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Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

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

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

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

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

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

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

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

— Galapagos Conservancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ports of Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go

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

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

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

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

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

Company Reviews

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

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

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

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

Eclipse Travel

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

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

Journeys International

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

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

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

Mountain Travel Sobek

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

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

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

Natural Habitat Adventures

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

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

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

Wilderness Travel

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

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

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

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machu Picchu

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

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

 

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St. Hilda Sea Adventures

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

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

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

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Seahorse II. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Passenger Profile

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

Price

$ – $$

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

Included Features

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

When to Go?

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

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

Cabins

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

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

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

Public Rooms

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

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

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

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

Dining

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

 

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Island Windjammers

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QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review of Island Windjammers

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

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

Island Windjammers

Diamant in all her glory. * Photo: Island Windjammers

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

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

Island Windjammers Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$ Moderate

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Island Windjammers Cabins

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

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

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

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

Island Windjammers

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

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

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

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

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

Island Windjammers Public Rooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Island Windjammers Dining

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

Island Windjammers

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

Island Windjammers Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Island Windjammers

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Note

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

Island Windjammers Contact

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

— HMS

 

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G Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Sailing ships in Indonesia

Seatrek Sailing Adventures

SeaTrek’s two traditional sailing ships take adventurous souls to remote corners of the vast Indonesian archipelago, the single-minded focus of the company for more than 25 years. Itineraries zero in on the islands east of Bali — mainly Flores, Maluku, Sulawesi and fascinating West Papua.

The sturdy ironwood pinisi-style “Bugis” schooners were built in Kalimantan, Indonesia, and are full of charm. Their dramatic sheer (curvature) and dhow-like hull add to the ambiance and so does the hardworking and friendly Indonesian crew. No matter where you’re from, you’ll feel a million miles from home the minute you step on board.

The ships are powered by a combination of engine and sails; sails-only when and if the wind is cooperating. You’ll definitely feel the ships moving and bucking in the surf, so having sea legs is a big plus. Both have been recently refurbished and are offering a more polished experience than in years past, and further, there are now more expert-led itineraries offered aboard this pair of very cool Indonesian sailing ships.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

The lovely Katharina & Ombak Putih. * Seatrek Sailing Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

KATHARINA (built 1995 & 12 passengers) and OMBAK PUTIH (b. 1997 & 24 p)

Passenger Profile

Seatrek Sailing Adventures attracts adventure seekers from around the globe, with most tending to hail from Australia, the UK and North America, with a sprinkling of Asian passengers.

Passenger Decks

3, with no elevators.

Price

$$   Expensive

Included Features

Meals, soft drinks and all excursions throughout cruise. Beer, wine and cocktails are extra, as are optional tips.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

A traditional Indonesian dance and music performance on an excursion. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Itineraries
  • From March through early September, OMBAK PUTIH does mostly 7-night itineraries between the islands of Bali and Flores to see the famous Komodo lizards, trek along volcanic mountain trails and snorkel; KATHARINA sticks to mostly customized charters of varying lengths to the Komodo region.
  • The rest of the year, OMBAK PUTIH ventures further east on week-long and longer, more remote itineraries in the Banda, Spice and Halmahera Islands, where waterfalls and white sand beaches are the backdrop to exotic wildlife. Some itineraries visit West Papau and Papau New Guinea to observe the strange customs of the tribal people.
  • About a dozen expert-led cruises a year between the two ships include two 12-day “Wallace Cruises” through Indonesia’s eastern Raja Ampat Islands with Dr. Tony Whitten, a Cambridge educated conservationist, author and Indonesia expert; the route follows in the footsteps of the great British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. Besides collaborating with Darwin on the theory of evolution through natural selection, he identified what is now termed the Wallace Line, which divides the Indonesian archipelago into two parts: a western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia.
Why Go?

To get far far away from civilization and to learn something about the vast diversity of Indonesian culture, history and landscapes on traditional-style ships that hark way back to the early days of sailing. For those who really want to learn something, choose one of Seatrek’s expert-led cruises for a truly memorable adventure aboard one of these Indonesian sailing ships.

When to Go?

The best weather in the Indonesia archipelago occurs in April through September, when heavy rain is less likely.

Romantic? Yes! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Romantic? Yes! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Cabins

Recently refurbished cabins are covered in wood top to bottom and are charming but very small; there’s not much storage space, but then again you won’t need much more than tops, shorts, bathing suits and sarongs. Each cabin has a private bathroom with a shower nozzle above or next to the toilet.

Cabins on OMBAK PUTIH have portholes, KATHARINA’s do not and are a tad claustrophobic; though the point is to be up on deck or in the water most of the day. Most have bunk beds or doubles, with a handful of triples (three bunks or a double and bunk bed) on each ship.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

A triple cabin on Ombak Putih. * Photo: Seatrek Adventures

Public Rooms

The top deck is where everyone gathers for dining, drinking, socializing and scenery gazing. There’s also a small room below decks with a bar, music system, few shelves of books, and some tables and chairs. Besides your cabin, that’s it. The point of a SeaTrek journey is to be on deck.

The top deck is the ship's hub. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna

The top deck is the ship’s hub. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna

Dining

Meals are served at one large table on the main deck, under a tarp strung between the masts if it’s raining or too hot (the indoor lounge is used for dining if the weather turns bad), and are usually a combination of buffet and served dishes. Food is simple, hearty and some of it based on Indonesian stir-fry vegetable, noodle and rice dishes. There are also western staples the likes of scrambled eggs, burgers and French fries, and an afternoon snack to the tune of fried plantains and salsa.

Activities & Entertainment

When not in port, it’s all about hanging out up on deck. Gazing at the passing scenery or reading, snoozing, sunbathing, and sipping chilled cans of Indonesian Bintang beer while chatting with new friends are all par for the course. The cruise director and/or any expert guides who sail on board — from textile experts, authors and historians to legends like Lonely Planet’s Tony Wheeler — will also give talks about Indonesia and the upcoming ports of call.

The lounge offers a basic music system and a TV, but otherwise often no satellite signal for phones and the Internet (which can be a big blessing of course). Mingling with new friends, drinks and moody sunsets are the big show. After dinner once or twice, the crew gets out their guitars and sings, inviting passengers to join in and dance. There are typically one or two ports of call per day, and all shore excursions are included and guided by the cruise director, who doubles as the tour guide and mother hen.

There is snorkeling around remote coral reefs via the the small skiffs carried and diving off the ships’ rails when anchored in the middle of glorious nowhere. On some itineraries,  such as Raja Ampat, there is diving in some of the world’s most stunning underwater landscape.

In port, there are visits to small museums and places where local weaving and other handicrafts are done. Expect nature hikes, bird watching and perhaps a visit to a local sultan (ruler) for tea and a classic Indonesian dance performance.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

Katharina’s Salon. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

Along the Same Lines

Sea Safari Cruises and ships offered for charter including Dunia Baru and Silolona Sojourns’ boats.

Note

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

Contact

Seatrek Sailing Adventures, www.seatrekbali.com.

— HMS

Tropical butterfly makes land fall on a passenger. * Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

Tropical butterfly makes land fall on a passenger. * Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

 

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small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Windstar Cruises.

This fleet of six combines Windstar’s three original sailing yachts, groundbreaking at the time for their large size and computer-controlled sails, with Seabourn’s former trio of small cruise ships also groundbreaking back in the day because of their luxurious all-suite accommodation and exquisite cuisine. All were built between 1986 and 1992, making them senior citizens in cruise ship speak, but thanks to repeated upgrades, the oldies remain in remarkably fine shape, and details are now available about the trio’s major reconstruction program.

