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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of American Cruise Lines

An American-flag coastal and inland river company manned by an all-American crew, the line operates ten vessels (passenger capacities 100-185) offering a high level of comfort while undertaking a varied menu of itineraries along the U.S. East Coast from Florida to New England, the Mississippi River system, Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest, and North to Alaska and cruises within S.E. Alaska.

American Cruise Lines has built all its vessels (except the acquired QUEEN OF THE WEST) in its Chesapeake Bay yard, hence there are many similarities between ships. Sister brand, Pearl Seas Cruises, operates the Pearl Mist on the Great Lakes, Eastern Canada & USA East Coast itineraries.

The fastest growing cruise line under the U.S Flag also offers the largest cabins, many with balconies, and dedicated single cabins and operates along the Mississippi River system, U.S. East Coast, Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

RELATED: Click here for a QuirkyCruise feature article about American Cruise Lines.

Queen of the West. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AMERICAN SPIRIT (2005); AMERICAN STAR (2007); INDEPENDENCE (2010); QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI (2012); AMERICAN EAGLE (2015); AMERICA; and acquired ship QUEEN OF THE WEST (1994). Note: QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI became  AMERICAN PRIDE and repositioned to the Pacific Northwest in spring 2016.

Note: A new and larger coastal ship, AMERICAN CONSTELLATION, arrived in spring May 2017 with 350-square-foot cabins for 175 passengers and Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring off the ship  in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. A sister, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION (175p) followed in 2018 to cruise the U.S. East Coast.

Also in 2018, a new style of riverboat appeared, more akin to the European models, rather than Mississippi sternwheelers. Four decks high, they will take less than 200 passengers who will occupy roomy cabins with hotel-size baths and larger and deeper balconies. A bow ramp will give access to more landings and obviate the need to build expensive docking facilities.

This new fleet is being built at the company-owned Chesapeake Shipbuilding. AMERICAN SONG (184 passengers) went into service in the second half of 2018, AMERICAN HARMONY (190 passengers) followed in August 2019, and sister AMERICAN JAZZ in summer 2020. These last two riverboats have six decks, and the JAZZ features wraparound balconies with the Grand Suites.

American Cruise Lines Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, 55 and up, and a high rate of repeaters. Some British, mostly in groups, and a few Australians.

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100 Queen of the Mississippi. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Passenger Decks

4 – 6. Elevators connect all decks, except not highest deck on American Constellation/Constitution

Ships Built Year Built Passengers Passenger Decks Cabins With Verandahs Singles
America 2016 185 5 99 96 14
American Constellation 2017 175 6 89 78 5
American Constitution 2018 175 6  90  78  6
American Harmony 2019 190 6 98 98 9
American Jazz 2020 196 6 99 99 8
American Song 2018 184 5 94 94 7
American Star 2007 100 4 47 27 2
American Spirit 2005 100 4 47 26 2
Independence 2010 100 4 51 40 6
American Pride 2012 150 5 78 66 12
Queen of the Mississippi 2015 149 5 78 72 19
Queen of the West 1994 100 4 70 41 13

 

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

What’s Included

Beer and wine at lunch & dinner, and a nightly pre-dinner cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres; Internet; shore excursions are an extra charge, except in Alaska. Many itineraries will begin with an included hotel stay; check the specific itinerary.

American Cruise Lines Itineraries

Many cruises last 7 nights/8 days and some up to 14 nights/15 days.

  • East Coast: 8 days up the Hudson River Valley from New York in the fall foliage season; 11 days Chesapeake Bay, Eastern & Western Shores between Baltimore and Norfolk; 8 days Historic South & Islands between Charleston and Jacksonville; 8 days Great Florida Rivers from Jacksonville/Amelia Island; 11 days Grand New England from Boston as far south as Newport RI and north to Bar Harbor, ME. 8 days New England Islands from Providence, RI; and 8 days Maine Coast from Portland, ME. One-way East Coast itineraries: 8 days Baltimore and Charleston, SC; 8 days Charleston, SC and Jacksonville; and the granddaddy of them all 15 days Baltimore and Jacksonville.
Jared Coffin House, named after a prominent Nantucket ship owner was built in 1845. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, named after a prominent Nantucket ship owner was built in 1845. * Photo: Ted Scull

  • Midwestern Rivers: Mississippi (Upper & Lower), Ohio and Cumberland rivers from 5, 8 to 11 days. The complete Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Paul is the longest at 15 or 22 days.
  • Pacific Northwest & Alaska: 5 and 8 days along on the Columbia and Snake Rivers; 8 & 11 days for the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands; 15 days along Alaska’s Inside Passage between Seattle & Juneau; and 8 and 11 days in Southeast Alaska.
  • Some cruises offer special themes such as the Civil War, Lewis & Clark, Mark Twain, Nashville country & blues, Columbia Valley wines. Walking tours from the ship are a common offering in many East Coast ports, while buses are used at others and jet-boats ride the Snake River rapids. Two sternwheelers are now positioned here. Most cruises are 7 nights/8 days while a few are 5 and 10, operating from early April to early November.
American Cruise Lines

American Song, with its European-style profile, entered in 2018. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Why Go?

East Coast America begs to be seen from a small ship whether it’s exploring Maine’s indented shore line, lovely New England islands, the beauty of the Hudson River in autumn, land of pleasant living in the Chesapeake Bay, charms of the Deep South, and the Intracoastal Waterway that ties it all together.

The mighty Mississippi and its tributaries take you to America’s heartland of small towns and large river cities. A passage up the Columbia and Snake rivers offer more variety of landscapes and shore-side attractions than any stretch of river in North America. Cruise the Inside Passage up the British Columbia coast to Alaskan wonders and for an indelible slice of American history and wonderment.

When to Go?

The itineraries are scheduled for the best times of the year in most regions. However, the Mississippi and Columbia/Snake river valleys can be beastly hot in the summer months.

Cabins

There is no question that the cabins are amongst the largest in the small ship fleets with the vast majority 200 square feet and larger, and expanding up to 600 sq. ft. on the brand-new AMERICAN EAGLE. Amenities on all vessels include windows that slide open, many cabins with narrow balconies furnished with two chairs and a small table, good-size bathroom, free Wi-Fi, satellite TV and DVD player, writing desk, roomy closet and drawer storage.

All ships have dedicated single cabins, from just 2 to 19. Additionally, tw0 ships, AMERICA and AMERICAN PRIDE offer in-cabin coffee machines and internal phone for ordering room service, including a balcony breakfast, ideal for those who are not particularly chatty in the morning.

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Public Rooms

The fleet shares similar layouts with the main observation lounge furnished with comfy upholstered living room-style armchairs and settees. Additionally, there are a couple of cozy mid-ship lounges (doubling occasionally as embarkation accesses) and a library.

The single dining room is invariably on the lowest deck and aft over the engines, which depending on the speed of the ship may generate some noise. The highest deck offers shelter and open lounge and deck chair seating.

Forward observation lounge aboard the Independence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Forward observation lounge aboard the Independence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

The entire fleet can accommodate all passengers at one seating, mostly at communal tables of four to eight. Tables for two are not normally part of the lively social scene. Breakfast offers a window of time for getting your day started, while lunch and dinner are at set times, occasionally depending on the port schedules.

The food is very good American fare with high quality ingredients and special regional offerings such as steamed lobster, and lobster included in many dishes in New England, plus Chesapeake blue crabs, Georgia shrimp, Florida oysters, Iowa pork chops, Wisconsin artisan cheeses, and fresh salmon and sturgeon in the Northwest. Fresh produce is often bought locally, and the food preparation is uniformly very good to excellent.

Passengers choose their lunch and dinner options at breakfast to give the galley a rough idea of what to prepare. Changing one’s mind later is no problem. The young American college and post-college-age staff (sometimes seen as temporary grandchildren to some passengers) provides friendly and efficient, if not always polished service. Dress is always casual.

American Pride - Paddlewheel Lounge.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride – Paddlewheel Lounge.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Activities & Entertainment

An historian, naturalist or scientist accompanies all cruises with special interest speakers in some ports. Entertainers and musicians also come on in some ports.

Special Notes

All ships have a small number of dedicated single cabins. Suggested tipping is high at $120 per person for a week’s cruise.

Along the Same Lines

Pearl Seas Cruises (sister company); Blount Small Ship Adventures (on U.S. East Coast and at a lower cost); American Queen Steamboat Company on the Mississippi River system and the Columbia/Snake rivers.

American Cruise Lines Contact Info

American Cruise Lines, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 200, Guilford, CT 06437; Americancruiselines.com; 800-814-6880.

TWS

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American Queen Steamboat

American Queen Steamboat Company

The steamboat era was an exciting period of American history and happily modern day travelers can experience the old-time thrill, watching their sternwheeler ease up to the landing to then take them on a river adventure along the Mississippi and its tributaries, the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, and Illinois or in the Pacific Northwest along the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Many stretches are notably scenic; there are locks to navigate; life in small-town America to discover; and with the locals coming down to the landing to welcome you. Embarkation and disembarkation cities provide an opportunity to linger a day or two. The company began with two boats and will soon have four, plus the addition of two more operating  under Victory Cruise Lines.

Return to cruising note: AMERICAN EMPRESS cruises along the Columbia and Snake rivers are suspended through August 2, 2002 and will begin cruising after that. AMERICAN DUCHESS will make a first cruise on the Lower Mississippi  August 17-23, 2020. AMERICAN COUNTESS and AMERICAN QUEEN will end their suspensions on August 8, 2020 when both return to Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee river cruises.

American Queen SB Co. have taken on the identical 202-passenger coastal ships VICTORY I and VICTORY II from Victory Cruise Lines and will operate the line as a separate brand using the same name. Details of initial itineraries along the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes can be found under Victory Cruise Lines.

RELATED: AQSC Acquires Victory Cruise Lines.  by Anne Kalosh

The AMERICAN QUEEN* is simply the best replica steamboat that money could buy, and the AMERICAN EMPRESS is not far behind. In late summer 2017,  the AMERICAN DUCHESS made its debut on the Mississippi offering some of the largest accommodations on the American rivers. (*While the AQ carries over 300 passengers, we consider her an exceptional exception so she deserves to join her smaller capacity fleet mates.). The firm is also rebuilding another boat, the 245-passenger AMERICAN COUNTESS, to expand the number of itineraries when she debuts in April 2020 (this will be postponed due to the coronavirus situation) with a first cruise from Louisville, Kentucky to Pittsburgh, PA. In an entirely different project, there are reports of operating an expedition ship for the Arctic region in 2021. More details will be forthcoming.

