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Cycling alongside L'Impressionniste

European Waterways

This provider of intimate barge cruises offers a portfolio of small-ship experiences that take travelers along historic inland waterways. European Waterways sails extensively in France, and features immersive itineraries in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Scotland, Ireland and England.

The history of the line dates to 1982 with the restoration and launch of the barge Anjodi, which had been in service as far back as 1929 as a Dutch grain hauler.

Today, European Waterways boasts a fleet of 17 vessels, carrying from six to 20 passengers.

Luxury barge cruises offer travelers a wonderful way to explore small towns and villages at a gentle pace. The itineraries cover about 50 to 70 miles during the week while traveling at 3 mph.

European Waterways’ barges are an ideal private charter option for small groups of friends and family.

European Waterways fleet of 17

La Belle Epoque cruising in Burgundy. * Photo: European Waterways

The Fleet

European Waterways call its vessels “hotel barges.” Most offer four or five well-appointed cabins with queen-size, double or twin beds.

The line’s La Bella Vita is the largest, though, with 10 cabins (two upper-deck junior suites and eight lower-deck cabins), giving it space for up to 20 passengers on its sailings in Venice’s lagoon and the waterways of the Po Valley.

Meanwhile, the newer purpose-built Spirit of Scotland carries a maximum of 12 passengers for voyages along Scotland’s canals and lochs.

Suites on the vessels offer high-end décor and fine amenities such as marble finishes, en suite showers and air conditioning. Each barge features its own special touches, but all stand out for their vintage feel, with teak, oak and mahogany wood.

The boats have picture windows, and are decorated with delightful artwork and photos, setting the tone for meandering days on Europe’s waterways.

European Waterways

The Scottish Highlander’s saloon. * Photo: European Waterways

Passenger Decks

Hotel barges have two or three passenger decks, and there are no elevators.

The sun decks allow for relaxed lounging while taking in the sights of the countryside. Some barges have heated spa pools, and all carry bicycles so that cruisers can venture off for a day of exploration via pedal power.

Enjoy well-stocked bars and saloons offering refreshing cocktails, wines, whiskeys and beers.

A chef runs the galley and serves regional cuisine, often enjoyed al fresco on the top deck.

sundeck on a European Waterways barge

Renaissance’s lovely sundeck. * Photo: European Waterways

Fellow Passengers

European Waterways voyages are spectacular ways to explore scenic and culturally rich destinations that are only discovered by travelers who enjoy getting away from the busy cities and packed tourism hot spots. Your fellow cruisers are generally well-traveled and curious people who enjoy good food, active days and making new friends.

Barge cruising is hugely popular and not only do Francophiles love them, but also eager but timid travelers who might not know where to stay or be inclined to travel independently by car or train, because of inexperience or fear of not speaking the language. For them, an inland barge cruise is a great option.

On full-ship charters children of all ages are welcome. When booking on a per-cabin basis, passengers must be 12 and older.

Price

$$ – $$$

The all-inclusive pricing for six-night voyages ranges from about $4,000 to nearly $9,000 per person, depending on the boat, itinerary and cabin category.

Full-boat charters are an attractive option for families and groups of friends, with options for golf, vineyard visits, hiking, biking, art and historic sights all part of the daily options in port.

Itineraries

Voyages are six nights long and and some head to the lesser-visited waterways in Europe.

France

Cruise the country’s many wine regions, from Burgundy to Alsace-Lorraine and Gascony, a region filled with orchards, vineyards and sunflower fields. Wonderful barge cruise focus on the vineyards and history of Bordeaux, Champagne and Rhône Valley, as well as the interesting canals of Picardy and Paris.

If you cruise the Loire Valley, you’ll get a chance to view brilliant Renaissance-era chateaus, including the Fontainebleau (before boarding your ship), which sits at the edge of an ancient forest. Travelers swoon over port stops in quaint towns and villages like Misy-sur-Yonne and Sens along the small Yonne River.

The Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a highlight of a French barge cruise. The waterway is of particular interest, as it is an engineering marvel. The 330-year-old canal passes Roman ruins, ancient fortresses and vibrant vineyards. You’ll visit the walled city of Carcassonne and dine on midi cuisine, which blends the flavors of Provence and the Mediterranean.

Châteauneuf

L’Impressionniste cruising past Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhône wine region. * Photo: European Waterways

The Netherlands

The 12-passenger hotel barge Panache cruises between Alkmaar and Delft from March to May and the eight-passenger La Nouvelle Etoile takes voyages between Zaandam and Haarlem in April.

Springtime sailings are ideal ways to experience the blooming tulips and picturesque windmills of the region.

Some itineraries include Belgian waterways.

Italy

Cruises ply the Venice lagoon and Po Valley over to Mantua, where you can dine on the province’s noted cuisine, which includes delicious risottos, flatbreads and the torta sbrisolona (a buttery crumble cake).

Barge cruises in Italy are a feast of delicious seafood, regional fine wines and the constant companionship of the Renaissance-era art, culture and architecture.

England

Luxury barges work along the River Thames to stop at boat builder facilities, art galleries and the “real” Downton Abbey — the Victorian-era Highclere Castle.

Voyages along the Thames offer great opportunities to explore the vibrant South Bank and North Bank near London, where you’ll find charming old pubs, fascinating museums and historical points of interest mile after mile.

It’s often best to go for a stroll or a ride along the river to explore at your own pace to soak up the atmosphere.

Scotland

The Scottish Highlander and Spirit of Scotland take you to the Highlands through scenic lochs and the Caledonian Canal.

Itineraries include Loch Ness, where you can keep an eye out for the waterway’s legendary resident, and plenty of time sipping whiskies and spotting castles in the hillsides of the stunning Highlands.

You’ll also dig in to enjoy regional specialties of game and seafood.

Scottish Highlander in Scotland

Scottish Highlander cruising past Urquhart Castle. * Photo: European Waterways

Ireland & More

The 10-passenger Shannon Princess takes passengers through the River Shannon and lakes of western Ireland amid the green hills of the countryside to explore ancient monasteries and spot wildlife.

Classic itineraries cruise Lough Ree, the second-largest lake on the Shannon River, to explore some of the 365 islands. Other stops include the Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery and the haunted Leap Castle.

The Shannon River, with its diverse array of backwaters, islands, lakes and serene bays, provides an ideal environment for a wide range of fish and waterfowl that you can spot on your journey. Look for brown trout, eel, salmon, bream, pike and perch. Birds to keep an eye out for include the endangered corncrake, redshank, lapwing, snipe, curlew and white-tailed sea eagle.

European Waterways also cruises between Germany and Luxembourg in September and October, visiting the Moselle region.

You can also visit Belgium on certain itineraries that include Paris or the Netherlands.

What’s Included

Onboard chefs create meals highlighting regional traditions using products from local markets.

Your fare covers all meals onboard and ashore, with select regional wines and an open bar.

All transfers, excursions, and use of bikes carried onboard are also included.

European Waterways wine

Wine is a big draw of a barge cruise. Here on the La Belle Epoque. * Photo: European Waterways

Why Choose European Waterways?

These luxury barge cruises are wonderful as private charters for small family or friend groups who want to travel together in a uniquely intimate environment and at a thoroughly relaxing pace to experience destinations in a way few others will.

European Waterways offers an all-inclusive experience and features a wide array of highly sought-after destinations.

European Waterways focuses on wining and dining

Alfresco wining and dining. * Photo: European Waterways

When to Go?

European Waterways offer barge cruises from April to October, sailing during the best times of year for each of the destinations — such as Holland during spring for the flower blooms or Champagne, France, in summer.

Cabins

European Waterways’ hotel barges offer air-conditioned cabins and private en-suite bathrooms.

Accommodations can be cozy and simple at about 100 square feet or more elaborate, with suites measuring more than 200 square feet with traditional décor like hardwood paneling and antique furniture.

Natural light comes into the spaces through windows or portholes.

European Waterways Renaissance barge cabin

One of the 4 roomy en-suite cabins aboard the Renaissance barge. * Photo: European Waterways

Public Areas

Common areas include the top sundeck (the desired space for al fresco lunches and taking in the views), a saloon and dining area. Some boats feature heated spa pools. Many have libraries with books, magazines and games.

La Belle Epoque

The Saloon aboard the La Belle Epoque. * Photo: European Waterways

Dining

Gourmet cuisine is prepared by chefs who incorporate produce and items procured at local markets along the way, and meals are paired with regional wines. An emphasis is put on presentation and beautifully set tables.

Fares include breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as any special meals ashore.

European Waterways dinner

A typical dinner on a European Waterways barge cruise. * Photo: European Waterways

Activities & Entertainment

Daily excursions take you to see medieval towns, castles, vineyards and cathedrals — the storied sights and places Europe is beloved for.

Canal du Midi

The 8-passenger Anjodi at Beziers on the Canal du Midi in southern France. * Photo: European Waterways

Bike rides are excellent for actively inclined cruisers looking to further explore a destination, whether to pedal along the tow path next to the boat or cycle further afield in-land.

Cycling alongside L'Impressionniste

Cycling alongside the 12-passenger L’Impressionniste. * Photo: European Waterways

Passengers enjoy “Insider Experiences” on each sailing, which could be something like a dinner at a lock house or a private tasting and tour of a winery.

Onboard, time is spent mingling with fellow passengers, taking in the scenery while sipping a cocktail on the sundeck, or enjoying time in the hot tub.

barge cruise hot tub

Cheers! Enjoying bubbles in the hot tub. * Photo: European Waterways

Along the Same Lines

CroisiEurope Cruises and French Country Waterways offer luxury barge voyages on the inland waterways of France.

Other luxury barge cruise sellers to consider include Barge Lady Cruises and Abercombie & Kent (the company charters European Waterways vessels).

Contact

European Waterways, Waterways House, Riding Court, Riding Court Road, Datchet Berkshire, SL3 9JT United Kingdom; 800-394-8630; europeanwaterways.com

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quirky-cruise-barge-lady-cruises-couple-drinking-wine-on-ship-deck

Barge Lady Cruises

Barge Lady Cruises, the inland waterways operator of roughly 50 luxury small-ship hotel barges, has been around for more than three decades expanding its reach throughout western Europe, the UK and Ireland, almost wherever their shallow craft can navigate. Europe is blessed with natural waterways and a rich heritage of canal building that goes back several hundred years to when shallow-draft boats called barges were vital in transporting goods between the major ports of Europe.

