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five types of small ship cruises

To help you browse, search, dream and plan your next small-ship cruise, QuirkyCruise covers five different types of small ship cruises that ply the waterways of the world carrying fewer than 300 passengers — coastal, expedition, oceangoing, river and sailing ships.

 

To see our full list of small ship cruise lines, click here.

Coastal Ships

Coastal small ship cruises

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Perhaps the hardest category to pin down, coastal ships cruise in open waters, but usually stay close to land so they may call at numerous ports and islands, and enter bays, canals, lakes, and rivers. Examples are the Norwegian coastal service linking many towns and cities facing the North Sea, and US-flag coastal ships plying between the New England Islands, the Intracoastal Waterway and Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Croatian coast (Mediterranean) and the islands of Japan make excellent coastal cruising itineraries.

 

 

 

Expedition Ships

Expedition small ship cruises

The Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

These have a distinctive learning element and bring to mind a sense of adventure whether it’s visiting remote peoples in the South Pacific or plying the Upper Amazon; looking for rare birds and exotic animals along Australia’s Kimberley Coast or in Central America; cruising amongst amazing, and often colorful, ice formations in Antarctica; and encountering dramatic landscapes in Patagonia. Trained experts give talks aboard and lead active outings ashore

 

 

 

 

Oceangoing Ships

Star Pride. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Designed for the open seas, travel between continents or from the mainland to islands well out to sea, oceangoing ships also offer port-rich cruises such as between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean or from Great Britain to Baltic Sea ports. Some oceangoing ships are also used for expedition itineraries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

River Vessels

River going small ship cruises

The River Empress * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Easy to identify, they offer a hugely popular means to get into the interior of a country or continent. As a matter of course, river boats may also ply canals and cross bays and lakes to cover many hundreds of island water miles. Europe, Asia, and North America offer the most diverse opportunities for river cruising, while South America brings to mind the Amazon and its numerous tributaries, and Africa the Nile but not much else of any great popularity.

 

 

 

 

Sailing Ships

Sailing small ship cruises

Sagitta * Photo: Island Windjammers

This group comes under a broad umbrella, from the sails providing the main means of propulsion, to using wind power when the conditions are ideal, or as window dressing with the principal push coming from diesel engines. Sailing ships of all three variations have a majesty and beauty all their own. Most are found amongst islands in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and in the South Pacific and Indonesia, with repositioning transoceanic crossings such as between Europe and the Caribbean drawing the most ardent sailors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Articles About Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Q&A with Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises' Mark Spillane
Q&A with Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises' Mark Spillane By Anne Kalosh. Quirkycruise.com spoke with Mark Spillane, Manager, Sales & Marketing, ...
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By Anne Kalosh. Getting up close to nature and wildlife is one of the many thrills of small ship cruising ...
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By Anne Kalosh. Expedition yacht CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR will have the same luxury standard and many of the restaurants and lounges ...
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New Generation Expedition Ships
By Sasha Wodtke, Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull. 20 Next Generation Expedition Ships in the Pipeline for 2018-2020 In recent ...
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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Since it was founded in 1990, Crystal Cruises has been a beloved high-end line, with ships in the 800- to 1,000-passenger range, twice the size of the ships of near-peers Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas. Crystal’s strength has always been their wide scope of dining choices (with Asian and Italian specialty restaurants before everyone else jumped on that boat) and activities (offering onboard computer workshops before such things were popular). They have also always excelled in their lecture program, with most cruises featuring numerous experts giving talks about the destination as well as other topics. Now with its Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises brand,  Crystal is taking what it does best and adapting it to a small upscale expedition-style ship called CRYSTAL ESPRIT, the focus of this review. It was built in 1989 and then purchased by Star Cruises in 1994 and known as the MEGASTAR TAURUS (a private vessel for Star’s parent company Genting’s high-roller casino clients) until its recent conversion to ESPRIT.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The 62-passenger Crystal Esprit. * Photo: Crystal

In mid 2015, Crystal was bought by Genting Hong Kong and soon after in a series of announcements outlined a new chapter for the company, an aggressive expansion program that months later was watered down. Currently, the new offerings include the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015, and for now three river “yachts,” including a pair of brand new vessels that launched in 2017: the 110-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL MAHLER to cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers (two more new river yachts are planned for 2018 and another pair at an unspecified date). The 158-passenger CRYSTAL MOZART river yacht (a 1987-built ship formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises) debuted for Crystal in Europe in July 2016. Click here for more details on Crystal River Cruises.

To join the ESPRIT, Crystal launched the 200-passenger CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR in the summer of 2019.  Down the road, Crystal wants to build a trio of new 1,000-passenger luxury ships to sail in polar regions; they’ve changed their target date several times, and are currently shooting for a 2022 launch.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Rendering of the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor. * Rendering: Crystal Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CRYSTAL ESPRIT (built 1989 & 62 passengers); CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR (b. 2019 & 200 p)

Passenger Profile

Well-to-do couples 40s on up, with some senior singles and families during summers and holidays, from North America mainly, plus a sprinkling from the UK, Europe and Asia. Many have cruised on Crystal’s larger ships.

Passenger Decks

4 (no elevators)

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Just about everything — wine, spirits, soft drinks, tips, watersports, one excursion in every port, WiFi (an hour a day), self-serve laundry, butler service, and 24-hour in-room dining from the restaurant menu.

Itineraries

Winters, 7-night Seychelles Islands round-trip from Mahe, Seychelles, calling on St. Anne Island; La Passe, la Digue Island; Baie Ste. Anne, Praslin Island; Laraie Bay, Curieuse Island; Anse Saint Jose, Curieuse Island; Cousin Island; Aride Island; Big Sister Island; and Desroches Island. These cruises are packaged with a 2-night hotel stay in Dubai before the cruise.

  • Spring, Summer and Fall, 7-night Adriatic Sea between or round-trip from mostly Venice, Dubrovnik and/or Athens, with various combinations of ports that may include Rovinj, Sibenik, Trogir, Vis, Hvar, Split, Zadar, Opatija, and Korcula, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Piran, Slovenia; and Corfu, Parga, Itea, Hydra, and Navplion, Greece. Each of the 7-night cruises can be combined with the following one to create a 14-night cruise without repeating ports.
  • December, 9-, 10- and 11-night Middle East round-trip from Dubai, calling on Khasab and Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; and Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi, UAB.
  • CRYSTAL ENDEAVOUR entered service in mid-summer 2019 with initial expedition cruises in Japan and the Russian Far East, Indonesia, Borneo, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, including the Ross Sea, and Antarctica from Ushuaia where it will operate will the highest ice classification for an expedition cruise vessel. In August 2021, the ship will undertake a 28-night westward voyage via the Northeast Passage. The new ship’s amenities include two helicopters and two 7-passenger submarines.
When to Go?

ESPRIT does its Europe cruises in the summer and the Middle East/Africa itineraries in the winter months.

Cabins

Most of the rooms on the all-suite ship are 280-square-foot Yacht Suites with a queen-size bed, small sitting area with a sofa bed (can be used for a third passenger), full-height hanging closet, and very nice bathrooms with double sinks, rain showers and natural stone flooring. The single 515-sq. ft owner’s suite has a separate dining room with four-seat dining table. None of the suites have balconies and none are wheelchair accessible. There are two self-service laundry rooms.

Public Rooms

The Cove Lounge is the yacht’s main entertainment spot, where you can watch a movie or live sporting event by day, and in the evening enjoy a drink while a piano player/singer provides background music. There’s a mini casino and the lovely outdoor Sunset Bar on Deck 5 speaks for itself. There’s a small pool and two hot tubs on Deck 5, as well as a steam room, sauna and a small gym with a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical machines, Kinesis machines and free weights. You’ll find a micro spa/salon on Deck 3.

Crystal Yacht Cruises

Crystal Endeavour’s solarium transforms into an evening dining venue. * Photo: Crystal Yacht Cruises

Dining

Four venues include The Yacht Club restaurant, which is the ship’s main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner; menus incorporate local ingredients in many dishes. It has large windows and a chic color scheme of steel greys and sharp blues, and tables are set with Riedel crystal, fine china and French linens. Seating is open and there are lots of tables for two. The adjacent outdoor Patio Café at the stern offers great views and waiter-served light meals at breakfast and lunch, when you can choose from interesting salads, cold cuts, cheese and pastries. On Deck 5 near the pool during the day,The Grill offers burgers, wraps and international “street food” reflecting the itinerary. The Compass Room is a small reservations-only specialty dining venue for wine and food pairings, ideal for private parties. Grazers can always stop by the Pantry, a self-serve pit stop on Deck 2 open 24 hours a day with light food and drinks.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The Esprit’s open seating Yacht Club Restaurant. * Photo: Crystal

Activities & Entertainment

An ESPRIT cruise is meant to be active and adventurous (note, there are no elevators on the ship), with adult toys including a two-passenger submarine, four 10-passenger zodiacs for special excursions, and a 12-passenger Wider 32-foot yacht tender for special boating adventures (all complimentary except for sub).  Watersports equipment is carried on board and easily accessible from the stern marina, from water skis to wake boards, kayaks, jet skis, fishing, and snorkel equipment. There are also a few bicycles passengers can use in port. On the cerebral side, on some cruises destination experts will be on board to present talks. Evenings, it’s drinks and chat with fellow guests.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Crystal Espirit’s stern marina for watersports and Zodiac access. * Photo: Crystal

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream Yacht Club.

