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small-ship cruising restarts for Ponant

Small-ship Cruising Restarts

by Anne Kalosh.

SeaDream Yacht Club did embark on the first of 21 Norway-Denmark voyages June 20 as planned, and river cruises are trickling back in Europe. But small-ship cruising restarts in the United States were delayed due to the COVID-19 spike there.

France is expected to allow ocean sailings to begin in the coming days, and Ponant, for one, hopes to be operating nearly all of its ships on coastal cruises in France, in Iceland and the Arctic this summer. Meanwhile, across the globe, Paul Gauguin Cruises’ Tahiti and French Polynesia voyages are imminent.

Americans have the chance to travel to French Polynesia provided, like everyone else under the requirements, they pass a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the flight.

But while the European Union and Schengen countries are beginning to gradually open their borders to travelers from a number of nations this month, Americans are not on the list for now since the U.S. has failed to control COVID-19.

Other non-E.U. countries have similar restrictions. When it comes to Norway, a member of the E.U.’s European Economic Area, the voyages operated by SeaDream are currently open to residents of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Faroe Islands. SeaDream said it looks forward to welcoming travelers from the European Economic Area and Schengen Area starting July 15, provided the countries meet contagion criteria.

Norway-Denmark

SeaDream’s cruises are Norway-intensive, but also visit Skagen in Denmark to satisfy cabotage requirements for foreign-flag ships (SeaDream I and II are registered in the Bahamas). Plus, Skagen is a terrific destination with its charming fishing village atmosphere, sandy beaches and fascinating history as an artists’ colony.

Yet, illustrating the complications of travel in the COVID-19 era, on the first trip, SeaDream passengers were not allowed off the ship there. That’s because Denmark enforced a rule that Norwegians needed to book at least a six-night stay in the country. That rule has just been dropped. However, in another Danish regulation, Swedes from most areas need to present evidence of testing negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours.

small-ship cruising restarts

SeaDream I in Norway. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

France

France is expected to allow the resumption of ocean cruises this month, though at significantly reduced capacity. That puts CroisiEurope and Ponant in good positions, since they operate small ships anyway.

CroisiEurope’s new La Belle des Océans (the former Silver Discoverer) carries 128 passengers, and its Belle de l’Adriatique 197 passengers. Ponant’s new Explorers series ships, like Le Dumont d’Urville, have capacity for 184, while its earlier expedition vessels, such as Le Boréal, carry up to 264 passengers.

As QuirkyCruise previously reported, Ponant aims to deploy six of its ships on five different French coastal itineraries, including one to Corsica, a route also planned by CroisiEurope for La Belle des Océans.

RELATED: Ponant Adds a Forth New Ship.  by Anne Kalosh  

small-ship cruising restarts in France

Ponant’s Le Bougainville is scheduled to cruise from Bordeaux. * Photo: Philip Plisson:Ponant

Iceland, Svalbard, Russian Arctic

As Seatrade Cruise News has just reported, Ponant hopes to go further afield this summer, too. Le Bellot, its newest Explorer ship, delivered in March, would circle Iceland on weeklong cruises. Iceland is opening to tourism and courting the return of expedition vessels. Foreign-flag expedition ships are allowed to sail in national waters continuously for up to four months in a 12-month period without violating cabotage.

Like Norway, Iceland is not an E.U. member but is integrated through the European Economic Area and Schengen. It’s letting in some nationalities, but not Americans.

Ponant’s Le Boréal is to operate a series of cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Spitsbergen (as earlier reported, Svalbard is opening to expedition sailings with reduced capacity and numerous other precautions). That is to be followed by a Northeast Passage transit and a Russian Arctic voyage.

According to Seatrade, the bulk of Ponant’s bookings are from French, Belgian and Swiss travelers.

small-ship cruising restarts for Ponant

Le Dumont D’Urville will operate from Le Havre this summer. * Photo: Fred Michel for Ponant

European waterways

Besides the resumption of European river sailings by several brands, including CroisiEurope and A-Rosa, European Waterways is reportedly going to get underway this month. Cruise Critic said the barge operator will ramp up with cruises on more than half of its fleet in July with sailings in France, Italy and Ireland. These will be followed by Scotland and England cruises resuming in August.

According to Cruise Critic, European Waterways will be the first river line to welcome Britons.

French Polynesia

Across the globe, Paul Gauguin Cruises is gearing up for Tahiti and French Polynesia voyages starting this month.

French Polynesia is reopening to international tourism on July 15 and Air Tahiti Nui, part of the cruise line’s regular air program, is resuming commercial flights between Los Angeles and Papeete, Tahiti.

Paul Gauguin will sail seven-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands” voyages departing July 11 and July 18 for the local French Polynesian market. These operate round-trip Papeete, with calls at Huahine and Motu Mahana (the line’s private islet off the coast of Taha’a), Bora Bora (two days, with private beach access) and Moorea (two days).

Paul Gauguin Cruises will welcome all travelers on its 10-night “Society Islands & Tuamotus” voyage departing July 29 from Papeete. This includes the same destinations as the seven-night itinerary and adds Rangiroa and Fakarava in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Then, in August, the line resumes its previously scheduled seven- to 14-night Tahiti, French Polynesia and South Pacific cruises.

small-ship cruising restarts for Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin will soon be sailing to Moorea again, pictured here. Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

U.S. rivers and coasts

If Americans are not widely welcomed abroad yet, they may be able to sail domestically this summer, though the COVID-19 spike stateside has been dashing opportunities so far.

Both American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) had hoped to be operating now.

American Cruise Lines aspired to become the first domestic operator back on the rivers with American Song‘s June 20 departure on the Columbia and Snake rivers. But Portland, one of its turnaround cities, didn’t make it out of Phase One reopening.

