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Nantucket Steamer

It All Started with the Nantucket Steamer

By Ted Scull.

Beginning when I was six or seven years of age, my family began spending August and early September on Nantucket Island, a place we would gravitate to for decades. My grandparents and great aunt had starting going to the island in the 1920s.

Nantucket Steamer

Teddy and his girlfriend, or should it be said, two girlfriends — Heather and the Nantucket steamer. * Photo: Sunny Scull.

Getting there meant a long drive from suburban Philadelphia to New Bedford, MA, then later Woods Hole on Cape Cod, to catch the steamer.  It was always the steamer or Nantucket steamer, and never the ferry or ship, though sometimes the boat. The operator of the service was known as the Steamship Authority.

Nantucket Steamer

Steamer Nantucket, later named Nobska, sailing from the island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Before the Interstate Highways

The drive to the pier before the interstates existed was too long to catch the last steamer of the day, so we spent the night en route and continued the next day for a mid-morning departure.

The steamers Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were built in the mid-1920s at Maine’s Bath Iron Works, a famous shipyard still in business today. The pair did not look anything like a back-and-forth ferry as they had sharp bows and rounded sterns, openings at the side to drive through, and a tall stack with a steam whistle attached and rising straight up behind the pilot house. Flags flew from tall masts at the bow and stern.

Nantucket Steamer

The steamer Nantucket rounding Brandt Point shortly after WWII. Rust accumulated during stormy winter months, and a paint job would have to wait until spring. * Photo: Arthur Ferguson

To me they seemed miniature versions of what we saw while driving past Manhattan’s ocean liner piers. About 10 years later we would board one for England and return from France on another. Ships would then become a lifelong love affair, with the small ships coming on later.

Back to the Steamers…

Pop would drive our Buick aboard and mother would take my younger brother Sandy’s hand, and I was responsible for Bosco, the black cocker spaniel. Once aboard we stopped at the purser’s office to get the stateroom key.

Nothing fancy, just a couch, couple of canvas chairs, a sink, drop window and a call button for ice. Our sailing date was nearly always August 1st, a big turnover day for house rentals, hence the boat would be packed, and the stateroom was a retreat from the crowds for just a few dollars.

On Board
Nantucket Steamer

Loading cars, the mail, packages, anything and everything the island needed. * Photo: Ted Scull

Then the excitement began. Once the last car, luggage carriers, and freight filled every square foot of the vehicle deck, the engine came alive under foot, the lines were dropped, the steam whistle sounded one long blast, then three shorts, to indicate the boat was reversing. Smoke poured from the funnel, and with a rumble under foot, we were away out into Nantucket Sound. From New Bedford the crossing took four and one-half hours, and from Woods Hole, three hours.

Nantucket Steamer

Passengers settle in for the crossing to Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

The steamer made a stop at Oaks Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard, and treading water below, boys about my age called for coins. There was plenty of action. Some caught them in midair, but often they had to dive before they disappeared into the sandy bottom. When one resurfaced, he would hold up his treasure, invariably shout “thank you” before storing it in a bulging cheek. No demeaning pennies were tossed.

Passing Cross Rip Lightship, the boat’s crew tossed over the mail, newspapers and magazines, and if the day was a bit hazy, we would soon be out of sight of land for a few minutes, and I would rush back to the stateroom to tell my parents. Father would be dozing, and mother would smile knowing how exciting those moments were for me.

Then it was time to walk Bosco, and up on deck I would meet other kids and parents that I knew, often with pets on leashes. Soon we could pick out our house by its reddish roof perched high on the cliff.

Our Arrival

A clanging bell buoy protected the harbor entrance entered between stone jetties, and a long whistle sounded as we rounded Brandt Point Lighthouse announcing our arrival. It could be heard all over the town spread out beyond the large shingled steamboat wharf.

A lot of engine maneuvers using a clanging telegraph were ordered by the captain standing on the open wing outside the pilothouse. Long spring lines eased us stern first into the slip. Once tied up, pop went alone down to the car as there was scant room to squeeze between the vehicles parked every which way. The three of us walked off via the gangway, let Bosco have another go, and soon we were headed up to Cliff Road. We were on island and the summer had begun.

Nantucket Steamer

Passengers disembark at the Nantucket steamboat wharf. * Photo: Ted Scull

Home Sweet Summer Home

During the next five weeks, I loved the routine of watching the steamers appear over the horizon in the early afternoon about 90 minutes apart. In the evening, the last steamer of the day would show all lit up, then at 7 a.m. the next morning, the whistle signaled its departure for the mainland. On foggy days, it would blow its way out of the harbor warning smaller craft to stay clear. The steamer had a schedule to keep. Sometimes in a heavy fog, the whistling lasted twenty minutes until it became too faint to hear, and I would fall back to sleep.

Nantucket Steamer

Leaving the island at the end of summer. Taking the dog aboard, now Christopher, was always my job. * Photo: Sandy Scull

Those hardworking steamers gave a half century of service until it became necessary to build larger boats that could also handle a few trailer trucks easing the delivery of food, household supplies and building materials. A group I belonged to spent years trying to save the Nantucket (renamed Nobska) from scrap, and in the end, we failed.

Nantucket Steamer

The last true steamer, the Nantucket of 1957, could handle a couple of trucks. * Photo: Ted Scull

The steamers’ regularity and visibility provided a regular rhythm to my day, and I am sure, for others as well.

Nantucket Steamer

I loved watching the daily rhythm of the steamers, here outbound for Woods Hole. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

➢➢ Stay tuned for Ted’s next installment of his love affair with ships large and small … but especially small! 

 

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates of our best small ship stuff!  

© 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.

quirky-cruise-fall-foliage-small-ship-cruises-fall-foilage

By Ted Scull.

In the northern U.S. and the Canadian-American St. Lawrence River Valley, deciduous trees turn from the mostly green of summer to a dazzling display of yellow, orange, burgundy, scarlet and purple. And fall foliage small ship cruises are an ideal way to get a front row seat for the show.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Hudson River Valley at Bear Mountain Bridge

For someone who has lived in the Northeast most of his life, I always look forward to following the daily New York Times reports as October approaches to see how the changing colors are progressing south in my direction. While the mostly “gray” Times uses shades between black and white to show the march, there are websites (see below) using color coding that are prettier, but don’t tell shifting color any more accurately.

If the third week of October 2017 was any indication, the St. Lawrence Valley was near to or at the peak height of color, while downriver (northeast on the map) and the higher altitudes in New York State’s Adirondacks and Catskill are past their peak. The Hudson Valley is still in the first and second stages while New York City, 150 miles south of Albany, is still unaware of what’s happening to the north, a typically provincial attitude. This last year our peak was and usually is the first week of November.

Different trees exhibit different colors: red maples turn greenish-yellow, vibrant scarlet or burgundy; sugar maples yellow, orange and red; white ash to yellow, burgundy and purple; and American sycamore yellow and orange.

The cruise lines position their ships where they think the best shows will take place, and it is hit and miss sometimes, especially if the itineraries are east-west rather than north-south where some portion of the voyage will meet the colors at their best.

 

Blount Small Ship Cruises

Blount Small Ship Cruises operates the most north-south voyages of our QuirkyCruise.com lines with three fall embarkations in New York for Montreal or just the reverse if embarking first in the Canadian port aboard either the 84-passenger Grande Caribe or Grande Mariner. This complex route uses the St. Lawrence River and Seaway, Lake Ontario, Oswego and Erie canals and the Hudson River. Viewing is from the spacious top deck, and the pilot house is lowered to slide under low bridges along the Erie Canal.

 

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

A Blount ship passing the Montreal skyline.

Why choose this line? For Blount’s complex routes and innovative ship design that allows them to navigate waterways other ships can’t.

Read more about Blount here.

 

Victory Cruises Lines

Victory Cruises Lines sends two 202-passenger ships, Victory I and the brand-new Victory II, west to east and north-south with three cruises in October. The October 3rd departure operates from Boston to Halifax and on the 10th heads back to Boston (both 7 nights). A third 10-night cruise leaves Toronto on October 16 for Portland, Maine. Acadia National Park, during a call at Bar Harbor, ME is one of the top locations to see the colors from the water and from atop Cadillac Mountain.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines – Victory I

Why choose this line?  For the comfort and amenities of a larger small ship.

Read more about Victory Cruise Lines here. 

 

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines’ 66-passenger Canadian Empress cruises more or less northeast and southwest on a 7-night October 15-22 trip embarking in Kingston for the scenic and wooded 1000 Islands, St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal and return. Passengers have almost the entire top deck to view the spectacle.