RELATED: Click here: Ted interviews traveler Bill Forsstrom about his many American Queen cruises,

American Queen * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AMERICAN QUEEN (built 1996 & 414 passengers) and under present owners from 2012; AMERICAN EMPRESS (b. 2003 as the Empress of the North & 223 p) and under present owners from 2014; AMERICAN DUCHESS (rebuilt 2016-17 from a 1995 Mississippi River casino boat, with a third deck added & 166 passengers).

Passenger Profile

While the AMERICAN QUEEN exceeds QuirkyCruise’s passenger limit, for us she is an Exceptional Exception sailing alongside her two running mates. Expect mostly Americans 60 and up who set out to discover their own country in a thoroughly relaxed setting, to enjoy the camaraderie of others, and discover American music, history, food and local attractions. Some passengers collect as many new navigable stretches of river as are offered. Most children will find the pace too slow, and with no activities designed for them, there will be few, if any, aboard.

Passenger Decks

AMERICAN QUEEN 6 (two elevators serving all but Sun Deck); AMERICAN EMPRESS 4 (two elevators serving all decks); AMERICAN DUCHESS 3 (one elevator serving all decks); AMERICAN COUNTESS 4 (elevator connects three decks but not the topmost).

Price

$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

While the price is high, there are a significant number of complimentary features to soften the blow, such as shore excursions in every port (premium tours are available at an extra cost); a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay with breakfast and a transfer to the steamboat; beer and wine at dinner; coffees, teas, soft drinks and bottled water throughout the day. Free bicycles and helmets are available on all four boats.

Locals come down to the river to watch the steamboat activity. * Photo: Ted Scull

Locals come down to the river to watch the steamboat activity. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

American Queen Steamboat Company’s AMERICAN QUEEN, AMERICAN DUCHESS & AMERICAN COUNTESS steam along three distinct stretches of Midwestern rivers, between them year-round. N.B. AQ rest & refit Jan.-mid-Feb. AD rest & refit mid-Feb.-mid-Mar. All cruises offer a pre-cruise hotel stay. Certain departures will emphasize the Civil War and others American Music and be accompanied by special guest lectures and musicians. A third new theme for 2020 will be center on the American BBQ tradition with three masters competing for top billing by the passengers.

  • The Lower Mississippi (New Orleans-Memphis) featuring the Old South and Memphis-St. Louis; New Orleans and its great music, restaurants, Creole and Cajun culture; Ante-bellum plantations; Civil War history; Memphis and its music traditions and National Civil Rights Museum; plus watching considerable waterway commerce on the move. All are 9 days with shorter 5-day round trips operating from New Orleans December to February.
  • The Upper Mississippi (Alton near St. Louis-Red Wing near St. Paul) characterized by rolling hills and high bluffs; locking operations to navigate Ole Man River; riverside towns that blossomed during the steamboat era; dynamism of the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and the brilliant autumn color. 9-day itineraries July-September.
  • Three full-length cruises operate between New Orleans and Red Wing, Minnesota (located just below Minneapolis/St. Paul) in Jul and August 2019 – 16 and 23* days downriver, one 23 days upriver. *begins St. Paul.
  • The Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers reveal stretches of wilderness; Civil War battlefields; small town and big city America; Nashville’s country music and the Grand Ole Opry. With a wide selection of 9-day itineraries throughout the year, embarkations and disembarkations may be in Chattanooga, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Pittsburgh and St. Louis (Alton).
  • The AMERICAN DUCHESS is nimble enough to cruise the Illinois River from Ottawa, located just west of Chicago to St. Louis and Red Wing (near Minneapolis). Collectors of rivers will go for this one. (9 days in August).

AMERICAN EMPRESS operates nine-day itineraries between Vancouver, Washington (near Portland Oregon) and Clarkston, Washington, a town along the Columbia and Snake rivers near the border with Idaho. Early season (March) and late season (November) 9-day cruises are round trips from Vancouver sailing upriver just beyond the upstream end of the Columbia River Gorge. Between mid-March and late November, passengers enjoy each other’s company, and come to learn about Pacific Northwest history, wildlife, ecology and natural beauty.

The 450 river miles between the Pacific Ocean breakers at the mouth of the Columbia and the Snake’s white water rapids in Hells Canyon pack in more varied landscapes, natural and man-made wonders and destination choices than any water journey in the Americas. Explorers Meriweather Lewis and William Clark came this way, setting out in 1803 and arriving here in 1805, with 2016 marking the 211 th anniversary of a young America’s pioneering expedition arrival in these parts. During their trek, they recorded plant, bird and animal life and established relations with Native Americans, one of whom became their all-important guide — Sacagawea.

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

To celebrate Americana: its history, glorious and varied scenery, river lore, music, food, small town and big cities, all in a thoroughly relaxed fashion aboard a steamboat. The glue that binds are the amazing river routes and the welcome one receives when people stop to watch the boat paddle by or view it passing through one of the lock chambers. Locals are on hand to greet the boat when she arrives at the town landing and wave farewell with the festive departure accompanied by the steam calliope playing a jolly riverlore tune or two.

When to Go?

AMERICAN QUEEN, AMERICAN DUCHESS & AMERICAN COUNTESS: Lower Mississippi from mid-February to New Year’s; Upper Mississippi (including Illinois River in summer) from summer into fall; Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers from summer into fall. Theme cruises may draw some to specific sailings such as music of the Big Band Swing, Blues, and 50s and 60s eras; Gardens of the River; Remembering Elvis Presley; Civil War history with lectures aboard and battlefield excursions on land; fall colors; and holidays aboard coinciding with Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year.

With the climate varying widely from maritime weather along the Pacific Coast to thick forests leading to the Columbia Gorge and semi-arid landscapes upriver, the temperatures and humidity will vary during the course of the cruise and in different seasons. Summer, however, can be searingly hot along the Snake River and in Hells Canyon.

The three steamboats will be described separately and the AMERICAN COUNTESS due June 2020 will follow soon..

AMERICAN QUEEN

Cabins

The majority of the 221 staterooms are most attractively decorated with polished wood floors and colorful Victorian patterns on the furniture, fabrics and wallpaper; beds can be arranged as twins or a queen.

A stateroom aboard the AMERICAN QUEEN with a reminder of her predecessor DELTA QUEEN seen in the painting above the bed. * Photo: Ted Scull

A stateroom aboard the American Queen with a reminder of her predecessor Delta Queen seen in the painting above the bed. * Photo: Ted Scull

Staterooms range from 22 airy suites with verandas boasting about 500 square feet of space down to eight minuscule insides of just 80 square feet. Overall, the majority would be considered small by oceangoing cruise standards, from 130 square feet for the inside cabins to 190 square feet for the deluxe outside staterooms with verandas, plus 25 superior outside staterooms located on the top deck at 230 square feet with verandas.

While the cruise line loosely uses the term veranda, in most cases the double cabin doors open out onto a shared promenade with your neighbor, matching the style of the old steamboats. Small ship socializing is a natural result. However, the superior outside staterooms with truly private verandas — the AA category units on Texas Deck — offer balconies akin to oceangoing cruises. Cabins have two outside-the-door plastic-mesh chairs and a small table for drinks, reading and sightseeing.

Stowage space is adequate for a casual cruise and luggage fits neatly under the beds. Cabins come with safes, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers and flat-screen TV’s with a good number of basic cable options. The boat’s free Wi-Fi reception varies in speed, and it helps to keep the cabin door ajar, or go the Mark Twain Gallery, equipped with electrical outlets and tables for laptops.

Bathrooms are black and-white-tiled with showers and tubs or walk-in showers, a large mirror and multilevel toiletry stand, plus generous tubes of American Queen-branded lotion, soap and shampoo. Cabin sound-proofing is good. ADA-accessible cabins are available in all categories except for singles that are both outside at 140 sq. ft. and inside and tiny at about 80 sq. ft., but still a blessing for those traveling solo.

Public Rooms

The principal lounges and bars are located on the two lowest decks with additional spaces found higher up both fore and aft. The rich interior design is High Victorian, evoking opulence with lavish details. A generous budget from the original owners produced fine antiques, high-quality replica furnishings and decorative features. The overall effect is a “Wow” as you step aboard and climb the forward staircase to enter the Cabin Deck public rooms. The Grand Saloon traces its origins to Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. and features several boxes on the mezzanine level.

Promenades encircle three decks and ample outdoor lounge areas, both covered and open to the sky, allowing relaxed river viewing, with the best location all the way forward in a rocking chair on Texas Deck known as the Front Porch of America.

Dining

By far the most dramatic space is the J.M. White Dining Room, modeled after the dramatic space found on an 1878-built vessel of the same name. The soaring interior, bathed in natural light streaming in through the tall side windows, is bracketed by large mirrors hung at one end and a pair of handsome tapestries at the other. Tables (reserved) for two are placed by the windows, most with unobstructed river views.

Dinner sittings are 5:15 and 7:45pm. The rest are square tables for four and round tables for six, with a few for eight. Signature dishes include Veal Marsala, Red Snapper and Shrimp Creole, while the Mississippi region menu features Smothered Crawfish and Grits and Mississippi Mud Pie. Both breakfast and lunch offer selections from the menu as well as a buffet.

The grand scale of the J.M.White dining room harks back to 19th century American steamboats. * Photo: Ted Scull

The grand scale of the J.M. White dining room harks back to 19th century American steamboats. * Photo: Ted Scull

Breakfast offers a generous buffet with a waffle station and a menu that includes southern menu specialties such as Andouille (sausage) hash with corn cakes and eggs. Lunch is from a menu or the buffet and dinner is always from a menu. The sumptuous Jazz Buffet is a real treat.

The five-course dinner seatings are 5:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., while breakfast and lunch are open seating. Dinner menu items I liked were mock turtle soup, fried green tomatoes with blue crab and corn meal, shrimp Creole with tomatoes and peppers over Jasmine rice, lobster stuffed with crabmeat, and lamb chops with tomato-mint marmalade. Complimentary red and white wines and selected beers are served at dinner, and soft drinks are gratis throughout the day.

Alternative continental breakfast and a light lunch with salads, a carvery, poboys, and grilled hot dogs are served in the Front Porch Café, an indoor setting, with additional outside and under cover tables positioned to look forward over the bow. Soft drinks, coffee and tea, soft ice cream and fresh popcorn are available all day long. An Alfresco dinner is also served here, a lovely place to dine outside yet under cover, on a warm evening. The accompanying buffet serves side dishes, salads and a freshly baked crème caramel or pecan pie; do expect a few pounds added. As in the dining room, selected wine and beer are included. Dress is casual at all times, though many freshen up a bit for dinner in the elegant dining room. Cabin service is also available.