N.B. The STAR PRIDE, STAR BREEZE and STAR LEGEND will undergo lengthening and the addition of 50 suites, all new bathrooms, two additional dining venues, and more fuel efficient new engines. The deck pool area and spa will be redesigned. The complete project will last from October 2019 to November 2020 with staggered withdrawals from service. The passenger capacities will increase to 312 but never fear, the trio will continue to be covered by QuirkyCruise. STAR BREEZE is currently undergoing its $85 million refit.

The collective aim is to provide a casually elegant no-jackets-required small-ship experience with alfresco dining, sail-away parties on deck, and generally lots of time spent outdoors soaking up the sun and sea. The MO is sophistication without stuffiness on cruises that are not crazy expensive. Windstar Cruises runs frequent promotions, from waiving the single supplement fees to discounts on fares, and free shipboard credits, shore excursions and WiFi.

Note: Check the new European itineraries for 2020 with returns to major ports in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

WIND STAR (built 1986, 148 passengers), WIND SPIRIT (b. 1988, 148 p), WIND SURF (b. 1990, 310 p), STAR PRIDE (b. 1988, 212 p), STAR BREEZE (b. 1989, 312 p I 2020), and STAR LEGEND (b.1992, 212 p).

small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Gorgeous WInd Star under full sail. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Passenger Profile

The majority are North American couples in their 40s to 70s, with a fair number of British and European passengers in the mix.. Older children, 12 and up, might enjoy the sailing ships, especially on warm weather itineraries when there are oodles of opportunities to use the watersports equipment.

Passenger Decks

WIND SPIRIT/WIND STAR have 4 decks and no elevators; WIND SURF and STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND have 6 decks and elevators between them all.

Price

$ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features

All non-alcoholic drinks, bottled water, sodas and specialty coffees.

Itineraries

The Windstar Cruises’ fleet spends a lot of time in the Caribbean and Mediterranean on 7-night sailings, plus hits many other regions of the world as well. For the 2020 European program, Windstar will operate 116 departures and 80 itineraries with returns after several years absence to Ashdod and Haifa for Israel; Alexandria and Port Said for Egypt including Cairo and the Pyramids; and Istanbul with an overnight stay.

  • Three or four of the six ships spend winters in the Caribbean doing mostly 7-night sailings out of Puerto Rico, Barbados and St. Martin.
  • Two ships spend the winter doing 7-night Costa Rica cruises with a Panama Canal transit. Mexico is another destination.
  • In late 2017, the line returned to Asia for the winter with the STAR LEGEND doing mostly 10- to 14-night sailings in the region.
  • WIND SPIRIT resides in French Polynesia year-round doing mostly 7-night sailings round-trip from Papeete, and a handful of longer sailings that also include calls to the dreamy lagoons at Takapoto and Tiputa, Rangiroa.
  • Summers, five of the six ships undertake 7- to 11-night sailings in the Greek Isles, along the Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese coasts, and in northern Europe to Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland and the Baltic countries. Alaska again is part of the summer program along with New England and Canada. The newly overhauled STAR BREEZE will offer 22 Alaska itineraries beginning in 2020 that include Prince William Sound with a call at Valdez and a cruise into College Fjord where five tidewater glaciers are found as well as Hubbard Glacier on the slopes of the St. Elias Mountains.
  • Note: Six new itineraries in 2020-2021 lasting 12-15 days aboard the newly refitted STAR BREEZE will explore Australia and New Zealand such as Cairns to Melbourne and Auckland at the top of the North Island and along he coast of the South Island.
When to Go?

The fleet cruises different regions of the world in the optimum months.

The cabins on WInd Star, Spirit & Surf are compact but offer everything you'll need. * Photo: Roger Paperno

The cabins on WInd Star, Spirit & Surf are compact but offer everything you’ll need. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Cabins

WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF’s standard cabins are 188 square feet with a nautical flair, while the all-suite STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND standard suites are 277 square feet with an elegant posh-hotel feel, thanks to a walk-in closet, sitting area with sofa, desk and marble bathroom with double sinks and both a shower and tub.

Cabins on all six Windstar Cruises’ ships come stocked with L’Occitane bath amenities, bathrobes, slippers, fresh fruit, flat screen TVs with DVD players, wifi access, room service and mini-bars. Suites have additional amenities, and the largest living space on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND is the 575-square-foot owner’s suite with a separate dining and living room area; the WIND SURF’S 495-square-foot Bridge Suite is it’s top accommodation. None have inside cabins.

About one-third of the suites on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND have French balconies (sliding glass doors opening up to a small ledge) and no cabins have balconies on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF.

Marble-clad bathrooms on Star Pride. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

Marble-clad bathrooms on Star Pride. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

Public Rooms

The STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND are mini cruise ships and much of their public space is indoors, while life on the WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF is focused more on the expansive outdoor teak deck space with its inviting bar, pool and hot tub, and lots of seating. The outside decks on the STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND trio also sport a nice bar with great sea views. Otherwise due to the annoying configuration of the wide smoke stacks in the middle of things, the pool is in the shade much of the time and there isn’t the feel of wide open outdoor space like there is on Windstar’s sailing ships.

The interiors on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND, on the other hand, feel spacious. There are two lounges, two bars and two restaurants (one with indoor and outdoor seating), plus a small casino, library, boutique, spa, and gym, plus a three-level atrium in the middle of it all.

The WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF also have multiple restaurants, an indoor lounge and bar, tiny boutique and library, slip of a casino, plus a gym and spa (both of which are larger on WIND SURF).

Dining

Mealtime is a big part of the Windstar Cruises experience, with each of the ships having two, three or four dining venues, including at least one with outdoor seating so diners can soak up the sun or starry nights. The WIND SURF has four restaurants, including a formal venue serving continental, a modern French bistro, a poolside grill for steaks and grilled skewers, and a casual buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch.

The WIND STAR and WIND SPIRIT and STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND have a main formal restaurant (though jackets aren’t required, passengers dress smartly and some men wear jackets anyway) for multi-course fine dining with a continental menu and the more casual indoor/outdoor buffet venue called The Veranda at the stern that’s transformed into the a la carte Candles restaurant for dinner. Dining out on the deck facing the ship’s wake is a lovely experience.

Elegant Amphora Restaurant, this one on Wind Star. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Elegant Amphora Restaurant, this one on Wind Star. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Activities & Entertainment

On some cruises, usually longer itineraries with multiple sea days and cruises with a notable feature (i.e., the Panama Canal), an expert lecturer talks about the destinations. On occasion, a movie is screened in the lounge (STAR BREEZE and STAR LEGEND have a dedicated movie room). The fleet has an open bridge policy, so weather-permitting you are free to wander in and have a chat with the officer on duty, and perhaps the captain.

All six have gyms (and they’re small on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT) and spas (one room on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT), plus outdoor pools and one or two hot tubs. Sea days on the Windstar sailing yachts are meant to be spent sunbathing and relaxing on deck while taking in the majestic beauty of the masted ships. If anchored in calm seas, all six have watersports platforms for easy access to swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing and other water fun right from the ship and all free of charge.

Before and after dinner, passengers enjoy drinks and the company of their shipmates, plus live music from a pianist or singing duo in one of the lounges. Usually once per cruise local performers come on board for a few hours to entertain guests with folkloric dance or other cultural traditional entertainment. In port once per cruise, there is a complimentary special experience, the likes of a wine tasting and traditional lunch in Sicily or in Ephesus, a private dinner under the stars at the stunning ruins of the Celsus Library.

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream Yacht Club is a blend of Windstar’s sailing ships (where life is lived outdoors on deck) and ex-Seabourn ships (mini cruise ships without sails).

