Menu
Menu

Articles About Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Uniworld's La Venezia suite interior
Uniworld's La Venezia & More Small-Ship News By Anne Kalosh. Uniworld's Venice-based River Countess has been fully transformed into the ...
Read More
Uniworld's New Ships include the super deluxe Mekong Jewel
Uniworld's New Ships By Anne Kalosh. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, known for exquisitely appointed vessels, polished service, gourmet cuisine ...
Read More
A significant portion of the energy used by Amazon expedition ship Tucano is generated from solar power (Photo - Amazon Nature Tours)
New Small-Ship Cruise Itineraries. By Anne Kalosh. To show the range and diversity of small ship styles and destinations, QuirkyCruise.com ...
Read More

 

Submit Your Own Review

Visit Our Reader Review Form

 

Reader Reviews About Uniworld

QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer RL from the USA Cruise Line Uniworld River Cruises Ship River Countess Destination Italy's Po River # of Nights ...
Read More
QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer: TJ from Singapore (age 13). Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises. Ship: River Empress. Destination: Rhine River in Germany and France ...
Read More
QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer: Kavi from Singapore (age 13). Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises. Ship: River Empress. Destination: Rhine River in Germany and France. # ...
Read More
QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer: Mike from New York City. Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises. Ship: River Empress. Destination: The Rhine River in Germany and France ...
Read More

 

QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Uniworld

Snapshot

What more could you ask for in a river cruise: luxury interiors, cushy cabins with amazing beds, all-inclusive fares and a fleet of bicycles on board for pedalling in port whenever the whim strikes.

Uniworld operates river cruises in many parts of the world with a heavy concentration on the rivers of Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe, including Russia. The river cruise line is one of the 30 brands of The Travel Corporation that operates family, youth, guided, independent, safari and adventure travel, as well as river cruising, and hotels in 70 countries on six continents. The river cruise line is considered to be at the top of the market and is known for being truly all-inclusive. A Generations Program designed for families has specific Europe river departures for children, tweens and teens. The newish “U BY UNIWORLD” program originally targeted travelers in the 18 to 40 age range, and now these river cruises are offered to all adult passengers upon two renovated ships — River Baroness and the River Ambassador — redesigned with a more contemporary look and features like communal tables for dining, creative cocktails and international DJ’s onboard while sailing on the major European rivers to exciting ports like Paris, Amsterdam and Budapest.

Uniworld Ships, Years Delivered & Passenger Profile

The European fleet takes from 118 to 159 passengers (Russia 202 passengers), and the riverboats are new or recently rebuilt to provide many of the same amenities as the newest units. S.S. MARINA THERESA (built 2015 & 150 passengers); S.S. CATHERINE (b. 2014 & 159 p); S.S. ANTOINETTE (b. 2011 & 154 p); RIVER BEATRICE (b. 2011 & 156 p); RIVER QUEEN (b. 1999/remodeled 2010 & 128 p); RIVER ROYALE (b. 2006/remodeled 2014 & 130 p) now operates at S.S. BON VOYAGE with added features such as a top deck pool, lounge and three restaurants – casual dining, the main restaurant offering a cooking demonstration area plus a bistro; RIVER COUNTESS (b. 2003/remodeled 2012 & 130 p); RIVER DUCHESS (b. 2003/remodeled 2012 & 130 p); RIVER EMPRESS (b. 2001/remodeled 2014 & 130 p); RIvER BARONESS (b. 1994/remodeled 2011 & 116 p); RIVER PRINCESS (b. 2001/remodeled 2011 &130 p); RIVER AMBASSADOR (b. 1993/remodeled 2011 & 116 p); QUEEN ISABEL (b. 2013 & 118 p); and on the Russian waterways RIVER VICTORIA (b. 2011 & 202 p). Added in 2017 is the 128-passenger S.S. JOIE DE VIVRE that will allow a greater variety of river trips along the Seine, plus excursions to Paris, Versailles and the Normandy beaches. N.B. LA VENEZIA (remodeled 2020 & 126 p) for 8- & 10-day cruises to access destinations on and near the Po River, Venice and nearby islands, and Milan.

DSC_2895 Uniworld S.S. MARIA THERESA

Passing Budapest’s Parliament. * Photo: Uniworld

Uniworld River Cruises Outside Europe are Briefly Listed Here

A 7-night Nile cruise aboard the 82-passenger RIVER TOSCA and a hotel stay in Cairo add up to a 12-day cruise tour, January through May then resuming at the end of September. A 7-night Ganges River cruise aboard the GANGES VOYAGER II and a land tour including New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Kolkata adds up to a 13-day cruise tour with departures September through March. In Southeast Asia, a 7-night Mekong River cruise aboard the French colonial-style MEKONG NAVIGATOR combines with a 7-night hotel stay in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with departures year-round except April and May. The MEKONG JEWEL will double the departures beginning in 2020. Yangtze River and China cruise tours last from 11 to 18 days year-round with a 3- or 4-night river cruise aboard the CENTURY LEGEND or SANCTUARY YANGZI EXPLORER.

N.B. Beginning in September 2020, Uniworld will be offering a Peruvian Amazon program featuring two itineraries: an 11-day cruise tour that include Lima and a cruise to Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and a 15-day combination of Machu Picchu exploration and a week’s Peruvian Amazon cruise. The riverboat ARIA AMAZON offers 15-suites, all with large picture windows. Included are all excursions, wines and spirits, and gratuities.

