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Lindblad in Alaska

Reader Review: Lindblad in Alaska’s Inside Passage.

REVIEWER

Elizabeth Moss from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

Lindblad Expeditions.

SHIP

National Geographic Venture.

DESTINATION

Alaska Inside Passage.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

July 2019, from Juneau, Alaska.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

We’ll never forget the zodiac cruise rides to see icebergs and glaciers! Our 9 year old twins were particularly impressed by the “vikings” who surprised us with hot chocolate during one of the rides. This was our first ever cruise, so we have no comparison, but we loved this way of seeing Alaska. The views were amazing and the ship’s captain would stop if there was interesting sea life or wildlife spotted.

Food was great, cabins were comfortable and roomy, the crew was friendly and helpful. We really enjoyed the naturalists and  programs, though didn’t attend all that was offered as it would have been more than we wanted. Some days were a little slow for the kids, but they managed as there were a few other children on board.

The atmosphere was relaxed and casual and we had a lot of fun meeting our 92 fellow passengers, who seemed to enjoy the same type of vacation experience as we did.

Highly recommended.

Reader Review bird

 

 

Here’s the Lindblad Expeditions site.

And check out some of Elizabeth’s photos from her cruise:

A Zodiac launching on a Lindblad Alaska cruise

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

family cruise with Lindblad in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

close to a waterfall in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

Couple on a Lindblad cruise in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

The sleek lines of Lindbad's Nat Geo in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

berry picking on an Alaska cruise

Photo: Liz Moss

 

QuirkyCruise Review

reader reviews logo hi resContribute to our pool of honest reviews by real passengers. QuirkyCruise wants to hear about your latest small ship cruise for our Reader Reviews, a growing reservoir of opinions by small ship cruise lovers around the world. We don’t edit or sugarcoat, we just present QuirkyCruise reader reviews straight from travelers to you.

Click here to fill out a QuirkyCruise Reader Review FORM.

And here’s an INDEX of ALL our Reader Reviews. Have a look at what fellow travelers have to say and see what floats your boat.

 

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Nat Geo Venture Reader Review

NAT GEO VENTURE in Alaska.

REVIEWER

Laura Virkler  from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

Lindblad Expeditions.

SHIP

National Geographic Venture.

DESTINATION

Southeast Alaska.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

July 2019, from Sitka, Alaska.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 3

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

We took our three children (ages 16, 14 and 12) on this trip and everyone loved it for different reasons. Our oldest was able to talk with so many of the naturalists on the ship and really used her love of bones and history, and she loved the crew. Our middle son isn’t very social, but the crew on the bridge let him come and hang out and learn how the ship worked and he was fascinated with all of it. Our youngest met many other kids his age and loved being able to explore the ship on his own. All three kids loved the freedom they had on the ship.

My husband and I thought the cabins were very nice and so comfortable and had everything we needed. The staff was amazingly friendly and helpful. Meals were nice but became tedious after 7 days, but everything was very good. The excursions were interesting and the sights amazing — glaciers and icebergs and bears and seals and so on. Our one complaint would probably be that outings were a little slow-paced and a lot of time was spent on education, which is awesome, but a little slow sometimes.

All of us loved the experience and the ship and its crew!

Reader Review bird

 

 

Here’s the Lindblad Expeditions site.

 

reader reviews logo hi resContribute to our pool of honest reviews by real passengers. QuirkyCruise wants to hear about your latest small ship cruise for our Reader Reviews, a growing reservoir of opinions by small ship cruise lovers around the world. We don’t edit or sugarcoat, we just present QuirkyCruise reader reviews straight from travelers to you.

Click here to fill out a QuirkyCruise Reader Review FORM.

And here’s an INDEX of ALL our Reader Reviews. Have a look at what fellow travelers have to say and see what floats your boat.

 

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

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

Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Small-Ship Alaska Cruise Adventures.

By Judi Cohen.

The moment I arrived in sunny Juneau where my Uncruise “Glacier Country Adventure” would begin and end, I knew this would be no ordinary 7-night Alaska cruise. As we were welcomed aboard the 90-passenger S.S. Legacy, UnCruise owner Dan Blanchard flashed the cruise brochure and exclaimed: “These brochures are out of date as soon as they’re printed. Everything on the planned route is subject to change based on the weather, park permits and wildlife sightings — Mother Nature will be in charge.”

With no traditional “ports of call” during the 614-nautical-mile cruise, the Legacy would serve as a wildlife and adventure platform and our comfortable home.

Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

The charming 90-passenger Legacy. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Introducing the SS Legacy

The 192-foot S.S. Legacy, built in 1984 (and renovated in 2018) as a replica of a Victorian-era steamboat, would have fit perfectly into an Alaskan Gold Rush movie.

While there was nothing fancy about the Legacy, I found her Victorian-style décor and furnishings exceedingly comfortable and welcoming.

Her four decks include a sun deck with two hot tubs, an exercise room and lounge chairs. An elevator between Decks 1 and 3 makes it easy for those with mobility issues.

Alaska cruise writer Judi Cohen aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Writer Judi Cohen at the bow of the 90-passenger Legacy. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

The dining room and Pesky Barnacle Saloon are on Deck 1, while the lounge and bar are set on Deck 2 along with some cabins. The rest of the cabins line Deck 3.

Most of the 48 passengers on my Alaska cruise were active and fit with an average age of 50. We had options for morning and afternoon excursions including free and guided kayaking, bushwacking, “yak and wack” (combo kayaking and bushwacking), and skiff tours — tours on small 12-passenger inflatable boats. Morning stretch class or yoga was offered on the sun deck.

An Alaska cruise on a small ship

Excursions by skiff were a daily event on Judi’s Alaska cruise. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Wonderfully All-Inclusive

Adventure equipment (kayaks, paddleboards and skiffs) were carried on a portable launch pad called the “Sea Dragon.” Equipment like walking poles and “Alaskan Tennis Shoes,” aka rubber boots, could be borrowed. And lessons and excursions are included.

Alaska cruise and kayaking excursions

Judi and Lawrence being lowered into the water off the Sea Dragon platform. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Wine, spirits, soft drinks, juices, snacks, coffee and tea are also included. Wine could be ordered by the glass or bottle and Kyle the bartender was open to all requests.

There was a signature cocktail in the lounge before dinner that we enjoyed with hors d’oeuvres daily. Coffee, tea and snacks were always available.

The busy Lounge and bar

Lounge and bar: a hive of activity all the time! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Naturalists & Crew

There were five naturalists and experts on board our Alaska cruise. They were our expedition guides, sharing their knowledge and passion about Alaska’s wildlife, plants and history on board and during our many excursions.

In addition, Kate Troll and Bill Hanson, Alaska residents since the 1970’s, were invited onboard to provide a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to live, work and play in Southeast Alaska. Called “Alaska Insiders,” they never ran short of interesting stories shared in the lounge, dining room and the bow, and during our excursions.

They told us about their careers in natural resources, and their lives as hunters and foragers. The pair spoke about changes in the glaciers, wildlife, local people, variety of salmon, and effects of commercial fisheries. I learned, for instance, that Alaskan salmon is the gold standard due to stringent sustainability legislation.

Kate read passages from her book, The Great Unconformity – Reflections on Hope in an Imperiled World, and spoke about the dramatic changes she has seen in Alaska.

Alaska cruise with UnCruise lecturer Kate Judi with Kate

Judi with Kate, one of the cruise’s “Alaska Insider” special lecturers. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Bill shared a passionate story during a presentation about hunting for venison, discussing their connection to the land and the necessity to eat what they harvest. I was moved when Bill said “there is some sadness felt about killing a deer.” He explained the ritual of putting their favorite food in the deer’s mouth, placing his hand on the dead deer, and saying thank you for giving them food.

The Uncruise team, notably the expert guides, Sarah, Andrew, Jessie, Teresa, Bobby and the expedition leader, Megan, along with  Captain Tim Voss, were all vital in making our awesome Alaska cruise as memorable as it was. No doubt they loved what they were doing and encouraged us to try everything, going out of their way for first-timers like us.

They generously shared their experiences and knowledge during our excursions and onboard the ship. In the same spirit, the captain welcomed everyone in the bridge whenever we were sailing.

On cruising days, the captain excitedly announced wildlife sightings, as everyone poured out onto the bow or the top-deck of the ship. The guides were as excited as the guests to see and talk about the sightings.

Alaska cruise mountain goat sighting

Guides pointing out bearded mountain goats in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Alaska cruise wildlife

Bearded mountain goats in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Uncruise

Cozy  & Compact Cabins

Cabins range from 110 square feet to a 600-square-foot two-room “Owner’s Suite” on the sun deck with its own wet bar and library. All have outside windows, and accommodate singles, triples and quads. Each offers a private bathroom with shower, bathrobes, alarm clock, safe, small flat-screen TV with DVD player, and an iPod docking station.

My cabin (306) on deck 3 was a 145-square-foot “Commander” category, with a private bathroom with shower, and a window and a door opening to the outdoor promenade. With fixed twin wooden beds, storage drawers, small desk, and closet with a safe and binoculars (to borrow), we had room to move around and unpack all of our clothing and gear.

A nice surprise was that we could drink the water from all sources on the ship, including in our bathroom.

Cabin #306 aboard the 90-passenger Legacy

Judi’s cabin, #306. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I loved seeing the sunrise from the bow. It was my favorite place on the Legacy. With my hair blowing and the ship’s flag waving, all I could hear was the movement of the water and the call of seabirds.

There is something romantic about being out front on the bow. Day or night, it’s like having a front row seat to the greatest nature show on earth.

Alaska cruise with writer Judi Cohen on bow

Judi on the bow of the SS Legacy. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

One night, we were woken up with an announcement to get out on deck if we wanted to see the Aurora Borealis on the port side. Everyone scrambled from their rooms. Some came out in bathrobes, while others quickly threw on some clothes.

Alas, by the time I made it out the colors remained for only a few seconds, replaced by large white streaks of light in the dark sky. I guess seeing the Aurora Borealis will remain on my wish list for a future Alaska cruise.

The Grand Salon Lounge and Bar

The Lounge on deck 2 was the ship’s hub, with its welcoming bar area that comprised a small library with books and DVD’s (a good thing since there is no internet access on the Legacy). It was the gathering area not only for drinks, but also presentations, games and general relaxation. There were comfortable sofas, marble-topped tables, and large picture windows.

The Klondike Dining Room

The dining room on deck 1 was bright and warm with large windows, an old-fashioned tin ceiling, two-tone wooden pillars and carpeted floors. It featured a mix of booths along the windows with larger round tables in the center.

Dining Room with swinging doors into Pesky Barnacle saloon

Dining Room with swinging doors into Pesky Barnacle saloon. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I enjoyed sitting with different guests at each meal since there was no assigned seating. We regaled each other with stories about the day’s adventures and talked about the day ahead.

Swinging saloon doors from the dining room opened to the Pesky Barnacle Saloon with wrap-around windows and a poker room vibe. It was the perfect place to play cards or just enjoy the panoramic view. On our sailing, the space was also used as a place to gather before excursions, don lifejackets, put on sunscreen, and fill our reusable water bottles.

Getting ready in the Pesky Barnacle

Getting ready in the Pesky Barnacle lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Mealtime was Pure Joy

With many active and fit guests on our Alaska cruise, there were healthy options that also satisfied cosmopolitan foodies like my husband and me. All of our meals were served in courses, like dining in a restaurant.

Breakfast was served at 7:30 or 8:00am depending on the planned activities, and always included choices of eggs, yogurt, fruit, bacon, and fresh squeezed orange juice. A daily omelette made with a choice of carmelized leek, manchego, artichokes, chorizo and other ingredients.

And if that wasn’t enough, there were frittatas with roasted peppers and a crispy kale topping, blueberry pancakes with whipped cream, a full English breakfast, and cornflake-crusted French toast with bananas foster topping.

Full Breakfast with all the fixins

Full Breakfast with all the fixins. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Lunch one day included bison chili, vegetarian chili or a mixed salad with hardboiled eggs, shredded chicken and tortilla strips. On another day we had the choice of BBQ brisket, pulled jackfruit with coleslaw, mac ‘n cheese, or a salad with sockeye salmon.