Contact

Windstar Cruises, 2101 4th Avenue Suite 210, Seattle, WA 98121; www.windstarcruises.com, 888-216-9373

— HMS

 

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Zegrahm Expeditions

Zegrahm Expeditions got its start in 1990 by a group of men who knew adventure travel with first-hand experience. In fact the company name is derived from their initials. The programs are worldwide and ever changing, and the firm has a very high loyalty factor with many return clients. Some field leaders have their own following amongst past passengers and biographies appear on the website.

While Zegrahm offers land programs in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, it is the unusually comprehensive expedition cruise programs that are the focus here. Most have one annual departure, while the Galapagos has two, so while we aim to update the changing expeditions and vessels chartered, use the itineraries listed below as a guide of both present and past itineraries.

Nearly every cruise has a land extension. Zegrahm has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to give participants a better understanding of the value of nature. They receive a year’s membership while a percentage of the cost of the cruise goes to the organization.

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

As there are many itineraries and multiple ships involved, every destination and the ship used will be treated together as a pair. Zegrahm does not own ships but takes on complete charters of a half-dozen vessels taking from 38 to 110 passengers.

Passengers

Mostly American, active, 50 and up, well-heeled, curious about the world and enjoying sharing the experience with others. Singles are welcome and rates are often favorable, more so than on land itineraries. Children are welcome and families are especially catered for on selected Antarctic and Galapagos itineraries.

Price

$$$ Very Pricey, yet with much included – see below.

Included Features

Zegrahm includes a lot in their pricing, so often there is little else to budget for other than air fare and land extensions, if any. All trips ashore and special events, entrance fees, kayaking, snorkeling and diving (when offered), all gratuities aboard and ashore, and beer and wine with lunch and dinner.

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

Note: Many itineraries are one-of-a-kind and often not repeated from year to year, so the specific destinations and rotation of ports will change. Here, we aim to show you the numerous and ever-changing possibilities for world-wide small ship travel that Zegrahm has offered, does offer and made offer again. Also, all ships are chartered for a specific cruise or a finite period of time, and other ships may take over. The standards will be high throughout the chartered fleet.  

1) Antarctica: The 22-day comprehensive itinerary embarks and disembarks at Ushuaia, Argentina located at the tip of South America and visits the Falklands, makes five landings in South Georgia, then several islands off the Antarctic Peninsula and as many landings on the peninsula as time and weather permit. Highlights are the huge variety of birds, whales, seals and penguins, former whaling stations, places associated with the explorer Ernest Shackleton and his party, often a research station, icebergs, stunning land and ice formations, and some of the clearest atmosphere your will ever experience.

During the time spent aboard, the expedition staff gives talks, share experiences and show films and recently prepared videos. A second 14-day itinerary concentrates on the Antarctic Peninsula plus a foray south across the Antarctic Circle. N.B. For those who have traveled to Antarctica, Zegrahm offers an itinerary that includes the Falklands and South Georgia without Antarctica.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

2) The Philippines: Very few ships visit the Philippines, let along multiple calls, and here is a 17-day interisland itinerary that combines visiting tribal as well as mainstream Filipino communities, beautiful landscapes, a volcano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, orangutan rehabilitation center, coral reefs and marine life seen from boats and snorkeling activities. The main island of Mindanao and Manila, the capital, are not in the plans.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

3) Japan: A 17-day cruise spring cruise features a voyage through the Sea of Japan and up the island country’s West Coast to visit Honshu Island’s fabulous gardens, landscapes, architectural wonders, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, medieval castles, and a sail across to South Korea’s World Heritage Site at Gyeongiu.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

4) Australia’s Kimberley: A 15-day coastal cruise embarks in Broome, a port in Western Australia, famous for its pearl industry, transports you to some of the country’s most remote parts (The Outback) reached by sea. Small-boats take you out to reefs, into river gorges, whirlpools, mangrove swamps and under cliff faces to search out some of the world’s most unusual sea, land and birdlife in the world.

Visit several waterfalls, some tidal and reversible, thousands of years old aboriginal paintings tucked away in cliff caves and an aboriginal village at a island port just off Darwin, the disembarkation port and the Northern Territory’s capital city. There are times that you feel you are stepping on shores that have seen very little human activity. The May 2018 Kimberley coastal cruise embarks in Darwin and disembarks in Broome.

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

4A) Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: An in-depth 15-day exploration embarking in Cairns (Queensland) and sailing northward to much less visited Ribbon Reef #3, 9 & 10, Rachel Carson Reef, Cod Hole (giant potato cod), and Lizard Island with focus on seabirds, monitor lizards, and minke whales including close contacts by diving and snorkeling. N.B. The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from global warming.

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

5) Melanesia: A 17-day interisland cruise embarking in major South Pacific city of Port Moresby, New Guinea and sailing through the Melanesian islands to Port Vila, Vanuatu. The emphasis is on the local Melanesia culture (customs, ceremonies, dress, art, music, boat building) in several very isolated communities and great variety of exotic sea and birdlife amongst the coral reefs. There will be many chances to snorkel and dive over around coral reefs looking for clownfish, damsels, Moorish idols, and butterflyfish. One dive visits the USS President Coolidge that sank in 1942. From the disembarkation port, fly to Brisbane, Australia.

5A) Micronesia: A truly off-beat 18-day cruise embarks in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and island hops (with no less than 13 calls) to Palau for diving, snorkeling, meeting the locals, birding, and an archeological site.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

6) Patagonia: Two cruises back-to-back feature first an 18-day voyage beginning in the Falklands and exploring the dramatic narrow waterways from Cape Horn into Patagonia and north along the Chilean fjords to Puerto Montt, just south of Santiago, Chile. This portion is nature at its most beautiful and rugged. Leaving penguins sightings in the Falkands, visit one of the world’s great national parks – Torres del Paine – for its birdlife and incredible mountain scenery. Cruise for whales, seals and sail up to the base of South America’s longest glacier, then navigate the fjords northward to Puerto Montt.

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

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

7) West Coast of South America: The second portion, is an 18-day cruise visiting coastal Chile, Peru and Ecuador to see historic architecture, some pre-Columbian, some Spanish, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and the driest place on earth, settings of volcanoes and glacier lakes, and unusual South American birds and sealife, some via Zodiacs amongst off-shore islands. The voyage ends near Guayaquil, Ecuador.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

8) Central America: This 15-day voyage begins in the Costa Rican port of Puerto Caldera via a flight to San José and sails south scouting out the huge variety of birds in Costa Rica via Zodiac cruises and hikes, visiting the Panamanian marine park on Isla Coibe, the Embera Indians of the Darien jungle and the Kuna of San Blas Islands. Linking the two coasts is a Panama Canal transit with views of the second canal under construction. On the Caribbean side, explore the Tortuguero Canals near Puerto Limon for monkeys, sloths, caimans, iguanas, lizards and crocodiles and finish off by visiting the coastal reefs of Honduras’ Bay Islands and Lighthouse Reef off Belize where the cruise ends (Belize City).

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

9) Galapagos: 13 days amongst no less than ten islands may provide one of the most thorough explorations of the islands that Charles Darwin made so famous, as most cruises are three, four, or seven days. As well as the endemic sea and birdlife, there is time to study the land forms, the active and dormant volcanoes and the lava fields. See the section on the Galapagos for more details. In July/August 2018, the Wild Galapagos itinerary lasts 10 days (still longer than most).