Uniworld Passenger Profile

While most river cruisers are 50 and up, several offerings will appeal to multi-generational families who would like to vacation together. The latter are scheduled in the summer holidays and December, and extra bicycles (including child sizes) are brought on board for guided and independent pedaling in port whenever the mood strikes. Solo travelers will find that a wide selection of European river departures have a waived or low single supplement.

Uniworld Passenger Decks

The fleet has two or three cabin decks, and elevators operate between all except lowest deck on RIVER QUEEN, RIVER ROYALE and no elevator on RIVER AMBASSADOR & RIVER BARONESS. RIVER VICTORIA has 4 cabin decks and no elevator to the lowest deck. As is common on riverboats, none have elevators that rise to the Sun Deck.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey. For families, some departures offer 50% for ages 4-18, and a few even offer free accommodations when traveling with two adults.

Included Features

All shore excursions at differing levels of activity, gratuities on board and off (ie to tour guides), alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (limited to dinners in Russia), Internet and WiFi, use of bicycles.

Fisherman's Bastion, Buda section of Budapest. * Photo; Ted Scull

Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda section of Budapest. * Photo; Ted Scull

Uniworld Itineraries

Operated as both European river cruises-only and others with land and hotel extensions ranging from 8 to 15 days, with longer travel options lasting up to three and four weeks. European itineraries cover the Rhine, Moselle, Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Rhone & Saone, Gironde, Garonne & Dordogne, Douro, Po & Venice Lagoon and Russian rivers canals and waterways between St. Petersburg and Moscow.

For example: 10-day cruise-tours in North Italy include a land portion from Milan to Venice then on Day 3 to Day 10 live aboard the River Countess docked in Venice and sailing the Po River. 15-day cruise-tours include the above then add four days to visit Florence and Rome.

Further afield are river journeys in Egypt, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, and India’s Ganges River.

????????????????????????????????????

Uniworld’s map of European river cruises.* Photo: Uniworld

Why Go?

Oceangoing cruises touch at coastal ports, while inland cities and scenic destinations are often a longish bus ride there and back (think Berlin, Bruges, Ghent, Paris, Avignon, etc.) while river cruises take you directly to the doorstep and to many other great cities and sights.

When to Go?

River cruises are operated seasonally, and often not at all in November, January, February and often into March. Christmas markets cruises are the exception in December. While there are fewer crowds in the spring, rain may also limit independent activities ashore, while the fall sees less tourists and often nicer weather.

Uniworld Cabins

Attractively and individually furnished with private balconies for some of the top accommodations, and French balconies with small rectangular windows high in the room on the lowest deck. Most standard cabins measure 150-160 sq. ft. with a few as small at 128 sq. ft., and suites 214 to 410 sq. ft. Cabins offer TV, telephone, bottled water, and safe, while many suites have butler service, and all suite offer room service for breakfast, daily fruit and snacks, stocked minibar, bottle of wine upon arrival, and free laundry service.

A lovely standard cabin aboard River Empress. * Credit: Uniworld Cruises

A lovely standard cabin aboard River Empress. * Credit: Uniworld Cruises

Uniworld Public Rooms

The furnishings and original artworks are lavish for riverboats, and the newer vessels have two lounges with bars, while the very newest add heated swimming pools. Nearly all but the oldest have a complimentary guest laundry room — unusual on riverboats — and all have a spa and fitness room, sun deck with open and covered lounge seating, life-size chess pieces and free Internet and WiFi (though signals can be weak).

Uniworld Dining

The main restaurants seat all at one open sitting and dinner is from a menu while breakfast (with eggs to order) and lunch are buffets. In addition, there is an early riser breakfast, and light lunch options are in the main lounge and in the Sky Lounge or on the Sun Deck when weather permits. Afternoon tea is served in the main lounge, and al fresco dinners in the Sun Lounge or on the Sun Deck, again weather permitting. The food is very good and there typically at least one local option at lunch and dinner (ie Wienerschnitzel, sausages and sauerkraut on a Rhine cruise). Beer, wine and soft drinks are complimentary at meal time and any time of day (dinner only in Russia). Family departures offer children’s menus.

Wienershnitzel (pork) for lunch on board. * Heidi Sarna

Wienershnitzel (pork) for lunch on board. * Heidi Sarna

Uniworld Activities & Entertainment

Shore excursion choices fall into several categories: Choice is Yours is either to go on a first timers excursion or one that is less visited; Go Active might mean by bicycle either with a guide (historian or naturalist) or on your own; Do As Locals Do meets with local people; Village Day may involve a visit to a small town, workshop and/or farm; Special Visits are arranged for instance to a noble’s property or an evening visit when a site is normally closed to the public; and Gentle Walking means going at a relaxed pace with a guide, or remain on board and visit the spa or simply relax. While underway or at the end of the day, onboard lectures will feature art and cultural historians. The Generations family program includes some supervised children’s activities aboard, from pastry making demos to face painting and knot tying, and ashore, with excursions to places like interactive museums and forest adventure climbing parks. Uniworld teamed up with top travel operator Butterfield & Robinson to offer special river cruise departures using bicycles for exploring much of the way along the Danube between Passau and Budapest, returning to the boat every afternoon.

Biking along the Rhine in Basel before the it's time to sail. * Heidi Sarna

Biking along the Rhine in Basel before the it’s time to sail. * Heidi Sarna

Special Notes

Singles rates are reduced or waived on a wide selection of dates and itineraries. There are especially marked family departures in the summer.