American’s plans are unclear.

And AQSC’s American Empress, which turns around across the river from Portland, in Vancouver, Washington, had been scheduled to resume July 6.

AQSC delayed the vessel’s Pacific Northwest program through Aug. 2 and postponed American Duchess’s July 20 start on the Mississippi through Aug. 16. A new date for American Empress wasn’t given; American Duchess is now scheduled to resume with the Aug. 17-23 Lower Mississippi voyage from New Orleans to Memphis.

As previously announced, American Countess and American Queen service is suspended through Aug. 8.

RELATED:  Cruising Restarts in Travel Bubbles on Small Ships.  by Anne Kalosh.

small-ship cruising restarts include American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines wanted to be the first to resume service stateside but American Song’s June 20 restart was not to be. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

AQSC-Uniworld offer

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting twist: AQSC is offering special pricing to Uniworld Boutique River Cruises travelers impacted by Uniworld’s suspension of summer cruises.

The two companies called AQSC’s itineraries a perfect match for Uniworld’s culturally minded customers who are looking to take a river cruise closer to home this summer.

“We trust AQSC to take excellent care of our guests while we prepare to resume operations in the near future and look forward to sharing a special opportunity for guests of AQSC to expand their love of river cruising abroad in 2021,” Uniworld President and CEO Ellen Bettridge said.

Uniworld will reciprocate with a special offer for AQSC customers to sail in Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam/Cambodia, India, Egypt or Peru in 2021.

Small ship cruising to resume soon

American Empress is now not expected to begin sailing in the Pacific Northwest until August. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Alaska

Seattle-based U.S.-flag operator UnCruise Adventures aims to carry travelers in Alaska starting Aug. 1.

“These initial departures represent a re-framing of what adventure travelers are increasingly looking for: small groups, inclusion and human connection,” UnCruise Adventures CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard said.

UnCruise crafted a seven-night “Glacier Bay National Park Adventure Cruise,” round-trip Juneau. It’s focused on wilderness and nature activities like hiking, kayaking, birding and whale-watching, Apart from Juneau, there are no port calls.

Social distancing since 1996

“How we structure our recovery efforts with new health safety standards, establish partnerships and operate with a small footprint will continue to define our industry and the pristine environments we visit for decades to come,” Blanchard said.

“The market is showing a growing interest in off-the-beaten-path destinations and that is what we do best. We’ve been social distancing since 1996.”

RELATED: A QuirkyCruise Q&A with Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures.

UnCruise to resume small ship cruising soon

UnCruise expects to begin Alaska sailings in August. Here, Capt. Dan Blanchard, the CEO. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Bonus Quirky news:
Whatever happened to Flying Clipper?

Whatever happened to Star Clippers’ new build, Flying Clipper, a near replica of 1913’s France II, the world’s largest square-rigged vessel? It was caught up in a dispute between the line and the shipyard, Brodosplit in Croatia.

According to Seatrade Cruise News, the five-masted vessel is being chartered by Brodosplit, the owner, to the U.K.-based start-up Tradewind Voyages. Renamed Golden Horizon, it’s going to sail from the U.K. to Northern Europe from May to August 2021 before branching out to the Mediterranean, Asia and beyond.

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The SeaDream ships in a travel bubble

Cruising Restarts in “Travel Bubbles” or “Travel Corridors”

By Anne Kalosh.

Cruising will restart in “travel bubbles” and, not surprisingly, on small ships.

It’s beginning this week as a few European river vessels are getting underway, on limited national runs, with plans to go further afield as things gradually open and if things go well. A few oceangoing ships are preparing to sail in Europe, as well.

All of these will be open to travelers from certain European countries only.

“Travel bubbles,” or “travel corridors,” are places where the virus is under control and countries mutually allow their residents to cross borders, without having to quarantine on arrival.

Nations that are further behind on the curve — the United States, for example — are probably not going to be in any travel bubbles soon. Not only is the virus still widespread stateside, the U.S. lacks a unified response and has low rates of testing and contact tracing.

That’s not the case in parts of Europe.

Europe is Opening

Starting June 15, residents of the Nordic countries — most of Sweden excepted — will be able to travel across their borders without having to quarantine on arrival.

This includes Norway, Denmark, Finland, the island of Åland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Swedish island of Gotland. The rest of Sweden is excluded for now since the infection rate there is still considered too high.

SeaDream’s Norwegian Coastal Cruises

SeaDream Yacht Club is taking advantage of the opening by deploying its pair of 112-passenger yachts on cruises along the Norwegian coast with a call at Denmark. Sailings start this month. SeaDream announced plans for nine voyages on one yacht in late May and demand was so strong that the company added a second yacht and increased departures to 21.

SeaDream twins in Norwegian travel bubble

SeaDream’s twin 112-passenger yachts are going to sail the Norwegian coast, with a stop in Denmark. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

The travelers are primarily Norwegians, but also Danes.

The destinations were hand-picked by SeaDream’s Norwegian founder and owner, Atle Brynestad.

SeaDream I is scheduled to sail past the Arctic Circle to the Lofoten Islands in 12-day voyages between Oslo and Tromsø. SeaDream II will sail seven-day cruises between Oslo and Bergen. Both itineraries include Ålesund, Flåm and Olden in Norway as well as Skagen, Denmark.

SeaDream crew

SeaDream crew are looking forward to welcoming guests back soon. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

Hurtigruten

The Norwegian company Hurtigruten, which operates coastal cruises and expedition voyages, is gradually resuming coastal sailings between Bergen and Kirkenes from June 16. Starting in Norwegian waters is a natural first step, according to Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" include Svalbard

Travelers from a Hurtigruten ship land in Svalbard’s Magdalenafjord. * Photo: Edda Falk for AECO

Svalbard expeditions will come.

