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Tradewind Voyages's Golden Horizon

Tradewind Voyages

COVID-19 UPDATE

Tradewind Voyages is scheduled to begin sailing in May 2021.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

With the launch of Golden Horizon in May of 2021, Tradewind Voyages introduces tall ship sailing with a philosophy of authenticity — to journey the way the old ships of maritime trade once did, following the monsoons and currents, powered by the wind, and calling at ports along traditional trading routes of yore.

It was built as a near replica of 1913’s France II, the world’s largest square-rigged vessel.

Tradewind Voyages's Golden Horizon

The Golden Horizon. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

(Originally the ship was designed, planned and executed by Star Clippers, to be called Flying Clipper, but it became caught up in a dispute between the line and the shipyard, Brodosplit in Croatia, and was not delivered to Star Clippers in the end.)

The ship will power most of its journey using 6,300 sq. m. of sails when possible, with the goal of using its propulsion engines a mere 30% of each season. To that end, the company has a built-in sustainability model.

The ship will launch with a series of itineraries from the UK, sailing the northern European coast, after which she will sail through the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and the Middle East, following the coast to India and on to Southeast Asia ending in Australia. When the winds change direction, Golden Horizon will follow the same journey back to her starting point.

Tradewind Voyages has mentioned plans to expand the fleet in the future.

FLEET

Golden Horizon (built 2021 & 272 passengers) — coastal Europe, Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia & Australia

Passenger Profile

Sailing buffs and lovers of old ships and tall ships, who appreciate the journey as much as the destination, are the typical passengers.

Tradewind Voyage ships wheel

The pretty ship’s wheel. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Golden Horizon is geared to couples, singles and friend groups in their 30s and 40s on up, predominantly from North America, UK, and Europe, and other places too.

Price 

$$ — Expensive

Included Features
  • Wine, beer and soft drinks are included at meal time
  • Complimentary water sports from the ship’s marina
Itineraries

Voyages from the UK begin mainly from Harwich, with two Glasgow embarkations, for 7- to 21-night exploring northern European coastlines.

The Maritime Silk Route cruises ply the coastal waters of France, Spain and Portugal into the Mediterranean, visiting ports in southern Spain and Italy to Croatia, then through the Suez Canal to Middle Eastern shores, India, Ceylon, Southeast Asia including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Christmas Island turtle

Stunning sea life of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, south of Java, Indonesia. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

A circumnavigation of Australia includes the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays, Yarra Valley and coastal scenery.

The journey back to the UK traverses Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean stopping at the Maldives and Sri Lanka to eastern African ports including Zanzibar.

Nosy Iranja the beautiful little island of Madagascar

Nosy Iranja, a beautiful little island belonging to Madagascar. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Sample itinerary

The Bay of Bengal and The Malacca Straits is a 15-nights itinerary from Sri Lanka, where passengers will go wildlife spotting at the Yala and Bundala National Parks before embarking, and then cross the Andaman Sea to Thailand’s Phuket and Phi Phi Islands, sailing onward into the Strait of Malacca to Port Klang to finish in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

When to Go?

The summer months are spent in northern Europe.

Come autumn, Golden Horizon heads to the Mediterranean and sails through the Indian Ocean, Andaman Sea and through Southeast Asia.

Winter months are spent in Australia. In the spring, voyages back track to begin the summer season in northern Europe.

Sustainability Initiatives

The ship sails without using propulsion engines for around 70% of each season.

Activities & Entertainment

Onboard activities include wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, upper-deck games, movies under the stars and quizzes. Yoga and Pilates classes are held on the Sun Deck. There’s also a small gym and spa.

There are water sports from the marine platform. A resident destination speaker and visiting local speakers will present on areas of history and culture, maritime history and astronomy.

Optional shore excursions visit cultural attractions and natural sights.

In the evenings there’s a resident pianist and jazz duo in the piano bar who are sometimes joined by local dance and musical talents along the journey.

Dining

Seating is open in the main two-story dining room with its dramatic 19th-century maritime flair. Menus comprise dishes representing the local flavours of the region.

Tradewind Golden Horizon's restaurant

Golden Horizon’s two-level restaurant. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

SHIP

Golden Horizon

A 272-passenger tall ship, Golden Horizon may be a copy of a vintage ocean vessel, but the facilities are modern. Decor throughout is distinctly nautical. The dining room is grand two-level affair, where dishes are prepared with local flavours and a focus on fresh, sustainable and healthy ingredients.

There are two outside bars, which also serve light meals, and also a piano bar with resident pianist and a cozy premium beverage bar. In the late afternoons, snacks are provided by a trolley service.

For down time there’s a spa with sauna, hammam, snow room and Jacuzzi, salon, sun deck, gym and library.

Golden Horizon's library

Golden Horizon’s library. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Cabins

The lowest category cabins have two portholes for views and accommodate two guests. Some of these rooms also accommodate solo passengers. Deluxe balcony cabins can sleep three adult guests — cabins in this category and higher have 24-hour room service and a free minibar.