Contact

Crystal Cruises, 11755 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 1-310-785-9300 or www.crystalyachtcruises.com.

— HMS

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

 

 

Articles About Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

N.B. HANSEATIC INSPIRATION will resume sailings for the English and German-speaking markets when the ship departs from Hamburg on September 7, 2020 on a cruise to Greenland. The following few sailings will feature Western European and Mediterranean ports. The ship will sail at 60% of capacity and will have a full day in port to undergo a thorough cleansing. Before that, the initial sailings ex-Hamburg mostly will be offered only to Germans, Austrians and Swiss.

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Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises traces its origins back to the 19th century when two German firms — Hamburg-American and North German Lloyd — entered the passenger trade, competing largely on the North Atlantic and then spreading their routes to other parts of the world. Later they merged, and today the passenger cruise business is owned by the TUI Group that operates the top-rated, medium-size cruise ships, EUROPA (built 1999 & 400 passengers) and EUROPA 2 (b. 2013 & 500 p), the latter offering guaranteed English-speaking cruises; and a pair of expedition vessels: BREMEN (b.1990 & 155 p) and HANSEATIC (b. 1991 & 175 p), the latter now sold with a trio of high-tech expeditions ships coming on line. The BREMEN may offer some bilingual cruises from time to time and is also chartered by English-speaking affinity groups.

N.B. In late July, Hapag-Lloyd announced that its BREMEN, a long-serving member of the fleet since 1993, will not return to service. There was no mention about the sale to Scylla scheduled for 2021, whether it will be advance or not.

N.B. A trio of high-tech expedition ships with 120 passenger cabins and suites have the first in service and two under construction: HANSEATIC NATURE entered service in May 2019 for German-speaking passengers, HANSEATIC INSPIRATION (October 2019) for both German- and English-speaking passengers), and HANSEATIC SPIRIT (adults only) for delivery in Spring 2021. The 15,650-ton ships are being built in Norway’s VARD shipyard.  Passenger capacity will be limited to 199 for Antarctic and Spitsbergen (circumnavigation) cruises. Additional details will be available on QuirkyCruise.com as the first delivery gets closer but it is safe to say that this class will be 5 Star in accommodations, amenities, expedition gear and ice classification.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Bar Observation Lounge. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Passengers

While Hapag-Lloyd is a German company, drawing mainly German-speaking passengers, selected bilingual cruises are set aside for English-speaking passengers with guaranteed departures. That means that all documentation, handbooks, programs, announcements, menus, lectures and safety drills will be in English. Shore excursions are arranged separately. Any other international cruises that attract at least 15 English-speaking passengers will automatically become bilingual as the aforesaid  Those cruises will be featured here, and expect German-speaking passengers in varying numbers and often in the majority.

Passenger Decks

7 decks and lifts serve all levels except the Sun Deck, the highest and with a small outdoor area.

Price

$$$

Included features

Expeditions ashore in Zodiacs (14) and tenders; parkas, rubber boots, snorkeling gear, Nordic walking poles and bicycles, depending on the itinerary; staff gratuities; sending & receiving e-mails up to 1MB; minibar with soft drinks replenished daily; a bottle of Champagne upon arrival.

Itineraries

A full winter program of Antarctica cruises include the Falklands, South Georgia, South Shetland and South Orkney Islands, Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The large number of Zodiacs carried means that everyone can be on an excursion at one time, and not waiting aboard for a second or third rotation as with larger capacity ships. Highlights are the varieties of penguins, incredible numbers of birds (especially at South Georgia), whales, walrus, seals; Zodiac excursions to get close to beautiful ice formations and glaciers, a former whaling station, and connections to the Ernest Shackleton expedition.

Pre-Antarctic season, a Pacific cruise begins in Tahiti and calls at numerous islands, remote and virtually unknown, and justly famous such as Pitcairn (Mutiny on the Bounty), Easter Island (stone statues) and Robinson Crusoe Island (inspiration for the fictional character) and onto Puerto Montt at the north end of the Chilean fjords.

Post-Antarctic season, one cruise makes a nearly complete West Coast of South America voyage from near the southern tip at Patagonia and sails northward past glaciers, into the Chilean fjords, calls at Valparaiso, the lovely port for the capital Santiago then onto Peru and Ecuador.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Amazon journey begins way up river at Iquitos (Peru, and headwaters of navigation for ocean-going ships) and travels 2,500 miles (4,000 kms) to the mouth at Belem. Zodiacs take you to remote Indian tribes who live along the riverbanks and to tropical fruit and vegetable markets, cruise for pink river dolphins, make explorations into tributaries penetrating the world’s largest rain forest, filled with flowers and exotic birds. At the meeting of the waters where the Rio Negro joins the Amazon sits Manaus, the largest city on the river and boasting an opera house, built during the rubber boom period. The Amazon then widens considerably as it reaches the delta and spreads out into several channels.

From Belem on the northeast Brazilian coast, the itinerary explores the Orinoco, offers a flight to Angel Falls, calls at off-shore islands, a UNESCO site, national parks for bird life, sloths, and monkeys, a research station, examples of Spanish colonialism, San Blas Indians, views of the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal, and finishes at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

HANSEATIC in the Amazon basin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

 

 

Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a circumnavigation cruise, is a large archipelago tied politically to Norway, two days by sea north of the North Cape and well above the Arctic Circle. The expedition embarks at Longyearbyen, the capital with an excellent museum, and goes in search of polar bears that often come to the shore, well within camera range, plus whales, walrus, Arctic foxes, birds, fantastic cliff formations, ventures into fjords, up close to glaciers and makes Zodiac landings where it safe from polar bears. The final couple of days visit the North Cape with disembarkation at Tromso, Norway’s largest community above the Arctic Circle.

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Northeast Passage, less frequented than the Northwest Passage, follows an Arctic route from Northern Europe eastward across the top of Siberian Russia, Kamchatka and Kuril Islands to Japan.

FUTURE ITINERARIES include an unusual circumnavigation of Iceland embarking and disembarking at Reykjavik and visiting nine locations – islands, volcanoes, fjords, fishing villages, bird inhabited cliffs, waterfalls; the west coast of Greenland with its colorful villages, early Viking settlements, ice fjords, and at sea, humpback and fin whales, then onto Labrador for breathtaking scenery such as spectacular rock formations, Inuit culture artifacts, traditional fishing villages and fjords; coastal southern Africa with two port calls in Namibia revealing architecture from the former German colonial rule and six ports in South Africa including Cape Town and Durban and access to the lovely Garden Route, beautiful beaches, and game parks for the homes of the “Big Five.”

Why Go?

There is a wonderful world out there, and the destinations outlined here can only be comprehensively done by ship.

When to Go?

The expedition cruises are scheduled for the best seasons such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic Regions in summer.

Cabins

HANSEATIC Nature/Inspiration/Spirit: All outside cabins and most with balconies or French balconies; separable beds; equipped with binoculars, Nordic Walking sticks, coffee machine, minibar (free), and heated bathroom for drying towels and parkas.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration – French balcony cabin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Public Rooms

The principal spaces are the Observation Lounge with bar and adjacent library, with 180-degree views, Explorer Lounge with bar and a dance floor for presentations and occasional musical entertainment.

Dining

The restaurant is the main dining area for all meals (excellent menu selections including Continental as well as German specialties) seats everyone at one assigned sitting at dinner, with open seating for breakfast and lunch. Americans like open seating and Germans like fixed, so this is the fair compromise. Buffets-style meals take place in the informal café and tables are available just outside in good weather. Barbeques and themed dinners here require reservations, but entail no extra charge. Tea time is a daily ritual.

Activities & Entertainment

There are film presentations and lectures in preparation for the landings, plus you’ll find a sauna steam bath, fitness room, whirlpool and small swimming pool. Some Germans like a dip in the winter. Snorkeling and cycling is on offer when appropriate.

The Hanseatic at anchor in Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: Helicopter pad. Hull is given the highest passenger classification – E-4.

Along the Same Lines

The passenger mix is unusual, as most high-end expedition lines draw mainly English-speaking passengers, unless the line is entirely focused on a European language.

Contact

Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises, C/O Kartagener Associates Inc., 14 Penn Plaza, Suite 2223, New York, NY 10122; www.Hl-cruises.com, 877-445-7447 or 800-334-2724 (USA/Canada); Free Phone United Kingdom: 08000 513829. — TWS

Patricia Cruises

The Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA serves as a working ship for Trinity House, the British agency that looks after lighthouses and buoys in the waters around England, Wales and the Channel Islands, but not Scotland. In recent years, 12 passengers have been accepted and occupy very comfortable cabins on working voyages that have you following the course of the ship’s duties. While the length of the voyage (a week) is known upon booking, the exact sailing details are usually sent out about 10 days in advance and that includes the dates, times, and ports of embarkation and (usually different) disembarkation. Last-minute alterations can and do happen. Perhaps not until the sailing commences will you know the exact itinerary, and because of the weather or other circumstances, a complete change of course may be required. Accepting these uncertainties, the passenger response has been very positive. It’s living on a floating English country house at sea where most of the crew is engaged in maritime safety tasks.

Note: The bookings go fast for the most popular dates.