Activities & Entertainment

The opulent two-level Grand Saloon acts as the main entertainment venue that may include a Glenn Miller Orchestra, singers, Rat Pack and Elvis imitators, dancing sessions with the chairs removed, and the riverlorian’s daily enrichment talks on river history and famous personalities. A small theater shows full-length films twice a day. The Engine Room bar winds up the atmosphere with live music after dinner, and the Captain’s Bar adjacent to the Main Deck Lounge features a pianist and often a singer.

The AMERICAN QUEEN'S theater is modeled on a small-town opera house. * Photo: Ted Scull

The American Queen’s theater is modeled on a small-town opera house. * Photo: Ted Scull

The riverlorian also hangs out in the Chart Room to describe the river scenes, interpret the navigation charts and share reference books. At night, he or she may be out on deck pointing out the lighted navigational markers.

Puzzles, board games and cards are stored in the Mark Twain Gallery with tables provided to spread them out. Kite flying, an old tradition on steamboats, takes place on the Sun Deck when there are no low bridges ahead, and is also the location for a small pool and gym.

Pilothouse tours take place when the boat is tied up, and the engine room is nearly always open for viewing the paddle wheel mechanisms and to have a chat with one of the engineers. It is reached through the Engine Room Bar.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s itineraries include a river port every day, sometimes tying up for the morning or afternoon and occasionally all day. An included shore excursion program provides convenient hop on, hop off company-owned steamcoaches decorated to resemble a steamboat and plying a fixed route with numbered stops. One might first make the complete narrated circuit, lasting roughly 20 to 40 minutes, then begin over again and step off where it appeals, often with included admission to the cultural sites.

Many river ports are compact towns, and in most cases, one can return to the steamboat on foot. In addition, a program of premium choice tours are available for an extra charge that go further afield to the front lines of the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, a Kentucky Derby tour to the museum at Churchill Downs, and General Ulysses S. Grant’s home and town tour of Galena, Illinois.

American Duchess is a consort to the American Queen. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Company

AMERICAN DUCHESS

The AMERICAN DUCHESS entered service in late summer 2017 on the Mississippi River system and inaugurating cruises along the Illinois River approaching Chicago. 166 passengers will occupy cabins ranging from 180 sq. ft. to 550 sq. ft. All cabins, except interior rooms, have verandas, and five face aft. 3 owner’s and four loft suites measure 550 sq. ft. Unique are the two-level loft suites with lounge, dining area, queen sofa bed and private bathroom on one level, and above, a loft creates space for a bedroom and private facilities.

Dining is at one sitting in the Grand Dining Room with The Grill Room an 80-seat alternative one deck above and facing aft. The lobby, bar and the auditorium share the high-ceiling Main Deck with the main dining area. There is a small fitness center. Deck space appears to be at a premium. The entertainment, activities, dining and shore programs will be similar to the AMERICAN QUEEN. For interior photos of the cabins and public spaces, please see Feature Articles via the home page.

AMERICAN EMPRESS at rest on the Columbia-Snake. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

American Empress at rest on the Columbia-Snake. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

AMERICAN EMPRESS

Cabins

All accommodations are outside and arranged over four decks, and apart from the windowed cabins on the lowest Explorer Deck, all offer verandas furnished with a couple of chairs and a table. Vista View Deck’s semi-private verandas open onto the side promenade creating a neighborly atmosphere with those living next door and others passing by while doing their constitutionals. Impromptu chats often break out. A pair of Luxury Suites (410 sq. ft.) has two separate rooms, while the Suites with Veranda (310 sq. ft.) are really one room with a larger sitting area than lower categories (150-250 sq. ft.). Décor is Victorian with period furniture and artwork reflecting the region, the subjects being exploration, steamboats, and Native Americans. Bathrooms are rather plain by comparison. Cabins have a flat-screen TV, small fridge, coffee maker and safe.

Public Rooms

The Show Lounge is forward with moveable chairs clustered around tables and a stage. A second more intimate room is located one deck above and all the way aft looking out at the thrashing sternwheel, a bit of mesmerizing sight. Light musical entertainment takes place here.

Show Lounge - AMERICAN EMPRESS. * Photo: AQSB Co

Show Lounge – American Empress. * Photo: AQSB Co

Dining

Passengers have the choice of two locations — the Astoria Dining Room on Explorer Deck or more informally high up at the River Grill on Vista View Deck. Seating is open in the main dining room with a window of arrival times for all three meals, sometimes adjusted a bit depending on the shore program. Meals are served at tables of from two to eight seats. The River Grill is mostly sheltered from the elements, but as it faces an open deck, heat lamps will warm the space in chilly weather, so unless it is really cold outside, don’t miss a chance to eat here. Reservations are required for dinner as seating is limited to about 25 per cent of the ship’s passenger capacity. Breakfast and lunch are come-when-you-wish, so early risers will be happy to have a cozy place to start their day. The food is very good, and many ingredients are locally sourced such as Pacific Northwest shellfish, fish, and fresh produce. The Columbia River Valley is major wine country. Local beers and a variety of wines, some local, are complimentary at dinnertime.

Activities & Entertainment

Lectures on board about the formation of the Columbia Gorge, history of the early 19th-century Lewis & Clark expedition, Native American culture, and the wine industry take place in the show lounge while the sternwheeler is under way.

Steamcoaches follow the boat and provide circular sightseeing routes to access the fish ladders that allow the salmon to get past the dams; to stand below cascading Multnomah Falls; and to get a feel of what the Lewis & Clark expedition might have experienced at Fort Clatsop during one wet winter. Premium tours at an extra cost take one further afield at Astoria located at the mouth of the Columbia, for a jet boat ride deep into Hells Canyon with a stop at the Nature Conservancy’s Garden Creek Ranch, and a drive up Mt. St.Helens, a now quiet volcano that erupted with considerable force in 1980 and devastated the surrounding countryside.

AMERICAN COUNTESS

The fourth sternwheeler, with 123 staterooms, is being rebuilt and enlarged by 60 feet from an existing platform. AMERICAN COUNTESS will offer four decks with the cabin accommodations on two (about one-third are insides). Her public spaces will include a grand dining room, a River Grill, theater, chart room, library and card room. Two elevators will link three decks, but not the highest deck. The first cruise is scheduled for April 2020.

American Queen Steamboat Company

AMERICAN COUNTESS. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Special Notes

All four vessels are sternwheelers and their layouts vary widely. Some of the hotels used are classics: Peabody in Memphis; Brown in Louisville; Roosevelt in New Orleans; and Union Station in St. Louis.

Along the Same Lines

American Cruise Lines also operate sternwheelers (mostly for show rather than propulsion) and European-style riverboats on the Mississippi and sternwheelers along the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

Contact Info

American Queen Steamboat Company; 222 Pearl Street, New Albany, IN 47150;  www.AQSC.com; 888-749-5280.

 

— TWS

 

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Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises is a newish (2014) subsidiary of the firm that owns American Cruise Lines with its large and ever-growing fleet of coastal and river ships. Its one ship, the 210-passenger PEARL MIST, shares many of the characteristics of the U.S. flag fleet yet it is an ocean-going vessel, registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely non-American crew.

With this new ship, the firm’s cruise itineraries have expanded to New England, Eastern Seaboard, Eastern Canada, and the Great Lakes. Circumnavigations of Cuba were cancelled due to US government orders. Costa Rica and Panama, including canal transit, now cover the winter months. The ship is stabilized.

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

PEARL MIST (built 2014 & 210 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans and some Canadians, largely 50+ and many will be loyal American Cruise Lines’ passengers. Unlike the US-flag ACL, this ship is registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely foreign national crew.

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all cabin decks.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

Internet/WiFi; a daily cocktail hour before dinner, wine with lunch and dinner, open bar with hors d’oeuvres in the evening. Suggested tipping is high at $125 for a seven-day cruise or $18 a day.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

➢For spring 2020, the PEARL MIST will makes its way up the Eastern Seaboard on a 10-day itinerary embarking at Charleston, then calling at Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newport, Portland, Bar Harbor and Halifax.

➢After that the ship heads to the St. Lawrence River and Seaway with port calls such as in the Saguenay Fjord, Quebec Montreal and Toronto and into the Great Lakes.

➢May and September, 11 and 15-day cruises sees the ship operating between Portland, Maine and Toronto calling at Canadian Maritimes ports, plying the St. Lawrence River (Quebec City & Montreal), St. Lawrence Seaway and into Lake Ontario for Toronto. Additional 7-day spring and fall cruises from Portland visit three ports in Maine and three ports in New Brunswick.

➢11-day cruises, June to September, sail between Toronto and Chicago passing through four Great Lakes and Georgian Bay and stopping at Mackinac Island and Sault Ste. Marie, and shorter 7-day itineraries operate in August between Toronto and Chicago.

Pearl Seas Cruises

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

➢Leaving the Great Lakes in September, the ship takes advantage of the fall foliage season in Canadian Maritimes and New England with 10- and 14-day trips between Quebec City and Boston.

➢ In October, at the end of the Canada season, the ship heads south along the Eastern Seaboard (a reverse of the northbound itinerary; see  above).

Note: The PEARL MIST will then make its way to a series of weekly 7-night cruises operating between December 1, 2020 and February 2, 2021 that feature the Panama Canal. Alternate cruises will begin in Cartagena, a port in Colombia and once the capital of the Spanish Empire in America, then proceed to visit the Kuna people in the San Blas Islands and pause at Colon at the entrance to the Panama Canal. The passage includes several sets of locks, often filled with impressive container ships. a crossing of Gatun Lake and lovely tropical landscape either side. Once in the Pacific Ocean, there is a day call in at the beautiful Las Perlas Archipelago before returning to Balboa for a final visit to nearby Panama City, a modern metropolis peppered with French and Spanish colonial architecture. The cruise ends here, and the next one embarks for the itinerary in reverse.

 

Pearl Seas Cruises adds Panama Canal

Panama Canal. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Why Go?

PEARL MIST is a small ship with just 210 passengers, roomy within, and one of the few lines that covers the Great Lakes, plus the St. Lawrence River, Canadian Maritime Provinces, New England and the East Coast. New for the winter months, Costa Rica and Panama with a canal transit, a pioneering possibility.

When to Go?

As the ship moves around according to the seasons, the when to go is already obvious. One point to keep in mind is that fall foliage in Canada occurs about a month ahead of New England.