All cabins have slippers, bathrobes, hairdryer, shampoo and conditioner.

Tradewind's Twin cabin with portholes

Twin cabin with portholes. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Tradewind cabin

Deluxe balcony cabins can sleep 3. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Tradewind Cabin bathroom

Cabin bathroom. * Photo: Tradewind Voyages

Along the Same Lines

The tall ships of Star Clippers and Sea Cloud Cruises offer a similar experience.

Contact

Tradewind Voyages, UK-based

www.tradewindvoyages.com

email: interest@tradewindvoyages.com

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

PEARL MIST (built 2014 & 210 passengers)

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all cabin decks.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

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

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

Pearl Seas Cruises

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

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

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

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

 

Pearl Seas Cruises adds Panama Canal

Panama Canal. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

 

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Pitcairn Islands

Pitcairn Island Silver Supporter

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

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

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

Remote Pitcairn Island

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

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

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

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

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

Ship & Year Delivered

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

Pitcairn Islands

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

Passenger Decks

There are three decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

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

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Itineraries

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

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

Staying Ashore on Pitcairn

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

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

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

Included Features

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

Why Go?

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

rugged Pitcairn Island

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

cabin on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

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

Cabin lounge area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

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

Public Rooms

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

Lounge of Silver Supporter

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

Dining

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

Dining area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

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

Activities & Entertainment

Reading, watching films, socializing and relaxing.

Special Notes

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Pitcairn Island group's Henderson Island

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

Contact

For more info, go to Pitcairn Islands Tourism.

— TWS

 

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Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions was founded in 1999 by Nikolay Saveliev as Poseidon Arctic Voyages. Registered in the UK, the company operated its first voyage in 2001 aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal. Expedition voyages center on the Arctic region, including multiple annual departures in July and August sailing directly to the North Pole, as well as Antarctica and the British Isles.

The firm currently charters two fine ships, the deluxe expedition ship Sea Spirit and the 50 Years of Victory, nuclear-powered and the world’s most powerful icebreaker. The latter is a working ship at other times of the year, and she can break through 10 feet of ice (3 meters). In the printed brochure, members of expedition teams are featured right up front with brief bios and overviews of their expertise.

The Sea Spirit

The Sea Spirit. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

COVID-19 UPDATE

Poseidon Expeditions is scheduled to resume sailing in May 2021.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

FLEET

Sea Spirit (built 1991 & 114 passengers) – Arctic & Antarctica

50 Years of Victory (b. 2007 & 128 p) – North Pole

Passenger Profile

Active people from Europe, Australia, Asia, the US and Canada, aged 45 and up. English is the primary language onboard.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Super Pricey (North Pole expeditions)

Included features
  • One pre-voyage hotel night (most departures)
  • Transfers between airport and hotel, hotel and ship, and ship and airport
  • All meals
  • All regular excursions (Helicopter flights included for North Pole expeditions, but not flights to Murmansk to join/leave ship.)
  • Parkas with destination patches
  • Loan of Wellington boots for Zodiac landings
  • Digital voyage log
Spitsbergen (Svalbard) - Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) – Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

In the Arctic, Sea Spirit operates a program of 10- to 15-day expeditions in June and August/September that visit Iceland, including the Northern Lights, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen (Svalbard); Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land (Russia); Spitsbergen circumnavigations; and Iceland and east Greenland. Most expeditions feature photography (free) and kayaking (a fee). En route north for the Arctic season in May, the ship will embark in Plymouth, South of England and visit sites in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, ending at Leith, the port for Edinburgh.

A second cruise begins in early June at Leith and subsequently calls on Jan Mayen Island, and disembarking in Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen. After a series of Spitzbergen itineraries, the ship heads for Franz Josef Land, but also uses Longyearbyen as turnaround port for these explorations of the Russian archipelago of 191 islands.

At the North Pole, 50 Years of Victory operates three 13-day expeditions in July and the beginning of August to the North Pole starting with a pre-cruise hotel night in Murmansk (Russia) then boarding the ship to sail to the North Pole with a return via the uninhabited Franz Josef Land to look for polar bears and sea birds and stop at an abandoned meteorological station. All North Pole trips feature photography lessons and helicopter sightseeing (included), barbecue, and an optional polar plunge. Note: A Russian visa is required for this expedition.

In Antarctica, Sea Spirit spends a full season with departures from late October into late February undertaking 11-day Antarctica Peninsula cruises and several 20- and 21-day expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falklands, and South Georgia. One cruise crosses the Antarctic Circle to 66 degrees South — now that’s about as far south as it gets! Most cruises begin at Ushuaia, Argentina. Some Antarctica trips feature photography lessons (free), kayaking amongst the ice (a fee), and how about overnight camping on the White Continent (a fee).

camping in Antarctica

Camping, can you imagine! * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sample Itinerary

The 10-night “Realm of Penguins & Icebergs” cruise starts with an overnight in Ushuaia, Argentina. From there, the ship passes through the Beagle Channel and past the Tierra del Fuego islands before heading south to cross the Drake Passage for whale and sea bird watching. After crossing the Antarctic Convergence, the ship arrives at the South Shetland Islands for 5 days of exploration and then goes on to the Antarctic Peninsula to see wildlife and breathtaking scenery, stopping for shore excursions and adventures aboard Zodiacs and paddling sea kayaks. Afterwards, the ship heads back to Ushuaia.