Just days ago, the Norwegian government gave the green light for expedition cruises to Svalbard under rigorous safety conditions.

This resulted, in part, from work to provide nearly 100 pages of infection control guidelines for the expedition cruise industry carried out by several governmental institutions and local stakeholders in collaboration with the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO).

“We are thrilled that the Norwegian government and local stakeholders are demonstrating determination, willingness and cooperation to open for expedition cruises in Svalbard again, which is a vital contributor to local tourism economies,” AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen said.

Svalbard included in a "Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors"

AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen called Svalbard’s opening a start that gives hope to other expedition-cruise destinations. * Photo: AECO

The reopening will take place within existing national rules for entry so, from June 15, residents of Nordic countries (apart from most of Sweden) are allowed to travel there.

Very strict criteria will have to be met by expedition cruise operators during the first phase of reopening.

These include carrying only half of a vessel’s passenger capacity, increased numbers of medical staff and guest health certificates, among other requirements. Each operator will need to develop and apply individual plans based on the infection control industry guidelines, which then will be considered by the governor of Svalbard.

“It will take time before all cruise operations as we knew them can be resumed, but this cautious, phased and responsible beginning with expedition cruise tourism in Norway and Svalbard is a very important step for the expedition cruise industry and everyone affected by the halt in operations,” Jørgensen said. “This is a beginning that gives hope for the industry, and for other destinations.”

Svalbard's Bukta glacier

Plancius at Svalbard’s 14 Juli Bukta glacier. * Photo: AECO

European Rivers

Typically three-quarters of European river cruisers come from overseas, mainly the United States.

This year, it’s quite likely that only Europeans, from certain countries, will be able to sail the European waterways.

A-Rosa, a line that carries mainly Germans, is getting ready to go, thanks to Germany lifting its travel warning for 29 European countries and members of the Schengen area from June 15. The borders between these countries will reopen and quarantines will be abolished.

However, various country and region-specific regulations are still fluid.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" enable A Rosa to begin operating again

A-Rosa may become the first European river cruise line to resume operations. * Photo: A-Rosa

On June 17, A-Rosa Alva is set to start plying Portugal’s Douro River, while other A-Rosa vessels will resume on the Rhine and Danube, followed by the resumption of cruises in France in early July.

The Douro River

Church with Portugal’s distinctive blue tiles azulejos along the Douro River. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

French Rivers & Coast

Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope plans to be back on the rivers of France — the Seine, Loire, Gironde, Garonne, Dordogne, Rhône, Saone and Rhine — starting mid-July.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" to allow French river cruises to begin again

CroisiEurope plans to start sailing on the French rivers, including the Loire. * Photo: CroisiEurope

And, subsequently, CroisiEurope’s 128-passenger oceangoing ship, La Belle des Océans, is scheduled to embark on a new Corsica itinerary, from Nice. The ship is the former Silver Discoverer, acquired last year.

New "Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" enable CroisiEurope to start up again

CroisiEurope’s La Belle des Océans will operate a France-Corsica route. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Pending government approvals, the French line Ponant hopes to deploy six of its expedition vessels on five different domestic itineraries. The weeklong voyages would sail from Saint-Malo to the Ponant Islands that gave the company its name. And they would also sail from Le Havre along the Normandy coast, from Bordeaux on nature and gastronomy sailings, from Marseille along the Côte d’Azur and from Nice to Corsica.

New "Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" allow Ponant to start up cruises along French coast

Ponant’s Le Dumont D’Urville will sail a Normandy itinerary from Le Havre. * Photo: Fred Michel:Ponant

U.S. Rivers & Coasts

For Americans, there probably will be domestic travel options on small ships, like those belonging to American Cruise Lines, American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC), UnCruise Adventures, Blount Small Ship Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises and several of Lindblad Expeditions‘ vessels that are U.S.-registered.

RELATED: A QuirkyCruise Q&A with UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard.

As earlier detailed here, ships carrying under 250 people (passengers and crew) are not subject to the U.S. no-sail order. Nor, as U.S.-flag operators, do they require approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; instead, their health and sanitation programs fall under the Food and Drug Administration.

RELATED: US-Flag Small Ship Lines Likely First to Resume Cruise Operations.  by Anne Kalosh.

According to John Waggoner, founder and CEO of AQSC, his American Empress in the Pacific Northwest and American Duchess on the Mississippi have U.S. Coast Guard approval to sail and plans are being reviewed by the FDA. The challenge is all the different phases of opening of the various states, counties and ports.

Still, Waggoner said he’s optimistic the first departures could happen in July.

American Cruise Lines hopes to begin sailing even earlier, with a first American Song sailing planned for June 20 on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

American Song

American Song is targeted to resume sailing on the Columbia and Snake rivers June 20. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Galápagos

There are a few other parts of the world that may be able to restart small-ship cruises in 2020. Emilio Freeman, a seasoned itinerary planner who has experience across a range of lines and is now with SeaDream, thinks nature destinations are going to be especially popular after COVID-19.

“The Galápagos are going to do very well,” he predicted. “The uncertainty is how you get there (airlift), but people will have a great experience out in nature with the wildlife. It’s going to be in demand. These types of destinations are where people will want to go.”

Silversea Cruises is hopeful its newly delivered Silver Origin, built for the Galápagos, could begin sailing there Aug. 22.

Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" should allow the Galapagos to open soon

Silversea’s newly delivered Silver Origin is scheduled to begin Galápagos service Aug. 22. * Photo: Silversea

A national park, the Galápagos are among the most controlled and remote cruise destinations, with islands spread across a vast expanse of the Pacific. Only a few places have human populations.

