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Pacific Catalyst ship Westward

Pacific Catalyst

Pacific Catalyst operates a pair of historic wooden ships that have amazingly long and complex histories. Each carries no more than 12 passengers on primarily Southeast Alaskan itineraries to remote locations along the Inside Passage in search of adventure and wildlife under the sea, atop it, on shore and in the air. One of the vessels also cruises to Baja California.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CATALYST II was built in 1931 as a state-of-the-art oceanographic ship for the University of Washington. In WWII she served as an armed vessel with a machine gun paced atop the pilothouse while carrying depth charges and patrolling the Aleutian Islands looking for Japanese submarines. After the war she worked for various companies, including mining operations, carrying an assortment of cargos. Some owners lived aboard the vessel. Then in the 21st century, she was converted to take up to 12 passengers and a crew of 4 or 5. Enjoy the fine craftsmanship aboard this wooden boat.

Alaska Catalyst II

The Catalyst II in Alaska. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

WESTWARD was completed in 1924 for the Alaska Coast Hunting and Cruising Co. and pioneered fishing, hunting and adventure travel in remote regions of Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska.

Well-known passengers included Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, George Eastman, E.F. Hutton, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hal Roach, John Wayne, and numerous other VIPs of the era.

During WWII, she became a patrol boat stationed off the California coast before returning to the Pacific Northwest, operating for 20 years as both private yacht and charter vessel. She now takes 11 passengers for her present owner; 12 if one is a minor.

Pacific Catalyst ship Westward

The handsome Westward. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Both sail at 8 knots and operate with their original diesel engines that in itself is a fine feature. Battery power allows them to travel silently for up to 12 hours, ideal for silent maneuvers to get close to animals on shore, creatures in the sea and in the air. Portholes may open or not depending on the cabin.

Diesel Engines of Pacific Catalyst ships

Both ships operate with their original diesel engines. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

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Passenger Decks

2 and not surprisingly, no elevator.

Passenger Profile

Adventuresome types who are serious explorers of the world around them.

Price

Pricey $$$

What’s Included

CATALYST: Excursions (including kayaks), plus wine and beer as well as other beverages are included (though not hard alcohol, which is BYOB).

WESTWARD: Excursions (including kayaks), plus on Sea of Cortez cruises, wine, beer and well spirits are included.

Pacific Catalyst kayaks

Kayaks tethered to the Westward in Alaska. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Itineraries

SE Alaska

Both ships spend the summer in Alaska’s Inside Passage.

  • 7 days in the eastern Inside Passage, Juneau to Petersburg and vice versa;
  • 7 days in the western Inside Passage;
  • 8 days from Juneau, Petersburg, and Sitka with anchorages at Admiralty, Baranof and Kupreanof Islands;
  • 7-, 8- and 10-day intensive touring in Glacier Bay National Park, when most small ships only spend one, while the big ships a half day.
Alaska glaciers

Cruising Alaska up-close and personal. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Depending on the destination, game seen may be black and brown bears, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, mountain goats, and events such as calving glaciers, plus small isolated villages and the local culture.

Bears on an Alaska cruise

Getting close up to bears on a small-ship cruise. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

San Juan Islands

A 6-day cruise that visits a number of different islands, looking for Steller sea lions, orca whales, harbor seals, minke whales, Pacific Whiteside Porpoises. Drop anchor at Garrison Bay, the site of a British mid-19th-century encampment, to go exploring trails and shorelines. Kayak against the backdrop of stunning snow-capped Mt Rainier, and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.

Check out Stuart Island for a climb to a lighthouse to watch passing ships and private yachts pass along the channel; Sucia Island with its geological and cultural histories, and also stands of madronas, a broadleaf evergreen tree that keeps its leaves throughout the winter; Matia Island with unique geological and topographical features; and finally a return Friday Harbor hopefully seeing more waterborne species.

Mt Rainier San Juan islands

The backdrop of Mt. Rainier. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Sea of Cortez

These 9- to 12-day cruises, from December to March, explore Baja California with activities such as snorkeling, kayaking and hiking, sometimes on nearby islands. Wildlife to see includes white sharks, sea lions, frigate birds, and gray whales. Lots of whales! Drive over to the west coast, Bahia Magdalena, for migrating whales seen from a panga while moving though a lagoon.

Baja whale watching

Baja whale watching. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Why Go?

Alaska: Serious pursuit of wildlife and while cruising in fjords, bays, narrow inlets, on and near islands, while aboard very intimate ships with personalized service.

When to Go?

Southeast Alaska — May to September.

Sea of Cortez — December to March.

Cabins

CATALYST II has upper and lower bunk cabins, double beds, some with private facilities and others shared.

WESTWARD has single and double bunks, private shower and toilet. Portholes may open or not.

Pacific Catalyst in Alaska

A cozy Westward cabin. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Pacific Catalyst

Another Westward cabin angle (3). * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Public Rooms

Both vessels have a dining-cum-lounge. And there’s a lounging space at the stern.

Pacific Catalyst ships

The back deck is a popular gathering place. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Dining

Where possible, organic food is sourced from local farmers and fisher folk in cruising areas — SE Alaska, San Juan Islands, and Baja California, especially seafood, fruit and vegetables.

fresh fish in Alaska

Smoked black cod fritters. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Pacific Catalyst food

A delicious shrimp chipotle handroll. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Activities & Entertainment

The crew is well versed in local history and know where the wildlife is located. Talks are informal and often on site when game is seen such as sea otters, sea lions, humpback whales, mountain goats, grey wolves, black and brown bears. Kayaking may be with a naturalist and hiking along nature trails.

kayaking

Both boats carry along kayaks. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

Special Notes

Two historic vessels that have engaged in many different roles and have been lovingly looked after.

Along the Same Lines

Atlas Ocean Tours with its 6-passenger vessel ATLAS cruising the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast.

Contact

Pacific Catalyst II, Inc. P.O. Box 3117, Friday Harbor, WA, 98250; 360-378-7123.

Captain Bill

Pacific Catalyst’s Captain Bill. * Photo: Pacific Catalyst

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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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Expedition Lines Act to Reduce Air Pollution

Special Note: As only three of the 12 ships in the Hurtigruten daily service coastal fleet fall below our limit of 300 cabin passengers, a brief addendum at the end will describe the remaining ships that handle from 451 to 640 berthed passengers. Also, the expedition ship FRAM (276 passengers) will then follow with a full review and varied itineraries that include northern Europe, Iceland, Greenland, partial NW Passage, Canadian Maritimes and the U.S. East Coast en route to and from the Antarctic season. Others to follow and mentioned below under itineraries.

Hurtigruten

Norwegian ships (like the ones Hurtigruten operates) traveling north from Bergen, the country’s principal west coast port, have tied the south with the north beyond the North Cape since 1893 carrying passengers, all manner of cargo and until relatively recently, the mail. This venerable service has gradually evolved from serving as a much needed transport link to one that increasingly thrives on overseas visitors who come to ogle and partake in the delights of one beautiful country. During the course of a 12-day, 2,500-mile round-trip voyage, the ships put in at 35 different ports each way, and as the northbound schedule varies from the southbound, many served at night on the way north will become daylight stops in the other direction.

Tip: If limited in time, the northbound routing calls at the more interesting ports during convenient daytime hours.

Sailing deep into the Geirangerfjord. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing deep into the Geirangerfjord. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

LOFOTEN (built 1964 & 153 beds), VESTERALEN (b. 1983 and enlarged 1989 & 301 beds), SPITSBERGEN (b. 2009 & 243 beds). Deck passengers are not counted. The LOFOTEN will be withdrawn from the coastal service with a final departure from Bergen in December 2020 and a return to Bergen on January 2, 2021.

When another operator is hopefully announced, we will share the good news here!

Note: If you live in North America and book through the Hurtigruten agency for this region, you can no longer book either the classic LOFOTEN or VESTERALEN. You have to book through an office in Europe —  https://www.hurtigruten.co.uk and email: uk.sales@hurtigruten.com. These older ships are ignored (worse: banned from booking) in North America while their heritage is touted and extolled in Europe.