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

10) Circumnavigation of Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA . 14 days beginning with two hotel nights in Havana then joining the ship for nine ports calls, one sea day and return directly to Havana. Highlights are Old Havana, City of Bridges at Matanzas, exploring mangrove forest of Cayo Guillermo, snorkeling the reefs, nature reserve at Cayo Saetia to see water buffalo, wild boar and exotic birds, the World Heritage Site at Santiago de Cuba including the famous San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War (1898), the Spanish colonial town of Trinidad also a World Heritage Site, Cienfuegos for Zapata Wetlands and the Bay of Pigs where an unsuccessful American invasion took place in 1961, beaches at Cayo Largo, nature at its most diverse at Isla de la Juventud, and the biological diversity of Maria La Gorda. Note: this cruise is one of the most comprehensive offered by any cruise line.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

11) Canal to Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA. 16 days embarking in Panama City, Panama thence to the huge marine park at Isla Coiba, the Embera community in Darién Province, a daylight Canal Transit, San Blas Archipelago, Spanish fortifications at  Portobelo, Tortuguero Canals at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, the English-speaking island of Isla de Providencia, Colombia, then the Cuba ports (see above itinerary for descriptions) of Cienfuegos, Isla de la Juventud, Maria la Gorda and Havana with a hotel night.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

12) The Hidden Gems of the Caribbean: For the tropical island buff, this 14-day cruise of the Grenadines will show you all aspects of island life, their natural beauty, sea and bird life, coral reef diving and snorkeling, as well as the long histories of individual islands, their conquest by European powers and struggle for independence to today’s varied lifestyles.

Ship: LE PONANT

11) Coastal Europe: A lot of variety is packed into this 16-day voyage that starts out in Lisbon and works its way northeastward calling Spanish, French, English, Belgian and Dutch ports with just one day at sea. Destinations ashore include UNESCO sites at Santiago de Compostela, Mont St. Michel and the Frisian Islands; the wine county upriver from Bordeaux; World War II history on the French coast; three of the Channel Islands – Guernsey, Jersey and the tiny utterly charming Duchy of Sark; medieval Brugge and ending in Amsterdam. The 14-day itinerary has similar ports but does not call at Brugge or Amsterdam and ends in Portsmouth, England. Another all Spanish itinerary (apart from a call at Porto) begins in Barcelona and sails south, around through the Strait of Gibraltar up the west coast, and across the north coast as far as Bilbao.

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

11A) Wild & Ancient Britain: A 14-day cruise nearly circumnavigates the British Isles leaving from Portsmouth, England and calls at Falmouth, Isles of Scilly, then islands off Ireland, islands off the West Coast and to the north of Scotland, ending in  Aberdeen. The highlights are seabirds galore, numerous Neolithic monuments, unusual natural features, and architectural treasures.

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

12) The Baltic: A comprehensive 17-day itinerary departs London for ports in Germany, and a Kiel Canal Transit, then Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland and ending in Stockholm.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

13) The Adriatic, Sicily & Malta: The 13-day cruise begins at the Maltese port of Valetta, a World Heritage Site that survived heavy fighting in WWII: visits four Sicilian ports with roots in Greek and Roman times; even more cultural influences with a stop in Albania and another in Montenegro, then successive calls along the Croatian coast, including Dubrovnik and ending in Venice.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

14) Sicily: A more focused itinerary is a 13-day circumnavigation of Sicily calling at ten ports plus Malta and Lipari in the Aeolian Islands.

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

15) Black Sea Circumnavigation: A 15-day spin begins and ends in Istanbul and proceeds counterclockwise with three stops along the Turkish coast; a call at Batumi in Georgia, the spas at Sochi, then skipping the Crimea and stopping at the crossroads city of Odessa, two ports in Romania (including seldom-visited Histria, the country’s oldest settlement) and lastly Varna, with its Greek and Roman connections. 10 ports and cruising the Danube delta (home to 200 species of birds) makes this a thorough study of Black Sea history and communities today. All that is missing is Russia (Crimea).

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

16) Iceland & Greenland: A 16-day voyage aims to combine searching in Zodiacs for sea life and birdlife, dramatic scenery that includes glaciers, fjords, icebergs, and vast expanses of tundra, Viking settlements and the colorful modern-day fishing villages and their cultural attributes. In June/July 2018, the 15-day expedition embarked in Narsarsuaq, Greenland by charter flight from Reykjavik and concentrates on Greenland’s south and east coast then crosses to northwest Iceland ending in Iceland’s capital.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

16A) Svalbard: A-14 day expedition uses flights to and from Oslo to join the ship at Longyearbyen, the island’s  principal port. The emphasis is on wildlife, especially polar bears, seals, walrus, whales and Arctic foxes; seabirds such as kittiwakes, guillemots, dovekies, puffins and ivory gulls, and the natural beauty of the lush tundra, fjords and glaciers. Touring off the ship is on foot, and in kayaks and Zodiacs.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

17) Indonesia: A 19-day linear voyage begins at the northern tip of Sulawesi and heads along the chain of Indonesian islands to Papua and Papua New Guinea, with a call at Australia’s Thursday Island. Activities are diving and snorkeling amongst the coral reefs, visits to Asmat’s warrior tribes and West Papua’s seafarers, and looking for birds of paradise, doves, parrots, cockatoos, friarbirds and flying foxes.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

18) Vietnam: Zegrahm began trips to Vietnam 25 years ago shortly after travel was permitted. A 16-day coastal cruise begins in Hanoi with a transfer to Haiphong Harbor for embarkation. Eight calls are made en route to Ho Chi Minh City including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Chinese-style “Forbidden City” of Hue and a leisurely sail amongst the sculpted islands in Halong Bay. A special activity is discovering Vietnamese and French-influenced cuisine where passengers tour local markets and vegetable and herb gardens, sample treats at food stalls such as prawn cakes and grilled port patties with sticky noodles, and participate in cooking classes on board. In November/December 2018, a 19-day mostly land and air tour to Myanmar and Laos slotted in a two-day river cruise between Mandalay and Bagan and another two-day cruise on a less visited portion of the Mekong in Laos. Both use Pandaw river boats.

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

19) Cuba: Travel to Cuba on a humanitarian project, a 17-day itinerary that includes a partial circumnavigation of the island and then onward land travel returning to Havana. The 56-passenger Le Ponant, a motor/sail vessel provides comfortable accommodations at sea and the nimbleness to get into small ports. Activities combine cultural, water sports and people-to-people encounters. In April 2018, there are two Cuban itineraries, the first one including Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama before sailing north to Cuba for three days, and the second, a 14-night cruise that completely circumnavigates the island calling at 9 ports and with flights to and from Havana.

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

OCEAN ADVENTURER, formerly SEA ADVENTURER: Renewed in 2017, this traditional 120-passenger vessel was built in 1975 for the Russians to operate rugged sea routes especially in the Arctic has been refitted several times to offer a steady, stabilized oceangoing experience, including strengthening for ice. It has two lounges, including a lovely library, and an aft-located dining room with wraparound glass windows. Cabins are of small to moderate size and all are outside. Zodiacs carried.

CALEDONIAN SKY: Built in 1992 as one of the original six small Renaissance ships, she carries 100 passengers in roomy one-room suites with sitting areas, including eight cabins with balconies, many positioned in the forward half of the ship. One lounge is located above the bridge for glass-protected viewing and the other, with a bar, seats all passengers at once for lectures and socializing. In addition, there is a small library and gym. The dining room is aft on the lowest deck with portholes. A lido deck serves informal outdoor meals in good weather. Zodiacs and scuba diving gear are carried.

ISLAND SKY: Built in 1992, she is also one of the original Renaissance ships (100 passengers) though while her roomy one-room forward-located suites are similar (four with balconies), her layout is somewhat different with two aft lounges including a good-sized library, in place of a forward-viewing lounge. The dining room is on the lowest deck with portholes, and the aft-lido deck serves informal meals in good weather conditions.