Today, commercial traffic still exists on some rivers and canals, though private yachting, barge travel, and on the larger canals and rivers, riverboats, dominate.

When we’re talking barge cruising, most are owner operated by passionate folks who enjoy offering a boutique hotel experience on these sturdy, charming and wonderfully quirky conveyances. Moving at just about four miles an hour, the point is to soak up the lovely scenery along the way while enjoying great food and wine.

Barge Lady Cruises

AMARYLLIS -6- star barge cruises in France. * Photo; Barge Lady Cruises

Barge cruising may be the slowest form of cruising (a walking pace), hence sightseers are rewarded with an up-close and highly personal take on the region chosen.

RELATED: Barge cruise newbie? These first timer tips will help!

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

The fleet numbers 50 moored all over Western Europe — some conversions from cargo barges and others newly-built specifically for the pleasures of canal cruising. Berth capacities range from 2 to 22.

The smaller capacity barges are perfect for private charters by families, good friends and affinity groups.

Against the backdrop of their longtime relationships within what is a small industry, Barge Lady Cruises will curate itineraries based on specific requests such as vineyard visits, historic destinations, birding, cycling, golfing, hiking, walking and so on. Otherwise the vessels operate as hotel barges where you book your cabin or cabins and share the experience with (hopefully) like-minded others. Though do keep in mind, if you don’t take a fancy to the other passengers on an intimate 6- or 8-passenger canal barge, you’re stuck. Definitely consider booking the whole boat with friends or relatives.

In 2018, the firm opened a Canadian office for barge cruising along the scenic waterways of Ontario.

Wine on deck anyone? * Photo; Barge Lady Cruises

Passenger Decks

Two or three decks; cabins, indoor public spaces and possibly a third open deck. Naturally, no elevators.

Passenger Profile

Anyone who wants to leisurely see a specific region, comfortably and close up without the hassle of having to cope with driving, trains, and dealing with an unfamiliar foreign tongue. Language on board is English, though the crew will speak the local language too.

Price

$$ to $$$entirely dependent on the star classifications. See explanation under cabins.

Itineraries
  • All cruises last six nights/seven days and cover about 50 miles.
  • Barge Lady vessels cruise virtually every region of France where canal and rivers exist;
  • Holland (especially in the bulb season) and some venture into Belgium’s dense network of waterways;
  • Germany along the Mosel to Luxemburg City and Trier (canal locks);
  • Italy following the Po River and Bianco Canal from Venice to Mantua;
  • England along the busy Thames lined with attractive villages and historic riverside pubs, all just west of London;
  • Scotland’s cross-country Caledonian Canal that links four lochs (including Ness);
  • Ireland’s eternally-green landscapes bordering the Shannon River.
  • Barge Lady Cruises

    Germany – cruising the Mosel River * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

Included Features

A dedicated crew including a chef and a tour guide; pre-arranged pickups and drop offs include nearby railways stations, hotels or rental car offices; open bar and paired wines with lunch and dinner; daily escorted sightseeing and entrance fees; daily maid service; and use of onboard amenities such as bicycles, hot tubs, and WiFi. Suggested tipping is 5-10% of the fare.

Why Go?

Barging is leisurely cruising par excellence. Travel on waterways at the pace of a fast walk, a bit faster by following the towpath on a bicycle, and dead stop in the evenings. You are amidst beautiful landscapes when under way, and when tied up, close to lovely villages for after-dinner strolls.

Daily excursions with no more than 20 people, often less, take you to beautiful spots, vineyards, chateaux, artisan workshops, and local produce and craft markets.

Barge Lady Cruises

Barge trips begin in Venice to travel inland along the Po River. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

When to Go?

While the barge cruising season runs from April to October, there are seasonal plusses and minuses. Early and late in the season will see fewer tourists at the most popular sights and fewer private craft on the waterways. However, it may be too cool to remain on deck when underway and in the evenings when tied up.

The beauty of barging is that you’re mainly cruising in the countryside, which substantially lessens being beset by teeming crowds.

Cabins

The cabin sizes generally dictate the star rating, with 3-stars at roughly 100 sq. ft.; 4-stars at 125-200 sq. ft.; 5-stars at 200 sq. ft. with hot tub; and 6-stars at 250 sq. ft. with hot tub. Because barge cabins are located at the waterline, they have portholes or small windows, not big picture windows as with riverboats.

Barge Lady Cruises

A cabin on the Amaryllis. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises                                                                     

Public Rooms

Barges have a lounge, possibly a second semi-partitioned seating area; dining area; forward outdoor seating on the same deck; and perhaps additional open and/or covered seating above the public spaces. Small book collections will reflect the cruising regions, often along with reading left behind by past passengers.

Barge Lady Cruises

Cruising the Canal du Midi in southern France. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

RELATED: Cruising the canals of France aboard the Esperance.  by Elysa Leonard

Dining

Food is most definitely a major attraction and will reflect the country and region. Breakfast and lunch will be buffet and dinner served with paired wines. Cooking and presentation will be of a high standard, and catering is for a few not hundreds or thousands as on ocean-going cruise ships. Often the chef will introduce the evening meal. A cocktail hour with canapés precedes dinner.

Barge Lady Cruises

Wine and cheese from France aboard Barge Lady cruises

Activities & Entertainment

The cruising day may start with an excursion, then return for lunch, cruise in the afternoon, and tie up at night or cruise in the morning with lunch aboard and an afternoon excursion. There may be evening musical entertainment and often a chance to visit the town on foot from the landing. Leisure time is spent viewing the scenery at four mph from the comfort of the deck, joining the captain in his wheelhouse, watching chef in his open kitchen, relaxing in a hot tub, tasting wine and spirits from the onboard cellar, socializing on deck, and of course good old fashioned reading and scenery gazing.

Special Note

If barging is of interest and you are a neophyte, compare how barge cruising is different or similar to riverboat cruising to determine if it fits your travel style.

Along the Same Lines

There are many barge companies and others will be added. Abercrombie & Kent gets a brief mention on QuirkyCruise as they charter some of Barge Lady’s vessels.

Contact

Barge Lady Cruises, 101 West Grand Avenue #200, Chicago IL 60654; 800-880-0071; bargeladycruises.com.

Barges often tie up alongside a village landing, where you want to be. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

Barges often tie up to a village landing, just where you want to be. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of American Cruise Lines

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

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

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

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

Queen of the West. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

American Cruise Lines Passenger Profile

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

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

American Pride. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Passenger Decks

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

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

 

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

What’s Included

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

American Cruise Lines Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Public Rooms

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

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

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

American Cruise Lines Contact Info

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

TWS

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American Queen Steamboat

American Queen Steamboat Company

COVID-19 UPDATE

American Queen Steamboat Company resumed cruising in October 2020.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

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

Many stretches are notably scenic; there are locks to navigate and life in small-town America to discover, where the locals come down to the landing to welcome you. Embarkation and disembarkation cities provide an opportunity to linger a day or two. The company began with two boats and now has four.

The American Queen is simply the best replica steamboat that money can buy, and while she carries over our limit of 300 passengers, we consider her an exceptional exception so she deserves to join her smaller capacity fleet mates in our review here. The American Duchess and American Countess join American Queen on the Mississippi, while American Empress cruises the Columbia and Snake.

American Queen Steamboat Co. owns Victory Cruise Lines, which operates the identical 202-passenger coastal ships Victory I and Victory II with itineraries along the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes, the New England and American Southeast and Mexico. An interesting aside, it also owns Hornblower Cruises & Events, operating dinner cruises, chartered private events and sightseeing tours from major American cities and destinations, including Niagara Falls, Liberty Island and Alcatraz.

RELATED: AQSC Acquires Victory Cruise Lines.  by Anne Kalosh

American Queen * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

FLEET 
  • American Queen (built 1996 & 414 passengers) – Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers
  • American Duchess (b. 1995 & 166 p) – Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers
  • American Empress (b. 2003 & 223 p) – Columbia & Snake Rivers
  • American Countess (b. 2020 & 245 p) – Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers
Passenger Profile

Expect mostly Americans 60 and up who set out to discover their own country in a thoroughly relaxed setting, to enjoy the camaraderie of others, and discover American music, history, food and local attractions. Some passengers collect as many new navigable stretches of river as are offered. Most children will find the pace too slow, and with no activities designed for them, there will be few, if any, aboard.

Price

$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

While the price is high, there are a significant number of complimentary features to soften the blow.

  • Select shore excursions in every port
  • One-night pre-cruise hotel stay
  • Transfer to the steamboat
  • Beer and wine at dinner; coffees, teas, soft drinks and bottled water throughout the day
  • Bicycles and helmets
Locals come down to the river to watch the steamboat activity. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

Itineraries

American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen, American Duchess and American Countess steam along three distinct stretches of Midwestern rivers.

Some cruises have themes such as Big Band, American Music Festival and the Music of the 50s and 60s.

The Lower Mississippi cruises, between New Orleans and Memphis, feature the Old South and Memphis-St. Louis; New Orleans and its great music, restaurants, Creole and Cajun culture; Antebellum plantations; Civil War history; Memphis and its music traditions and National Civil Rights Museum; plus watching considerable waterway commerce on the move. Most are 8 nights with shorter 5-night round trips operating from New Orleans.

The Upper Mississippi cruises, between Alton (23 miles north of St. Louis) and Red Wing (45 miles southeast of St. Paul), visit areas characterized by rolling hills and high bluffs; locking operations to navigate Ole Man River; riverside towns that blossomed during the steamboat era; dynamism of the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and the brilliant autumn color. Itineraries range from 7 to 8 nights.

Cruises that run the full-length of the Mississippi operate between New Orleans and Red Wing, Minnesota (located just below Minneapolis/St. Paul) with 15-night itineraries.

The Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers reveal stretches of wilderness; Civil War battlefields; small town and big city America; Nashville’s country music and the Grand Ole Opry. With a wide selection of 8-night itineraries, embarkations and disembarkations may be in Chattanooga, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville (50 miles southeast of Clarksville), Pittsburgh and St. Louis (Alton).