Patricia Cruises

Patricia in Harwich. * Photo: Karl Zimmerman

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger

THV PATRICIA (built 1982 & 12 passengers)

Passenger Profile

The dozen passengers are usually older and well-heeled British nationals. While there is no upper age limit, passengers must be able to climb and descend narrow, steep steps into and out of the work boat.

Passenger Decks

The accommodations are arranged on two decks.

Price: $$. Rates quoted are for the cabin (not per person) and for one week or two weeks. Passengers traveling alone will pay a single rate for the double cabin.

Included Features

Wine with dinner.

Itineraries

The PATRICIA operates passenger-carrying voyages between late April and into October. Port calls will usually occur only at embarkation and disembarkation, and the regions accessed may be the East Coast and the North Sea; the South Coast and the English Channel, including the Channel Islands off the coast of France; the Southwest off Cornwall and in the Bristol Channel, and the West Coast of England and Wales in the Irish Sea. The coastline is often in view as are islands. N.B. The website shows the Draft Itinerary for an entire year and the longest block in any one region is the East Coast June to August. However, this is a guide only and circumstances may require the ship to respond to an urgent need elsewhere.

Why Go?

Sailing aboard the PATRICIA is a unique experience that is not available anywhere else in the world, and if you can accept the uncertainties, the voyage could not be more comfortable nor provide a more relaxed social setting shared with fellow passengers and crew.

When to Go?

Anytime during the six-month season that passengers are carried. Early and late season voyages are cooler and cold out on the water. Even summer months can be chilly on deck at all hours.

Stateroom # 1, Prince Philip's cabin when aboard.

Stateroom # 1, Prince Philip’s cabin when aboard. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Cabins

The six cabins are all good-sized twin-bedded, windowed outsides with individual décor, lounge area, private facilities, including bath tub and shower, satellite TV, coffee/tea making facilities, Internet connections, and the very British amenity called a trouser press. Stateroom One is officially reserved for the Duke of Edinburgh and Stateroom Two for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Public Rooms

The main lounge opens to an outside forward viewing deck for watching the ship approach the working locations and then the activities as they unfold. A helicopter landing deck at is the bow.

Elder Brethern Dining Room seats 12. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Elder Brethern Dining Room seats 12. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Dining

The passengers eat at one long table at set times and with a set menu. However, the food is very good British cooking by a chef dedicated to the passengers. Seating changes are encouraged so that everyone gets to meet one another. Service is formal and very attentive. Special dietary requirements are accepted with advance notice. Passengers tend to dress up a bit for dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

They are generally focused on watching the crew lifting and cleaning buoys and attending to and refueling lighthouses, all are now automated and unmanned. Lighthouses mark shoals, dangerous rocks or land masses such as islands and coastlines. Buoys mark safe shipping channels and navigational hazards including shipwrecks. The ship may also respond to emergencies. The bridge has an open policy allowing passengers to learn more about the ship’s activities and navigation in general.

Acting Captain (three stripes) Dave Cooper. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Acting Captain (three stripes) Dave Cooper with a chart of the approaches to Southampton. * Photo: Karl Zimmermann

Special Notes

If a change of crew (every three weeks) is scheduled at the end of the voyage booked, the ship may arrive at the disembarkation port a day in advance, though you stay aboard until the following day. Be sure you can handle last-minute changes such as the embarking and disembarking ports and even an itinerary that involves working in a completely different region or regions. Inquire well ahead of when you may want to go as bookings go fast for the most popular months.

If you might be interested in staying at a lighthouse cottage (separate from the lighthouse itself), the Trinity House website lists a dozen locations along the English coast and provides a link to the booking agent.

Along the Same Lines

One of a kind, nothing else like it.

Contact

Trinity House, The Quay, Essex, Harwich CO 12 3JW England; www.trinityhouse.co.uk then click on Holidays +11 44 1255 245156 if phoning from outside the United Kingdom

Passenger bookings are made through: Wildwings (incorporating Strand Travel), Davis House, Lodge Causeway, Bristol BS16 3JB England; www.wildwings.co.uk 011 44 117 96 58333 (from outside the UK) www.wildwings.co.uk/app-holidays/patricia-voyages

— TWS

 

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Vantage World Travel is a wholesaler for international travel and some USA. The main cruise thrust is Europe, while elsewhere Vantage operates mostly full charters of small oceangoing ships (some larger than 300 passengers) and riverboats in North, Central and South America (Galapagos & Amazon), Africa (Egypt), Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia & Vietnam, China), and Antarctica. The firm will enter the expedition market with a long-term charter from Sunstone ships for an X-Bow vessel to be named OCEAN EXPLORER and built in China, and depending on the final configuration, will take from 160 to 200 passengers beginning early 2021. The ship will be part of an Infinity-class Sunstone construction project.

Here we will emphasize the European river cruises. For oceangoing and river cruises in Europe and other parts of the world beyond Europe, head for the website — www.vantagetravel.com — packed with possibilities, and sometimes difficult to navigate. It is worth persevering as there are so many choices.

Ships & Years Delivered

Vantage-owned fleet: RIVER EXPLORER (b.2016 & 176 pass); RIVER SPLENDOR (b.2013 & 176 pass); RIVER VENTURE (b.2013 & 134 pass); RIVER NAVIGATOR (b.2002/2013 remodeled & 134 pass); RIVER DISCOVERER II (b.2012 & 176 pass); RIVER VOYAGER (b.2016 & 176 pass); for the Elbe: JUNKER JORG (b. 1990 remodelled 2015 & 112p pass); for the Douro River in Portugal: DOURO SERENITY & DOURO SPLENDOR (b. 2017 & 126 pass); and for Russian waterways between St. Petersburg and Moscow ROSTROPOVICH (b. 1981, refitted 2011 & 212 pass).

Passengers

50 and up with the majority over 70, originating almost entirely from the U.S.

Passenger Decks

3 and 4 passenger decks with cabins on two or three. Elevators operate between the cabin and public room decks. Some riverboats additionally operate a stair lift to the top open deck.

Price

$$ Expensive

Included Features

Shore excursions, beer and wine with dinner, and WiFi.

The Seine slices through the center of Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

In Europe, Vantage owns and operates a small fleet of riverboats plying the waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands; Seine; Rhine, Moselle, Main, and Danube; Rhone and Soane; Elbe; and Russian rivers. Many river cruises have themes or special interests emphasized such as arts & culture, biking, birdwatching, culinary arts, golf, harvest time (wine), health & wellness, even beer cruises.

Claude Monet's gardens at Giverny is a favorite stop on a River Seine cruise.

Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny is a favorite stop on a River Seine cruise. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go

River cruising is the most convenient way to take in lots of varied sights and the passing scenery while your riverboat acts as the ever-shifting hotel.

When to Go?

Cruises operate between March and November, and the early and late months will see fewer crowds but more likely unsettled weather.

Cabins

The large majority of the cabins (averaging 165 sq. ft.) have French balconies where you slide open a door to a railing at the side of the ship. Double cabins have twin or queen-sized beds, and a small number of single cabins measure about 125 sq. ft.

Public Rooms

Typical layouts are a main lounge with bar for socializing before meals, taking in the scenery if the weather is chilly outside and enjoying musical entertainment. The top deck is open with sun protected covered sections and offers a walking track.

Dining

All meals are taken in the main dining room and menus cater to American tastes, plus adding continental Europe choices. If the particular riverboat has an aft-located Captain’s Deck, then the added treat of al fresco dining takes place here in good weather.

Amsterdam's Central Station. * Photo: Ted Scull

Amsterdam’s Central Station, and river cruises leave from the waterway behind. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

Entertainment aboard in port; ashore: receptions, performances, home visits, lectures and festive special meals.

Special Notes

The line emphasizes that it caters to Americans so you can feel at home when you are away. All announcements and printed materials are in English.

Along the Same Lines

The other major riverboat lines that cater primarily to Americans.

Contact

Vantage World Travel, 1324 East North Street, Greenville, SC 29607.  www.vantagetravel.com; 864-233-7703.

 

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oral Expeditions Review

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QuirkyCruise Coral Expeditions Review

Coral Expeditions based in Cairns, Queensland, Australia got its start in 1984 as Coral Princess Cruises by refitting a WWII submarine chaser into a small passenger-carrying ship for Great Barrier Reef cruises. With this initial success, CORAL PRINCESS, a catamaran was added in 1988; CORAL PRINCESS II a second catamaran, in 1996; OCEANIC DISCOVERER, a new small oceangoing ship in 2005; and the largest and newest, a true expedition ship CORAL ADVENTURER (120 passenger), arrived in April 2019. Similar CORAL GEOGRAPHER is expected to be delivered in December 2020. Each new member of the fleet allowed itineraries to reach beyond the Australian coast to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, South Pacific Islands, Tasmania, New Zealand and Indian Ocean. Along with renaming the line Coral Expeditions, the existing fleet took on new names: CORAL EXPEDITIONS I, CORAL EXPEDITIONS II and CORAL DISCOVERER. The barrier reef cruises mainly frequent what are known as the ribbon reefs where the bleaching we hear about has had little impact. The line’s website has an information section composed by the line’s marine biologist about what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change. While there is considerable damage, some sections have experienced recent recovery. In June 2021, the line will completely revamp the Great Barrier Reef cruises by expanding all of them to 7 days and include some more remote offshore destinations that seldom see regular visitors. See below (Itineraries}.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I (built 1988 & 50 passengers); CORAL EXPEDITIONS II (b. 1985/refitted 2015 & 44 p); CORAL DISCOVERER (b. 2005 & 72 p); and CORAL ADVENTURER (b. 2019 & 120 p). The last-named, a true expedition ship, left Singapore on April 24, 2019 on its maiden trip to Indonesia and then onto Australia via a first call in Darwin. 120-passenger CORAL GEOGRAPHER to follow at the end of 2020.