HEBRIDEAN SKY: As with the two sisters above, the ship was first completed as one of the Renaissance ships in 1992 and most recently refitted in 2014 and 2016. Passenger capacity is 112 and roomy cabins with sitting areas measure 225, 266 and 325 square feet. The owner’s suite is even larger. The sofa bed will sleep a third person. An elevator serves all decks, and an observation platform is popular for spotting wildlife. Zodiacs are carried for exploring near land, edging up to glaciers and sailing into fjords.

LE PONANT: Completed in 1991, with French registry, as a sail-assisted motor ship, she has three masts and takes just 56 passengers in moderate-size outside cabins, most located on the lowest passenger deck and with portholes. Five others are clustered two decks higher amidships. The lounge is aft opening onto a deck at the stern. Dining is either in the forward restaurant, or in favorable weather, one deck above, aft and outside. Zodiacs, snorkeling and scuba diving gear are carried.

CORAL DISCOVERER, formerly Oceanic Discoverer: Built in 2005, this small Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins, most with view windows. A lounge, seating all, faces aft to an open deck, and the dining room is on the lowest passenger deck with a long rectangular window on either side. The top deck has a Jacuzzi. The vessel carries Zodiacs, a glass-bottom boat, and a tender taking all passengers ashore at one time.

ISABELA II: Completed in 1979, she was heavily refitted and last refurbished in 2012. Good-size cabins are all outside with two partial-view singles, to accommodate 39 passengers. The dining room, lounge and library are on the lowest passenger deck. The Sun Deck has a covered aft bar and lounge for informal dining. The vessel carries Zodiacs, sea kayaks and a glass-bottom boat.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I, formerly Coral Princess: Completed in 1988 and refitted 2005, this 4-deck Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins. The lounge seats all for lectures, often illustrated on two large plasma TV screens. The open top deck has a Jacuzzi, and for sightseeing, there is a glass bottom boat, Zodiacs, and an excursion vessel that can take all passengers at one time.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS II, formerly Coral Princess II (Completed in 1985 and refitted in 2015, the three-deck ship carries 44 passengers in all outside cabins with the 4 D-Deck units having portholes rather than windows. A glass bottom boat is available for watching tropical fishes.

VARIETY VOYAGER: Built in 2012, this sleek-looking yacht handles 72 passengers in all outside cabins located on three of the four decks. Public areas include a lounge, single-seating dining, outdoor dining, library, gym, spa and top deck outdoor bar lounge.

Why Go?

If you long to visit off-beat places around the world, or popular expedition destinations, you will be in good company enjoying the experiences with other like-minded modern-day explorers. Many Zegrahm cruises offer longer itineraries than other operators giving you more in-depth connections but also increasingly the monetary outlay.

When to Go

All Zegrahm Expeditions are geared to the best season or seasons to travel to a particular region.

Activities & Entertainment

These cruises are designed for the active traveler with lots of destinations and as few sea days as possible. Time aboard, however, will be well spend with lectures and audio-visual presentations presented by the expedition staff who will bring their expertise to you on board and on excursions ashore. Excursions will be in vehicles, on foot and in kayaks and Zodiacs and some itineraries offer snorkeling and diving. Two vessels have glass-bottom boats — ISABELA II and OCEANIC DISCOVERER.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

Zegrahm Expeditions, 3131 Elliott Avenue, Ste 205, Seattle, WA 98121; www.zegrahm.com 855-276-8849 or 206-745-9364

TWS

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Star Clippers

Star Clippers offers the perfect marriage of adventure, romance and comfort, not to mention the thrill of sailing on a gorgeous replica of a 19th-century Clipper Ship. The company’s trio of swashbucklers feels like they belong in the Caribbean,  Mediterranean and Far East, bucking through the surf and wind like ships are meant to. Watching sunsets melt behind the rigging or a port come into focus from a front row perch at the rails, a Star Clippers cruise is best spent on deck — that is whenever you’re not relaxing in the cozy nautical cabins or having a tasty meal in the dining room.

Owner and company founder Mikael Krafft, a Swedish-born industrialist and real estate developer, spared no detail or expense to design and build his fleet of three square-rigged clippers in the likeness of their speedy predecessors — Krafft and his team referred to the original drawings and specifications of Scottish-born Donald McKay, a leading naval architect of 19th-century clipper-ship technology.

The newest and largest of the three (until the new 300-passenger FLYING CLIPPER launches), the 227-passenger five-masted ROYAL CLIPPER, was modeled on the famed Preussen, a 1902-built German clipper. She is the largest square-rigged in service with 5,202 square meters of sail, hence she holds the honorary title Queen of the Seas. All three sport towering masts, sails, rigging, wooden decks and chunky ventilators. Facing forward on the top deck, if you didn’t hear the murmur of the engines much of the time (and could ignore the small pool and all those people in 21st century clothes), it’s not a leap to imagine being a crew member cranking winches on a three-month run to England with a cargo of tea and opium from China.

The Star Clippers’ ships typically rely on sails alone about 25% to 50% of the time; otherwise, the sails are used with the engines to maintain speeds of about 9 to 14 knots for the comfort of passengers — though occasionally in strong winds they clock speeds in the neighborhood of 15 knots. Hold on!

Sunset through the sails

Sunset through the sails. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Of course the beauty of a Star Clippers cruise is you feel like you’re on a real working ship without having to doing any work. While you can help pull in the sails a few times throughout the week or climb the masts (with a harness) at designated times, most passengers choose to be voyeurs, gazing out at the sea and distant landscape through the lens of the ships’ masts and lines. Sunrise and sunset through the sails, lines and masts are magical.

Fans were thrilled to learn that Star Clippers would be building a fourth ship, the FLYING CLIPPER, a much anticipated and complex construction project that has been an ongoing saga due to two years of shipyard delays. Now completed there is a dispute between Star Clippers and the shipyard, and it is unclear what will transpire. The FLYING CLIPPER’s details are 300 passengers and measures 8,770 tons. It is powered by more than 6,350 square meters of sails.  Technically a five-masted, square-rigged barque, it’s a near-replica of the FRANCE II, commissioned in 1911 and the largest square rigger ever built.

Just as the original FRANCE II eclipsed PREUSSEN (which the line’s ROYAL CLIPPER is modeled on) more than a century ago as the world’s largest square rigger, the newbuild will replace the ROYAL CLIPPER, as the largest ship of its kind afloat today. The vessel has have generous deck space, three pools, and a watersports platform in the stern. One restaurant will accommodate all guests and cabin choices include 34 suites with balconies and four luxurious owner’s suites. Like those of the Star Clippers’ fleet, there will also be a library and an al fresco Tropical Bar. The ship will likely start out sailing in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Stayed tuned to when all this begins to happen!

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count 

STAR FLYER (built 1991 & 172 passengers); STAR CLIPPER (b. 1992 & 172 p); ROYAL CLIPPER (b. 2000 & 227 p); and FLYING CLIPPER (2019 & 300p)

Star Clippers Passenger Profile

A mix of mostly Europeans, British and Americans in their 50s on up, plus a fair number of families with children aboard in summer and holiday weeks. In our opinion, it’s best for children to be at least 10 years old. Many passengers own their boats and just love to sail, with a huge number of repeat passengers who keep coming back for more. Repeaters get a 3% discount, not a lot yet a nod to their loyalty. Some passengers would never consider a standard cruise ship. Note: Announcements are made in English, German, and French.

Passenger Decks

4: No elevators.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Watersports, weather and conditions permitting.