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Canadian Empress * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

Why choose this line? For the open and spacious top deck.

Read more about St. Lawrence Cruise Lines here. 

 

Croisieres Jacques Cartier

Croisieres Jacques Cartier, a new Quebecois line, operates mostly the same St. Lawrence route from Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City with continuous 7-night cruises into October aboard the 68-passenger Jacques Cartier. The last departure of the season cruises the Saguenay Fjord for its wonderful fall colors and majestic scenery.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

A Canadian view in the Province of Quebec

Why choose this line? For a French-flavored onboard vibe.

Read more about Croisieres Jacques Cartier here.

 

American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines provides by far the most fall foliage cruises with no less than three ships based in New York for Hudson River autumn runs along the stunning, and in some sections, deeply wooded valley anchored by stately mansions and lovely scenes celebrated in the Hudson River School of American painting.  The American Star (100 passengers), American Constitution (175 pax) and Independence (100 pax) all operate three cruises each on October 6, 13 and 20th.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Thomas Cole, Hudson River School of Painting. Brooklyn Museum

ACL also bases two of its Mississippi riverboats — America (185 pax) and Queen of the Mississippi (149 pax) — on Upper Mississippi cruises in the fall. One operates from St. Paul and sails down river and the other upriver from St. Louis. The best stretch in the autumn is Wabasha, MN to Winona, WI.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

The woods bordering the Upper Mississippi.

In the Pacific Northwest, ACL sends the American Spirit (100 pax) on 7-nights round trips from Seattle into the island-studded Puget Sound on October 5, 12, 19 and 26.

While the colorful landscapes may be the initial draw, there is so much else to enjoy on these cruises — historic towns; stately mansions, some with notable gardens; and winding foot paths to lookouts above the rivers — all shared by a small continent of fellow passengers.

Why choose this line? They offer the most variety of itineraries.

Read more about ACL here.

 

More resources

Published by New York State, this fall foliage report lists the best places to see the colors, and has a useful tree leaf color guide.

For the Province of Quebec and the St. Lawrence River Valley, the Official tourist site of the Government of Québec is full of useful info.

Scenic Pathways is packed with tips about the Upper Mississippi, for the stretch between Wabasha and Winona, Minnesota.

The official tourism site for the state of Washington offers great info for visitors to Puget Sound and the Columbia River — technically geared to drivers, the info also applies to small-ship cruises in the same regions. The lines that cruise the Columbia River do not specifically call attention to the fall colors, but in case you are interested they are American Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions and UnCruise Adventures.

 

Subscribe to QuirkyCruise HERE to receive weekly 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.

quirky-cruise-canadian-american-great-lakes-duluth-port-going-into-great-lakes

By Ted Scull.

The Great Lakes form a vast inland freshwater basin that covers an area almost as large as the state of Wyoming. All five — Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior — are interconnected by rivers, straits and canals. Along with the St. Lawrence River, they provide a continuous 2,200-mile deep water navigation artery from the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Minnesota and the western end of the Province of Ontario.

Canadian American Great Lakes

Heading into the Great Lakes. * Photo: Ted Scull

At the dawn of steam navigation, a century and a half ago, the Great Lakes became major trade routes for transporting grain, produce, iron ore, coal and lumber from the interior of North America to burgeoning manufacturing cities along the lakefronts and via the St. Lawrence to the rest of the world.

Large paddle steamers plied overnight between Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit, and seasonally, from Chicago and Milwaukee, as urban, suburban, and country folks flocked to summer retreats in northern Michigan and Canada’s Georgian Bay islands, a tradition lasting for a span of one hundred years.

Canadian American Great Lakes

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan. * Photo: Ted Scull

When the pleasure steamers, many built just before or after World War I, wore out, they weren’t replaced. By the mid-1960s, most vacationers had taken to their cars, and Great Lakes cruising had largely disappeared.

Great Lakes Renaissance

Then in the 1980s, a few small vessels began venturing into these waters again; those belonging to American Canadian Caribbean Line, Clipper Cruise Line, plus others under charter. Size was limited to the lock dimensions of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Welland Canal between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and Soo Locks between Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

When my parents told me that I was very likely conceived 😜 👶🏻on a lake steamer sailing overnight from Chicago to Harbor Springs in northern Michigan, that gave me an impetus to see what the Great Lakes were all about. I booked a 10-day, five-lake cruise on a chartered ship boarding in Toronto, my favorite Canadian city.

The cruise is not unlike what Victory Cruise Lines’ 202-passenger VICTORY I will be operating this summer (and at discounted fares to boot!), plus sailing where few ships go, into Lake Superior, the largest of them all and roughly the size of the state of Maine. New sistership VICTORY II will also begin operating in Eastern Canada, St. Lawrence River and into Lakes Ontario and Erie.

Victory Cruise Lines Deals

The Victory I in Sault Ste Marie along the US-Canadian Border. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Niagara Falls was not on my itinerary, but I had been there several times and much enjoyed the setting, spray and a boat ride, all bundled up, on the Maid of the Mist, sailing right up to the powerful cascading waters. During a stop at lovely Niagara-on-the-Lake, it was hard to believe that the entire town had been burnt to the ground by the Americans during the War of 1812. Rebuilt, the main street displays everything that is attractive about 19th-century architecture executed in wood and it made a fine lunch stop before heading out to a Niagara Peninsula vineyard, Canada’s premier wine-growing region. The grapes produce more than just palatable chardonnays, pinot noirs and syrahs.

Canadian American Great Lakes

Niagara Falls and the Maid of the Mist. * Photo: Ted Scull

Welland Canal

The ship then lined up for an all-day transit of the Welland Canal boasting an impressive upward lift from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie nearly four times that of the Panama Canal. As we awaited our turn, giant ore and grain carriers high above filled the multiple chambers. We climbed through eight locks and passed under several lift bridges while exchanging greetings with visitors watching from observation platforms ashore. Beyond the canal towns, Niagara Peninsula farms and vineyards abutted the busy waterway.

Canadian American Great Lakes

A lake ship in the Welland Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lake Erie

Exiting into Lake Erie in the late afternoon, we sailed overnight to arrive at the mouth of the Detroit River at sunrise and tie up at Windsor on the Canadian side. An all-day excursion used the Ambassador Bridge to reach the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village located just west of Detroit.

This museum naturally showcased scores of antique automobiles, including the presidential limousine in which John F. Kennedy was shot, auto advertising posters, videos of early car and mobile home travel, railway locomotives, aircraft, farm equipment and kitchen appliances. Outside, Greenfield Village recreates an American town bordering on a village green with varied examples of residential houses spanning three centuries, an operating steam railway and locomotive turntable, classic touring cars and buggies to ride, and a paddleboat on which to cruise the small lake.

Canadian American Great Lakes

Greenfield Village, Ford Museum, Detroit. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lake Huron

Back on board later in the day, we passed residential communities lining the St. Clair River and sailed out into Lake Huron. Turning into Georgian Bay, the ship threaded amongst dozens of wooded islands to anchor off Midland, a small Ontario town, to witness a demonstration of Native Canadian culture and traditions in an enclosed Huron Ouendat Village. Other towns such as Little Current on Manitoulin Island showcase Ojibwe culture.

After an overnight sail northwestward through Lake Huron, we tied up on the Canadian side of Sault Sainte Marie. Separate sets of Canadian and American Locks tame the St. Mary’s River rapids that flow from Lake Superior into Lake Huron. Amazingly, 90 percent of the world’s iron ore passes by here en route from the mines surrounding Lake Superior to smelters along the other lakes and the St. Lawrence then out to sea bound for international buyers.

Canadian American Great Lakes

Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie – US & Canada. * Photo: Ted Scull

The call here offers a day trip on the scenic Algoma Central Railway to a picnic site and hiking trails in beautiful Agawa Canyon. Closer to town, the Canada Bushplane Heritage Centre’s collection includes two dozen bush planes, flight simulator, techniques for battling forest fires, and a fire tower to climb. Nearby the museum ship Valley Camp shows off the unusual design of these grain and ore carriers with split superstructures positioned well forward and well aft.