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Why Go?

Few expeditions go directly to 90 Degrees North, where you can stand at the North Pole and be photographed from the air. The other destinations such as Greenland and South Georgia are little visited, and often arriving by ship is the best or only way.

Drop anchor and go ashore where roads and air access do not exist. If you want to feel that you are truly away from your normal routine, then one of the expedition-style voyages is for you.

When to Go?

The itineraries operate seasonally according to the most advantageous times of the year, so generally the Arctic Region in the summer and Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

Poseidon Expeditions

50 YEARS OF VICTORY. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sustainability Initiatives

Poseidon Expedition ships employ wastewater, garbage and energy management systems that are in line with marine pollution prevention regulations. The ships do not use plastic straws and stirrers or single-use food packaging — shampoo and soaps in-cabin are in dispensers. Each passenger is given a reusable water bottle. Cleaning is done with eco-friendly products.

Activities & Entertainment

On Sea Spirit cruises, the principal emphasis is on outdoor activities relating to the destinations such as Zodiac trips in search of wildlife and for going ashore to local communities, beautiful locations and onto the ice with destinations such a penguin colony, and even the North Pole. On board, presentations and recaps tie in with what happens ashore. The ship is equipped with a gym and hot tub. During the evening hours, a pianist provides light entertainment.

50 Years of Victory is designed for long periods at sea, so the ship is equipped with a massage room, gym, two saunas and indoor saltwater pool heated with nuclear energy, and not often found, a basketball and volleyball court. The ship carries a helicopter on an after deck.

Excursions ashore in remote parts as well as activities such as kayaking and helicopter sightseeing are subject to weather and wind conditions.

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

SHIPS

Sea Spirit

This 114-passenger luxury expedition ship has five decks, all accessible via elevator. In 2019, Sea Spirit was refitted with a more effective set of stabilizers to reduce rolling while underway, drifting and even when anchored.

The main restaurant is on the lowest passenger deck and seats all at one sitting. The food is good, varied and as fresh as it can be when sailing in remote locations. In addition, an outdoor bistro serves lunch most days, and tables are arranged on the adjacent deck.

outdoor bistro

The outdoor bistro, and what a view! * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

All public rooms are located aft while suites are amidships and forward. The Presentation Lounge is set up for lectures and video presentations, and above that, the Club Lounge is for socializing, with a bar and an adjacent library lounge with books on exploration and wildlife and general reading, plus DVDs.

Club Lounge

The Club Lounge. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Outside deck space circles the ships so viewing locations span 360 degrees. Sea Spirit also has a Jacuzzi, gym, an infirmary and a bridge with an open policy to passengers.

All accommodations are designated as suites, all outside, and with dimensions of 215, 226, 248, 258, 323 and 463 sq. ft. The largest three categories have balconies. Twin beds convert to king-size.

Sea Spirit cabin

Sea Spirit twin cabin. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

In cabin: en suite, individual temperature control, TV with DVD player, phone (with satellite connection), refrigerator, safe, hair dryer, and complimentary WiFi.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

50 Years of Victory

The most powerful icebreaker ever built works most of the year for scientific surveys and cargo purposes, but in summer months brings travelers to the North Pole in comfortable accommodations. Elevators link the four cabin and public room decks, but not the bridge, nor the pool and sauna located aft on the lowest of the six decks.

indoor swimming pool

The indoor swimming pool. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

There is a single restaurant accommodating all passengers at one sitting. The food service of international cuisine during the summer is prepared by a Swiss catering company. The crew is both Russian and from other European countries, but Poseidon’s expedition team are all English-speaking.

On one deck, the Victory Bar looks over the bow while, the library and lounge are just aft and the second lounge and bar are all the way aft and used for lectures and presentations. There is plenty of deck space for viewing.

Poseidon Expeditions bar

The bar aboard 50 Years of Victory. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

The bridge, often open to passengers, is a spacious additional focus to learn about navigation, chat with the officers and scan the horizon with binoculars for polar bears and walruses.

Cabins are located amidships and forward, all outside and originally designed for officers and top staff who would spend months aboard breaking ice, so there are desks and plenty of storage space. Windows open. The smallest are 151 sq. ft., while the rest range from 237-355 sq. ft.

In cabin: en suite, TV with DVD player. Suite categories have bathtub and fridge. (There is no Wi-Fi for passengers, though emails can be sent from the radio room.)

50 Years of Victory

The formidable 50 Years of Victory. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Special Notes

Read carefully what the line suggests you bring and don’t burden yourself with too much unnecessary luggage. Excursions ashore in these remote parts as well as activities such as kayaking and helicopter sightseeing are subject to weather and wind conditions.