Cabins

All are outside with sliding glass doors leading to a balcony with table and two chairs, and some additionally also have large picture windows. They are arranged over four decks and divided into five categories. 12 are set aside as singles. Oddly, cabin 302 is alone in having no balcony. Amenities include flat-screen TV, DVD player, and complimentary WiFi. Connection speed will vary widely by location. Be patient and remember it’s free.

Public Rooms

Two lounges are located forward. The Pacific Lounge has good views over the bow and to either side while the Atlantic Lounge, two decks below, has views to port and starboard. Additional small lounges are located on the next to lowest (2nd) deck and the Library Lounge on the 4th deck. The highest (6th deck) offers both covered and open seating.

Dining

The dining room, located aft on the main (lowest) deck, seats all at one open seating. Meals receive high marks and cater to North American tastes. Wine is included at lunch and dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

Exercise equipment resides outside on the 5th or Sun Deck. One or two lecturers travel with the ship to prepare passengers for what’s ashore. Mostly musical entertainment comes aboard in some ports.

Special Notes

While the ship has much in common with some of the larger vessels in the American Cruise Lines fleet, a sister company, the crew here is international. Many passengers will come over from ACL, hence a largely North American passenger list.

Along the Same Lines

Victory Cruise Lines operates similar itineraries on the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence River, and in the Canadian maritime provinces.

Contact

Pearl Seas Cruises, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 250, Guilford, CT 06437. 1-888-882-1595. PearlSeasCruises.com

 

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Pitcairn Islands

Pitcairn Island Silver Supporter

With its official status as a British Overseas Territory, the UK government subsidies a regular shipping service on specific Tuesdays from the port of Mangareva, French Polynesia, (connecting with Air Tahiti flights from Papeete, Tahiti) to Pitcairn Island. The Gibraltar-registered cargo-passenger ship SILVER SUPPORTER carries 12 passengers in snug double cabins with portholes.

The passage takes two nights and a day (about 32 hours), and disembarkation at Pitcairn Island is into a long boat. Arriving at the Botany Bay landing, it is then a steep cliff by twisting road up to Adamstown where houses dot the wooded hillside.

Until very recently, I had noooo idea that remote — and I mean beyond-anyone’s-horizon remote — Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, the home of the descendants of the HMS Bounty’s mutiny, could be accessed by a scheduled passenger-carrying ship.

Remote Pitcairn Island

The gorgeous remote Pitcairn Island. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

The volcanic island’s rugged tropical beauty is home to a population that numbers just 50. Measuring just two miles (3.2 km) by one mile (1.6 km), the island is the centerpiece to the world’s largest marine reserve. Its clear waters are home to species that have yet to be all identified.

Note: The new supply ship, Silver Supporter, replaced the Claymore II in 2019. Go straight to the island website for more info.

Now you know how far away you are. * Photo: Pitcairn Island Tourism

Now you know how far away you are. * Photo: Pitcairn Island Tourism

Ship & Year Delivered

SILVER SUPPORTER (built 1998 & 12 passengers in cabins) had a previous career as a Norwegian supply ship and was converted into a passenger-carrying cargo ship with the completion in February 2019. The ship is 1,109 GT and sails at 10 knots.

Pitcairn Islands

Silver Supporter carries 12 passengers and a crew of five. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Passenger Decks

There are three decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

SILVER SUPPORTER carries local islanders leaving and returning home, service providers, and well-heeled adventurers who wish to visit one of the most remote places on earth. The ship’s five-member crew hails from New Zealand.

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Itineraries

The ship sails from Mangareva to Pitcairn on Tuesdays from one to four times a month, so an island stopover needs to be timed for the return voyage. The length of the stopovers would be four, 11 or 18 days. If “Supply Ship” appears in the schedule, that is available only to Pitcairn Island residents and families who receive special rates.

Additional visitors arrive at Pitcairn by private yacht and aboard the occasional cruise ship.

Staying Ashore on Pitcairn

The time on the island, while the ship is anchored and handling the cargo, can be four days or if staying over and taking the next return voyage, then 11 days. Daily home-stay accommodations range from USD $70 to $150 and include three meals.

Payment is in cash in USD (there are ATM machines and currency exchange at the Government Treasury Office).

There are 12 registered accommodation providers that range from offering private rooms and meals shared with the family, semi-private chalets with optional shared meals, and private bungalows with meals taken separately. Food is available at the general store, a government operation in Adamstown. Apply for accommodations on the website at the bottom of this review.

Included Features

On board SILVER SUPPORTER, all meals, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks (alcohol is BYO); plus transfers to and from home stay accommodations on Pitcairn.

Why Go?

Go to visit one of the most remote places on the globe and make first-hand contact with direct descendants from the HMS Bounty who landed here in January 1790. The original population comprised 9 male British mutineers under the command of Fletcher Christian and 18 male and female Polynesians. In the 1930s, the population peaked at 233, and it has since dropped below 50. The island encourages immigration as you will discover on the website.

rugged Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island is a very special place. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

On the island, activities include self-guided walks through the tropical paradise with maps provided, quad bike tours, visiting the Pitcairn Museum, fishing in longboats, diving to the two shipwrecks (Bounty and Cornwallis), visiting three nearby uninhabited islands, swimming, tennis and shopping for island curios.

The island is increasingly dependent on tourism, though numbers are relatively low compared to other South Pacific islands.

When to Go?

The climate on Pitcairn is tropical and rain falls year-round; the driest month is August and the wettest June. It is best to avoid June and perhaps the few weeks either side. The roads and tracks turn to mud.

Cabins

Six private cabins with have twin berths, en suite facilities and small windows or portholes, plus a small sitting/office area.

cabin on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

Twin-bed cabin with a small window and en suite facilities. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Cabin lounge area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

A cabin’s lounge area. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Public Rooms

There are two lounges, one with a 49″ LED TV with USB + DVD Players.

Lounge of Silver Supporter

Silver Supporter’s newly refitted lounge. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Dining

Enjoy locally-sourced fish and vegetables and from overseas (often New Zealand). Food could be described as South Seas — continental and New Zealand served buffet style at fixed hours. Breakfast 7:30am; Lunch 11:30am; Dinner 5:30pm. Snacks and soft drinks available at all times.

Dining area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

Dining area with service buffet style. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Activities & Entertainment

Reading, watching films, socializing and relaxing.

Special Notes

No visa is required if staying on Pitcairn less than 15 days.

You need *XPF 1000 French Pacific Francs (about USD $10.50) to pay for the transfer from the Mangareva airport(Gambier Islands French Polynesia) to the ship and then $50 USD for a landing fee on Pitcairn. Medical insurance is mandatory, including an evacuation clause, with proof when finalizing the booking. The island currency is the NZ $.

*XPF is the currency code for “French Pacific Francs,” or CFP (which originally stood for Colonies Françaises du Pacifique  or “French colonies of the Pacific”), the currency used by the four French overseas collectivities that include French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis, and Futuna.

Along the Same Lines

Now that St. Helena in the South Atlantic is linked by air, one would have to search hard to find a comparable multi-night ship to a remote island of any interest. The South Pacific would be the place to start.

Pitcairn Island group's Henderson Island

The Pitcairn Islands group comprises Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands. Here is gorgeous Henderson island, a UNESCO World Heritage site. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Contact

For more info, go to Pitcairn Islands Tourism.

— TWS

 

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The Majestic Line

The Majestic Line specializes in small-boat cruises in Argyll, Western Scotland and the Hebridean isles, using two converted fishing boats and two custom-designed steel hulled gentleman’s motor yachts. While there is an outlined itinerary for every departure, the exact coastal and island calls and their sequence are dependent on the fickle Scottish weather. As the boats carry 11 and 12 passengers only, a cruise is very much a shared experience in close quarters. Every cruise has two single cabins offered and the booking chart shows availability.

If you ever wanted to explore Scotland’s coast line and the highly varied Hebridean Islands without fussing over ferry schedules for your rented car or resorting to a confining bus tour with too many others, HERE’s your answer, a local firm with a trio, soon to be a quartet, of wee ships.

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

GLEN MASSAN (built 1975 & converted 2005 & 11 passengers); GLEN TARSAN (b. 1975 & converted 2007 & 11p); GLEN ETIVE (b. 2016 & 12p); and GLEN SHIEL (b. 2019 & 12p).

The Majestic Line

Majesty Line’s trio at the dock before the GLEN SHIEL was delivered in 2019. * Photo: Majesty Line

Passenger Decks

Three decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

Primarily from Great Britain, ages 50 and up. Children under 12 not accepted unless part of a charter.

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Itineraries

GLEN MASSAN and GLEN TARSAN offer short-break 3-night and longer 6-night cruises and GLEN ETIVE 6- and 10-night cruises from Western Scotland to lochs and town landings in Argyll and trips out to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. In all, 14 different itineraries are offered with departures from April to October.

Nearly all embark and disembark in Oban, a port with ScotRail connections to the rest of Britain. Exceptions are one-way trips between Oban and Inverness and the first cruise of the season leaving from Holy Loch, Dunoon, Majestic Line’s base of operations.

The vessels usually anchor by dinnertime in a secluded setting, and get underway after breakfast. If the next stop is a bit further on, then the boat may depart before breakfast. GLEN SHIEL added the mix of itineraries in 2019, and her slightly higher speed allows for more far-ranging destinations.

In 2020, Argyll and the Clyde will be featured at the beginning and end of the season on 6-night cruises. As most of the route is along the river and into sheltered lochs it should be smooth sailing. Highlights are picturesque town of Rothesay, Loch Fyne’s access to Inverarary, Mount Stuart Mansion House, Carrick Castle and the narrow channel to the Kyles of Bute.

puffins on lunga

Puffins on Lunga. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Included Features

Good selected wines at dinner. The tender may be used for exploring at no extra cost while traditional shore excursions do not exist. With maps and guidance from the crew, passengers go ashore independently to visit towns and take walks.

Why Go?

Scotland is beautiful when the weather cooperates and is noted for its dramatic seascape scenery in many different lighting conditions, deep lochs to explore (similar to Norway’s fjords), a multitude of varied islands, castles and proud Scottish clans.

Wildlife is seen in the air, on the sea and on land during walks. Circumnavigate the Isle of Skye, cross Scotland via the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness and cruise out into the Atlantic to see the world’s largest gannetry hosting 60,000 pairs living and breading on isolated island of St. Kilda.

Iona. * Photo: Majestic Line

Iona. * Photo: The Majestic Line

When to Go?

With Scotland’s reputation for unpredictable and constantly varying weather, there is no best time. Be prepared for chilly and windy conditions at any time of the year as well as long days of sunlight in May and into August.