Passenger Profile

International passengers (from principal countries: Norway, Germany, Britain, US), mostly over age 40 occupy the cabins, plus Norwegians and European backpackers of all ages traveling locally (a few stops) in cabins and on deck.

Passenger Decks

LOFOTEN (5) no elevator; VESTERALEN (7) elevator between all decks. SPITSBERGEN has an elevator between 5 of 6 decks, but not highest Sun Deck.

Price

$ – $$  Moderate to Expensive

Itineraries

As Hurtigruten operates a daily scheduled passenger and freight service, the itinerary remains fixed throughout the year, with the sole exception of a diversion into the gorgeous Geirangerfjord that begins in the spring and lasts into the fall. When in 2016 the SPITSBERGEN joined the fleet more as an expedition ship, including a staff to give talks and lead trips ashore. However, the ship calls only at daytime ports (as listed in the regular schedules), therefore, dwelling longer and skipping ports presently listed with nighttime arrivals and departures. Five detours into fjords are also included.

Several other Hurtigruten  ships will also join the more cruise-like itinerary with daylight calls – FINNMARKEN, MIDNATSOL and TROLLFJORD (550 to 570 passengers) will also follow this pattern as well as operate expeditions in Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. In addition, purpose-built new expedition ships will join the fleet with ROALD AMUNDSEN in summer 2019 and FRIDTJOF NANSEN IN 2020, both taking 530 passengers, thus certainly worth mentioning but well beyond our 300 passenger limit to engage in a full review.

Hurtigruten

Ted at bow of Lofoten. * Photo: Greg Fitzgerald

Included Features

Tips are not expected though many passengers do give to the wait staff.

Why Go?

The number one reason people think of booking a cruise to Norway is for the fjord, coastal and island scenery. Another is Hurtigruten’s variety of port calls, from tiny towns where the ships provide an essential service, to the country’s most beautiful mid-size cities of Bergen, Alesund, Trondheim and Tromso. Cargo handling is another attraction with something being loaded or off-loaded at every port, and lastly to meet Norwegians who are traveling in their own country for a whole host of reasons.

Should you choose the Lofoten, you will be sailing on a much loved time machine, a passenger and cargo-carrying vessel from more than a half-century ago, a type that has all but disappeared from the seas.

Lofoten is a working ship with all cargo crane-loaded in and out of the hold. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lofoten is a working ship with all cargo crane-loaded in and out of the hold or placed on the open deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

That’s a complex question as Norway’s maritime weather is fickle in almost any season.

Spring and fall will show off the change of seasons as you travel over 1,000 miles from south to north or vice versa. Long daylight hours are part of late spring through midsummer sailings.

School holidays will see the most passengers aboard, including backpackers making short coastal trips and heading out to the well offshore Lofoten Islands.

Winter brings on vibrant displays of the Northern Lights, with the downside being long hours of darkness. My preference, after a half-dozen coastal voyages, is from April through the end of May when there are fewer tourists, lots of light and a noticeable change of seasons during the course of the voyage.

Cabins

LOFOTEN’s tiny cabin accommodations will be the biggest hurdle to face as the best cabins sell out early. Very few cabins have twin lower beds, and most are designed like an enlarged railway sleeping compartment with upper and lower berths. On the deck plans, categories N (3 cabins), J (3), A (20) and I (7) have private shower and toilet. The Ds have showers and toilets along the passageways. Total cabin berths number 154.

Note:  See https://www.hurtigruten.com/our-ships/ms-lofoten/ for useful cabin photos to help make your decision.

VESTERALEN’s cabins come with private shower and toilet, and range from two beds, with one converting from a sofa, to others with upper and lowers; the majority are outside, plus insides and a block of cabins having restricted views. SPITSBERGEN’s cabins all have private facilities with a mixture of configurations. With two berth cabins, one converts to a sofa, and some will have an extra upper berth. All cabins have private facilities, with some having limited or no outside views. Upper grades have TVs.

Dining

Tables are assigned for dinner which is a set, served meal, though special dietary requests are accommodated with advance notice. The cooking is straight forward continental fare that appeals to a wide mostly European market. Breakfast and lunch are buffet, and the choices should satisfy most tastes.

If you like marinated herring served a half-dozen ways, as I do, you will be in heaven. Interport passengers who are on just for a day or two have to pay for meals so most head to the LOFOTEN’S and VESTERALEN’s cafeterias located behind the main restaurant. SPITSBERGEN has an aft dining room and a Bistro for light meals and refreshments.

Vesteralen leaving port to continue the southbound voyage to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

Vesteralen leaving port to continue the southbound voyage to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Rooms

LOFOTEN is one-of-a-kind and exudes the retro atmosphere of a small country hotel, comfy, beautifully wood-paneled and largely unchanged from the 1960s. Two lounges look forward, the top one affording the best views, while the lower lounge is quieter and better suited to reading and playing board games but with the view forward along the cargo deck. A third lounge, located aft and an extension of the cafeteria, is used for conversation and/or having a drink.

VESTERALEN is plainer inside and boasts a 360-degree top deck, glass-topped lounge for viewing the scenery, a second forward facing lounge, restaurant in the forward section of the deck below, café aft of that, small playroom, two conference rooms and a secluded lounge at the stern. SPITSBERGEN has two forward lounges, one with 270-degree views.

Dining room aboard the Lofoten. * Photo: Fellow Passenger.

Dining room aboard the Lofoten. * Photo: Fellow Passenger (Empty Chair).

Activities & Entertainment

Shore excursions abound from the active such as kayaking, snowmobiling and dog sledding (in season) to bird watching, sightseeing a town’s historic past, visiting a Sami camp in Lapland and a drive to the North Cape. The Northern Lights are at their brightest in winter. Nearly every call allows at least a quick look ashore before the ship’s whistle beckons you back, while Trondheim, a cathedral city, and Alesund, an Art Nouveau treasure, encourage several hours of exploring. On some summertime voyages, musicians will be aboard. SPITSBERGEN will have an expedition-style shore program.

Special Notes: Tax on alcohol is sky high in Norway, so beer and wine prices are amongst the most expensive in the world. Some bring aboard what they like to drink and enjoy it in their cabin before dinner — while private supplies are taboo in the public rooms.

Addendum

A description of the nine other ships follows including years delivered and berth capacities. Deck passengers are additional.

Kong Harald 1993 and 474 pass; Richard With 1993 and 464 pass; Nordlys 1994 and 469 pass; Polarlys 1996 and 473 pass; Nordkapp 1996 and 458 pass; Nordnorge 1997 and 451 pass; Finnmarken 2002 and 628 pass; Trollfjord 2002 and 640 pass; Midnatsol 2003 and 638 pass. Newly added, Spitsbergen 2009, rebuilt 2015 and 243 passengers, will replace Midnastol on the coastal route in winter when the latter goes off to Antarctica.

These 6- and 7-deck ships offer high up forward-facing panoramic lounges, additional public rooms and bars, conference rooms, children’s playroom, large restaurant aft with wraparound windows and cafeteria. At dinner, passengers will choose between the regular set 3-course meal and a 2- to 5-course a la carte menu with a supplemental charge starting at $19. Most cabins are outside with two beds, one a folding sofa bed, and private bathroom facilities with showers. Suites additionally come with TVs, sitting areas, minibar and some private balconies. All ships feature attractive Norwegian paintings, murals and sculptures. Cargo and vehicles roll-on, roll-off.

These larger ships have started a new thrust where an expedition team provides an enrichment program aboard and leads passengers ashore on hikes to look for wildlife and unusual geographical points of interest. Other new offerings on selected trips bring personnel aboard to provide a cultural emphasis with Norwegian art, music, history, music, legends & myths; voyages dedicated to astronomy during winter period when the Aurora Borealis is a dazzling sight; Norway’s conflicts through history from the Vikings to WWII and German occupation; and the all-important fishing industry. These are in addition to the classic style with 45 traditional shore excursions, some seasonal, offered over the course of a year.

