back down, we took in the famous Gellert Hotel and its spa to then to cross back over a handsome suspension bridge decorated with tongue-less lion statues. The architect was said to have committed suicide when he saw the empty mouths at the opening ceremony.

Belgrade

For the stop at Belgrade, Yugoslavia’s capital, Marshal Tito, the dictator, did his best to keep the Soviet Union at bay. We tied up in a small cove off the main channel and had a bit of a climb to reach the city center. The city has foundations of many previous incarnations.

Belgrade experienced 115 major battles, and since Roman rule, has been completely destroyed 44 times, had 40 different names and served as a capital of five different states. It was a bit much to even try to take but a superficial overview in the time allotted.

First Small-Ship Cruise

It’s a bit of a climb from the Danube to the center of Belgrade. * Photo: Ted Scull

Drama at the Iron Gate

Continuing on down the Danube, we next came to the Iron Gate, a dramatic series of gorges created by the Transylvanian Alps crossing the river. The Danube changes its character to a rapidly flowing torrent with waters roughed up by its narrowing and dropping fast enough to create dangerous rapids. Our pace quickened, and I could sense tension in my body. To the left we passed a pair of steam locomotives standing by to haul the upriver traffic. Now, for safety reasons, that traffic had stopped to permit the downriver traffic to pass.

Today, the rapids have now been tamed by dams and locks providing safe navigation and hydroelectricity. The passage is scenic and safer but no longer genuinely dramatic.

Welcome to Romania (Not)

Cruising overnight, the Amur eased up to a landing marked Giurgiu, a river port with road access to Bucharest, the Romanian capital. Across the river was the port of Ruse in Bulgaria. Our crew had the lines ready to hand over to the Romanian receivers but they just stood there looking at us. With our boat now alongside the floating landing stage, the captain ordered the crew to jump ashore and tie up the boat.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Landing station at Giurgiu, Romania before troops arrived to prevent going ashore. * Photo: Ted Scull

The men hesitated, and then without any warning, a contingent of Romanian soldiers marched around both sides of the terminal and stood at attention. A Romanian officer yelled something across to our captain, now standing outside the pilothouse, first in Romanian (a Romance and not a Slavic language). There was silence, and the Romanian officer gave an order, and his troops lowered their weapons then took several thumping steps forward.

That was it, we were not welcome. Our captain rang the telegraph, and we moved off the landing and made a wide arc to dock at Ruse, across the river in Bulgaria.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Ruse, Bulgaria’s most prominent government, a billboard to post portraits of heroic leaders. The red letters are a salute to the 9th of September. * Photo: Ted Scull

Not Wanted

The Romanian demonstration provided an official snub against Russia, something that increasingly became a pattern prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union many years later. As the Bulgarian stop was scheduled for the upriver transit, nothing was planned, so we simply spent a few hours ashore wandering through a sleepy, medium-size Bulgarian river city.

With a full moon rising above the river, we proceeded in the growing darkness, and during the night, the Danube would turn north and then east through Romanian territory. In the morning we eased over to a landing at Ismail, a Romanian port about 50 miles in from the Black Sea.

RELATED:  Cruising the Danube River on the New AMA Magna.  by Gene Sloan.

RELATED:  Beer & Biking on the Danube River with Scenic.  by John Roberts.

Changing from a Boat to a Ship (Small)

The Amur pulled up astern of the small Soviet passenger vessel Kolchida. Those who were leaving here, including our trio, disembarked and walked forward a few hundred feet to the Black Sea ship and boarded for our one-night voyage.

We sailed about an hour later through the marshy, flat Danube Delta. There were lots of birds about and still enough evening light when the ship sailed out into the Black Sea for the overnight sail to Yalta.

The Kolchida on the Danube

The Kolchida.* Photo: Ted Scull

Chess, and the Winner Is …

Some Russians my age approached me asking, in Russian, if I played chess, and when I indicated yes, they set up a table at the stern. About a dozen others, college students returning home, surrounded the two players. Everything happened so fast, with my Russian opponent moving his pieces very quickly. I did not play that way. I concentrated as hard as I could and tried not to take too long, and after about 20 minutes, I had him in checkmate. I was not sure how it all happened. Did he let me win? Anyway, I was rewarded with a beer with the ship now rolling to the Black Sea swells.

Dinner was just passable as I assume all the ingredients had come from Russia, while the riverboat took on stores in Vienna its turnaround port. It would be an introduction to the Russian menus that would little from day to day and eventually became a non-topic. You just ate what was put in front of you. Then I took to my bunk, and in the morning, when I awoke, we were approaching a steep coastal landscape with Yalta sprawled at its base.

Yalta and Beyond

My friends stayed several days, and I remained in a seafront hotel for two weeks, as it was cheap and I could practice my Russian on anyone who would talk to me. My tourist level included a guide and car every five days, so I managed to see the site of the Yalta Conference and the Valley of Balaclava, the location for the charge of the Light Brigade, a battle between the British and Russians.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Ted atop a large hill overlooking Yalta and the Black Sea. * Photo: Tony Milbank

Leaving Yalta, I then another five weeks, traveling independently by train, and in between, a 21-day tour starting out in Moscow and then to Stalingrad (now Volgograd), followed by a two-day paddle steamer voyage to Rostov, Sochi, Kiev, and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

First Small-Ship Cruise

Soviet sidewheel riverboat at a landing on the Volga River. * Photo: Ted Scull

Again, on my own, by train to Riga, Latvia’s capital, Moscow, Warsaw and Paris where, in the latter, I resided for eight months. But that story is for another day.

RELATED:  Danube River Cruise with Aboard the New AMA Magna.  by Gene Sloan. 

RELATED:  Beer & Biking on the Danube with Scenic.  by John Roberts.

Looking Back

My basic Russian came in handy when traveling on trains, trams, buses, seeking directions, ordering meals and having a minimal chat. Visiting the Soviet Union was time well spent, if not unsettling at times.

During the group tour, one member, a young English fellow who spoke fluent Russian, vanished about 10 days into the itinerary, and there was no explanation forthcoming from our guide.

Ted in Red Square

The author in Red Square, Moscow.

On the riverboat between Stalingrad and Rostov, some of us apparently fraternized a bit too much with the Russian passengers. We were relegated to one lounge and sat at separate tables at one end of the dining saloon.

When in Moscow, I meet some students in Red Square, and they invited me to their homes. Later, when I returned to the city by train, I was discreetly handed a message as I walked along the platform warning me that my friends would be arrested if I met up with them again.

Ted in Paris

The author on the Pont Alexandre III, Paris, named after a Russian czar,

Soon after settling in Paris, my friend from college, who shared the Russian language class, came to visit for several days. We exchanged stories and there were plenty. He then sold his motorcycle and headed home. We still connect all these years later.

My six weeks in the Soviet Union and eight months in Paris were life changing. I had grown up quite a bit by the time I stepped onto the pier in New York.

Ted’s First Small-Ship Cruise Was Just the Beginning …

Beginning with the Danube just after graduating from college, I became smitten by rivers and river cruising. When I had the time and money, I began to collect them with subsequent travels: Rhine, Rhone, Moselle, Elbe, Soane, Volga, Don, Nile, Yangtze, Mekong, Amazon, and closer to home, St. Lawrence, Ohio, Mississippi, Columbia, Snake and less than an hour’s walk, the Hudson.

Every one is different and has stories galore to tell, and I find them all intriguing in their unique ways.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Pandaw’s colonial design fits well into the Mekong River setting. * Photo: Ted Scull

The growth of river cruising has been a phenomenon, adding a fabulous new way to see our world, and so much of it developed along rivers. They provided routes of discovery, development, conquest, retreat and travel before decent roads and steam railways.

Leisure cruising started first on the Nile in the late 19th century on a river that was the most important geographical factor in the development of early civilization.

Nile River cruise vessel

SS SUDAN recalls the early style of Nile River cruise vessels. 

Modern river cruising has developed so fast, especially in Europe, and the resulting competition has driven innovation and cruise ship-style luxuries. Travelers can still choose between the plain and fancy.

I happen to prefer the riverboats that don’t try to be the be all and end all of the latest luxury cruise package. I like to concentrate on the river, its scenic delights and commerce and to go ashore in ports to see what this river is responsible for.

First Small-Ship Cruise

Today’s much larger riverboats, seen here on Russia’s Volga River. * Photo: Ted Scull

My favorite riverboats have been the 1926-built Delta Queen, built for transportation, then a long life of cruising with a genuine link to the past, the outstanding replica stern-wheeler, American Queen, and Pandaw ‘s fleet of small-size boats with their fetching colonial atmosphere.

I would also be more than happy to sail again in the likes of the Amur, the riverboat that began my story. It gave me the initial entry into a new means of travel and the results are evident. I don’t know what happened to her, but her sister Donau has continued on for decades, most recently housing cyclists who sleep on board and cycle from a different port during the day.

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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Viking Jupiter's terrace

Viking Jupiter

By Judi Cohen.

I am a small-ship “connoisseur” accustomed to ships under 300 passengers, which is how QuirkyCruise.com defines a small-ship cruise. However, when presented with the opportunity to cruise on Viking’s new 930-passenger Viking Jupiter in the Baltic Sea I immediately said “yes!”