Along the Same Lines

Scenic & Crystal River Cruises.

Contact

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, 17323 Venture Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91316; Uniworld.com; 800-257-2407

— TWS & HMS

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

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

(click on table for a larger view)

River Tables Excel REGIONS EURO Apr 12 2016 update

 

QC copyright

By Theodore W. Scull.

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

Love thy neighbor.

Love thy neighbor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were then accepted almost as equals and as Anglophiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s foreign travel at its best.

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

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

PollyPurple8 copy

QC copyright

Mother Russia River Cruising

By Ted Scull.

In the aftermath of two cruise-ship visits to St. Petersburg, my wife and I longed to plunge deeper into Mother Russia. While I had visited and stayed in several Black Sea ports, I had not traveled inland since the Soviet era, and my wife had never been beyond fringes of St. Petersburg.

As we had so enjoyed an earlier cruise on the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea with Viking River Cruises, we decided to book its 13-day “Waterways of the Czars” from St. Petersburg to Moscow — via a highly complex waterway made up of several rivers and canals, numerous locks, three lakes and a reservoir. The riverboat would serve as our hotel for three nights in both cities and in between convey us through the countryside making stops along the way.

St. Petersburg to Moscow via rivers, canals, lakes and a reservoir. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

St. Petersburg to Moscow via rivers, canals, lakes and a reservoir. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

We arrived in St. Petersburg by Russian train from Helsinki, a most comfortable seven-hour journey passing through deep forests and farmland, and at a fraction of the cost of flying.

As we exited St. Petersburg’s Finland Station in a reversed car with drive, the locomotive that had brought V. I. Lenin from Helsinki to Russia to stage the 1917 revolution was on display at the end of the platforms. The drive down the Neva River to the ship took about 30 minutes.

Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg's grand boulevard. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s grand boulevard. * Photo: Ted Scull

Embarking at St. Petersburg

Viking River Cruises' riverboat tied up on the Neva just outside St. Petersburg. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viking River Cruises’ riverboat tied up on the Neva just outside St. Petersburg. * Photo: Ted Scull

While Viking Surkov is the line’s marketing name for our handsome conveyance, the Cyrillic letters on the bow and stern read Alexei Surkov, named for a Russian poet who lived between 1899 and 1983. A year after his death the riverboat bearing his name was completed in an East German shipyard, one of a large class measuring 423 feet in length. She takes up to 210 passengers and a Russian and Filipino crew of 114 at 15 miles per hour. Since our cruise, the vessel has been renamed.

The cabins, all outside, and most with picture windows that open, are arranged on three of the four passenger decks. Categories A through D, the bulk of the accommodations, measure a generous 161 square feet. Our cabin included a bathroom with stall shower and a 26-inch flat-screen TV

The highest Sun Deck held the Sky Bar, a big-window lounge with both conversational seating and chairs lined up in rows for briefings, the enrichment program and screening films. During the mornings and afternoons while cruising, one of the six traveling guides presented a lecture on the Romanovs, Russian Revolution, Stalin era, Cold War, Russia today, or the Russian language.

Viewing lounge on the highest deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viewing lounge on the highest deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Aft on Sun Deck has seating around tables under cover, while deck chairs with attached sun canopies are set out in the open.

The cheerful forward-facing Panorama Lounge on Upper Deck is furnished with chairs, square tables and a sit-up bar for six. It serves as an ideal room for watching the passing scene in cool or inclement weather and offers a daily afternoon tea.

A wraparound deck on this same level and a narrower version one deck down have comfy chairs for sightseeing and a path for constitutional walks.

Main Deck has two stairway lounges, the forward one by the reception, and a centerline amidships lounge cum library. Free Internet access is offered, and passengers proved polite about sharing the facilities.

Coffee, tea, and water were always available near the entrance to the dining room, and early breakfast pastries were on offer from 6:30am.

The dining room, with open seating, helped us meet lots of different people, occasionally making dinner dates in advance. On some evenings, we opted for a quiet table for two. Australians and British came close to equaling the number of Americans and Canadians, with a few South Africans and New Zealanders added to the English-speaking mix.

Dining room with a row of window tables. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining room with a row of window tables. * Photo: Ted Scull

Breakfast and lunch were buffets, and dinner was served from a menu. The lunch buffets were the most creative and varied with ever-changing salad choices and themed hot entrees – Italian, French, Mexican, and Indian. Overall, dinners were good and varied, though not necessarily memorable, with the exceptions being the soups, tasty breast of duck and beef stroganoff. Dress was casual at all times, and a few men put on jackets for the captain’s reception. The onboard currency, referred to as units, turned out to be euros.

Mother Russia River Cruising: The Itinerary

The “Waterway of the Czars,” operating from early May to mid-October, begins either in St. Petersburg or Moscow and covers some 870 miles, while the straight-line distance (as the crow flies) 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, which eventually joined 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, so 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.

Three Days at St. Petersburg

On our cruise, the first three days were spent docked along the Neva River, a 30- to 45-minute drive from the center of St. Petersburg. When the riverboat is full, as was the case on our August cruise, passengers separate into six buses; and on the first morning, the bus you enter and the guide assigned to that bus are yours for the entire tour program. Most everyone was satisfied with their guides, as we were with Tatiana, a highly informative woman with an engaging personality. During the academic year, she is a teacher of English and French at university level.