The American Duchess is nimble enough to cruise the Illinois River from Ottawa, located 90 miles southwest of Chicago to St. Louis and Red Wing (near Minneapolis). Collectors of rivers will go for this 8-night trip.

American Empress operates 6- to 8-night itineraries between Vancouver, Washington (near Portland, Oregon) and Clarkston, Washington, a town along the Columbia and Snake Rivers near the border with Idaho.

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

Sample Itineraries

A typical Mississippi River itinerary, the 8-night “Southern Sampler” cruise, sails roundtrip from New Orleans, plying the southern Mississippi to St. Francisville, Louisiana; Natchez and Vicksburg in Mississippi; back to Baton Rouge and Nottoway in Louisiana; and finally arriving once again in New Orleans.

Lincoln’s Illinois is a unique itinerary of the American heartland. The 8-night cruise begins with an overnight in Memphis, river cruising first to Columbus, Kentucky before heading north into Illinois with calls at Chester, Grafton, Havana and Peoria before ending in Chicago (disembark at Ottawa, IL and transfer 90 miles by road).

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

To celebrate Americana: its history, glorious and varied scenery, river lore, music, food, small town and big cities, all in a thoroughly relaxed fashion aboard a steamboat. The glue that binds are the amazing river routes and the welcome one receives when people stop to watch the boat paddle by or view it passing through one of the lock chambers.

Locals are on hand to greet the boat when she arrives at a town landing and wave farewell with the festive departure accompanied by the steam calliope playing a jolly river lore tune or two.

When to Go?

Visit the Lower Mississippi from mid-February to New Year’s; Upper Mississippi (including Illinois River in summer) from summer into fall; Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers from summer into fall. Theme cruises may draw some to specific theme sailings and holidays aboard coinciding with Independence Day, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year.

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

Activities & Entertainment

Expect fantastic live entertainment, from a swing orchestra to Elvis tribute acts, dancing sessions with the chairs removed, and daily enrichment talks on river history and famous personalities delivered by the ship’s “riverlorian,” an expert in river lore and history. A small theater shows full-length films twice a day.

Puzzles, board games and cards are stored in the Mark Twain Gallery. Kite flying, an old tradition on steamboats, takes place on the Sun Deck when there are no low bridges ahead. Pilothouse tours take place when the boat is tied up, and the engine room is nearly always open for viewing the paddle wheel mechanisms and to have a chat with one of the engineers.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s itineraries include a river port every day, sometimes tying up for the morning or afternoon and occasionally all day. An included shore excursion program provides convenient hop on, hop off company-owned “steamcoaches” decorated to resemble a steamboat and plying a fixed route with numbered stops.

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

Columbia and Snake River cruises offer lectures on board about the formation of the Columbia Gorge, history of the early 19th-century Lewis & Clark expedition, Native American culture, and the wine industry. Steamcoaches follow the boat and provide circular sightseeing routes to the fish ladders that allow the salmon to get past the dams, the cascading Multnomah Falls, and Fort Clatsop.

AMERICAN QUEEN

The best spot to be is in a rocking chair on the Texas Deck. Located all the way forward, it’s known as the Front Porch of America. — Ted Scull

The largest steamboat ever built, American Queen is the flagship paddlewheeler of the company. Built to carry 414 passengers (we’ve bended our 300-passenger limit to include her), she comprises six decks served by two elevators that reach all but the Sun Deck.

The rich interior design is High Victorian, evoking opulence with lavish details that include fine antiques, high-quality replica furnishings and decorative features.

The overall effect is a “Wow” as you step aboard and climb the forward staircase to enter the Cabin Deck public rooms.

The principal lounges and bars are located on the two lowest decks with additional spaces found higher up both fore and aft. The Grand Saloon traces its origins to Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. and features several boxes on the mezzanine level.

American Queen's theater

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

Promenades encircle three decks and ample outdoor lounge areas, both covered and open to the sky, allowing relaxed river viewing. The Sun Deck has a small pool and a gym.

The J.M. White Dining Room is modeled after the dramatic space found on an 1878-built vessel of the same name. Three meals are served here; the dinner menu can include regional specialties such as Shrimp Creole, Smothered Crawfish and Grits and Mississippi Mud Pie. Alternative continental breakfast and a light lunch with salads, a carvery, poboys, and grilled hot dogs are served in the Front Porch Café, an indoor setting, with additional outside and under cover tables positioned to look forward over the bow. An Alfresco dinner is also served here, a lovely place to dine outside yet under cover, on a warm evening. Cabin service is also available.

Steamboat American Queen

J.M. White dining room. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

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

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

Suites can be as large as 500 sq. ft., however most cabins measure from 130 sq. ft. to 190 sq. ft. – small by oceangoing cruise standards. While many have verandahs, some are simply a shared promenade with your neighbor similar to the style of old steamboats, while others have private verandahs.

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers.

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

AMERICAN DUCHESS

The 166-passenger American Duchess entered service in late summer 2017 on the Mississippi River system, inaugurating cruises along the Illinois River approaching Chicago. This smaller boutique sternwheeler has three decks, all connected by an elevator.

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

Dining is at the Grand Dining Room with The Grill Room, an 80-seat alternative one deck above and facing aft. The lobby, bar and the auditorium share the high-ceiling Main Deck with the main dining area. There is a small fitness center. Deck space appears to be at a premium.

Cabins range from 180 sq. ft. to 550 sq. ft., and all except interior rooms, have verandas. Unique two-level loft suites include loft space with a bedroom and private facilities.

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers.

AMERICAN EMPRESS

The largest overnight riverboat west of the Mississippi, the 223-passenger American Empress has four decks and two elevators serving all.

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

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

Passengers can dine at two locations — the Astoria Dining Room on the Explorer Deck or more informally at the River Grill on Vista View Deck. The food is very good, and many ingredients are locally-sourced such as Pacific Northwest shellfish, fish, and fresh produce and the Columbia River Valley is major wine country.

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

Show Lounge - AMERICAN EMPRESS. * Photo: AQSB Co

Show Lounge – American Empress. * Photo: AQSB Co

All cabins are outside and arranged over four decks, with most measuring from 150 to 310 sq. ft. Apart from the windowed cabins on the lowest Explorer Deck, all offer verandas furnished with a couple of chairs and a table. Vista View Deck’s semi-private verandas open onto the side promenade creating a neighborly atmosphere with those living next door and others passing by. 

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, coffeemaker, hair dryers.

AMERICAN COUNTESS

The fourth of the line’s sternwheelers, American Countess is built for 245 passengers and offers four decks, all but the topmost accessed via elevator.

American Queen Steamboat Company

AMERICAN COUNTESS. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Two dining venues, the Grand Dining Room and casual River Grill, serve menus that highlight Southern heritage cuisine, while a pantry has self-service snacking.

The 120-foot-long portside bar has floor-to-ceiling glass for panoramic river views. There’s also a library, chart room, card room, theater and a gym with windows out to the scenery.

Not all cabins are outside, a number of inside cabins measure 170 sq. ft. Most cabins, however, are outside, measuring between 180 sq. ft. for single occupancy to 255 sq. ft. Many have either private balcony or open verandah, a shared outside space similar to old-style steamboats.

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers.

RELATED: Small-ship Cruise Updates Sept 25, 2020.  by Anne Kalosh.

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact Info

American Queen Steamboat Company; www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com; info@aqsc.com; +1 (833) 598-0119

222 Pearl Street, New Albany, IN 47150

— TWS

 

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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of travel industry brands. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market, operating a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, Ganges and the Nile.

The line’s affiliation with the Cosmos and Monograms travel brands means Avalon Waterways offers countless add-on itineraries for before and after your cruise, and can coordinate the various legs seamlessly.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

COVID-19 UPDATE

Avalon Waterways will resume cruising in November 2020.

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

FLEET
Europe (Avalon Suite Ships)

Avalon Panorama (b. 2011 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Vista (b. 2012 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Visionary (b. 2012 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Artistry II (b. 2013 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Expression (b. 2013 & 12 8p) – Danube, Rhine & Rhône Rivers

Avalon Impression (b. 2014 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon Illumination (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Poetry II (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Rhine, Rhône & Saône Rivers

Avalon Tapestry II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Seine River

Avalon Tranquility II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Imagery II (b. 2016 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Passion (b. 2016 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Envision (b. 2019 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon View (b. 2020 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Asia

Avalon Siem Reap (b. 2015 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Avalon Saigon (b. 2017 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Ganges Voyager (b. 2015 & 56 p) – Ganges River

South America

Treasure of Galapagos (b. 2009 & 16 p) – Galapagos Islands

Delfin III (b. 2015 & 44 p) – Amazon River

Egypt

MS Farah (b. 2011 & 124 p) – Nile River

Passenger Profile

Most, age 50 and above, hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia, with some younger passengers on the shorter itineraries.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features
  • Onboard meals
  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks & water
  • Wine, beer & spirits with dinner, sparkling wine with breakfast
  • Wi-Fi (including in cabins for Europe cruises)
  • Most shore excursions
Itineraries

Avalon Waterways’ cruise itineraries are packed with options to extend your cruise with land tours.

In Europe, the huge variety offers cruise tours lasting from 5 to 22 nights, generally adding a land portion at one or both ends of the river cruise. Land travel may be by high-speed train such as TGV, Thalys, and Eurostar or motorcoach.

Springtime tulip bulb season cruises navigate the intricate waterways of Belgium and Holland; French rivers include the Seine, Rhône and Saône; the Rhine with or without the Moselle; combine the Rhine and Rhône between Amsterdam and Cote D’Azur; the Upper and/or Lower Danube, the latter including, on some cruises, sailing all the way to the Danube Delta just in from the Black Sea.

Longer European itineraries may cover, for instance, the Upper Rhine and then via the Main, Main-Danube Canal and the Danube all the way to Vienna; with the granddaddy of all from the North Sea to the Black Sea (22 nights).

In South America, cruises to Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon include a 7-night Galapagos cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador; 14-night cruise tour that combines the Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 17- to 19-night cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

For Asia, cruises along the Mekong include 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and (near) Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Longer itineraries of 12 or 17 nights include Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Halong Bay in Vietnam, respectively. On India’s Ganges River, there are 6-night cruises round-trip from Kolkata and 12-night journeys from Delhi to Kolkata.