Having never visited Russia, seeing St. Petersburg on the 8-night Baltic itinerary was a major draw. While it wasn’t exactly a “small-ship,” it featured the advantages of larger ships, while also offering some of the intimacy and highly personalized service of a true small-ship. I like to think of it as a “small big-ship.”

Viking Jupiter

The new Viking Jupiter. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The Viking Jupiter took us from Stockholm to Berlin, with stops at the ports of Helsinki, Tallinn and Gdansk. The historical and gilded riches of St. Petersburg, of course, were the big draw for most passengers.

My two-day visit to St. Petersburg provided just a taste of the city’s rich art, architecture and history. I hope to return to do a true small-ship river cruise, on the Volga River, and see more of Russia, including Moscow.

Russia cruise with Viking

Judi and Lawrence at the Church of the Spilled Blood. * Photo: Judi Cohen

In the spirit of Quirky Cruise’s small-ship ethos, Russia’s Volga River cruises are an ideal way to visit both Moscow and St. Petersburg in combination with a Baltic itinerary. Small-ship cruises to this region are offered by various cruise companies including a 13-day Viking cruise on one of their five 200-passenger boats.

Meanwhile, Ponant Cruises and Tauck both operate 12-day small-ship Russia/Baltic Sea cruises using Ponant’s 184-passenger Le Dumont D’Urville with two full days in St. Petersburg. Emerald Waterways does a 12-day river cruise on the 224-passenger MS Rosia with stops in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

6 “Small Ship” Moments on the Viking Jupiter

While the Viking Jupiter has features you would typically find on larger ships including a variety of dining choices, numerous bars with live entertainment, and a luxurious Nordic spa with gym and treatment rooms, the ship felt intimate and uncrowded giving it a small-ship feel.

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#1: Optional Small-group Shore Excursions

In St. Petersburg we chose to pay for two small-group tours in addition to taking the panoramic coach tour of St. Petersburg that was included at no extra cost (Viking offers one free tour option in every port). We did a full-day “Behind Closed Doors” tour of the 18th-century Hermitage Museums and a half-day walking tour of the 1950-era St. Petersburg metro system, museum-like itself.

With only 13 guests on each tour, they were similar to excursions and tours I have done on previous small-ship cruises.

 Winter Palace Hermitage Museum

The gorgeous Winter Palace Hermitage Museum. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Hermitage museum entrance

Entrance staircase in the Hermitage Museum. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our Hermitage Museum guide was knowledgeable about architecture and art history, and contributed to our learning and enjoyment. Our guide during the metro tour, which was a highlight for me, led us into the system to see some of the oldest stations that were built as “palaces of the people” rich in Soviet history, with their fascinating art and sculpture.

St Petersburg Metro System

Kirovsky Zavod Station, part of the stunning metro system. * Photo; Judi Cohen

St Petersburg metro stations

Avtovo Station light fixtures. * Photo: Judi Cohen

These small-group excursions felt much like the tours I have enjoyed on other small-ship cruises along the Mekong and Irrawaddy with Pandaw and the Brahmaputra River with India-based Adventure River Cruises. As on these smaller ships, on board the Viking Jupiter, there were many opportunities to immerse myself in the artistic and historical presentations offered on board by local experts. There was even a magical performance one evening in the ship’s Star Theatre by the famous Russian Mariinsky Theatre.

Other passengers told me about the small-group premium excursions they took (ranging from about $75 to $300 per person), including a tour of the Stutthof concentration camp in Gdansk, Poland; reindeer feeding in Nuuksio National Park; and a bicycle tour in Helsinki, Finland. Several premium excursions at additional cost were offered in every port.

#2: Private Balcony in our Cabin

Our cabin had a private balcony that provided a quiet and private place to relax, read and reflect. It reminded me of smaller ships I’ve been on that also had private balconies, including the 195-passenger Viking Einar that I cruised on along the Rhine River in 2019.

RELATED: Cruising on the new Viking Einar … by Judi Cohen

balcony of Viking Jupiter

Judi’s husband Lawrence on their cabin balcony. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#3:  Intimate Dining Experiences

Mamsen’s is a small take-away café aboard the Jupiter named in honor of Viking founder Torstein Hagen’s mother. Located on Deck 7 in the Explorers Lounge, serving light traditional Scandinavian dishes, snacks and pastries, it was never crowded and became our go-to spot for early breakfast and light bites throughout the day.

With comfortable seating in sofas or at tables with chairs, Mamsen’s felt very warm, welcoming and cozy…and the open face shrimp sandwiches and signature waffles were delicious!

waffels aboard the Viking Jupiter

Mamsen’s signature Scandinavian waffle. * Photo: Judi Cohen

 #4: Afternoon Tea

Like many of the small European river boats, traditional high tea was served every afternoon in the Wintergarden Conservatory on Deck 7. Separated from the pool by floor-to-ceiling glass doors, I found the Wintergarden to be one of the most beautiful areas on the ship. The blonde wood ornamentation looked like trees climbing the pillars and covering the roof and created the feeling of being in a forest!

afternoon tea on the Viking Jupiter

Afternoon Tea in the Wintergarden on Deck 7. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#5: Explorers Lounge

The Jupiter had many comfortable and quiet sitting areas with books neatly organized on library shelves. However, we kept going back to the Explorers Lounge on Deck 7 and the upper level above it, called the Observation Lounge, to read, rest, have a snack or drink, or watch the waves through the expansive windows.

While seated in the sofas, complete with fur throws, we could also enjoy the warmth from the faux fireplaces. I never felt like I was on a large ship in these lounges.

Explorer's Lounge on Jupiter

The lovely ocean-view Explorers Lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#6: Musicians in the Atrium

The multi-level atrium typical of big ships, felt cozy each evening when a pianist or a trio of musicians played sweet music there for hours. The Viking Bar and the surrounding Living Room lounge, that actually felt like our own living room at home, drew us back nightly for pre-dinner cocktails  and again following dinner.

After only one night aboard, the musicians welcomed us back warmly and it felt like they were playing just for us! Very few other passengers were there in the evenings, which made it feel even more intimate.

musicians on Viking Jupiter

Musicians performing nightly on Deck 1. * Photo: Judi Cohen

For anyone who wants to get the best of a larger cruise ship with many of the benefits of a small ship, I would recommend the Viking Jupiter.

The Jupiter’s attentive personal service, small-group shore excursions options, cozy and comfortable lounge areas with music, and casual dining all combined to create a wonderful “small-ship” feeling.

The added bonus was having some “big-ship” features such as a spa, gym and multiple pools, plus 24-hour room service so we could enjoy refreshments on our private balcony. Having been teased with the history and riches of St. Petersburg for only two days, I am ready to go back to experience Russia in depth!

Viking Jupiter's terrace

On the Aquavit Terrace leaving Stockholm. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

Emerald Waterways.

Emerald Waterways started in 2014 and operates a fleet of six similar riverboats along Europe’s Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle Rivers. Other vessels cruise the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Portugal’s Duoro River, Croatia’s Dalmation coast, Russia and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

Known as Evergreen Waterways in Australia, the line is a division of Scenic, a multifaceted travel company. The price point is mid-range and the boats’ decor falls into the modern minimalist style.

The exception is Emerald Waterways’ new luxury yacht, to debut in the summer of 2021 for the company’s new Emerald Yacht Cruises brand, with sailings in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Red Seas.

Emerald Waterways is a real gem, offering good-value river cruises mostly in Europe, Russia and on the Mekong; it’s owned by the same firm that operates Scenic, a higher-end line.

Emerald Harmony of Emerald Cruises

The 2019-built Emerald Harmony is based in SE Asia. * Photo: Emerald Harmony

COVID-19 UPDATE

The global COVID-19 pandemic that emerged in early 2020 has been exceedingly challenging for travel companies and travelers alike. While the situation remains fluid, we at QuirkyCruise.com are working hard to provide accurate and timely updates the small-ship cruise lines we cover. However, for the most up-to-date information we recommend that our readers consult each cruise line directly.

Emerald Waterways is offering incentives such as $2,000 per couple discounts on all 8+ day itineraries or choose free international flights. The line also has flexible booking terms such as reduced deposit (for a limited time) and free deposit protection that allows for reservation changes before the final payment and also offers savings on flights to Europe for longer cruises.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

Star-Ships

Emerald Star (built 2014 & 180 passengers) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Sky (b. 2014 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Dawn (b. 2015 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Sun (b. 2015 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Destiny (b. 2017 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Luna (b. TK & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Liberté (b. 2017 & 138p) — Rhône & Saône Rivers

Emerald Radiance (b. 2017 & 112p) — Douro River in Portugal

Emerald Harmony (b. 2019 & 84p) — Mekong River

Emerald Cruises Emerald Sun

The Star Ship “Emerald Sun.” * Photo: Emerald Cruises

Other Ships

MS Nizhny Novgorod (b. 1977, refurbished 2019, 204p) — Russia

MS Rossia (b. 1978, refitted 2007, 224p) — Russia

MS Hamees (b. TK & 142p) — chartered Mövenpick journeys, Nile River

MS Swallow (b. 2019 & 36p) — Croatia’s Dalmatian coast

MS Lastavica (b. 2020 & 36p) — Croatia’s Dalmatian coast

Future Plans

Emerald Azzurra (b. 2021 & 100p) — luxury yacht scheduled to debut July 2021, Mediterranean, Adriatic & Red Seas

Passenger Profile

For the most part English-speaking from Australia, North American, and Britain.