Along the Same Lines

Polar Latitudes, Quark Expeditions, Noble Caledonia, Aurora Expeditions and Albatros Expeditions are in the same league with Poseidon.

Contact

Poseidon Expeditions; www.poseidonexpeditions.com

London, UK — sales@poseidonexpeditions.com; +44 203 369 0020

US — SalesUSA@poseidonexpeditions.com; +1 (347) 801-2610

Check the website for additional offices in Germany, Cyprus and China.

TWS

 

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French Poly Dancers * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Paul Gauguin Cruises

French Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin lived in Tahiti in the late 19th century and brought to the world images of French Polynesia and its cultures. This ship, named for him, plies the South Pacific’s tropical aqua-blue waters year-round, focusing on French Polynesia and the Society Islands.

Owned by Pacific Beachcomber, a French Polynesian resort hotel firm, the m/s Paul Gauguin has resided in these waters longer than any other, so it has become an integral part of the island scene. Its long-serving crew, proudly hailing from French Polynesia, is known for enthusiastically sharing their local knowledge.

In August 2019, Ponant, the French small ship cruise line, announced that it had bought Paul Gauguin Cruises and will continue to operate the ship under both its familiar name and banner. Three months later, Ponant announced the orders for two 230-passenger expedition ships for Paul Gauguin Cruises for delivery in 2022. One major innovation will be the ability to shut down the engines at day’s end for up to 10 hours, and, therefore, cease all emissions.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Paul Gauguin. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

RELATED: Ponant Orders 2 New Ships for Paul Gauguin Cruises.  by Anne Kalosh.

COVID-19 UPDATE

Paul Gauguin Cruises restarted operations in August 2020.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news and protocols.

Fleet

m/s Paul Gauguin (built 1998 & 332 passengers)

Passenger Decks

7 passenger decks are numbered from 3 (lowest) to 9 (highest). Elevators, forward and aft, connect all decks but 9, the Sun Deck; and the aft set do not serve 3.

Passenger Profile

Americans, lots of French (as ship sails largely in French Polynesia), other Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders, generally 45 and up. It’s popular with honeymooners and during school breaks, also families. Every cruise is bilingual English/French, and the website lists all the languages catered for.

Price

$$-$$$ Expensive

Included Features
  • Roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles (for Americans)
  • Roundtrip airport/pier transfers
  • All shipboard meals, including 24-hour room service
  • Beverages, including select wines and spirits, beers, soft drinks, bottled water and hot drinks
  • Minibar stocked with bottled water, beer and soft drinks
  • Onboard tips
  • Watersports
  • Access to private beach in Bora Bora and private island, Motu Mahana
Itineraries

The m/s Paul Gauguin sails mainly in French Polynesia (an island group that comprises the Society, Tuamotus and Marquesas islands), the Cook Islands and a few other island destinations in the South Pacific.

tuamotus beach

A beach on one of the Tuamotus islands. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Cruises last seven to 14 nights, with most being seven-night sailings. The vast majority of cruises sail out of Papeete on Tahiti for circuits that take in the island of Tahiti and points in French Polynesia, including Bora Bora, with a few longer itineraries that include Tonga and Fiji.

The ship tends to anchor rather than dock and that allows changing views from the ship as it rhythmically swings in an arc of about 120 degrees. — Ted Scull

Sample itinerary

The 7-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands” cruise departs from Papeete, Tahiti, calling at Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea, before returning to Tahiti.

Bore, Bora, French Polynesia.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Why Go?

It’s cruising in paradise, especially for those who love tropical climates and stunningly beautiful seascapes and gorgeous white-sand beaches. Soak up the lush landscapes that rise from the blue waters and enjoy quiet lagoons for out-of-this-world snorkeling and diving. The water sports options from the ship’s stern marina are another big draw.

When to Go?

The summer months are hot and humid with afternoon downpours, though being near and on the water softens the heat factor. The driest months are June to August. Families come during the school holidays.

Sustainability Initiatives

In a partnership with South Pacific marine education and conservation foundation Te mana o te moana, m/s Paul Gauguin has daily hands-on interactive education programs for families, while an onboard naturalist leads excursions with a conservation focus.

Activities & Entertainment

Water sports are based at the stern marina for scuba diving excursions, kayaks, wind surfers, paddle boards and snorkeling — the gear is also often offered from the beach as well.

Paul Gauguin stern marina

The stern marina for easy access to water sports. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Enjoy onboard special interest lecturers in history, nature, Polynesian culture, and storytelling, and also live music and performances from the on-board entertainment troupe known as Les Gauguins & Les Gauguines.

Gauguines dance aboard Paul Gauguin

Gauguines dance aboard Paul Gauguin. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Spend a day on the line’s private islet Motu Mahana with water sports, snorkeling gear, barbecue and bar service.