Coral Princess cruises off Cape York, Australia's Top End. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Coral Princess cruises off Cape York, Australia’s Top End. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Passenger Profile

The line draws locally from Australia and New Zealand, also Britain, Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Passenger Decks

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I has four decks; CORAL PRINCESS II three; and CORAL DISCOVERER four decks and stabilizers. None have elevators. CORAL ADVENTURER 5 decks and elevator between lower 4; CORAL GEOGRAPHER 6 decks and elevator between lower 4.

Coral Expeditions

CORAL GEOGRAPHER. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive/Very pricey.

Included Features

All excursions and activities.

Itineraries – A sampling
  • Year-round Great Barrier Reef (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) cruises on CORAL EXPEDITIONS II from Cairns, North Queensland are either 3-night trips out to the reef for snorkeling/diving, private islands for the beaches, resorts, Danetree rain-forest trails 0r 4-night trips head north to the amazingly colorful Ribbon Reefs, going ashore at Lizard Island research station, and visiting historic Cooktown for its botanic gardens and nature walks. 7-night cruises combine the 3- and 4-nighters. Beginning in June 2021, the program will change into longer and more varied cruise that lasts 7 days and concentrates on the reef’s northern sections to include Hope Island and Osprey Reef, the latter a remote isolated seamount located at the outer limits of the Coral Sea Marine Park. Queensland’s coastal Daintree Rain Forest hikes and visits to Cooktown and indigenous cultures will round out the week.Coral Expeditions Review

Glass bottom boat and snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

  • It’s 10-night cruises in the Australian Outback along the extremely remote Kimberley Coast between Darwin, Northern Territory and Broome, Western Australia aboard CORAL DISCOVERER and CORAL EXPEDITIONS I during the dry season from April to October . Highlights are numerous waterfalls, especially powerful just after the rains in April and May, colorful cliff formations, indigenous Aboriginal rock art, birdlife, beach walking and some swimming. Apart from passing a few other small cruisers and private yachts, you are unlikely to encounter many, if any, people ashore. Much of the coast is inaccessible except on foot or by boat. Darwin is worth a stopover for its WWII and devastating cyclone history, plus a natural history museum showcasing scary and truly weird Australian wildlife. Broome, a former pearl-diving center, has developed into a popular international resort town. Personal Note: On my Kimberley cruise, I hooked an 80-pound shark, wrestling with it for over an hour before it broke the line.
  • Arnhem Land and Cape York expeditions on CORAL DISCOVERER and CORAL EXPEDITIONS I lasting 11 or 12 nights, operate at the beginning and end of The Kimberley season between Cairns and Darwin. The itinerary follows the extremely remote coast with Outback calls at the little visited northern end of the Great Barrier Reef; Cape York, the country’s most northerly tip; a community of Torres Strait islanders; Arnhem Land, home to Aboriginals and ranchers, and the Tiwi Islands, located just off Darwin with a distinctive group of Aboriginals speaking their own native language.
  • Papua New Guinea and the Spice Islands of Indonesia aboard the CORAL DISCOVERER feature in February, March and October with expeditions of 10, 12 and 24 nights. The many aspects are exploring the largest rain forest outside the Amazon Basin teeming with hundred of species of birds, butterflies and insects, Sepik River villages, WWII battle sites, volcanic mountains, and coral atolls. The longest cruise circumnavigates Papua New Guinea with a larger emphasis on WII sites. 13-night CORAL DISCOVERER cruises also operate between Papua New Guinea and South Pacific Islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, visiting local cultures, coral reefs and WWII sites.
  • Tasmania, Australia’s island state located south of Melbourne sees the stabilized CORAL DISCOVERER offering 7-day cruises from January to March (summertime in the Southern Hemisphere) that explore the east, and south coast coasts, some sections inaccessible by any other means than hiking. Visit national parks and World Heritage Area, and sail beneath 1000-foot cliffs, spot albatross, fur seals, dolphins, go kayaking, bush walks through thick forest land, and visit Port Arthur, Australia’s notorious penal colony. Cruises leave from and return to Hobart, Tassie’s capital and largest port. If you like seafood, you will love this place, as well as eating freshly caught oysters during the cruise.
  • N.B. The expanded fleet allows far more itineraries such as to  New Zealand on two different itineraries of 8 and 12 nights from late December through February. The longer one embarks in Auckland and hugs the Pacific coasts of the North and South Islands.  Experience Maori culture, the Art Deco city of Napier rebuilt after a 1931 earthquake, whale watching off Kaikoura, wildlife at Akaroa, Scottish culture at Dunedin, Stewart Island off the tip of South Island for birds and especially kiwis, and the natural wonders of Fiordland National Park. The ship enters less visited Dusky and Doubtful Sounds and finally the grand finale of Milford Sound. A transfer over scenic roads to the lakeside community of Queenstown provides a fitting climax. Spend a night or two here. The shorter 8-nighters ply between Milford Sound and Wellington, calling at all the South Island destinations to Kaikoura mentioned above, and then enter Marlborough Sound, disembarking at Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. The Indian Ocean is another with long cruises to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, and Réunion when the CORAL GEOGRAPER arrives at the end of 2020.
Coral Expeditions Review

Cruising past waterfalls along the Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Why Go?

Australia’s 1,400-mile Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1,500 fish species and 30 different mammals, while much of the remote coastal Outback is virtually devoid of human habitation and full of the freaks of nature. Exploring by small ship is the only practical way to access the region. New Guinea expeditions lead to remote coast lines and penetrate deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River, while South Pacific island hopping takes you to culturally distinct people and pristine atolls where nature abounds in the sea, air and on land. Most of New Zealand’s wildlife and man-made attractions are on or very near the coast. Coral Expeditions’ three small ships carry only 44 to 72 passengers providing truly intimate shared experiences.

Coral Expeditions Review

Coral Discoverer off Manum Island, Papua New Guinea. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

When to Go?

The height of the tourist season along the Great Barrier Reef is June to August after which the humidity begins to build and then the rains arrive in the peak of the summer between December and March. However, the heat is less uncomfortable when at sea and enjoying activities on and in the water. The other expeditions are geared to the best weather seasons.

Cabins
Coral Expeditions

CORAL GEOGRAPHER’s bridge deck balcony suites. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

All cabins are outside with windows, except four D Deck cabins with portholes aboard CORAL EXPEDITIONS II. Beds are twins or doubles (junior kings on CORAL DISCOVERER). CORAL ADVENTURER has two suites and CORAL GEOGRAPHER has six suites. Many cabins have balconies.

Public Rooms

All five  ships have a lounge (forward facing on the two catamarans), dining room with a bar and ample outdoor deck space for viewing.

Dining

Seating is open for all meals. Breakfast (continental or cooked) and lunch (cold and hot dishes) are buffets while dinner is served from a menu. You partake of Australia’s bountiful fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats. Wines are from Australia and New Zealand.

Activities & Entertainment

CORAL DISCOVERER has a small pool and offers guided engine room tours; and all three have an open bridge policy, Zodiacs for touring and scuba diving with instructors and snorkeling equipment on selected itineraries. Additionally, CORAL EXPEDITIONS I and CORAL DISCOVERER carry excursion boats with capacities to handle all passengers. CORAL EXPEDITIONS II operates a glass bottom boat, ideal for viewing the tropical fishes along the Great Barrier Reef. Lecturers and briefings occur on all itineraries, and two Special Guest Lecturers accompany The Kimberley, Arnhem Land & Cape York, and the South Pacific itineraries.

Special Note: Be sure to read the report on the current condition of the Great Barrier Reef written by Coral Expeditions’ marine biologist.

Coral Expeditions Review

Going ashore along the Great Barrier Reef. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Along the Same Lines

No other line offers such a comprehensive coverage of Australia, including Tasmania and Papua New Guinea.

Contact

Coral Expeditions, P.O.Box 2093, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia; http://coralprincess.com.au/home-au/;  in Australia  1800 079 545; rest of the world +61 7 4040 9999.

TWS

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French Poly Dancers * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Paul Gauguin Cruises operates a lovely ship built for the South Pacific’s tropical aqua-blue waters, and its long-serving crew, proudly hailing from French Polynesia, are happy to share their local knowledge and enthusiasm.

Snapshot: The ship, named after the French Impressionist painter who lived in Tahiti in the late 19th century and brought to the world images of French Polynesia and their culture, plies the South Seas year-round. Owned by Pacific Beachcomber, a French Polynesian resort hotel firm, the ship has resided in these waters longer than any other, so it has become an integral part of the island scene. 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 ten hours, and, therefore, cease all emissions.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Paul Gauguin. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: PAUL GAUGUIN, built 1998, 332 passengers (ever so slightly above our 300 max. but also a more than worthwhile exceptional exception)

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. Younger travelers often prefer an island resort. Every cruise is bilingual English/French, and their website lists all the languages catered for.