Passenger Decks

Riverboats: four decks, three of them with cabins, and two more public rooms. An elevator connects the three cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$  Expensive but good value and lots included in the fares.

Included Features
  • Most excursions (at least one for every port)*
  • Biking & hiking tours
  • Independent use of onboard bicycles
  • Beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee & tea with lunch and dinner
  • Bottled water in cabins
  • Some on-shore meals
  • Pre-paid on-board gratuities
  • Wi-Fi onboard
  • Transfers
  • Port charges
  • *More in-depth excursions are available at an extra cost through the DiscoverMORE program focusing on art, local history, culture and food.
  • Cologne Cathedral, seen on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Ted ScullCologne Cathedral, seen on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

Emerald’s European river cruises comprise 5- to 15-day cruises on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle Rivers, as well as the Rhône and Saône; 8 to 22 days on Portugal’s Duoro River; and 11 days on Russia’s Volga River.

Southeast Asia, 8- to 21-day cruises ply the Mekong.

Eastern Mediterranean, a 16-day land-and-river package includes a tour of Israel combined with a Nile River cruise.

Sample Itineraries

  • The eight-day Danube Delights cruise covers four countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The journey departs from Nuremberg and calls at Regensberg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Dürnstein, Vienna and Bratislava before ending at Budapest.
  • The 10-day Secrets of the Douro cruise visits the wine country and landmarks of Portugal and Spain, sailing from Porto and calling at Pinhão, Vega de Terrón, Salamanca, Pocinho and Régua, concluding at Porto.
  • The 16-day Israel & Ancient Egypt river cruise begins in Tel Aviv, Israel where you’ll tour the city for two days before sailing to Haifa for tours of Acre and Galilee, which includes a cruise on the Galilee Sea; a short drive to Jerusalem for a couple days of guided tours throughout the city before returning to Tel Aviv for a flight to Cairo and on to Luxor, Egypt. From Luxor, cruise the Nile with calls at Dendra, Esna, Kom Ombo and Aswan, with a short flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel and return to continue cruising the Nile before flying back to Cairo for three days of tours.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. * Photo: Ted Scull

Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

A European river cruise introduces you in the space of a week or so to several different cultures, long histories, and scenic delights with one unpacking and one packing chore. Asian river cruising is the least stressful way to see diverse culturally-rich countries.

Sustainability Initiatives

The Emerald Harmony was the line’s first Star-Ship to ban all single use plastics.

Now on all river ships, passengers will be provided a complementary metal water bottle to refill from water stations on the ship, and reusable glass water bottles will be provided in the cabins.

Plus, recyclable bamboo and paper straws will be used in the restaurant, bar and lounge, while cabin toiletry miniatures will be replaced with refillable dispensers.

When to Go?

Summer in Europe can be a bit hectic ashore at the most popular port calls, while May and October are less crowded months,. The months of March and April, also times of fewer tourists, may have more unsettled weather.

The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

The Emerald Dawn. * Photo: Emerald Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

While most activities take place ashore, the line has added options like yoga classes, aqua aerobics and smartphone photo workshops on board, as well as deck games like chess with giant pieces and shuffleboard.

Emerald Waterways pool

Some of the Emerald riverboats have small pools. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Musical entertainment comes aboard on selected evenings. An Activities Manager leads guided complimentary cycling tours, rural and urban hikes, and various walks, and can also help passengers plan their own activities ashore on foot or bicycle.

EmeraldACTIVE offers reasonably fit passengers the chance to hike in Germany’s Black Forest on a Rhine cruise and on the Danube; tour by bicycle (also available for independent touring) in the scenic areas around Melk, Austria and glide along the streets of Belgrade, Serbia.

RELATED: Active River Cruising on Emerald. by John Roberts

The list of bike tours includes Amsterdam, Hoorn, and Veere in the Netherlands; to La Roche-de-Glun in southern France, and Melk to Dürnstein along the Danube in Austria. Hikes can include a vineyard in Tournon, France, a climb up to Dürnstein Castle in Austria, or to Belogradchik Fortress, a Roman-era surveillance tower built into a natural wonder, depending on your cruise.

Canoeing is also a new feature in quiet waters, especially in Portugal’s Douro Valley, where you can take a single or double kayak and paddle close to the vineyards. The aim is broaden the interest to appeal to a more active clientele.

How about this for inventive use of space — every evening they drain the heated swimming pool and presto! It magically morphs into a cinema, complete with a bar! — Ted Scull

Emerald riverboat moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Ted Scull

Emerald riverboat moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Star-Ships (Riverboats)
  • Emerald Star
  • Emerald Sky
  • Emerald Dawn
  • Emerald Sun
  • Emerald Destiny
  • Emerald Luna

The flagships of the Emerald Waterways fleet, these six riverboats each measure 135m in length and have four decks, three with cabins, connected by elevators. The main restaurant serves buffet breakfast and lunch, either indoors or al fresco, and a four-course dinner nightly. In fine weather, there’s barbecue on the Sun Deck. A heated pool transforms by night into a cinema and lounge, shielded from the elements by a retractable glass roof.

Other recreation facilities include a sun deck with lounge chairs, putting green, games area, walking track, fitness and wellness areas and a salon. Cabins are all outside-facing, and comprise 72 suites, most with private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button, and 20 staterooms. All cabins have individual temperature control and large windows. They measure in size from 117 sq. ft.  for a single stateroom; the rest ranging from 162 to 315 sq. ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

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A spacious, light-filled balcony cabin. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Emerald Liberté

This boat is almost identical in layout and facilities to the fleet’s six flagships (above), but is slightly smaller at 110m in length. The dining room also boasts authentic locally-sourced fine cuisine with wine paired by on-board sommeliers. Cabins number 68, comprised of 14 staterooms and 54 suites, all outside-facing and most with private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button, measuring from 106 sq. ft. for a single stateroom; the rest ranging from 170 to 315 sq. ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

Emerald Radiance

A smaller, more intimate version of the fleet’s flagships (see above), this riverboat measures 89m in length, with fours decks connected by an elevator. It also boasts a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1:3. Facilities include indoor and al fresco dining, sun deck with deck chairs, pool, walking track, lounge, fitness and wellness areas and salon. Fifty-six cabins include 10 staterooms; the rest are suites, all are outside-facing and most have private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button. They measure in size from 153-170 sq ft for a stateroom; the suites ranging from 160 to 300 sq ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

Emerald Harmony

This 73m long riverboat has four decks and was built for the Mekong with specs that allow it to dock in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City while still providing for many of the unique facilities of its European river boats. These include an on-board dining room, a pool that transforms by night into a lounge, shielded from the elements by a retractable glass roof, sun deck with lounge chairs, games area, walking track, fitness and wellness areas, salon and self-service laundry.

Forty-two cabins include four staterooms with porthole views; the rest are suites, all are outside-facing and most have private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button — all cabins measure 315 sq ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, free Wi-Fi.

Other Ships

MS Nizhny Novgorod

Originally built in 1977, this 129m long boat was refurbished in 2019. It has four decks, two of which contain cabins. Facilities include two restaurants, two bar areas, a solarium, sauna, ironing room, small souvenir shop and conference hall. Of the 106 cabins, six are suites measuring 298 sq. ft., the remaining cabins range from 142-167 sq. ft. All are outside-facing and have large windows and either queen or twin beds.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, radio, refrigerator, air-conditioning, safe.

MS Rossia

Built 1978 for sailing in Russia, this traditional and authentic riverboat was refitted 2007. The 125m boat has four desks and an elevator. Facilities include a restaurant serving European and Russian-inspired fine cuisine and complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; a bar with free Wi-Fi; library; wellness center and souvenir kiosk. All 106 cabins have views with sizes ranging from 12.4-14.6 sq. meters.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, refrigerator.

MS Hamees

This 72m long riverboat has five decks, with cabins on three of them. Facilities include a restaurant and lounge, pool, sun deck and reading room. Each of the 72 cabins measures 244 sq. ft. and has queen or twin beds and outward-facing views.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, hair dryer, air-conditioning.

MS Swallow & MS Lastavica

These identical 49m. yachts are perfect for docking in small ports. Each has four decks, two decks with cabins, and facilities that include an air-conditioned restaurant and al fresco terrace where meals are served with complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks; a bar, lounge, Jacuzzi, sun deck with lounge chairs and a swim platform with fitted steps that lower into the water. Eighteen cabins have queen or twin beds and either a porthole view (in 129-150 sq. ft. cabins) or window (in 124-198 sq. ft. cabins).

In cabin: en suite, complimentary Wi-Fi.

EMERALD YACHT CRUISES
  • Emerald Azzurra (July 2021)

Under the newly-launched Emerald Yacht Cruises brand, this 360-foot long, 100-passenger super yacht is scheduled to debut in July 2021. Spacious cabins will start at 285 sq. ft., most of them with private balconies. The ship will also have a marina platform for water sports like paddle boarding and snorkeling.