The Nordlys passing southbound to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Nordlys passing southbound to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

FRAM: Expedition Ship

Hurtigruten began operating summer cruises to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), located north of Norway many years ago, and then in 2007, the firm built a dedicated expedition ship, Fram, at Italy’s Fincantieri yard, to offer a year-round program of expedition cruises to a new wide range of itineraries, not just the Polar Regions only. Before and after the Antarctic season, the ship makes positioning trips from and back to Europe. Itineraries include Iceland, Greenland, Canada’s Maritime Provinces, New England, U.S. East Coast, and the West Coast of South America via Costa Rica and the Panama Canal.

The ship’s name refers to the original Fram, an early 20th-century exploratory vessel that made pioneering voyages above the Arctic Circle on surveys and carried Roald Amundsen to Antarctica to become the first person to reach the South Pole. Midnatsol, taken off the Norwegian coastal route in winter carries 500 passengers in Antarctica. Additional expedition ships have been ordered to expand the variety of itineraries in North Europe, the Arctic, Antarctica and South America but they exceed our 300-passenger limit. For example, Roald Amundsen (530p), was to enter service in May 2019 and will now begin carrying passengers on July 2, 2019, more than a year late due to shipyard delays. Fridtjof Nansen, a similar vessel will follow.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

FRAM: built 2007 & 276 passengers; 200 pass in Antarctica.

Passenger Profile

An older international passenger list is drawn from Europe, North America and Australia with the main languages aboard being Norwegian and English.

Passenger Decks

7 decks, and two elevators serve every level except top Observation Deck.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

Many itineraries include local flights (not from the U.S.) and perhaps an overnight hotel stay; all shore activities with an English-speaking expedition team; water-resistant winter jackets; tea and coffee. Suite passengers receive complimentary drinks with meals.

Steaming Iceland. * Photo: Shutterstock Hurtigruten

Itineraries
  • Iceland’s diverse landscapes, glaciers, volcanoes, hot and cold springs, birdlife, and historic settlements; Greenland’s glaciers, icebergs, fjords, Viking settlements and hiking and partial transits of the Northwest Passage; Spitsbergen (Svalbard)’s wildlife such as musk oxen, Arctic fox and wolf, and polar bear and whaling stations; and northern Norway and its islands and fjords.
  • En route to and from South America and Antarctica, voyages call in a small Canadian maritime ports and cruise along the U.S, East Coast from New England to Florida.
  • Central America (mostly the Gulf of Mexico side); varied Caribbean islands and south to the Panama Canal and a transit.
  • Some voyages head south from the Panama Canal along South America’s west coast calling in Ecuador, Peru (incas), Chile’s fjords and the southerly Patagonia region with its spectacular scenery. Other sail via the reast coast calling at Brazilian ports.
  • Antarctic expeditions leave mostly from from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula while longer trips include the Falklands and South Georgia to see polar landscapes, icebergs of varying colors, glaciers, wildlife and birdlife, and a former whaling station on South Georgia. Activities are via Polarcirkel boat and, kayaks, and on foot.

Penguins galore, Antarctica. * Photo: Hurtigruten

Why Go?

The FRAM is a highly professional operation, organized by Norwegians who have had a lot of experience operating expeditions that began in the early 20th century. The ship is purpose-built and not a conversion from some other use nor operated on standard cruises. As one of the larger such ships, she handles rough seas about as well as any of her ilk.

When to Go?

Itineraries are arranged to operate in the warmer seasons for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins having a noisy discussion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins having a noisy discussion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

127 compact outside and inside cabins, with six cabins having shared balconies facing aft; one suite and standard cabins with one bed and one fold-up sofa bed or two sofa beds. Cabins are similar to the newer Hurtigruten coastal ships. Amenities are showers, TVs and mini-fridges. No dedicated singles.

Public Rooms

The décor reflects the culture of Norway and Greenland. Layout is also much like the newer Hurtigruten coastal ships with a large Deck 6 observation lounge, lobby lounge and arcade, two lecture rooms, fitness room, two Jacuzzis, and two saunas. There’s an open promenade deck, open Sun Deck and Observation Deck, plus an Internet Café and shop for clothing and souvenirs.

Dining

Restaurant is aft with both buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. Local dishes will include fish and bison. Food is average to good. A Bistro serves food informally at an extra charge. Because of high taxes, alcohol is very expensive.

Activities & Entertainment

Landings are via Polarcirkel landing craft equipped with “step-bow and grab railings” for easier and safer disembarkations on land. Organized special interest talks take place during the days at sea and in the evenings.

Special Note: Smoking is allowed out on deck only.

*NORDSTJERNEN: Expedition Ship

While no longer in Hurtigruten’s coastal program, the entry remains as she undertakes summer cruises to the North of Norway and Spitsbergen.

Nordstjernen, built 1956, taken in an earlier guise in Hurtigruten service. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nordstjernen, built 1956, taken in an earlier guise in Hurtigruten service. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen expedition cruises operated by the 1956-built NORDSTJERNEN operate separately from Hurtigruten’s programs and not always for the English-speaking market. See the website for details then contact the link below*. She is a gem of the classic mailship design that even predated the much-loved LOFOTEN. Within her classic lines are a forward observation lounge, bar, restaurant and small cabins, with and without private facilities, totaling 150 berths.

Her Spitsbergen  cruises  last six days and leave from Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen to look for wildlife – polar bears, walrus and varieties of birds, and with calls in a Barentsberg, a Russian mining community, Ny-Alesund, a former coal mining town and now a High Arctic Research Facility, and Magdalenfjord for the remains of a whaling community. The northern Norway itineraries leave from Tromso for the Lofoten Islands, the historically important port of Narvik, Vesteralen Region and several additional islands. It’s the rugged and wild landscapes that are the main attractions. On the Hurtigruten website, see Ships, then chose NORDSTJERNEN and have a look at The Handbook. *Then if interested go to usbooking@hurtigruten.com.

Along the Same Lines

The classic coastal ships are unique, while the expedition ships are equivalent to other high-end expedition lines.

Contact

Hurtigruten (Norwegian Coastal Voyages), 1505 Westlake Ave. N #125, Seattle WA 98109;  www.hurtigruten.com.us; 866-552-0371.

— TWS

 

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Hebridean Island Cruises

Based in Great Britain, the independently-owned British cruise line operates a single ship, HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, a lovely floating country house hotel that has had no equal for three decades in atmosphere or price.

She is based largely in Scotland, with the most frequent base port being Oban, for the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles, occasional cruises that calls at Northern Ireland’s ports, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and in 2021, several summertime cruises to the Norwegian Fjords.

This line should not be confused with the pair of 10-passenger yachts operated by Hebrides Cruises.

Note: The rest 2020 season has been cancelled, and the 2021 and 2022 seasons’ itineraries have been announced.  See the website for details, and we will update the review soon.

Hebridean Island Cruises

The Hebridean Princess. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Addendum: Hebridean River Cruises charters the intimate 70-passenger ROYAL CROWN to ply the Belgian and Dutch waterways in the spring and later in the season cruise the Danube between on two cruise between Passau, Germany and Bucharest, Romania. Fares include transfers between Britain and the riverboat, shore excursions, wines and spirits, internet and WiFi, and gratuities. See the website for additional details.

Note: The shortened 2020 season is expected to resume on 7th October.

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS (Built 1964 as COLUMBA and rebuilt into a cruise ship in 1989 & 50 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mainly British aged 50+ with many repeat passengers and occasionally Americans and other Europeans, Australians.

Passenger Decks

5, no elevator

Price

$$$  Very pricey, yet lots of included features.

Itineraries

Cruises operate from March to November to include lots of itineraries amongst Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides, and depending on the year to Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Ireland, South of England, the Channel Islands, French coastal ports, and via the Shetlands and Orkney thence across the North Sea to Norway’s coast and fjords. In any one season, no cruise is repeated. Here are samplings of  itineraries and be sure to check the line’s website for all the wonderful options.