In Egypt, Nile River itineraries include 9 nights round-trip from Cairo, and 13 nights from Cairo to the Dead Sea, exploring Jordan.

Sample Itineraries

The best way to explore Central Europe, the Magnificent Europe cruise on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers is a 14-night itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest. The cruise begins with a canal tour from Holland’s capital, then it’s on to Germany to visit Cologne and sail through the dramatic Rhine Gorge. In Germany, you’ll also call at Rüdesheim, Würzburg, Volkach, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Regensburg before sailing through the Main Danube Canal to Melk, Austria. Finally, the journey passes through the Wachau Valley to Vienna and on to its final stop in Budapest, Hungary.

Another popular itinerary is the Mekong Discovery, a 7-night cruise that starts at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, exploring the city and smaller local village via sampan. Cruising up the Mekong, stops at rural villages reveal temples, local cottage industries and cultures. The cruise finishes near Phnom Penh, Cambodia with tours of the city.

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks. In Asia, South America and Egypt, river cruises access cultures, natural scenery and wildlife, and historical wonders in ways that overland touring can’t.

When to Go?

In Europe, most cruises operate from April through October, while some begin in March and end in November. Christmas markets cruises have increasing appeal.

South American cruises generally take place from January to July and September to November. In India, cruises generally take place in the cooler months of January and February, and September to November, while Mekong cruises are generally year-round. In Egypt, cruises are also offered year-round.

Sustainability Initiatives

The company has removed all single use plastics from their cruises and supports The Ocean Cleanup organization.

Activities & Entertainment

The line offers a lot of included excursions and activities. Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus and offer a range of interest levels with local guides, from classic sightseeing to hands-on discovery experiences to active ventures.

The AvalonGo Mobile App aids in self-guided exploration. The onboard cruise director provides commentary at significant locations throughout the cruise. An Adventure host guides fitness activities and active excursions. The “Active Discovery” cruises on the Danube offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine. Other activities can include archery or cooking lessons.

Onboard entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway.

Avalon Waterways

Entertainment in the Panorama Lounge of the Avalon Artistry II. * Photo: Avalon

SHIPS 
Avalon Suite Ships (Europe)

Avalon’s European fleet of 14 riverboats, known as Suite Ships, are almost identical, so this write up refers to all of them. Built for a capacity of either 128 or 166 passengers, all of them have four decks, with elevator access.

Avalon Illumination

The Avalon Illumination, a Suite Ship. * Photo: Avalon

 

Passengers have a choice of three dining venues, from the al fresco Sky Grill to casual meals at the Panorama Bistro or an elegant 4-course dinner under floor-to-ceiling windows at the Panorama dining room or 24-hour coffee and snacks. Menus feature regional cuisines and have an abundance of healthy choices.

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar and aft-facing Club Lounge with a book and games library. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool and game area. There’s also a fitness center.

Avalon Suite Ships come with large cabins and substantially different configuration — for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside.

In cabin: en suite, TV with entertainment options, complementary Wi-Fi, minibar.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Avalon Siem Reap

Avalon Saigon

Along the Mekong, Avalon Waterways operates two 36-passenger sister ships, Avalon Siem Reap and Avalon Saigon.

Avalon Saigon

The Avalon Saigon. * Photo: Avalon

Despite their diminutive size (each has only two decks), they are still Avalon Suite Ships, as each has signature cabins open to the outside with 14-ft. sliding glass doors and windows; they measure 245 sq. ft. A forward-facing covered lounge provides a 180-degree view and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar.

The aft dining room seats all at once for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

An Avalon meal on a southeast Asia river cruise. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

The ships also have a fitness room, sundeck with plenty of shade, a spa treatment room and library with games.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, in-house telephone, safe, hair dryer, and complimentary bottled water

Avalon Cruise, Mekong

The mighty Mekong rises in China and passes through three Southeast Asian countries. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

If you’re lucky, this is Angkor Wat at sunrise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ganges Voyager

A 56-passenger riverboat decorated in colonial-era style, Ganges Voyager has three decks (there is no elevator).

The Panorama Dining Room offers Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

There’s also an air-conditioned lounge with glass walls and another shady al fresco lounge, a fitness room, spa treatment room and library with games.

Most cabins measure between 260-280 sq. ft., some with pretty four-poster beds, all with French balcony. 

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with on-demand movies, in-house telephone, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Ganges Voyager

Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon

Ganges Voyager

Heritage Suite on Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon Cruises

Treasure of Galapagos

Accommodating 16 passengers, Treasure of the Galapagos has cabins and common areas on three decks (no elevator).

Common areas include a dining room, indoor lounge and bar, shaded outdoor lounge, sun deck with Jacuzzi and observation area.

Cabins measure 215 sq. ft., and all have balconies, while the master suite is 430 sq. ft. with two balconies.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, safe, hair dryer.

Treasure of Galapagos

Treasure of Galapagos. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Delphin III

Cruising the Amazon, Delphin III’s three decks are built to accommodate 44 passengers with a dining room, indoor and outdoor lounge (with nightly entertainment), an outdoor plunge pool, exercise room, spa, and excursion skiffs on board.

Most cabins are 237 sq. ft. and all have large picture windows.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, complimentary filtered water, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

The Delfin III, seen here when still called Amazon Discovery. * Photo: Steve Cukrov for Globlus/Avalon.

Avalon Waterways

The silt-laden waters of the Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

MS Farah

On five decks, MS Farah has a lot of facilities including a large restaurant (with vegetarian options on the menu), barbecue on the sun deck, pool and pool bar, lounge bar, library dedicated to Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho and fitness center with sauna and steam rooms. They even hold cooking classes on board.

Avalon Farah

The 120-passenger Farah. * Photo: Avalon

There are 60 cabins, most of which are 239 sq. ft. All have floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows for excellent views. There are also a pair of royal suites

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with cable programming, Internet, tea & coffee-making facilities, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

A camel watches over its territory, the site of the pyramids at Giza. * Photo: Ted Scull

Along the Same Lines

Emerald Waterways and AmaWaterways offer comparable itineraries on Europe’s rivers and canals.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, US-based; Avalonwaterways.com; +1 (877) 797-8791

TWS

 

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Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

PEARL MIST (built 2014 & 210 passengers)

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all cabin decks.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

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

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

Pearl Seas Cruises

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

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

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

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

 

Pearl Seas Cruises adds Panama Canal

Panama Canal. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

 

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The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

Emerald Waterways.

Emerald Waterways started in 2014 and operates a fleet of six similar riverboats along Europe’s Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle Rivers. Other vessels cruise the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Portugal’s Duoro River, Croatia’s Dalmation coast, Russia and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

Known as Evergreen Waterways in Australia, the line is a division of Scenic, a multifaceted travel company. The price point is mid-range and the boats’ decor falls into the modern minimalist style.

The exception is Emerald Waterways’ new luxury yacht, to debut in the summer of 2021 for the company’s new Emerald Yacht Cruises brand, with sailings in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Red Seas.

Emerald Waterways is a real gem, offering good-value river cruises mostly in Europe, Russia and on the Mekong; it’s owned by the same firm that operates Scenic, a higher-end line.

Emerald Harmony of Emerald Cruises

The 2019-built Emerald Harmony is based in SE Asia. * Photo: Emerald Harmony

COVID-19 UPDATE

The global COVID-19 pandemic that emerged in early 2020 has been exceedingly challenging for travel companies and travelers alike. While the situation remains fluid, we at QuirkyCruise.com are working hard to provide accurate and timely updates the small-ship cruise lines we cover. However, for the most up-to-date information we recommend that our readers consult each cruise line directly.

Emerald Waterways is offering incentives such as $2,000 per couple discounts on all 8+ day itineraries or choose free international flights. The line also has flexible booking terms such as reduced deposit (for a limited time) and free deposit protection that allows for reservation changes before the final payment and also offers savings on flights to Europe for longer cruises.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

Star-Ships

Emerald Star (built 2014 & 180 passengers) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Sky (b. 2014 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Dawn (b. 2015 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Sun (b. 2015 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Destiny (b. 2017 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Luna (b. TK & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Liberté (b. 2017 & 138p) — Rhône & Saône Rivers

Emerald Radiance (b. 2017 & 112p) — Douro River in Portugal

Emerald Harmony (b. 2019 & 84p) — Mekong River

Emerald Cruises Emerald Sun

The Star Ship “Emerald Sun.” * Photo: Emerald Cruises

Other Ships

MS Nizhny Novgorod (b. 1977, refurbished 2019, 204p) — Russia

MS Rossia (b. 1978, refitted 2007, 224p) — Russia

MS Hamees (b. TK & 142p) — chartered Mövenpick journeys, Nile River

MS Swallow (b. 2019 & 36p) — Croatia’s Dalmatian coast

MS Lastavica (b. 2020 & 36p) — Croatia’s Dalmatian coast

Future Plans

Emerald Azzurra (b. 2021 & 100p) — luxury yacht scheduled to debut July 2021, Mediterranean, Adriatic & Red Seas

Passenger Profile

For the most part English-speaking from Australia, North American, and Britain.

Passenger Decks

Riverboats: four decks, three of them with cabins, and two more public rooms. An elevator connects the three cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$  Expensive but good value and lots included in the fares.

Included Features
  • Most excursions (at least one for every port)*
  • Biking & hiking tours
  • Independent use of onboard bicycles
  • Beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee & tea with lunch and dinner
  • Bottled water in cabins
  • Some on-shore meals
  • Pre-paid on-board gratuities
  • Wi-Fi onboard
  • Transfers
  • Port charges
  • *More in-depth excursions are available at an extra cost through the DiscoverMORE program focusing on art, local history, culture and food.
  • Cologne Cathedral, seen on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Ted ScullCologne Cathedral, seen on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

Emerald’s European river cruises comprise 5- to 15-day cruises on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle Rivers, as well as the Rhône and Saône; 8 to 22 days on Portugal’s Duoro River; and 11 days on Russia’s Volga River.

Southeast Asia, 8- to 21-day cruises ply the Mekong.

Eastern Mediterranean, a 16-day land-and-river package includes a tour of Israel combined with a Nile River cruise.