There were no bad choices! Delicious freshly-baked breads, pastries and desserts accompanied every meal.

Following happy hour in the lounge, dinner was served at 6:30pm. Our dinners always started with a homemade bread and an appetizer or antipasti board with cheeses like baked brie, gruyere or blue-cheese custard, nuts, poached apples or other jams and berries.

An appetizer shared board with blue cheese, date topping, carrot butter, fruit, nuts and fig bread

An appetizer shared board with blue cheese, date topping, carrot butter, fruit, nuts and fig bread. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our plated dinner included a meat, fish and vegetarian option. I found it difficult to choose one night from among beef tenderloin with mushrooms and demi-fried shallots, Coho salmon with rhubarb marmalade and pickled strawberries, or the vegetarian beet Wellington with leek cream and roasted radish.

Two of my favorite meals were the pepper-crusted lamb popsicles with fenugreek curry and the poached ling cod with cilantro basil oil.

Lamb Popsicles with fenugreek curry and charred broccoli.

Lamb Popsicles with fenugreek curry and charred broccoli. YUM! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab dinner was both a gourmet treat and a learning experience as we mastered how to crack the claws and pull the meat out of the shells.

Dungeness Crab Dinner with guests from Australia, UK,and California

Dungeness Crab Dinner with guests from Australia, UK and California. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Chef Cooper kept bringing out large bowls of crabs. It was quite a messy job and I concluded that it would not be wise to order Dungeness crab on a first date!

Alaska cruise dining on Dungeness crabs

Chef Cooper with Dungeness crabs galore. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Desserts were beautifully presented and always worth saving room for. The pastry chef’s creations included pumpkin cake with fresh whipped cream; fruity pebbles, candy floss and root beer macarons; and salty toffee brownies that could all have come from the finest gourmet bakery!

Dessert, fruity pebbles and candy floss macarons

Delish dessert: fruity pebbles and candy floss macarons. * Photo: Judi Cohen

A Week of Non-stop Adventure 

Map from bulletin board, updated daily

Map from bulletin board, updated daily. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 1: Juneau

We were welcomed aboard around 4pm by the captain and crew, shown to our cabins and given a safety briefing. Before we knew it, our Alaska cruise had begun and we were on our way to Glacier Bay National Park.

With almost 15 hours of daylight at this time of year, we enjoyed the golden sunshine on the bow until late in the evening.

Day 2: Tidal Inlet & Glacier Bay National Park

We anchored in Tidal Inlet with breathtaking views of the snow-peaked mountains, rocky shores and the glassy smooth water for most of the day.

Alaska cruise reflections in the waters of Glacier Bay

Stunning reflections in the water in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I was very excited that my husband and I, along with nine other guests, chose to take the “Kayak 101” lesson with Bobby from the expedition staff. After 90 minutes we were both confident and comfortable in our kayak.

Judi and Lawrence in a Kayak

Judi and Lawrence at the Kayak 101 training, at Tidal Inlet in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We were thrilled to embrace this learning opportunity and could hardly wait to kayak again on our Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruise kayaking

Judi fell in love with kayaking on her UnCruise Alaska adventure. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Following lunch, Ranger Caitie, who boarded at Bartlett Cove wearing her National Parks uniform, gave an orientation session on Glacier National Park. She noted that “only two large cruise ships, four small ships, and a few kayaks are allowed in the park at a time.”

So this part of the trip felt like a privilege, especially since we would be in the park for two full days!

Judi with Ranger Caitie before she departed in Bartlett Cove

Judi with Ranger Caitie before she departed in Bartlett Cove. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

As the Legacy sailed along Tarr Inlet in Glacier Bay, Kate pointed out the partially hidden Grand Pacific Glacier in the distance where Canada meets Alaska.

We slowly approached the majestic blue-veined Margerie Glacier and Ranger Caitie requested a moment of silence. We stood on the bow listening to the glacier grumbling and bergy bits growling and crackling in the water all around the ship; it was a highlight of my Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruise approaching Margerie Glacier

Approaching Margerie Glacier. * Photo: Judi Cohen

With the clear skies, we were able to see the snow-covered jagged peak of Mount Fairweather, the highest mountain in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Lawrence on the sundeck

Lawrence on the sundeck. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 3: Lamplugh Glacier & South Marble Island

A planned morning skiff ride and beach walk near the magnificent Lamplugh Glacier quickly changed to just a long skiff ride after a brown bear was spotted a short distance away on the beach and another bear was swimming towards the beach.

We passed slowly by the odorous South Marble Island with lazy sea lions and seals making belching and farting noises. Meanwhile, loads of seabirds were flying overhead. Humpback whale blows and flukes could be seen in the distance.

Alaska cruise wildlife includes Sea Lions

Sea Lions enjoying the sunshine on South Marble Island. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Before lunch about half of the passengers and many of the staff did a “polar plunge” off the Sea Dragon into the frigid waters of Glacier Bay. The rest of us cheered them on (I have to admit, I hate cold water and couldn’t fathom jumping in!).

Alaska cruise UnCruise Polar Plunge

Polar Plunge in Glacier Bay. Brrrrr! * Photo: Judi Cohen

We then sailed to drop off Ranger Caitie at Glacier National Park headquarters in Bartlett Cove. Along the way we saw many bears digging for food on the shore — and we could see them without binoculars, that’s how close they were (this could never happen on a big-ship cruise!).

The sight of a mother brown bear with two fuzzy cubs was my best Mother’s Day gift ever! My Alaska cruise was even better than I had imagined.

Mama Brown Bear and Two Cubs

Mama Brown bear and two cubs on Mothers Day! * Photo: Judi Cohen

After dinner, we all went for a walk to see the Huna Tribal House on the shoreline of Bartlett Cove. We admired the carved totems and the exterior painting representing the stories of the Glacier Bay clans.

Guests walked along the one-mile Bartlett River shoreline trail or just relaxed on the sandy beach near the dock to enjoy the colors and listen to the sounds of the birds.

Huna House Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park

Huna House in Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 4: Neka Bay Wildlife Extravaganza

The Legacy was anchored in the untouched wilderness and the quiet calm in Neka Bay. Our morning skiff tour turned out to be a wildlife extravaganza, with eagles, gulls, golden plover, pigeon guillemot, harlequin ducks and sliders.

Alaska Cruise Bald Eagle Sighting

A majestic Bald Eagle sighting. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We were treated to humpback whales blowing and breaching, and harbor seals and porpoises playing near our skiff.

When we returned to the ship, I decided to do some free-kayaking for an hour before lunch in magical and serene Neka Bay.

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay.

In the afternoon we were dropped off on a rocky beach with an array of spitting clams, starfish that were 10-20 inches across, and red rock crabs. Here we would experience a two-hour bushwack.

Giant starfish on Judi's hat before bushwacking trek.

Giant starfish on Judi’s hat before bushwacking trek. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Our guide yelled “aaayo” loudly many times to let any bears know that we arrived. Unlike a hike along a marked path, bushwacking required effort and attention as we made our own way through the forested and mossy undergrowth. We stopped to learn about the moss, fungus and flowers and even tasted some of them.

Judi bushwacking

Judi bushwacking! * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

I worked up quite a sweat and peeled off my layers of clothing right down to a T-shirt! When we made it to a clearing, we spotted a lumbering brown bear and quickly planned a detour back to our skiff.

Our many bear sightings were definitely a very special feature of an Alaska cruise on a small, nimble ship like the Legacy, that can meanuever close to shore.

We sailed all evening and night to Thomas Bay, also called “The Bay of Death” or “Devil’s Country.” As the story goes, early prospectors reported seeing “Kushtaka,” the shape-shifting creatures of Tlingit tribal legend that can take the form of man or otter.

We passed Huna, a fishing village, that is now a cruise ship dock with the longest zipline in North America. Thankfully we did not stop here!

Captain Voss announced that a pod of Orca killer whales were on our port side. He stopped the ship so we could enjoy them bobbing and moving gracefully. The guides even lowered a microphone into the water to hear them better.

Killer Whales portside - binoculars focused

Killer Whales port side: binoculars focused! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 5: Scenery Cove & Baird Glacier 

Our morning excursion was a skiff ride in Scenery Cove, just in front of Baird Glacier. We navigated around large oddly-shaped grounded icebergs of many colors, which is only possible in a skiff with a very experienced operator familiar with the changing tides and water levels.

We did an easy guided hike in the afternoon up to Cascade Creek to see a winding waterfall that flowed from the top of the mountain down through rocks and forests. The mist from the waterfalls made the steep rocky stairs very slippery, so ropes were available along the sides for stability.

Hiking at Cascade Creek Alaska

Hiking at Cascade Creek. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Day 6: Robert & Crow Islands, Plus Woodspit

This morning our skiff was surrounded by dozens of playful Steller sea lions as we soaked in the lush green surroundings. We spotted Arctic terns, puffins, cormorants and murrelets and other birds.

Lawrence and Earl on a skiff

Lawrence and Earl on a skiff. * Photo: Judi Cohen

On our way to Woodspit in the afternoon, we were on a whale search and sure enough Captain Voss spotted a pod of Humpback whales.

Humpback Whale fluke

Humpback Whale fluke. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The breaching whales put on a show that lasted a couple of hours. The ship turned several times so we could get the best views.

What a show!

On the bow watching humpbacks

On the bow watching humpbacks. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 7: Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier — The Highlight of my Trip!

This was the highlight of the trip for me as we sailed through the sapphire-colored near-frozen waters in Endicott Arm surrounded by turquoise icebergs. I was on the bridge as we sailed through this tranquil paradise with waterfalls, forests and ice.

On the Bridge with Captain Voss heading towards Dawes Glacier

On the bridge with Captain Voss heading towards Dawes Glacier. * Photo: Judi Cohen

On our skiff tour we heard the crackling of icebergs in the water as we moved closer to the face of Dawes Glacier — over 600 feet tall and a mile wide. We witnessed the thundering sound of the calving glacier when giant chunks of ice broke off and crashed into the water without warning, creating waves that rocked our skiff.

It was a sobering reminder of the reality of climate change and a dramatic way to end the cruise.

Day 8: Disembarkation in Juneau

When we disembarked in Juneau, Dan Blanchard took us on a fascinating tour of downtown Juneau pointing out the rich history of prospecting and gold mines. We had succulent Alaskan halibut and chips on the pier and took in our last views of the beautiful cloud-shrouded mountains, lush forest and choppy seas before our transfer to the airport.

Lawrence Cohen enjoying our last Alaskan Fish and Chips on the dock in Juneau

Lawrence Cohen enjoying our last Alaskan Fish and Chips on the dock in Juneau. * Photo: Judi Cohen

End Note

I was grateful for the opportunity to be unplugged and disconnected from my normal wired life, and reveled in reconnecting with my body and curious spirit on this very special Alaska cruise. Blessed with a week of sunshine, I enjoyed all of the adventurous activities and up-close wildlife sightings in the water, on land and in the sky.

My interest has been piqued, and I look forward to seeing more of the untouched wilderness and incredible miracles of Mother Nature in Alaska. I hope to return again one day for more adventure and genuine UnCruise hospitality!

UnCruise’s 7-night “Glacier Country Adventure” cruise starts at $4,795. per person; click here for more details.

Alaska cruise aboard UnCruise's Legacy

The Legacy is an excellent way to explore Alaska’s Inside passage.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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The Pacific Northwest’s Scenic Columbia & Snake Rivers.

By Ted Scull.

Few passengers aboard UnCruise Adventure‘s 90-passenger SS Legacy had the slightest inkling of just how dramatic a river journey could be and how they can become personal explorers.

At dawn on the first morning of the cruise, I awoke to the sight of Pacific breakers pounding the breakwater at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Days later we had arrived at the headwaters of navigation where Idaho, Oregon and Washington borders meet, for a jet boat ride up through the Hells Canyon Snake River rapids. Herds of big horn sheep watched us from the slopes above. We step ashore to become acquainted with our natural surroundings.