Price: $$-$$$ Expensive

Itineraries: Cruises (many different variations) last 7 and 10 to 14 days. However, the most frequent are the 7-day circuits that take in Tahiti and the Society Islands calling at Huahine, Bora Bora and Moorea. 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. Some itineraries add Tahiti Iti, the seldom-visited other island that makes up Tahiti. Additional itineraries with more sea time add either the Tuamotus, Cook Islands, Marquesas or occasionally Fiji and Tonga.

Bore, Bora, French Polynesia.

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

Included features: For Americans, roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles (unless otherwise stated), and for everyone, all non-alcoholic and alcoholic (beer and select wines and spirits) beverages throughout the ship; cabin fridge stocked with soft drinks, beer and bottled water; and all tips to crew (some like to tip extra). There’s complimentary access to retreats on Taha’a and Bora Bora when the ship calls there.

Why Go? It’s cruising in paradise, especially for those who love tropical climates and stunningly beautiful seascapes, lush landscapes that rise from the blue waters, gorgeous white-sand beaches, quiet lagoons for out-of-this-world snorkeling, diving trips, and lots of watersports to try out from the ship’s stern marina or during a day ashore.

When to Go? The summer months 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. Families come during the school holidays.

Cabins: Arranged in eight categories, cabins vary from relatively spacious suites down to windowed and twin porthole units. 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 watersports from the stern marina.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

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

Public Rooms: Le Grand Salon acts as the theater and lecture hall; La Palette and its bar face over the stern; Bar de Soleil serves the highest Deck 9; Piano Bar is intimate; and the Captain’s Reception Lounge is located just aft of the bridge. Additional spaces are a small casino, La Boutique, Spa and Fitness Center, and Fare Tahiti, a Polynesian art gallery with Gauguin drawings, photographs, and ceremonial items.

Dining: Cuisine reflects both French menus and ingredients and Polynesian with its locally available fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables. The formal dining room, L’etoile, with views aft on Deck 6 offers a French menu for dinner only, with reservations. La Veranda, with 180-degree views located aft on Deck 6 serves buffet breakfast and lunch and dinner by reservation at night. Le Grill outside and aft of the swimming pool on 8 serves buffet breakfast, lunch, and an elaborate afternoon tea and Polynesian dinner by reservation. There are no extra charges for any of the restaurants, and wines are complimentary.

Activities & Entertainment: Watersports 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. 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 Gauguins & Gauguines. Spend a day on the line’s private islet Motu Mahana with watersports, snorkeling gear, barbecue and bar service.

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

The dancers of French Polynesia are mesmerizing and so is the backdrop. * 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; bumpy off-road safaris to visit a pineapple plantation and archeological ruins, driving through forests and past pink and red ginger, white gardenia, red hibiscus and tiare, the red flower the Polynesians wear over their ear, and finally upward to scenic viewpoints; Aquabike underwater scooter for two to view undersea life such as reef sharks and stingrays; ATV excursions; and snorkeling and diving outings. Some trips are quite expensive.

Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Tuamotus, French Polynesia. * 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 Fijian Islands.

Contact: North Americans, contact Paul Gauguin Cruise at 11100 Main Street, Ste 300, Bellevue, WA 98004; 800-848-6172. EU contact: Beachcombers Croisieres Limited, 3rd Floor Ulysses House, Foley Street, Dublin 1 Ireland; +1 (425) 440-6171; www.pgcruises.com.

TWS

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Tahiti-based ARANUI 5

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime (C.T.P.M.) is a French Polynesian shipping line owned by the Wong family who have operated passenger-freighter ships in the remote South Pacific Marquesas Islands for three decades and cargo service dating back another 30 years. The company is also known as Aranui Cruises. While the ship, ARANUI 5 based at Papeete, Tahiti, provides a necessary freight and passenger service for the local population (numbering less than 10,000), as there are few airports in the sprawling volcanic island chain, the voyage has increasingly developed into a cruise experience for foreign visitors as subsequent ships have become plusher. The 208-passenger ARANUI 3, built along the Danube in Romania in 2002, replaced a converted freighter rebuilt to carry 100 passengers. ARANUI 3 Was withdrawn at the very end of 2015 to be replaced by the larger Chinese-built 254-passenger ARANUI 5. The number “4” is unlucky for the Chinese Wongs, so it is being skipped. The round voyages last 14 days, and Aranui means great highway.

N.B. The line has ordered a new ship from a Chinese yard to take 280 passengers and a Polynesian crew of 130 to operate cruises, pure and simple. To be named AraMana, she will join the present ARANUI 5 and the expected delivery is the second quarter of 2022. Some details revealed are a tonnage of 10,000 and 10-12-day itineraries that includes islands the current ship does not visit. The ship will offer an observation lounge, bar lounge with dance floor, an amphitheater-style show lounge, two restaurants, one with booth seating, spa & fitness center, casino, sun deck swimming pool and 11 cabin categories. The new order is a good sign that business in paradise is thriving!

Aranui 5 docked at Nuku Hiva. * Photo C.T.P.M.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

ARANUI 5 (built 2016 & 254 passengers) and flies the French tricolor

Passenger Profile

While the passengers come from all over the world, the largest percentage are French as the islands are French overseas territories, and the rest are a mixture of Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders, and North Americans, plus others. Ages range widely. The crew is mostly burly and friendly Marquesans.

Overseas visitors and French Polynesian pose. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Decks

The new ship is built with a towering 9-deck superstructure located aft, with the cargo handling forward. A pair of much needed elevators connects all decks. The 9th deck is the navigating bridge and quarters for the officers.

Price

$$ – $$$  Expensive

Included Features

All excursions including barbecues ashore, and beer and wine with lunch and dinner.

Dramatic island scenery at Ua Pou.

Dramatic island scenery at Ua Pou. * Photo: C.P.T.M.

Itineraries

Sailings are approximately every three weeks, and the island circuits last about 14 days, taking in 9 ports, a few called into twice. The night hours are spent sailing to the next port, and the days mostly anchored off with shore time between a few hours and a full day. Two sea days are likely. While not all port calls are listed, here follows an overview of the different types of activities available when visiting the islands. Takapoto is a beach day at a beautiful lagoon with a barbecue lunch; the anchorage at Nuku Hiva is a volcanic bay, and its beauty may have caused Herman Melville to jump ship! Four-wheel drive vehicles drive inland to an archeological site and another sacred to the islanders. Lunch is at a restaurant, with time for hiking; Ua Pou is a lunch stop and a village visit; Fatu Hiva is the most remote of the islands, and many locals are engaged in designing and carving art and crafts. Lunch is taken here with a hiking opportunity rated 8/10; Hiva Oa was the final home for the French painter Paul Gauguin and the Belgian singer Jacques Brel, and they are both buried here. Ua Huka offers optional horseback riding with Chileans bringing the horses in the mid-19th century; Rangiroa and Bora Bora are quintessential South Sea island resorts, and last opportunities for a beach day, hiking and sightseeing. When you disembark at Papeete, you have most definitely left paradise. For those with less time, 7- and 11-day cruises are also available by flying to an out island port and joining the ship there. N.B. In 2019, the ship operated two cruises to remote Pitcairn Island (of Mutiny of the Bounty fame). The ship will make another such cruise in 2020.

Tahiti-based ARANUI 5

Aranui 5’s Interisland Route. * Photo: Aranui Cruises

Why Go?

While interisland Pacific Ocean passenger services do exist elsewhere, the overnight accommodations tend to be basic and few will offer a cruise circuit to multiple islands. For tropical climate lovers in search of paradise amidst South Sea people, the region comes as close as any to the ideal. For those islands without regular air service, the ship is a lifeline and its arrival is an important aspect of life. Isolation means that the local culture is far more traditional than in highly commercialized Tahiti.

When to Go?

The ship operates year-round. The best months are May to October, the driest and when the humidity is lowest. November to April is hot, humid and rainy with torrents falling in December and January, when rates are six times that in June to September. Actually, the daytime highs vary only a few degrees between the low to the mid-80s, and the nighttime lows from the high-60s to the mid-70s. All these averages are the norm, if there is such a thing today.

Cabins

Much of the accommodations are of cruise ship standards, and they are spread over 8 decks. 32 suites range from 194 sq. ft. to 441 sq. ft., plus 43 sq. ft. balconies (2 without). 31 Deluxe cabins: 140 sq. ft. to 205 sq. ft. and 43 sq. ft. balconies. 32 staterooms with portholes on the lowest 2 decks: 118 sq. ft. with king or twin beds; 6 at 178 sq. ft. with four twin beds; and 2 singles at 102. sq. ft. For locals, interislanders and backpackers: 4 dormitories for 4 passengers each with a porthole at 135 sq. ft.; and one dormitory with porthole (285 sq. ft.) for 8 persons, 4 uppers, 4 lowers and two bathrooms with shower. All non-dorm cabins come equipped with a desk, TV, safe, and fridge (except no fridge in staterooms). Deck space is provided for 45 for interisland travel.

Presidential Suite. * Photo: C.T.P.M.

8-person dormitory as a contrast to the above suite. * Photo: C.T.P.M.