Several South American countries have become the new hot spot of the pandemic, and Ecuador is still closed. However, Fernando Delgado, vice president of Canodros/Silversea Cruises Ecuador, is confident air travel will be reinstated soon. The company has arranged adequate charter flights between the Ecuadorian mainland and the Galápagos, where travelers will embark Silver Origin. The issue is getting people to Ecuador.

It seems that people really want to go. According to Silversea, of all its itineraries, the Galápagos have had the fewest cancellations, followed by Antarctica.

RELATED: Galapagos Island Small-Ship Cruise Overview.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" will allow Galapagos cruises to resume

Nature destinations like the Galápagos are expected to be in demand. Here blue-footed boobies. The challenge is airlift. * Photo: Silversea

Antarctica

The Antarctica season, which begins in October, is months off, and many expedition cruise lines hope it will be possible to operate.

As with the Galápagos, the uncertainty is airlift.

Ushuaia, at the tip of Argentina, is the main gateway to the White Continent, and most travelers would first fly to Buenos Aires. So far, Argentina has fared better than some neighbors in controlling the virus though its national quarantine has been extended through June 28. There’s no telling when regular commercial air service will resume.

This leaves a lot of uncertainty. Some lines may decide they don’t want to risk it, while others may be seeking alternative homeports.

The SeaDream ships in a travel bubble

The aft of the SeaDream I. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

RELATED: Antarctica Cruising with Abercrombie & Kent and Ponant.  by John Roberts.

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Québec's Baie-Comeau

Canada Bans Cruise Ships Through Oct.

By Anne Kalosh.

Canada extended its ban of most cruise ships through October. This effectively kills the Alaska, Canada/New England, Great Lakes and Canadian Arctic cruise seasons for most operators.

canada cruise ban equals no Northwest Passage cruises

Canadian Coast Guard ship in the Northwest Passage will have no cruise ships to watch over. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Applies to ships carrying more than 100 people

Only the smallest vessels are allowed, those with overnight accommodations for up to 100 people.

The decision had been expected given that COVID-19 is still not under control, especially in the neighboring United States.

“Large cruise ships will not be allowed in Canadian waters until at least Oct. 31,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced during a daily briefing. “This decision extends the one we made in March, which was taken to protect our coastal communities. COVID-19 is still a very serious threat.”

The new regulation is stricter than the March ban, which had applied to ships carrying more than 500 people, including crew.

Canada ban cruise ships to places like Montreal

CanadaNew-England cruises known for their fall foliage are curtailed. Here Montréal. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

RELATED: Small Ship Lines Likely the First to Resume Operations.  by Anne Kalosh.

Expedition operators

Also, passenger vessels with the capacity to carry more than 12 people continue to be prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters. including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast, until Oct. 31.

This means no Northwest Passage expeditions or Canadian High Arctic adventures that are often paired with Greenland and Iceland.

polar bears in the High Arctic

No expedition ships will be taking travelers to see polar bears in the Canadian Arctic this summer. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

canada cruise ban means no northwest passage cruises

No Northwest Passage cruises this year. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Victory Cruise Lines

Coastal operator Victory Cruise Lines, which had earlier decided to field just one vessel instead of two on the Great Lakes this year, scrapped the program altogether shortly before Canada’s notice because there had been too much uncertainty.

John Waggoner, founder and CEO of Victory’s parent, American Queen Steamboat Co., called it “a tragedy for us because the Great Lakes were so well-received, with such positive reviews.”

Canada bans cruise ships

Victory Cruise Lines will not be able to sail the Great Lakes this year because of Canada’s cruise ship ban. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Impact on ports

Many ports will suffer economic losses without cruise ships. For example, the nine ports in the Cruise the Saint Lawrence association — Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Saguenay, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Havre Saint-Pierre, Gaspé and Îles de la Madeleine — said the overall economic contribution of the 2020 season would have been $1 billion. This includes direct, indirect and induced impact, as well as 7,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The region had been looking at a record season.

Québec's Baie-Comeau

Québec’s Baie-Comeau will not have any cruise visitors in 2020. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

U.S. ports suffer, too

Ports in Alaska and New England will suffer, too. Due to cabotage regulations, non-U.S. flag ships sailing round-trip from the United States need to stop at a foreign port. Without being able to call in Canada, those vessels won’t be able to operate Alaska and Canada/New England itineraries.

However, one ray of hope for small-ship fans: U.S.-flag operators like Alaskan Dream Cruises, American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Adventures and UnCruise Adventures don’t need to touch a foreign port, so they could still sail in Alaska and New England, provided states and communities allow it.

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK

Small ships like Safari Endeavour operated by UnCruise can still operate all Alaska sailings, as there’s no need to stop in Canada and they are not subject to the U.S. no-sail order. * Photo: UnCruise

Also, their ships are exempt from the United States’ current COVID-19-related no-sail order because they carry fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew) each.

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen.

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Dan Blanchard

Benefits of Small-Ship Cruising

By Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

We had an e-chat with Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, about the benefits of small-ship cruising in the COVID-19 era.

QuirkyCruise: Why did you, along with David Allen of Alaskan Dream Cruises, launch the “US Small-Boat Operators Coalition?”

Dan Blanchard: Our exchange officially started March 3, 2020, as early indicators showed COVID-19 would have a growing effect on travel and that action would be needed. It matured into a larger conversation with other small boat operators to amplify their voice in Congress, help each other through this challenge and navigate the CARES Act. This included a need to carve out enhanced definitions for U.S. flagged ships in the federal government’s newly formed CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.

There is a need for us to be defined separately and there have been many letters and conversations with Congress on our behalf that have worked in separating us from large cruise ships. Going forward we have an interest in both educating the public on the differences and getting involved in how the CARES act is being designated by the treasury.

I was the architect behind bringing the members of the coalition together. As a lifetime mariner and small-ship expedition pioneer, I’m dedicated to the ocean, adventure, and bringing meaningful travel to people from all walks of life.