Scotland, Hebridean Island Princess

Eilean Donan, Scotland * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

  • Secret Gardens of the Western Seaboard (7 nights) round trip from Oban, Scotland visiting Plockton, Loch Ewe, Ullapool, Skye, Mull, and Ft. William.
  • St. Kilda and Islands on the Edge (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Colonsay, Tiree,  St. Kilda (the most western isle), Lewis (Callanish Stones), Shiant Islands, Eigg,  and return to Oban.
  • Pearls of the Irish Sea  (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Islay, Bangor, Isle of Man, Cockermouth, Larne, Jura, and return to Oban.
  • Sea Lochs of the Lower Clyde (6 nights) from Greenock ( near the mouth of the Clyde) to Rothesay, Troon, Port Ryan, Holy Isle, Holy Loch and a return to Greenock.
  • Two cruises, marked as Spring Surprise and Autumn Surprise, are seven-night Hebridean itineraries decided upon by the captain. They leave from and arrive back at Oban and are popular with repeat passengers who like the ship so much that they don’t mind where she goes. Footloose indicates a focus on walking and hiking outings.
  • 2021 will see a return to Norway, a North Sea crossing to and from little and will known fjords and inlets and island between Bergen and Stavanger and a pair of cruises based at Bergen.

 

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far Western Isles.

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far out Western Isles.* Photo: Ted Scull.

Special interest cruises include: hiking (marked Footloose), golf, gardens, wildlife and nature, world and highland heritage, architecture, art, classical music, Scottish food and drink; bicycles available. Look for designations.

Generally, the vessel either docks or anchors at night and travels during breakfast or lunch to the next location. Occasional overnight sails take place when the itinerary stretches south to and from English Channel ports.

Included Features

All drinks; tips; shore excursions; bicycles; speed boat rides; fishing trips; Internet; transfers between airports and railway stations; free parking.

Why Go?

If you crave an authentic upscale Scottish country hotel atmosphere and would like it to move about seeking the most wondrous and obscure locales in the northern British Isles, this is your conveyance, and it is limited to 50 like-minded souls. Additional cruises, depending on the year, head south to Ireland, Wales, Channel Islands, South of England, Channel Islands and French coastal ports and coastal Norway.

Most amazingly, the HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS was created from a hard-working, well-engineered ferry that plied the Western Isles for a quarter century before being transformed into something quite different, yet retaining much of its traditional profile. Ted slept aboard her in one of the tiny below deck cabins as a ferry and returned for two wonderful cruise voyages in island-studded Scotland and coastal Ireland.

Scotland. Hebridean Island Cruises

Some cruises specialize in hiking. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

When to Go?

The weather in the British Isles is notoriously fickle, so you take your chances. You won’t find a cozier ship to retreat into on a foul day.

Cabins

All accommodations are individually decorated in beautiful colors and fabrics and are named after Scottish isles, castles, lochs and sounds, with wildly varying layouts. Many are roomy for a small ship, and those without windows have portholes, while six are inside without natural light. Beds may be king-size or twins, double or single. Two cabins have private balconies and ten are singles. Cabins along with the bathrooms were refitted for the 2019 season.

Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Above: Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

Renovated cabin - Isle of bute

Renovated cabin – Isle of Bute – use of Scottish plaids and Harris tweed

Amenities include a dressing table, ample storage space, fridge stocked with soft drinks, milk, coffee/tea making facilities, TV, personal safe, hairdryer, trouser press, iron and ironing board, bathrobes and slippers.

Public Rooms

In the forward-facing Tiree Lounge, the ship excels in that special small country hotel feeling with a brick and timber fireplace, comfy sofas and chairs and a cozy bar in one corner. The snug library draws readers to its tartan upholstered and leather seating, and two sides lounges — the Look-Out and wicker-furnished Conservatory are venues for morning coffee and afternoon tea.

In fine weather, passengers gather on the open afterdeck for pre-dinner cocktail receptions with hot hors d’oeuvres. On the topmost Boat Deck, windbreaks protect partitioned sections furnished with sun loungers and chairs.

Hebbridean Island Cruises

A cozy light-filled lounge. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Dining

The restaurant, refurbished for the 2019 season, operates like a hotel dining room with tables for two or up to eight for those traveling together. Single passengers sit at an officer’s table. Presentation and service from a European staff are tops with the menu thoroughly British such as a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding and sliced duckling , while Scottish specialties may be highland game, sautéed and smoked salmon, and fresh oysters. You might wish to, or not, sample haggis, a concoction of calf or lamb hearts, lungs and liver with onion, suet and seasonings and kedgeree made from rice and smoked fish. Dinner sees men in jackets and ties with women in equivalent attire; some are formal nights.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Restaurant. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

Shore trips (included) visit near and remote islands, castles, stately homes, and gardens, fishing villages and for walks of varying difficulty on rugged islands. The ship is also equipped bicycles for touring and fishing tackle, so you can try your luck.  In Scotland and Ireland, be prepared for Scottish mists and uncertain weather. Entertainment aboard is geared toward individual musicians.

Activities: How about enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Staying aboard and enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

Children under the age of nine not accepted. With a high rate of British repeaters, Anglophilia helps.

Along the Same Lines

Equally small and less pricey ships of Hebridean Cruises, Magna Carta Steamship Company, and The Majestic Line.

Contact

Hebridean Island Cruises, Kintail House, Carleton New Road, Skipton, Yorkshire BD23 2DE, www.hebridean.co.uk; from the US 011 44 (0)756 704 704, UK 01756 704 704; Also, contact a US rep. at 877-600-2648. Be sure to mention promo code HEB2020.

— TWS

 

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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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Victory I of Victory Cruise Lines

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Victory Cruise Lines

Based in Miami, Florida, Victory Cruise Lines began operating with a short first season in 2016 along the St. Lawrence River and in the Great Lakes. Using the American-built coastal ship CAPE MAY LIGHT (2001), she had operated for Delta Queen Coastal Cruises until that company went bankrupt. After a layup period and work for other firms, she joined the new line in 2016 as VICTORY I. The second unit, built as the US-flag CAPE COD LIGHT, most recently sailed as the SEA DISCOVERER until chartered by this line in 2017.

Following a refit in Europe, it appeared in summer 2018 as VICTORY II and focused on New England, Eastern Canada, St. Lawrence Valley, Great Lakes and then Cuba. Beginning in 2019, both ships have been purchased by American Queen Steamboat Company, and the pair will continue to operate as a brand, retaining the name Victory Cruise Lines and expand their horizons beyond the above and take in the American Southeast, Yucatan Peninsula, Costa Rica and Panama. (Cuba is no longer due to U.S. Government regulations).

RELATED: AQSC Acquires Victory Cruise Lines.  by Anne Kalosh

Victory Cruise Lines

OCEAN VICTORY will cruise Alaska in summer 2021. Here is a rendering of the splendid library. * SunStone Ships

NOTE: The line will undertake a 183-day charter of a small 200-passenger ship to be built for Miami-based SunStone Ships. To be named OCEAN VICTORY and operate with stabilizers , the ship will make 7-10 day cruises in Alaska for Victory Cruise Line from May to September 2021. Itinerary details will be forthcoming. Another operator, Albatros Expeditions, will charter the vessel for the rest of the year.

victory-cruises-lines

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, lives up to its name. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

VICTORY I was built in 2001 and refitted for the present operators in 2016, 202 passengers; VICTORY II was completed in 2004 and refitted in 2017/2018, 202 passengers. The ships, American-built and now under the Bahamian flag, will be brought back to the U.S. flag, a bureaucratic process that may take up to two years.

RELATED: Writer Peter Knego reports on his Great Lakes cruise aboard Victory I.

RELATED: Judi Cohen shares details about her Victory II cruise.

Passenger Decks

Five passenger decks, and an elevator serving the four cabin and public room decks, but not the top sun deck.

Victory Cruise Lines

The Victory I . * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Passenger Profile

Americans, Canadians, and a few Europeans mainly 50 and up. Many passengers will be veterans of American Queen Steamboat Company who will have broader horizons to pursue.