Cabins

The vessels are small hence the cabins are compact with either twin or double-bed configurations. Two singles are available on every cruise with no supplement. The newer GLEN ETIVE and GLEN SHIEL (2019) have larger cabins. All cabins are outside and feature en suite showers, toilets and washbasins.

Cabin on Glen Etive. * Photo: Majestic Line

Cabin on GLEN ETIVE. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Public Rooms

A passenger lounge with bar service, dining room, and open deck space. At times, the wheelhouse is open to visitors, and the crew is happy to share knowledge of navigation and geography. You might even have a hand at the wheel.

Dining

Communal table seats all. Typical meal times are: breakfast 8-9am; lunch 1pm; afternoon tea at 4pm; and dinner 7:30pm. Wine is included with dinner. Main courses feature local fish and shellfish (crabs and sometime lobsters), beef, lamb and venison all sourced locally. With so few to cook for, meals are a craft and a treat. An outside table may also be available when the weather is conducive.

Dining on Glen Tarsan. * Photo: Majestic Line

Dining saloon on GLEN TARSAN. * Photo: Majestic Line

Activities & Entertainment

On board, activities are board games, puzzles, and videos or relaxing and reading from the library selections. The tender takes passengers ashore to land on a beach or to a dock with sightseeing aids for creating short walks or longer hikes of one to two hours. Occasionally a one-way hike starts with a drop-off at the start and a pickup in an altogether different spot. Passengers may also fish, mostly for mackerel, or help lower and raise the lobster pots, and most likely the catch will be crabs.

Special Notes

All four vessels are available for charter, and such an arrangement can be researched first by looking at the cabin availability on the annual cruise schedule. No bookings indicate a charter may be possible, and rates are discounted by 10%. GLEN ETIVE and GLEN SHIEL (2019) have stabilizers and is used for longer trips that might encounter some choppy seas such as to the Outer Hebrides and to remote St. Kilda truly out in the Atlantic.

The Majesty Line's Glen Shiel

The Glen Shiel joined the Majesty Line fleet in 2019! * Photo: The Majesty Line

Along the Same Lines

Hebridean Island Cruises‘ 49-passenger HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS also cruises in Scotland’s Western Isles; as does an equally small pair operating for Hebrides Cruises; and the single vessel, LORD OF THE GLEN, for the Magna Carta Steamship Company. Also check out Argyll Cruising and St Hilda Sea Adventures, a pair of wonderful companies with charming vessels cruising Scotland.

Contact

The Majestic Line, Unit 3, Holy Loch Marina, Sandbank, Dunoon PA23 8FE Argyll, Scotland; +44 (0) 1369 707 951 or www.themajesticline.co.uk.

— TWS

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AmaWaterways

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About AmaWaterways

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

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

EUROPEAN RIVERS

Ships & Years Delivered

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

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

RELATED: Read Gene Sloan’s AmaMagna review here.

Passengers

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$$

NOTE:

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

Included Features

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

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

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

Itineraries (through 2020)

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

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

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

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

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

Other European operators.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA & VIETNAM

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

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

Ships & Years Delivered

AmaDara (built 2015 & 124 passengers).

Passengers

Mainly North Americans 50 and up.

Passenger Decks

4 decks, no elevator.

Price

$$$

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

IRRAWADDY RIVER IN MYANMAR (BURMA)

(Note: Not currently operating)

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

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

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

SOUTHERN AFRICA: ZAMBEZI RIVER IN BOTSWANA

In Brief

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

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

Giraffes in Nambia

Giraffes in Nambia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Contact Info

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

— TWS

 

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Viking River Cruises

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viking River Cruises

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

Passengers

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

Price

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

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Ships & Years delivered

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

European Rivers

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_6134

Viking Longships Deck Plan * Photo: Viking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egypt

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

Southeast & East Asia

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

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

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

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

Irrawaddy River: Myanmar (Burma) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact Info

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

— TWS

Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most coveted and stunning small ship cruising regions in the world thanks to the unique wildlife (from sea lions and seals to turtles, iguanas, penguins and birds of all feathers) and the scientific legacy of Charles Darwin. The naturalist first spent time on the remote Pacific Ocean islands in the 1830s (see below) when his theory on natural selection took seed.

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana. * Photo: Michael S Nolan

A volcanic archipelago of 20 main islands, and 100 or so more islets, the Galapagos Islands are one of the original 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites established in 1978. They represent an incredibly diverse range of habitats — from hauntingly desolate volcanic landscapes to lush green highlands, mangroves, and sandy beaches, both gorgeous arcs of white sand and fascinating black lava swathes.

Off shore, there are coral reefs and lagoons, and diving and snorkeling is excellent in many places. Since 1966, most of the land and surrounding waters — 97 percent to be exact — were set aside by the Ecuadorian government as a national park.

Major ocean currents come together at the Galapagos archipelago, some 600 miles west of Ecuador, creating a rich stew of nutrient rich cool waters from the south (Humboldt Current), warm currents from the north, and a deep cold current from the west, all of which in turn support a vast array of interesting flora and fauna from diverse environments.

“The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the highest levels of endemism (species found nowhere else on earth) anywhere on the planet. About 80% of the land birds you will see, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants are endemic. More than 20% of the marine species in Galapagos are found nowhere else on earth. Favorites include the giant Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant, and the Galapagos penguin — the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.”

— Galapagos Conservancy

Wild Galapagos giant tortoise munching grass on Santa Cruz Island, on a Lindblad Expeditions trip. * Photo: Michael S. Nolan

Wild Galapagos giant tortoise munching grass on Santa Cruz Island, on a Lindblad Expeditions trip. * Photo: Michael S. Nolan

To try and keep the islands as untainted by tourism as possible, Ecuador regulates the number and size of ships (100 passengers or less) permitted to cruise in the waters of the Galapagos Islands, and also limits the number of times a particular ship can visit an island (once every 14 days). Cruising between islands usually takes place at night, so daytime is spent on shore or in the water on excursions. Naturalists guides, all licensed with the Galapagos National Park, lead excursions, give talks on board and mingle with passengers.

Ships in the Galapagos are equipped with Zodiacs (small inflatable boats) to take small groups of passengers to shore, along scenic coastlines and on snorkeling expeditions. Snorkeling equipment is routinely provided and diving gear can often be arranged. Some ships, like the Lindblad boats, have underwater cameras shooting videos that are then shown in the ships’ lounges. Some ships also have kayaks for use on guided jaunts.

Time on board is spent listening to lectures from the naturalists and standing on the decks chatting with other passengers, officers and crew as you keep an eye out for wildlife. Before dinner passengers usually gather in the lounge for a drink to discuss the day and what’s in store for tomorrow.

It’s just under a two-hour flight between Guayaquil on the Ecuadorian mainland coast and the airport on the island of Baltra, next to Santa Cruz, or the airport on San Cristobal Island. Cruises can be as short as three or four nights, are as long as two weeks, though most are 7 to 10 nights, not including the one- to two-night hotel stay in Guayaquil or Quito on either end that is necessary to make most flight connections.

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Ports of Call

Here are highlights from a handful of islands; most have multiple sights on shore and off.

Bartolome. It’s considered the most visited and most photographed island in the Galapagos, namely for Pinnacle Rock — a cool rock formation you can ogle from a nearby bluff. The picturesque beach below it is popular for snorkeling and swimming; keep your eyes open for Galapagos penguins, herons, Galapagos hawks, green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and white- and black-tipped sharks

Espanola. This is the island for seeing Albatross — we’re talking 25,000 to 30,000 Waved Albatross doing their goofy mating dances between April and December. Many other bird species nest here as well, including blue-footed and Nazca boobies. Flocks of tamed Darwin’s finches and Española mockingbirds sometimes land on tourists’ heads and shoulders. Bright red and green marine iguanas are also part of the show. On the beach at Gardner Bay, adorable sea lion pups congregate on the beach while mom goes fishing.

Fernandina. The archipelago’s youngest and most volcanically active island, here you can see marine iguanas and flightless cormorants, as well as penguins, sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs. The lava cactus growing on young lava is another cool site. Divers off shore will be thrilled to spot sea horses, sea turtles, and many types of sharks and rays.

Floreana. There’s so much to photograph on this island, from pink Galapagos flamingoes to pintail ducks, stilts, large-billed flycatchers, several species of finch. Devil’s Crown is the remnants of a volcanic crater that pokes up through the water of shore; strong swimmers and confident snorkelers can jump off zodiacs right into the crown for a close up look at sea lions, king angel fish, balloon fish, hawkfish, yellowtail grunts, tiger snake eels, white-tipped sharks, eagle rays, wrasses, hammerhead sharks, and sea turtles. Birds also like Devil’s Crown, from boobies to pelicans, and frigatebirds.

Blue footed boobies have, as you would expect, blue feet. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Blue footed boobies have, as you would expect, blue feet. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Isabela. The largest of all the islands at about 75 miles long, Isabela has several active volcanoes, including 5,600-foot-high Wolf Volcano, the highest point in the archipelago. The island has more wild tortoises than all the other islands combined, according to the Galapagos Conservancy, and the west coast of Isabela is considered the best place to see whales, from humpbacks to sperms, sei, minkes and orcas. The island is also home to birds of all kinds, from flamingoes to paint-billed crakes, white-cheeked pintails, common gallinules, flightless cormorants, penguins, pelicans and lava herons, plus land birds the likes of finches, hawks, yellow warblers, large-billed flycatchers and occasionally the woodpecker finch. There are also a handful of excellent dive sites offshore.

Rabida. This small, arid island is home to scads of marine iguanas and sea lions, as well as brown pelicans, and blue-footed and nazca boobies. Large pink flamingos, pintail ducks and common stilts feed in the shallow water of a saltwater lagoon, while finches, Galapagos doves, yellow warblers, and mockingbirds dart around.

San Cristobal. The island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835, San Cristobal is the second most populated island in the Galapagos with about 6,000 permanent residents and it also has an airport with daily flights to the mainland. Otherwise, the island is a wonderland of natural sites including Punta Pitt, a dramatic bluff with great views of a sea lion colony and the communal nesting place of red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca boobie birds. The coral sand beach at the base of the gorgeous Cerro Brujo tuff cone is popular for swimming and snorkeling and Kicker Rocker is a spectacular volcanic offshore rock formation where blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, frigatebirds, and sea lions roam.