Dan Blanchard

UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard

The seven coalition members are:

QuirkyCruise: What do you most want the traveling public to know and understand about the seven coalition members?  

Dan Blanchard: Every member of the coalition has been in the industry for some time; they are experts and dedicated to their brands. The formation of the coalition allows us to collaborate, to have more clout in governmental discussions, and to fly the flag for the small-boat operators in the U.S. The coalition members are working through an industry restart and we have more work ahead of us. But we are confident we will all be able to adapt to the changes.

QuirkyCruise: What makes small ships and boats different than the mega-ships of the mass market cruise lines?

Dan Blanchard: You won’t find a giant waterslide or several restaurants onboard our vessels because our waterslide is outdoors, snorkeling, or swimming with wildlife. Our dining is tailored to create a connection with other travelers in real conversations about the day’s hands-on adventure.

As a small-boat operator we are able to visit small ports, connect with local tribes and communities, provide a smaller travel footprint and provide a hands-on adventure experience that others can’t. People come to us because they want off-the-beaten-track exploration in an environment where everyone, including the captain, knows your name.

a small footprint is a benefits of small-ship cruising

Small ship cruising leaves a small footprint. * Photo: UnCruise

QuirkyCruise: What makes small vessels a good option when the general public is ready to travel on “cruises” again?

Dan Blanchard: We don’t say small is better than big, as there is a market for both. A voyage aboard one of our vessels is a very different experience than the traditional idea of cruising.

  • In contrast to large ships, we are able to have a lot more diversity in our itineraries. We like to say our itineraries can change on weather, whales, or whim.
  • We are easily accommodated in small ports and communities with an advantage of our local partnerships and we can also hunker down in our favorite secret adventure spots. We are all about wild Alaska and being with the critters.
  • With the new era of travel, our smaller company is able to pivot quickly in critical moments and make decisions throughout our operations that will benefit our crew and guests going forward.
  • When guests are ready to step back into travel, our vessels offer the ability to stay in the wilderness, which eliminates exposure to large crowds, shoppers, or virtually anyone outside the small group of 22-86 guests onboard.
  • Our small number of passengers and crew onboard, means we operate in a contained environment aboard and with a dedicated American crew completing high-frequency sanitation rounds.
  • We are utilizing real-world applications of social-spacing and are reviewing opportunities for available testing for guests and crew on the day of departure.

RELATED: UnCruise Adventures in Alaska. by Judi Cohen

QuirkyCruise: How do you aim to redefine the small boat industry?

Dan Blanchard: We understand it won’t be the same market going forward and that we have an opportunity to explore new ways of doing things here. That includes educating the consumer about small-boat adventure travel.

While this will continue to be fluid, the coalition has allowed us a platform to be heard and distinctly defined. This is vital for the small-boat industry going forward to rebound and recover.

QuirkyCruise: What language do you want to see being used to describe small boats like the ones that make up the coalition? How do you want to be seen and perceived by the traveling public?

Dan Blanchard: One of the initial interests in developing the coalition was to focus on a voice for micro-ships. We also include terms such as boutique yachts and small boats. Here at UnCruise Adventures we also like to think of ourselves as a sea lodge. A place to hunker down in a quiet cove or fjord and wake up to experience our up close and personal outdoor operations.

We look to help the traveling public understand the range of different small boat categories, including specialist expeditions and adventure itineraries with naturalist guides like ours.

kayaking on a small ship

Kayaking is a big part of the small-ship experience. * Photo: UnCruise

QuirkyCruise: Do you not want to use the word “ship” or “cruise” at all? Why?

Dan Blanchard: We have specifically steered away from the term ships to lessen the confusion of the general public who may not be familiar with boutique yachts and small-boat adventure travel.

While we do “cruise,” we don’t fit into the industry’s current description of cruise lines and that has become more obvious during these times of COVID-19.

Instead of focusing on the negative we highlight the positives and during this time more travelers are finding us because of the media negativity around large ships, and have come to us looking for education on new travel options. This opens up the opportunity for new discussions and alternatives for travelers.

RELATED: An UnCruise Expedition in Hawaii.  by John Roberts

QuirkyCruise: The CDC’s no-sail cruise moratorium applies to passenger vessels 250 passengers and above, why did you voluntarily cease operations when the big lines did?

Dan Blanchard: For UnCruise, the decision to temporarily suspend operations included direct conversations with local officials, postponed bookings and mandatory quarantines affecting sail dates.

QuirkyCruise: When do you realistically see the 7 members operating itineraries of any kind?

Dan Blanchard: I’m sure we are all hopeful for the 2020 Alaska season, but are looking at things realistically and assessing them daily. The coalition members are not currently operating on coordinated departures, but each will gauge their departure viability individually.

UnCruise Adventures is currently scheduling to resume operations mid-July in line with current state and governmental mandates. This continues to be reviewed daily, and we will continue to update our guests with changes. Alaska is one of our most popular itineraries during the summer months to capture the pristine beauty of remote places and wildlife. We look forward to being out there again.

QuirkyCruise: What protocols will be in place?

Dan Blanchard: Many onboard protocols involving sanitation, cleaning, food service and taking temperatures will be implemented for all guests and crew. In addition, PPE gear for certain activities such as boarding kayaks and skiffs, will be added to ensure safety.

QuirkyCruise: When cruise operations resume and booked passengers are allowed to enter the US and other countries (for instance, Mexico, Latin America/Ecuador) to board your vessels, how will you know if they have been vetted for communicable diseases? What would the hypothetical procedure be?

Dan Blanchard: This is a more multifaceted question and answer than it seems on the surface and one we are vetting with our partners in each of our destinations. This may in part be determined by local legislation and protocols for foreign passengers. We are looking at availability of rapid testing prior to boarding.