Sample Itineraries

  • The eight-day Danube Delights cruise covers four countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The journey departs from Nuremberg and calls at Regensberg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Dürnstein, Vienna and Bratislava before ending at Budapest.
  • The 10-day Secrets of the Douro cruise visits the wine country and landmarks of Portugal and Spain, sailing from Porto and calling at Pinhão, Vega de Terrón, Salamanca, Pocinho and Régua, concluding at Porto.
  • The 16-day Israel & Ancient Egypt river cruise begins in Tel Aviv, Israel where you’ll tour the city for two days before sailing to Haifa for tours of Acre and Galilee, which includes a cruise on the Galilee Sea; a short drive to Jerusalem for a couple days of guided tours throughout the city before returning to Tel Aviv for a flight to Cairo and on to Luxor, Egypt. From Luxor, cruise the Nile with calls at Dendra, Esna, Kom Ombo and Aswan, with a short flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel and return to continue cruising the Nile before flying back to Cairo for three days of tours.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. * Photo: Ted Scull

Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

A European river cruise introduces you in the space of a week or so to several different cultures, long histories, and scenic delights with one unpacking and one packing chore. Asian river cruising is the least stressful way to see diverse culturally-rich countries.

Sustainability Initiatives

The Emerald Harmony was the line’s first Star-Ship to ban all single use plastics.

Now on all river ships, passengers will be provided a complementary metal water bottle to refill from water stations on the ship, and reusable glass water bottles will be provided in the cabins.

Plus, recyclable bamboo and paper straws will be used in the restaurant, bar and lounge, while cabin toiletry miniatures will be replaced with refillable dispensers.

When to Go?

Summer in Europe can be a bit hectic ashore at the most popular port calls, while May and October are less crowded months,. The months of March and April, also times of fewer tourists, may have more unsettled weather.

The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

The Emerald Dawn. * Photo: Emerald Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

While most activities take place ashore, the line has added options like yoga classes, aqua aerobics and smartphone photo workshops on board, as well as deck games like chess with giant pieces and shuffleboard.

Emerald Waterways pool

Some of the Emerald riverboats have small pools. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Musical entertainment comes aboard on selected evenings. An Activities Manager leads guided complimentary cycling tours, rural and urban hikes, and various walks, and can also help passengers plan their own activities ashore on foot or bicycle.

EmeraldACTIVE offers reasonably fit passengers the chance to hike in Germany’s Black Forest on a Rhine cruise and on the Danube; tour by bicycle (also available for independent touring) in the scenic areas around Melk, Austria and glide along the streets of Belgrade, Serbia.

RELATED: Active River Cruising on Emerald. by John Roberts

The list of bike tours includes Amsterdam, Hoorn, and Veere in the Netherlands; to La Roche-de-Glun in southern France, and Melk to Dürnstein along the Danube in Austria. Hikes can include a vineyard in Tournon, France, a climb up to Dürnstein Castle in Austria, or to Belogradchik Fortress, a Roman-era surveillance tower built into a natural wonder, depending on your cruise.

Canoeing is also a new feature in quiet waters, especially in Portugal’s Douro Valley, where you can take a single or double kayak and paddle close to the vineyards. The aim is broaden the interest to appeal to a more active clientele.

How about this for inventive use of space — every evening they drain the heated swimming pool and presto! It magically morphs into a cinema, complete with a bar! — Ted Scull

Emerald riverboat moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Ted Scull

Emerald riverboat moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Star-Ships (Riverboats)
  • Emerald Star
  • Emerald Sky
  • Emerald Dawn
  • Emerald Sun
  • Emerald Destiny
  • Emerald Luna

The flagships of the Emerald Waterways fleet, these six riverboats each measure 135m in length and have four decks, three with cabins, connected by elevators. The main restaurant serves buffet breakfast and lunch, either indoors or al fresco, and a four-course dinner nightly. In fine weather, there’s barbecue on the Sun Deck. A heated pool transforms by night into a cinema and lounge, shielded from the elements by a retractable glass roof.

Other recreation facilities include a sun deck with lounge chairs, putting green, games area, walking track, fitness and wellness areas and a salon. Cabins are all outside-facing, and comprise 72 suites, most with private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button, and 20 staterooms. All cabins have individual temperature control and large windows. They measure in size from 117 sq. ft.  for a single stateroom; the rest ranging from 162 to 315 sq. ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

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A spacious, light-filled balcony cabin. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Emerald Liberté

This boat is almost identical in layout and facilities to the fleet’s six flagships (above), but is slightly smaller at 110m in length. The dining room also boasts authentic locally-sourced fine cuisine with wine paired by on-board sommeliers. Cabins number 68, comprised of 14 staterooms and 54 suites, all outside-facing and most with private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button, measuring from 106 sq. ft. for a single stateroom; the rest ranging from 170 to 315 sq. ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

Emerald Radiance

A smaller, more intimate version of the fleet’s flagships (see above), this riverboat measures 89m in length, with fours decks connected by an elevator. It also boasts a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1:3. Facilities include indoor and al fresco dining, sun deck with deck chairs, pool, walking track, lounge, fitness and wellness areas and salon. Fifty-six cabins include 10 staterooms; the rest are suites, all are outside-facing and most have private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button. They measure in size from 153-170 sq ft for a stateroom; the suites ranging from 160 to 300 sq ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

Emerald Harmony

This 73m long riverboat has four decks and was built for the Mekong with specs that allow it to dock in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City while still providing for many of the unique facilities of its European river boats. These include an on-board dining room, a pool that transforms by night into a lounge, shielded from the elements by a retractable glass roof, sun deck with lounge chairs, games area, walking track, fitness and wellness areas, salon and self-service laundry.

Forty-two cabins include four staterooms with porthole views; the rest are suites, all are outside-facing and most have private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button — all cabins measure 315 sq ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, free Wi-Fi.

Other Ships

MS Nizhny Novgorod

Originally built in 1977, this 129m long boat was refurbished in 2019. It has four decks, two of which contain cabins. Facilities include two restaurants, two bar areas, a solarium, sauna, ironing room, small souvenir shop and conference hall. Of the 106 cabins, six are suites measuring 298 sq. ft., the remaining cabins range from 142-167 sq. ft. All are outside-facing and have large windows and either queen or twin beds.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, radio, refrigerator, air-conditioning, safe.

MS Rossia

Built 1978 for sailing in Russia, this traditional and authentic riverboat was refitted 2007. The 125m boat has four desks and an elevator. Facilities include a restaurant serving European and Russian-inspired fine cuisine and complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; a bar with free Wi-Fi; library; wellness center and souvenir kiosk. All 106 cabins have views with sizes ranging from 12.4-14.6 sq. meters.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, refrigerator.

MS Hamees

This 72m long riverboat has five decks, with cabins on three of them. Facilities include a restaurant and lounge, pool, sun deck and reading room. Each of the 72 cabins measures 244 sq. ft. and has queen or twin beds and outward-facing views.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, hair dryer, air-conditioning.

MS Swallow & MS Lastavica

These identical 49m. yachts are perfect for docking in small ports. Each has four decks, two decks with cabins, and facilities that include an air-conditioned restaurant and al fresco terrace where meals are served with complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks; a bar, lounge, Jacuzzi, sun deck with lounge chairs and a swim platform with fitted steps that lower into the water. Eighteen cabins have queen or twin beds and either a porthole view (in 129-150 sq. ft. cabins) or window (in 124-198 sq. ft. cabins).

In cabin: en suite, complimentary Wi-Fi.

EMERALD YACHT CRUISES
  • Emerald Azzurra (July 2021)

Under the newly-launched Emerald Yacht Cruises brand, this 360-foot long, 100-passenger super yacht is scheduled to debut in July 2021. Spacious cabins will start at 285 sq. ft., most of them with private balconies. The ship will also have a marina platform for water sports like paddle boarding and snorkeling.

Contact

Emerald Waterways

Boston, MA 02111, USA

Tel: +1 (857) 444-4371

info@emeraldwaterways.com

EmeraldWaterways.com

 

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Tucano on an Amazon Nature Tour

Amazon Nature Tours

The owner of Amazon Nature Tours, Mark Baker, is a native of Rhode Island and brings his skills in boatbuilding to his river touring operation. At one time, he also imported lumber from Brazil, but it was an Amazon Basin visit that prompted him to begin offering river tours in 1988 as well as promoting conservation.

Most Amazon river cruises are based in Iquitos, Peru, well up the Amazon and its tributaries. However, this firm’s cruising region is mostly along the Rio Negro, the Amazon’s largest tributary that empties into the main flow near the Brazilian city of Manaus. The region is also sparsely populated (by humans).

butterfly in the Amazon

The lovely Borboleta butterfly. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Amazon Nature Tours’  single riverboat is the Tucano, built in 1997 and refitted a number of times, led by the owner, to make it increasingly eco-friendly, including using solar energy for some of its needs. The passenger capacity is 18.

Amazon Nature Tours's Tucano

The lovely 18-passenger Tucano. * Photo: Nature Tours

Passenger Decks

3 decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

Roughly one third originate in the U.S., and a similar percentage from Europe. Amazon Nature Tours is promoted as an active experience so most passengers are fit to tramp in the rain forest in humid weather and can easily climb in and out of the launches. The eight crew are Brazilians.

a launch on an Amazon river cruise

Excursions are done via Tucano’s launch. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Price

$$

Included Features

All Amazon Nature Tours excursions and water (keeping hydrated is important) are included in the fares. Alcohol is extra.

Itineraries

Year-round 4- and 6-night cruises mostly along the Rio Negro. A couple hundred miles may be covered depending on the exact routing.

Tucano on an Amazon Nature Tour

Serenity in the Amazon aboard the Tucano.

Why Go?

The Amazon Basin is one of the hot topics in the realm of climate change, and the 2019 fire season made worldwide headlines that further illustrates what’s happening when the earth’s inhabitants adds to the mounting crisis. In Brazil it’s widespread deforestation for lumber and to clear land for agriculture – slash and burn.

However, the Rio Negro and the State of Amazonas are not in the recent fire zones, though making such a trip leads to a better understanding what’s there and what’s being destroyed elsewhere in the country. The cruising region is within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich in biodiversity.