Santa Cruz. The most populated of the Galapagos, Santa Cruz is the islands’ tourism hub thanks to the airport that most tourists go in and out of on neighboring Baltra Island, a 10-minute ferry ride away. Top sites on Santa Cruz include the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center to have a look at the many different species, from hatchlings to juveniles to old timers. (Thousands of giant tortoises lived on the islands until the 19th century when sailors and pirates began to kill them for food and oil.) Other island highlights include: Cerro Crocker, the highest point on the island with great views; Las Bachas beach, a major nesting site for sea turtles; South Plaza islet for sea lions, land iguanas and lots of seabirds; and offshore dive sites teeming with sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, eels, manta rays, eagle rays, fur seals and lots of fish.

Santiago. Once the scene of thriving salt mines in the early to mid 20th century, today there are several great visitors’ sights, including James Bay where you can see nesting sea turtles, flamingoes, Galapagos hawks, white-cheeked pintail ducks and fur seals. In Sullivan Bay, you can walk across a recent (late 19th century) lava flow and check out the interesting volcanic cones and formations. There is also an excellent snorkeling site in the channel between the shoreline and a small islet called Chinese Hat, where you can take a gander at sea lions, penguins, rays and sharks.

For more details, the Galapagos Conservancy is a great source.

When to Go

You can cruise the Galapagos Islands year-round. The peak season is summer — mid-June though early September — and mid-December though Mid-January, when prices are highest and islands are the busiest.

December through May is warmer (mid 70s to mid 80s Fahrenheit), sunnier and rainier (expect a daily afternoon shower). Since temperatures are warmer both in and out of the water, and there’s little wind, snorkeling is appealing, except that there are fewer fish swimming around. It’s breeding season for land birds, sea turtles and sea lions (in March and April, you can see adorable newborn seal pups crawling on the beaches), so you can watch mating rituals and ooh and aah over babies.

June through November is cooler (low 70s Fahrenheit) and windy (seas can be rougher), but it rarely rains during these months. The Humboldt Current is to thank, it reaches the Galápagos from the south and brings colder water and colder weather with it. BUT it also brings water rich in nutrients and plankton, so there are more fish in the sea at this time of year (divers and snorkelers love it), and because there are more fish, there are lots of seabirds fishing, from Albatrosses to Penguins, Blue-footed Boobies and owls.

Lindblad Expedition's National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven Olof Lindblad

Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven Olof Lindblad

Company Reviews

We’ve written cruise line profiles of a number of major small-ship companies cruising in the Galapagos — AdventureSmith Explorations, Celebrity Cruises, EcoventuraG-AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions, Silversea ExpeditionsTauck, Un-Cruise Adventures,Zegrahm Expeditions and Quasar Expeditions — with a reviews of Kleintours of Ecuador and Latin Trails coming soon.

And here we offer a brief round-up of even more companies, which may be tour operators and/or travel agencies, that sell Galapagos cruises and can help with other aspects of trip planning. They may charter entire ships or have just a cabin or two allotted to them, it all depends; nevertheless, it doesn’t affect the experience for you.

All of the following companies are members of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA) and are required to be insured and bonded. 

RELATED: Randy Mink’s Article about his Galapagos cruise aboard Latin Trails’ 16-passenger Sea Star Journey,

Eclipse Travel

This Australia and New Zealand owned and operated tour operator specializes in travel to South America, Central America and the Poles. In the Galapagos Islands, they offer four different trip levels for every wallet — budget, standard, superior and deluxe. The budget packages, for example, include a $2,500 USD 7-night cruise aboard the 16-passenger AIDA MARIA with simple bunk-bed cabins to $6,700 USD for a 7-night cruise on the brand new 16-passenger motor catamaran PETREL with posh twin- or double-bed cabins and suites, all with balconies.

Contact:  Level 6, 115 Pitt St, Sydney, NSW 2000 Australia USA; (+61) 2 8199 9465 and www.eclipsetravel.com.au.

Journeys International

Founded in 1978 by Will and Joan Weber, former Peace Corps volunteers, teachers and conservationists, this family-owned business was one of the original “eco tourism” companies before it was ever the ubiquitous term it is today. Journeys International continues to thrive on personal, small-scale encounters with interesting places around the world, including the Galapagos Islands.

Most cruises are 7 nights long and many are on the 20-passenger LETTY, ERIC or FLAMINGO I, a nearly identical trio of sister ships also used by other companies, including Natural Habitat Adventures. During the summer months of June, July and August, plus December, the trio offers special family-friendly cruises for families with children ages 5 or 6 and older.

Contact:  107 Aprill Drive #3, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103 USA; 734-665-4407 and www.journeys-intl.com.

Mountain Travel Sobek

This travel company is the merger of two adventure outfits — Mountain Travel that formed in 1969 and a year later organized its first Galapagos cruise (for the Sierra Club, and the first North American company to go there) and Sobek Expeditions, which was founded in 1973. The combined company has continued to offer adventurous travel ever since, including groundbreaking hiking, rafting, skiing, kayaking and sailing trips over the years in China, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Libya, Ethiopia and other places.

Its Galapagos cruises are aboard the 16-passenger REINA SILVIA; 48-passenger LA PINTA with a hot tub, four triple cabins and six connecting cabins ideal for families; or the 16-passenger GALAXY, all with all en-suite cabins.

Contact:  1266 66th St, Suite 4, Emeryville, California 94608-1117 USA; 510-594-6000 and www.mtsobek.com.

Natural Habitat Adventures

In business for more than 30 years, this company offers Galapagos trips focused on families, photography, and hiking & kayaking, and offers classic general interest trips as well. Choose from the 20-passenger expedition yacht LETTY with teak wood cabins (including a pair of triple cabins ideal for families) and interiors; the 16-passenger motor catamaran ATHALA II with four balcony cabins and also a hot tub; and the brand new 20-passenger luxury yacht ORIGIN, with two triple cabins, a small gym, hot tub and open bar.

All cabins on the three vessels are en suite and each boat carries two naturalist guides on board for intimate excursions with no more than 8 to 10 passengers per guide. Natural Habitat Adventures is an official travel partner of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which gives them an edge in itinerary planning.

Contact:  PO Box 3065, Boulder, Colorado 80307 USA; 303-449-3711, www.nathab.com.

Wilderness Travel

Wilderness Travel, a founding member of IGTOA, operates active adventures that are hiking, wildlife and/or culture focused in more than 75 countries worldwide and has been offering small-ship cruises in the Galapagos since the company was founded in 1978. Founder and president Bill Abbott says that almost 70% of their clients have traveled with them before or are direct referrals from those who have.

Their 8- to 17-night Galapagos trips, which include two night hotel nights in Guayaquil, are aboard the romantic 16-passenger square-rigged sailing yacht MARY ANNE, the 12-passenger yacht PASSION with a hot tub and two suites with a marble-clad bathrooms, and the 12-passenger yacht REINA SILVIA. Wilderness offers extensions to the Ecuadorian highlands, Peru/Machu Picchu and the Amazon.

Contact:  1102 Ninth Street, Berkeley, California 94710 USA; 510-558-2488, www.wildernesstravel.com.

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

An excerpt from Galapagos: Both Sides of the Coin, by Pete Oxford and Graham Watkins (Imagine Publishing, 2009).

Of all the scientists to visit the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin has had the single greatest influence. Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England. In 1831, having studied medicine at Edinburgh and having spent time studying for Holy Orders at Cambridge, with nudging from Professor Henslow, Darwin convinced Captain Robert FitzRoy to let him join him aboard the H. M. S. Beagle as the ship’s naturalist. FitzRoy was taking the Beagle on a charting voyage around South America. On Sept 15, 1835 on the return route across the Pacific, the Beagle arrived in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin disembarked on San Cristóbal (Sept 17-22), Floreana (Sept 24-27), Isabela (Sept 29-Oct 2) and Santiago (Oct 8-17). FitzRoy and his officers developed updated charts of the archipelago, while Darwin collected geological and biological specimens on the islands.

At the time of his visit, Darwin had not yet developed the ideas he presented later; it was only in retrospect that he realized the full significance of the differences among Galapagos species. Noteworthy about his visit were his observations of three different species of Galapagos mockingbirds on different islands and what the acting governor, Englishman Nicholas Lawson, told him about the differences among the giant tortoises from different islands.

While in the archipelago, Darwin focused as much on geology as on biology, collecting many geological specimens. Later, when he grasped the significance of the differences among the mockingbirds and tortoises, he resorted to the collections of his crewmates to look for inter-island variations among birds, plants, and other species, having failed to label all the specimens in his own collections, by island.

On the Origin of Species (published in 1859) changed the way we look at and understand the world. The book focused on the transmutations of species and explained, in detail, the mechanism that underlies evolutionary change. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin countered the predominant view of the time by presenting observations on the high number of endemic species found in the islands, the close interrelatedness of these species, and the absence of some groups of species. All of these observations ran contrary to the reasoning behind “Special Creation,” then the dominant explanation of the distribution of species.

Critically, Darwin suggested a highly logical alternative mechanism to explain the distribution and types of species, which he termed “natural selection.” His argument was that if individuals vary with respect to a particular trait and if these variants have a different likelihood of surviving to the next generation, then, in the future, there will be more of those with the variant more likely to survive.

In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin offered a compelling answer to the outstanding question of biology, which was “how life on earth had evolved.” The book was, as Darwin commented, “one long argument” that stemmed from his five-week visit to the Galapagos Islands and attempted to include all life on earth. On the Origin of Species linked Darwin and Galapagos inextricably and changed the islands forever.

Breathtaking Machu Picchu -- both the beauty and the altitude. * Photo: Mountain Travel Sobek

Breathtaking Machu Picchu — both the beauty and the altitude. * Photo: Mountain Travel Sobek

Machu Picchu

If you’re going to the Galapagos Islands, you may want to consider a trip to Machu Picchu, many lines offer add-ons to the amazing Inca site in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Most trips are 4 to 8 days, allowing for a day or two to acclimatize in historic Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire at about 11,800 feet above sea level, before hiking, training or helicoptering to the stunning remains of the 15th-century Machu Picchu, which are set dramatically on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba River some 50 miles from Cusco at almost 8,000 feet.

The best way to experience Machu Picchu is to hike at least one way — consider a two- or three-day trek, with porters to carry your stuff, set up the tents and cook your food — though may people opt to take the train to the site from Cusco. When you first lay eyes on the well-preserved ruins of temples, alters, fountains and staircases, you’ll be blown away. Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Peru’s capital Lima, with its gorgeous 16th-century old town is the oldest Spanish colony in South America; Lima is less than an hour’s flight from Cusco and less than two hours by air from Guayaquil.