French Polynesia dancers

Traditional dancing on a lovely beach. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Shore excursions may be a day at a beautiful beach with a barbecue or by the pool at one of the owner’s Intercontinental Hotels, on Bora Bora or Moorea. Enjoy bumpy off-road safaris to visit a pineapple plantation and archeological ruins. Drive through forests and past pink and red ginger, white gardenia (tiare) and the red hibiscus the Polynesians wear over their ear, and finally upward to scenic viewpoints.

You can try an Aquabike underwater scooter for two to view undersea life such as reef sharks and stingrays or do guided ATV excursions; catamaran sailing; and glass-bottom boat rides. SCUBA and snorkeling excursions are on offer, plus “flight seeing” by helicopter or plane. The excursion choices are many and some are quite expensive.

The Ship

m/s Paul Gauguin

With a maximum capacity of 332 passengers, the m/s Paul Gauguin slightly exceeds QuirkyCruise’s 300-passenger threshold, however it also exceeds every expectation of small-ship cruising and is therefore an exceptional exception.

Dining

Cuisine reflects both French menus and ingredients as well as Polynesian fare, with locally sourced  fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables. Meals are served in the main dining room, L’Etoile, which offers a French menu; the al fresco La Veranda with 180-degree views; and the poolside Le Grill, which also serves afternoon tea and Polynesian dinner. For drinks, there’s a pool bar, piano bar and the La Palette lounge.

Dining aboard Paul Gauguin

Le Grille. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Public Spaces

Le Grand Salon acts as a theater and lecture hall. Additional recreational facilities include a pool with lounge chairs on the sun deck, a spa with nail and hair salon; fitness center with exercise classes; boutique; and water sports platform and boutique.

pool deck on the Paul Gauguin

The pool deck. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Cabins

Cabins are arranged in eight categories, varying from relatively spacious suites (from 349 sq. ft. to 588 sq. ft.) down to windowed and twin porthole units measuring 200 sq. ft. Almost 70% have private balconies and as the ship is often peacefully at anchor, they see considerable use.

There is a generous display of woods for the cabinetry and accenting. Many have tub baths for relaxing after an active day ashore or enjoying water sports from the stern marina.

In cabin: en suite with full-size bathtub, temperature control, TV, CD/DVD player, safe, refrigerator stocked with soft drinks, hair dryer.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Veranda Suite 358 sq. ft. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Special Notes

Be sure to bring insect repellent with DEET.

Along the Same Lines

Windstar Cruises operates WIND SPIRIT (148 p) year-round in French Polynesia; Captain Cook Cruises and Blue Lagoon Cruises both use much smaller ships to sail amongst the relatively nearby Fijian Islands.

Contact

North America

US & Canada — Tel: +1 (800)848-6172; CustomerService@pgcruises.com; www.pgcruises.com

Europe

France — Tel: +33 4 91 229 299; PaulGauguin@ponant.com; https://www.ponant.com/paul-gauguin/
UK — Tel: +33 4 91 229 299; paulgauguinbookings@ponant.com

Asia Pacific

Australia — Tel: 1800 878 671 (Toll free)
New Zealand — Tel: 0800 854 777 (Toll free)
Asia — Tel: +61 2 8520 3011; PaulGauguin.AUS@ponant.com; https://au.ponant.com/paul-gauguin/

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

 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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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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Celebrity Cruises Galapagos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

RELATED: Galapagos Islands Cruise Overview

Celebrity Expeditions

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

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

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Captain Cook Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

Captain Cook Cruises is an Australian-owned line that got its start in 1970 when Captain Trevor Haworth began operating cruises and excursions in the Sydney Harbor region, then up north in Queensland along the Great Barrier Reef and in the south on the Murray River. The present Fiji Islands operation includes year-round cruises of 3, 4, and 7 days to Yasawa Islands, 3, 4 and 7 days to the remote northern isles, and the occasional 11-nighter to the out islands.

The focus is on Fiji’s scenic beauty, island exploration, water sports, local island culture and visits to traditional villages. The experience is about as tropical outdoorsy as any small ship cruise could be. The parent company, Sealink Travel Group, also operates an overnight sternwheeler on the Murray River as well as numerous ferry routes throughout Australia. The line also books pre- and post- cruise holiday resort stays, and as Fiji is a hugely popular resort destination there is a large inventory at all price points.

Captain Cook Cruises

Fiji’s out islands are remote and drop dead gorgeous. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

REEF ENDEAVOUR (built 1996 & 130 passengers).

Passenger Profile

Because of proximity to New Zealand and Australia, the largest numbers originate there, including families (children age five & above) during holiday periods; beyond it’s English speakers from Europe and North Americans, the latter who tend to stopover for several days en route to/from New Zealand or Australia. With a lot of shared activities and experiences, and open seating, meeting others comes naturally. If you prefer a cruise without many other children aboard, be sure to check the Australian and New Zealand school holiday periods. Most of the crew is Fijian.

Passenger Decks

The ship has five decks and an elevator.

Price

$$ to $$$ Moderate to Expensive. Children’s fares apply to ages 5 to 17 when they occupy cabin with adults.