Sailing upriver, the soggy coast gives way to the dramatic Columbia Gorge and the flanking rain forests. We stopped at the foot of pencil-thin 620-feet high Multnomah Falls and enjoyed a hike up to a bridge directly opposite the cascading waters that literally spill over a cliff edge from a point high above.

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls. * Photo: UnCruise

The Columbia Gorge, Locks & Dams

Just above the Columbia Gorge, a wide section of the river subject to high winds, became the birthplace for windsurfing and kite surfing, highly popular pastimes in the warmer months.

At Bonneville Dam and Locks, a guide told us about hydroelectric power. She also explained that she counts salmon and shad to keep an annual record of these important fish numbers. While she spoke, lamprey eels and fish passed by the lounge windows to climb the ladders — a series of pools that allow them to make their way upstream.

Many of the eight locks we would pass through have lifts of 100 feet; that’s 15 feet higher than the combined three Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal.

Then at the nearby Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center, the exhibits and a film explained the cataclysmic geological creation of the gorge and the tribal history of Nez Perce.

Explorers such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came this way in the first years of the 19th century. They were followed by missionaries and early settlers, using the Oregon Trail and Columbia River.

There are 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.

The Legacy transits 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary. * Photo: UnCruise

Out of the Forest and Into Hells Canyon

Leaving the Columbia River and climbing the Snake, the land becomes increasingly arid with colorful plateaus and basalt rock formations flanking the river, taking on a distinctly southwestern appearance.

At times, there was no sign of human habitation. Then a long freight train carrying grain would slide by on the shore, give us a whistle, then disappear returning the landscape to silence.

Docking at Clarkston, Washington opposite Lewistown, Idaho, we boarded jet boats for the white-water 50-mile day trip up into the Snake River’s Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, recently reintroduced following their decimation in 1926, dotted the cliffs and tiny patches of sand at water level.

Jet Boat Tour into Hell's Canyon on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Jet Boat Tour into Hell’s Canyon. * Photo: UnCruise

Fishermen were out in force in boats angling for steelhead trout as we passed from Washington to Oregon and Idaho. We stopped three times, for a stroll up to a naturalist site with a great view along the canyon, for a picnic lunch, and for a close-up study of some ancient Indian petroglyphs drawn on a flat rock surface.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

The SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull

Downriver to Maryhill

En route downriver, we made a visit to Maryhill, a mansion-now-museum built by railroad baron Samuel Hill high up a cliff overlooking the river and housing an eclectic art collection. It features Rodin sculpture, chess sets, costumes, Fabergé eggs and jewelry that had belonged to Queen Marie of Romania.

When & What

The one-week Columbia & Snake Rivers trips operate in September, October and sometimes early November with the wine and culinary departures in the later part of the season. Vineyards undulate through the Hood River Valley in both Oregon and Washington.

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River. * Photo: UnCruise

The plethora of activities during the week may include hiking (walking poles available), kayaking, inflatable skiffs, paddle boarding, and of course, presentations by naturalists in the ship’s lounge and ashore. Out on deck look for osprey, white pelicans and bald eagers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John & Colleen kayaking in the Palouse River. * Photo: John Roberts

SS Legacy: A Classic Beauty

The SS Legacy provides the perfect stage, both inside and out, to witness the stunning landscape of this region. A 1985-built product of Bender Shipbuilding & Repair, Mobile, Alabama, twin Caterpillar diesels drive her at up to 15 knots, a generous speed for a small coastal passenger vessel.

At 192 feet in length, the SS Legacy carries up to 90 passengers and an All-American crew of 34-35.

Dan Blanchard, Un-Cruise Adventures owner and CEO, has spent his entire life living and working in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, He knows that with the SS Legacy he has a gem on his hands.

In her current guise, the hull at the main deck is black with a thick gold stripe above that. The black funnel has a narrow gold top and is embossed with a gold star. Her three masts are black with gold at the forepeak.

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff. * Photo: UnCruise

Within the Vessel

Both the Main Lounge and the Dining Room have retro patterned tin ceilings, while wooden panels enclose the square columns and surround the wooden dance floor.

The lounge’s wooden bar with its elaborately wood-framed mirrored-glass backdrop is particularly inviting whether taking to one of the five stools or standing at either end to chat up the bartender and fellow passengers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Business as usual at the ship’s bar. * Photo: John Roberts

The lounge, seating all passengers at one time, is furnished with formal wood-framed chairs surrounding small marble-topped tables, and by the windows, plush armchairs and settees. The deep blue carpet is studded with symmetrically arranged stylized stars. Views to the outside encompass a 270-degree arc.

relaxing in the lounge on a Columbia & Snake River cruise

Relaxing on board the SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

In the dining room one deck below and aft, the seating is banquettes and round tables for six with views through the large port and starboard windows. A handsome dark-wood serving buffet with a mirrored backdrop is framed by fluted wooden pilasters.

All meals are waiter-served with ample seating for all passengers to dine at once. Depending on the daily itinerary, breakfast service starts at 7:30 or 8:00, while lunchtime is between noon and 1:00 and dinner at 6:30 or 7:00.

The Klondike dining room aboard the Legacy

The Klondike dining room. * Photo: UnCruise

The friendly American staff, exhibiting a wide range of ages, provides good service, and the food is varied and very well prepared.

Dinner may start with a chef’s amuse, something creative and tangy, then moves onto black bean soup, smoked salmon chowder or melon with prosciutto chips. The main course (a choice of three entrees) might be seared jumbo prawns, poached arctic char, rack of lamb chops, veal saltimbocca, and for vegetarians, goat cheese and spinach lasagna, linguini with mushrooms or a saffron vegetable risotto.

Freshly made desserts are peach and blueberry Napoleon, citrus cheese cake and, perhaps, Baked Alaska. Complimentary beers from Alaska and Seattle and red and white wines, featuring Columbia River Valley origins, accompany lunch and dinner.

Breakfast service has a daily changing special and always available eggs of any style, along with bacon, sausages, toast, cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit and juices.

An early riser breakfast is served on the Grand Salon’s buffet, and it includes a couple of daily changing hot dishes. Most passengers who start their breakfast here, then descend to the dining room for the multi-course affair.

Fresh fruit is available all day, with homemade baked cookies in the afternoon and a generous selection of changing hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Wine, beer, soft drinks, cocktails, coffee and tea are complimentary and available throughout the day.

In the corner of the dining room is a wine bar and then keep going aft and you hit the Pesky Barnacle, a gathering space wrapped around the stern for donning life jackets for excursions. From here you step into the Sea Dragon that provides easy access to the inflatable skiffs, kayaks and other waterborne activities.

Other Amenities

Additional amenities are a sauna on the Upper Deck, two hot tubs on Bridge Deck, plus exercise cycles aft and under cover on the same deck. Yoga classes are conducted here as well.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Yoga session on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

All About Cabins

The 45 cabins on three decks are all outside, ranging from 100 to 297 square feet, with those on Lounge and Upper decks having doors that open onto side decks for super quick access to what’s outside. The Upper Deck promenade provides a circular constitutional walk with 14.4 circuits equaling a mile. Cabins on Main Deck have portholes, and a large 600-square-foot, two-room Owner’s Suite sits in splendor isolation atop the Sun Deck just aft of the bridge. It comes with all sorts of amenities such as a stocked wet bar, private DVD collection, two TVs and a small library.

Bed arrangements are fixed twins, double beds or queens. Two forward cabins sleep up to three and the suite up to four. Cabins have individual temperature control, flat screen TV/DVD and a iPod docking station. All have a vanity-cum-desk, chair, adequate drawer and closet space, and small bathrooms with showers. Antique-style mirrors are attached to the bathroom doors.

The cabins have wood-framed padded headboards, frosted reading lamps, brass window trim with the top pane a drop window, thus allowing a flow of fresh air. An elevator connects three of the four passenger decks.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

Here is a Commander category cabin. * Photo: UnCruise

Topside & in the Pilothouse

Three forward viewing areas are on the Lounge Deck with stairs up to the Upper and Bridge decks. The pilothouse is roomy and open to passengers unless otherwise stated, usually when maneuvering in tight spaces. The captain and the first mate are welcoming and often have company. Converse about whatever is on your mind, perhaps about navigation in still and rapidly flowing waters.

Most impressive are the large wooden wheel and handsome twin brass telegraphs along with all the modern equipment needed to navigate the boat in open and constricted coastal and inland waters.

The SS Legacy’s classic steamboat style and period interiors provide the perfect vehicle for appreciating the historical nature of the trip as well as the spectacular scenery from vantage points all over the vessel.

C’mon in! The Legacy’s bridge. * Photo: Ted

The Best Part?

We’re giving a free cruise for two aboard the SS Legacy — 7 nights on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Click here to enter and sign up today; the contest ends June 30, 2019.

Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary

The Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.

 

Read more about cruising on the Columbia & Snake Rivers in contributor John Roberts’ article!

 

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Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

By Peter Knego.

My Lindblad Expeditions “Among The Great Whales” adventure aboard the brand-new 100-passenger National Geographic Venture began at San Jose del Cabo at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It was a three-hour drive up the Pacific Coast and across rugged desert terrain to the CostaBaja Resort overlooking the Bay of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

“Among the Great Whales” itinerary. Note the order of ports may vary. * Map: Lindblad Expeditions

A nice buffet dinner under the stars provided an ideal way to unwind and meet fellow shipmates, about 100 well-traveled Americans and a scattered few from other countries.

Nearly everyone on board the 7-night cruise was there to see and get up close to the wildlife, sea lions, birds and especially the whales. Many guests were avid photo takers who appreciated the official photographer‘s tips with techniques.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

All aboard as the National Geographic Venture prepares to depart San Carlos! * Photo: Peter Knego

On Board

The next afternoon, we crossed to the Pacific Coast to join the brand-new National Geographic Venture; aka NG Venture.

Introduced in early 2019, the 238-foot, 2,380-gt NG Venture is a sparkling, state-of-the-art expedition ship with a fleet of eight zodiacs and 24 kayaks. The US-flag ship is fitted with stabilizers that would come in handy in open ocean conditions.

The ship has four decks connected by a lift and two stair towers. The layout includes a lounge, dining room, shop, gym, an open bow observation platform, an open bridge (conditions permitting), a sheltered stern terrace and a platform for boarding kayaks and zodiacs.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The interior portion of Lounge Deck begins with the Lounge, which can seat all guests at once and features a bar, library, numerous LED screens and a rotunda-style podium called the Circle Of Truth for presentations by the ship’s expedition team. * Photo: Peter Knego

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

At the aft end of Lounge Deck, the Dining Room can also seat all guests at once and features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. * Photo: Peter Knego

Due to an approaching storm, instead of overnighting for a morning bird-watching excursion in Bahia Magdalena, we sailed off to Laguna San Ignacio, a protected whale feeding ground about 100 miles up the coast. It is a site made famous by the likes of John Steinbeck and Jacques Cousteau.

The Cabin Accommodations

My Category 3 cabin had a comfy queen-size bed, two picture windows, a writing desk, plenty of storage space, and bathroom with shower. Being the most forward cabin, it was a bit bumpy that first night as it took the brunt of the pounding waves and succumbed to some serious “corkscrewing” — that dreaded combination of pitching and rolling.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

There are no keys to access cabins on the National Geographic Venture, including Category 3 stateroom 202, shown facing port.  All staterooms do lock from the inside and are stocked with eco-friendly amenities (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel — in shower dispensers) and soap. * Photo: Peter Knego

Thankfully, for those like me with motion sickness issues, the ship provided an abundant supply of delicious ginger chews and meclizine tablets. Both were effective.

As for the Venture’s other accommodations, the top-grade Category 1’s have large picture windows that look out to a narrow promenade, a sitting area and an expanded bathroom. Category 2’s are slightly smaller but come with a private balcony.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The NG Venture’s Category 1 staterooms have picture windows that look out onto the Observation Deck promenade. * Photo: Peter Knego

Categories 4 and 5 are the most economical, and thus smaller and lower in the ship, which can actually be a good thing when the seas get rough.

The lack of televisions provided a chance to fully disengage from the chaos of the outside world.