 

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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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The dancers of French Polynesia are mesmerizing and so is the backdrop. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Small Ship Cruise Line Reviews by Destination

We’re the ONLY travel site out there that covers so many small-ship cruise lines in reviews, feature articles and photos — we’re up to 91 small-ship cruise lines and counting. QuirkyCruise.com offers original, quality writing about this wonderful corner of the travel world. Go ahead, have a look around!

And if you’ve been on a small-ship cruise lately, we’d love to hear about it in our Reader Reviews!

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Africa
(including Egypt)

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS (Coastal, Expeditions)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
St. Helena Line (Oceangoing)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silhouette Cruises (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Expeditions)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Alaska

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Alaska Marine Highway
(Coastal)
Alaskan Dream Cruises (Coastal, Expeditions)
American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
Atlas Ocean Tours (Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Marine Link Tours (Coastal)
Pacific Catalyst (Coastal)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expedition)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Antarctica
(including Falklands, South Georgia & Tierra del Fuego)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions)
Australis (Expeditions, Coastal)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions  (Expeditions, Rivers)
Oceanwide Expeditions (Expeditions, Sailing)
One Ocean Expeditions (Expeditions)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Polar Latitudes (Expeditions)   
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Poseidon Expeditions (Expeditions)
Quark Expeditions (Expeditions)
Seabourn Expeditions (Expeditions)
Silversea Expeditions (Expeditions)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Arctic Regions
(including Iceland & Greenland)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Oceanwide Expeditions (Expeditions, Sailing)
One Ocean Expeditions (Expeditions)   
Polar Latitudes (Expeditions)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Poseidon Expeditions (Expeditions)
Quark Expeditions (Expeditions)
Seabourn Expeditions (Expeditions)
Silversea Expeditions (Expeditions)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Asia: East Asia
(including China & Japan)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Cruises (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Victoria Cruises (Rivers)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Asia: South & Western
(including India, the Indian Ocean & the Middle East)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS (Coastal, Expeditions)
Crystal Yacht Cruises (Oceangoing, Expedition)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Pandaw River Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Silhouette Cruises (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Asia: Southeast Asia
(including the Mekong & Irrawaddy Rivers)

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
AmaWaterways (Rivers)
Aqua Expeditions (Rivers)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Coral Expeditions (Expeditions)
CroisiEurope (Rivers)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Pandaw River Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Scenic Cruises (Rivers)
Seatrek Sailing Adventure (Sailing)
Silolona Sojourns (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Atlantic Ocean
(including Azores & Canary Islands)

American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
Crystal Yacht Cruises (Oceangoing, Expedition)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Pearl Seas Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
St. Helena Line (Oceangoing)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
SeaDream Yacht Club (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)

Australia & New Zealand

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions, Coastal)
Coral Expeditions (Expeditions)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises  (Expeditions)
Murray River Cruises (Rivers)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Caribbean Islands
(including Cuba)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Island Windjammers (Sailing)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Pearl Seas Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
SeaDream Yacht Club (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Victory Cruise Lines (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Central America
(including Mexico, Belize, Sea of Cortez & Panama Canal)

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Europe
(including Rivers & Oceangoing)

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
AmaWaterways (Rivers)
Argyll Cruising (Coastal, Oceangoing)
A-Rosa (Rivers)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions, Coastal)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Barge Lady Cruises (Rivers, Canals)
CroisiEurope (Rivers)
Crystal River Cruises (Rivers)
Crystal Yacht Cruises (Oceangoing, Expedition)
Emerald Waterways (Rivers)
Gota Canal Steamship Company (Rivers)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Hebridean Island Cruises (Coastal)
Hebrides Cruises (Coastal)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Le Boat (Rivers)
Lindblad Expeditions Expeditions, Rivers)
Magna Carta Steamship Company (Coastal, Rivers)
Majestic Line (Coastal)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Patricia Cruises (Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Puffer Steamboat Holidays (Coastal)
Riviera River Cruises (Rivers)
St. Hilda Sea Adventures (Coastal, Sailing)
Scenic Cruises (Rivers)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Trinity Sailing (Sailing)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Europe: Mediterranean
(including the Greek Isles & Croatia)

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
SeaDream Yacht Club (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

North America
(including Alaska, US Rivers & Canada)

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Alaska Marine Highway
(Coastal)
Alaskan Dream Cruises (Expeditions)
American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
American Queen Steamboat Company (Rivers)
Atlas Ocean Tours (Coastal)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
French America Line (Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Croisières Jacques-Cartier (Rivers, Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Marine Link Tours (Coastal)
Ontario Waterway Cruises (Rivers)
Pearl Seas Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Rivers)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Victory Cruise Lines (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Pacific Ocean Islands
(including French Polynesia, Fiji & Hawaiian islands)

Blue Lagoon Cruises (Coastal)
Captain Cook Cruises (Coastal)
Coral Expeditions (Expeditions)
C.P.T.M. & the Arunai 5 (Oceangoing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Haumana Cruises (Coastal)   New!
Paul Gauguin Cruises (Oceangoing)
Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)

South America
(including Galapagos, Amazon & Tierra del Fuego)

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aqua Expeditions (Rivers)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions, Coastal)
Australis (Expeditions, Coastal)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Celebrity Cruises Xpedition (Expeditions)
Delfin Amazon Cruises (Rivers)
Ecoventura (Expedition, Coastal)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
GreenTracks (River, Expeditions)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing, Expeditions)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Zegrahm Expeditions  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

 

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

Celebrity Cruises Galapagos

If you’ve cruised on the biggies, you’ll feel right at home on these sporty miniature versions.

Many feel at ease knowing that the well-established Celebrity Cruises, a line that otherwise keeps busy with its fleet of giant 2,000 to 3,000-passenger mega ships, is behind the operation. Celebrity launched the 100-passenger, 296-foot CELEBRITY XPEDITION back in 2004, a groundbreaking move at the time for a mainstream cruise line, to sail year-round in the Galapagos Islands. The-mini cruise ship, or mega-yacht as the company refers to it, carries 5 zodiac landing craft on board for rides to remote beaches, bays and snorkeling sites, for up-close encounters with sea lions, turtles, schools of fish, and marine birds, namely the well-known frigates and blue-footed boobies.

The 48-passenger M/V ECLIPSE and the 16-passenger catamaran M/C ATHALA II  both of which started year-round cruises in March 2017 were replaced in mid-2019 by the brand new 100-passenger ship, the CELEBRITY FLORA, for the Galapagos.

RELATED: Celebrity’s Custom-Built Galapagos Ship, Celebrity Flora … by Anne Kalosh.

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CELEBRITY XPEDITION (built 2001, 100 passengers); CELEBRITY FLORA (b. 2019, 100 p.). The crew is mostly Ecuadoran.

RELATED: Galapagos Islands Cruise Overview

Celebrity Expeditions

CELEBRITY FLORA entered service in mid-2019. * Photo: Celebrity Expeditions

Passenger Profile

Wildlife-loving, eco-minded couples and families from North America mostly (click HERE for a kid’s review), with a sprinkling of passengers from the UK and Europe, who have always dreamed of going to the Galapagos Islands. Some have cruised on parent company Celebrity’s mega ships.

Passenger Decks

XPEDITION, 4 decks and an elevator connects 4 of them; CELEBRITY FLORA, 6 decks and elevator between all but highest deck.

Price

$$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

On packages of 10 nights or more, guided shore excursions, tips, wine, spirits and all drinks throughout cruise, plus round-trip airfare between Quito and Baltra, 2 hotels nights before and 1 after in Quito (on mainland) with transfer and meals. Snorkeling gear and wetsuits are always included.

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Itineraries

  • 7-, 10-, 11-, 13- and 15-night cruise packages round-trip from the island of Baltra, where the islands’ main airport is. You also add on over-land tours to Peru’s Machu Picchu.
  • Highlights include Kicker Rock, stunning stacks of towering volcanic rock formations that are home to many species of nesting birds including blue-footed boobies; the beaches of Cerro Brujo for close encounters with sea lions; and deep sea snorkeling off the coast of Isla Isabela to gaze on sea turtles, penguins, and marine iguanas feeding on underwater algae.
  • The addition of the two new ships greatly expanded Celebrity’s itinerary options in the Galapagos, with routes now stopping at the white sand beaches of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, the submerged caldera at Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island, and the mango estuary of Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island. Some visit the volcanic Chinese Hat Islet and Wall of Tears, a wall built by prisoners at a penal colony on Isabela Island in the 1940s and 50s.
Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

When to Go?

The ships cruise in the Galapagos Islands year-round; because of school holidays, the summer months and December/January are considered the peak season price-wise.

December though June is the rainy season with the warmest water and air temps or the year; there is sun and daily rain showers (late April and May are pretty ideal, as there’s less rain, flowers are blooming and sea lion pups are being born).

You’ll rarely get rain July through December, though it tends to be cloudy and seas can be rougher, however these months tend to be better for bird watching.

Cabins

On all three, all cabins are outside with balconies, windows and/or portholes. XPEDITION has 13 suites and all cabins have a sitting area, desk, TV, hairdryers, safe and bathrobes. FLORA is an all-suite ship, and the standard suite, the Sky Suite, will measure 33 square feet and have an Infinite Veranda. The doors to the Infinite Veranda can slide to the side to make the veranda a seamless part of the room. When the doors are closed, creating a separate veranda area, the top of a floor-to-ceiling outside window can be lowered to the open air. FLORA also has a few bigger, posher suites.

The top-of-the-line pair of corner Penthouse Suites, 1,288 square feet/120 square meters each, feature big verandas (321 square feet/30 square meters) and bathrooms (196 square feet/18 square meters) with floor-to-ceiling windows. The ship has stay in place without using an anchor that might damage the ocean floor and stabilizers that operate effectively at 0-speed. Seawater is processed to fresh for all needs.

One of 12 suites on board XPEDITION. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Public Rooms

Ships have two dining areas and a windowed lounge for daily lectures by the onboard naturalists. Each has a bar, with XPEDITION also boasting a small dance floor and a piano too. XPEDITION’s outdoor Blue Finch bar on the Promenade is the place for drinks with great views of islands. As the largest of the trio, XPEDITION offers the most amenities, with a small gym, co-ed sauna, massage room and a small boutique. All three have a sun deck with padded chaise lounges for sunbathing and relaxing, and each has a hot tub.