Contact

Emerald Waterways

Boston, MA 02111, USA

Tel: +1 (857) 444-4371

info@emeraldwaterways.com

EmeraldWaterways.com

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Scenic Cruises

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

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

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

Scenic

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

COVID-19 UPDATE

Scenic is aiming to restart operations Oct 31, 2020.

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

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

Fleet

Space-Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenic

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

Other River Boats 

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

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

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

Expedition Ships

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

Future Plans

Second expedition ship scheduled to debut TK.

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$ Expensive

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

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

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

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

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

Scenic

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Itineraries

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

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

Scenic

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenic Azure

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

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

Scenic Gem

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

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

Scenic Aura

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

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

Scenic Spirit

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

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

Scenic

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

Scenic Tsar

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

Expedition ship

Scenic Eclipse

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

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

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

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

RELATED: Peter Knego Cruises on the New Scenic Eclipse.

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biking & Beer on the Danube River

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contacts

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

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

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

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

Pont du Gard, South of France

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

 

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AmaWaterways

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About AmaWaterways

Founded in 2002 as Amadeus Waterways, the company changed its name in 2008 to AmaWaterways. It is generally regarded as one of the world’s top river cruise lines and operates a large fleet of beautifully designed ships in Europe and others in Asia and Africa. Most river cruise itineraries should be paired with a land package including at least one hotel stay. As the riverboats are similar, they will be described as a class and grouped under the destination they frequentThe line offers the utmost flexibility with guided tours at three different paces (gentle, regular & active), a late risers tour, guided bike and hiking tours as well as optional Limited Edition Tours.

For Spanish-speaking passengers, a guide accompanies designated departures. See With a Latin Touch.

EUROPEAN RIVERS

Ships & Years Delivered

Europe – AmaBella (built 2010 & 161 passengers), AmaCello (b. 2008 & 148 p), AmaCerto (b. 2012 & 164 p), AmaDante (b. 2008 & 146 p), AmaDolce (b. 2009 & 146 p), AmaLyra (b. 2009 & 146 p), AmaPrima (b.2013 & 164 p), AmaReina (b. 2014 & 164 p), AmaSerena (b. 2015 & 164 p), AmaSonata (b. 2015 & 164 p), AmaStella (b 2016. & 158 p), AmaVerde (b. 2011 & 174p), AmaViola (b. 2016 & 158 p), AmaKristina (b. 2017 & 158 p), and AmaVida (b. 2013 & 106 p), AmaLea (b. 2018 & 156 p), *AmaMagna (b. 2018 & 194 p), AmaMora (b. 2019 & 196 p) , AmaDouro (b. 2019 & 102 p) and AmaSiena (b. 2020 & 158 p).

*AmaMagna deserves special note as the boat is twice as wide as standard riverboats and this allows for much larger cabins, expanded restaurant offerings (4), larger spa and wellness facilities and water-sports platform. The thrust here is to attract more deep-sea cruisers who might feel that riverboats are too small and limited in their amenities. The vessel sticks to the Danube where it does not face locks that would be to narrow to enter. Some cruises sail as far downriver as Giurgiu for access to Bulgaria’s capital of Bucharest.

RELATED: Read Gene Sloan’s AmaMagna review here.

Passengers

146 to 196 (except smaller Douro River ships AmaVida (106 p) and AmaDouro  (102 p).

Passenger Decks

4 with most ships having elevators between the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$$

NOTE:

Solo passengers may have the single supplement waived on selected sailings. On others, special discounts are applied after the supplement is added.

Included Features

Free Wi-Fi in the cabins, unlimited wines, beers, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, bottled water, Chef’s Table specialty restaurant, shore excursion in every port, bicycles (Europe), transfers between hotel and ship when buying a land package, airport transfers if buying AmaWaterways’ airfare. These extras upfront keep the final bill in check.

Cruising the Douro River in Portugal is a new offering. * Photo: AamaWaterways

Cruising the Douro River in Portugal is a new offering. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Itineraries (through 2020)

European river cruises operate from March to December. Popular itineraries are:

  • Prague hotel stay then sail between Nuremburg along the Danube and Main-Danube Canal and taking in a Benedictine Abbey, wines of the Wachau Valley, Vienna and Budapest. Lots of itinerary variations.
  • The Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel stopping at cathedral cities and picturesque castles and towns. Continue by train to Zurich.
  • Paris and the Seine to Monet’s home and gardens at Giverny, cathedral city of Rouen and WWII Normandy beaches.
  • Paris and TGV (high-speed train) to Lyon (gastronomic capital) then cruise the Rhone south to medieval and Roman antiquities, Avignon and Arles, and ending with a hotel stay in Lyon (settled across two rivers with a peninsula in between.) or Marseille (multi-ethnic city has risen in popularity) or Barcelona (for some, the favorite city).
  • Something newer and different along Portugal’s Douro River from Oporto with visits to castles, palaces and museums, and a stay in Lisbon.
  • Bordeaux along the Dordogne and Garonne to Pauillac (Medoc) and St. Emilion for vineyard visits, plus castles, biking and hiking. Add stays in Bilbao and/or San Sebastian and linger with lots to see in Bordeaux.
  • New for 2020 are 7-night Rhine and Moselle cruises concentrating on Vineyards and sailing between Amsterdam and Luxembourg, and 7-night Main and Rhine cruises linking Amsterdam and Nuremberg via the Main-Danube Canal.
  • Note: Not currently operating: Russian itineraries between St. Petersburg and Moscow, and Moscow via the Volga River to Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).
Claude Monet's gardens at Giverny. * Photo: Ted Scull

Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny. * Photo: Ted Scull

Many river itineraries are seven nights with extended ones first cruising the Danube and then connecting to the Main and Rhine. Cruise-tours include hotel stays in Amsterdam, Paris, Marseille, Barcelona, Lucerne, Zurich, Munich, Prague, Budapest or Istanbul.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

European themed cruises include a highlighted focus such as art, wine (expanding considerably), culinary, wellness, tulip time, and Christmas markets. Adventure by Disney departures appeal to families.

Why Go?

River cruising is arguably the easiest and most relaxing way to see a lot of Europe with a choice of a dozen different rivers to access cities, small towns, historic sites, wine regions and enchanting scenery. AmaWaterways gives you a vast choice and provides some of the best accommodations aboard in Europe. As the riverboats in this fleet are somewhat similar, with a couple of exceptions, they will be described as a class.

When to Go?

Some itineraries are specifically geared to the best seasons or offer a special theme appropriate to the season, such as tulip time, vineyard visits, and Christmas markets.

German rivers such as the Moselle and Rhine provide spectacular secenery. * Photo: Ted Scull

German rivers such as the Moselle and Rhine provide spectacular scenery. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

160 to 350 square feet (170-235 the average range) with most having full balconies and/or French step-to-the railing balconies with fixed windows on the lowest deck. Amenities are desk and sitting area, multi-jet showerhead, complimentary Internet access and Wi-Fi, TV, music and movies on demand, bottled water, safe and some cabins with mini-fridge.

Public Rooms

Main lounge and bar (all drinks and snacks included throughout the day) with a forward viewing/seating area; Sun Deck seating open and under a canopy, walking track, small pool or whirlpool; massage and hair salon, fitness room.

Dining

The line includes higher grade wines, plus beer and sodas with lunch and dinner, and sparkling wine at breakfast. The European ships belong to the culinary organization La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Breakfast and lunch may be taken in the main restaurant from a menu or buffet, and lighter choices are available in the main lounge. Dinner is open seating with menus reflecting the cruising area. Some ships have a second specialty restaurant, the Chef’s Table, with limited seating and reservations, but at no extra cost.

Activities & Entertainment

Musicians come aboard nightly in ports; take advantage of a dip in the pool or whirlpool, fitness room and massage services. Tours ashore are on foot and in vehicles, with headsets for the guide’s commentary. Some tours allow you to chose your own pace. Bicycles are available and particularily useful for independent touring along a path between Durnstein and Melk in the Danube’s beautiful Wachau Valley; along the Rhine in/near Cologne; paralleling the canals and waterways in Belgium and the Netherlands, to highlight just a few locations. Inquire about the options when boarding. Small group tours by bicycle and longer hikes are also offered.

Special Notes

While AmaWaterways’ European riverboats share many of the same amenities, the Asian and African vessels are considerably different, but no less comfortable. See below for details. Single fares without a supplement are available for all cruises, though dependent on the category available,

Along the Same Lines

Other European operators.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA & VIETNAM

AmaWaterways operates two somewhat similar high-standard ships that are smaller than the European riverboats, yet offer most of the same amenities. The Mekong (Cambodia and Vietnam) and Irrawaddy (Myanmar) are ideal for river travel as so much activity is river-focused. Note:  Irrawaddy Cruises are not currently operating.

RELATED: Anne Kalosh’s AmaWaterways’ Mekong River adventure.

Ships & Years Delivered

AmaDara (built 2015 & 124 passengers).

Passengers

Mainly North Americans 50 and up.

Passenger Decks

4 decks, no elevator.

Price

$$$

Included Features

During a 7-night cruise, all excursions, wine, local beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner; all house-brand spirits, local beer, soft drinks from the bar; bottled water; all transfers with an air package. Cruise tours include hotel stays in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) with buffet breakfasts, transfers between hotels and ship and Hanoi to Siem Reap flight.