Tatiana served as our wonderful guide for the week on the rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Tatiana served as our wonderful guide for the week on the rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

On today’s tours, most cruise lines use headphones so the guide is speaking in a normal voice directly into your ear and not shouting above the din of others. Also, we arrived at most sites at the start of the day, and while that meant an early rise, we faced much less crowding — such as at the wondrous (and popular) Hermitage Museum where, as a bonus, we had free time to wander amongst one of the world’s finest art collections. One evening we attended a delightful, if familiar, performance of Swan Lake.

Tatiana also carefully explained how to use the subway and bus in St. Petersburg and Moscow. On some 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 and we are experienced using public transit abroad. However, few others ventured out on their own.

We used the public bus connection to the metro for the half hour ride to the city center at Nevsky Prospekt (the main boulevard), and from there we toured on foot using our Lonely Plant guidebook.

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) Co. headquarters.

Singer Building, now a fabulous bookstore on Nevsky Prospekt. * Photo: Ted Scull

Singer Building, now a fabulous bookstore on Nevsky Prospekt. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia River Cruising: Getting Under Way

On the third day, we began the cruise in earnest by sailing up the Neva into Lake Ladoga, the largest in Europe, for a smooth crossing of the southern end. We exited into the Svir River leading to Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest freshwater body.

The first stop at Mandrogy, a replica village built on the site of one destroyed during WWII, offered craft demonstrations and souvenir shops. The less said the better about this touristy stop, especially when compared to the next call, Kizhi Island village. This UNESCO World Heritage site presented a wonderful open air museum of indigenous wooden architecture exhibiting small and large churches — some with octagonal plans, one with an elaborate bell tower, and one with 22 onion domes – plus and varying styles of private homes from the prosperous to peasant.

Too many onion doms to count at Kizki Island Village. * Photo: Ted Scull

Too many onion domes to count at Kizki Island Village. * Photo: Ted Scull

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 hauled by small tankers, bulk carriers (coal, grain, gravel, lumber) and container ships.

A Russian riverboat passes en route to the next lock. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Russian riverboat passes en route to the next lock. * Photo: Ted Scull

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. At its height, the 30-acre monastery and its 11 churches owned 400 villages and 22,000 serfs. Following emancipation in 1861, the place fell into poverty, the complex closed down; but 40 years ago it became a museum with an outstanding collection of religious icons.

Monastery. * Photo: Ted Scull

Monastery of St. Cyril. * Photo: Ted Scull

Entering the Volga River

Back on the river, the evening could not have been prettier, with colorfully painted wooden houses clustered in small villages lining the wooded riverbanks. 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.

Commerce moves along the Volga. * Photo: Ted Scull

Commerce moves along the Volga. * Photo: Ted Scull

The day’s stop was Yaroslav, a mid-sized city older than Moscow that celebrated its millennium in 2010. We explored the street markets, 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. When night fell, lightning illuminated the sky.

Uglich, the last call before Moscow, once boasted 100 churches and now is a sleepy town with a delicate panorama of pretty red, blue and gold domes lining the riverfront. Independently, 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.

One of the once hundred churches in Uglich. * Photo: Ted Scull

One of the once one hundred churches in Uglich. * Photo: Ted Scull

Arriving in Moscow

The approach to Moscow was along the Moscow Canal, a prestige project that Stalin oversaw. Construction cost more than a 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.

Our ship docked among numerous other riverboats in the shadow of a huge Stalin-era maritime station on the outskirts of the city, its sprouting skyline visible about 15 miles away.

Red Square, Moscow. * Photo: Ted Scull

Red Square, Moscow. * Photo: Ted Scull

With my last visit during the Soviet era, I was not prepared for how vibrant Moscow has become. 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 so well tended. And the shops had lots to sell – with GUM, the former department store, providing the most poignant proof. In the Soviet era, little was on display here; but now the space was packed with trendy designer shops – though with the present economy, there were many more lookers than buyers.

Moscow’s traffic, once almost non-existent, was maniacal all day long, and we were never sure how long it would take to get from one place to the next.

Moscow on Our Own

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 styles 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.

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

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 eliminates the packing and unpacking rotations, but the remote landings require long drives to and from the city centers. Also, scores of vessels make this same trip, so expect double and triple parking at landings, and at some sites, possible crowding and maybe a bit of a wait.

Our riverboat proved to be a fine, well-run conveyance, and the guides, traveling with us, 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.

Waterways of the Czars now use the Viking Helgi, Viking Ingvar, Viking Truvor, refurbished 2013/2014, and carrying 204 passengers on five decks.

PollypaleGreen2 copy

QC copyright

By Matt Hannafin.

Welcome to the end of the earth, the place where East lies to the west of West. Sitting just two and a half miles from Alaska at its closest point and stretching over 1,400 miles from north to south, the harsh, sparsely populated, but spectacularly beautiful Russian Far East is unlike anyplace most travelers will ever experience. Going there is like falling off the map, like sailing into the distant past or distant future, like waking up in a world where civilization has barely got a foothold. It seems too fantastical to be real, but at the same time it’s the realest place you’ll ever be.

 

Sailing through the Northwest Passage on the Hanseatic. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Sailing through the Northwest Passage on the Hanseatic. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Get Your Berings

Twelve thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age, this was a place scientists now call Beringia, a thousand-mile grassland steppe that stretched from Siberia to the Alaskan mainland, forming the “land bridge” by which hunters crossed into and settled the Americas. When the ice age ended, rising seas flooded Beringia, making islands of its volcanic peaks, turning highlands into coast, and delineating the boundary between North America and Asia. Today, the Asian half of Beringia comprises Russia’s Far Eastern territories, from Chukotka in the north through the Kamchatka Peninsula to the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin Island in the south.