Price

$$ to $$$ – Pricey

victory-cruise-lines

Toronto’s skyline seen from Center Island, reached by passenger ferry from downtown. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

Cruises under the new owners began in May 2019 and operate through October with 8-, 10-, and 12-night-itineraries (a total of 40 cruises between the two ships) that focus on the St. Lawrence River and the especially the five Great Lakes. At the beginning of the season in April, VICTORY I  and VICTORY II work their way from New England and Eastern Canada into the St. Lawrence River with major port calls at Quebec City, Montreal, and along the St. Lawrence Seaway to Kingston and Toronto both fronting on Lake Ontario.

Typical 9-night cruises operate throughout the season between Toronto and Chicago (both directions) via the Welland Canal to Port Colborne to access Niagara Falls and onto Cleveland and Detroit, into Lake Huron with a stop at Little Current, north to Sault Sainte Marie, Soo Locks, Mackinac Island and finally south to Chicago. Other Great Lakes ports that are visited from time to time are Duluth, Green Bay, Milwaukee and Muskegon.

At the end of the Great Lakes’ season, in October, cruises then return via the St. Lawrence, French Canada, and the Maritime provinces to New England and south along the U.S. East Coast. In the winter itineraries appear featuring the Yucatan Peninsula, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Public Gardens, Halifax

Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia, a late fall and early spring port call. * Photo: Ted Scull

Included Features

One complimentary shore excursion is offered in every port, all soft drinks, beer, house wine and liquor throughout the day, plus a cocktail party every evening before dinner, and complimentary basic WiFi. Tips are not included; the recommended amounts are $15 per person per day for the ship’s crew, and ashore, $5pp for guides and $2 for the bus driver.

Why Go?

The key is the ease of cruising on a small ship to attractive ports, large and small, in the US and Canada. Few ships cruise the Great Lakes, though the numbers are growing. so it’s less charted territory for the many aficionados of exploring inland waters – lakes, rivers and canals.

When to Go?

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and River cruises operate from May to October, the best months for touring the region. Mexico and Central America are visited in the winter, with the U.S. Southeast in the shoulder months.

Cabins

All cabins are doubles with twin or queen-size beds, picture windows and measurements of 146 to 185 square feet, and a single owner’s suite at 335 sq. ft. Single travelers normally pay 160% for single occupancy of a double cabin.

Victory Cruise Lines

An AA Category cabin aboard VICTORY I * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Public Rooms

Main lounge connects to the tavern, while the dining room is located aft with wraparound windows at the stern. Additional dining takes place at the outdoor grill. The sun deck provides an aft-facing observation lounge, and a wraparound promenade has a narrow path for constitutional walkers.

Victory Cruise Lines

Seascape Tavern aboard VICTORY I * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Dining

It’s open seating for all meals, with the best table twos and fours next to the view windows, and especially along the wraparound stern section. An outdoor grill offers “hot rock” dinners by reservation and at no extra coast.

Activities & Entertainment

Shore excursions use audio headsets, and lecturers travel with the ship. Additional information as it becomes known.

Special Notes

A doctor is carried on all cruises, operating out of an infirmary.

Along the Same Lines

Pearl Seas Cruises and Blount Small Ship Cruises operate some similar itineraries, while Croisieres Saint Jacques and St. Lawrence Cruise Lines exclusively cruise the St. Lawrence River.

Contact

Victory Cruise Lines, 222 Pearl Street, New Albany, IN 47150. 888-907-2636. www.victorycruiselines.com.

— 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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St. Hilda Sea Adventures

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

St. Hilda Sea Adventures, a Scottish firm established in 2007 and based in Oban, operates three vessels — a small, former sail training tall ship; a former working vessel for the Royal Navy; and the third and newest acquisition is a former cruising lifeboat. The trio is comfortable, quirky and affordable in the way many small ships are not. The itineraries offer a multitude of choices — length and destinations.

Imagine visiting Scotland’s legendary isles and villages and stepping ashore with no more than 6 to 11 fellow travelers and being served aboard by a crew of two or three who, being locals, know the ropes and the neighborhood.

Urquhart Castle in Loch Ness on the Caledonian Canal cruise. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

Seahorse II, acquired in 2017, is an ex-Norwegian Ferry and now carries 11 passengers.

St. Hilda, built in 1973 as a wooden-hull sail training ship, was converted in 2007 for 6 passengers.

Gemini Explorer was acquired in 2019 and is an ex-cruising lifeboat built in 1974 that can now carry a maximum of 7 passengers.

Passenger Decks

Seahorse II: three decks and no elevator. St. Hilda & Gemini Explorer: two decks and no elevator

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Seahorse II. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Passenger Profile

Mostly from Great Britain, and others from the US and Australia. Crew numbers three for Seahorse II — captain, chef and bosun. There are two crew members for St. Hilda and Gemini Explorer — captain and chef.

Price

$ – $$

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

The St. Hilda. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Included Features

All meals, fruit on demand, coffee, afternoon teas, pre-dinner aperitif, beer and wine with dinner, stocked bar after dinner, services of the crew, guides ashore. BYO also welcomed.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Lunch on the dock next to the St. Hilda in Argyll & Bute. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Itineraries

The cruise season begins in mid-April and extends past the middle of October. Itineraries span from three to 11 nights and exclusively sail the lochs, coastlines and islands of Western Scotland.

  • An 8-night circuit visits close-in isles such as the well-known Skye and others with such names as Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna, plus sailing into five lochs.
  • A 5-nighter packs in Duart Castle, home of the Macleans, the colorful village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, nature woodland walks along Loch Linnhe and Lock Aline, with a visit to an 13th-century castle and its gardens.
  • The granddaddy of all is the 11-night voyage to the Outer Hebrides, and to St. Kilda, a tiny island out in the Atlantic Ocean that was inhabited for 2000 years until evacuated in 1930. The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a huge bird population comprising of gannets, fulmars, petrel, puffins and skua. It looks forbidding from a distance especially when approaching in such a small ship. Special permission has to be granted to land visitors.

AND, note that the three vessels are also available for full charters.

For charters, if the booking chart shows no bookings for a particular date, then the vessel is available, and the itinerary is up to you.

Adorable Puffins in the Small Isles. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Why Go?

Spectacular western Scottish landscapes, seascapes, lots of birds and land and sea animals. Some isles without regular access by ferries can only be visited by private yacht or small cruise vessel. Sail into lochs and sounds and amongst the popular and remote isles of the Outer and Inner Hebrides and along coastal Argyll. Specialties are malt whiskey distillery tours, wildlife seeking guides, and photography lessons. Revel in the camaraderie of a truly small group — passengers and crew.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

An Orca whale spotted at close range in the Inner Hebrides. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

When to Go?

Scottish weather is famously unpredictable and changes quickly in all months. With a six-month season in a northern climate, the heaviest influx of visitors will be July and August coinciding with the school holidays and the warmest months.

Specific popular destinations may be crowded then, especially picturesque villages, castles and gardens but then all cruise itineraries will also include less accessible places. Perhaps the bottom line is to consider May, June and September, early October. Expect long hours of daylight.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Lovely Plockton in the Lochalsh, Highlands of Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Cabins

Seahorse II Cabins: two doubles with a double bed or twins and en suite (private facilities); two twin cabins, two singles, and one single or double cabin at 105cm (41 inches) in width. These latter cabins have a washbasin and share two shower rooms with dressing gowns provided.

St. Hilda Cabins: a spacious double with two portholes that open, en-suite (shower, toilet, washbasin); twin berths with opening porthole, en-suite (with toilet, washbasin); twin berths (with washbasin). The twin cabins are both close to the toilet and shower rooms.

Gemini Explorer Cabins: in the forward part of the vessel there is a double en-suite, a twin en-suite and single en-suite. In the aft part of the vessel there is a double cabin that is opposite the bathroom.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

A twin cabin on St. Hilda. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Public Rooms

Seahorse II: Deck saloon for dining and a lounge for socializing, reading, and viewing Hebridean scenery and wildlife. The bridge welcomes passengers: high foredeck for wildlife spotting; boat deck aft for lounging and informally labeled “Play Deck.”

St. Hilda: Combination dining room and lounge on the deck above the cabins. Long foredeck leading up to the bow and small after deck.