Itineraries

The 7-night cruise portion operates August to April in both directions on Tonle Sap Lake (except during low-water season) and along the Mekong between Siem Reap (Cambodia) and My Tho (near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). Calls are made to small river villages to observe daily life, local crafts production, floating markets, a Buddhist Monastery, Cambodia capital at Phnom Penh, and the ever-fascinating river traffic.

Hotel stays include sightseeing. Nearly everyone who books a river cruise adds at least a couple of nights at Siem Reap for the Angkor Archaeological Park and its temples, terraces and stone sculptures.

Why Go?

Southeast Asia is a culturally and historically rich part of the world, and Mekong River cruises has opened up easy access to life in the big cities, small towns and archaeological sites that previously involved long bus rides on congested roads. The Mekong is full of commercial activity linked industrial and farm production and to the inhabitants who live along the river banks.

Most add the Siem Reap extension for archaeological sites, Vietnam’s two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and maybe the Laotian cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the latter the country’s capital. All flights within Southeast Asia are short and well-operated.

Flower market in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). * Photo: Ted Scull

Flower market in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

Cruises operate between August and April; the rains are heavier in the summer months matched with slightly lower fares.

Cabins

The majority of the wood-trimmed cabins are a roomy 226 square feet, and all have French or outside balconies, apart from six with portholes on AmaLotus lowest deck. Beds are twins or queen-size. Top deck suites are larger, and two on each ship are huge (452 sq. ft. on AmaDara and 624 sq. ft. on AmaLotus). Cabins open to a traditional central corridor. Amenities are: sitting area with writing desk, mini-bar, safe, in-house phone, flat-screen monitor and hairdryer. Suites have bathtubs.

Public Rooms

AmaDara has main lounge forward while AmaLotus has it aft with a small forward-facing lounge. Both vessels have covered top decks with seating and a small pool with AmaDara’s forward and AmaLotus’ aft. Both vessels have a fitness room, hair salon and spa.

Dining

Both have open-seating restaurants (AmaDara forward and AmaLotus aft) with North American menu choices as well as flavorful local Southeast Asian cooking. AmaDara has a small specialty eatery aft called the Tarantula Grill — and as a personal injection and recommendation, I have eaten grilled tarantula legs, but I did not and would not touch the body.

Activities & Entertainment

Cultural entertainment aboard features musical groups in costume, plus films, and a small pool, an ideal way to relax after a hot day ashore. Excursions are on foot, by boat, trishaw, oxcart and in buses to villages, palaces, museums, temples, schools, markets and workshops making handcrafts in silk, wood, rattan and paper.

IRRAWADDY RIVER IN MYANMAR (BURMA)

(Note: Not currently operating)

AmaWaterways operates one vessel, the high-standard 56-passenger AmaPura built in 2014, on 14-night cruise tours that feature hotel stays in Yangon (Rangoon) and a 10-night cruise on the Irrawaddy (also Ayeyarwady) on roughly monthly sailings, except from mid-April to mid-September. The cruise is accessed at Pyay, north of Yangon or Mandalay, with a flight to or from Yangon.

The sights are villages, craft-making, monasteries, scenic vistas, and temples, with the highlight spending a full day amongst the huge collection of stupas, pagodas and temples at Pagan and a full day touring Mandalay.

Accommodations aboard are designated all-suites measuring from 285 sq. ft. to 420 sq. ft. with either two balconies or one sitting balcony and one French balcony. Although a smaller vessel, the amenities, public spaces, dining, what’s included, the entertainment and activities are similar to the two Mekong River vessels.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: ZAMBEZI RIVER IN BOTSWANA

In Brief

Between mid-March and mid-November, AmaWaterways offers a cruise-tour that includes four nights aboard the 28-passenger ZAMBEZI QUEEN, built in the early 1990s and refitted for its current role in 2009. Accommodations are 10 large cabins and four suites, all with private balconies, a light-filled lounge and bar, dining room and pool. Every enclosed space has floor to ceiling windows with open decks fore and aft to watch for game.

The cruise follows the Chobe River embarking at Kasane, Botswana with additional close-up sightseeing in smaller boats to look for wildlife on land, in the river and flying above, plus trips ashore to visit African villages. The land portions that bracket the cruise can include hotel stays in Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Victoria Falls. Add a 3-night journey aboard the luxurious, vintage Rovos Rail between the falls and Pretoria, South Africa.

Giraffes in Nambia

Giraffes in Nambia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Contact Info

26010 Mureau Road, Calabasas, CA 91302; www.AmaWaterways.com; 800-626-0126.

— 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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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of brands that also includes Cosmos. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market and is adding new ships with suite features that are unique to the line. Avalon operates a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as relatively new programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy (not 2019),  Ganges (began 2019) and the Nile (2020).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

European Rivers
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AVALON IMAGERY II (built 2016 & 128 passengers); AVALON PASSION (b. 2016 & 166p); AVALON TAPESTRY II & AVALON TRANQUILITY II (b. 2015 & 128 p); AVALON IMPRESSION (b. 2014 & 166p); AVALON POETRY II (b. 2014 & 128 p); AVALON ARTISTRY II (b. 2013 & 128 p); AVALON VISTA (b. 2012 & 166p); AVALON VISIONARY (b. 2012 & 128 p); AVALON LUMINARY & AVALON FELICITY (b. 2010 & 138 p); AVALON PANORAMA (b. 2011 & 166p); AVALON AFFINITY (b. 2009 & 138p); AVALON CREATIVITY( b. 2009 & 128p) and AVALON SCENERY (b. 2008 & 216 p). An addition to the fleet in 2019 will be AVALON ENVISION (b. 2019 & 166 passengers).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

All riverboats have four decks, and an elevator connects the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Most shore excursions, WiFi (including in cabins), minibar with bottled water, regional wines and beers with dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast, coffees, teas and hot chocolate throughout the day, cabin TV with English-speaking channels and 100 movie options.

Itineraries

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

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

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

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks.

When to Go?

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

Cabins

All riverboats, except the five built between 2008 and 2010, are designated Avalon Suite Ships and come with larger cabins and substantially different configuration – for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a large 11-foot glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside. The remaining five boats offer four 258 sq. ft. Royal Suites with a similar layout but where the TV interrupts the continuous glass window, and 172 sq. ft. Avalon Deluxe Suites. All Indigo Deck (lowest) deck cabins have small rectangular windows set high in the wall as they are located just above the waterline.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Public Rooms

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar, aft facing Club Lounge, and main dining room. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool, Sky Bistro for light meals and navigation bridge.

Dining

The pattern for meals is pretty much the same throughout the fleet of European riverboats, though the boats built in the last few years have more sophisticated alternative meal set ups. The food is geared for those who would like to branch out and taste regional offerings or stick with what one likes to eat at home.

Breakfast has an open window of times to cater to early risers or those who want to sleep in. Breakfast and lunch are buffet with the latter available at the top deck Sky Bistro (a grill), inside the Panorama Lounge (light fare) or in the big-windowed main dining room.

Dinner is served here as well, while those wanting something lighter than a served three-course, can frequent the Panorama Lounge’s more informal setting.

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

Activities & Entertainment

Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus. On board entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway. All vessels have a top deck whirlpool and small fitness centers on the lowest decks. Newish are Active Discovery cruises on the Danube that offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine and take archery lessons.

Avalon Waterways

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

Special Notes

While this high-quality fleet is of basically a similar design, and the itinerary likely the deciding factor, having a bed configuration that allows you to wake up and linger between the sheets while watching the river scene pass above your toes just may dictate an Avalon Suite Ship.

Along the Same Lines

Many other European river cruise lines.

 

Avalon’s cruise tour programs to South America, Asia and Eqypt are briefly outlined below.

GALAPAGOS & AMAZON

Avalon Waterways charters the TREASURE OF GALAPAGOS, a catamaran with accommodations for 18 (b. 2009 and refurbished 2017) for a 4-night Galapagos cruise that adds up to a 8-day cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador. It also does a 12-day cruise tour that adds a 3-night Amazon River lodge stay; a 15-day cruise tour that combines the 4-night Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 20-day cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

Treasure of Galapagos, Avalonn Waterways

Avalon Waterways, Treasure of Galapagos

Another option includes a 3-night Amazon River cruise aboard the 44-passenger DELFIN III (formerly AMAZON DISCOVERY; b.2015), which Avalon charters. The ship’s cabins are all outside and consists of staterooms measuring 237 sq. ft. , corner staterooms 253 sq. ft. and the owner’s at 537 sq. ft. Departures are January to July and September to November.

There are also 3-night cruises of the Peruvian Amazon from Iquitos, to look for wildlife in the river and the surrounding rain forest landscapes plus village visits both combined with 11- and 13-day land tours that include Lima, the capital of Peru, Cusco and Machu Picchu and the longest, the Nazca Lines.

Avalon Waterways

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

A selection of 18- and 20-day cruise tours combine the Amazon River cruise with the land destinations in Peru and Ecuador plus a Galapagos cruise. The river boat’s 237- and 253-sq. ft. cabins with huge floor-to-ceiling picture windows are spread over two of the three decks. Beds may be configured as twins or king-size. In addition, there is one single and a 597-sq. ft. suite that faces forward. Public spaces are an indoor and covered outdoor lounge, aft dining room with large view windows, a spa, small gym and plunge pool. A 24-hour medic is aboard. Departures are January-June and September to November.