Public Rooms

Given the relatively moderate size of the ship and the fact that the passenger accommodations are stacked on half the hull length, there is a lot of up and down traffic (2 lifts), especially for those occupying the three lowest cabin decks. There are two lounges with bars and a forward-facing Skybar below the navigating bridge, plus flexible conference room spaces.

Dining

The cuisine is a blend of French and French Polynesian with lots of regional vegetables, fruits and seafood. Meals are served buffet style for breakfast while lunch and dinner offer menus and two seatings when the number of passengers warrant it, at mostly large tables. Wine is included at lunch and dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

The ship is equipped with fitness and massage rooms and an outdoor swimming pool. The enrichment program is given in French and English, and the name of the lecturers are listed next to the specific departures . Musicians perform occasionally at sea, and before and after dinner, with cabarets and dancing at night. The sought-after activities are the trips ashore to archeological sites, to meet the locals, see their way of life, their cultural traditions in music, dance, food and customs, enjoying the wonderful beaches and barbecues, and watching the cargo handling that brings most everything in and takes most everything out. Snorkeling is free while para-sailing and scuba diving are arranged with an independent operator.

Exploring the islands via four-wheel drive vehicle.* Photo: Ted Scull

Exploring the islands via four-wheel drive vehicle.* Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

To fully enjoy the shore trips, be sure you can climb and descend ladders to and from launches as some ports do not have sufficiently large docking facilities or weather may require the ship to anchor. Some landings may be through the surf, and those needing assistance will find a strong hand. The ship does not keep a precise schedule as much depends on the amount of cargo handling at each port as well as the weather. Rough seas can delay the ship and interrupt the freight operations. Some passengers have reported cultural differences can cause conflicts, especially when large groups from one country are involved. N.B. When visiting the C.P.T.M website for the first time, be sure to watch the captivating introductory video.

Along the Same Lines

Hurtigruten’s LOFOTEN would be the closest equivalent of a passenger-cargo ship, though its Norwegian coastal territory is anything but tropical, and the cabin accommodations are not nearly as roomy.

Contact

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime: (USA) Aranui Cruises, 2028 El Camino Real So., Suite B, San Mateo, CA 94403;  800-972-7268 www.aranui.com. (Australia) Aranui Cruises, PO Box 36, Taylor Lakes, Vic. 3038; (61) 39449 3778; (Europe) France: 00 33(0)1 43 3125 6242. Also: Aranui Cruises, PO Box 220, Papeete, Tahiti; 689-40-42-62-42.

— TWS

ARANUI 5 docked at Ua Pou

ARANUI 5 docked at Ua Pou. * Photo: C.P.T.M.

 

 

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How to Pick a Small Ship Cruise

KID-FRIENDLY (age 12+) small ship cruises

Thanks to sporty activities like kayaking, hiking and snorkeling, these lines are great for families during summers and holidays. 

Alaskan Dream CruisesAmaWaterways (Disney charter); AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Coral Expeditions; EcoventuraG Adventures; Island WindjammersLe Boat Lindblad Expeditions; Ponant; SeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Silolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionVariety Cruises

WILDLIFE-focused small ship cruises

These lines offer the most opportunities to spot wildlife relatively close up, whether in the sea, up in the sky or on the shoreline.

Abercrombie & Kent; Alaskan Dream Cruises; Aqua Expeditions; AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook CruisesCelebrity CruisesEcoventuraG Adventures; GreenTracksHapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide Expeditions; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark Expeditions; Silolona SojournsUn-Cruise Adventures

HISTORIC small ships (50 years +)

These ships are all more than 50 years old, though some have been rebuilt to varying degrees.

Hurtigruten (Lofoten 1965); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Juno 1874, Wilhelm Tham 1912, Diana 1931); GreenTracks (Rio Amazonas 1899); Hebridean Island Cruises (Hebridean Princess 1964); Oceanwide Expeditions (Rembrandt Van Rijn early 1900s and Noorderlicht 1910); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud 1931)

TRADITIONALLY-DESIGNED small ships

These lines’ ships are based on traditional ship-building styles, but are not actually old in age.

American Queen Steamboat Company (American Queen  19th century steamboat design); Island Windjammers (Diamant  brigantine schooner); Pandaw River Cruises (entire fleet  British colonial river steamer style); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud II  three-masted barque); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (Katharina & Ombak Putih  Indonesian schooners); Silolona Sojourns (Silolona & Sidatu Bua  traditional Indonesia two-masted cargo schooners); Star Clipper (Star Flyer & Star Clipper four-masted barkentine-rigged clipper ship, Royal Clipper  full-rigged five-masted clipper ship); Un-Cruise Adventures (S.S. Legacy  American coastal night boat); Variety Cruises (Galileo only)

Small ship cruises to ALASKA

These lines spend summers in the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska.

Alaskan Dream Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; PonantSilversea Expeditions; Un-Cruise Adventures 

Small ship cruises in the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

These lines offer year-round (or nearly) cruises in the Galapagos (with reviews of more Galapagos-bound QuirkyCruise lines coming soon).

Celebrity CruisesEcoventuraG AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions; Silversea Expeditions; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises in the CARIBBEAN

These lines all spend part of the year cruising the islands of the Caribbean; mostly the southern and eastern regions.

G Adventures; Island Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud Cruises; SeaDream Yacht Club; Silversea Cruises; Star Clippers; Swan Hellenic; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety Cruises; Windstar Cruises; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises going to CUBA

These lines offer cruises focused on Cuba, the hottest cruise destination on the high seas.

Abercrombie & Kent, G AdventuresLindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud CruisesStar Clippers; Swan Hellenic

Small ship cruises in ASIA

These lines have ships in Asia all or part of each year on river and oceangoing cruises.

AmaWaterwaysAqua ExpeditionsG AdventuresHapag-Lloyd Expeditions CruisesLindblad ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonantSeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Scenic CruisesSilolona SojournsSilversea ExpeditionsStar Clippers; Tauck; Vantage Deluxe World CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

SHORT small ship cruises ITINERARIES of less than a week

Below are lines that offer 1- to 5-night itineraries, ideal to tag onto a regional land trip.

Aqua Expeditions (3-4 nights); Australis (3-7 nights);  Captain Cook Cruises (3-4 nights); Gota Canal Steamship Company (1-5 nights); GreenTracks (3-4 nights); Island Windjammers (6 nights); Magna Carta Steamship Company (5 & 7 nights); Majestic Line (3-6 nights); Marine Link Tours (5 nights); Ontario Waterway Cruises (5 nights); Pandaw River Cruises (1-4 nights); SeaDream Yacht Club (4-6 nights); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (4 nights)

ACTIVE small ship cruises

These lines offer opportunities for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, snorkeling and diving; on land, cycling and hiking.

Alaskan Dream CruisesAqua ExpeditionsBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritrime (C.P.T.M.), Coral ExpeditionsEcoventuraEmerald WaterwaysG Adventures; GreenTracksIsland Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonant; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark ExpeditionsSeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure CruisesSilolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

Cruising with NORTH AMERICAN PASSENGERS

These lines see an almost entirely North American passenger contingent.

Alaska Dream Cruises; American Cruise Lines; American Queen Steamboat Company; Blount Small Ship Cruises; Grand Circle Cruise Line; Island Windjammers; Marine Link Tours (mostly Canadians); Ontario Waterway Cruises (mostly Canadians); Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures

Small ship lines cruising UNUSUAL WATERWAYS

By design, most small-ship cruises focus on off-beat routes, but these lines particularly so.

American Cruise Lines (Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Australis (Tierra del Fuego); Blount Small Ship Adventures (New York State rivers and canals, Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Cross-Sweden canals); Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Philippines and eastern Indonesia); Le Boat (canals, lochs, lakes and tributaries of 8 European countries); Magna Carta Steamship Company (canals of Scotland); Majestic Line (Argyll, Western Scotland, Hebridean isles); Marine Link Tours (British Columbia fjords, inlets); Ontario Waterway Cruises (Ontario’s canals, rivers, lakes); Pandaw River Cruises (Upper Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Upper Mekong); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (eastern islands of Indonesia); Silolona Sojourns (eastern islands of Indonesia); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Ottawa River)

Small ship cruises with multiple CULTURE-FOCUSED LECTURERS

While most small-ship cruises are led by an expert guide/lecturer, these lines carry multiple experts, often with audio-visual presentations about the destinations and related topics.

Lindblad Expeditions (Europe with NG Orion); Silversea ExpeditionsSwan Hellenic

Best small ship cruises to access by RAIL CONNECTIONS  

The following ports are served by multiple daily passenger intercity rail services  Amtrak for the USA and Via Rail for Canada. If a port is served by only one train a day, it is not included. A short taxi ride will be all that is required between the railroad station and the port.

USA Ports
Boston, MA American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Portland, Me — American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises; New York, NY American Cruise Lines, Blount SSA, Pearl Seas Cruises; Baltimore, MD American Cruise Lines; Charleston, SC — American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Jacksonville, FL American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Chicago, IL Blount Small Ship Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Louis, MO American Cruise Lines, American SB Co.; Portland, OR American Cruise Lines, American SB Co, Lindblad Expeditions, Un-Cruise Adventures; Vancouver, WA American Steamboat Co; Seattle, WA American Cruise Lines, Un-Cruise Adventures.