Star Clippers Itineraries
  • Generally, all three ships  (only two in 2019)  summer in the Mediterranean between late April and October doing mostly one-week itineraries, plus a handful of longer 10- and 11-night sailings. ROYAL CLIPPER is based in the Western Mediterranean calling at ports in Spain, France and Italy and the islands: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and the Balearics. STAR FLYER undertakes some cruises in the Western Medit. to then position in the Adriatic along the Croatian coast, Greek islands and the Turkish coast but not Istanbul, for mostly 7 nights but a few 10 and 11. To reposition between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean in the spring and fall, longer trans-oceanic positioning voyages are the target for those who wants days under sail between ports with perhaps calls in the Canaries or Azores, and of course, one may begin or finish the voyage  with a string of Western Mediterranean ports calls. These voyages may be as short as 15 nights or as long as 28.
  • Two ships winter in Caribbean on mostly 7-night sailings (November-March), ROYAL CLIPPER offers varied 7-night itineraries from Barbados, longer 14-nighters through the islands and along the coast of Colombia to Panama including a canal transit.  STAR FLYER makes 7-night cruises from St. Maarten and longer 14-nighters along the coast and amongst the island to Panama including canal transit.
  • Through 2019, the STAR CLIPPER is in Asia spending half the year doing Andaman Sea mostly 7-night cruises off the coast of southwestern Thailand (October-April) and 7-, 10- & 11-night itineraries in the Indonesian archipelago the other half of the year. New 10- and 11-night itineraries will sail from Singapore to ports along the Malaysian coast and to the island of Borneo, including Kota Kinabalu and Brunei.
Approaching lovely Monemvassia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Approaching lovely Monemvassia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

For the great mix of adventure and comfort, you can feel like an old salt soaking in the sailing scene without giving up the luxury of nice cabins, good dining and even massages.

When to Go?

Two generally winter in the Caribbean and Central America and this pair then spends the summer in various parts of the Mediterranean with spring and fall transats to connect the two seasons.. The third is based in Southeast Asia and the Indonesian islands for the foreseeable future.

Star Clippers Cabins

Cabins are nautical, with wood-paneling, navy blue fabrics and brass details. The ROYAL CLIPPER’s standard cabins measure 148 square feet, while the CLIPPER’s and FLYER’s are a bit smaller at 120 to 130 square feet. The vast majority of cabins on all three ships are outside rooms with portholes (some with a pull down third birth); a handful is smaller inside cabins without portholes.

Each of the trio has a handful of suites, including six on the CLIPPER and FLYER, plus one large oddly configured owners’ suite. The 14 Deluxe Suites on ROYAL CLIPPER’s Main Deck measure 255 square feet and have private balconies, sitting areas, minibars, whirlpool tubs and 24-hour butler service; the two Owner’s Suites measure 355 square feet and have two marble bathrooms, though no balcony.

All cabins have TVs with DVD players, private bathrooms with showers, hair dryers, small vanity table with stool, and surprisingly ample storage space unless you’re a major clothes horse.

Consider that the lowest deck cabins near the stern will be close to the rumbling engines, and the cabins bordering the entrance to the dining room get residual noise and traffic and meal time.

A triple cabin, room 206.

A triple cabin, room 206. When not in use, the upper berth will be folded up and away.* Photo: Heidi Sarna

Star Clippers Public Rooms

On all three ships, the open air Tropical Bar is the hub of activity. Passengers gather around the chunky wooden bar for drinks and daily afternoon canapés are served there, and sometimes special theme lunch bunches as well. It’s the spot for evening entertainment (local talent that often comes aboard while the ship is at anchor) and informal briefings about the day’s schedules.

Adjacent is an indoor wood-paneled Edwardian-style library and card room, and also an indoor piano lounge mainly used for people who want a quiet place to read during the day. Each of the trio has one restaurant; the ROYAL CLIPPER’s fussier and multi-level. The ROYAL CLIPPER also has a small gym and spa and health club on a lower deck below the waterline with portholes to look out into the deep.

Star Clippers Dining

Each ship has one restaurant with open seating and tables for mostly six or eight, encouraging passengers to meet and mingle. The dress code is casual, though some guests enjoy wearing jackets on the captain’s gala night. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, with made-to-order omelet and pasta stations, respectively, while dinner is served a la carte. The FLYER and CLIPPER’s restaurant is one story, while the frillier dining room on the ROYAL CLIPPER is multi-level with a vaguely 19th-century Mississippi steamboat look.

The continental cuisine is simple and delicately spiced, with several options for dinner entrees, plus soup, salad and appetisers. To please the mainly European clientele, there are plenty of cheeses and marinated meats and fish at breakfast and lunch, and at dinner there are always pasta and fish dishes, plus choices like eggplant Parmesan and broiled lobster.

The staff is happy to accommodate special orders and second helpings, and several theme nights per cruise see them donning Italian garb or other fun costumes. A 24-hour coffee and tea station is set up on the bar, and each afternoon a complimentary snack is offered at the Tropical Bar, from waffles with chocolate sauce to fried plantains and salsa. About 11:30pm each night, a cheese board, fruit, or another snack is set out by the piano bar for late-night noshing.

Passengers are free to climb on the bowsprit mast. Weeeeee! Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

Passengers are free to climb on the bowsprit mast. Weeeeee! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Star Clippers Activities & Entertainment

There is rarely more than one sea day on a Star Clippers cruise, though the ships are usually on the move before dinner and early mornings so guests get plenty of time to enjoy the ships at sea. When weather conditions cooperate, the sails are put up and the engines are turned off; otherwise engines power the ship as well as a few sails up for show. The cruise director or captain does at least one talk a day about the ships or the destination, and passengers are welcome to crawl into the bowsprit netting at the front of the ships for an exciting stint sunbathing above the crashing surf.

When in port several times per cruise, you can climb a mast in a harness and stand on the crow’s next 55 feet up for sweeping views. Passengers are free to stroll into the chart house to chat with the captain or officer on duty, and occasionally there are engine room tours, excursions via tender to photograph the ships under sail, and exercise classes on deck. The ROYAL CLIPPER has a small gym and “spa,” while STAR CLIPPER and FLYER offer massages from a tent-like room up on deck within earshot of the crashing surf.

In port, if you don’t go off on a guided excursion or a walkabout on your own, there is free watersports equipment including paddle boards, windsurfers and snorkeling gear which are hauled to a nearby beach (passengers are shuttled back and forth on one of the ships’ pair of zodiac boats, which also offer water skiing) or used right next to the ship if anchored in an appropriate spot, inviting passengers to hop right into the sea. Some itineraries offer scuba diving opportunities for certified divers, including equipment (for an extra charge).

photo safari

The beloved “photo safari” when passengers can take photos of the ship from tenders. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Evenings, it’s drinks before and after dinner at the Tropical Bar, when a key board player is often on had to serenade passengers with evergreens. After dinner, there’s an hour or so of entertainment offered, from a local folk dance troupe when in port late (ie steel drummers in the Caribbean to whirling dervishes in Turkey) to a crew talent show, trivia contest or dress-up dance party. Once in a while a movie may be shown on deck, projected onto a sail. Things rarely howl on too late.

Along the Same Lines

Windstar’s sailing ships are the closest, and Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II are in the ballpark too.

Star Clippers Contact Info

Star Clipper Palace, 4, rue de la Turbie, 98000 Monaco; www.starclippers.com; (377) 97-97-84-00.    

— HMS/TWS

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quirky-cruise-trinity-sailing-brixham-heritage-trawler-in-the-river

Trinity Sailing operates a fleet of three historic gaff-rigged sailing ships based primarily in Brixham, still an important South Devon fishing port, and also a tourist attraction thanks to the lovely setting. The fleet also cruises from other ports along the south coast of England, and up in Scotland for exploring the Western Isles.