On board, tour the pilot house, crew quarters, and cargo holds now displaying artifacts, ship models, paintings and ship wreck items including lifeboats from the Edmund Fitzgerald that disappeared in a great storm in 1975 with the loss of all 29 crew members. In 1976, Gordon Lightfoot made a hit song called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Soo Locks

Passing through the Soo Locks into Lake Superior, we cruised westward passing the well-named “sleeping giant,” an island shaped to resemble a reclining Native American Indian, to dock at Thunder Bay. The huge grain port transfers Canada’s prairie province wheat from rail to laker. Ashore we visited Old Fort William, a former British fur trading post and fortification, and unusual rock formations deep in Ouimet Canyon.

Lake Superior

Then at the southwestern corner of Lake Superior, Duluth, a major lake port, offered the Depot Museum with a major collection housed in a chateau-style, late-19th-century stone station that includes a railway post office, one of the world’s largest steam locomotives, that curiosity the caboose, and colorful china and tableware sets from the once mighty U.S. railroads. A dramatic video showed a huge snow plow operating at speed to clear the tracks then derailing in a spectacular pileup.

Canadian American Great Lakes

View of Duluth, Minnesota. * Photo: Ted Scull

The city’s landscaped waterfront stretched along a three-mile promenade that accesses a beautiful rose garden and maritime displays including tugboats and traditional steam-powered laker.

Leaving Duluth, we enjoyed a sunny day on the lake before passing along the St. Mary’s River and through the Soo Locks to enter Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Mackinac Island

Going ashore at Mackinac Island, everyone’s favorite call, we walked the narrow streets of a white wooden 19th-century town where automobiles have been banned since before 1900. The village nestles beneath the mighty turreted Grand Hotel, the world’s largest summer resort, featuring a colonnaded front porch hundreds of feet in length, a handsome, light-filled restaurant seating over 1,000 guests, intimate parlors scattered on several floors and traditional wood-paneled accommodations, including five suites decorated to the style of five living presidential first ladies. Cascading flower gardens rimmed terraced lawns set up for bocce ball and croquet. It’s a place I am dying to return to for an overnight visit. And that just may happen this summer.

Canadian American Great Lakes

Car-less Mackinac Island, Michigan. * Photo: Ted Scull

On the final afternoon, the ship slid under the soaring Mackinac Bridge linking lower Michigan with its Upper Peninsula, then cruised south overnight to Chicago. We awoke to the rising sun reflecting off a majestic skyline that almost matches that of Manhattan with classic early 20th-century skyscrapers set against a backdrop of soaring the newest supertalls.

The ship tied up at the Navy Pier, a lively festival marketplace, amusement park, stained glass museum and outdoor promenade stretching a half mile out into the lake.

Chicago, like New York, is a walkable city for Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile, State Street, Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago. Take the Chicago River architectural tour and ride the Green Line elevated train out to Oak Park for an inspection tour of architect’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and the neighborhood’s historic houses.

Canadian American Great Lakes

“The Bean” Millennium Park, Chicago. * Photo; Ted Scull

Ships That Ply the Great Lakes

In addition to Victory Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Adventures and Pearl Seas Cruises also offer Great Lakes cruises.

 

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© 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.

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

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

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

Lindblad Expeditions

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

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

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

Lindblad Expeditions

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

 

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

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

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

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

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Orion

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

QuirkyCruise Review

National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

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

Itineraries

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

Why Go?

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

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

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

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

Lindblad Expeditioins

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

Special Notes

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

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

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

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

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

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

Included Features

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

QuirkyCruise Review

 

And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

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

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

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

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

Delfin II

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

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

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

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

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

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

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

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

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

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

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

Oberoi Philae

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

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

Contact

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

TWS

 

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quirky-cruise-a-ghost-on-the-delta-queen-two-men-posing-for-photo-in-front-of-delta-queen-ship

Ted’s brother Sandy wrote this poem that integrates words and phrases derived from the Mississippi River steamboat era following a Delta Queen river cruise they took together a little over a decade ago from Chattanooga to Memphis via the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

a Ghost on the Delta Queen

Delta Queen at Paducah, Kentucky. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

Steamboat Lingo — Hearing a Ghost on the Delta Queen

 

Captain Mary Greene cottons to the Delta Queen

like cargo cotton used to stick to hair.

Out of the main channel now, she bushwhacks

her way along phantom shores.  Dead for years,

she spooks around cabin deck aft.

Acknowledged my brother Ted, as a kindred spirit,

wrapping on windows as he walked by.

We were relieved she knock knocked

back by the paddlewheel.  Not

in our stateroom where she died.

 

A benign spirit, she saved this steamboat

from sinking.  Guided a gangway guard

to a broken water pipe.  But Mary’s

been known to blow her stack.

Steam cleaning her insides.  Like when the bar

was expanded—broke some glasses did she.

 

Never high falutin mind you.

Like this Delta Queen, her stack hinged.

Humble enough to cruise under whatever

bridged her path.  She’d say, “You’ve got to

bend a little to get somewhere.”

 

And determined, like crossing

Muscle Shoals, come hell or high

water.  As a river pilot, she knew

the hell of low water was hitting

rock bottom—then you’d be singing

the blues to an Alabama moon.

 

Approaching Shiloh, Tennessee,

a passenger’s voice croaks through

the morning mist, “That low-flying

blue heron looks like General Sherman

after he got shot.”  A stick in the mud

remark from a rebel keelboater

whose pole got stuck.

 

In the pilot house, I imagine Mark Twain

at the wheel.  Cap cocked to one side, toothpick

in his mouth doing a slow bob as he says,

“The day was a dead and empty thing,

when steamboats left Hannibal.”

I hear ole Mary chiming in over paddles

churning. “You ain’t just fiddling around.”

A boatman’s disdain for all but the real work

that keeps “steamboats a-comin.”

 

The bitter end—the uncleated end

of an anchor line that pays into the river.

May it be a long time a-comin

for the Delta Queen and its elder passengers

now gathering on the sun deck to hear

the captain play the calliope, a steam organ.

Mist from the organ, the paddlewheel,

and my eye mix a Mississippi River gumbo.

The kind that keeps Mary afloat.

 

Note: Italicized words and phrases originated with steamboats.

a Ghost on the Delta Queen

Ted & Sandy Scull

© 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.

quirky-cruise-victory-cruise-lines-ceo-hans-lagerweij-hans-with-crew-aboard-victory-1

QuirkyCruise.com had a chat with Hans Lagerweij, president and CEO of Victory Cruise Lines. It was founded in 2016 with the 202-passenger VICTORY I to ply the Great Lakes and other waterways in the US’s northeast. The line will debut a second nearly identical ship, the 202-passenger VICTORY II, in July 2018. With two ships, Victory will offer cruises to the Great Lakes, Canada and New England, plus Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba.

 

QC: When was Victory Cruise Lines founded and what was the impetus?
Victory Cruise Lines CEO Hans Lagerweij

Victory Cruise Lines CEO Hans Lagerweij

Hans Lagerweij: Victory Cruise Lines is a relatively young cruise company that sailed its first season in 2016 on the Great Lakes. It was started with the support of some tour operator partners, because there was a lack of capacity in the market, especially in the small ship luxury all-inclusive segment.

 

QC: Tell us a bit about your background.

Hans Lagerweij: I have a marketing and sales background, and worked for the travel multinational TUI Travel with their adventure travel companies back in Europe. In 2010 I moved to Toronto to manage a turn-around at polar market leader, Quark Expeditions. That was my first exposure to cruising, and I loved it. Since then I also managed TUI’s subsidiaries Zegrahm and International Expeditions, until TUI sold all their adventure and travel specialist brands last year.

Victory Cruise Lines CEO Hans Lagerweij

Victory Cruise Lines CEO Hans Lagerweij from his days with Quark.


QC:
What makes Victory special and different from other small-ship lines?

Hans Lagerweij: There are so many things!

  • We are destination focused; all our in-depth shore excursions are included, and we focus on immersive authentic experiences in the places we visit.
  • We are all inclusive, covering food, drinks, shore excursions, and even wifi.
  • We are the market leader on the Great Lakes, offering more voyages, itineraries and departures than anyone else.
  • We surprise and delight our customers with unexpected experiences, local entertainment and exceptional intuitive service on board.
  • We have small intimate ships that are easy to get around on, a friendly atmosphere, and great personal service. It is a home away from home for our guests.

 

QC: Apart from Blount and the relatively new Pearl Seas, the Great Lakes has seen very few cruise lines over the years, often just one season then no return the next year. Why do you think there has been so little sustained interest?