Canada Ports
Kingston, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Ottawa, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Quebec, QE Pearl Seas Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Toronto, ON Pearl Seas Cruises.

Absolutely STUNNING SCENERY to ogle from the decks of small ship cruises

All small-ship cruises go to some really attractive places, but these are the prettiest of them all.

Alaska Glacier Bay National Park; New York Hudson River in the fall; Argentina Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park; Antarctica — on a blue sky day; Austria Wachau Valley of the Danube River; France Burgundy along the Soane; Germany Moselle River in fall; Vietnam Halong Bay; Pacific Ocean French Polynesia and Fiji Out Islands; Norwegian Fjords Geirangerfjord; Greek Isles — Santorini; Alaska Misty Fjords; Thailand Phi Phi Islands; Malta Valletta harbor; Caribbean St. John; Caribbean St. Lucia; West Papua, Indonesia Raja Ampat Islands; Russian Far East Kamchatka & Kuril Islands

— TWS & HMS

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Now Hear This! The Royal Mail Ship service from South Africa to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena  was officially withdrawn in early 2018 as a replacement air service had been approved. The last sailing from Cape Town was January 24, 2018, calling at St. Helena and Ascension then returning to St. Helena and Cape Town, arriving there on February 11, 2018. Then it’s finished with engines. The mail ship had been sold  (April 2018) as an accommodation ships for soldiers fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean. Shortly after that brief period, the ship was resold and is now in England. Future plans for the ship will be revealed for aficionados who follow the ship.  The text below is now one for the history books. You can read what you missed. I am sure glad I didn’t. Ted Scull

Snapshot

The Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA is the very last in a long line of passenger, mail and cargo ships that connected the mother country to her dependents; in this case the dependency is the remote and beautiful South Atlantic island of St. Helena. An airport, nearing completion, will put the island residents within five hours of Johannesburg instead of five days to and from Cape Town, and apart from the convenience for the island’s population, it is hoped that foreign visitors will come in larger numbers for a holiday stay. St. Helena’s remoteness was, for some, its principal attraction, coupled with a true liner voyage albeit rather smaller than the QUEEN MARY 2, the only other true ocean liner afloat.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: ST. HELENA (built 1990 & 156 passengers)

Passenger Profile: The local population is referred to as Saints so they may be of any age, while the generally older visitors hail from South Africa, Great Britain (as the island is a dependency), other Europeans and some Americans. The RMS, as she is affectionately known, also carries passengers’ pets.

Passenger Decks: 4 decks with an elevator serving three of the four.

Price: $ – $$  Moderate to Expensive

Included features: By booking a package, included features would the sea voyage, transfers, hotel accommodation and some sightseeing on St. Helena and perhaps Ascension (a possible port of call).

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain. * Photo:  Ted Scull

 

Itineraries: The most normal route is embarkation at Cape Town, then a five nights’ voyage to St. Helena where most visitors disembark for six days while the RMS unloads cargo and sails two nights north to Ascension where mostly Saints who work overseas disembark or embark. The ship then returns to St. Helena, finishes whatever cargo handling there may be and re-embarks passengers who have spent almost  a week on the island for Cape Town, again a five-night sail. Very occasionally, the RMS also called at Tristan da Cunha, an even more remote British island dependency, inhabited by less that 300 people of British stock, and located deep in the South Atlantic closer to South Africa than to South America. South African lobster boats provide the only passenger access from January 2018.

The classic view over Jamestown to the tiny speck that is the RMS St. Helena. * Photo: Bruce Heard

The classic view over Jamestown to the tiny speck that is the RMS St. Helena. * Photo: Bruce HeardWhy Go? The RMS ST. HELENA and the ship’s namesake island provide one of the most unusual travel experiences imaginable. You travel, not on a cruise ship, but aboard a pocket cargo-liner, with local islanders and a small group of lucky visitors who will then enjoy a remote island stay. Some book into one of several small hotels, bed and breakfasts (some with half or full board), and self-catered accommodations in Jamestown or in the countryside. The sights are Jamestown, a charming pastel-colored 19th-century Georgian town, its main street serving as the island’s social center and offering a couple of restaurants; Longwood, Napoleon’s exile home and gardens, and official French property; the 1791-built Plantation House, home to the island’s governor and a nearly 200-year-old Seychellois tortoise named Jonathan; lovely island drives on mostly one-lane roads with passing places; wonderful hikes, and deep sea fishing. The island operates a charabanc, a pre-WWII open-top tour bus. You can drive down to the shore, but the volcanic island has very little sand at its edge, except for a small stony beach at Sandy Bay. N.B. The week that my wife and I spent on the island could have easily lasted two.

Admiring Jonathan, the Seychellois turtle and nearly 200 years old, on the grounds of Plantation House. * Photo: Ted Scull

Admiring Jonathan, the Seychellois turtle and nearly 200 years old, on the grounds of Plantation House. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go? The ship offers regular voyages now until September 2016.The island’s subtropical climate is peaceful and calm with no temperature extremes at either end of the scale. The voyage to and from Cape Town can be rough near to South Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winters.

Cabins: Most cabins are outside and of small to moderate size with two lower beds; two lowers and an upper; two lowers and two uppers; or just one upper and one lower. These have private shower and toilet. Economy accommodations are mostly for four, though some are two berths, and without windows or portholes and shared facilities in the corridor.

8K RMS93005A Bruce Heard

An outside upper & lower berth cabin. * Photo: Bruce Heard

A two-berth, twin-bedded outside cabin. * Photo: Ted Scull

A two-berth, twin-bedded outside cabin. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Rooms: The forward observation lounge has a bar, and as does the aft Sun Lounge that opens onto the rear deck where there are deck games and a pool. WiFi is now available.

Dining: The restaurant operates with a main and late seating, and the top officers and purser host tables at dinner. The food is British and South African fare with most of the fresh produce brought aboard in Cape Town. Highlights will be lunchtime curries, evening roasts and fish. A light buffet breakfast and lunch are served daily in the Sun Lounge.

The dining room aboard the RMS St. Helena.* Photo: Bruce Heard

The dining room aboard the RMS St. Helena.* Photo: Bruce Heard

Activities & Entertainment: The ship operates like a traditional liner with deck games such as shuffleboard and skittles, even cricket!, and after dinner, films, bingo, quizzes, and frog races. The last named involve flat wooden “frogs” tethered to a spring line that you tug at to drag the frog across the deck. Pull too fast and the frog flips over; pull too slowly and you are sure to lose.

Deck tennis on the forward hold. * Photo: Ted Scull

Deck tennis on the forward hold. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: The cargo handled will be everything the island needs from fresh and frozen food stuffs to building materials, the Royal Mail, including items that the Saints have ordered on line, medical equipment and drugs, vehicles, possibly live farm animals, and perhaps a shipment of St. Helena stamps, one of the island’s only sources of revenue. The loading whether by container or on pallets is worth watching.

The funnel marking is affectionatelt referred to as the South Atlantic prawn. * Photo: Bruce Heard

The funnel marking is affectionately referred to as the South Atlantic prawn. * Photo: Bruce Heard

Along the Same Lines: Some aspects parallel of C.P.T.M.’s ARANUI 5, where the ship also provides a life line to an island chain but it’s a round voyage with just daytime calls and no island stopover. Most of the accommodations are plusher than the RMS.

Contact: Andrew Weir Shipping (SA) Ltd.,Thibault Square, Foreshore, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa;  rms-st-helena.com, +27 21 425 1165

Special Note: Captain Rodney, master of the RMS St. Helena, died whilst on leave in early January 2017. He joined his ship as a cadet in August 1980 and rose to captain in August 2000, the first St. Helenian to assume this role. He was hugely popular with both crew and passengers, and he will be missed. Adam Smith, also a Saint, is now captain.

TWS

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Variety Cruises

Variety Cruises (formerly known as Zeus Casual Cruises) is one of the world’s largest small-ship cruise companies. Founded in 1968, it’s still going strong with a fleet of 12 fully owned yachts carrying between 8 and 72 passengers on intimate voyages in warm-weather regions around the world. They often stay late in a given port if the nightlife and restaurant scene is worth exploring.

The fleet comprises eight motor yachts and sail-assisted motor sailers (34 to 72 passengers a piece), and four private yachts (with 5 or 6 cabins a piece). The entire Variety fleet is popular with private charter groups, including college alumni groups and travel companies that charter the vessels for photography, birdwatchers, wine, history, archeology and other themed cruises. (The four private yachts are only sold as full-ship charters with a crew, while the eight larger vessels also operate scheduled cruises.)

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The Harmony V in Santorini. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Divided into two groups: Private yachts — OBSESSION (built 2002, 5 cabins), MONTE CARLO (b. 2000, 5 cabins), ABSOLUTE KING (b. 2002, 5 cabins), and S/Y CHRISTIANA VIII (b. 2005, 6 cabins); and Mini cruise ships (motor yachts/motor sailers) — VARIETY VOYAGER (built 2012, 72 passengers), HARMONY V (b. 2003 & rebuilt 2009, 49 p), HARMONY G (b. 2001, 44 p), CALLISTO (b. 2000, 34 p), PANORAMA (b. 1993 & rebuilt 2001, 46 p), PANORAMA II (b. 2004, 49 p), GALILEO (b. 1992 & rebuilt 2007, 49 p), and PEGASUS (b. 1990 & rebuilt 1997, 44 p).