Straddling the Arctic Circle, Chukotka is as stark and unforgiving as the face of the moon. Permafrost, strong winds, and the cold, subarctic Oyashio ocean current conspire to keep the landscape treeless, leaving a naked, minimalist tableau of rock, sea, and sky painted here and there by moss-green tundra. Massive, glacier-scoured peaks slope up from a flat silver sea, rolling cloud banks breaking over their ridges like waves about to engulf everything below. In winter, nights here can last 21 hours and temperatures dip to 35 below; in summer there’s enough light to read at midnight, and the tundra blooms with a profusion of wildflowers. Human occupation is sparse: Though Chukotka is larger than France, it is home to only about 48,500 people — fewer than live within the two square miles of New York City’s Chinatown. About a third of the population is made up of Chukchi, Chuvan, Evens, Yukaghir, Yup’ik, Cup’ik, and other native peoples, most of whom rely for their subsistence on fishing, reindeer herding, and whale, walrus, and seal hunting.

One of the Kuril Islands (Wikipedia)

One of the Kuril Islands  *  Photo: Wikipedia

About 87 miles north of mainland Chukotka, Wrangell Island is larger than the state of Delaware but has a population of fewer than 20, all of them rangers or scientists there to monitor or study the island’s flora and fauna. Wrangell and its surrounding waters are a zapovednik, a federally protected nature reserve that functions as a breeding ground for polar bears, walrus, and seals. In summer, thousands of birds nest in its jagged cliffs, and more than 400 plant species spring from the cold soil, more than double the number found on any other Arctic island.

Immediately south of Chukotka is the Kamchatka Peninsula. More welcoming than Chukotka, with a generally subarctic climate that rarely dips below 18°F along the rainy coast, Kamchatka closely resembles Alaska with its rugged landscape of snow-capped mountains, lush coniferous forests, salmon streams, and clear lakes. The wildlife is similar too, with the world’s largest population of brown bears plus moose, reindeer, eagles, and whales. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is also home to 160 volcanoes (29 of them active) and other geothermal features, including hundreds of mineral springs, hot springs, and geysers. Huge stretches of the peninsula are protected nature preserves, and more than half of the region’s 322,000 people live in its main city, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, located along the southern coast. About 110 miles to the east, the Russian-controlled Commander Islands are the westernmost tip of the US Aleutian Islands chain. Stark, dramatic, treeless, and thinly populated, they’re noted for their marine life and migratory bird population, and for being the final resting place of explorer Vitus Bering, who died here in 1741.

Extending more than 800 miles from the southern tip of Kamchatka to the northern coast of Hokkaido, Japan, the Kuril Islands chain is actually the visible peaks of 56 submerged volcanic mountains, 49 of which are still active. As in Kamchatka, this manifests in numerous hot springs, boiling lakes, and dramatic geological formations. Geopolitics play a big part in the life of the Kurils: For the past 150 years, Japan and Russia have contested ownership of the islands, though Russia has been in control since it wrested the chain from Japanese forces in August 1945, in the very last days of World War II. The usual port of embarkation or debarkation for Kuril Islands cruises is the town of Korsakov on Sakhalin Island, northwest of the southernmost Kurils.