Hans Lagerweij: It is an interesting observation. In the last 20 years Americans have started to travel more globally, but they are only recently discovering the jewels that they have in their “backyard.” The Great Lakes offer a great combination of interesting cities, great cultural experiences and fantastic nature. It is safe and easy to travel to, without tiresome intercontinental flights and multi-hour time zone changes. Destination cruising close to home for mature American travelers 60+ is one of the hottest markets in travel. This demographic loves small, intimate and easy-to-get around cruise ships. These Baby Boomers are staying closer to home in search of new destinations that the Great Lakes certainly provides. We believe in the growth potential of the Great Lakes; for example, our passengers have almost doubled from 2017 to 2018. I would not be surprised if we have to add a third vessel at some point in the near future.

 

QC: Why do you think the Great Lakes will sell? What are the special characteristics?

Hans Lagerweij: The Great Lakes offer a fantastic variety and choice of different experiences — from whale watching in Tadoussac to Niagara Falls, Mackinac Island, and Michigan and Parry Sound in Ontario to the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit to The Rock & Roll Hall of fame in Cleveland.

 

QC: Mackinac Island and Chicago may be known, but do you think there will be interest in Little Current and Thunder Bay?

Hans Lagerweij: We certainly have some education to do, but Thunder Bay is fantastic! It’s at the western end point of the 1,900-mile long Great Lakes to St. Lawrence Seaway, and therefore has an interesting history of fur trading. It is also probably the best birding spot in Ontario.

Little Current is one of my personal favorites. It is located on Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world, and part of stunning Georgian Bay’s famous archipelago. It also offers an introduction to the native American Ojibwe culture.

We understand that the above destinations will never be as big as our “backbone” Chicago to Toronto and Detroit to Montreal runs, but they offer an interesting new perspective, ideal for returning clients. As the market leader on the Great Lakes, we believe we have to offer our customers enough choice and variety to come back!

Victory Cruise Lines CEO Hans Lagerweij

Hans with crew aboard Victory I. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

 

QC: One of us (Ted) has sailed aboard Victory I as Cape May Light along the St. Lawrence. What non-cosmetic changes did you make to the vessel, and especially to Deck 5 that as originally built, saw little use.

Hans Lagerweij: The ship was completely refurbished and renovated in 2015. Deck 5 is a fantastic observation deck — most expedition cruise vessels would be jealous of the space and views from this deck. We have put chairs and sun beds up there, so guests can relax and enjoy the views.

 

QC: Tell us something about your second ship, the Victory II.

Hans Lagerweij: It will debut at the end of July this year on a Montreal to Detroit trip, an itinerary that due to huge demand will increase significantly in the number of departures in 2019. For this year, we will also visit French Canada, the St. Lawrence River and New England. In the winter beginning in January 2019, VICTORY II will sail from the Port of Miami on a new cruise and land safari to the Yucatan Peninsula — “The Grand Mayan Experience.” This all-inclusive 11-night program features a 9-night cruise and a land safari to Key West, Puerto Morelos, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, Izamal, Merida and Campeche with a full 3-night all-inclusive stop in Campeche.

 

QC: Where will your passengers come from?

Hans Lagerweij: Last year we were 99% from America, but for this year we see a strong interest (with bookings) from Australia, New Zealand and the UK. One source market to further explore for us is Canada; we hope to announce within a few weeks a preferred partnership with a travel consortia that serves this market.

 

QC: Do most of your passengers book directly by calling or going on your site, or do most use a travel agent?

Hans Lagerweij: Most of our business is with tour operators and travel agents, and we offer competitive commissions.

 

QC: How does the Great Lakes Cruise Company, a firm that sells several lines’ cruises,  fit into your bookings?

Hans Lagerweij: They are one of our trade partners. They have one of the most knowledgeable staffs in Great Lakes cruising.

 

QC: We see your two-week Cuba itinerary has 4 sea days and 4 ports. How is the time allocated in the ports?

Hans Lagerweij: We will sail our first cruise to Cuba next month in May. We deliver a full people-to-people experience. All our cruises are complete circumnavigations round-trip from Miami. All ports include a minimum two-night stay (two days for every port we visit), so we spend more time onshore than any other cruise line. Due to that, our program doesn’t feel rushed, and provides enough time to experience the “Real Cuba.” We also offer (and include) lunches in local restaurants, and passengers have the opportunity to go ashore in the evening, or to stay for the entertainment on board.

 

QC: Is two ships your sweet spot? Can you envision a third?

Hans Lagerweij: If demand keeps growing at the current pace, we will need a third vessel in 2021 or 2022. However, I have in my life seen various over-ambitious cruise companies fail, so we will first prove we can run a solid year-around program on two ships.

 

For more information, check out QuirkyCruise.com’s review of Victory Cruise Lines, or go directly to the Victory Cruise Line’s site here.

 

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North American Canal Transits

By Theodore W. Scull.

Digging canals date back to the Ancient World from simple shallow channels for irrigating fields to more substantial waterways to move building stones, crops and people. Wheeled transport, where it existed, was hindered by poor road surfaces and the loads carried could not approach what a canal barge transported.

In Part One of our canals series, we looked at Europe’s contribution to providing useful waterways for QuirkyCruise-type small ships traversing the  Suez, Corinth, Main-Danube, North Sea, Kiel and Caledonian canals.

Now in Part Two, we look at the North American waterways plied by small-ship cruises.

Erie Canal

Historically, in the U.S., the Erie Canal became the most important waterway when completed in 1825 between Lake Erie and the upper Hudson River a few miles above Albany, the state capital. Its construction gave New York City direct water access to the West via the Great Lakes, and in short order, the city’s port surpassed Boston and Philadelphia, both having to contend with mountain ridges to the west impeding freight and passenger carriage.

The Erie Canal was later superseded by a mostly new parallel canal, and for a time it was referred to as the New York State Barge Canal. When the freight pretty much died away due to competition from railways and highways, it reverted to its original name — Erie Canal — and became a recreational waterway. Remnants of the original waterway remain for the historically-minded to seek out.

North American Canal Transits

Sun climbing over the Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Once Blount Small Ship Adventures had small enough ships to travel its entire 363-mile length between Albany and Buffalo. Now the line’s vessels cruising between New York and Montreal and New York and Chicago, turn northwest beyond Syracuse and use the 24-mile Oswego Canal (1828) to reach Lake Ontario where they can continue their onward journey to either city. Both canals use locks and dams to maintain sufficient depth and to keep the water flow to a minimum for navigation in areas when the terrain becomes hilly.

The canal transits pass through mostly scenic countryside, and the pilot house has to be dismantled to be able to pass under the low bridges the railroads built to impede canal traffic. The complete route, involving the Hudson River, two canals, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, is endlessly fascinating.

The small-ship lines that ply the Erie Canal:

Blount Small Ship Adventures

 

Cape Cod Canal

On the U.S. East Coast, salt and brackish water canals for oceangoing ships came about in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The most northerly is the Cape Cod Canal that slices seven miles through an eastern portion of Massachusetts about half way between Boston and Hyannis severing Cape Cod from the mainland. The idea for a canal originated with the Plymouth Colony and then was revived during the American Revolution but it did not open until 1914.

The water level waterway shaved off 135 miles for ships sailing between New York and Boston. While the construction was privately financed, the tolls were set too high, so in 1928 the government assumed control.

North American Canal Transits

Aerial view of the Cape Cod Canal.

But soon, the competing New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad rendered it redundant for coastal passenger vessels, while later, road and rail traffic caused a steep decline in coastal freight shipping. While the Cape Cod Canal could handle good-size freighters of up to 825 feet, today’s container ships are much too large to transit it.

It is used mainly by yachts and barges and occasionally by American Cruise Lines and Blount Small Ship Adventures for the New England itineraries. The 7-mile canal is a gently curving link between Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay. Notable points of interest are the Massachusetts Maritime Academy; the elaborate 1935-built railroad lift bridge with twin 271-foot steel towers; and the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, the former most notable for its traffic backups in the summertime primarily because of the traffic circle on the Cape Cod side.

The small-ship lines that ply the Cape Cod Canal:

Blount Small Ship Adventures

American Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines

Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

Further south, the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal (C&D Canal) is simply named as it connects the Delaware River to the Chesapeake Bay. Ships sailing between Philadelphia and Baltimore use the canal to avoid having to travel south along the Delmarva Peninsula, then turn into the Chesapeake Bay and double back north to reach Baltimore.

Both American Cruise Lines and Blount use the canal on transits between the Northeast, the Chesapeake Bay and Intracoastal Waterway, to avoid the potentially rough open sea along the Delmarva Peninsula.

The 14-mile-long C&D Canal is 450 feet wide and has a depth of 32 feet as it cuts across Delaware and Maryland. It is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District.