Imagine the views from this sun deck! * Photo: Variety Cruises

Imagine the views from this sun deck! * Photo: Variety Cruises

Passenger Decks

3 – 4 (no elevators)

Price

$ – $$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Drinking water, coffee and tea.

Itineraries

At any given time there are about a dozen cruise itineraries to choose from, mostly seven nights, including:

  • Year-round, 3-, 4- and 7-night Seychelles cruises aboard PEGASOS from Mahe or Praslin
  • Summers April – Nov, various 7-night Greek Isles cruises round-trip from Athens, and between Athens and Istanbul (including some with an expert lecturers, generally offered on PANORAMA II or GALILEO, speaking about the archaeology and history of the islands)
  • Winters Dec – March, 7 nights Costa Rica cruises between Colon, Panama and Puntarenas Port, Costa Rica
  • Winters Dec – April, 7 nights Cuba cruises round-trip from Havana NO CUBA CRUISES LISTED ON THE LINE’S WEBSITE FOR LATE FALL  INTO WINTER & SPRING 2019/2020
  • Winters Dec – March, 7 nights Canary Islands between Las Palmas and Tenerife
  • Winters Nov, 7 nights Cape Verde (south of Canary Islands) round-trip from Praia, Sao Tiago
Galileo is as gorgeous as her surroundings. * Photo: Variety Cruises

WOW! Galileo is as gorgeous as her surroundings. * Photo: Variety Cruises

 

Why Go

To feel like you own the ship and aren’t bound by rigid schedules or bogged down by big crowds.

When to Go?

Variety positions its fleet in the regions at the best time to be there.

Cabins

Across the fleet, each cabin has a window or porthole, twin or a queen bed, and private bathrooms with branded toiletries and showers — some top suites have marble clad bathrooms. All rooms have flat screen TVs, DVD players, mini fridges, individually controlled A/C, safes and Wi-Fi (for a fee). VARIETY VOYAGER also has robes for passengers’ use.

Variety Voyager's very posh Category P Cabin. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Variety Voyager’s very posh Category P Cabin. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Public Rooms

The interior spaces are sleek in elegant wood paneling and buttery leather upholstery. All the vessels have an indoor lounge, bar and dining area. Some of the larger vessels also have outdoor dining space and a second bar, mini spa, and a small library. The sundeck on each has loungers and/or sun beds and a swimming platform at the stern provides easy access for watersports. Each boat carries aboard kayaks, and VARIETY VOYAGER and PANORAMA II also have stand-up paddle boards.

Dining

All offer one, open seating in an indoor dining room for all meals; some ships also have outdoor seating. Breakfasts are buffet style, and lunch and/or dinners are a combination of buffet and a la carte services, with BBQs offered on deck and on shore from time to time. Meals with an international appeal might include cream of asparagus soup and an endive and radicchio salad followed by a main course such as a smoked salmon fillet or roast veal, ending with something delicious and decadent like vanilla profiteroles drizzled with hot chocolate fudge. Various dietary needs are happily accommodated.

Activities & Entertainment

There are typically multiple swim stops throughout the week when passengers can hop into the water right from the vessels when at anchor in calm seas. Free snorkeling equipment is supplied on each boat. The ships stop at a port once per day, sometimes twice, and each carries one or two zodiacs for quick trips to shore. Except for complimentary walking tours in the Seychelles, shore excursions are optional (for a fee) and the greatest number are offered on itineraries in Costa Rica, Cuba and Canary Islands, with fewer options in the Greek Isles where many passengers want to explore on their own. Picnics on picturesque beaches are scheduled where possible.

Variety Cruises

Snorkeling in the Seychelles. * Photo: Variety Cruises

When at sea, it’s all about cool drinks and sunbathing on deck, and on the largest ships (including VOYAGER, HARMONY V and PEGASOS), working in a visit to the mini spa or massage room. There are a handful of theme cruises throughout the year usually in the Greek Isles with an archaeologist on board to lecture about various cultural and historical aspects of the destination. On the Costa Rica and Panama cruises, a naturalist sails with the group and presents talks. Otherwise, all scheduled cruises have a cruise director on board to assist passengers with the optional excursions and to share port information, and sometimes there’s an additional lecturer as well.

It's paradise aboard the 5-cabin Obsession. * Photo: Variety Cruises

It’s paradise aboard the 5-cabin Obsession. * Photo: Variety Cruises

Along the Same Lines

In Costa Rica and in Cuba, Pearl Seas Cruises; in Greece and the Adriatic there’s no real competition.

Contact

Variety Cruises House, 214-216 Syngrou Ave, 17672, Athens Greece; www.varietycruises.com, +30 210 6919191

­— HMS

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Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent was founded in 1962 as a safari tour operator in East Africa and has long since expanded to include much of the world on land tours and a selection of small-ship cruise offerings, on various ships that it charters or books into as well as hotel barge cruises in Europe and the UK. In February 2019, Manfredi Lefebvre, executive chairman of Silversea Cruises, took an 85% share in A&K with the founder Geoffrey Kent keeping just 15%. For the present, A&K’s worldwide operations will continue as is.

Itineraries:

The mighty Rhine flows through the heart of Europe. * Photo: A&K

The mighty Rhine flows through the heart of Europe. * Photo: A&K

Europe: For the riverboat program, with departures scattered throughout the cruising season (April to December/January), A&K uses Amadeus riverboats, such as AMADEUS QUEEN (built 2018, 162 passengers, AMADEUS SILVER III (b. 2016 & 168p), AMADEUS BRILLIANT (b. 2011 & 150p) and AMADEUS DIAMOND (b. 2009 & 14 p). The A&K group aboard each departure is limited to 24, led by an A&K resident tour director in conjunction with a local guide and using a private vehicle when going ashore. Most river cruises last a week, a few longer, and cover the Rhine, Main, Danube, Rhone and Soane, Seine and Loire, plus Belgian and Dutch waterways during the bulb season and the Danube during Christmas season. Cruises are bracketed by hotel stays that add up to 9- to 11-day cruise tours, and one Holland to Hungary 17 days. All cabins have large picture windows and either walkout balconies or French balconies. Beer and wine are included with lunch and dinner, and A&K passengers have separate reserved tables at meals. and occasionally, some are taken ashore. All gratuities included except for the resident tour director.

A&K also sells oodles of hotel barge trips all over France, Italy (Po Valley), Ireland (Shannon), England (Thames),  Scotland (Caledonian Canal) and Holland (numerous waterways).

For sailing ship cruises, the venerable 64-passenger SEA CLOUD (b.1931) and companion ship, the 94-passenger SEA CLOUD II (b. 2001) cover the Mediterranean, Iberian Peninsula and Northern Europe.

In 2018, A&K is also offering luxury expedition-style cruise charters in the Greek Isles aboard the brand new 150-passenger LE LAPEROUSE, described as “mega-yacht,” and including butler service in all suites, spa and gym with a hamman, underwater lounge, heated outdoor infinity pool, and a marina with  hydraulic platform and Zodiacs.

Asia: A&K charters Ponant’s 199-passenger LE SOLEAL  for a 14-day springtime land and sea tour beginning in Osaka then traveling south to Kyoto and Hiroshima and then following West Coast, with a diversion to an historic temple complex in South Korea, then on north to Sapporo finishing with a flight back south to Tokyo. The varied content includes Japanese culture, history, art, architecture, gardens and nature.

Asia Rivers:  In China, a 13-day tour includes a 3-night Yangtze River cruise aboard SANCTUARY YANGTZE EXPLORER (18 passengers aboard a riverboat shared with others); in Myanmar, an Irrawaddy River cruise aboard the SANCTUARY ANANDA (18 passengers) is part of an 11-day cruise tour; and on the Mekong River, sail on MEKONG PRINCESS (24 passengers) as part of a 12-day cruise tour from Bangkok and includes Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Angkor Wat.

Egypt: A&K uses the posh 12-passenger SANCTUARY ZEIN NILE CHATEAU, an intriguing-looking motor yacht with fore and aft felucca-type sails, offering four days aboard, and part of a longer 14-day Egypt and Jordan  itinerary that includes Cairo, the pyramids, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Petra, Jerash and more. Departures September through November.

Expedition Cruises: A&K takes a full ship charter of Ponant Cruises’ LE BOREAL built in 2010, limiting the capacity to 199 in all balcony cabins and  the similar L’AUSTRAL, completed in 2015. On selected dates, expeditions visit the Antarctic Peninsula with others extended to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, the expedition staff caters to children between the ages of 7 and 18 with programs aboard and trips ashore. In the Arctic, a 15-day expedition-style cruise begins in Norway and visits Svalbard, Greenland, and Iceland. A 24-day Northwest Passage voyage embarks in Kangerlussuaq , Greenland and disembarks in Nome, Alaska.

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Cuba: The chartered LE PONANT (built 1991 & 58 passengers) will be the focus of an 11-day Cuba cruise tour from Santiago de Cuba along the south coast to Havana. Hotel stays in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.

Special Notes: See Ponant Cruises for more complete information on their vessels.

Contact: Abercrombie & Kent, 1411 Opus Place, Executive Towers II West, Suite 300, Downer’s Grove, IL 60515-1098;  www.abercrombiekent.com; 800-433-8410.

— TWS

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