Avalon Waterways

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

EGYPT
The Nile

(Note: Nile cruises begin in 2020).

Avalon Waterways

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

10-day Egyptian cruise tours, operating year-round, include hotel stays in Cairo for the museum and the Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis and more that bracket a 4-night Nile cruise to Luxor, Karnak, Aswan, Edfu and Kom Ombo. The MS FARAH, built in 2011, provides the cruise. 58 cabins and two suites provide large picture windows, Internet and bathrooms have bathtubs.

INDIA

Ganges River

Avalon Cruise began Ganges River cruises in 2019, operating the 56-passenger GANGES VOYAGER in the cooler months of January and February and September to November. The shortest 13-day cruise-tour begins in New Delhi or Kolkata and includes a 6-night cruise plus hotel stays in Agra for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. 16-day cruise tours add Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, and 18-days add Mumbai and Kochi (Cochin) but not Kathmandu. The riverboat decorated in colonial-era style has cabins measuring 260, 280, 360, and 400 square feet, offer Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

GANGES VOYAGER, Avalonn Cruises

GANGES VOYAGER, Heritage Suite Avalon Cruises

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA & CHINA
Mekong River

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

Avalon Waterways operates the 2015-built, 36-passenger AVALON SIEM REAP and 2018-built sistership AVALON SAIGON cruising on 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City’s waterfront, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The riverboats’ 245 sq. ft. cabins, located in two decks, all open to the outside with 14-foot sliding glass doors and windows. A forward-facing covered lounge give a 180-degree and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar. The aft dining room seats all at once for buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The wide-ranging itineraries, in time and places visited, combine a 7-night cruise with a hotel stay and sightseeing at both ends that can add up to 13- to 21-day cruise tours to include — your choice of  extensions — Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Halong Bay in Vietnam; Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos; and Bangkok, Thailand. Departures are January to April and July to December.

Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River – N.B. THIS CRUISE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon operates its own riverboat some 1,300 miles along the Upper Irrawaddy River between Yangon and Bhamo (northern limit if navigation) with a hotel stay in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital adding up to 14 days and an extension to Bangkok that creates a 17-day cruise tour.

The 36-passenger AVALON MYANMAR was completed in 2015 and takes up to 36 passengers. Sights visited along the river are pagodas, Buddhist monasteries, and riverside villages where the local activities produce candy made from palm trees, pottery, and food from adjacent farms. Note: These itineraries operated September-December in 2018, and none are scheduled for 2019.

The well-fitted out riverboat offers 245-sq.ft. Avalon Suites spread over two decks where the twin or king-size beds face a 14-foot-wide wall of glass that opens to a railing and the world outside, similar in layout to many of the line’s European riverboat fleet. A forward open-air covered lounge shares the Mandalay Deck with an adjacent enclosed lounge and an aft dining room. The Sky Deck’s lounge is covered and next to the spa treatment room and gym.

China and the Yangtze River: N.B. THESE CRUISES ARE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon takes space for up 20 passengers on two Yangtze River vessels that combine a 3- or 4-night, 650-mile cruise between Yichang and Chongqing into 11- and up to 17-day cruise tours that include major sights in China such as Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong on the longer cruise tours. The 7-deck riverboat CENTURY LEGEND, completed in 2013, handles up to 392 passengers (oops, higher than QC’s 300-pax max!).

To personalize the cruise portion, all meals, apart from the farewell banquet, take place in the Sun Deck VIP restaurant. Meals feature Chinese buffets and a la carte Western dishes. Wine, beer, and soda are complimentary at dinner. Cabins (266 sq. ft.) are all outside with balconies and separate bathtubs and 24-hour access to an Executive Lounge. The boat’s amenities include an indoor swimming pool (unusual feature), library, game room, cinema, and gym.

All land tours are private to Avalon and land extensions do not exceed 20. Itineraries extend from April to October, though some specific tours do not include the searingly hot months of mid-June to mid-August.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, P.O. Box 3219, Highland Park, MI 48203;  Avalonwaterways.com; 877-380-1540

TWS

 

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CrosiEurope

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

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

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

CroisiEurope

Danube River scene. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

CroisiEurope

Cyrano in Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CroisiEurope

Belle des Océans. * Photo: CroisiEurope

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

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

CroisiEurope Cruises

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

CroiseEurope

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

TWS

 

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Silversea Expeditions

Silversea Expeditions was launched in 2008 as high-end Silversea Cruises’ adventure arm, offering its loyal well-healed clients a chance to explore some really remote corners of the globe at a level of luxury close to what they had been enjoying on Silversea’s 5 ritzy 296- to 382-passenger ships.

Silversea Expeditions started out with the SILVER EXPLORER (the former PRINCE ALBERT II), and then in 2012 added the SILVER GALAPAGOS (formerly GALAPAGOS EXPLORER), and in 2014, the SILVER DISCOVERER (the former CLIPPER ODYSSEY — since sold to CroisiEurope). All of the ships were refurbished before joining Silversea Expeditions, with SILVER EXPLORER being the most elegant.

Note, most officers and crew aboard SILVER GALAPAGOS are Ecuadorian as required by the government, and the crews on the other two ships are international.

Another note: In August 2017, Silversea Cruises’ SILVER CLOUD was refurbished and converted into an ice-class ship and then joined Silversea Expeditions at the end of 2017 to offer a similar experience as her fleetmates. After the overhaul, SILVER CLOUD EXPEDITION carries 254 passengers and sails in polar and non-polar regions; when sailing Arctic and Antarctic itineraries, the number of passengers booked on those cruises will be restricted to 200. Sistership SILVER WIND will receive the same modifications to ice class and have its passenger capacity drop from 294 to 254, again 200 when in Antarctica. The work is expected to be completed in November 2020, and expedition equipment such as kayaks and Zodiacs will be added.

In August 2020, SILVER ORIGIN (92 passengers) will join the fleet cruising the Galapagos bringing a new standard to the island chain with prices to match, and her passenger/crew ratio approaches one to one.

RELATED: Reader Reviewer Sue B on her Antarctica Silver Cloud cruise

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SILVER EXPLORER (b. 1989 & 142 p); SILVER GALAPAGOS (b. 1990 & 100 p); SILVER CLOUD “EXPEDITIONS” (b. 1993 & 254 p; rebuilt 2017); SILVER ORIGIN (2020, & 200 passengers).

Previously a sister ship, SILVER WIND (b.1995 & 296 p) remains with the main cruise ship fleet, while all her running mates exceed our 300 passenger limit. They comprise SILVER SHADOW and SILVER WHISPER (382 p), SILVER SPIRIT (608 p), and SILVER MOON and SILVER MUSE (596 p).

SILVER ORIGIN will be delivered on August 22, 2020 taking only 92 passengers and 90 crew on mostly 7-day Galapagos circuits, plus two December and January holiday cruises at 10 and 11 days.

Silverseas Expeditions

SILVER ORIGIN cruises the Galapagos. * Rendering: Silversea Expeditions

Passengers

Well-to-do couples 40s on up from North America, and others from the UK, Europe and Australia. Many have previously cruised on Silversea’s posh cruise ships. Galapagos cruises will draw families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

5 with an elevator connecting all of them. 7 decks on SILVER CLOUD and elevators connect all but the highest deck with the jogging track and deck chairs overlooking the pool below. 6 decks with elevators serving 5, the exception being the highest Stargazing Deck.

Price

$$$

Included Features

All excursions, wine, spirits and all non-alcoholic drinks throughout cruise, plus gratuities. Also, a snappy-looking bright red expedition parka embossed with SILVERSEA EXPEDITIONS.

Itineraries

Cruises span the globe with the expedition fleet. Only SILVER GALAPAGOS stays put in the Galapagos with week-long, year-round cruises amongst the Galapagos Islands between Cristobal and Baltra, plus two nights in Quito, Ecuador.

In late 2019, the line announced the First Expedition World Cruise, the longest ever undertaken, when the SILVER CLOUD departs January 2021 for an 167-day odyssey calling in at 107 ports spanning the globe and including both polar regions.

What follows is a more normal sampling:

  • 12-day summer cruises with SILVER CLOUD either embarking in Norway or Svalbard for a Norwegian coastal and fjord experience and a circumnavigation of Svalbard and 16 days exploring Greenland’s west coast and Arctic Canada.
  • SILVER EXPLORER winters in the Antarctica on 10-day expeditions while 18-day itineraries add the Falklands and South Georgia  Following the Antarctica season, the ship cruises the Chilean fjords, then sails westward to Easter Island, interisland loops in the South Pacific, northward to Japan and South Korea, the Russian Far East (many islands plus the Aleutians), South-central and Southeast Alaska and return to the Russian Far East. The EXPLORER then undertakes the first ever Silversea’s Northeast Passage above Siberia/Russia. Following that the remainder of the summer is voyaging to Spitsbergen, Iceland, Greenland and Arctic Canada. Then prior to the winter in Antarctica, cruises resume via the Panama Canal and along the West Coast of South America to Ushuaia. N.B. This ship only, beginning in December 2021, will inaugurate the so-called Antarctic Bridge allowing passengers to fly the Drake Passage to meet the ship, the flight taking under two hours and avoiding possible rough weather and saving nearly four days travel time. The flight operates between Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island, South Shetlands.
Silver Explorer in the icy poles. * Photo: Richard Sidey

Silver Explorer in the icy poles. * Photo: Richard Sidey

When to Go?