 First Excursion Ashore

It was gray and cooler than expected when we finally reached the shelter of Laguna San Ignacio the next afternoon. That first Zodiac ride in the chilling wind and rough surf would add to the sense of adventure and ultimately pay off in spades.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Zodiacs are accessed via a platform on the stern of the ship. * Photo: Peter Knego

Strangely, this entire week in the Baja region would be about ten degrees cooler than in California where I live, so I was glad to have brought a sweatshirt and waterproof windbreaker along.

No matter what the weather conditions are, you can never go wrong with layers!

Peter all layered up in Baja! * Photo: Peter Knego

After a beach landing, we transferred from the ship’s Zodiacs to locally operated pangas that buzzed us deep into the gray whales’ turf. All around us, the giant cetaceans were “spy hopping,” or projecting their massive bodies vertically out of the sea to get a peek above the surface and then falling back with a giant splash.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

A pair of gray whales doing their “spy hop” maneuver at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

Our guides explained that this gravitational shifting also helps them digest the little crustaceans and other tiny creatures they had come to gorge on.

As our panga returned to the beach, a “friendly” (a baby gray calf) surfaced alongside just long enough for us to pat its barnacle-encrusted skin before it vanished back into the bubbly realm.

Click below: When a whale breaches within touching distance, it is called a “friendly”.

 

Sunsets & Sunrises

Back aboard the National Geographic Venture, dinner was slightly delayed so that we could gather on the bow for a startlingly beautiful sunset. For that lingering transition from day into night, our slice of the world was bathed in an almost fluorescent orange and magenta glow.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

San Ignacio’s sunset over the bow. * Photo: Peter Knego

The next morning, it was all about Zodiacs and pangas and the pursuit of more whales.  The seas were not only teeming with majestic grays, but provided a side show of dancing dolphins, the occasional leaping manta and scores of sea turtles.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Pangas, breaching grays and the mirage-like National Geographic Venture at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

With the sun beaming on the jagged purple peaks of the Sierras De La Gigantes in the backdrop, it couldn’t have been more exhilarating. Although there were no more close encounters of the “friendly” kind.

Racing Ahead to Avoid a Storm

For the next 36 hours, the National Geographic Venture made a mad south-by-southeasterly dash for Cabo, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.  For a delightful interlude on that first afternoon, dolphins frolicked in our bow wave.

Click above to view dolphins escorting the National Geographic Venture on her southbound journey.

Thankfully, as the Venture kept ahead of the storm, it would be a relatively smooth ride. I enjoyed the ship, dining, enrichment lectures and fellow guests, free of the trance-inducing effects of meclizine.

Dawn of a New Day

Day six began with the night sky morphing from ink blue into a lovely shade of pre-dawn purple-essence.

With coffee in one hand and camera in the other, I worked my way up to the bow platform to join fellow guests as the rising sun cast its first rays on Friar’s Rocks. The iconic formation at the tip of Cabo San Lucas is also known as Los Arcos.

Sunrise on Friar’s Rocks, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. * Photo: Peter Knego

Scores of tiny craft were heading out of Cabo’s small harbor to join us in welcoming the new day and the National Geographic Venture’s transition from the open Pacific to the Gulf of California, or as it is more commonly called, the Sea of Cortez.

After breakfast, the Venture motored to the outskirts of another small marina, that of San Jose Del Cabo, where we boarded zodiacs for a short ride ashore. I opted for the combined bird-watching walk in the estuary and time to wander the old town, with its historic mission, shops and galleries.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Birders in the San Jose Del Cabo estuary. * Photo: Peter Knego

Whales Whales & More Whales

Back aboard in time for lunch, we felt the gentle rumble of the Venture’s diesels propelling us into deeper water for an afternoon spent chasing humpback whales. With each breach and fluke, there were gasps, the frenzied clicking of camera shutters, and the occasional groan of someone who just missed capturing the action in pixels.

Another spectacular sunset serenaded us as we gathered on the stern terrace, where the al fresco bar was opened up for the first time during our trip.

On most nights, one of the naturalists would give an excellent presentation on the marine life, history and lore of the region.

Highlights were lecturer Marylou Blakeslee’s readings from John Steinbeck’s and Ed Rickett’s “The Log From The Sea Of Cortez,” describing their pioneering visit to the Baja Peninsula. I also greatly enjoyed expedition leader Bette Lu Krause’s tales of being a young female mariner in a male-dominated sea.

Day seven began with an early morning blue whale sighting as the Venture neared Isla San Francisco. I signed up for the morning kayak ride in the relatively sheltered bay, seizing the opportunity to not only get up close to a rocky outcrop of pelicans but to snap some nice, up-close views of our ship.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Kayaking off Isla San Francisco. * Photo: Peter Knego

 

Click above to experience the National Geographic Venture from a kayak’s perspective.

After returning the kayak, I joined a guided walk into the tide pools on the other side of the narrow strip of land linking the two halves of the islet. Expedition team members pointed out numerous starfish species, urchins, crabs, sea cucumbers and other saline fauna.

Snorkeling

Lunch on the ship was followed by a snorkeling expedition. Lindblad provided the gear, including wet suits, as the sea temperature was in the mid-60s.

My adventurous Australian snorkeling partner Haney and I encountered some pretty exciting sea life, including a rare zebra eel, schools of positively fluorescent fish and some adorable yellow puffers.

Another zodiac ride to/from the ship allowed us to change gear for an afternoon hike that unfortunately had to be aborted midway due to severe winds.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Isla San Francisco overview. * Photo: Peter Knego

As we kayaked, snorkeled and hiked, our expedition leaders pieced together an exciting last segment of the voyage. Taking advantage of the extra day gained by skipping Bahia Magdalena we would head to Puerto Escondido.

Sightseeing Alternative

Here, the next morning, local drivers took us on a ride back to Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific Coast to board pangas for another chance to enjoy an all-day expedition amongst the whales.

Those, like myself, who opted for the alternate choice, would be driven up into the Sierras de la Giganta for a visit to the historic Mission San Javier.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Nestled in Baja Sur’s rugged mountains, Mission San Javier was built in 1744. * Photo: Peter Knego

Then it was off to nearby Loreto, a charming Sea of Cortez resort town, where we could savor a Mexican lunch with time to explore on our own.

Last Full Day

Our last full day would be spent in the Espiritu Santo archipelago where the first morning excursion included a swim amongst sea lions followed by zodiac-ing into their feeding ground, where the rock formations resembled the creatures we had come to witness.

Rock formations versus sea lions in Espiritu Santo. * Photo: Peter Knego

Click below for a leaping sea lion snippet.

 

Late that afternoon, we anchored off Los Islotes where the crew prepared a beach barbecue while many of us headed off on hosted hiking expeditions in search of wildlife and the unique flora of the Baja Sur region.

Hiking at Los Islotes in the Sea of Cortez’ Espiritu Santo archipelago. * Photo: Peter Knego

As the final sunset extinguished itself, we returned to the ship for a slide show recap of the week’s adventure, then ultimately back to our cabins to pack and prepare for our homeward journeys the following morning. 🐋

Click here for a gander at QuirkyCruise’s John Roberts’ photo essay on the Nat Geo Venture.

Weather

This particular itinerary with both Pacific and Sea of Cortez ports operates between January and March.

Weather is typically moderate but it can get very windy in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific swells can be rough at times, especially for a small ship.

What’s Included

Drinks and tips are not included, but excursions are included in each port. In certain spots, weather conditions permitting, there will be a choice of activities from snorkeling and kayaking to hikes of various length and endurance.

Lindblad provides gear for snorkeling (masks, fins, snorkels and wetsuits), but guests must bring hiking boots and shoes that can withstand “wet landings” in the zodiacs. Layers of light clothing are highly recommended.

Rates for  the 7-night “Among the Great Whales” itinerary start at $5,990 USD per person based on double occupancy in a Category 1 cabin.

All images, text and video copyright Peter Knego 2019

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

By John Roberts.

We wake up at the crack of dawn and make our way to the top of the ship. It’s a quick trip from our small cabin on Deck 3 — just one level up to reach the top of SS Legacy. On the first morning of our “Rivers of Adventure” sailing with UnCruise Adventures, we’re getting the day going with a yoga session.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Yoga session on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

This is my fourth sailing with UnCruise, and there are a few things I’ve come to count on when taking a journey with the expedition line:

  • I’m going to learn some interesting stuff.
  • I’ll be well fed.
  • And I’ll be thoroughly exhausted after days filled with thrilling adventures.

This voyage is carrying about 30 passengers on a ship that can fit 90, so we have plenty of space and all get to know each other quickly. Seven of us, including my wife Colleen, decide that it will be a good idea to warm up our muscles and clear our minds for the day ahead.

The 30-minute yoga session does the trick nicely — and this would be the first of at least three times we take advantage of the morning yoga classes.

The “Rivers of Adventure” itinerary is a new one for UnCruise Adventures, and we have joined one of the first trips for this program on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. I know how active my previous sailings have been, in Alaska, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, so I expect this week on SS Legacy cruise is going to be more fun and active than your standard river voyage.

The SS Legacy. * Photo: John Roberts

Here is a day-by-day look at our journey.

Days 1 & 2

The cruise embarks in Clarkston, Washington, on the Snake River. After an overnight on the ship, some of us early birds get up to start our day with a birdwatching walk just along the banks of the river. We are stunned at the number of bird varieties we spot just steps from our ship as we wander for about 45 minutes on the path with guides Bobby and Sarah.

There are California quail, kingfishers, blue jays, finches and other species flitting about — I cannot remember all the names. During the week, we would be in what is known as a rain shadow region. This unique climate and geography develops because the landscape is on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range, meaning it gets little rainfall after the moist air climbs up the western slope and the clouds wring out most of their ample amounts of precipitation. Seattle knows what I’m talking about.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Birdwatching in Clarkston. * Photo: John Roberts

So, the area shows signs of dryness as we venture about all week, with golden grasses and brown shrubs lining our route. But a variety of flowers provide bursts of color here and there as we hike and paddle in the wilderness.

After our birdwatching on that first day, we enjoy a hearty breakfast on SS Legacy before all of us load into a speed boat at the pier alongside our ship. Moments later, we are zooming off into Hells Canyon. This National Recreation Area comprises the steep walls that bracket the Snake River, with Idaho on one side and Washington the other.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John & Colleen in the Hells Canyon speed boat. * Photo: John Roberts

We see soaring eagles and falcons and stop to look at ancient petroglyphs etched onto large rocks at the river bank. Native American history is rich throughout the region, with the stories of the Nez Perce tribe discussed often during our cruise. (Later this day, passengers very much enjoy a guest interpretive talk onboard by J.R. Spencer, a Nez Perce tribe member, artist, educator and performer.)

J.R. Spencer, a Nez Perce tribe member, artist, educator and performer. * Photo: John Roberts

The boat also takes us past large ranches and a herd of big horn sheep on our way to a picnic lunch at Garden Creek Ranch, which is a fishing camp and preserve located at the junction of Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Here we fill up on barbecue and cold beers and wine, then wander about the property, which is filled with wild turkeys and deer that roam freely among the apple and pear orchard on the hillside.

After lunch, the boat goes deeper into the canyon before heading back to SS Legacy, where a group of us, five to be exact, take up what quickly become familiar positions at the bar to take advantage of the free-flowing drinks and friendly conversation offered by our bartender Dee Dee.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Business as usual at the ship’s bar. * Photo: John Roberts

Day 3

We wake up in Lyon’s Ferry at the edge of the Palouse River and start the day with a quick workout at the ship’s small outdoor gym up top, then join the daily yoga session.

It’s a perfectly sunny day, and we are excited to hike at Palouse Falls State Park. Guides lead us down into the canyon and along meandering trails to the river and a small waterfall area. I shuck my clothes down to my skivvies and hop in for a quick swim. My fellow cruisers now think I’m a bit crazy as I emerge from the icy glacial waters. I feel quite refreshed, actually, and quickly dry off in the sun.