QuirkyCruise: What information do you think will be needed before they board at certain ports?

Dan Blanchard: This again will be determined more locally in addition to our advanced priority measures internally and across our fleet.

QuirkyCruise: Obviously, you have had to deal with passengers who become ill aboard your vessels for a whole host of reasons, but will you need to do anything different for potential COVID-19 incidences?

Dan Blanchard: We have protocols in place for illness and emergencies and will continue to look at rapid testing, and what will continue to evolve with pre-vaccine and post-vaccine modifications.

UnCruise Adventures has a talented team of captains, crew members and onboard EMTs, along with a highly experienced executive and operations team to support potential challenges. And in contrast to other adventure operators, we sail in the wilderness with no exposure to outsiders during most voyages themselves. [QC Note: Most sailings are round-trip from Juneau or between Juneau and Sitka, where there of course are other people.]

QuirkyCruise: Do you want to have some testing kits aboard that your trained first-aid crewmember can use if some symptoms are manifested?

Dan Blanchard: We are looking at all options for availability of approved testing for our guests and crew and have had recent discussions with Alaska’s representatives on rapid COVID-19 testing priority for U.S.-flagged small boat operators.

QuirkyCruise: If the result is positive, what will be your action if the vessel is in Glacier Bay or Mexico’s Sea of Cortes?

Dan Blanchard: These would be in line with our emergency protocols already in place including emergency evacuation if needed. We have isolation cabins set aside, and a guest or crew would be isolated in this situation. Anyone running a temperature, for any reason, would be isolated and if deemed a concern would be tested. Evacuation depends on the level of severity.

Of course, guests will be expected to be traveling in good health and will be asked to comply with our pre-embarkation procedures and onboard sanitization and safety measures.

QuirkyCruise: If it’s the common flu, or specifically COVID-19, what steps will be taken on board that vessel?

Dan Blanchard: We’ve always taken health and safety onboard all of our vessels seriously. As with the common flu or any infectious disease, we have isolation protocols for anyone who shows signs of possibly having an illness. This will be heightened for COVID-19.

Additionally, we sail with sufficient PPE gear to accommodate all guests and crewmembers if this situation arises. We will introduce additional advanced sanitization, new physical distancing guidelines and a thorough 360-degree cleaning approach to provide our guests with a comfortable experience every step of the way.

QuirkyCruise: Let’s say the ill passenger upon reaching the hospital is tested positive for a communicable disease, do you (HQ and the ship) automatically get a report?

Dan Blanchard: We are in constant contact with our Seattle HQ regarding any information around a guest’s needs from our vessels. Communication and decision making are immediately coordinated across teams. We have daily vessel reports as a common practice along with emergency and contingency protocols.  

QuirkyCruise: Will you add any new information on your website for passengers who may have medical questions before they decide to book or not?

Dan Blanchard: This information will be updated to our website as new information arises and will address the top FAQ’s. We already spend a decent amount of time working with guests prior to any departure to learn about their trip motivation, endurance/agility/energy levels, and needs of each experience seeker individually.

Additional measures will include required information and questionnaires on personal health, and we are continually looking at approved testing availability to include in our protocols.

 

 

More about Captain Dan Blanchard from UnCruise.com

“We’ve all heard a tall tale or two, but when it comes to Captain Dan Blanchard — well, he’s the real thing. Growing up in Washington State, he has always been around boats. Even as a kid, Dan worked restoring the family’s wooden tug. And the reward of all that hard work paid off in a big way — he has spent a lifetime exploring winding waterways, beachcombing, skin diving, and sailing the world in search of incredible wildlife and cultural encounters.

Dan is a natural storyteller (2012 winner of Seattle’s annual “Stories of the Sea” contest), and who better to tell stories than an enthusiastic skier, cyclist, hiker, sailor, and world-explorer of off-the-chart places? One who fell in love with nature and the wilds of Alaska and beyond. In 2013, he was adopted into a native Alaskan Tlingit tribe, whom we still visit on UnCruise itineraries to this day.

Dan’s unassailable career began early. He was a Sea Scout, earned honors as Regional and National Boatswain when he was 16, and received his Master’s Ships License at 18. He owned Blanchard Marine; captained sightseeing vessels at Glacier Bay Lodge in Alaska; and grew through the ranks from captain to director of marine operations to VP of operations at Cruise West.

In 1999, he joined American Safari Cruises. Dan acquired the company in 2008 and as CEO, launched InnerSea Discoveries, now known as UnCruise Adventures with a new style of small-boat expeditions specializing in active adventures on the water. He’s living the dream and wouldn’t have it any other way. As a lifetime mariner, it can’t get much sweeter for Dan with both of his kids working in the business beside him — it’s safe to say it’s in their genes too.”

 

 

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AQSC will return to service soon

First to Resume Cruise Operations.

by Anne Kalosh.

With parts of the United States beginning to open and small passenger ships exempt from the COVID-19 no-sail order, it’s possible U.S.-flag lines will be cruising this summer.

American Cruise Lines hopes it could be the first to resume cruise operations. The aim is to restart service initially on three ships: American Song on the Columbia and Snake rivers, American Harmony on the Lower Mississippi and American Constellation in Alaska.

American Queen Steamboat Co has also just announced they plan to return the American Empress to service on July 6 in the Pacific Northwest.
June 20 from Portland

The plan is for American Song to embark June 20 in Portland, Oregon, on a Columbia and Snake rivers itinerary to Clarkston, Washington. American Harmony would sail June 28 from Memphis, bound for New Orleans. American Constellation would follow in June/July in Alaska.

This plan seems different from the stream of continuously changing cruise line announcements about when operations are “scheduled” and is perhaps a more credible possibility given American’s small vessels and its close relationships with local communities and states.