Gemini Explorer: The deck saloon is where everyone dines and socialises. There is an upper viewing deck with teak benches for wildlife spotting and relaxing.

St. Hilda’s saloon. * Photo; St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Dining

All meals are either served in the combination dining saloon and lounge or in fine weather out on deck. The food is locally sourced and may be mackerel passengers catch along the way, crabs, lobster and prawns from line’s own creel, and perhaps mussels from a nearby island. Also dig into Scottish beef, lamb and pork tenderloin and locally-grown vegetables. Beer and wine with dinner.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

A buffet on the deck of the St Hilda in Loch Fyne Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Activities & Entertainment

Wildlife spotting from the boat and on shore during walks and hikes, may include golden and sea eagles, three types of whales — minkes, humpbacks and orcas — as well as dolphins, porpoises, sharks, otters and the buzzing sound of corncrakes. The new Gemini Explorer carries a two-person kayak aboard for guests’ use.

The line also offers special theme cruises from time to time featuring art tutors, photographers and wildlife specialists. The details are on St. Hilda’s website.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Bottlenose Dolphins in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Special Notes

The vessels are small and at anchor in the evening; expect some movement when at sea, a bit of getting used to for some.

Along the Same Lines

Several other operators cruise these waters and most are more expensive, and in  some cases substantially so.

Contact

St. Hilda Sea Adventures, Dunbeg, Oban, Argyll, PA37 1PX Scotland; Tel: +44(0) 7745 550988, sthildaseaadventures.co.uk.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

 

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Argyll Cruising

Argyll Cruising.

Argyll Cruising is a family-operated, one-ship line that got its start in 2015. Besides being local people, the skipper acquired first-hand training on the Majestic Line, another line covered and operating much the same wee type of ship cruises in the same region. The draws are Scotland’s outstandingly beautiful mountains and island landscapes and the complex system of waterways to explore what’s in and around the sea.

Enjoy the bird life, centuries of dynamic history, Scottish eats and its people with such pronounced accents, most a delight to the ear. The company’s base is the Holy Loch Marina about an hour west of Glasgow. Transportation from Glasgow may be by train, coach or car to Gourock on the Firth of Clyde then crossing by connecting ferry to Dunoon.

Argyll Cruising

Splendour – isn’t she cute? * Photo: Argyll Cruising

Amongst the more than four-score lines we cover on QuirkyCruise.com, Argyll Cruising carries the fewest number of passengers at any one time (eight), and qualifies as one of the smallest vessels, sharing the size category with a couple of competitors in the same waters of Western Scotland. Wait until you learn the size of the crew!

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

In this case, the ship is the former traditional wooden trawler Splendour converted to carry eight passengers in comfortable quarters within and a goodly amount of outdoor spaces. The crew numbers — captain and cook — one and one = two!

Passenger Decks

Three decks, with cabins located on the lowest deck; saloon and galley on the weather deck with multiple viewing areas and kayak and bicycle storage forward; and wheelhouse and open space aft of that on the bridge deck. Given its fishy history, there is no lift (elevator).

Passenger Profile

Most will hail from the UK as Scotland is a hugely popular destination for those living below Hadrian’s Wall.

Price

$$ Pricey, especially with so few passengers.

Included Features

Boat transfers ashore, excursions mentioned in the specific itineraries, and wine with dinner.

Argyll Cruising

Scotland and its Western Isles are beautiful. For the fit, this view is worth the climb. * Photo: Argyll Cruising

Itineraries

With 12 itineraries to choose from, it is a tough choice to make. Some eliminations come naturally as the varied lengths range from 3, 6, 10 on up to 13 nights. With such a small number of cabins, availability is always a factor, and the website clearly shows the latest booking numbers, including the availability of the single single. If 8 appears, then the vessel is also available for a group charter. The charterers may be involved in the planning of the route and the emphasis of the sights and activities.

While the listed itineraries mention specific destinations — islands, lochs, waterways, ports, and sights — there is some flexibility given the weather, wind and tidal conditions.

Examples are 6 nights focused on the Island of Mull for the colorful port town of Tobermory, Duart Castle (seat of the Mcleans), Fingal’s Cave, Iona’s monastery (founded 563 AD) and its association with St. Columba, and sightings of minke whales, sea eagles, dolphins, otters and super picturesque puffins.

Argyll Cruising

Did we say “picturesque puffins”? * Photo: Argyll Cruising

A 13-night granddaddy cruise of the Hebrides includes: Brodick Castle (Arran), Achamore Gardens (Gigha), Loch Tarbert’s beaches, Kissimul Castle high on a rock (Barra), the long stretch of Cuillin Hills often seen with amazing cloud formations above (Skye), and nesting grounds for a quarter million birds (The Shiants).

For those who have limited time or want a sampler, a 3-night getaway visits Mount Stewart House near Rothsay, fishing village of Tarbert, Arran distillery and golden eagles, and picturesque Tighnabruaich village, with an overnight anchorage in steep-sided Loch Striven.

Argyll Cruising

Far out to sea, the island of St. Kilda once had a permanent population. Today, it is a prized destination for its vast bird colonies, and historic remains. * Photo: Argyll Cruising.a

Why Go?

Scotland is so well known for its rugged beauty — mountains, valleys, islands, lochs, lovely villages, ancient sites, sea animals, bird life and warm hospitality — there is not a lot to explain. The weather can never be counted on, so it’s go with the flow — of sunshine, clouds, and the euphemistic Scotch mist that pretty much sums up all precipitation.

When to Go?  

The season begins in early April and runs through to the end of October. The peak holiday season is July and August when the most popular destinations can get crowded and the interisland ferries booked up. A cruise such as this one eases many of the frustrations.

Cabins

All accommodations have en suite (private) washing and toilet facilities, and the two-person cabins have double beds and one twin. One cabin is set aside as a single with no supplement.

Argyll Cruising

A double bed cabin, one of three such, with porthole. * Photo: Argyll Cruising

Public Rooms

The interiors are paneled with solid and veneer hardwoods, with shared inside spaces the dining saloon and pilothouse where the captain welcomes passengers to visit, share his knowledge, and socialize.

Argyll Cruising

Panelled dining saloon. * What’s for dinner? * Photo: Argyll Cruising

Dining

Two tables of four host the breakfast hour commencing about 8am, a half hour after the generator switches on for the day; lunch comes at roughly 1pm, and the pre-dinner hour begins about 7pm with the evening meal a half hour or so later. The vessel rides at anchor for meals, with the first activity after breakfast, unless the day starts with a sail to another location.

Food is a highlight for many. Dinner offers Argyll Hill lamb, Highland beef, local crab, langoustines, lobster, fresh fruits and vegetables. Finish off with sticky toffee pudding and butterscotch sauce. Wine included with dinner. BBQ lunches are held on deck in good weather. All dietary requests accepted, in advance please.

Argyll Cruising

What’s for dinner? Here is a sampling. * Photo: Argyll Cruising

Activities & Entertainment

The vessel carries kayaks, windsurfers, and bicycles. Fishing is an option as is preparing and putting out the lobster pots from the spacious working space on the foredeck. Ashore, there are walks, hikes, cycling, gardens and historic sites to visit, bird watching, and scouting for otters and seals.

Argyll Cruising

Kyles – Stately home and gardens. * Photo: Argyll Cruising

Special Notes

Be aware that the weather may not always cooperate, but it can change rather quickly.

Along the Same Lines

Western Scotland’s other competing high-end small-ship operators covered by QuirkyCruise in alphabetical order:

Contact

Argyll Cruising, 5 Crawford Lane, Dunoon, Argyll PA23 8JP Scotland; UK phone: 07917 858545;

— Ted Scull

 

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Emma Jane at Staffa

Hebrides Cruises

Hebrides Cruises is a small family-operated line that currently operates two vessels taking just 8 to 10 passengers on cruises to Scotland’s Western Isles, lochs and the Caledonian Canal that stretches 60 miles across Scotland.

The emphasis is on Scotland’s varied wildlife, in the sea, air and on land, particularly in the Western Isles; island hopping; visiting small isolated communities; and enjoying the rugged island and mountain scenery, plus Scottish lochs and the Caledonian Canal on certain itineraries.