Breathtaking scenery. * Photo: Nobel Caledonia

Breathtaking scenery. * Photo: Nobel Caledonia

See the Sights

  • Watch the wildlife: Wildlife viewing is one of the main draws of Russian Far East cruises, with birdwatchers especially drawn to see the 46 species of migratory seabirds who nest here in summer. Kamchatka’s Koriakskiy Reserve alone sees some 700,000 white-fronted geese, bean geese, whooper swans, little brown cranes, and other birds annually. The cliffs of the Kuril Islands are also home to innumerable rookeries. On land, Kamchatka has the densest population of brown bears in the world, while Chukotka’s Wrangell Island has the world’s greatest density of polar bears, who come her to birth their cubs. Wolves, wolverines, red foxes, Siberian musk deer, musk ox, moose, and reindeer also roam the region, while walrus and blue, fin, sperm, humpback, grey, orca, beluga and other whale species swim in the cold waters offshore.
  • Hike the tundra: Tundra is basically the only thing that will grow in the wet, permafrost-underlaid soil of Chukotka and northern Kamchatka. Essentially a micro-forest ground-cover of grass, mosses, heath, lichens, and dwarf shrubs, tundra can range from a few inches to a few feet thick and make for an unusually spongy hiking experience. Tread lightly to minimize damage, and be extra-careful in the thick stuff, which can hide ankle-turning holes and boot-soaking puddles. Hiking polls aren’t a bad idea.
  • Experience Native culture: At various villages, visiting groups are often treated to programs of traditional song and dance, their storylines depicting heroic tales from the past or traditional activities such as hunting and sewing skins. Songs are sung in unison by the group and include imitations of walrus and seal vocalizations. Underpinning it all is the sharp attack of walrus- or reindeer-skin hoop drums, the only instruments used in the region’s traditional music. Reminders of Native history also dot the region, including the remains of Ainu villages in the Kurils and, on Chukotka’s uninhabited Itygran Island, hundreds of sun-bleached whale ribs and jawbones standing upright in the ground like an Arctic version of Stonehenge.
  • Poke around in Cold War & WWII history: From 1945 to 1990, the Iron Curtain that separated East and West was known in this part of the world as the Ice Curtain, across which alert, suspicious eyes were always gazing. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, many of its Far East bases were simply abandoned. Today you can find remains throughout the region, but especially so in the Kuril Islands, which also hold ruins and remnants of the Russian-Japanese struggle in WWII and before. There are Japanese bunkers on Urup, a Soviet gulag on Atlasova, an abandoned airbase on Matua, and, most evocative of all, the Kraternyy Naval Base, a once-secret Soviet submarine station located within a flooded volcanic caldera on Simushir Island. Built in 1978, it was abandoned just 15 years later. Today, its decaying buildings are littered with maps, charts, broken electronics, and gas masks, while nature gradually reclaims the gun emplacements, half-sunken boats, and other equipment outside.
  • Collect volcano sightings: Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands are together home to more than 200 volcanoes, 78 of them active. If the weather cooperates, you could view dozens. Among the more notable are Kamchatka’s 15,584-foot Kluchevskoy (the largest active volcano in the Northern Hemisphere) and 11,575-foot Kronotsky (possibly the most beautiful, perfectly formed volcano in the world) and 7,674-foot Alaid, the tallest and most beautiful in the Kurils, resembling Japan’s Mount Fuji.
  • Soak in a natural hot spring: Beyond scenic beauty, the presence of all those volcanoes also means Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands are both blessed with hundreds of natural hot springs. Good spots for a soak include the extinct volcanic caldera on Yankicha Island in the Kurils and the hot springs of Kamenistaya Bay in Kamchatka’s Kronotskiy Biosphere Reserve. 
  • See the US from Russia: Technically, Sarah Palin’s chestnut about being able to see Russia from Alaska (and the reverse) is true, but you have to go to impossibly remote Cape Dezhnev to do it, and you have to hope there’s no fog. The extreme northeastern point of the Eurasian continent, Cape Dezhnev is named for explorer Semyon Dezhnev, who was the first European to sail through the Bering Strait. Today there’s a monument to him on a rocky hill, near an abandoned Soviet border guard station.
The local fashions. * Photo: Nobel Caledonia

The local fashions. * Photo: Nobel Caledonia

Culture Shock

The Russian government maintains a restrictive and complicated visa regime for travelers, so be prepared to get your application in on time and filled out correctly. When arriving, expect immigration and customs checks to be thorough and strict, and be sure to keep your passport and visa with you at all times while you’re in-country. On the cultural side, take your shoes off if you’re entering someone’s home, wear a head scarf (if you’re a woman) when entering a Russian Orthodox church, and don’t point with your fingers as it’s considered rude.

Choose a Cruise

A number of exploration-minded cruise lines explore the Russian Far East on ships that carry between 48 and 184 guests, including Aurora Expeditions, Polar Cruises, Heritage Expeditions, Arctic Odysseys, Lindblad Expeditions (which merged with the former Orion Expeditions), and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

lil bird copy

QC copyright

Grand Circle has the hots for American seniors and solo travelers, often by offering singles low or no single supplements, and no single supplements on pre- and post- trip extensions.

Grand Circle Cruise Line is an arm of Grand Circle Travel, founded in 1958 as a tour operator for senior adults. In addition, another subsidiary is Overseas Adventure Travel catering to the over 50 for land and sea trips, overlapping with the cruise line for adventure cruise programs. The firm concentrates on European river cruising with its wholly-owned fleet of small ships, and otherwise both owned and chartered vessels cruising throughout Northern and Southern (Mediterranean) Europe, plus Egypt, Panama, and Antarctica. Add-on land packages are also a big draw.

Ships, Years Delivered & Number of Passengers: The sizeable fleet is divided between small riverboats and ocean-going ships, either owned or privately-chartered by Grand Circle.

The privately-owned European river fleet numbers eleven: BIZET (built 2002 & 120 passengers) for the Seine; PROVENCE (b. 2000 & 46 p) for the Rhone & Soane; RIVER ARIA (b. 2001 & 162 p), RIVER ADAGIO (b. 2003 &162 p), RIVER CONCERTO, RIVER HARMONY & RIVER MELODY (b. 2000 & 140 p), and RIVER RHAPSODY (b. 1999 & 140 p) for the Rhine, Mosel, Main & Danube; RIVER ALLEGRO (b. 1991/remodeled 2011 & 90 p) for the Elbe; NEFERTITI (b. 2000, 75p) for the Nile.

Bizet passes Andelys, France. * Photo: Grand Circle

Bizet passes Andelys, France. * Photo: Grand Circle

The privately-owned ocean-going fleet numbers four: CORINTHIAN (b. 1990 & 98 p) for Europe, Morocco, South America and Antarctica. ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA (b. 2007 & 50 p) with lots of itineraries in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Newly-added is the 89-passenger CLIO (formerly Tere Moana and built in 1988 as Le Levant) that began cruising in June 2016 in Northern Europe, Iberia and the Mediterranean.

Privately-chartered ships: DISCOVERY, a catamaran (b. 204 & 24 p) for 12-day cruise tour to Panama and the Panama Canal (on board 3 nights). NEFERTITI, a Nile riverboat (b. 2000, refurbished 2008, 75 p). 5 decks, no elevator.

Passenger Profile: Grand Circle caters to Americans of the 50 years and up set, including many solo travelers, 3 in 10 according to the line.