The vessels cruise in different regions of the world at the best time to visit: Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica between November and February, Northern Europe, Arctic Canada Alaska, Russian Far East and Japan in the summer, Southeast, East Asia, Indian Ocean and East Africa in the cooler months and the Pacific regions in the summer (winter in the Southern Hemisphere).

Cabins

Aboard the three, all rooms and suites have twin beds convertible to queens, sitting area and writing desk (some also have vanity tables), and marble bathroom with shower or tub; SILVER EXPLORER and SILVER CLOUD have the choice of Ferragamo, Bulgari or hypoallergenic bath amenities.

SILVER GALAPAGOS offers a local brand from Ecuador). Enjoy butler service, plush robe, slippers, choice of pillows, fine Pratesi bed linens (that Elizabeth Taylor apparently swore by), and a stocked mini-fridge.

All accommodations come with expedition binoculars, hair dryer, personal safe, flat screen TVs, on-demand movies, direct-dial telephone, and Wifi access. All ships offer cellular service based on availability.  Complimentary parkas are offered on Antarctica and Arctic voyages as well as other select sailings.

Of SILVER EXPLORER’s 66 all ocean-view suites, 24 of them measure 230 sq. ft. with windows. Another 8 at that size also have French balconies (sliding doors with narrow ledge for standing); 14 rooms are 154 to 192 sq. ft.. There are two Owner’s suites at 626 sq. ft. and a pair of 675-sq.-ft. Grand Suites, all with balconies. Another 16 large suites measure 351 to 460 sq. ft..

SILVER GALAPAGOS has 50 all ocean-view suites, with 24 of them measuring 210 to 250 sq. ft.; a dozen are 268 sq. ft. including balconies. There are four 361-sq.-ft. Silver Suites and 8 Deluxe Veranda Suites measuring 303 sq. ft., both with balconies.

SILVER CLOUD has 130 all ocean-view suites, with 24 of them with windows and measuring 240 sq. ft.; 32 are 295 sq. ft. including balconies; (1) 541 sq. ft. suite includes balcony; (2) 736 sq. ft 1-bedroom Royal Suites; (2) 736 sq. ft 1-bedroom Grand Suites on the deck above; and (1) 587 sq. ft 1-bedroom Owners Suite (the later four categories can be combined with neighbouring suites to become even larger). All have walk-in closets.

SILVER ORIGIN (Delivery 2020) has all suites located on two of its six decks. Five pairs are interconnected, and half can accommodate a third passenger. The lowest four cabin categories measure 325, 335 and 355 sq. ft.. then it on up to 536, 897, 1,025 and 1,722 sq. ft. All have sitting area,writing deck, walk-in wardrobes and floor to ceiling sliding glass doors out to the veranda.

Public Rooms

Aboard SILVER DISCOVERER the largest space is the 120-seat Explorer Lounge with wraparound windows for scenery views; this is the ship’s hub and place where lectures are held and where passengers cluster to read and chat. It has a bar at one end and a station for coffee and tea all day long. There’s an outdoor bar on the Sun Deck and a pool as well as plenty of seating. Below decks is a small gym, massage room and beauty salon.

SILVER EXPLORER has two windowed lounges for scenery viewing — the smaller Observation Lounge forward on Deck 6 and one deck below the larger Panorama Lounge at the stern, which is also the best place for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. A pianist provides background music. Adjacent to the Panorama Lounge is the cozy Connoisseur’s Corner for cigars and cognac. The comfortable 110-seat Theatre is where lectures and slide shows take place. The ship has a small library/Internet Café, boutique, small gym, and a spa with one massage room, a sauna/steam room and a beauty salon. There are two hot tubs at the stern of Deck 6.

SILVER GALAPAGOS has a small ocean-view gym, massage room, beauty salon, and a combo boutique/library. The 100-seat Explorer Lounge is the hub of the ship and the place were lectures and briefings happen. It has a high-tech AV system and a photo station with an iMac where you can download and edit your photos. The Piano Bar, with a resident pianist on hand, is the spot for pre- and post-dinner drinks, as well as afternoon tea.

SILVER WIND, the largest of the expedition vessels, offers the Explorer Lounge for lectures by the expedition staff, an aft Panorama Lounge and on the same deck, a forward Observation Lounge. A Connoisseur’s Lounge is for cigar smoking and cognac. Additionally, there is a library, beauty salon, spa , and a top deck jogging track. A changing room on the lowest deck prepares the passengers for exploring in Zodiacs and hiking ashore.

SILVER ORIGIN, the newest in the fleet has a forward observation lounge located on the second highest deck, the Explorer Lounge for presentations and leading out to an after outdoor lounge, basecamp, the staging area for boating the boats via the stern marina, and an outdoor lounge area on the highest deck.

Silver Galapagos gets this close to shore. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Silver Galapagos gets this close to shore. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Dining

On all four ships, continental and regional specialties — Galapagos Lobster à la Galapaguera anyone? — are served in the open-seating no-jackets required dining venues; the food level and scope aboard  SILVER EXPLORER and SILVER CLOUD are essentially the same as the rest of the fleet (SILVER GALAPAGOS, on the other hand, is bound by Ecuadorian laws and restrictions regarding food sourcing, so the menus can’t quite compete). In the main restaurants, it’s fine dining all the way on candle-lit tables set with crisp white linens and china. Each also has a more casual al fresco Grille restaurant that turns into a popular dinnertime spot for grilled fish and steaks and other goodies prepared tableside on a heated volcanic-rock plate; reservations are suggested. The larger SILVER CLOUD also has a Relais & Châteaux® restaurant and La Terrazza.

There are two restaurants on SILVER EXPLORER, the main one serves buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and a la carte dinners, while the smaller more casual Outdoor Grille seats up to 34 passengers for breakfast, lunch and bar service.

SILVER GALAPAGOS has two dining venues, the larger main Restaurant and the al-fresco Grille at the stern of Deck 6, which serves buffet-style breakfast and lunch. At dinner at the Grille, you can grill your own steaks and seafood or choose homemade pizza or lite fare.

SILVER CLOUD EXPEDITION has four dining venues: the larger more formal main restaurant; the al-fresco Grille on deck; a Relais & Châteaux® restaurant (for $40 extra per person); and La Terrazza, on the stern with wake-facing seating.

SILVER ORIGIN  provides The Restaurant for all three meals and The Grill high up on Deck 7 aft of the Observation Lounge.

Activities & Entertainment

The destinations are the main event, with naturalist-led excursions at least once and often several times a day; about 10 expedition team members sail on every voyage. On board there are lectures and slide shows about the destination, and otherwise passengers read, chat with new friends and gaze out at the stunning landscapes. Evenings before and after dinner, it’s drinks and conversation.

They all carry inflatable zodiac landing craft (SILVER EXPLORER has 8; SILVER GALAPAGOS 5; and SILVER CLOUD 18).

Along the Same Lines

Closest would be the Celebrity XPEDITION and Ponant’s LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Zegrahm Expeditions

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

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

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

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

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

Passengers

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

Price

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

Included Features

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

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

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

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

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

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

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

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

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

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

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

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

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

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

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

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

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: LE PONANT

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

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

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

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

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

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

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

Ship: ISLAND SKY

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

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

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

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

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

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

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

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

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

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

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

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

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

TWS

 

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Mother Russia River Cruising

By Theodore W. Scull.

Before a much more recent Russia river cruising stint, I had traveled to Russia for the first time during the Soviet Union era that ended in 1991. It had been a closely orchestrated experience overseen by Intourist, the official state travel agency. My four-week visit back then was part guided tour and part independent stays drawn from a list of accessible cities. In my case they were Yalta and extra days in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) and Moscow. Travel within Russia was by train, airplane, local bus, and a side-wheel riverboat on the Volga and Don rivers.

Russia River Cruising

The absence of low bridges permits much larger riverboats than in Western Europe * Photo: Ted Scull

While my wife and I had taken two Baltic cruises that called at St. Petersburg, I longed to press on inland to see what the country was like today. For my wife, it would be an all-new experience.

I looked at tours but did not want one that hopped by air from city to city as I was equally interested in what was in between. I wanted to see Mother Russia, the national personification of that country and not unlike the term Fatherland that applies to many other countries.

Recently, relations between the U.S. and Russia have slipped back to a variation of the Cold War days, but that was not a deterrent for us. Russia is hardly the only country where we are not on best terms.

Russia River Cruising with Viking River Cruise

A half dozen years ago, we chose Viking River Cruises’ 13-day Waterways of the Tsars that plied between St. Petersburg and Moscow using a complex of connecting rivers, canals, lakes and a reservoir. Viking has a long track record operating in Russia that dates back 20 years.

The riverboat would serve as our hotel for three nights in both cities and then convey us through the countryside making a half-dozen stops along the way.

We arrived in St. Petersburg by Russian train from Helsinki, Finland, a most comfortable daytime journey passing through deep forests and farmland. It was the way that V. I. Lenin had arrived in 1917 just prior to the Russian Revolution.