North American Canal Transits

Chesapeake & Delaware Canal at Chesapeake City.

Construction started in 1804, then halted for lack of funds and restarted and finished in 1829, with locks and 10-foot depth. It was used for barge traffic only until 1919 when the Army Corps began expanding and deepening it, eliminated the locks and raised the bridges to allow deep-sea ships to transit it by 1927. Today there is a healthy amount of commercial traffic (one way only with large ships) bound for and sailing from the Port of Baltimore. The C&D is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Its canal banks are popular for sightseers and summertime barbecues, so expect to exchange greetings. If you are driving in the area, there is a fine canal museum at Chesapeake City, a former coaling port.

The small-ship lines that ply the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal:

Blount Small Ship Adventures

American Cruise Lines

 

Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway extends some 1,300 miles along the East Coast and at the south end of Chesapeake Bay. Yachts and small coastal cruise vessels use the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal to stay in calm waters. Opened in 1859, the 70-mile sea level water route connects two rivers, the Elizabeth River in Virginia, near Norfolk and the North Landing River in North Carolina. Only 14 miles in between had to be excavated and creating the canal.

North American Canal Transits

Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal

In 1912, the U.S. Government took it over while the Army Corps maintains it to a depth of 12 feet. The route though flat is quite scenic and wooded, passing through swampland and terra firma. The area also includes the more or less parallel Dismal Swamp Canal, and both waterways are noted for many species of birds. The small boat traffic is considerable during the spring and fall boating migration months. South of the A and C, no more canals of any consequence exist until Florida. The Cross Florida Canal begins at Stuart on the East Coast and ends near Ft. Myers on the Gulf of Mexico. It is occasionally used by the coastal cruise companies.

The small-ship lines that ply the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal:

Blount Small Ship Adventures

American Cruise Lines

 

St. Lawrence Seaway

Some canal-style waterways have different designations, and one such is the St. Lawrence Seaway, a combination of dredged channels or canals, a series of locks and the namesake river itself. The seaway is owned jointly by Canada and the U.S. The end points are designated Montreal in the east and Port Colborne, Ontario in the west, adding up to a total of 370 miles. Hence Lake Ontario and the scenic step-up Welland, with its eight locks, are included.

Construction started on the seaway in 1954 under President Eisenhower and was completed in 1959. From the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to the far western end of Lake Superior is 2,340 miles. The deep-water route brought high hopes as a major trade corridor, and at first projections were met. However, changing trade patterns, the use of faster railroads to move higher value cargo in containers from the interior of the U.S. and Canada to coastal seaports for onward shipping cut into its use.

North American Canal Transits

President Eisenhower at the opening ceremony of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Today major commodities carried are bulk items such as iron ore, coal, limestone, grain, cement, salt and stone aggregate. Many of the bulk carriers are referred to as lakers, and their unusual design sees the superstructure housing some of crew located all the way aft and the cargo holds stretching nearly the ships’ entire length to the bow navigating superstructure housing the officers.

Some small ship cruises stay pretty much in the channels between Lake Ontario via the Seaway to Montreal and on down river to Quebec and the Saguenay River. Several lines continue on west into Lake Erie via the Welland Canal, Detroit River into Lake Huron, and through the Straits of Mackinac to Lake Michigan and south to Milwaukee and Chicago. Small vessels can use a series of connecting rivers and canals going west to reach the Mississippi River. Blount used to make this trip ending in New Orleans.

Beginning in summer 2018 Victory Cruise Lines will cruise through the Soo Locks — partly two sets of locks (Canadian and U.S.) and the St. Mary’s River — into Lake Superior, the largest of the five Great Lakes.

North American Canal Transits

St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes. * Photo: St. L. Seaway Dev. Corp.

 

The small-ship lines that ply the St. Lawrence Seaway:

American Cruise Lines

Blount Small Ship Adventures

Croisieres Jacques-Cartier

St. Lawrence Cruises Lines

Victory Cruise Lines

 

Ontario Waterways

The lower part of the Canadian Province of Ontario harbors a series of lakes that have been connected to form continuous waterways, while the Rideau Canal connects this region with Canada’s capital to the north at Ottawa. 

A Peterborough to Ottawa trip takes to the Rideau River and the 1832-built Rideau Canal (35 locks), forming one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century. The waterway ends below the handsome architectural setting of Parliament Hill as it steps down and empties into the Ottawa River.

North American Canal Transits

Rideau Canal steps down to Ottawa River below Parliament Hill. * Photo: Ontario Waterway Cruises

A second waterway itinerary begins at Peterborough and takes to the Trent-Severn Waterway, passing through 22 locks (including the great Lift Lock with a 65-foot rise) along the connecting Kawartha Lakes and the Severn River to Big Chute. Here a fascinating marine railway carries small yachts in a cradle down to Lake Huron.

The small-ship lines that ply the Ontario Waterways:

Croisieres Jacques-Cartier

Ontario Waterway Cruises

 

Lynn Canal

As it is likely to come up if you are taking a small ship Alaska cruise, the so-named Lynn Canal is really an inlet (or fjord) stretching 90 miles, and with an impressive depth of 2,000 feet, providing a navigable waterway to reach Haines and Skagway. Along the way, you might spot humpback whales, orcas, porpoise, and Steller sea lions.

 

The small-ship lines that ply the Lynn Canal:

Alaska Marine Highway

Alaskan Dream Cruises

American Cruise Lines

Lindblad Expeditions

UnCruise Adventures

 

Canal Location First
Completed
Length
(miles)
Locks or
Sea Level
Erie Canal New York State 1825 363 Locks
Cape Cod Canal Massachusetts 1914 7 Sea Level
Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Delaware & Maryland 1829

Rebuilt 1927

14 Locks 1829

Sea Level 1927

Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal Maryland & Virginia 1859 70 Sea Level
St. Lawrence Seaway Canada & USA 1959 370 Locks
Ontario Waterways Ontario, Canada Rideau Canal 1832

Trent Severn Waterway 1920

125

 

239

Locks

 

Locks

Lynn Canal Alaska Natural Waterway 90 Sea Level

 

 

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American Cruise Lines New European Design

By Ted Scull.

According to a press release about the new 190-passenger AMERICAN SONG dated November 14, American Cruise Lines (ACL), in a continuing building spree, will look to European riverboat designs for a new fleet of low-slung, shallow-draft vessels that avoid any connections to the historic steamboats, heretofore the mainstays of the Mississippi and Pacific Northwest river cruisers. However, the new breed must still be built in America and manned by American crews, because it’s the law for domestic itineraries.

American Cruise Lines New European Design

Rendering of the American Song. * Rendering: ACL

While there is no reference to European design in the recent ACL press release, the plan certainly reflects a fervent desire to encourage Viking River Cruises, with by far the biggest fleet in Europe, to think twice about entering the North American market. Viking has talked about it for several years, and every once in a while, pipes up that it is coming to America. On verra bien (we shall see, as the French are wont to say).

Equally voracious, Viking* has its Longships design well honed, but the line would have to find an American yard to build the boats that come with high American construction costs, while American Cruise Lines has its own shipyard, Chesapeake Shipbuilding, in Salisbury, Maryland. Considerable retooling will have to take place to shift to the European model, far more than building a current coastal boat or sternwheeler with their similar interiors.  (*In a statement from Viking in early December 2017: “Viking has terminated current discussions to build vessels in a US shipyard for Mississippi River and U.S. coastal cruising.” Read more details here.)

ACL’s particulars will create a new fleet design that is being billed as faster, wider and quieter than the replica sternwheelers the line now operates. When they first came on the scene over the past decade, these steamboat-design vessels were made to be faster than the more authentic AMERICAN QUEEN (AQ) so more ambitious itineraries could be offered. They certainly had none of the fine replica interiors and furnishings that the AQ offered. Such a sister ship, with such attribution to detail, would be prohibitively expensive today.

American Cruise Lines knocks two firms by saying that “while other companies are repurposing old casino boats, American Cruise Lines contracts only for brand new ships.” While ACL did not contract for the QUEEN OF THE WEST, a 1994-built sternwheeler, the firm acquired it out of lay-up to start up a Columbia-Snake program. Perhaps this vessel will be removed from the fleet when the new vessels appear.

The first, AMERICAN SONG, is due to be completed in Fall 2018 for the Mississippi River and then move to the Pacific Northwest for the following year’s season.

The press release states: “Showcasing gorgeous interior design elements, from a four-story glass atrium to spectacular spacious lounges, American Song inspires.”