Itineraries

The emphasis is on outdoor activities, both active and sedentary, and normally calling at two islands a day, morning and afternoon, among the 300 available in the Fiji island group.

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

Yasawa Island. * Map: Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

  • 3- and 4-night Yasawa Island cruises may be combined into a 7-night cruise, all leaving from Nadi (pronounced as if Nandi), also the locale for the international airport.
  • 7-night Remote North Cruises sail further afield to the world heritage colonial town of Levuka, a time capsule of architecture facing a waterfront promenade. Visit markets, hot springs, a garden island, a waterfall lagoon and an extinct volcano. Activities include snorkeling, scuba diving and glass bottom boat sightseeing, plus standing astride the 180th Meridian that marks today and tomorrow.
  • 7-Night 4 Cultures Discovery Cruises circumnavigate Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second’s largest island and explore the islands, rivers and rainforests of the remote north. Visit four distinct cultures: the Ellice Islanders and Banabas, Indian (South Asian) and Fijian people. Snorkel along the world’s third longest barrier reef, sail by tender up the Labasa River to Vanua Levu’s largest town and natural produce market. A lovo feast (cooking on hot rocks in an earthen pit), school visit, choral church service, meke (Fiji-style dancing) and island night are aspects of the cruise to the remote north.
  • The occasional 11-night Lau and Kadavu Discovery Cruise heads to Fiji’s remote north where a lucky few arrive to visit the unspoiled beauty.  Next sailings are November 5, 2019 and March 3, 2020.
Captain Cook Cruises

Meet the locals at the shellmarket. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Included features

Shore excursions and tours to villages and schools outlined in the day-to-day itineraries, festive meals shore, kayaking, snorkeling and stand-up paddle boarding, on board kids’ club ages 5-9 at specified hours, and post-cruise transfers to Nadi hotels. (Note: A small passenger contribution goes to the school). WiFi is available at most but not all anchorages. The speed will vary considerably.

Why Go?

To enjoy the attractions of South Pacific Islands and delightful tropical weather conditions with outdoor activities on board, ashore, and at beaches and meeting the Fijians. Special interest activities are available for adults and children in marine biology, ecology and environmental issues.

Bula! (Hello) from down under the South Pacific ocean. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Bula! (Hello) from down under the South Pacific ocean. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round and the busy season coincides with the Southern Hemisphere’s school holidays as Fiji is just four hours from Australia’s East Coast and a bit less from North Island, New Zealand. December to February are hot and humid with afternoon downpours, but being near and on the water softens the heat factor. The driest months are June to August.

Cabins

The largest accommodations are the 4 suites with separate lounges; most standard cabins measure approximately 150 square feet; 6 are interconnected family cabins with twin/double beds that open onto the deck; 49 twins/doubles have two windows and face to a side passage; 11 have portholes, open to an interior corridor and have twin/double beds, plus one or two upper bunks (for families).

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Public Rooms

Forward facing panorama lounge and the second Yasawa Lounge looks aft and opens to the outdoor pool with a bar. Sun Deck has outdoor seating, twin spa pools, sauna, gym, bar and BBQ.

Dining

Reserved seating prevails the first night then it’s open sitting for all meals with buffet breakfast and lunch offering both hot and cold dishes that appeal to an international passenger list and feature a lot of island produce. Root plants and coconut are used in cooking. Alfresco barbecue meals occur on the Sun Deck twice on a 7-night cruise. Pineapple, paw paw, papaya and watermelon are main stay fruits; lunches include grilled fish, sausages, chicken, beef, curries and lots of salad fixings. Three-course served dinners feature baked fish, prawns, pork, beef, lamb, and vegetarian main courses. Desserts are fresh fruits, cheese plates, and sweet dishes such as butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce and chocolate pavlova (meringue with fruit and cream). Two themed dinners are Asian (Indian) and Fiji island.

Suite and repeat passengers will have a chance to dine with the captain or chief engineer. Wines from Australia, New Zealand and Washington State that are served at meals are extra with the average bottle from $US25 to $US35; beer $US6. Extra treats are a self-service afternoon tea with cakes and cookies and varied canapés before dinner in the Yasawa Lounge. The Fijian crew is a delight — friendly and helpful. They speak English and Fijian.

Activities & Entertainment

Onboard activities take place in a small gym, sauna, spa and fresh-water pool. For going ashore, a glass-bottom boat is available to view marine life such as the giant manta ray, also snorkeling gear, swimming in the Pacific and in lagoons, and guided islands tours to meet the locals, attend cultural events and visit schools. PADI 5 star scuba diving is extra and a boat is carried. Crew shows are popular and local talent comes aboard.

Snorkeling in the clear waters surrounding Fiji. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Snorkeling in the clear waters surrounding Fiji. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Special Notes

Children (age 5+) are always welcome, and the outdoor, activity-based itineraries make the REEF ENDEAVOUR a most attractive family vacation.

Along the Same Lines

Blue Lagoon Cruises also operates in Fiji, while other firms cruise French Polynesia.