John takes a dip in the icy Palouse water. * Photo: John Roberts

This state park is exceedingly beautiful, and the hike is the first of two amazing excursions we would enjoy today. After lunch, we hop in skiffs to ride into the Palouse River, where we meet UnCruise’s mobile launching dock the Sea Dragon. This is where we get into our kayaks to paddle the river until sunset approaches. It is a serene scene as a couple dozen kayaks slice through the water alongside marshy areas and amid the towering canyon walls.

John & Colleen kayaking in the Palouse River. * Photo: John Roberts

Colleen and I join our new friends back onboard in the hot tubs for sunset cocktails (another ritual we will repeat more than a few times). This is the perfect way to rejuvenate our bodies after a busy day.

After dinner, we get the first of three guide presentations we will hear during our cruise. Sarah thrills us and draws plenty of gasps and laughs with her presentation on lesser-known bird species of the region.

Later in the week, Bobby talks about the effects of wildfires and their important role in nature, and Robert gives an in-depth chat about Lewis and Clark’s journey.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Guide Robert. * Photo: John Roberts

Day 4

We catch a bit of a break today, with a lighter schedule of activities in Richland, Washington, a pretty city located right on the Columbia River. Colleen and I get out of bed nice and early for a skiff tour on the river to spy more birds. We spot egrets, magpies and ducks in the trees and marshy shore areas.

It’s easy to rise nice and early when you find yourselves retreating to your cabin and bed each night by 9 p.m. We have good intentions: “Let’s stay up a little later tonight and play a game,” our group promises one another. Yet, we finish a filling meal, down a few beers and the satisfied exhaustion of another day washes over us, overpowering our wills to keep the party going.

In Richland, UnCruise has set up free rentals bikes for its passengers to sign out from Greenies Bike Shop, a quick walk from the pier.

Biking in Richland. * Photo: John Roberts

 

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

To-die-for scenery on the bike ride. * Photo: John Roberts

We take advantage and had a nice late-morning ride for about 12 miles back and forth on the well-developed riverside path. In the afternoon, most passengers go to a vineyard for wine tasting. We stay onboard to get in a nap and spend some quality time in the hot tub.

We don’t regret our decision — at all.

Day 5

Today is a big day. We reach the Deschutes River in Oregon for whitewater rafting and know it’s going to be a blast. More than half of the passengers choose rafting; the rest visit Maryhill Museum of Art to see the eclectic array of items in the Beaux-Arts-style former mansion of entrepreneur Sam Hill.

We get a brilliantly sunny day to enjoy the racing waters of the Deschutes. It lends its name, by the way, to the regional brewery that produces some great craft beers. Over the course of three hours, we scream our way through class 2 and class 3 rapids, and we hear of a few spills that leave some members of our group drenched by the bracing waters.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River in Oregon. * Photo: John Roberts

In our raft, we all manage to stay onboard (we’re obviously the best at this!) and learn how to surf the waves while synching up our paddle strokes. Our guide Larry also gives us an interesting running commentary on the history of the river and the region.

When we pull ourselves out of the rafts at the end of our journey, our legs are a bit wobbly and our hunger is great. We find a sunny spot at a picnic table and delightfully relive the outing while downing our lunches (complemented by beers and wines) and letting our clothes dry.

Day 6

The action continues in The Dalles, Oregon. A bus ride takes us to Rowena Plateau, which overlooks the Columbia River Gorge. We are among the first people there as we start a challenging morning hike. We startle a small herd of mule deer, which bound away over the grassy knolls to our delight and awe.

After exploring the flat area on the plateau, it’s time to kick it into gear to reach our goal. Our expedition leader, Megan, wants us to be the first group of the season to reach the summit of the hike.

Tom McCall Point is a fairly challenging switchback trail that offers a peak with great views of the region. Mount Adams and Mount Hood are constantly in sight during our hike up, their snow-capped peaks standing sentry over the gorge.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John and his group at the summit of Rowena. * Photo: John Roberts

We make it up in good time, and our efforts pay off with stunning views that offer an energy boost. Too soon, it’s time to head back to the ship, but we need to get lunch to refuel for the afternoon’s bike ride on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.

We start in the town of Hood River, and I know this will be a fun leg-burner of a ride. The guides warn us of some steep sections of the route that takes us to the “Twin Tunnels” and a scenic viewing point over the gorge. We also have fun whooshing along the roads on our descents, and much of the ride takes us through pretty tree-covered sections.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Biking on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. * Photo: John Roberts

A few of us in particular want to complete the 12-mile out-and-back route in a timely fashion to free us up for a walk around the town of Hood River. We have plans to get a couple cold ones as a reward for our work today, and a few blocks into town, we settle in at Full Sail Brewing Co., in time to have a round before rejoining our fellow cruisers on the shuttle back to SS Legacy.

Yes, we slept well again this night.

Day 7

It’s hard to believe the trip is coming to an end as we reach Bonneville Lock and Dam. It’s rainy as we go out for a quick group tour to visit the facility and visitors center. The highlight is the fascinating salmon ladder that helps the fish pass the dam to get upstream.

The fascination fish ladder. * Photo: John Roberts

UnCruise offers a biking tour to a winery, and many guests take advantage of this despite the rainy conditions. Colleen and I choose to go into the town of Cascade Locks on our own to hike a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

The Pacific Crest Trail. * Photo: John Roberts

The wilderness gives us an immediate embrace just moments after we step onto the trail away from the busy roads in town. We are fascinated to be able to see the remaining scars everywhere in the forest from the large wildfires in 2017.

Then, it’s back to the ship for one last festive night onboard while we set sail to Portland where it’s time to get off SS Legacy.

The SS Legacy arriving in Portland. * Photo: John Roberts

Life Onboard

Cabins

Our stateroom on SS Legacy is functional but with tight confines and a small bed, making the space ill-suited for a couple to enjoy any particular moments of intimacy.

This was not a problem because by the third day, anyways, as we would head back to our cabin around 9 p.m. too exhausted to do anything but plop down and pass out.

From daybreak until dinnertime, our schedules are filled with meals, drinks and thrilling activities. Food and beverages on SS Legacy feature regional varieties, so we have a lot of seafood options and wines from Washington and Oregon vineyards.

Eating & Drinking

Colleen and I try all the beers. The Coco Joe’s coconut porter is a flavorful favorite, and I had at least one Born and Raised IPA and Scuttlebutt amber each day.

The menus always offer one seafood, one meat and one vegetarian option. Passengers routinely would order a half-and-half of two of the entrees because they faced tough choices and wanted to try multiple entrees. Staff also makes painstaking efforts to accommodate dietary needs — preparing vegan and lactose-free meals, for examples, on our cruise.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

A sampling of the week’s meals! * Photo: John Roberts

Our cabin opened directly to the outdoor deck, and it’s especially nice to wake up and step outside into a new wilderness painting each morning. The top deck offers the small gym with cardio equipment and free weights, as well as two hots tubs.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

The author’s cozy cabin. * Photo: John Roberts

A large selection of DVDs is available to take back to your room for viewing, and the ship also has a big collection of games, books and a few puzzles. Snacks like granola bars and fresh fruit are always available, and the pastry chef makes fresh cookies that are set out in the lounge every afternoon.

Drinks are included in your cruise fare.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Drinks are included in the cruise fare. 🍷🍺 Here’s bartender DeeDee. * Photo: John Roberts

Overall, UnCruise’s “Rivers of Adventure” is a wonderful expedition, as passengers become fast friends while out tackling fun new adventures in incredibly vibrant places each day. This is certainly my kind of quirky cruise!

Making friends on a cruise with so many active excursions is not very strenuous! * Photo: John Roberts

 

➢➢➢ Here’s a VIDEO TOUR of the SS Legacy that John made. Have a look 👀!

➢➢➢ Here’s John’s VIDEO overview of the ACTIVE EXCURSIONS  he sampled!

 

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Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

By John Roberts.

Lindblad Expeditions welcomed the newest ship, the 100-passenger, 50-stateroom National Geographic Venture, to its fleet at a ceremony at the historic Treasure Island Pier 1 in San Francisco. My wife Colleen and I joined the inaugural cruise, a quick two-day adventure in San Francisco Bay in early December. The cruise was over much too quickly but gave us a great sense of how wonderful it is to sail an expedition voyage with Lindblad, and in such comfort on a beautiful new vessel.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Lindblad Expeditions founder and CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad tells a little about the Lindblad story during the christening ceremony of the new National Geographic Venture. Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic have had an alliance in cruising since 2004.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Crew line the deck in front of the bridge during the christening alongside the historic Treasure Island Pier 1 in San Francisco. The shiny and new NatGeo Venture, which was built in the U.S. at the Nichols Brothers Shipyard on Whidbey Island in Washington, will sail seasons in Baja California, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Capt. Andrew Cook — yes, he says he’s proud to live up to his name as a Captain Cook — is master of the vessel.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

There is an open-bridge policy on National Geographic Venture, which means you can stop by to see how the navigation of the ship works.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

The bow area is the best spot to enjoy scenic sailing. We all rushed out for our sunset sailaway in San Francisco Bay toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The bow even has a raised platform in the middle so passengers can better see wildlife in the surrounding waters during the voyage.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The sun is quickly fading in the distance, just past our view of Alcatraz Island.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Capt. Andrew Cook welcomes passengers onboard his spanking-new ship. The lounge area is a comfy space and a natural gathering spot for pre-dinner cocktails and to hear talks from the ship’s field staff and naturalists.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

The dining room onboard National Geographic Venture features a buffet for breakfast and lunch. You can find numerous healthy choices, like organic chicken, salads, red and golden beets, and quinoa. There’s also a carving station and you’ll always find sweets to tempt you at the buffet, too.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The open-seating dining room on NatGeo Venture offers a moving window on the world.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

This is my healthy breakfast — an omelet with turkey sausage, some kiwi, yogurt and other fruit.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

I was amazed at my first meal, a lunch that was loaded with goodness from the buffet. I typically have trouble finding healthy choices on most cruise ships but not on National Geographic Venture.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

I chose the rack of lamb for dinner. It was a good pick. The menu also always offers a seafood and vegetarian option.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Colleen said this avocado mousse with passionfruit, meringue and hint of beetroot and salt was the best dessert she has ever had.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Our cabin had plenty of open shelving, which I found nice to organize and have easy access to my camera equipment and other items.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The bed was fairly comfy in our stateroom No. 217, which has a balcony.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Binoculars are at the ready in the lounge for when wildlife is within sight.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Some of your activities take you into chilly waters, and Lindblad Expeditions has you covered with wetsuits.  There’s also a telescope that sits at the front of the lounge so you can peep out on the scenery as you wish.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Or, you can just make like you see something at the front of the ship and sneak off with some more goodies from the snack area. No one will judge you.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

There is a well-stocked bar in the lounge, with cocktails, wines and craft beers at the ready. We found the hotel staff onboard to be unfailingly friendly and good at anticipating passenger needs.

 

Photo: John Roberts

On Day 2, we headed out for our adventures. The marina at the back of the ship is where you load into Zodiacs.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

We enjoyed a skiff tour around San Francisco Bay with our guide Emily Pickering.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

National Geographic Venture sits off Angel Island in the bay.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The Sun Deck is at the back of the ship. It’s a wonderful place for enjoying the views and it’s also where the morning stretch class takes places each day.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

In the afternoon, we went ashore at Angel Island for a hike at Mount Livermore.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The sunny weather made for ideal hiking conditions on the first day of December.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Nearing the top of Mount Livermore, we can see the skyline of San Francisco and much of the bay.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Two happy hikers enjoying reaching the peak. Our hike was five miles roundtrip.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

We made it back onboard before sunset and settled in with a quick walk around the promenade on NatGeo Venture.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Then, it was time to reward ourselves with well-earned brews after a day of thrills. We quickly fell in love with the friendly Sebastian who was always there with a smile — and our beers.

 

Photo: John Roberts

The author gets another look at San Francisco Bay and breathes in the fresh air aboard the new National Geographic Venture.

Click the photo  ⬆️⬆️⬆️ for John’s VIDEO overview of the Nat Geo Venture!