Trinity Sailing

Brixham sailing trawlers with Leader (left) and Provident (right). * Photo: Trinity Sailing

In addition, the firm operates a foundation, a registered charity founded in 1999, taking 600 children annually from all backgrounds, including the disadvantaged, on sail training cruises where they learn teamwork, develop skills that they did not know they had, gain confidence in themselves and make new friends. The website provides more information and videos illustrating this important program.

Sail the scenic coastal waters around Britain aboard wooden sail-powered former Brixham fishing trawlers that take 7 to 12 passengers. Built on the River Dart in South Devon between 1892 and 1924, the cruises begin at one or two nights and then on up to a week or more. In the late 19th century, these fast sailing vessels once formed the backbone of Britain’s most important fishing fleet.

 

Trinity Sailing

Three crew aboard the Leader. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

LEADER built 1892, two masts, 12 passengers; PROVIDENT built 1924, two masts, 12 passengers; GOLDEN VANITY built 1908, one mast, 7 passengers.

Passenger Decks

Just two and no elevators (after all, these are historic sailing ships).

Passenger Profile

British, other Europeans, Australians, Americans, and Canadian of all ages.

Price

$ or approximately $130 per day

Itineraries

Operating season is end of March to late September.

  • Brittany (France) & Channel Islands (6-12 nights from Brixham).
  • Devon & Cornwall (1-9 nights from Brixham & Falmouth).
  • Dorset & Isle of Wight (6 nights from Poole); Isles of Scilly (6 nights from Falmouth).
  • West Coast of Scotland (6, 9 & 10 nights from Oban) with the first departure of the year from Falmouth and last ending at Falmouth.

Vessels are available for charter.

Trinity Sailing

Brixham heritage trawler in the River Dart, Dartmouth in Devon. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Included Features

Excursions, sail training, meals, snacks between meals, and soft drinks.

Why Go?

Cruise in an historic wooden sailing vessel (a Brixham trawler) that once numbered in the thousands, and now just a few remain as heritage vessels. Share the experience with up to 12 like-minded adventurers who come for the sailing experience, coastal and island scenery, specific destinations to explore, and camaraderie. Anchor at night in a sheltered location, sail for part of the day and then go ashore. The skipper will lay out the day every morning at breakfast.

Trinity Sailing

Skipper Toni Knights may host art sessions during the cruise.

When to Go?

The season begins at the end of March and continues into late September.

Cabins

PROVIDENT has three double cabins with upper and lower berths, and a cabin for four in the fore peak. LEADER offers open dormitory-style accommodation for 12 passengers (with privacy curtains), and same for GOLD VANITY, which sleeps seven. All three offer shared toilets and hot showers.

Public Rooms

A saloon serves as the lounge and dining room, with additional space to hang out on the open decks.

Dining

Food is sourced locally at the embarkation ports and en route the emphasis is on fresh seafood and Britain’s bounty. A typical lunch would be a cold meat platter, with cheeses, salad and freshly baked bread, while for dinner, expect something the likes of freshly-caught Brixham fish, such as Hake or Lemon Sole, served with potatoes and vegetables followed by a crème brulle. (Reports indicate glowing satisfaction!) A bar on board stocks wine, beer and cider for purchase; soft drinks are included in the fares.

Trinity Sailing

Fresh oysters while enjoying a cruise on a former Brixham fishing trawler. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Activities & Entertainment

Participate in sailing during the passage to the next destination; go ashore on walks and hikes and general explorations along the shoreline, to beaches and into villages. Perhaps enjoy an evening BBQ ashore and a few hours of sailing after dark. Scheduled theme cruises: art, music, birdwatching, wildlife, family.

Consider a charter of a vessel and establish your own special interests.

Special Notes

The British Isles and coastal France have fickle weather and often cool temperatures when at sea so come prepared for all types of conditions that may also involve changes in the itinerary when the weather dictates. The website also introduces the foundations work and the once huge importance of the Brixham fishing trawler to the country’s economy.

Trinity Sailing

Dolphins leaping for joy alongside Trinity Sailing’s historic Brixham trawler. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Along the Same Lines

This is a unique sailing experience in Britain’s coastal waters from the Channel Islands in the south to Scotland up north.

Contact

Trinity Sailing, The Sail Loft, Pump Street, Brixham TQ5 8ED UK; +44 (0) 1803 88 33 55; www.trinitysailing.org.

 

🚃 🚃 AND be sure to read Ted’s related article, “A Chance Meeting on a Scottish Train” HERE, about how Ted first discovered Trinity Sailing!   🚃 🚃

 

 

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quirky-cruise-phinisi-cruise-around-komodo-islands-photo-of-passengers-on-boat

Silhouette Cruises, established in 1997 with one traditional motor-assisted sailing vessel, expanded over a 10-year period to develop a four-ship motor-sailer fleet at two different price levels to cruise amongst several granite-based islands and the oldest of their type in the world. British General Charles Gordon (aka Gordon of Khartoum) considered them to be the Garden of Eden. The ships sail year-round from Mahé, the main island and the island chain’s capital, where you’ll find the international air and seaport. The Seychelles are located in the Indian Ocean east of East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), northeast of Madagascar, and southwest of India. Until 1971, the islands were accessed by ship once or twice a month from Mombasa or Bombay, and during that period, visited by very few tourists, maybe a thousand a year. The Indian Ocean is blessed with two outstanding island archipelagos — the Seychelles and Maldives — for small-ship cruising interisland and for taking up a variety of activities such as diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and swimming. You can also choose to do little or nothing if you can resist all the temptations of this pair of tropical paradises. And yes, they are far far away from just about everything. The line’s name comes from Silhouette Island, a popular eye-catching island rising from the sea off Beau Vallon on the main island of Mahé.

Silhouette Cruise

Sunrise in the Seychelles

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

SEA SHELL (built 1920 as a pilot vessel, converted in 1997 & 23 passengers); SEA PEARL (b. 1915 as a sailing/fishing vessel, converted in 1999 & 27p); SEA STAR (b. 2004, 30p); and SEA BIRD (redesigned 2007 & 27p).

Passenger Decks

SEA SHELL & SEA PEARL two decks; SEA STAR & SEA BIRD three decks. No elevators.

Silhouette Cruises

The Sea Bird. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

Passenger Profile

International English-speaking clientele of all ages with a mix of interests — serious and novice divers and sailors, active types, and those who like “take it or leave it” activities.

Price

$ to $$ — Lower range applies to SEA SHELL and SEA PEARL where cabins are without private facilities.

Itineraries

Yearround cruising of 6 and 7 nights from Port Victoria on Mahé to several out islands and atolls. The island of Praslin is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and noted for giant Coco de Mer (palms trees) and the island of La Digue is known for giant tortoises and beautiful beaches framed by granite outcroppings that are also found on coral atolls. The local inhabitants are multi-cultural. with the French being the first European power to rule the archipelago and then the British, until independence in 1976. Between them, the two nations are responsible for bringing Africans, South Asian, Southeast Asians, and Chinese to the islands.

A few departures have specific themes such as diving, sea kayaking and natural history.

Silhouette Cruises

The main island Mahé

Included Features

Snorkeking equipment (mask & fins), kayaking, and bottom line fishing.

Why Go?

The main attractions are remoteness and the sheer beauty of the seascapes, coral atolls, fine sandy beaches, granite outcroppings, tropical vegetation, birds and marine life, appealing climate and unique attractions such as the coco de mer and tortoises.

Silhouette Cruises

Praslin – The Seychelles

When to Go?

The islands have no extremes with the average high temperature varying between 85-89F and lows 79-83F. Slightly more rain falls November to January.

Cabins
Silhouette Cruises

A Category A cabin on the Sea Pearl. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

SEA SHELL & SEA PEARL, the heritage pair, have both double bed and twin-bedded cabins with extra bunks and shared shower facilities, while SEA STAR & SEA BIRD have double-bed cabins and some with an extra bed or bunk and private shower facilities. The latter pair have A/C in cabins.