American Cruise Lines New European Design

Some interior renderings. * Credit: ACL

The three- and four-story atria can be found on some of the European river lines, and is an easier feature to imagine than the vague statement about the style of the interiors. However, ACL will continue its own thrust of offering larger cabins, with a high percentage having balconies, than the other US operators offer. It is less clear what “full-size bathrooms” means, but maybe it is just another way of saying larger than the norm.

To emphasize its multi-faceted operations, the press release read, “With two new vessels being introduced in 2018, the Line will operate the largest modern fleet of 10 small cruise ships, modern riverboats, and authentic paddle wheelers in the country.”

There is no disputing that. Its second coming in 2000, after a sale and bankruptcy in the 1980s, began with a pair of 49-passenger coastal boats. Look at the line now. One cannot be but impressed. They must be doing something right.

From my experience on a half-dozen ACL cruises, there is a healthy market of relatively well-heeled working and partly or fully-retired Americans who prefer (but not necessarily exclusively) to cruise in their own country, with their own kind, and dine on good American cooking while relishing some comforts.

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Blount Small Ship Adventures

Blount Small Ship Adventures (BSSA) was founded in 1966 by Yankee entrepreneur Luther Blount as the American Canadian Line headquartered in Warren, Rhode Island. He is largely responsible for the rebirth of US-flag coastal and inland voyages. His three daughters now run the cruise line and shipyard that builds small cruise vessels and excursion  boats.

Since the beginning Blount has operated small American-flagged ships taking less than 100 passengers on an appealing set of creative coastal and inland waters itineraries from New England and its historic islands, via the Hudson River and Erie Canal to the St. Lawrence River and French Canada, through the Great Lakes to Chicago, and south along the East Coast’s Intracoastal Waterway to the Carolinas and Florida. Belize for its islands and barrier reef and Guatemala for its Mayan ruins are a December and January destinations.

The crew is mostly all-American, and captains are Blount veterans and know their waters. Cabins are tiny and the social life amongst mostly senior Americans and Canadians is relaxed and upbeat. It’s destination cruising with few of the frills that characterize the mainstream ships. Most passengers like it that way, that is once they get used to the small quarters. 2016 was Blount’s 50th anniversary for operating small-ship cruises. Blount is the only overnight cruise line that can negotiate Erie and Oswego canals, and New York State’s canal system is now a National Historic Landmark.

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Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

GRANDE CARIBE (built 1997 & 84 passengers) and GRANDE MARINER (b. 1998 & 84 p).

Grande Mariner tied up at Rondout Creek, mid-Hudson River landing. * Photo: Ted Scull

Grande Mariner tied up at Rondout Creek, a mid-Hudson River landing. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

Mostly American seniors who enjoy a casual social setting with like-minded cruisers, while a few Brits and Australians are now finding their way here. Camaraderie develops quite quickly for those open to it.

Passenger Decks

4, electric stair climber between cabins, lounge and dining room on Main and Sun decks.

Cabins

44 doubles, with a few set aside for single occupancy. most cabins are very small even by small ship standards, so if you can afford an outside cabin with a window or one that opens to a side promenade, then go for it. Also, stay away for cabins that are susceptible to engine room noise.

Price

$ to $$ Moderate

Included Features

Beer and wine at lunch and dinner*; soft drinks and setups for passengers own supplies; occasional walking tours. *(No free wine/beer on 4-day New England island breaks.)

Itineraries

Cruises last 6 to 15 nights.

  • American & Canadian waterways between Warren, RI and Chicago using no less than 3 canals, 3 rivers and 6 lakes (4 of 5 Great Lakes). Inland waterway trip par excellence.
  • Lake Michigan-exclusively, from Chicago with three spots in Wisconsin and three in Michigan and as far north as Mackinac Island. In 2019, one new trip embarks in Chicago, and after traversing four Great Lakes, sails down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal.
  • The Intracoastal Waterway, 10 ports in 6 states between Warren, RI, Blount’s headquarters and  Charleston, SC. Share the bays, rivers and sounds  waterways with small yacht traffic and tie up at towns where you just walk ashore. In 2019, two new trips embark in Philadelphia or Baltimore and your the many historic towns of the Chesapeake Bay and end up in the Baltimore and Philadelphia respectively.
  • New England offers lots of choices: Islands of New England (Block Island, Cuttyhunk, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket) plus inland and coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Activities ashore include sailing in an America’s Cup yacht in Newport, kayaking in Great Salt Pond and communing with birds on Block Island, and learning about oyster farming and fishing at Westport, near the New Bedford port call. Quickie 4-day trips from Warren are available, and, longer 10-day summer cruises depart Boston for the Maine coast and New Brunswick visiting Bath, “City of Ships,” kayaking amidst lobster boats, whales at play near St. Andrews, NB with world-class golf course ashore, and Portland for its waterfront, art museum, and stunningly-sited Portland Head Light. Also, shorter 8-day trips leave Boston and call exclusively at Massachusetts ports: Salem, Newburyport, Provincetown, Plymouth and Martha’s Vineyard. N.B. For the 7-day New England Islands cruise, the five departures scheduled for June into August 2020 will embark in Boston and disembark in New York and or just the reverse.
Navigating New York State's Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Navigating New York State’s Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

  • New York and Montreal via 3 rivers, 3 canals, Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence Seaway, and including Quebec City and some cruises extended to the Saguenay River. This is Blount’s bread & butter route. In fall 2019, one round trip leaves Warren, the line’s home port and sails via Long Island Sound, calling at New York, then sailing 50 miles up the Hudson (superb fall foliage) as far as a Troy, then turns back making different calls emote to Warren.
  • In early 2019, four 12-day departures will explore Belize and Roatan for barrier reef activates, Mayan ruins, birding (500 species in Belize), visiting small towns, paddling the rivers, and jungle hike
  • February and March 2019, 12-day cruises will feature Panama, after a hiatus of several years, to include a complete 48-mile transit, visits on the Pacific Ocean side the Panama City, Pearl Isles and Darien Jungle, and on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side, the San Blas Islands. Meet the local people, take naturalist hike, swim and snorkel.
  • For the foreseeable future, U.S. government regulations disallow Cuba cruises..
A lovely promenade in Old Montreal. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lovely promenade in Old Montreal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

See the U.S. and Canada close up by traveling along North American rivers, canals and sounds where other cruises do not and cannot go, plus a full program exploring the Great Lakes. Social interaction amongst like minded souls. Plus many ship buffs appreciate the ships’ innovations designed by line founder, the late Luther Blount, including retractable pilot houses, bow ramps, and  shallow draft that enables the pair to sail in less than seven feet of water. These unique Blount innovations allow the Mariner and Caribe to go where other ships cannot.

The Blount-designed blow stairs for easy beach landings. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to preferred seasons.

Cabins

Teeny weeny, ranging from 74 to 96 sq. ft. with a dozen different configurations, so study carefully the detailed cabin plans. Beds may be double-size; parallel twins and at right angles; some upper and lower berths. Cabins may have slide-open windows (fresh air and sounds of the sea), tiny potholes or may be inside with neither. Some open to an outside promenade (fun for quick access to the deck) rather than into an inside corridor. Showers may be hand-held within the toilet and wash basin space or in a separate compartment. Storage space is limited to a closet, a few drawers and under the bed. Dress is casual at all times. Tip: ask about engine room noise before booking a Main Deck cabin.

Sun Deck Cabin 55B aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo; Ted Scull

Sun Deck Cabin 55B aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo; Ted Scull

Public Rooms

Pure and simple, there is one forward-facing lounge that seats all passengers, with an open bar for soft drinks and set ups, plus games and a large flat-screen TV. Plenty of covered and open seating is available on the top deck.

Dining

Meals are served in the big-windowed dining room located one deck below the lounge, and all passengers are accommodated in one sitting at four- to eight-seat tables. There are no tables for two — definitely not the scene here. Lunch and dinner are at set times depending on the program, and breakfast entertains a one-hour span of arrival.

Dinnertime aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo: fellow passenger

Dinnertime, shades drawn, aboard the Grande Mariner. * Photo: fellow passenger

Breakfast is both buffet-style for cereals, breads, pastries, fruit and juices as well a served  special-of the-day such as blueberry pancakes, omelets or Eggs Benedict. Lunch may start with a communal soup bowl on the table, then perhaps a quiche or make your own sandwich with ingredients set out before you. Dinner is served with an appetizer or salad, choice of entrée and dessert. The food is well prepared with high quality ingredients and reflects what the mostly North American passengers like to eat at home or at a good local restaurant.