 

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QuirkyCruise is sharing the small-ship love. ENTER our cruise giveaway to win a free Caribbean cruise for 2 with Island Windjammers, one of our favorite quirky lines! 

 

 

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Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

By Ted Scull.

For small ship cruising, it is not always fair winds and calm seas. Some parts of the world see more chop than others, and to be in the know before booking, here below are the regions that have a bit of a reputation.

Now let’s begin with the good news. Advance weather forecasts give ship captains ample warning to steer clear of a hurricane’s track by altering course. A diversion may result in skipping a port or two and substituting others, and while you might still feel the swell from the storm, it is unlikely that the ship’s movement will be more than a gentle rise and fall.

Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

Some major white water in the Atlantic, off Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Stabilizers help reduce side-to-side rolling, but not the up and down pitching motions into oncoming swells. The smaller the small ship, the less likely it will have the stabilizing fins. Large cruise ships’ massive blunt bows tend to slam into head seas, and to lessen the unpleasant sensation, the captain may drastically reduce his speed to lessen the impact.

The bodies of water below have the potential for the being the choppiest in world; in no particular order:

1)  Caribbean

The Caribbean’s hurricane season (roughly June to October) tops the list in terms of the number of passengers potentially affected because of the large number of ships cruising here. However, with so many alternative routes and ports of call, in most instances, ships can avoid the storm’s fury and still provide a satisfying cruise.

2)  North Atlantic

The North Atlantic is notorious for its storms at almost any time of the year, and the further north the track the more likely it is to encounter some rough seas along the multi-islands’ passage between the North of Scotland, Shetland/Orkney, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the Canadian maritime provinces and/or the U.S. East Coast. It is positive thinking to note that all islands have a lee side.

The ships that reposition seasonally via the Atlantic between the Mediterranean/Iberia and the Caribbean/Florida are much less likely to encounter storms. However, ships that sail between Northern European ports, Iberia and the Mediterranean pass through the Bay of Biscay. This body of water, west of France and north of Spain, has a long anecdotal history especially with Brits.

In my experience — 16 passages — only one (Santander to Portsmouth) was truly tempestuous and that was quite enough for everybody on board, including me who likes a bit of chop.

3)  Mediterranean

Speaking of the Mediterranean, the Mistral that roars down the Rhone Valley in France and then across the Western Med can stir up heavy seas in winter and spring as does the Meltemi in summer in the Greek Islands. I was aboard the ROYAL CLIPPER during a powerful Mistral and the sail-laden ship reached its maximum hull speed. It was exhilarating and more than a bit dramatic.

4)  Drake Passage

The dreaded Drake Passage between Ushuaia, Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula has a well-deserved reputation, and happily any storm that does occur rarely lasts more than 12 to 24 hours. If you are susceptible to mal de mer, be prepared to deal with any eventuality because the expedition is well worth it.

Longer itineraries that include the Falklands and South Georgia expand the chances for stormy weather.

Cowabunga dude!! That's some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cowabunga dude!! That’s some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

5)  Gulf of Alaska

The Inside Passage to and from Alaska may be well protected apart from a few short-open sea stretches, while ships traversing the Gulf of Alaska to Seward, on the other hand, may encounter North Pacific storms or swells from a more distant storm.

6)  Southeast & East Asia

Typhoons are an occasional worry in Southeast and East Asia from the South China Sea north to Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, but course alterations can minimize discomfort unless the ship must call at a disembarkation port, then arrivals may be delayed until the waters calm.

7)  Trans-Tasman Passage

The Trans-Tasman passage between Australia and New Zealand and the Bass Strait between Southeast Australia and the island of Tasmania can kick up a mighty storm, but few small ships venture into these southern waters.

8)  Point Judith

The only time I ever felt I might be seasick was standing at the bow of a small ship rounding Point Judith where Narragansett Bay meets Long Island Sound. The sea becomes confused here due to colliding waters, and by simply moving amidships, the unpleasant sensation eased.

Charles Darwin was seasick more than not during his three-year voyage on the Beagle, but back then there were few remedies, and today they are many. A truism is that everyone reacts differently, so there is no easy answer. Still, for the small percentage that do experience mal de mer, it is no picnic. Get professional advice before you go.

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UnCruise USC Kayaking

Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

By Ted Scull.

Alaska, America’s largest state, is 2.5 times the land area of Texas and 430 times the size of Rhode Island, and unlike all the other states, except Hawaii, its mass is not contiguous to the Lower 48. For many folks, it appears to be two different states — the huge central portion that is most obvious on a map and location for the major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks and Denali National Park, and the longish Alaskan Panhandle that juts southeast along the British Columbia coast. I

t is to the latter that most visitors go for the majestic sights of snowcapped mountains, deep fjords, the multiple moving tongues of ice in Glacier Bay, forests habitats to bears and moose, varied activities such as fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking, visiting native Alaskan communities and walking amongst those tall colorful totems, some recently carved to carry on the tradition.

The big cruise ships depart northbound for the Panhandle from Seattle or Vancouver or southbound to one of those two cities from Seward, a port just south of Anchorage. Many cruises are round trip from Seattle or Vancouver. Steaming time between the Panhandle and any of these three ports is two nights and one day each way. That necessarily limits the number of Alaskan port calls to three or four.

For the small ship fleet featured in QuirkyCruise, nearly all departures are from a prime Panhandle port, usually Juneau, the state’s capital, or Ketchikan. Both cities have direct flights from the Pacific Northwest. Being positioned in Alaska the week is spent entirely in the Panhandle making one of two port calls or landings a day.

These voyages are more expedition-style than the mainstream mega-cruise ships. Some small ships sail the Inside Passage to position themselves in the Panhandle for the summer, with a single voyage up in May and down in September, while most others spend the winter layup in Alaska.

Why Go? 

To experience America’s vast last frontier, a natural wonderland of fjords, mountains, forests, glaciers and wildlife.

The Panhandle’s prime cruising area is relatively small requiring just a few hours of sailing time each day to locate sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals basking on the rocks, watching black bears and moose come down to the water or spotting pods of whales and dolphins in Icy Strait. Getting close up views without putting them in danger is easy for highly maneuverable small ships.

While sailing along narrow fjords beneath steep cliffs you may spot a small herd of mountain goats high above you and ease close enough to waterfalls to feel the spray. At the far end of Misty Fjord come face to face with a calving glacier that gently rocks the ship as a block of ice drops into the sea.

When to Go?

The Alaska cruising season begins in May and tapers off in September. The earlier in the season the more snow that will be present on the lower mountain slopes, but the higher peaks are snow-capped year-round. Newborn wildlife will be clearly evident in the spring and early summer. Whales migrate north to Alaska in late winter and early spring, hence the May to September whale period coincides with the cruise season. There are fewer tourists early and late in the season and many more, including families, from mid-June to August.

The Alaska Panhandle has a maritime climate, which means more clouds and possible rain at any time, but little of the searing heat that visitors may face in Alaska’s interior. Mid-summer has the least amount of rain.

Cruising Alaska Itinerary Options

While most expedition cruises last a week, some are longer and others combine two different non-repeating itineraries to make two weeks. Coming all this way, think about adding a land package that takes in Denali National Park and the Alaska Railroad. The train operates between Anchorage, the state’s largest city, Denali and Fairbanks and is equipped with sightseeing dome cars. Denali, the tallest peak, at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) can be viewed on a clear day from a low base camp altitude that is 1,000 to 3,000 feet, making the mountain’s vertical rise one of the world’s highest. Caribou, moose, Dall Sheep, wolves, and maybe grizzly bears, may be seen in the valley below the park’s access road. Fairbanks is the gateway to sternwheel steamer trips, rafting and a visit to a native Alaskan community above the Arctic Circle and the wilds of the Brooks Range.

Small vs Very Small in Alaska

The ships that we cover may carry as few as a dozen passengers on up to a couple hundred. A group of friends or extended family groups may like chartering their own small yacht with lines like Alaskan Dream Cruises. Those traveling on their own, as singles or as one or two couples, may prefer a larger vessel with more people to meet and a wider variety of activities offered at any one time, yet still small enough to call at isolated ports without the big cruise ship infrastructure that serves thousands.

Alaska Small Ship Port Overview

Many of Alaska’s destinations are not the ports but the majestic fjords, landing at wooded islands for mountain hikes and glaciers, including Glacier Bay that combines several glaciers with abundant wildlife. What follows is a brief description of the main port towns, all but Juneau relatively small, but be warned that some many have more population from the big cruise ships on big boat days than local residents.

  • Ketchikan. Starting from the south end of the Alaskan Panhandle, Ketchikan may be one of the most crowded port call when several massive cruise ships are tied up, and what you see is mostly a shopping mecca. Some small ship operators use this port and for embarkation or disembarkations. While Ketchikan has a lot of mining history and is known as the salmon capital of the world, the most worthwhile sights are the Tlingit village of Saxman, displaying totem poles and the town’s cultural past and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, educating all ages life-like displays of rainforests, salmon streams, and native buildings.
  • Petersburg. A much smaller town, Petersburg has a Norwegian heritage that is kept alive with culinary, musical and dancing events with participants (often children) wearing traditional celebratory Nordic clothing. However, it is the fishing industry that is the lifeblood of the economy and the locals give small-group tours.
  • Juneau. Built up against a mountainside, the state’s relatively isolated capital with no road access to the outside world, offers a couple hundred miles of hiking trails, the large and receding Mendenhall Glacier just out of town, the Mt. Roberts Tram for spectacular views, several museums touting the state’s and immediate area’s cultural and gold-mining history, and plenty of shops to peruse. Juneau is often the start and/or end of the small ship cruises. If you’re hankering for a “flightseeing” floatplane excursion above the glaciers and mountains, Juneau is the place to do it because there’s a better chance of clear weather (they’re offered in Ketchikan too, but it rains a heck of a lot there).
Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tramway. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tram. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

  • Sitka. Its main claim to fame was serving as Russian America’s capital, and a thriving place Sitka was during that period. Then in 1867 the U.S. bought Alaska and the deal took place at Castle Hill, an historic site with remnants of fortifications and Baranof’s Castle was located. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church is the most impressive holdover and an active center for church services. The original 19th century structure burned in 1966, and then rebuilt in pretty much its original style. If open to the public is well worth visiting for its religious artifacts. Just outside town, Sitka National Historical Park displays a collection of totems set in an attractive 100-acre heavily-wooded forest and the Haida and Tlingit peoples’ cultural heritage is on display here.
  • Skagway. The most northerly of the Panhandle towns, tiny Skagway was once the only coastal point to access the land routes to the Klondike region of northwestern Canada’s Yukon Territory — on foot over the Chilkoot Pass and White Pass or via the White Pass and Yukon Route, a narrow-gauge railroad that stretched all the way to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. After gold was discovered in 1898 the railway line became the principal access route to the Klondike. The remaining portion of the line is Skagway’s main attraction for cruise passengers offering a highly scenic mountain and lake ride. The train also serves small groups of hikers. Architecturally, the town retains much of its gold rush atmosphere in spite of the hordes of milling tourists.

Alaska’s Fjords, Straits, Bays & Arms

Icy Strait. Located due west of Juneau and south of the entrance to Glacier Bay, the waterway teems with sea life because of its rich nutrients, orcas and humpback whales that come north in the spring to feed here, and coinciding with the start of the Alaska cruise season. Sport fishing is also a draw, and it is not uncommon to see bears and deer on the nearby shorelines. Small ships have the advantage of being much less of a danger to sea life, while their relaxed schedules permit extended dawdles to perhaps take a position in the very midst of a pod of whales.

Misty Fjord. Designated as a National Monument, a trip along the narrow passages bracketed by sheer cliffs that soar straight up two to three thousand feet, and though unseen, drop down to 1,000 feet below sea level. At the start of the season, the peaks will have a heavy overlay of snow that as it melts creates cascading waterfalls where a close approach can wash the decks. Located in extreme Southeast Alaska in the immense Tongass State Forest, the nearest port is Ketchikan off to the west.

A whale thrusts itself almost completely out of the water.