“We feel our ships are perfectly designed to be one of the first to return to service,” said Paul Taiclet, vice president of hotel operations, American Cruise Lines. He stressed this is a collaboration with ports and communities to “make sure they’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Resume Cruise Operations

American Song is targeted to begin sailing from Portland, Oregon, on June 20. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

“We’re working on a safe, comprehensive plan to put ships back into service that will satisfy the communities and keep guests safe and crew safe,” he said.

Customers want to travel

According to Taiclet, American has gotten a “very favorable response” from customers booked on these sailings, along with people on canceled cruises who are eager to travel.

“Our guests like the idea of staying within the United States and some live within driving distance of the ports,” he said.

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Ships carrying under 250 souls not part of no-sail order

Besides American, lines like American Queen Steamboat Co., Alaskan Dream Cruises, Blount Small Ship Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures and others field ships carrying fewer than the 250-person threshold in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order.

As the CDC stated in its April 15 rule:

“Based on substantial epidemiological evidence related to congregate settings and mass gatherings, this order suspends operation of vessels with the capacity to carry 250 individuals or more. Evidence shows that settings as small as nursing homes or movie theaters can proliferate the spread of a communicable disease.

“As the numbers of passengers and crew on board a ship increases, certain recommended mitigation efforts such as social distancing become more difficult to implement. In light of the demonstrated rapid spread of this communicable disease in current cruise ship settings, application of this order to vessels carrying 250 or more individuals is a prudent and warranted public health measure.”

But many factors come into play in order to resume cruise operations

Whether these small ships can resume sailing, however, is up to state health authorities, ports and local communities. Do state health officials deem conditions are safe to allow travel and do governors agree? Would passengers from other states and regions be allowed? Will ports open to these ships? Will communities want these visitors?

Taiclet stressed American will operate only if states want that, too.

“The most important thing is that we do this safely for the guests, the ports and the crew,” he said.

American’s initial three itineraries involve Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana; Oregon and Washington; and Alaska. Depending how the first cruises go and the timeline for opening other parts of the country, American hopes additional ships could resume in July with most of its fleet sailing in August.

Restoring confidence in ship travel

But will people feel it’s safe to travel by ship? Will crew want to return to work?

Lines like American, UnCruise Adventures and others say their loyal customers in particular want to sail and, according to Taiclet, his company’s crew are “eager” and “excited” to get back to their jobs.

Still, as an UnCruise Adventures spokeswoman pointed out: The travel industry as a whole, and particularly cruise operators due to the negative impressions of the pandemic, will need to assure people it is safe to travel.

Small-ship lines are betting people will feel more comfortable on vessels with less crowding, on coastal or inland itineraries that don’t take them far away with the potential of being stuck at sea or in a remote foreign port should a breakout occur.

Anyway, for Americans wishing to roam in the coming months, domestic destinations may be the only ticket available.

“We also have close relationships with the small communities we visit, and we don’t want to go anywhere that would cause uncertainty,” the UnCruise spokeswoman continued. “We are working with local and state municipalities to affirm details and are looking at mid-July to resume operations.”

Uncruise plants to Resume Cruise Operations

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Detailed new health protocols

The fact that small-ship operators are publicly detailing their enhanced health protocols when many big-ship lines aren’t saying much for now suggests these domestic U.S. operators expect a quicker return to service.

All are talking about pre-screening of passengers and crew for health conditions, added screening at embarkation, changes to allow social distancing on board, heightened cleaning and sanitation and special procedures for port visits/shore excursions.

Occupancy reduced to 75 percent

At American Cruise Lines, ship occupancy will be reduced to 75 percent initially to ensure social distancing, and Taiclet said there is plenty of public space, along with private stateroom verandas, on the three ships that would begin first.

American Song would not carry more than 180 passengers, American Harmony would be capped at 190 and American Constellation at 175. This makes 450 square feet of space per guest.

ACL plans to Resume Cruise Operations

American Cruise Lines will initially limit occupancy to 75 percent. Here, American Harmony, which sails the Mississippi. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

American also teamed with a seasoned healthcare provider, Vikand Solutions, to manage medical operations, support shipboard virus prevention, screen/test guests and crew before they embark and collaborate with ports and shoreside healthcare facilities.

On the ships, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are independent for each stateroom and public space, so air is not recirculated in different areas.

Restaurant capacity will be reduced, and there will be no buffet service. In-stateroom dining can be arranged. Personal protective equipment will be provided on the ship and for guests at each destination, where recommended. Certain shipboard staff will be required to wear PPE.

Shore excursion motor coach capacity will be held to 50 percent. American charters its coaches for exclusive use and they follow the ship. The vehicles will be sanitized before every boarding. The line includes tours on the Lower Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest so participation is high, ensuring a more controlled environment.

Adding a medical facility and nurse to each ship

Vikand Solutions will provide each vessel a nurse, supported by a shoreside doctor and other medical professionals, and take care of health situations, assessment and an outbreak plan. COVID-19 testing will be available on board, with protocols to be determined as the science evolves. Rooms on each ship will be set aside for isolation, if needed.

Before COVID-19, American did not have medical centers or nurses. As a domestic, inland operator, it was not required to do so. The company is now taking these extra proactive steps to ensure a higher level of safety.

Additional training for crew will cover the new operating protocols and heightened sanitation practices. PPE will be provided for positions like housekeeping and galley staff.

American Queen Steamboat Co.

AQSC‘s partner is Ochsner Health, a system that serves Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf South. (The company plans to announce a healthcare partner for its Pacific Northwest itineraries on American Empress in the coming weeks.)