Several Days in St. Petersburg

As we exited St. Petersburg’s Finland Station, the locomotive that had brought Lenin from Helsinki to Russia to stage the 1917 revolution was on display at the end of the platform. After a 30-minute taxi ride to the Neva River, we  boarded a riverboat considerably larger than those on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and other Western European rivers, because of the absence of low bridges.

Transfer by car service took 30 min.

For a description of the riverboat, see our  QuirkyCruise Viking River Cruises review.

With the first three days docked on the Neva, we used the riverboat as our hotel. On the first morning, the bus you entered and the guide assigned to that bus were yours for the entire tour program. Tatiana, our guide, was a highly informative woman with an engaging personality. During the academic year, she taught English and French at university level.

Tours leaving from the dock visited the stupendous Hermitage and Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress where the czars and czarinas are buried, and Catherine’s Palace and gardens at Pushkin.

Russia River Cruising

Tatania, our guide, throughout the rver cruise.

Also, we arrived at most sites at the start of the day, and while that meant an early rise, we faced much less crowding and enjoyed our visits. As a bonus, we had free time to wander amongst one of the world’s finest art collections. One evening we attended a delightful performance of Swan Lake.

Our guide also carefully explained how to use the subway and bus in St. Petersburg and later at Moscow. On those days when the included tours did not operate, passengers had the choice of paying for optional tours or going on their own. We chose the latter as I can read Cyrillic letters learned from a one-year Russian language course in college. However, few others did.

As Russia uses a broad rail gauge, trains were especially roomy as were the stations.  It was a half hour to the city center at Nevsky Prospekt (the main boulevard) and there we toured on foot using our Lonely Planet guidebook.

St. Petersberg's Nevsky Prospekt,

St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospekt, main shopping street. * Photo: Ted Scull

St. Petersburg, a planned city with its center dating from the early 18th to the early 20th century, was a delight to explore. It is laced with fine avenues and tree-lined canals and dotted with charming neighborhoods and well-tended parks.  We especially enjoyed the richly decorated interior of Kazan (Russian Orthodox) Cathedral and the main bookstore beautifully housed in the ornate former Singer (Sewing Machine) Building.

The former Singer Sewing Machine building, now a bookstore in St. Petersburg. * Photo: Ted Scull

The current Waterway of the Tsars Viking River Cruise itinerary, operating from June to October, covers some 870 miles, while as the crow flies, the straight-line distance is just 400 miles. In the 18th century, Peter the Great tried to link St. Petersburg, his new “Window on the West,” with Moscow by water, but the technology was simply not there. By the mid-19th century, a continuous waterway opened eventually joining the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg and Moscow and via the Volga and Don Rivers to the Caspian Sea, Sea of Azov and Black Sea.

In the 20th century larger vessels demanded deeper and wider canals, and Joseph Stalin, employing huge gangs of slave labor, completely transformed the water route to what we see today, though some sections were not finished until the 1960s. The monumental architecture at the canal locks unmistakably reflects the Stalin era.

Russia River Cruising

Stailin-era canal and lock construction. * Photo: Ted Scull

Through Lakes Ladoga & Onega

Slipping the lines, we sailed up the Neva River into Lake Ladoga, the largest in Europe, for a happily smooth crossing of the southern end and into the Svir River leading to Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest freshwater body, again almost a millpond.

Mandrogy

The stop at Mandrogy, a replica village built on the site of one destroyed during WWII offered craft demonstrations and souvenir shops and little else. The following stop at the Kizhi Island village, a UNESCO World Heritage site, presented a wonderful open-air museum of indigenous wooden architecture exhibiting small and large churches, with an octagonal plan, an elaborate bell tower or one with 22 onion domes and varying styles of private homes from the prosperous to peasant. While it seemed a stage set, the collection was authentic.

One of the historic wooden churches (22 domes) on Kizhi Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Volga-Baltic Canal & Its Locks

The boat then cruised south through wind-whipped waters to join connecting rivers forming the Volga-Baltic Canal that led across circular White Lake and eventually into Rybinsk Reservoir. We passed through a series of impressive Soviet-era locks that could handle two large riverboats at once, each raising the vessel 45 to 50 feet. En route we also encountered quite a lot of freight traffic — small tankers, bulk carriers (transporting coal, grain, gravel, lumber) and container ships.

Goritsky

From the river landing at Goritsky, it was a short ride to the Monastery of St. Cyril, founded in 1397 and eventually becoming Russia’s second most important ecclesiastical, cultural and political center.  Assumption Cathedral, the oldest building on the site, dates from 1497, and the impressive mile-long walls and 23 defense towers were completed in 1666.

At its height, the 30-acre monastery and its 11 churches owned 400 villages and 22,000 serfs.  With their emancipation in 1861, the place fell into poverty, the complex closed down, and five decades ago it became a museum including an outstanding collection of religious icons.

Russia River Cruising

Monastery of St. Cyril. * Photo: Ted Scull

Back on the river, the evening could not have been prettier, with colorfully painted wooden houses clustered in small villages lining the wooded riverbanks — this pastoral scenery, a perk of Russia river cruising. People did watch us pass from shore, but it is not customary for them to wave.

Volga River

In the morning, we entered the legendary 2,300-mile-long Volga River, the mighty Mississippi of Russia that flows south into the Caspian Sea forming one route followed by early trading merchants between northern Russia and Asian kingdoms.

Yaroslav

The day’s stop was Yaroslav, a mid-sized city older than Moscow that is celebrated its millennium in 2010. We mingled with the locals at the street produce market, visited a 17th church with icons and frescos covering every inch from floor to ceiling, and promenaded through a pretty wooded park high above the river. It was a weekend and lots of families were out for a stroll.  If I made eye contact and said a greeting, I usually received a reply, but none were initiated by the locals unless they had something to sell. Occasionally, in a market, I would ask another shopper what something was — both in English and Russian — and sometimes that prompted a response and a halting conversation might ensue. It’s worth trying to make a personal link with the residents.

Uglich

The last call before Moscow was Uglich, which once boasted 100 churches, and is now was a sleepy town with a delicate panorama of pretty red, blue and gold domes of the remaining churches lining the riverfront.  We walked past rows of wooden houses to the edge of town, some attractively maintained with decorative wood trim and others in poor states of repair, reflective of the uneven wealth in the new Russia.

Mother Russia River Cruising

Uglich once boasted 100 churches, and is now was a sleepy town with a delicate panorama of pretty red, blue and gold domes of the remaining churches lining the riverfront. * Photo: Ted Scull

Moscow

The approach to Moscow was along the Moscow Canal, a prestige project that Stalin oversaw. Construction cost more than 100,000 lives, and following its rapid completion in 1937, the supervisors were also killed so not to reveal the appalling working and living conditions.

We docked among numerous other riverboats in the shadow of a huge Stalin-era maritime station on the outskirts of Moscow, the sprouting skyline seen about 15 miles away.

With my last visit during the Soviet era now decades ago, I was not prepared for how vibrant Moscow has turned out to be.  Yes, vast Red Square, St Basil’s colorful onion domes and the Kremlin walls, churches and museums were much the same spectacles, but now everything in the heart of the city had experienced a face lift. The streets were always clean, but today the parks and flower beds were very well attended, and the shops had lots to sell, with GUM, the former department store, the most poignant proof. Once little had been on display and now it was packed with trendy designer shops, though during the present economy, with many more lookers than buyers in evidence.

The traffic, almost non-existent a quarter century ago, was truly maniacal all day long, and one was never sure how long it would take to get from one place to the next.

On our free day, my wife and I used the metro, accessed just inland from the Northern River Station, and marveled at its convenience. Trains arrived every one to two minutes and the stations ranged from chandeliered palaces to Art Moderne to heavy Soviet style with heroic bas-reliefs. Sometimes it was fun just to get off, have a look around and get on the next train.

A mural in the moscow subway

A mural in the Moscow subway. * Photo: Ted Scull

We toured some of the better inner-city neighborhoods with lovely small parks, narrow lanes, and attractive architecture and had lunch in a small café that could have been in Paris.

Three days was not enough for Moscow, and we envied those who were staying on. I revisited the National Hotel where I roomed all those years ago, and apart from the layout, its dowdy Intourist atmosphere had been completely transformed in a boutique beauty, with prices to match.

Moscow's Red Square

Moscow’s red Square is a major meeting place for locals and visitors. * Photo: Ted Scull

As Russia is a difficult country to travel through independently, a river cruise solves many of the hassles and hurdles. Staying aboard a riverboat in St. Petersburg and Moscow smooths out the packing and unpacking rotations, but the remote landings require long drives to and from the city centers.

Viking River Cruises’ Viking Surkov

The Viking Surkov riverboat (renamed Viking Helgi and upgraded) proved to be a fine, well-run conveyance, and the guides that traveled with the riverboat were uniformly excellent in their knowledge and presentation. Russia is a very complex country and difficult to fathom, so one cannot expect to be an expert on much after a dozen days. However, the country has a very long history and a proud culture to share with those who take the time to be open to it.

Russia River Cruising & the Lines that Go There

AmaWaterways

Uniworld

Scenic

Viking

Volga Dream

 

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