Both vessels are ideal for chartering to extended families and groups of friends.

Note: This line should not be confused with Hebridean Island Cruises.

Cruise vessels don’t get much smaller than these two, and their rugged construction makes them ideal for cruising Scotland’s beautiful and wildlife-filled Western Isles.

Hebrides Cruises the Shiant Isles

Cruising the Shiant Isles in the Hebrides. * Photo: James Fairbairns for Hebrides Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

ELIZABETH G was rebuilt in 1995 from a Norwegian rescue vessel and takes 8 passengers; 10 on a charter.

EMMA JANE was purchased in 2016 and began sailing on May 13, 2017 as PROUD SEAHORSE, and then renamed in 2018. She is a mini-cruise vessel and takes 10 passengers.

Both vessels are stabilized.

Hebrides Cruises

The Elizabeth G. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Decks

ELIZABETH G has 3 decks, and EMMA JANE 4 decks, and neither has elevators.

This pair is not suitable for wheelchair passengers. Passengers with mobility issues are helped on and off the ships.

Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane together

The Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Passenger Profile

Outdoorsy types who love nature and the sea. Children under 12 are not accepted unless it is a full ship charter; same for pets. Crew numbers 4 — captain (“skipper”), bosun, chef and wildlife guide.

Price

$$ to $$$

Expensive to pricey. Full charter offers a 10% discount.

Included Features

All meals, morning coffee, afternoon tea, snacks, bottled water and house wine with dinner; guided shore trips by wildlife experts.

drinks on deck in the Hebrides

Drinks are included in the fares. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Itineraries

4-, 6-, 8- and 10-night cruises operate between the end of April through to mid-October covering variously the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Caledonian Canal across Scotland and several lochs.

The shortest, 4 nights, visits Lochs Linnhe and Etive and the Isle of Lismore; 6 nights either the Caledonian Canal between Oban and Inverness or the Isles of Skye, Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna; while the 8-nighter adds the more remote Shiant Isles.

The longest, 10 nights, includes Mingulay, Barra, South and North Uist, Harris and the most remote and dramatic of the Outer Hebrides: St. Kilda and its raucous bird colonies. The website has a space available chart. Dates that list “0” are available for charters.

Emma Jane at Staffa

Emma Jane at Staffa in the Inner Hebrides. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Why Go?

Scotland is a gorgeous sea, sky, and mountain country with lovely isles and lochs to visit that are home to hugely varied wildlife — birds, animals and sea creatures. The locals are friendly too.

Cliffs of Canna in the Hebrides

The breathtaking Cliffs of Canna. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

common dolphins

Emma Jane with common dolphin from boat tender. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises Wildlife Guide Lynsey Bland

When to Go?

Scotland is a fickle weather sort of country, with sudden changes in very short periods of time, so you take your chances at any time of the April to October cruising season. June tends to sell out first.

Cabins

ELIZABETH G has four small double cabins for 8 passengers (two with double beds and two with stacked twin beds); and up to 10 passengers for a private charter.

Elizabeth G twin cabin

An Elizabeth G twin cabin. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

EMMA JANE has 4 doubles or twin ensuite cabins and one cabin suite (separate bedroom and lounge) for a maximum of 10 passengers. The fittings and finishes show great attention to detail.

Single passengers may ask to share a double cabin on a per person basis, or if the ship is not full, have the cabin to themselves. Otherwise singles pay the full cabin rate.

Emma Jane cabin

An Emma Jane cabin. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Public Rooms

The lounge is adjacent to the dining section, while the wheelhouse and outer decks are additional public spaces with lounge seating.

Lounge, PROUD SEA HORSE, Hebridean Cruises

Lounge EMMA JANE. * Photo:  Hebridean Cruises

Elizabeth G lounge

The lounge of Elizabeth G. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Dining

Everyone dines at the same time. Sample menus:

Breakfast — Scottish porridge with fruit compote, smoked Scottish salmon or haddock, scrambled eggs, and whole meal toast, and fresh biscuits and muffins. Also dig into Argyll free-range sausages, locally smoked bacon, herb slow roasted tomatoes, and Stornoway black pudding.

Lunch — two courses with soup, salad or sandwiches on freshly baked bread. For example, enjoy a local Scottish salmon and asparagus tart, freshly made Focaccia bread, roasted butternut squash, and a tomato and avocado salad.

Dinner is a set meal by candlelight — locally caught langoustines and scallops or chicken breasts stuffed with haggis or pistachio and mint-crusted rack of Argyll lamb, served with minted new potatoes and seasonal steamed greens. Dessert may be Sicilian lemon tart with mint and Scottish strawberry sorbet, followed by Scottish cheeses with oatcakes and a local chutney, plus  coffee. Vegetarians can enjoy options like aubergine and feta ‘cannelloni’ with a rich basil and tomato ragu, served with seasonal greens.

Hebrides Cruises dinner

Delicious fare, like this crab cake with prawns meal. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

If aboard, there’s a service of morning coffee, afternoon tea and homemade cakes or biscuits. Special diets catered to with advance notice.

Activities & Entertainment

Organized trips ashore are led by a qualified wildlife guide for spotting at sea and when ashore. Trips might involve two hours to visit local villages and their attractions or longer hikes.

Also, some hikes may be self-guided for those who prefer independent activities.

Eigg on a Hebrides cruise

Walking on Eigg. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Wildlife often seen comprise whales, sharks, dolphins, many types of sea birds, white-tailed and golden eagles, and otters and red deer. On islands such as Hirta and far out St.Kilda, birding trips may last six hours and include a packed lunch.

If feeling lazy, enjoy the ship and its observation deck and let the others mess about.

Special Notes

Scotland’s weather is highly fickle and temperatures may be cool even in summer. It is best to wear breathable waterproof jacket and trousers, and think layers rather than a heavy coat.

Walking boots are the best footwear, and a walking stick is a good steadying tool in rough and slippery terrain. Insect repellent should be taken for trips ashore or applied before.

Along the Same Lines

The Majestic Line, Magna Carta Steamship Company, Hebridean Island Cruises.

Contact: Hebrides Cruises, Craigard, Connel PA37 1 PT Scotland; +44 (0)1631 711 986; www.hebridescruises.co.uk

TWS

 

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Magna Carta Steamship Company

UPDATE:  Magna Carta Steamship Co Sells Lord of the Glens. by Ted Scull  (Aug 16, 2020) … more details to follow.

Founded in 1999, the Magna Carta Steamship Company the LORD OF THE GLENS, a 27-cabin mini cruiser outfitted with classic interiors, on five- and seven-night cruises, April to October. One-way trips operate between Inverness and Oban via the 60-mile Caledonian Canal or between the coastal community of Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness.

All three ports have train connections to the rest of Scotland, and south to England and Wales. Some mid-summer dates are chartered out to Lindblad Expeditions

Cruise the beautiful Caledonian Canal spanning Scotland from the North Sea to the West Coast and the sheltered Scottish coast aboard a comfy mini cruiser.

Beginning in May 2020, you will have the choice of two vessels when the LORD OF THE HIGHLANDS is delivered.

LORD OF THE GLENS passing Urquhart Castle. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

LORD OF THE GLENS passing Urquhart Castle. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LORD OF THE GLENS was originally built in Greece in the 1980s and then rebuilt for the present owners in the year 2000, taking 54 passengers.

Note: In May 2020, the Spanish-built LORD OF THE HIGHLANDS will join the line taking 42 passengers in 21 outside cabins. Details will be added as they become available.

Passenger Decks

4 and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

Americans, Canadians, British and Europeans. Crew is British and European.

Price

$$ to $$$ — Expensive to very pricey.

Included Features

Rates include excursions as outlined in the itinerary and transfers to/from Inverness at the start or end of the cruise. Suggested tipping is GBP 7 per person per day. Limited internet is available and WiFi generally not except in towns.

Itineraries

Two different itineraries are operated.