Passenger Decks: River fleet (46-162 passengers except where noted): RIVER ADAGIO & RIVER ARIA, RIVER RHAPSOY & RIVER HARMONY (4 decks & elevator between 2 cabin decks); BIZET (3 decks & elevator between cabin decks); PROVENCE (46 p) & RIVER ALLEGRO (90 p) and both 3 decks & no elevator);  CORINTHIAN (5 decks & elevator to all decks); ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA (4 decks & no elevator); catamaran DISCOVERY (3 decks & no elevator).

Cruising Germany's Moselle River vineyards in the autumn. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising Germany’s Moselle River vineyards in the autumn. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price: $$ Moderate. For solo travelers, go to www.gct.com/solo

Included features: All cruises of many differing lengths: international airfare, excursions ashore and listed events aboard & ashore; beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch & dinner; Internet (limited to dedicated public areas and certain river stretches); port charges; and gratuities to drivers & local guides but not ship personnel. 5% frequent traveler credit is applied to your next booking. River cruise tour groups are limited to 47; while small oceangoing ships are limited to 25 when ashore.

Itineraries: European river cruises and many pre- and post cruise tours including land travel and hotel stays (9 to 28 days)  take in Belgian & Dutch waterways; Rhine & Mosel; Main and Danube; Elbe; Seine; Rhone & Saone; La Rochelle, Bordeaux and cruise the Gironde, Garonne & Dordogne rivers; Myanmar (Burma) river cruise tour along the Irrawaddy. Small ship ocean-going cruises and cruise tours to North Europe, Iberia and Morocco & Antarctica with the CORINTHIAN; Mediterranean cruise-tours with ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA; Panama and the canal cruise tours with DISCOVERY. CLIO cruises North Europe, Iberia and the Mediterranean. In winter, CLIO offers 11-night cruise tours to Cuba, sailing from Miami for a 7-night cruise calling at six ports, then a 3-night hotel stay in Havana and flight back to Miami. Alternate trips will start with a flight from Miami to Havana for 3 nights, and a 7-night cruise that returns to Miami. Rates include ship and air transportation, all tours, gratuities and visa. China land tour and Yangtze River cruise operate March to May, July, September and October using the 218 passenger VICTORIA SELINA, VICTORIA LIANNA or similar riverboat. Most recently, 15-night Egyptian cruise tours spend seven nights aboard the chartered 75-passenger riverboat NEFERTITI from February to the end of May and again August through December. Passenger go on tour in groups of no more than 25.  Israel/Jordan extensions add another week.

A medieval hill town in Bulgaria is a destination on a lower Danube River cruise.

A medieval hill town in Bulgaria is a destination on a lower Danube River cruise. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go? Every region that Grand Circle covers has its own attractions. River cruises are an ideal way to see the cities, towns, castles, palaces, landscapes, cultural sites and river life without packing and unpacking. Small ship cruises allow calls to both popular and less frequented ports, and inshore cruising where big ships cannot go.

When to Go? In Europe, the peak summer months will see the most tourists and some land destinations may be crowded, while before June and after September, the numbers fall off. The earliest and latest dates will be chilly and may have more rain. Bundle up for the Christmas markets on river cruises, a different sort of experience.

Cabins: Riverboats have many shared features: mostly all outside cabins with picture windows, though windows on the lowest deck will not open as there are positioned just above the waterline. Cabins are most often about 160 sq. ft., and some have narrow step out balconies. TVs with CNN and radio are common features. Beds are usually fixed twins with some convertible to sofas during the day. Many cabins are equipped with emergency call buttons.

Adriatic coastal cruise. * Photo: Grand Circle

Adriatic coastal cruise to Croatian and Montenegro ports. * Photo: Grand Circle

The three Mediterranean small ships have Upper Deck double cabins with balconies, Main Deck cabins with portholes that open and measure 150 to 170 sq. ft. Two singles on the crew deck are 140 sq.ft., with fixed portholes. The CORINTHIAN offers what are referred to as suites, measuring from 215 to 285 sq. ft. that in effect means a separate sitting area with sofa, occasional chair and coffee table. Beds are arranged as twins or queens. The top two decks of suites have small balconies and all features windows, apart from seven on the lowest deck with portholes. Cabins amenities are TV, DVD/CD player, mini-refrigerator and telephone. The catamaran DISCOVERY has small windowed cabins with twin or queen beds. CLIO’s cabins range from 194 to 205 sq.ft. and some have balconies. Very attractive open and covered aft veranda for dining.

The Corinthian * Photo: Grand Circle

The 98-passenger Corinthian cruises European waters and Antarctica. * Photo: Grand Circle

Single supplements are often the lowest of any river cruise line and in some cases are waived completely. The line offers pick a travel companion on a site where interested passengers share profiles.

Public Rooms: The riverboats share in common a forward observation lounge with bar here or adjacent to the aft situated dining room, and most have a small library. The Sun Decks will have open and covered lounge spaces. The Mediterranean ships have adjacent lounges and restaurants (with bar) and Sun Deck with bar and grill. The CORINTHIAN’S public spaces are all stacked aft with the dining room on the portholed lowest deck, and lounge and library above that. An outdoor café serves breakfast and light lunches. The top deck offers a Jacuzzi, and massage room is located on the deck below. The DISCOVERY’S single space serves as viewing lounge, bar, library and dining room. Covered deck space is aft on two decks. CLIO has two dining areas, two bars, library, and whirlpool.