Deck barbecue on the Hudson River aboard Grande Mariner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Deck barbecue while cruising the Hudson River aboard Grande Mariner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

A lecturer accompanies most cruises with additional specialist speakers in some ports. Optional shore excursions are available in most ports as well as independent touring. Some evenings may see a musician or local historian come aboard. Bedtime comes early for many, few stay up past 10 p.m.

Special Notes

Line offers a popular BYOB policy and supplies storage and setups; singles have the option of a “willing to share” policy. There is no laundry aboard. The cruise director will know the most convenient “bottle shops” and self-service laundries on longer voyages. Early arrival rates for some dates include an extra dinner and overnight aboard allowing for local independent touring. It’s a nice feature and avoids a one-night hotel stay and another transfer. Sign up for bulletins and keep a keen eye out for special rates.

Along the Same Lines

American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company though plusher cabins; Ontario Waterway Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; UnCruise Adventures (some f the fleet).

Contact

Blount Small Ship Adventures, 461 Water Street, PO Box 368, Warren, RI 02885-3900;  blountsmallshipadventures.com; 800-556-7450.

— TWS

 

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Marine Link Tours

There is nothing else quite like the tiny, 135-foot AURORA EXPLORER for an off-beat British Columbia coastal cruise that operates out of a port on Vancouver Island for just 12 passengers and a crew of 6. The vessel is basically of landing craft design with a ramp to take on freight and vehicles stored on an open forward deck while crew and passengers are housed an aft three-deck superstructure.

The surrounding scenery is majestic British Columbia with a heavily indented coastline on one side and Vancouver Island on the other, plus lots of small islands dotted about the gulf. The route and time ashore is contingent on the cargo requirements. Picnics and barbecues are often arranged off the ship. The crew is friendly, and the other passengers are self-selecting for a truly — dare we say — quirky cruise.

The limited accommodation fills up fast, so book a year ahead if you can. For a short voyage summary taken in August 2016, please find it at the end of the main review.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

AURORA EXPLORER (most recently updated 2012-13; 12 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Adventurous free-thinkers from North America and the UK mostly.

Passenger Decks

3

Price

$$

Included Features

Meals and wine with dinner.

Itineraries

The vessel operates late March through the end of October from a base at Menzies Bay, Vancouver Island, located about 10 miles north of Campbell River into the Gulf of Georgia and deep into the long inlets off Johnstone-Queen Charlotte Straits largely serving locations that have no road access. Two different routings are offered.

The departure point — Menzies Bay, 7990 North Island Highway — is 165 miles north of Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island. The drive takes 3.5 hours, and regular bus service from Victoria operates to Campbell River as does daily air access from Vancouver. Use a taxi from there for the last 10 miles to the landing.

The beauty of the British Columbia Coast. * Photo: John B. Henry

The beauty of the British Columbia Coast. * Photo: John B. Henry

Why go?

Sailing aboard a tiny freight ship, a lifeline for many road-less communities, with just a handful of passengers and a very friendly crew makes an unusual experience.

When to Go?

The cruises operate weekly and last five days. The maritime weather will vary considerably but expect some fog, perhaps rain and lots of snow seen atop the higher peaks, except in midsummer.

The ship having a cool drink and a wash. * Photo: John B. Henry

The ship having a cool drink and a wash. * Photo: John B. Henry

Cabins

Accommodations are five outside twin-bedded cabins and one outside with upper and lower berths. Passengers share four washrooms with toilet and two shower stalls. A washer/dryer is also available.

Public Rooms

Two lounges, a dining room, and a small library collection (mostly BC coastal subjects) make up the public spaces, plus two outside levels of observation decks. WiFi and cell phone access depend on the vessel’s position but expect it to be very limited.

Dining

Some food will be freshly caught from the ship with lines cast for salmon, halibut and groundfish. Prawns are also on the menu, caught from the bow, while crab comes from the ship’s own trap. Otherwise, you can expect straightforward Canadian meals. Wine is served with dinner; there is no bar, so BYO. BBQ on back deck or a beach.

Activities & Entertainment

Besides watching the cargo handling that often includes heavy equipment bound for remote camps, there is a chance to meet local people, see whales, seals, sea lions, porpoises and other wildlife, and learn about the history of the region. Passengers are welcomed in the pilothouse to have a chat about what is on your mind.

Gordon Turner, a past passenger has this to share, “While I was aboard AURORA EXPLORER, heading up Bute Inlet, I saw an eagle overhead, a bear walking close to the shore and a large sea creature (possibly a seal) almost alongside the vessel. And the three sightings were simultaneous.”

“Also, I recall that when the open cargo deck was a bit muddy, the captain put AURORA EXPLORER under a 90-degree cliff whose waterfall cleaned off the decks in a matter of moments. That’s something you do not see with, for instance, OASIS OF THE SEAS.”

Edging close to lounging wildlife. * Photo: John B. Henry

Edging close to lounging wildlife. * Photo: John B. Henry

Along the Same Lines

Too quirky for much competition!

Special Notes

The engine noise and vibration affect some passengers, especially for the first night or two, plus be advised about the commotion associated with daytime cargo handling. After all, this is primarily a working freight boat.

Click here for a Reader Review of Marine Link Tours. 

Contact

Marine Link Tours, Box 451, Campbell River B.C. V9W 5C1 Canada; www.marinelinktours.com, 250-286-3347.

—TWS

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Ira Meyer for One Ocean Expeditions

One Ocean Expeditions

Founded in 2007, One Ocean Expeditions operates expedition-style voyages to the Canadian Arctic, Eastern Canada, Greenland, and Svalbard in the summer and to the Antarctic Peninsula, Falklands, and South Georgia in the Northern Hemisphere winter/Southern Hemisphere summer. Between seasons, itineraries will visit Central America and the Chilean coast.

The two similar ships take less than 100 passengers, hence for Antarctica, all passengers may go ashore at one time rather than in relays with larger ships, a major plus. The newly-added RESOLUTE is an expedition cruise ship taking 184. Based in British Columbia, Canada, this smallish firm sets out to provide a serious appreciation of the Arctic and Antarctica using a three-ship fleet with the AKADEMIK pair originally built as oceanographic research vessels.

NOTE:

In late May 2019, the expedition line announced that the Russians had abruptly cancelled the charters for the AKADEMIK pair, and that One Ocean would operate for the foreseeable future with the RESOLUTE, a fine expedition ship that had sailed for Hapag Lloyd as the HANSEATIC. 

In late October, 2019, in a Facebook post, One Ocean Expeditions Managing Director Andrew Prossin said that the withdrawal of the two ships by their Russian owners was an “unexpected and destabilizing event, and the violation of our contract remains the subject of ongoing legal action.” 

Then in November, the line shut down its operations and cancelled all future sailings. 

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

AKADEMIK IOFFE built 1989, 96 passengers; AKADEMIK SERGEY VAVILOV built 1988, 92 passengers (both ships returned to the Russian owners). In November 2018, the former Hapag-Lloyd HANSEATIC joined the fleet. Renamed RCGS (Royal Canadian Geographic Society) RESOLUTE, the ship was originally built in 1993 and sailed for many years for Hapag Lloyd as the HANSEATIC. She takes up to 184 passengers.

AKADEMIK SERGEI VAVLOV

AKADEMIK SERGEI VAVLOV. * Photo: Mark Carwardine, One Ocean Expeditions

Passenger Decks

Both AKADEMIK ships are four deckers and have no elevator. They were built in Finland with ice-strengthened hulls for the Russians to be used as oceanographic research ships and for intelligence gathering. RESOLUTE was purpose built as an expedition ship with a high standard of accommodations and elevators that connect all decks apart from the presentation theater on the lowest deck.

Passenger Profile

Mostly English-speaking, passengers hail from Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Excursions often have decidedly active content so the age range is a bit lower than with some other lines.

Price

$ to $$$ (Eastern Canada itineraries are the least expensive). On polar region voyages, triple-berth cabins provide more affordability for those traveling on a budget.

Itineraries

June to September, the ships are based in the Arctic Region for 9-to 11-night voyages to Svalbard, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic (Inuit/Baffin Island) and a section of the Northwest Passage. 7- to 12-night mid-summer cruises explore Eastern Canada, that is the Maritime Provinces of Newfoundland, Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Anticosti Island and Nova Scotia.