Tracy Arm.  Along with Endicott Arm, these two 30-mile-long fjords are located 45 miles south of Juneau in Tongass State Forest. Tracy Arm, the better known, is noted for the North and South Sawyer Glaciers that together cover nearly 20 per cent of the surface. In the summer, large and small chunks of ice break off and create a sea of floating ice that the small ships gingerly pass through to reach the face of the glacier and watch it calve. On shore, bears, wolves and harbor seals are often spotted, and if lucky, mountain goats may be staring down at you.

Glacier Bay.  The best known of all Alaska destinations is Glacier Bay, a vast national park with lots of wildlife, fjords and inlets, and no less that nine glaciers, both receding and advancing. The largest receding glacier is also the most famous, Margerie, where small ships stand off of to watch the calving ice collapse into the sea, while the Johns Hopkins Glacier is the longest advancing river of ice.

You can expect to see at least three-quarters of the most common wildlife — humpback whales that enter from Icy Strait, Steller sea lions. harbor seals, sea otters, harbor porpoise, brown and black bears, and if your National Parks guide spots them, mountain goats and moose. Look up to the west when approaching Margerie Glacier and spot the eternally snow-capped Mount Fairweather, at 15,300 feet, taller than any mountain in the Lower 48 states.

Alaska Small Ship Excursions

Generally, small ship Alaska cruises are more active, sporty and hands-on than their larger counterparts. Directly from a small ship, you board a Zodiac accompanied by a naturalist to look for wildlife at close range, or step ashore and take a hike in the temperate rain forest or form a fleet of a dozen kayaks to explore a nearby bay. Excursion options may also include bicycle and rafting tours.

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Small ships spending the afternoon in Glacier Bay, after the big ships leave, often cruise up to multiple tongues of ice, while bald eagles, oyster catchers and blue heron soar above and wildlife comes down to the shore. National Park guides come aboard to supplement the ship’s own naturalist staff.

Flight excursions are super memorable if the weather cooperates. * Photo: Arun Sarna

The small ship fleet may call at towns and villages where big cruise ships cannot to see first-hand what remote native Alaskan island life is like or to experience Norwegian cultural traditions at Petersburg, a charming town where the fishing industry is still paramount and highly lucrative. Fishing trips can be arranged here and at other Panhandle towns.

Your small ship may call at ports where the big ships dock too — such as Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway — though organized activities are kept as separate as they can from the milling hoards.

Ted’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

Sailing into a fjord, one never knows what lies around the corner, and then you see a slim waterfall or maybe two, one cascading down the cliff face and the other in free fall, a glacier at the far end and another narrow passage forking off from the main channel.

The most serene times of day are early morning and at sunset when the ship is at anchor, and the solitude of the Alaskan wilderness can settle in around you. If I am in a kayak, I like resting the oars and taking in the stillness, sights and sounds of nature — a family of ducks serenely gliding along, dolphins cruising by, and startled fish erupting skyward. On clear evenings, stand at the ship’s railing and watch the moon above reflected in the calm waters below. At times like these you don’t want your expedition voyage to end.

Heidi’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

My first small ship cruises more than 20 years ago were to Alaska and they got me hooked. One I took with my father, and I still remember the serenity of walking through Sitka’s National Park, dwarfed by the cedar trees and totem poles, and smitten with the cool fresh air and simple but profound beauty of the pristine forest. Another day in Petersburg, we went on a fishing excursion with just four other passengers, on a trawler operated by an endearing couple who looked like Mr. and Mrs. Clause. They helped us catch crabs and then cooked them up for us right on board to eat in the tiny galley with melted butter and plastic cups of white wine. It may have been dreary and drizzly outside, but we were warm and happy clams that afternoon. Still one of my favorite cruise memories of all time.

Small Ship Lines That Serve Alaska

Abercrombie & Kent
Alaska Dream Cruises
Alaska Marine Highway (regular ferry routes on ships with cabin accommodations)
American Cruise Lines
Lindblad Expeditions
Silversea Expeditions
UnCruise Adventures

These lines range from operating a single ship to a small fleet, with the latter naturally offering many different itineraries and the possibility of returning for a second expedition cruise in another area and with a different thrust.

Read More About Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

Alaskan Dream Cruises Adventure by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Alaska Cruise Adventures with UnCruise by Judi Cohen

Finding My Route to Alaska by Car, Ferry, Trains & Small Ship

Small Ships vs Big Ships in Alaska

Definitely an UnCruise Adventure: Safari Endeavour to Alaska is a Wonderful Small Ship Cruise 

 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

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G Adventures

For more than 30 years, G Adventures has been offering affordable adventure travel around the world including small-ship cruises (about 10-15% of their total annual business) on private yachts, catamarans and oceangoing expedition-style ships, with more recent offerings on riverboats. They also sell travel by rail, road and air. Their MO is providing small groups with authentic cultural experiences, through local guides, cuisine, and transport and uncontrived excursions. The target skews younger — 20s to 50s — than most other travel companies; though any age will be comfortable if they’ve got a young-at-heart attitude and a decent level of fitness.

A trained, local CEO, or Chief Experience Officer, guides all trips and acts as the point person to make sure things run smoothly. (On the G EXPEDITION ship, there are additional expert guides in various disciplines). The emphasis is on active exploring, using bicycles for example, and on supporting local businesses and communities (i.e. through visits to schools and charity-supported restaurants in Cambodia).

To keep rates reasonable on the various sailing trips, meals are not included, instead the skipper collects a modest amount of money from passengers who want to share a simple breakfast and lunch on board (skipper goes grocery shopping for the basics); for dinner, it’s expected that passengers will want to eat dinner in port on the islands (who wouldn’t want to!). A BYOB policy (bring your own booze) is in effect on board most of the Europe-based sailing and river cruises. The line matches same sex passengers to avoid single fares.

With 700 itineraries in more than 90 countries (including the new series of in-depth riverboat tours called National Geographic Journeys), G Adventures excels in offering trips geared to various ages, styles and interests — from families with young children to budget-minded “yolo’s” (the 18- to 39-year-old set).  Adventures is dynamic, cutting-edge, socially minded and hip (cue the great photos and video on their website), and definitely thinks outside of the typical travel company box. Quirky cruise anyone?

The line owns the G EXPEDITION ship for trips to the Arctic and Antarctica, and does full-ship charters for its many other small-ship offerings (hence ships may vary from year to year, and listings below reflect a portion of their current fleet). Consult their 150-page encyclopedia!

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

XAVIER III (built 1996, refurbished 2004; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

MONSERRAT (built 2005, refurbished 2016; 20 passengers) – Galapagos

QUEEN OF THE GALAPAGOS (built 2007; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

YOLITA (built 2007, refurbished 2016; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (built 1990, refurbished 2014; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

REINA SILVIA VOYAGER  (built 2020; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

EDEN  (built 2000, refurbished 2012; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

G EXPEDITION (built 1972, refurbished 2008; 134 passengers) – Arctic/Antarctica, designed to Ice Class 1B specifications

DANIELE (built 2015; 22 passengers) – Burgundy, France

TOUM TIOU II (built 2008; 28 passengers) – Mekong

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

SAILING VESSELS in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia may change from year to year, but those chartered generally carry about 8 to 16 passengers.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passenger Profile

Adventurous couples, singles, and families of all ages (though especially the under 40 set) mostly from North America, and a handful from the UK, Europe and other places. The ocean expedition cruises tend to attract largely couples, average age mid-50s, while the sailing tours draw mostly 30s singles.

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Generally meals are included across the board except on the small sailing yachts. For Galapagos and South America coastal cruises, snorkeling gear is part of the package, while bicycles are carried on French rivers and on the Mekong. On some itineraries guided shore excursions are also included.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Itineraries
  • Galapagos: There are mostly 7, 10 and up to 17-day cruises either round-trip from Baltra or San Cristobal islands, packaged with a 1- or 2-night hotel stay in mainland Quito, Ecuador with the longest more elaborate stays in Ecuador. Itineraries focus mostly on the Central (including Santa Cruz Santiago), Western (Isabela and Fernandina) and Southern (Floreana and Espanola) island groups, to get up close and personal with the amazing wildlife and diverse landscape. (Note: airfare between Quito and the islands is not included in the rates as it often is with other lines).
G Adventures

Estrella Del Mar in the Galapagos. * Photo- © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Europe Rivers: 6-night cruises round-trip from Dijon through France’s Burgundy region visit small villages and wineries, with excursions on foot and by bicycle.
  • India Rivers: 15-night cruises from Patna to Kolkata (Calcutta) on the Ganges River visit ancient temples, ornate palaces and sixth-century rock carvings. South, east and north coast catamaran sailing in Sri Lanka.
  • Southeast Asia Rivers: 7-night cruises (plus 2 hotel nights) on classic-style riverboats between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap go to wet and floating markets, temples (including a sunrise visit to the legendary Angkor Wat on the longer itins), stilt villages, and Vietnam war sites (such as the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace, associated with the Fall of Saigon in 1975).
  • Turkey & Croatia: 9-night super casual catamaran cruises travel between Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and between Bodrum and Fethiye, Turkey.
  • Greek Isles: 7-night super casual yacht cruises sail between Santorini and Mykonos with stops at untouristy offbeat islands in the Cyclades; maybe including Folegandros, Sifnos, Ios, Antiparos, Paros and/or Naxos.
  • Cuba: 6-night super casual catamaran cruises sail round-trip out of Havana and visit points on the Canarreos Archipelago with a focus on snorkeling, swimming and beach-bumming.
  • British Virgin Islands: 6-night catamaran cruises are round-trip from Tortola and hit all the best offbeat swimming, snorkeling and beach sites.
  • Maldives: 6-night cruises aboard a traditional dhoni (a dhow-like fishing boat) spend a week snorkeling and diving in the gorgeous waters of the Maldives islands, and its lagoons and atolls.
  • Thailand: Choose from 6 nighters round-trip from Phuket and 3-night cruises between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Indonesia Interisland catamaran cruising from Bali to nearby islands and Lombok.
Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Amazon River: 7-night cruises on the Amazon depart from Iquitos, Peru; with optional pre- or post land trips to Machu Picchu.
  • Antarctica: 10- to 22-night cruises round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina visit points throughout the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula. Longest cruises add the Falklands and South Georgia..
  • Arctic/Norwegian Fjords: 10- to 14-night cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Longyearbyen, Norway, visit ports along the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard.
  • South America: 4- to 5-week-long cruises along the west coast of South America (Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) are offered as the G EXPEDITION repositions between Antarctica and the Arctic region, with excursions to fjords, glaciers, national parks and rain forests, plus a 3-day overland trip to Machu Picchu.
No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

When to Go?

Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica late October through mid-March; Arctic late May through mid-September, SE Asia July-April, Maldives year-round, Thailand October-April, and Europe April-October.

Cabins

G EXPEDITION (Polar) is G Adventures’ owned ship for polar travel; it has five different cabin categories that range in size and layout. All have private bathrooms with showers, and a porthole or window. The two lowest categories are quads and triples with upper and lower bunk beds. All other categories have two lower beds, except for four larger suites that have a queen bed.

QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS (Galapagos) the most high-end of the company’s five Galapagos ships, has 9 luxury cabins all with windows, private bathroom and air conditioning, TV and DVD players — 7 have queen or twin beds, and 1 is a suite with a sitting area.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

YOLITA’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins have queen or twin beds, large windows, and TVs with DVD players. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

XAVIER III’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins are all double-occupancy with twin beds; 4 on the upper deck cabins with windows, and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All come with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

MONSERRAT’s (Galapagos) 10 cabins comprise 6 double-occupancy upper deck cabins with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All are equipped with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

EDEN (Galapagos) takes 16 passengers and a two wraparound decks to easily access all directions. 4 cabins are twin lowers, a double bed cabin, and  3 twin-share bunk cabins, all with private facilities and A/C.

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (Galapagos) has 8 double-occupancy cabins with bunk beds, 4 on the upper deck with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

DANIELE (France) is a canal barge with 12 lower deck cabins all with windows and private bathrooms, TV, radio, and air-conditioning.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong) has 6 upper deck cabins and 8 lower deck cabins, all with windows and en-suite bathrooms.