Contact

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji, PO Box 349, Milsons Point, NSW 1565, Australia; captaincook.com.au; + 61 2 9206 1111. Representatives: USA 866-202-2371; UK +44 (0) 1787 211 668; NZ +64 21 631474

— TWS

PollyOrange1a copy

 

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G Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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SeaDream Yacht Club

COVID-19 UPDATE

SeaDream started sailing again in June 202o.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

RELATED: SeaDream to Resume Caribbean Cruises. by Anne Kalosh.

SeaDream was created for lovers of luxury who shun formality and stiff upper lips and instead embrace a casual “no-jackets-required” elegance on route to the British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Italian Riviera, Adriatic Sea and other chic pockets of the world. SeaDream’s two mini cruisers feel like yachts in many ways, with their classic thick wooden doors, bar tops and furniture, and all the brass details and navy-blue fabrics. There’s lots of outdoor deck space for passengers to hang out on sipping endless glasses of Prosecco or other free-flow libations, all included in the fares.

Champagne and caviar in the surf with SeaDream

SeaDream’s beloved champagne and caviar beach party.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

In port, the SeaDream MO is to stay late in places like St. Barts and St. Tropez so passengers can sample the local restaurant and bar scene. When possible, the ships anchor in places where passengers can zip through the surf on a WaveRunner, and in port, pedal around on a bicycle, both stowed on board. The line’s beloved champagne and caviar party on a remote beach is a cruise highlight and epitomizes SeaDream’s laid-back style of indulgence.

Before SeaDream was founded in 2001, its two ships had another life; they were originally built for Sea Goddess Cruises and named SEA GODDESS I and SEA GODDESS II. From their launch in the mid-80s, the pair was considered two of the poshest small-ships on the high seas. They changed hands a few times over the years, becoming a part of the Cunard and then Seabourn fleets, before joining SeaDream.

Note: In Spring 2019, the line announced the building of a brand-new yacht for 220 passengers occupying 110 veranda suites. Constructed in the Damen shipyard in the Netherlands. However, in early December 2019 the order for the new ship was cancelled, no reason given. All initial bookings will be refunded, and at the time, it was hoped a new ship order would be announced in 2020.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers
  • SeaDream I (built 1984, 112 passengers)
  • SeaDream II (b. 1985, 112 p)
Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans and some Europeans and Canadians, majority 50+. Holidays and summers you’ll see extended family groups too, sometimes several generations; though these ships are not geared in any way to young kids under about age 12. A good slice of the line’s business comes from full-ship charters, often by large (rich) families. Occasionally there are big groups on board that take over half the ship; when booking ask if there are any on your sailing to avoid feeling like an outsider.

Passenger Decks

5; an elevator connects all but top deck.

Price

$$-$$$  Expensive

Included Features

Wine at lunch and dinner, spirits and all drinks throughout cruise, gratuities, use of water “toys” from the yacht’s marina and mountain bikes.

Itineraries

Note: June 4, 2019, the U.S. government announced new travel restrictions for Cuba that directly impact cruise travel to the Caribbean nation. After much consideration and extensive discussions with travel partners, SeaDream Yacht Club has decided to cancel its 2020 Cuba Collection. At this time, there are no future Cuba sailings on SeaDream itineraries.

  • Many 7 days and others 5- to 9-night Eastern Caribbean cruises mostly from Barbados, St. Martin, St. Thomas and San Juan. CANCELLED: Now many cruises include some or a heavy focus on Cuban ports with one end embarking or disembarking in Havana or Cienfuegos. CANCELLED
  • 5- to 11-night cruises in the Med, between ports including Lisbon, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Nice, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Adriatic ports, Piraeus (for Athens), Greek Islands, and Turkish coast. Cruises may easily be combined without any repeat port calls.
  • 12-14 day transatlantic positioning cruises between the Caribbean and Mediterranean seasons have the option of tacking on a Caribbean and/or a Mediterranean itinerary at either or both ends.
The mini SeaDream cruisers can slip into ports and waterways the biggies cannot. Photo: Ben Lyons

The mini SeaDream cruisers can slip into ports and waterways the biggies cannot. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Why Go?  

The ships are casually chic and all-inclusive, and you can’t beat the size: large enough for two restaurants, a pool and a hot tub, and small enough to feel intimate enough to make friends easily. A crew of 95 means there’s almost one crewmember for every passenger; they may even lead walking tours or bike rides in port, called “shore-side casuals.” Service isn’t stuffy or cloying, but trust us, you’ll want for nothing.

When to Go?

The SeaDream twins cruise in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

All the cabins feature lots of real wood furniture and cabinetry for a nautical feel, plus an efficient entertainment center with a flat screen TV, DVD/CD player and iPod docking station that also incorporates a vanity, desk and mini-bar, stocked with beer, soft drinks and water. A sofa can accommodate a third guest in all cabins, ideal for an older child.