The CELEBRITY FLORA will have Darwin’s Cove, a place where passengers can chat with the naturalists who lead tours and give informative talks. There will be one naturalist guide for every dozen passengers. Briefings will be delivered in FLORA’s Discovery Lounge, where there’s a full bar, stage for entertainment and comfy seating. The lounge’s walls are nearly all glass, making another great place to take in the views. FLORA has plenty of open-air spaces on the top deck for lounging and observing wildlife and a stargazing platform. Four rental cabanas are available for privacy by day or sleeping under the stars.

Dining

Each boat has two relatively informal dining venues, one indoor and one al fresco, with open-seating tables of six and eight. Continental cuisine incorporates locally caught fish and fresh vegetables and fruits from the region, plus basics like roast chicken, ribs and pastas. No jackets or formal dressing are required. On XPEDITION, the al fresco Beagle Grill at the stern of Deck 6 is a casual place serving burgers, hot dogs, pizza, salads and the like, and sometimes there’s a grilled seafood fest at lunchtime. Usually once per cruise there’s a lovely barbecue on deck under the stars.

On FLORA, besides the Seaside Restaurant, open for all meals, the ship will have a casual alternative, the Ocean Grill, with panoramic views and the opportunity to dine under the stars.

Grilled seafood and corn on the cob for lunch is a delicious affair. on board XPEDITION, * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

The islands themselves and the wildlife you’ll encounter are the big stars with typically two excursions per day. When on board, then, most passengers are eager to relax and watch the scenery from the decks, look through the reference books in the small libraries or listen to the daily talks by the naturalists. You can also fit in a gym workout on XPEDITION. A marina in CELEBRITY FLORA’s stern will make it easy to step into Zodiacs for the frequent nature tours — hiking, swimming and snorkeling — that characterize a Galápagos cruise. A staircase leads from the marina to the Sunset Lounge, an outdoor space with a plunge pool.

Evenings, it’s drinks with friends at the bar and on most cruises, local entertainers come on board for a few hours to do a traditional Ecuadorian music, singing and dance performance. Another highlight is a slideshow of passengers’ encounters with wildlife during the course of the cruise.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

Celebrity Cruises, 1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33132; 888-751-7804.

— HMS

 

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Island Windjammers

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QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review of Island Windjammers

Remember Windjammer Barefoot Cruises? Enormously popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s for its ultra-casual, rum-fueled Caribbean sailing adventures, the line folded in 2008, leaving thousands of loyal passengers sad and landlocked. Enter Island Windjammers. Launched in 2009 by and for Windjammer Barefoot regulars when they got together to buy the 101-foot brigantine schooner DIAMANT, the line is a more mature version of its barefoot predecessor, operating truly intimate sailing adventures that tootle around the quieter corners of the Caribbean, far from the megaship mega-crowds.

Sure, there’s still plenty of rum punch and Red Stripes consumed, but the volume of the party has been turned way down to just the perfect level. (Island Windjammers is not to be confused with Sail Windjammer, a one-ship line that through 2020 is operating the 72-pax Mandalay, formerly of the Windjammer Barefoot Cruises fleet.)

Island Windjammers

Diamant in all her glory. * Photo: Island Windjammers

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

DIAMANT (built 1978; refurbished 2016; 10 passengers), VELA (b. 1988; refurbished 2015; 26 p), and SAGITTA (b. 1960; 24 p — currently out of service).

Island Windjammers Passenger Profile

Young-at-heart American couples, singles and groups of friends 45+ who crave a carefree Caribbean getaway with zero pretension. Summers and holiday weeks see occasional families with children; though the minimum age is 8 and it’s probably better for kids to be at least 10 or 12+.

Passenger Decks

2 VELA & DIAMANT; 3 SAGITTA — all no elevators.

Price

$ Moderate

Included Features

Meals, wine, beer, rum punch, soft drinks and snorkeling gear are included in the fares; shore excursions are extra, as are optional tips. You’re also invited to bring along your own booze and the ships provide the mixers (there is no cash bar on board).

The fleet calls on great little places like Tobago Cays. * Photo: Island Windjammers

The fleet calls on great little places like Tobago Cays. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Island Windjammers Itineraries
  • 6- and 12-night Leeward Island cruises round-trip from St Martin or St. Lucia, calling on some combination of Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica (Portsmouth & Roseau), Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Martinique, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Barths, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Tintamarre
  • 6-, 9- and 12-night Windward Island cruises round-trip from Grenada or St. Lucia, calling on some combination of Bequia, Canouan, Carriacou (Tyrell Bay & Hillsborough), Grenada, Mayreau, Mustique, Petit St. Vincent, Sandy Island, St. Lucia, St Vincent, Tobago Cays, Union Island and Young Island
  • 6- and 12-night British Virgin Islands (BVIs) & Leeward Island cruises round-trip from St. Martin or Tortola, visiting some combination of Anguilla, Jost Van Dyke, Nevis, Norman Island, Salt Island, St. Barths, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Tortola or Virgin Gorda
  • 6-night French West Indies cruises round-trip out of St. Lucia, visiting some combo of Dominica (Portsmouth & Roseau), Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Martinique and St. Lucia
Why Go?

To let your hair down, work on your tan and hang out with like-minded others who operate on island time.

When to Go?

All year around, though remember hurricane season in the Caribbean is officially June through November.

Island Windjammers Cabins

Small as you’d expect on sailing ships, but charming, wood-paneled and the perfect cozy nests to catch up your beauty rest; otherwise, life is lived up on deck or on shore. All cabins have 110v outlets, blow dryers, shampoo/soap, portholes (except for one cabin on VELA and two on SAGITTA), and private bathrooms with separate shower stall (exceptions: the two Cadet Cabins on VELA each has an all-in-one bathroom and SAGITTA’s and VELA’s two Solo Cabins share one bathroom).

A cozy and very nautical Diamant cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

A cozy and very nautical Diamant cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

VELA’s cabins include: two tiny Cadet Cabins with raised small double beds (for one or two people) each with a private all-in-one bathroom (no separate shower stall); two Solo Cabins, one with a porthole and one without, share one bathroom with a separate shower stall (each cabin can accommodate one or two people); two Standard Cabins are a bit larger with a double lower bed and a single bunk above; six Deluxe Cabins have a larger double bed with single bunk above; the pair of Compass Cabins that are at the aft of the ship has a queen size bed (and no upper bunk); the one and only Topsail Cabin has a queen bed and larger bathroom; and finally the relatively spacious Owner’s Suite has a king size bed, mini-fridges, and a large bathroom — both cabin and bathroom have portholes.

Island Windjammers

Vela’s Owner’s Suite, not too shabby! * Photo: Island Windjammers

After her overhaul in fall 2016, DIAMANT now sports four cabins with double beds below and single bunk above, and with full bathrooms with separate showers; and a fifth cabin is a suite with a queen bed, sitting area and a full bathroom.

Each day is more gorgeous than the last. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Each day is more gorgeous than the last. * Photo: Island Windjammers

SAGITTA has 11 double cabins with a double bed below and bunk above, and two single cabins without portholes. One of the doubles is the Owner’s Suite, with a king-sized bed, small fridge, flat screen TV with DVD player, and granite and tile master bath (none of the other cabins have TVs). All have portholes.

Island Windjammers Public Rooms

The whole point of an Island Windjammer cruise is to be outside on deck soaking up the sun and fresh Caribbean air, and enjoying the sailing ship experience and the quirkiness of the vessels — each has a very interesting background.

VELA was built in 1988 in Puget Sound, Washington, and deployed in the Marshall Islands as a floating medical clinic called Tole Mour, or “Gift of Life and Health.” Later she was used as an education vessel for students studying sailing, oceanography and marine biology. In late 2014, Island Windjammers purchased the ship and rechristened her VELA, and a year later did major renovations, replacing the dormitory-style cabins with en suite single and double cabins; there’s also a new pilot house, large enclosed bar and dining saloon on the top deck.

DIAMANT was built in 1978 in Taiwan and then later spent two decades sailing in the Galapagos Islands before Island Windjammers purchased her in 2009 and she’s been the fleet favorite ever since. She got a facelift in fall 2016 that reduced her passenger capacity to 10 passengers in five cabins and create an overall spiffier look (“sophisticated not stuffy” the line’s website points out). Of the two passenger decks, the top deck has both covered and open-air dining tables, plus a bar and deck chairs. The cabins are on the lower deck.

Hanging out on Deck aboard Sagitta. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Hanging out on Deck aboard Sagitta. * Photo: Island Windjammers

The three-deck, three-masted SAGITTA was built for the Swedish Navy in 1960, and in later years was completely updated for cruising. Today she has a dining area, bar, lounge and mini library inside on the Main Deck; and above on the outside Upper Deck, another dining area, deck chairs, and an open bridge.

Island Windjammers Dining

Meals are served at one very social open seating at a few tables, with local dishes to the tune of chicken roti, conch soup, pumpkin soup, callaloo and fresh fish as well as continental standards the likes of cheeseburgers and salads. Fresh island fruits are part of the picture, from passion fruit to guava, star fruit, sour oranges and bananas.

Island Windjammers

Delicious meals cooked up with local ingredients and Island panache. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Island Windjammers Activities & Entertainment

The day starts with the captain’s story time when he explains what’s happening for the day; the ships spend part of every day in port somewhere. The pace is easy going and free — while away the day swimming off the side of the ship (when conditions permit), take the ships’ kayaks for a spin nearby, try paddle boarding, or sip rum punch with new friends in an inflatable “floating island.”

There are a handful of shore excursions offered on most itineraries, but many passengers are content to find a good beach or wander around on their own. Sometimes lunch is served on a quiet beach somewhere, otherwise meals on are on board. Occasionally passengers will arrange their own diving trips, and spend part of a day deep down under looking at the colorful fishies.

Happy hour is a big thing and drinks on deck are a favored pastime for many; you’re free to bring aboard your favorite spirits or mixers, though why bother when beer, wine, rum punch and soft drinks are on the house. Evenings, the crew may start a bonfire on a nearby beach or organize a pub-crawl. Theme cruises from time to time focus on rum (with a rum expert on board to educate and do tastings), solo cruisers (no kids or couples allowed!), pirates (with costume contests, pirate trivia and visits to spots where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed), local food tasting, and yoga. Om shanti! 🙏🏼

Island Windjammers

Swing from the rigging, yipeee! * Photo: Island Windjammers

Along the Same Lines

Star Clippers is in the ballpark, though its passengers are more international and its ships are much larger, and the overall experience is more high-end.

Note

These ships are not suitable for people with mobility problems, as staircases are steep, doorways narrow and door sills high.

Island Windjammers Contact

Georgia-based Island Windjammers; 1-877-772-4549, www.islandwindjammers.com.

— HMS

 

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