AMATISTA (Amazon) has 15 cabins — 7 upper deck and 8 lower deck, all with windows and private bathrooms.

VARUNA (Ganges) has 12 air-conditioned cabins, all with en suite bathrooms.

CATAMARANS/SAILING YACHTS (Cuba, BVIs, Greece, Croatia, Thailand, Maldives), the vessels may vary from year to year, but generally have 4 to 8 double cabins often (but not always) with private bathrooms.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Public Rooms & Dining

All Galapagos vessels and the polar ship G EXPEDITION have an indoor observation lounge for talks by the naturalists, plus a bar, small library, outdoor observation deck with chairs for relaxing, and indoor dining area for casual and relaxed meals. The menus where possible incorporate local ingredients, such as fish.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong River) has a main lounge with a large-screen TV for watching a limited selection of DVDs, a library, bar, and open-air dining area and indoor/outdoor lounges. DANIELE (France) has a lounge with bar, dining area, sun deck with loungers and parasols, and a hot tub.

The small catamarans and yachts in the Caribbean, Europe, Thailand and the Maldives, and the riverboat on the Amazon, all have a combination lounge and dining area indoors, plus outdoor seating for sunbathing and hanging out.

Some vessels have reliable Wi-Fi, including G EXPEDITION, but on many, connectivity is spotty.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Activities & Entertainment

In general, the entertainment is the destination and interaction with fellow passengers, sharing conversation and drinks on deck. Activities happen in port or in the water while snorkeling, diving, kayaking or zipping around in zodiacs or small skiffs. The Galapagos boats carry 2 zodiacs for expeditions and snorkeling equipment for passengers’ use (wet suits are free of charge on QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS and YOLITA only). DANIELE (France) has a hot tub, and it and the Mekong riverboat carry a handful of bicycles.

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

G Adventures, 19 Charlotte Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H5; 416-260-0999. US office: 179 South Street, 1st floor, Boston, MA 0211, 877 390 9050. Additionally in USA & Canada 1-888-8000-4100; UK 0344 272 2060; Australia 1300 853 325; New Zealand 0800 333 415. Consult the website for additional international telephone numbers.

— HMS

 

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UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures

Seattle-based UnCruise operates a fleet of nine expedition vessels taking from 22 to 90 passengers for those seeking adventure cruises in North America’s coastal, island and inland waters from Alaska south to Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, out amongst Hawaiian Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the Galapagos Archipelago off Ecuador.

The American firm, with origins dating back to 1996, has the largest selection of small ship cruises in Alaska, varied enough for return exploratory voyages. UnCruise Adventures is a shared, unrushed experience. For those who like off-season travel, some Alaska itineraries begin in April as the state’s wildlife is waking up, and the spring months are generally drier than later on.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

WILDERNESS ADVENTURER (b. 1984 & 60 passengers); WILDERNESS DISCOVERER (b. 1992 & 76 p); WILDERNESS EXPLORER (b. 1976 & 74 p); SAFARI ENDEAVOUR (b. 1983 & 84 p); SAFARI EXPLORER (b. 1988 & 36 p); SAFARI QUEST (b. 1992 & 22 p) and SAFARI VOYAGER (b. 1982/renovated 2015 & 64 p).

Replica Coastal Steamer: S.S. LEGACY (b. 1983 & 90 p).

For the LA PINTA (b.   & 48 pax), see Galapagos below. The fleet comparison chart  on the website is useful for what features one ship has that another may not such as single cabins and triples.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Passenger Profile

A varied lot spanning the ages who come for itineraries that combine popular and off-beat destinations. Cruises are as informal as they come, and the emphasis is outdoor activities and exploring, with activities designed for children. The Columbia-Snake cruises had always attracted generally older passengers for its specific slants on history, cultural traditions and scenery, though now with a big focus on active adventure, the passengers ages should go down. As all but one of these ships are American-flagged, and the crews hail from the US of A. The SAFARI VOYAGER is registered in St.Kitts.

Passenger Decks

3 or 4 and no elevators except for the S.S. LEGACY, connecting the three public decks.

Price
$$ – $$$

Weeklong cruises are typically upwards of $3,200 per person, and include shore excursions, booze and other perks. Some 7-night itineraries command twice that, while early spring dates (14 nights) may begin below $5,000. Peruse the lot to find the price you can afford.

Included Features

Shore excursions; use of the skiffs, kayaks and paddle boards; and non-alcoholic beverages. Spirits, wines and microbrews and a complimentary massage are included on all ships (though no massages on Safari Quest or SS Legacy).

Itineraries

Most cruises last 7 nights, and some Alaska cruises may be combined to create 14-night trips. Some cruises have special themes: marine biology, photography, storytellers, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine, Alaska Insiders and a wellness cruise. Here’s the link to UnCruise’s theme offerings. 

The numerous cruising regions are:

Alaska

The 49th state is the line’s prime summer focus involving six ships and 13 different itineraries of 7 nights plus one 8-nighter April to September, in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage embarking in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka. Beginning and end of season one-way repositioning 14-night voyages between Seattle and Juneau operate in April, August and September.

The emphasis is on avoiding the big cruise ship ports and offering outdoor boating activities in scenic coves and fjords, sea life watching, and Native American cultural life. Glacier Bay is on some itineraries. Some expeditions offer wet suit immersions.

UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking is a big part of the UnCruise ethos. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Land tours of 4- and 5-night may be added to include Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad, Kenai Fjords National Park, Anchorage, Seward, and Girdwood, a small mountain town near the Chugach Mountains. Activities featured are guided hikes, dogsled rides, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, river floats, and scenic train rides. Included features are hotels, meals, transfers between the vessel, hotels and airports, and baggage handling. Check out the land operator at Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Related: UnCruise in Alaska … by Judi Cohen.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up. * Photo: Ted Scull

Columbia & Snake – OR & WA

From Portland covering almost one thousand round-trip miles along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far inland as Idaho’s Hells Canyon. The 7-night Rivers of Adventure, running September-October, travel between Portland, OR and Clarkston, and includes an expedition team, kayaking, hiking on the Rowena Plateau, whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River and biking along the Columbia Gorge. Paddle boards and skiffs have been added to the activities.

The 7-night Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruises are offered in November 2018 and  September-November 2019 roundtrip from Portland aboard the 90-passenger S.S. LEGACY and showcasing famed Oregon and Washington State vineyards and produce.

Related: Rivers of Adventure on the Columbia & Snake Rivers  …  by John Roberts

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho's Hells Canyon.

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho’s Hells Canyon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

7-night cruises aboard the 84-passenger SAFARI ENDEAVOUR December 2019 to April 2020 and December 2020 to April 2021 leave from San José del Cabo to islands in the Sea of Cortés and coastal towns, along with hikes for viewing wildlife and landscapes, kayaking and snorkeling, and whale watching (January-March) via overland transfer to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Coast.

Swim alongside sea lions and whale sharks in Bahia de la Paz dubbed the “aquarium of the world.” Take a mule ride into the arroyo with local rancheros. Stargazing and bioluminescence in the water at night.

Hawaiian Islands

From Hawaii (Big Island) or Moloka’i and including Maui and Lana’i. 7-night weekly departures July-August and November December 2019 and year-round in 2020 and 2021 aboard the 36-passenger SAFARI EXPLORER, for water sport activities in the world’s largest marine sanctuary, beach relaxation, searching for Great Pacific manta rays and humpback whales, viewing astounding landscapes and seascapes and taking in cultural activities.

Pacific Northwest – San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and Olympic National Park

Roundtrip from Seattle:

7 nights to the Olympic Peninsula’s mountain wilderness and San Juan Islands for attractive port towns, looking for sea life (seals, sea lions, orcas, whales), and enjoying waterborne activities (hiking, birding, kayaking, paddle boarding). Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April-May and September-November 2019 & 2020.

7 nights to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, exploring deep incisive inlets on the B.C. mainland, and wildlife watching. Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April and September to November.

Friday Harbor in Washington's San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when ships leave Seattle.

Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when Un-Cruise ships leave Seattle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Galapagos

7-night Galapagos cruise in the 48-passenger LA PINTA. Departures April-August & October 2012 & 2020. Optional add-ons: pre-cruise 4-night Amazon rainforest cruise in Ecuador or post-cruise 6-night Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco & Guayaquil land extension.

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Costa Rica  & Panama Canal

7 and 10 nights Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Panama with a canal transit and Colombia (one itinerary) and visits to islands and national wildlife parks, hiking, kayaking, paddle boards, skiffs, and snorkeling. Departures: 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER.  November-March.

Why Go?

The majestic nature of Alaska, the Columbia-Snake rivers, and the Hawaiian Islands are best seen from the decks of a small ship; the varieties of wildlife living in Alaska, Sea of Cortés, Galapagos and Central America; and the cultural connections in all the regions shared close up with less than 100 others (and often below 50) rather than amongst multiple thousands in the mega-ship ports.

When to Go?

The cruises are scheduled for the best weather times of the year, and the UnCruise brochure and website outline with easily understood bar charts the prime months for whale watching or enjoying the wild flowers in Mexico, and in Alaska, wildlife sightings and Northern Lights, plus the optimum driest and sunniest periods. For instance, in Alaska, spring means lots of newly-born animals, migrating birds and whales, lots of snow on the mountains, waterfalls at their peak with runoff, and the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis (other than in winter).

Cabins

The Wilderness prefix vessels have all outside, windowed and mostly small cabins with some double, but mostly queen and twin beds located on two or three decks, TV/DVD players, and iPod docking stations. The Safari-named offer queen, twin or king-size beds, TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. Larger cabins have sitting areas and a few cabins come with French doors and step-out balconies.

The ENDEAVOUR adds a refrigerator to these cabins. The S.S. LEGACY has all outside cabins with view windows; queen, double or twin beds; TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. The top two categories add refrigerators, and the 300 sq. ft. Owner’s Suite goes all the way with a separate bedroom and a large lounge with wet bar and media center for entertaining. it’s a wow for a small ship.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Public Rooms

The Wilderness- and Safari-prefixed ships have one forward lounge and a top deck sun lounge or covered area and a hot tub or sauna. S.S. LEGACY adds a second aft-facing bar-lounge.

Safari Voyager's Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Voyager’s Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Dining

All ships have a single open seating, with a window of time at breakfast and set times for the other meals. The food will be well prepared and reflect the cruising region. Lunches tend to be lighter fare—soups, salads and sandwiches. Occasional barbecues are set up on deck in good weather. Spirits, wine and microbrews are now complimentary at lunch and dinner aboard the entire fleet.

Klondike Dining Saloon. * Photo: Ted Scull

S.S. Legacy – Klondike Dining Saloon and aft lounge and embarkation access through the swinging doors. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

All ships carry expedition teams who give (often illustrated) talks, some based on what the bow camera catches and the underwater hydrophone sees and hears. They organize adventures ashore, guided shore walks and rigorous hikes and explain use of the available craft such as kayaks, inflatable skiffs, and paddle boards.

The fleet has stern boarding platforms (now including S.S. LEGACY) with its Sea Dragon landing), and snorkeling is offered in short sessions, even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, using a supplied wet suit. Note: The line’s website features a comprehensive fleet amenities chart showing what’s available on every vessel.

There are a number of theme cruises including photography, marine biology, ornithology and wellness where experts are on board to offer talks and guidance (see UnCruise’s website). All vessels also have fitness equipment, TV and DVD players in the lounge, and small book libraries.

Hiking in Baja California's Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Hiking in Baja California’s Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Special Notes

The UnCruise Adventures’ 148-page brochure is amazingly well-detailed in all aspects of their expedition business.

For adventure trips, UnCruise has a wide variety of price points and a fleet that includes 22- and 36-berth yachts, 60- to 84-berth small coastal-style ships, and a remarkably winsome Victorian atmosphere aboard the one-of-a-kind S.S. LEGACY. Private charters are available for all ships.

Along the Same Lines

Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions.

Related: Small-Ship Cruising with Alaskan Dream Cruises … by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Contact

UnCruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119; US & Canada 888-862-8881; International (00) 800 12639888.

— TWS

 

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