Dining: All vessels operate with one open sitting, and the small ships have a reputation for more creative food than the riverboats, aided by the smaller number of passengers and higher per diem fares. Food caters to American tastes with some regional specialties.

Activities & Entertainment: Shared activities ashore are limited to groups of 25 passengers on the small ships and 47 on the river fleet. Well trained program directors, native or local residents of the region, shepherd the groups. Activities aboard the riverboats may include classes on painting or cooking, language lessons, glassblowing and talks on such topics as river commerce, politics and the European Union. Shore excursions may be on foot or use a bus to see the sights and make visits to schools, farms, a private home or porcelain factory. The small ships offer both talks geared to the region, and included sightseeing forays in port are often on foot when the ship docks close to the center, with buses for more distances destinations. The DISCOVERY offers outdoor activities to islands, national parks, small villages and water sports in addition to the cruise tour’s Panama land portion.

Special Notes: Grand Circle often offers some of the lowest fares for its river cruise program. WHAT TO EXPECT outlines physical requirements such as the amount of walking, accessibility for travelers with mobility restrictions, types of terrain, transportation used and climate information. Grand Circle Travel operates world-wide land tours, and China tours include a 4-night Victoria Cruises’ river vessel along the Yangtze.

N.B. If Grand Circle interests you, and even if not!, sign up for the weekly Inside Scoop, a round up of travel news and insights, weekly films, recipes, themed destinations, and travelers’ photos.

Along the Same Lines: Other river operators and Viking’s new ocean-going fleet, though with a much larger capacity.

Contact: Grand Circle Cruise Line, 347 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210; www.gct.com; 800-221=2610

— TWS

QC copyright

LE BOREAL in the Elbe WJM IMG_0678

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

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

River Cruises:

Tauck riverboat sails into Budapest. * Photo: Tauck

Tauck riverboat sails into Budapest. * Photo: Tauck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L'Austral. * Photo: Tauck

L’Austral cruises to Antarctica. * Photo: Tauck

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

Japanese gardens are a major feature of a cruise tour.

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

TWS

 

 

Blue Lagoon Cruises

10 Great Places Only Small Ship Cruises Go

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

If you love traveling by water, here are 10 neat places around the world only accessible by our wee quirky fleet of ships, from North America to South America and Europe out to the Far East. Big ships can’t get to any of these cool spots.

The Islands of New England, USA

Yes, a couple of large cruise ships have called at Martha’s Vineyard disgorging many hundreds into poor Vineyard Haven, but they can’t get anywhere near the more charming town of Nantucket. Neither can they get close to the utterly Victorian nature of Block Island, tiny Cutty Hunk in the Elizabeth Islands or through the flood gates to access New Bedford, the former whaling capital of the world.

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

New York State’s Hudson River Valley

A big cruise ship could not get you beyond the New York City limits, while one of our small ship cruises will take you 150 breathtaking miles up America’s Rhine past stately mansions with Hudson River views and the spectacle of fall foliage as breathtaking as Vermont’s.

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska’s Glacier Bay

Sure, it’s accessible to all sizes of ships with the proper permits — all the big ships sail up to the same glacier then turn around and leave, while small expedition ships do that and more such as venturing up to the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an immense growing glacier that big ship passengers will never see. Hundreds of harbor seals will be lounging on the ice flows.

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Reaches of the Amazon River

Medium-size cruise ships can make it 1,000 miles up the broad Amazon to Manaus where they have to turn around stopping at locations where hundreds go ashore to over-visited villages, while small riverboats sail the Upper Amazon and its amazing network of tributaries to some of the most remote places on earth reached by water. Here riverside villages are completely isolated from one another, except by small boat, and wildlife abounds in the water, in the sky and deep in the rainforest.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

The Length of the Chilean Fjords

The big ships duck in and out where they can safely turnaround while small ship cruises can travel the length of Chile’s inside passage south to the tip of South America while sailing close to numerous glaciers and up narrow inlets to spot mammals and birds, and stopping at islands en route.

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia

Big ships dock at St. Petersburg, a wonderful city with a couple of palaces just outside, but to see Mother Russia, an inland river cruise will expose you to the vast interior countryside and allow you to step ashore to see Russian life in small towns and cities.

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Interior of France

River cruises take you into the heart of France directly to Claude Monet’s Giverny Gardens, not to a coastal port with a long bus ride inland like the big ships offer. On a small ship river or canal cruise, there’s no need to endure an even longer drive from a Mediterranean port to spend a few hours at the wonder of Avignon as riverboats docs just outside the medieval walls.

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fiji’s Out Islands

When ships of all sizes cross the Pacific they may make a stop at Fiji’s major port, but only small ship cruises sail from Fiji to the many nearby out islands and drop anchor in a blue lagoon to go snorkeling, enjoy a beach barbecue, and visit a local village and its school.

Out Islands - Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Out Islands – Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

The Interior of Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos

River cruises sail into the interior of all three countries via the Mekong River and its tributaries, visiting exotic cities like Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang (Laos). Meanwhile, big ships can only get to the coastal cities of Vietnam, and it’s still a two- to four-hour drive each way to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Eastern Indonesia

Big ships can get you close enough to Bali to go ashore and join the masses of tourists already there, but small ship cruises explore the eastern end of the archipelago, from the Raja Ampat islands to Papua New Guinea, sailing deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River.

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

PollypaleGreen2 copy

Don’t miss great articles, reviews, news & tips about small-ship cruising, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!  

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