LORD OF THE GLENS in the Caledonian Canal. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

LORD OF THE GLENS in the Caledonian Canal. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

5 nights: Inverness to Oban via Loch Ness and through the locks of the scenic 19th-century Caledonian Canal. The route through the heart of the Highlands aims southwest to Scotland’s west coast entering the sea via Neptune’s Staircase, a flight of descending locks. The cruise continues to colorful Tobermory, the Isle of Mull for Duart Castle and finally to the port of Oban.

7 nights: Begins similarly then heads out to the Christian site at Iona, the Isles of Eigg and Skye, Eilean Donan Castle, the pretty town of Plonkton and finally to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Bird and sea life sightings are features of this longer cruise.

Docked at Tobermory. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Docked at Tobermory. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Why Go?

When the fickle Scottish weather cooperates, the shimmering lochs, deep glens, and high bens (mountains) are magnificent. Spring brings wild flowers and the autumn, an array of color. The landscapes change very quickly as the ship moves along the Caledonian Canal and crosses long deep lochs, including Loch Ness, perhaps the most famous of all.

When to Go?

Magna Carta Steamship Company cruises operate from May to October, and July and August are the busiest months for visits ashore to prime tourist spots. But Scotland is rarely a crowded scene, just the contrary.

Cabins

The 27 cabins (average about 135 sq. ft.) are divided into four categories over three decks and accommodate 54 passengers, all with dressing table, hairdryer, satellite TV, radio, music system, air-conditioning/heating, safe deposit box, and private shower, toilet, and washbasin. Suitcases fit under the beds.

Windows bring in abundant natural light in all rooms apart from four lower deck units with double portholes. Beds are mostly twin.

Alexander Graham Bell cabin. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Alexander Graham Bell cabin. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Public Rooms

The highest of the four decks is given over to an observation lounge with a glass domed ceiling and a mahogany-trimmed bar lounge with good views, while the dining room seating all passengers at one time is on the deck below. The forward deck has uninterrupted views ahead and to port and starboard. For ocean liner buffs, some decorative features and some furnishings are from the SS France, RMS Rhodesia Castle and RMS Windsor Castle and the original Orient Express.

Dining

Breakfast (buffet) is available from 7 to 9:30am, lunch 12:30pm and dinner 7:30pm. Scottish produce is featured with angus beef and bounty from the sea. Passengers are asked to choose their entries in advance to give the chef an idea of how much to prepare. Most men wear a jacket to dinner and may dress up a bit more for a special evening.

Bar-Lounge. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Bar-Lounge. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Activities & Entertainment

Social life predominates aboard, and ashore with coach drives to castles and beauty spots of this green country, plus walks around pretty towns. A film is screened every night.

Special Notes

With the Scottish cruises of short duration, one week or less, plan on a larger itinerary than might include Glasgow and Edinburgh or even the Outer Hebrides.

Along the Same Lines

Hebrides Cruises, The Majestic Line, Hebridean Island Cruises.

Contact

Magna Carta Steamship Company Ltd, 136 Hamilton Terrace, London NW8 9UX UK; Tel: 020 7372 2077

TWS

 

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Blue Lagoon Cruises

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Blue Lagoon Cruises operates a spiffy small 68-passenger catamaran on informal seven-night cruises to a string of tropical islands in the Fijian chain. While the company was established over a half-century ago, its present style of operation with the FIJI PRINCESS began in 2004. The emphasis is on visits to the islands, the people and a whole host of activities ashore while the vessel is at anchor or even tied to a coconut tree.

There is minimal sailing time as the islands are very close together, and if the water is at all rough, the vessel may shelter on the lee side away from the winds. Fiji is a popular stopover between the U.S. West Coast and New Zealand and Australia, so North Americans may set down here for a week, take the cruise and then fly onward to the antipodes. Cruises operate year-round.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

FIJI PRINCESS (built 1998, acquired 2004; 68 passengers) Most passengers will be adults (and honeymooners) from Australia, New Zealand (the closest large countries), then British, Europeans and North Americans. Designated cruises, especially during school holidays, include activities for families with children. The crew is all Fijian.

Passenger Decks

Four decks, three with cabins, and no elevator.

Price

$$

Itineraries

Cruises last seven days, while three- and four-day stints are also available with transit from the main embarkation port by high-speed transfer vessel. Very little time is spent sailing, usually not more than four hours a day, as the primary objective is to enjoy the string of islands and the water-based activities.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

The departure port is Denarau Marina, a short distance from Nadi Airport on the main island, for a sail out to the Mamanuca and Tasawa Islands. The cruises offer tropical island settings with virtually uninhabited beaches, a range of water-based activities, and a cultural experience among the island locals and the all-Fiji crew.

As the catamaran FIJI takes just 68 passengers, the atmosphere is relaxed and as social as you would like it to be.

Included Features

All excursions and water sport activities including snorkeling gear, spyboards (lie on a floating platform and look through a window to view underwater activities while propelling with one’s feet),  and kayaks, coffee, tea, juices, filtered water.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Snorkeling is amazing in this part of the world and gear is included in the fares. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Gratuities, diving gear, sport fishing, and alcoholic beverages are extra. A donation made to the Vinaka Fiji Trust is added to the final bill, and the amount may be removed or adjusted upward or downward. The trust aids villagers who are living below the poverty line, and the cruises visit one of the locations.

Why Go?

Once you leave the main island, you will soon enter another seemingly far away world that is only a few hours sailing aboard the FIJI PRINCESS. The seascapes are blue, while the islands are white sands with tropical landscapes, welcoming local people and adventures ashore and in the calm waters. Fiji makes a fine stopover with direct flights to and from the U.S. West Coast and then via much shorter flights to and from New Zealand or Australia.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Experience the local culture and customs. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

When to Go?

The weather chart shows that the best months to visit are between late March and early December, with November to April having the most rainfall, occurring in brief downpours. Daytime high temperatures range from 79F (26C) to 88F (31C) — not much of a variation in this tropical part of the world. Trade winds are normally east-southeast, and cyclones may appear in the wet season.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

One of the most gorgeous places on earth. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Cabins

The Upper and Middle Orchid Decks hold most of the cabins, here outside with windows and approximately 142 sq. ft. (13 sq. m) with queen or two single beds. Hibiscus Deck, below the Orchid deck, has cabins of 117 sq. ft (11 sq. m) and queen or single beds, windows and a location on the dining saloon deck.

A double bed cabin. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Shared amenities amongst all the cabins include a welcome fruit platter, complimentary daily stocked mini bar (beer, wine, soft drinks & bottled water), a sun care pack, in-cabin Nespresso coffee machine,  tea making facilities, and cabin TV for  DVD viewing.

Public Rooms

The main lounge with bar faces aft on the Middle Orchid Deck, and a second bar is on the top Sky Deck where the sun loungers (deck chairs) are located.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Bar Lounge on FIJI PRINCESS. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Dining

The covered restaurant is located aft on the lowest Hibiscus Deck and faces aft to a splash pool and then over the stern. The food emphasizes local fresh fruit, fish and vegetables, and is served in an informal setting facing aft over the stern. Seating is open and in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, morning coffee and afternoon tea are also served. A boutique and reception are also located on this level.

The dining salon. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

While anchored in a lagoon, shore trips visit remote villages, discover Fijian culture, partake in an island feast as well as learn how to prepare your own, explore several caves, and visit schools. Just relaxing on South Pacific island beaches is another appealing option, and one stop will be at the line’s private beach.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Being in the water is a big part of a Blue Lagoon Cruise. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Water sports choices are swimming, including with manta rays, stand-up paddle boarding, and snorkeling. Diving and fishing trips are optional extras. A glass bottom boat makes trips for viewing underwater. On board, there is a splash pool, spa, and deck chairs on the upper sun deck. Entertainment comes aboard at some island stops.

Special Notes

On trips to Fijian villages, dress is modest. Men are provided with a sulu knee-length skirt-like covering and women are asked to cover up their bare shoulders.

Along the Same Lines

Captain Cook Cruises also operates in Fiji.

Contact

Blue Lagoon Cruises, PO Box PD052, Port Denarau, Fiji Islands; www.bluelagooncruises.com, (679) 675 0500.

 

PollyPink

 

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