Amazon Expedition Cruises

A brilliant macaw. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Animals to be seen are caiman, dolphins, howler and spider monkeys, giant river otters, and tiny marmosets while a sampling of birds are harpy eagles, brilliant macaws, pygmy kingfishers, hoatzins. Many will want to see piranhas, and some may even catch one. The rainforest is thick and great for hiding, so large animal sightings are few.

amazon expedition cruises

See (and hear!) gorgeous howler monkeys in the Amazon. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

When to Go?

The dry season is August to November while the rains are roughly mid-December to mid-May. Best for birdlife February to April-May. The hottest months relatively speaking are October and November. The low-water season brings more bird and animal sightings.

Spot a capuchin on an Amazon Nature Tours

A cute capuchin. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Cabins

Nine attractive cabins include two singles, all with shower facilities. Double have queen-size or twin beds. They have lovely prints showing the Amazon Basin’s wildlife.

twin Cabin with Amazon Nature Tours' Tucano

A charming wood-paneled twin cabin aboard Tucano. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Public Rooms

A glass-enclosed saloon combines the dining area and lounge, and on the highest level, a second covered lounge shares the deck with some open space aft of the pilothouse.

Dining

Meals are open sitting, and the food Brazilian cooking using fish from the Amazon and fruits and vegetables from the region.

The Tucano's dining area.

Tucano’s ample salon has large windows and serves as the dining area and lounge. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Activities & Entertainment

Passengers have a choice, as one would expect, about what activities they would like to participate in. The choice is adventure and science-based interests. The first involves walks in the rainforest taking in the surroundings while looking for wildlife and unusual nature settings while the other, using the launches, focuses on studying on specific plants and animals.

The outings happen early in the day before breakfast when the rain forest is waking up, before lunch, afternoon and after dinner, including nocturnal explorations by launch. One may move from one group to the other. In addition, there will be visits to local villages that are rotated so that none get an intrusion of more than a couple times a year. A beach outing may be on tap. Kayaks are also available.

The 18-passenger Tucano.

Passengers can kayak directly from the 18-passenger Tucano. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Special Notes

Visas are no longer required from Americans, Canadians, Australians and Japanese.

Along the Same Lines

Quirky Cruise reviews more than a half dozen other operators, but Amazon Nature Cruises is the only one using the Rio Negro.

Adventure Smith, one of our lines reviewed, also use the Tucano, and there are others.

Contact

Amazon Natures Tours.com, PO Box 128, Jamestown, RI 02835. USA 800-688-1822; international (001) 401-423-3377.

— TWS

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Scenic Cruises

This luxury river cruise line was founded in Australia in 1986, expanded to the UK and Canada in 2007, and to the US in 2008. Most recently the line has broadened from its main focus in Europe, including Russia, to include Southeast Asia cruises. Expedition cruising began in autumn 2019.

Scenic includes lots of important features on its cruises and prides itself on not taking passenger credit card details at embarkation as there’s little chance of making additional purchases on board. A partnership with National Geographic sees an expert and photographer on board all European cruises.

The parent firm also operates the more moderately-priced Emerald Waterways.

Scenic

Scenic cruises the great rivers of Europe. * Photo: Scenic

COVID-19 UPDATE

Scenic is aiming to restart operations Oct 31, 2020.

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

To encourage bookings, for a limited time, Scenic is offering discounts on their European River cruises, plus chauffeured transfers and free deposit payment protection coverage.

Fleet

Space-Ships

Scenic Crystal (built 2012 & 163 passengers) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jewel (b 2013 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jade (b. 2014 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jasper (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Opal (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Amber (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Ruby (rebuilt 2019 & 159p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Pearl (rebuilt 2019 &159p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Diamond (remodeled 2013, 149p) — Rhône & Saône Rivers & Bordeaux, France

Scenic Sapphire (remodeled 2013, 149p) — Rhône and Saône Rivers & Bordeaux, France

Scenic Azure (b. 2016 & 96p) — Douro River, Portugal

Scenic Gem (b. 2014 & 126p) — Seine River, France

Scenic

Embarking the Scenic Spirit in Cambodia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Other River Boats 

Scenic Tsar (b. 2013 & 112 p) — Volga River, Russia

Scenic Spirit (b. 2016 & 68p) — Mekong River, Southeast Asia

Scenic Aura (b. 2016 & 44p) — Irrawaddy River, Myanmar

Expedition Ships

Scenic Eclipse (b. 2019 & 228p) — Oceangoing expedition ship 

Future Plans

Second expedition ship scheduled to debut TK.

Scenic Spirit seen in the early evening on the Mekong River. * Photo: Gillies and Zeiser

Scenic Spirit seen in the early evening on the Mekong River. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

Passenger Profile

Seniors from 60s on up hailing from Australia and Britain primarily, followed by US and Canada.

Passenger Decks

Most of the riverboats have elevators that serve the two principal cabin and public room decks, and none reach the Sun Deck. SCENIC TSAR’s elevator connects the three cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$ Expensive

Note: Emerald (partner company) is less expensive than Scenic.

For selected off-peak itineraries, the single passenger supplement is reduced by 50% or eliminated entirely.

Included Features
  • Shore excursions, divided into active, moderate and relaxed pace activity level
  • Scenic “Tailormade” app for self-guided tours
  • Unlimited beverages including stocked mini-bar
  • Picnics and bottled water for shore excursions
  • All meals in multiple dining venues
  • Wellness facilities
  • Tips
  • Wi-Fi
  • Use of e-bicycles (in Europe)
  • 24-hour cabin service including butler service
  • Laundry service
  • Airport transfers
Itineraries

With so many riverboats in operation, Scenic offers many itineraries to choose from.

In Europe, itineraries from 7 nights explore the Seine, Danube, Rhine and Moselle, Rhône and Saône rivers, the rivers of Bordeaux and Portugal’s Douro River. Many itineraries combine destinations and can last as long as a month exploring France or throughout Europe. Christmas-themed cruises at the end of the year are always popular.

Scenic

Eiffel Tower from Pont Alexandre III, Paris. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

In Russia, cruises tour the Volga River on 14- to 28-night itineraries.

Southeast Asia river cruises comprise 10 to 17 nights along the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, 7 to 12 nights on the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, or a 25-night combination of both rivers.

Scenic Eclipse sails to every region of the world, for excursion cruises that last anywhere from one week to one month.

Scenic also offers several land-and-river packages in China, South Korea, South India, Egypt and Jordan.

Sample Itineraries

In Europe, the 7-night Gems of the Danube begins in Budapest, cruising to Vienna, Dürnstein (with a relaxing cycling tour to visit Melk), either Salzburg or Cesky Krumlov, Regensburg and ending in Nuremburg before transferring to Munich for departure.

In Southeast Asia, along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River, the Mystical Irrawaddy cruise begins in the capital city of Yangon for a few days of sightseeing before flying to Bagan, where passengers will embark on their cruise, with stops at Magwe, Minhla, Salay, Pakkoku, Yandabo, Mingun, Sagaing and Mandalay, where passengers disembark for a flight back to Yangon.

Scenic

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, a pre- or post-Mekong River cruise stopover. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

Aboard the Scenic Eclipse, the 15-day Arctic Islands cruise begins at Reykjavik in Iceland, sailing to Greenland’s east coast to cruise along the coast and visit the fjords, to north-east Greenland to tour Greenland National Park, sailing on to the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway for arctic wildlife spotting and disembarking at Longyearbyen before flying to Oslo.

Why Go?

The passengers are truly an English-speaking union coming as they do primarily from Australia, Britain, Canada and the U.S.

When to Go?

The departures coincide with the better expected weather conditions with the busiest tourist season mid-June to September. Off-season allows you to share the trips ashore with fewer people  descending on the main attractions, and some of these sailings may be less expensive and/or offer single rates without a supplement.

 SHIPS
  •  Space-Ships
  • Scenic Crystal
  • Scenic Jewel
  • Scenic Jade
  • Scenic Jasper
  • Scenic Opal
  • Scenic Amber
  • Scenic Ruby
  • Scenic Pearl
  • Scenic Sapphire
  • Scenic Diamond

The fleet’s 15 “Space-Ships” are similar across the board, with some slight variations that are identified in the write-ups below. For the most part, however, these luxury boats are similar in length and have four decks, three of which house cabins, connected by elevator except to the uppermost sun deck.

Passengers can take their meals in any of four fine dining rooms or in the casual café, with cuisines taking inspiration and seasonal ingredients from the surrounding locales. Special dining events can include high tea, al fresco barbecue and seafood galas. Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond also hold small cooking classes on board. Drinks are served in the lounge and bar areas.

For down time, the “Space-Ships” have a sun deck, wellness area with massage services, fitness center, walking track, salon and gift shop. Scenic Crystal, Scenic Jewel and Scenic Jade have an additional salt therapy lounge while Scenic Jasper, Scenic Opal and Scenic Amber each have a Vitality Pool on the sun deck; Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond have no salon.

While most carry up to 163 passengers in 82 cabins, Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond have 75 each for up to 149 passengers. Cabins are proportioned similarly on each ship, the average sizes measuring between 215 – 430 ft2. All are outward-facing with large picture windows; most have a balcony, created with the top of the window lowered to open the space to the great outdoors. Cabins are nicely appointed and include butler service.

“More effort than the norm is spent providing memorable meals in a variety of settings. Multiple venues include the Crystal Dining Room, the main restaurant with tables for parties of two to eight and views through picture windows; River Café, casual dining for breakfast and a light lunch; Portobello, 5-course Italian fare for 32 passengers; and Table La Rive, a 6-course degustation menu for 10 diners at a time, reserved for Diamond Deck passengers.” — Ted Scull

Scenic Azure

This smaller 96-passenger “Space-Ship” still maintains the same overall design and quality of the group (see longer review above), complete with four fine dining venues, casual café, lounge and bar, sun deck, wellness area, fitness center, walking track and gift shop.

Cabins are still as large as those on sister ships, but here there are only 48.

Scenic Gem

This 126-passenger Scenic Gem offers the same facilities as the rest of the fleet, with the addition of L’Amour fine dining.

The 63 cabins measure, for the most part, between 160 – 305 ft2.

Scenic Aura

Carrying a maximum of 44 passengers, Scenic Aura is the smallest river boat in the fleet, with five decks instead of four. It has the signature features of the “Space-Ships” with the inclusion of Vitality pool and bar, library and guest laundry.