The Southern Hemisphere season is unusually long, beginning in October and lasting into March. Voyages last from 10 nights for the Antarctic Peninsula to longer ones up to 18 nights that call in at the Falklands and South Georgia as well as Antarctica. In between seasons, the ships will offer Central America (Yucatan, Belize, Honduras, Panama (including canal transit), Costa Rica and Cartagena (Colombia).

Sailing down South America’s west coast calls are made in Chile with transit along its spectacular inside passage to the tip of South America. In addition, the RESOLUTE makes June 7- and 11-night visits to Ireland, Northern Ireland, many parts of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroes and Iceland.

Cruising amongst the ice, One Ocean Expeditions

Cruising amongst the ice. * Photo: Ira Meyer, One Ocean Expeditions

Included Features

Expedition gear is the main inclusion and saves passengers having to lug bulky items from home and/or having to purchase them. Provided are wind- and waterproof jackets, bib pants, rubber boots, backpacks, binoculars, and trekking poles. Antarctic overnight camping is an activity on some itineraries, while sea kayaking is an extra cost and requires advance reservations.

Why Go?

Both polar regions offer outstandingly beautiful landscapes, glaciers, fjords (Arctic) and abundant wildlife on land, in the sea and air. In the Arctic, visit isolated villages, and on the Antarctic Peninsula, tour a research station. In the Falklands, visit British colonials and local birdlife in the remote Southern Hemisphere, and for South Georgia, the island provides more birds to see than anywhere else in the world. Learning about historical expedition voyages from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are also draws, and will be a contrast to yours!

Bridge, One Ocean Expeditons

The ship’s bridge provides another passenger gathering place. * Photo: One Ocean Expeditions

When to Go?

Both polar regions are summer seasonal itineraries. In Antarctica, the shoulder seasons — October and November and March — will be closer to the winter season.

Cabins

Both AKADEMIK ships offer a wide variety of all-outside cabins with windows or portholes, and some can be opened. Layouts can be quite unusual as these ships were built for research, and the original “passengers” lived aboard for long periods of time. The larger cabins have work desks, a sofa, and ample wardrobe space. A few are two-room suites.

As one looks at the lower-priced cabins, many will have private facilities, and some will share with an adjacent cabin, while others share showers, baths and toilets along the corridor. A shared two-berth cabin arrangement, without supplement, can be arranged for single passengers; if a second passenger does not book the available berth, you land it solo. For those on a budget, the least expensive route is to book a berth in a triple, one of which is an upper.

RESOLUTE’S cabins are of a high standard, all outside and arranged on four decks. Two categories of suites have large picture windows, bathroom with shower and tub bath, two singles or double beds, sectional lounge with a large desk, iPad, mini stereo, coffee maker, stocked mini-bar and a collection of fauna and flora books. Superior plus and Superior cabins have the sectional lounge and desk and minibar; twin private cabins  the sectional lounge and desk. The lowest category, main deck triple, has a double or twin beds with a Pullman berth that folds out from the wall, sectional lounge and portholes.

AKADEMIK accommodations.

The larger AKADEMIK cabins were built for scientists living aboard for many months. * Photo:: Ronald Visser, One Ocean Expeditions

Public Rooms

Both AKADEMIK ships are similar in size with slight variations in layout of the public spaces, and have a small pool and sauna. IOFFE has a small library separate from the lounge, and both vessels have good observation decks fore and aft. Top decks provide 360-degree views.

RESOLUTE’s plan has the public rooms located aft with a main dining room seating all at once, an aft-facing bar-lounge one deck up, and bistro dining and lounge with an open deck aft for dining in good weather. The highest passenger deck provides for an outdoor pool, gym, solarium, sauna/steam room and wellness center. Forward is an observation deck.

Dining

Located on the lowest passenger deck, the seating is open for all meals with buffet breakfast and lunch, hot dishes to order, and three-course dinners. Fancy preparation or gourmet-sounding menus are not part of the package. Food might be best described as satisfying, hearty fare, given the distance from food markets.

Activities & Entertainment

Off the ship, Zodiacs are used for cruising with the expedition staff close to shore, to inspect ice formations, and to approach penguins and other wildlife that live in the sea, on land or on the ice. Zodiacs also ferry passengers ashore. Activities are walking to wildlife colonies, hiking further afield, and for purposes of photography, to exercise some of the skills that the workshops aboard home in on.

During non-polar cruises, activities will additionally include stand-up paddle boarding, cycling, and snorkeling.  The naturalist staff — biologists, naturalists, adventurers, historians, and photographers give talks and shows videos. Additional activities are sea kayaking, ski touring, snowshoeing and camping overnight  Fitness and yoga classes are also scheduled. The navigation bridge is open most of the time for passenger visitation and becomes an additional public space.

Following a whale, One Ocean Expeditions

` Following a whale. * Photo: Ira Meyer, One Ocean Expeditions

Special Notes

All three ships have triple-berth cabins with shared facilities, so expeditions are a more affordable option for those on a budget. The brochure maps are especially well designed.

Along the Same Lines

Numerous expedition lines reviewed on this site visit much the same regions.

Contact

USA & Canada (toll free) – 1 855 416 2326; Canada local — 604 390 4900; UK, Europe and the rest of the world — 0351 962 721 836; Australia (toll free)— 1300 368 123 or +61 2 9119 2228; voyages@oneoceanexpeditions.com & oneoceanexpeditions.com.

— TWS

Read QuirkyCruise contributor Judi Cohen’s article about her One Ocean Expedition adventure.

 

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Erie Canal

By Ted Scull.

In this installment, it’s all about the Erie Canal — an integral part of America’s western expansion and of incalculable value to New York City.

Low bridge ahead on the Erie Canal

Low bridge ahead on the Erie Canal.

Residing in New York all my working life, I cannot get enough of the region’s history, development and major events. As an aside, I incorporate research into talks for general audiences and special interest groups. For purposes of QuirkyCruise.com, I first turn to big draws in my own back yard that you too might wish to experience some day, or maybe already have.

A few years ago, I took a cotton to a Blount Small Ship Adventures’ cruise that no other line can do, travel a section of the Erie Canal as part of a much longer, complex inland water route linking the Great Lakes and New York.

The Erie Canal, dug east-west across New York State between Albany and Buffalo, connected by water the growing Port of New York with much of the rest of the still developing U.S. Railroads and paved highways were still in the future.

At the time, Boston and Philadelphia handled more trade than New York, but these cities’ fathers could not solve getting over the mountain barriers to the Midwest that New York was about to accomplish with the Erie Canal’s completion in 1825. Almost immediately, New York’s fortunes took off to become the fastest growing port and city in the country.

Erie Canal

Approaching a lock on the Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

That slim little waterway was later enlarged and became what we can travel along today at a slow jogging pace. But you must choose a specifically-designed low-rise canal boat, in my case the GRANDE MARINER. Bingo, you can experience a low bridge on the Erie Canal made famous by “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,” a song written by Thomas Allen in 1905. Clear the top deck and lower the pilot house to allow the boat to slide under bridges with inches to spare. Many were built by the new enemy, the railroads, to impede canal traffic. In fact, Blount’s present pair cannot travel the western end of the canal because of even lower clearances.

Approaching the enemy, a railroad bridge. * Photo: Ted Scull

Just west of Troy, a former industrial powerhouse a few miles north of Albany, the GRANDE MARINER drops down via a flight of canal locks to reach the lower level of the Hudson River — just 140 miles downriver to New York City. No natural waterway in the US combines so many scenic surprises, natural wonders, and stately homes that inspired the Hudson River School of painters.

For the next two days, be dazzled by the Catskill Mountains at sunset, the Hudson dramatically narrowing at Bear Mountain, Storm King’s massive headland thrusting itself into the river, the vertical drop of the Palisades, lighthouses dotting the shallow bits to warn of dangers, and a slew of historic houses with magnificent Hudson River views.

Stately mansion with a Hudson River view. * Photo: Ted Scull

Few know that you cannot drive along the Hudson to experience all these as parallel roads follow the river for just a few miles at a time. The water-level train route is second best though you clearly see only the western side, while by boat you see America’s Rhine the way it was meant to be seen.

The icing on the cake is sliding under the George Washington Bridge and sailing past Manhattan. Some Blount cruises end at the West Side’s historic Chelsea Piers, while others continue around The Battery and head up the East River to Long Island Sound and New England.

When I have stayed aboard, I get to pass my apartment just two blocks inland. Let me know when you are passing, and if I am in residence, I will come down and give you a wave from the riverside promenade.

How about a wave from above? * Photo: Ted Scull

© 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.