There are 54 Yacht Club cabins measuring a comfortable 195 square feet, and 16 of them can be combined to create 8 double rooms called Commodore Suites (cabins on Deck 2 have portholes, those on Decks 3 and 4 have large picture windows). There are also two large suites. Beds are clad in Belgian linens are very comfortable, though on the narrow side, and storage space is generous.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Cabins = simple beauty. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Marble covered bathrooms have showers and are small, but functional. The Bulgari toiletries are appreciated and so are the free cotton SeaDream-logo pajamas. Other extras include cotton robes, slippers, personal safe, individually controlled AC, make-up mirror, personal stationary and hair dryer. Cabins have dataports for Internet Access (for a fee), but on our last cruise, it was veryyyy slow. These ships are not recommended for passengers using wheelchairs, as doorways to cabins are not wide enough and elevators don’t reach all decks.

Public Rooms

There are two restaurants — one indoor, one out — plus the roomy Main Salon lounge with a dance floor and small bar, that’s used for port talks, movies, and pre- and post-dinner dancing. It leads out to the stern-facing pool deck and bar. One level up on Deck 4 is the Piano Bar, often the scene of sing-alongs, and adjacent to it, a tiny casino and a small library.

Forward on Deck 4 is the surprisingly well-equipped ocean-view gym with half a dozen cardio machines and a spa with four treatment rooms and outdoor space. Up on Deck 6, is the Top of the Yacht Bar, where a thick wooden U-shaped bar holds pride of place under a sail-like roof with the rest of wonderfully open to the elements. It’s the place for drinks any time, and it’s especially fab at sunset. If the crowd is eager, the bartenders will crank up dance music after dinner and patrons can dance and let their hair down.

A typical delicious lunch buffet on board. Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

A typical delicious lunch buffet on board.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

Dining

Eating is a high point, especially when the weather allows dining in the open-air Topside Restaurant up on Deck 5; otherwise, it’s the more traditional Dining Salon inside down on Deck 2. The Topside’s cozy tables for two or three tucked into the wooden banquets along the edges are much sought after, while the wake-facing tables for four are wonderful if the wind isn’t too strong. Seating is open, with plenty of tables for two and four, but a few days into the cruise, most people are eager to dine with new friends at larger combined tables.

In Topsiders, breakfast and lunch are buffet style, with elaborate displays of homemade breads and pastries, as well as fruits. Similarly, at lunch, the buffet is generously laid out with a variety of salads, cold cuts and cheeses; at both meals there are ala carte items prepared in the galley, from eggs Benedict and crepes at breakfast, to grilled fish or a noodle dish at lunch.

For dinner in the Dining Salon, choose a de Degustation (tasting) menu or go with Japanese, raw food or pan-Asian dishes in addition to popular western standards. Mid afternoon snacks are served poolside and if you’re hankering for caviar, just ask for it if you don’t mind paying extra. There’s 24-hour room service for snacks and lite meals.

Life on a SeaDream cruise is lived up on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Life on a SeaDream cruise is lived up on deck.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

When the ships are on the move, passengers love sunbathing and snoozing on the firm Queen-sized sunbeds that line the top-most deck (though depending on the wind direction, soot from the funnels can make things a tad unpleasant). They also love sipping a refreshing glass or two (or more) of refreshing Sauvignon Blanc at the open-air bar or around the small pool on the protruding aft deck, with great views of the ship’s wake.

When anchored, weather and conditions permitting, a watersports platform at the stern allows you easy access to kayaks, sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear, personal water craft (Jet Skis), water skis and a floating island/trampoline. There are also mountain bikes for use in port (mostly in Europe and the Caribbean) and each ship has a golf simulator and wii gaming consoles for use in the Main Salon.

On all cruises in the Caribbean, and in the past in Asia too, the high point of the week’s activities is SeaDream’s indulgent “Caviar and Champagne Splash” held on a remote stretch of beach somewhere. Passengers happily wade through the surf to grab plastic glasses of champagne and dollops of caviar from waiters standing chest high in the ocean and serving the goodies from floating life rings and surfboards.

It’s all giggles and guzzles, as passenger revel in the frivolous (and fun) absurdity of it all. The beach bubbles are followed by a full lunch at tables set up in the sand. Evenings on board, entertainment consists of drinks with new friends, sing-alongs at the piano bar, gambling in the tiny casino, dancing on deck at the Top of the Yacht Bar, and a weekly outdoor movie shown under the stars.

During the day, occasionally there are talks or special films shown about the destination, but generally SeaDream does not host expert lecturers. There are however, a handful of wine appreciation theme cruises every year, with tastings and a winemaker’s dinner hosted by a guest winemaker or winery owner.

Along the Same Lines

Windstar may be the closest, especially its sailing ships but with less pampering and less expensive fares.

The nimble Sea Dream ships can cruise close to shore. Photo credit: Christina Colon

The nimble Sea Dream ships can cruise close to shore.  *  Photo: Christina Colon

Contact Info

601 Brickell Key Drive, Suite 1050 Miami, FL 33131; www.seadream.com; 800-707-4911 or 305-631-6100.

— HMS

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