All 22 cabins have balconies, most measuring between 258 – 430 ft2.

Scenic Spirit

This 68-passenger riverboat comprises five decks connected by an elevator. It also has an almost 1:1 crew-to-passenger ratio. Facilities include a dining room, café, sun deck, pool and pool bar, steam sauna, open-air cinema, library, wellness center, gym, library, and gift shop.

All 34 cabins have a balcony, with most between 344 – 430 ft2.

Scenic

The sitting room of suite #211. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Scenic Tsar

At its debut, the 112-passenger Tsar was Scenic’s first new-build ship to launch onto Russia’s waterways for over 25 years.

Expedition ship

Scenic Eclipse

A 6-star luxury experience, the Scenic Eclipse expedition ship offers facilities and cabins located on 10 decks, serviced by an elevator. For dining, there are nine intimate venues plus 24-hour cabin service and eight bars and lounges.

Recreational facilities include a sun terrace, indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzis, yoga and pilates rooms, gym and fitness area, spa with Jaccuzzi, plunge pool, sauna, steam room and salon, library, boutique, theater, medical center, self-service laundry and Discovery Center.

Guided journeys are led by “Discovery Leaders,” field experts, regional specialists and local guides, with tours via Zodiac, kayak, e-bike, plus two Airbus H130-T2 helicopters and a U-Boat Worx “Cruise Submarine 7” for underwater exploration.

The 114 cabins have a balcony, with most cabins measuring between 344 and 430 ft2.

RELATED: Peter Knego Cruises on the New Scenic Eclipse.

Christmas markets cruises are popular on Rhine and Danube river itineraries. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser.

Christmas markets cruises are popular on Rhine and Danube river itineraries. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser.

Activities & Entertainment

There are three types of shore excursions: Enrich, Freechoice, and Tailormade.

Tailormade excursions are designed for independent exploration at your own pace by foot or bicycle using a app providing the commentary and an interactive map. Subjects covered may be art, architecture, and history, and they are available in 140 locations. You can also use these tools on board.

Freechoice allows you to concentrate on your interests and whether you want an active, moderate or relaxed pace. Active might involve a hike or cycling outing; moderate, a city walking tour, and relaxed a museum visit or a canal cruise. Favorite hiking routes are the Danube Path through Austria’s Wachau Valley and a coastal path near Bordeaux along Arcachon Bay.

Enrich excursions are led by an expert in history or local culture to get beneath the surface. On board cooking school, Scenic Culinaire, operates on the French waterways and that includes going to local markets to buy the ingredients for the onboard cooking component.

For a number of its European cruises, Scenic partners with National Geographic to offer National Geographic Expeditions, cruises with presentations from the magazine’s acclaimed experts, photography lessons from its award-winning photographers and behind-the-scenes access during sightseeing excursions.

Scenic riverboats in Europe carry a fleet of e-bikes that help you propel your way into villages and vineyards so you become part of life ashore and not just a spectator. A handful of departures between May and September will come under the titles “Gems of the Danube,” sailing between Budapest and Nuremburg, and “Rhine Highlights” between Amsterdam and Basel.

During the former, specialists in guiding bicycle tours of 15 to 60 miles will take passengers to breweries for beer tasting, along paths in the Wachau Valley, to Austrian grape wine-growing country, into Vienna Woods and through the hills of Buda in Budapest. The latter will visit the Alsace Wine Route, the Rhine Gorge, Cologne’s network of cycling paths, and the outskirts of Amsterdam for cheese tasting. Non-cycling activities will also be offered.

Biking & Beer on the Danube River

The boat’s bikers stop to see the ship. * Photo: John Roberts

Special Notes

Single travelers pay no single supplements on selected departures in March, April and October to December. 50% of the single supplement is available on selected sailings May to September.

Along the Same Lines

Scenic is among the top lines to offer in-depth river cruising with lots of choices for sightseeing and enjoying meals aboard.

Contacts

USA —  One Financial Center, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02111; scenicusa.com. 855-517-1200; scenicusa.com

CANADA — Suite 1025, 401 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 5A1; Scenic.ca, 866-689-8611; scenic.ca

UK — 13th Floor, 111 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2HY; Scenic.co.uk,  0161 236 2444; scenic.co.uk

AUSTRALIA — Level 15, 56 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW 2000; Scenic.co.au, info@scenic.com.au; scenic.com.au

Pont du Gard, South of France

Pont du Gard, a Roman masterpiece built in the first half of the 1st century, South of France

 

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The Majestic Line

COVID-19 UPDATE 

The Majestic Line resumed cruising in September 2020. Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

The Majestic Line specializes in small-boat cruises in Argyll, Western Scotland and the Hebridean Isles, using two converted fishing boats and two custom-designed steel-hulled gentleman’s motor yachts. The latter have stabilizers so are used for longer trips to more remote places.

While there is an outlined itinerary for every departure, the exact coastal and island calls and their sequence are dependent on the fickle Scottish weather. As the boats carry 11 and 12 passengers only, a cruise is very much a shared experience in close quarters. Every cruise has two single cabins offered and the booking chart on Majestic’s website shows availability.

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

All four vessels are available for charter, with rates discounted by 10%.

Fleet

Glen Massan (built 1975 & 11 passengers) – Hebridean Islands, Caledonian Canal & Loch Ness

Glen Tarsan (b. 1975 & 11 p) – Hebridean Islands, Argyll, Caledonian Canal & Loch Ness

Glen Etive (b. 2016 & 12 p) – Hebridean Islands, Outer Hebridean Islands, Argyll, Skye & Northwest Coast

Glen Shiel (b. 2019 & 12 p) – Hebridean Islands; Skye; Orkney; the Outer Hebridean Islands & St. Kilda; Northwest Coast

The Majestic Line

Three of Majestic Line’s vessels at the dock. * Photo: Majestic Line

Passenger Profile

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

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Included Features
  • On board meals
  • Good selected wines at dinner
  • Tender excursions for exploring

RELATED: Cruising Majestic Line’s Glen Shiel.  by Robin McKelvie.

Itineraries

All four boats offer short-break 3-night and longer 6-night cruises, while Glen Etive and Glen Shiel also do 10-night cruises from Western Scotland to lochs and town landings in Argyll and trips out to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. In all, 19 different itineraries are offered with departures from April to October.

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

The vessels usually anchor by dinnertime in a secluded setting, and get underway after breakfast. If the next stop is a bit further on, then the boat may depart before breakfast.

puffins on lunga

Puffins on Lunga. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Sample Itinerary

The 6-night “Isles of the Clyde and the Southern Hebrides” embarks at Oban, sailing through the Firth of Clyde to the Arran Islands, Kyles of Bute and Campbeltown, rounding the Mull of Kintyre to the southern Hebridean Islands, the Firth of Lorn in North Argyll, past the isles of Gigha, Islay and Jura, and ending at Holy Loch on the Firth of Clyde.

Why Go?

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

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

Iona. * Photo: Majestic Line

Iona. * Photo: The Majestic Line

When to Go?

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

Sustainability Initiatives

At every chance, The Majestic Line sources ingredients for meals from local sources, working closely with local communities with respect to culture and wilderness.

Activities & Entertainment

On board, activities are board games, puzzles, and videos or relaxing and reading from the library selections. Traditional shore excursions do not exist. With maps and guidance from the crew, passengers go ashore independently to visit towns and take walks.

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

At times, the wheelhouse is open to visitors, and the crew is happy to share knowledge of navigation and geography. You might even have a hand at the wheel. — Ted Scull

Dining

Communal table seats all. Typical meal times are: breakfast 8-9am; lunch 1pm; afternoon tea at 4pm; and dinner 7:30pm. Wine is included with dinner.

Main courses feature local fish and shellfish (crabs and sometime lobsters), beef, lamb and venison all sourced locally. With so few to cook for, meals are a craft and a treat. An outside table may also be available when the weather is conducive.

The West coast of Scotland is famed for its shellfish, so it’s little surprise that each cruise features a delicious seafood buffet including mussels, langoustines, scallops and oysters. Venison and beef also appear on menus, locally sourced from the hills of Argyll. And the nightly cheese board is always a highlight with its local Scottish cheeses and preserves.

Glen Tarsan dining saloon

Dining saloon on GLEN TARSAN. * Photo: Majestic Line

SHIPS

Glen Massan
Glen Tarsan

The original Majestic Line boats, these two wooden-hulled, former fishing vessels were converted by the line into bespoke cruise ships. Each has three decks (no elevator).

The deck saloon is the main gathering place for meals, relaxing moments with views and sometimes programs on the large-screen TV.

Drinks, including a wide choice of malt whiskies, are served al fresco on the sheltered aft deck, which is accessed by French doors. If weather allows, meals can be served here, too.

A library stocks books on local attractions and games. Passengers are welcome to chat with the skipper and crew in the wheelhouse. The top deck is ideal for warming in the sun and watching wildlife.

Cabins

The vessels are small hence the cabins are compact with either twin or double-bed configurations. Two singles are available on every cruise with no supplement. All cabins are outside and feature en suite showers, toilets and washbasins.

Glen Etive
Glen Shiel

Majestic Line’s first purpose-built, steel-hulled cruise ships, Glen Etive and Glen Shiel each have three decks (with no elevator).

The Majestic Line's Glen Shiel

The Glen Shiel just joined the Majestic Line fleet! * Photo: The Majestic Line

There’s a dining saloon where all meals are served in informal style, and a warm and inviting forward saloon with great views and socializing with crew and other guests. Drinks and canapés are sometimes served on the outdoor aft deck. There’s a bar in the forward deck with a good selection of malt whiskies available at all times.

The library stocks books and games, while in the lounge/bar they will screen the occasional local documentary or film. The wheelhouse is often open to passengers and there’s also a sun deck with sun loungers.

Cabins

Glen Etive and Glen Shiel have larger cabins than Glen Massan and Glen Tarsan. All cabins are outside and feature en suite showers, toilets and washbasins.

Cabin on Glen Etive. * Photo: Majestic Line

Cabin on GLEN ETIVE. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Special Notes

Glen Etive and Glen Shiel(2019) have stabilizers and are used for longer trips that might encounter some choppy seas such as to the Outer Hebrides and to remote St. Kilda truly out in the Atlantic.