Public Rooms

As these vessels sail in tropical climes, the waking hours are spent out of doors with the lounge/bar and dining area used at meal times, and if there is a rain shower or squall. All vessels have an air-conditioned dining saloon and STAR and BIRD have A/C lounges. All offer on deck outdoor seating areas, including covered sections. TV, DVD, washing machines and dryers on all vessels.

 

Dining
Silhouette Cruises

The Sea Pearl’s dining area. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

Mealtimes are shared at open sittings with buffet-served meals. While the Seychelles are relatively remote islands, they do produce lots of fruit, some vegetables, and lots of fish and shellfish. Menus are international and creole.

Activities & Entertainment

Serious and novice diving comes with an instructor, plus there’s snorkeling, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, bottom fishing, sailing instruction, and cruising into colorful marine parks, isolated bays and coves. Enjoy short hikes to beauty spots, mangrove forests, birding, a vanilla plantation, copra mill, former leper colony, Vallee de Mai for coco de mer, and of course, good ‘ole fashioned beach bumming.

 

Special Notes

Given the long trek to get there and the expense involved, a visit Seychelles may include extra days at a beach resort or planning a completely different add-on such as an East African game park safari in Kenya or Tanzania.

Along the Same Lines

Variety Cruises and others. See also Deep Blue Holidays, similar tropical inter-island cruising in the Maldive Islands.

Contact

Silhouette Cruises Ltd., Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles; +248 4 324 026; www.seychelles-cruises.com.

Shilouette Cruises

Turtles – The Seychelles

 

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quirky-cruise-adventuresmith-explorations-petrel-in-the-galapagos

AdventureSmith Explorations

Founded in January 2003 by Todd Smith, AdventureSmith Explorations is a leader in small-ship expedition cruises. Smith began his travel career in Alaska and then put together a staff of experts who had experience in the field to produce a delicious menu of adventure-style trips on small ships. The portfolio is comprised of more than 60 small expedition ships from 30+ companies with capacities from as low as 8 to a maximum of 200. Special attention is now being given to sophisticated expedition ships for the polar regions.

AdventureSmith doesn’t own the ships, rather the firm arranges cruises for individual travelers and small groups on ships from lines, to name a few, like Coral Expeditions, Delfin Amazon Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, Oceanwide Expeditions, Sea Cloud Cruises and UnCruise. Sometimes AdventureSmith will charter an entire ship for family celebrations or specific interest groups.

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AdventureSmith Explorations

Itineraries
North America
AdevntureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Kayaking in Alaska – AdventureSmith Explorations

  • Alaska: No less than 24 cruises and cruise tours are offered ranging from 5 days into the teens with the longer trips visiting inland national parks. The fleet includes yachts taking just 12 passengers up to small cruise ships approaching 100.
  • British Columbia: The province’s section of the Inside Passage includes cruises of 8 days and on up to 15, the latter if making the complete route between Seattle and the Alaskan Panhandle. Some cruises overlap with the next section.
  • Pacific Northwest: Programs last from 7 to 15 days to take in the Columbia and Snake rivers, Puget Sound, and the Juan Islands either separately or in combination.
  • Baja California: The long Mexican peninsula and the Sea of Cortes use vessels as small as taking just 8 passengers and on up to 100 on itineraries spanning 7 to 16 days.
  • Hawaii: 8-day cruises amongst the Hawaiian Islands use a 36-passenger yacht providing lots of outdoor activities.

 

Central America
AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AdventureSmith Explorations – Paddle boarding off Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and Guatemala: Most cruises in this region last 8 or 9 days and may include individual countries or a combination of Costa Rica and Panama, Guatemala and Belize. Add-on land packages can round out a two-week or slightly longer itinerary.

 

South America
AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator

Petrel in the Galapagos. * Photo: Audrey Vaughan for AdventureSmith Explorations

  • Galapagos: Choose from 21 different itineraries lasting 4 to 10 days on yachts and cruise ships taking from 12 to 100 passengers, with many choices in the 12- to 20-passenger range.
  • Amazon: Eight different cruise itineraries on riverboats take just 8 to 43 passengers and last 4 to 10 days on the Amazon River in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. With the last-named, river cruises include the Rio Negro that empties into the Amazon at Manaus. Jungle lodges and other land extensions such as to Machu Picchu, Cusco and Quito can be added.
  • Chile: A four-day cruise of the Chilean Fjords then dovetails into hikes in Patagonia with a visit to Torres de Paine, one of the most captivating mountain, meadow, and valley landscapes in the world. Perhaps add the Atacama Desert, the driest land on earth, located in the extreme north of Chile.

 

Asia/Pacific
AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator

Aboriginal cave paintings on the Kimberley Coast – Australia * Photo: Ted Scull

  • Australia: 4-, 10-, and 12-day cruises explore the underwater wonders of the Great Barrier, the top of Australia’s Cape York and Arnhem Land, and the genuinely-remote Kimberley Coast in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
  • New Zealand: South Island’s Fiordland draws nature and dramatic scenery buffs and birders for one-week cruises to see stunning beauty.
  • Indonesia: The culturally rich and scenic islands of Bali, Komodo, Flores, amongst others, are offered in an 8-day program on two wee 14- and 24-passenger ships.

 

Polar Regions

Over the next three winter seasons, the following expedition ships will hold down the cruises to Antarctica, the Falklands, and South Georgia and to the Northern Hemisphere polar regions: Hondius (174 p) beginning spring 2019; Magellan Explorer (69 p); National Geographic Endurance (126 p) beginning spring 2020, and World Explorer, beginning 2020 (176 passengers).

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Breaking through the ice in Antarctica – AdventureSmith Explorations

  • Antarctica: Programs explore the coldest, iciest, driest and windiest places on earth, plus the Falklands and South Georgia on a generously diverse program of 22 expeditions, using a wide variety of different vessels and lasting from the shortest at 8 days to the longest at 24.
  • Arctic: Cruises number 17, lasting from 6 to 17 days and cover Iceland, Norway, Spitsbergen, Greenland and the North Pole using a wide variety of ships and owners. New ships for the Arctic spring 2019 will be Hondius (b. 2019, 174p) with Ice Class PC6. The Arctic 8 ( 7 animals and 1 bird) are polar bear, walrus, reindeer (caribou), Arctic foxes, musk ox, narwhals, beluga whales, and puffins.

 

Europe
AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Croatia small-ship cruising. * Photo: Andrew Browning for AdventureSmith Explorations

Mediterranean: 10 programs use small yachts, nimble cruise ships and the historic sailing vessel Sea Cloud. Mostly 8-day Itineraries (a couple slightly longer) are mainly centered on the Greek islands and mainland, the Adriatic’s Dalmatian Coast and Croatia ports, and ports in Spain and Portugal.

 

Special Note

When you research the itineraries that interest you, you will see that the name of the ship in question will be listed with many helpful facts, but usually the cruise line isn’t mentioned. If you want to know who owns and/or operates the vessel, search the ship’s name in QuirkyCruise.com’s search bar and the answer will be yours. If QuirkyCruise.com isn’t covering that ship/line (yet!), then google the ship’s name to find out the owner.

 

Along the Same Lines

This worldwide firm uses such a wide variety of expedition lines that there are plenty of overlapping choices.

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Sea Wolf cruises the Alaska Panhandle

 

Contact

AdventureSmith Explorations; 40169 Truckee Airport Road, Suite 201, Truckee, CA 96161; 1-877-620-2875, Local and international: 530-583-1775. www.adventuresmithexplorations.com.

 

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