Along the Same Lines

Hebridean Island Cruises‘ 49-passenger Hebridean Princess also cruises in Scotland’s Western Isles, as does Lord of  the Glen, recently purchased by Hebridean Island Cruises from the Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Also check out the small pair operating for Hebrides Cruises; as well as Argyll Cruising and St Hilda Sea Adventures, a pair of wonderful companies with charming vessels cruising Scotland.

Contact

The Majestic Line, UK-based

www.themajesticline.co.uk

info@themajesticline.co.uk; +44 (0) 1369 707 951

— TWS

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The Emmylou plies the Murray River.

Murray River Cruises.

Virtually unknown outside of Australia and New Zealand, the Murray River, navigable for hundreds of miles, threads through the Outback between New South Wales and Victoria and enters South Australia to then empty into a vast lake at the edge of the Southern Ocean.

Its banks were first settled by Aborigines thousands of years ago and in modern times it became the country’s food bowl. By the mid-19th-century the Murray was navigation route for fleets of steamboats.

Today, that legacy is the largest collection of paddle steamers in the world, several operating overnight cruises of up to a week and others offering daytime trips from several different landings.

Read writer William Worden’s account of a recent Murray River adventure, “Two Nights in the Museum.”

The Murray Princess on the Murray River

Murray Princess. * Photo: Murray Princess Cruises

Murray River cruises are operated by several different companies; offering one nighters on up to a week, some year-round.

In this review, we will look at the three most active boats. The largest resembles a relatively small version of Mississippi sternwheelers and the smallest a design all its own.

Visit riverside ports that grew up during the steamboat era and the life of the early settlers, indigenous people’s sights, banks lined with red gum trees, native Australian wildlife drawn to the river and some seen, especially at dawn and dusk, nowhere else.

At night while seated on deck, powerful beams of light help pick out the activity. During the day, local expert guides take passengers on walks to historical sites and local state parks.

The PS Rothbury on the Murray River

Two kids are fascinated by the churning paddle wheel as the P.S. Rothbury docks. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Fleet

The largest, the PS Murray Princess, is a genuine inland paddle wheeler, expressly built in 1986 for the Murray River with a classic design and modern comforts. 120 passengers.

Proud Mary, built 1982 as the Murray Expedition with 28 passengers. Major refit in 1986, now 36 passengers.

Emmylou, a true paddle steamer first built in 1981, is based on the Murray River at Echuca, and is the only wood-fired paddler in the world offering regular overnight cruises. She is powered by a restored 1906 Marshall and Sons steam engine and fueled by redgum logs. Her old-world charm also offers modern comforts in the recently refurbished cabins. Emmylou was named after the country singer Emmylou Harris, and along with the PS Pevensey, PS Emmylou starred in the TV series “All the Rivers Run” as the PS Providence.

Murray River

Proud Mary * Photo:: Murray River Cruises

Passenger Decks

Murray Princess — 5 decks; elevators between some decks; Proud Mary — 3 decks, no elevator; Emmylou — 2 decks, no elevator.

Passenger Profile

For all three vessels — passengers are largely Australian, with some New Zealanders, Europeans and North Americans in the mix.

Ted Scull on a ferry crossing the Murray River.

Ted Scull exploring the Murray River valley, crossing by free ferry at Mannum. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Price

$ to $$

Itineraries

Murray Princess — 3-night Wetlands Cruise (Friday am to Monday am); 4-night Heritage Cruise (Monday pm to Friday am); 7-night Murraylands Cruise combines both. Departs every Fri and Mon at 4:30 pm, returns Fri and Mon at 9:00am. Cruises depart from Murray Bridge, 1.25 hour from Adelaide, capital of South Australia.

Proud Mary — 2-night Discovery Cruise departs every Friday 8:00 pm and returns Sunday 4:30 pm; 5-night Wildlife Cruise departs every Sunday 8:00 pm and returns Friday 4:00 pm. Cruises depart from Murray Bridge.

Emmylou

  • 1-night Weekend Wine and Dine Gourmet Experience departs Saturday 6:30 pm;
  • 2-night Upper Murray Wine and Eco Cruise departs 6:00 pm;
  • 2-night Mitchelton & Emmylou Gourmet Escape departs Melbourne Friday approximately 9:00 am returns to Echuca dock 9:30 am to be transferred back to Melbourne;
  • 2-night Golf Cruise Package departs 6:00 pm returns approx. 4:00 pm (after 2nd round of golf);
  • 3-night Golf Cruise Package departs 6:00 pm returns approx. 4:00 pm (after 2nd round of golf);
  • 3-night Upper Murray Discovery Cruise departs Monday 6:00 pm returns Thursday 9:30 am;
  • 4-night Upper Murray Explorer Cruise departs Monday 10:00 am returns Friday 9:30 am;
  • 4-night Discovery Cruise Retreat Package Cruise departs Sunday 6:30 pm returns Tuesday where you will be transferred to Talo Retreat for a 1-night glamping experience.

Note: Echuca is located on the Murray River in northern Victoria, three hours by car or train from Melbourne.

The Emmylou plies the Murray River.

Emmylou. * Photo: Theo van Loon

Why Go?

To soak up the river scene, lined with redgum trees, parks, and small- to medium-size towns. Enjoy the Aboriginal history, white settler history, unusual species of birds and animals, and camaraderie between nationalities.

Bird species number 98 including cockatoos, Australian pelicans, parrots, ibis; 53 kinds of frogs; 46 species of snakes; 100 lizard varities; and 7 types of turtles; plus platypus and wombats.

Under the surface lurk yabbies (crayfish), eels, catfish, and perch, and sometimes on the banks, turtles and snakes. Some cruises pass through locks built to tame the river’s flow.

The wildlife along a Murray River cruise.

Azura Kingfisher.

Murray River Cruising

Mistletoe

When to Go?

Australia’s seasons are reversed; summers can be very hot, and winters cool and sometimes cold.

Cabins

Murray Princess — 60 cabins and staterooms (larger) arranged on three decks, with private bathroom, adjustable air-conditioning, electric blankets. Dimensions about 12 sq. meters (130 sq. ft.). Staterooms (6) open onto the outside deck and include a fridge and tea/coffee making facilities. Four have a double and a single bed. Outside Cabins (45) open onto the outside deck and have picture windows (twin/double/triple). Inside Cabins (9) open onto an inside passageway and have portholes facing the outside (twin/double).

A cabin on the Murray Princess.

Murray Princess Stateroom. * Photo: Murray River Cruises

Proud Mary — 18 similar river-view cabins on all three decks open onto the side promenade and have either twin or double beds, private facilities, individually controlled air-conditioning, coffee and tea making facilities and hair dryers.

Emmylou — 9 cabins provide a choice of recently refitted accommodations that range in price. Main Deck 2 cabins with twin beds, shared bathroom and wheel chair accessible; Upper Deck 2 cabins with twin beds, private facilities; Upper Deck 2 cabins with double bed, private facilities; Upper Deck 2 cabins queen bed, private facilities; Emmylou suite with double bed, private facilities. Individually controlled air conditioning units, hair dryers in each cabin. Tea and coffee making facilities are in the bar area. Note: The main deck is accessible by wheelchair after crossing the crank shaft, assistance provided. Upper Deck is not wheelchair accessible.

Public Rooms

Murray Princess — Bar forward, lounge aft; gift shop, library and videos; highest deck, partially awning covered; guest laundry and 24-hour tea and coffee facilities.

Proud MaryWell-appointed bar, lounge, and dining area share a space, book collection. Partly covered open deck space.

Emmylou — Public spaces on one deck, cabins on another. Free WiFi in public areas and cabins.

Dining

Murray Princess — Open single seating in a charming historic steamboat setting, served and buffet dining, and Captain’s Dinner. Australian meals with local produce. Special campfire barbecue on the banks of the Murray River during the Heritage Cruise (on four-nighter only).

Murray Princess Dining Room

Murray Princess Dining Room. * Photo: Murray River Cruises

Proud Mary — One open seating and similar arrangements and menus as Murray Princess.

Emmylou —Dining is open-air with the chef using fresh local ingredients for Australian offerings. Most dietary requirements accepted with advance notice. Also, riverside campfires and BBQ’s. On 3- and 4-night cruises wine and beer included at dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

Murray Princess — Two spas, two saunas, sun deck. Speedboat and guided trips ashore to see small towns and wildlife.

Proud Mary — Explore at leisure from the mooring locations, a walk through the bush land or paddle a canoe along the backwaters; fishing with reels and bait for the asking.

Emmylou — Excursions are included such as winery visits, world heritage wetlands and cultural experiences.

Murray River

Mildura, a town that grew up along the Murray Rover. Here arcaded stores. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

For information about what to do along the Murray River, visit http://www.murrayriver.com.au/things-to-do/.

For Murray Princess info, go to Captain Cook Cruises at www.murrayprincess.com.au (Level 3, 26 Flinders Street, Adelaide, South Australia 5000); overseas: +618 82202 8698 or within Australia 1 300 729 938.

For info about Murray River Cruises aboard all three riverboats, go to http://www.murrayrivercruises.com.au/; or outside Australia 617 4051 1120, within Australia 1 800 994 620.

The scenic Murray River.

Red banks enclose the Murray River. * Photo: Murray River Cruises

— Ted Scull

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AmaWaterways

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About AmaWaterways

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

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

EUROPEAN RIVERS

Ships & Years Delivered

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

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

RELATED: Read Gene Sloan’s AmaMagna review here.

Passengers

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$$

NOTE:

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

Included Features

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

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

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

Itineraries (through 2020)

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

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

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

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

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

Other European operators.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA & VIETNAM

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

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

Ships & Years Delivered

AmaDara (built 2015 & 124 passengers).

Passengers

Mainly North Americans 50 and up.

Passenger Decks

4 decks, no elevator.

Price

$$$

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

IRRAWADDY RIVER IN MYANMAR (BURMA)

(Note: Not currently operating)

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

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

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

SOUTHERN AFRICA: ZAMBEZI RIVER IN BOTSWANA

In Brief

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

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

Giraffes in Nambia

Giraffes in Nambia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Contact Info

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

— TWS

 

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