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

Ochsner Health will conduct assessments of American Queen, American Duchess and American Countess and work with AQSC to implement disease prevention and mitigation strategies across the fleet. Also, Ochsner will reassess the AQSC vessels on a monthly basis and update recommendations as needed based on scientific data and CDC recommendations.

AQSC wants to Resume Cruise Operations

AQSC plans new dining room procedures to enhance safety. Here, American Duchess. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Virtual access to experts

A virtual clinic, powered by TytoCare, will allow employees and passengers access to shoreside healthcare professionals, including infectious disease experts.

In addition, each vessel will carry a certified medical representative to assist with urgent medical care, implement quarantine procedures and coordinate shoreside medical assistance. In an emergency, AQSC and affiliate Victory Cruise Lines have the ability to quickly transfer anyone to facilities ashore by coordinating pick-up at municipal landings and docking facilities.

Ochsner Health personnel will oversee the pre-boarding screening process and assessments for all itineraries embarking in New Orleans, and AQSC plans to identify healthcare partners for its other ports.

Elevated safety protocols include pre-cruise screenings, crew screenings, updated boarding processes, increased sanitation measures and systems like MXP Protect, which incorporates the use of thermal imaging.

AQSC is planning on Resuming Cruise Operations

Embarkation on AQSC vessels like American Queen will include a temperature check with thermal cameras. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Sister brand Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines, operated by AQSC, will implement similar health and safety protocols when it resumes its operations on the Great Lakes and Canadian Maritimes in 2021 (Victory just canceled its 2020 season.) Note, Victory’s two coastal ships are flagged to the Bahamas, not the U.S.

Prior to embarkation, all passengers and crew will have to complete a health questionnaire and a medical travel screening survey. At the pre-cruise hotel, medical personnel will screen each guest and conduct a temperature check. Boarding will be denied to anyone deemed to pose a health risk.

There’s a 24-hour window between the pre-cruise hotel stay and vessel embarkation.

Once people are cleared during the pre-cruise process, embarkation will be conducted via one controlled access point with thermal cameras supplementing the manual temperature checks of the pre-cruise screening.

An on-board medical representative will conduct the gangway screening, complete the health and safety survey and provide reports to the master and hotel director.

Monitoring during the cruise

Throughout AQSC voyages, trained staff will maintain protocols and observe passengers and crew for symptoms. Anyone who has an elevated temperature, shows signs or symptoms of illness or who vessel management determine needs further assessment will be sent directly to a local medical partner for evaluation and testing. Anyone testing positive for a contagious condition won’t be allowed to rejoin the vessel.

Using MXP Protect, AQSC will be able to monitor critical areas on board with thermal scanning. All passengers and crew will be monitored by passive thermal imaging when returning to the vessel in addition to random manual screening.

Public room/stateroom cleaning

And there’s more, much more that AQSC is doing.

Increased sanitation of all contact surfaces such as handrails, tables, chairs, desks, work surfaces, door handles, telephones and elevator controls — both front and back of house — will be conducted hourly with an all-chlorine solution.

All public and crew spaces will be fogged twice daily and multi-purpose disinfecting wipes will be made available in staterooms.

Cabin staff will clean and sanitize all surfaces of the room and use an EPA-approved disinfectant spray, as well as Protexus Electrostatic Sprayers to fog staterooms daily.

AQSC will fog cabins daily

AQSC’s heightened sanitation measures will include fogging staterooms daily. Here, an American Duchess suite. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Self-service buffets are suspended, and waiters will be stationed at buffets to serve food. Crew will minimize guest touch points by manually entering cabin numbers rather than using guest swipe cards and by replacing communal items such as salt/pepper pots, sugar bowls and butter bowls with single-serve packets.

Tables, chairs and countertops will be sanitized on the hour or when vacated by the guest, and menus will be printed on single-use paper and discarded after each use. All table items will be removed each time a table is vacated. All crockery, glassware and cutlery will be washed even if unused. Self-service areas are suspended in the bars, too, and individual bowls of bar snacks will be available on request.

Deck rails, swimming pools, the gangway and other external hard points will be sanitized at least every hour when in use, with the gangway sanitation occurring every half-hour when in use.

Motor coaches will be reduced to a maximum 52 percent capacity. Bus seats, windows and handrails will be sanitized with an EPA-recommended solution daily before boarding and every hour when in use. Liquid hand sanitizer dispensers will be available at the door. All shore excursions will be conducted within the guidelines of the local municipalities visited.

Alaska will be very different this season

If small-ship lines do resume sailing in the coming months, they may have some places to themselves, given many big-ship cancellations in regions like Alaska and Canada/New England.

“Sailing in Alaska this season will be more pristine than ever, and not likely duplicated anytime soon,” according to Capt. Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures.

Capt. Dan Blanchard with Wilderness Adventurer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

He added that Alaska “has always had my heart. I’ve sailed there since I was a boy and I’m excited to get back on board. With anything we do, we will respect local community requests and in part, our sailings are determined by the market.”

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen

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RELATED: A QuirkyCruise.com Q&A with UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard about the new seven-member US Small-Boat Operators Coalition.

 

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Sven-Olof Lindblad.

Lindblad’s Return to Service

By Anne Kalosh.

Like all other cruise operators, Lindblad Expeditions‘ ships are laid up to wait out the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company was fortunate to have no reported cases among passengers or crew. And, while two of its ships were stuck off the Falkland Islands for a week or so, charter flights got people home so the desperate situations that affected some other lines were avoided.

Now, during the global suspension of cruise operations, Lindblad is lining up coronavirus tests and working with a team of outside experts to bolster its health protocols.

Small-ship Advantage

“We firmly believe that the smaller size of our ships, our advanced cleaning systems and robust operating protocols, along with the remote geographies we visit, and the profile of our guests, ideally situates us to be able to resume operations safely and effectively once travel restrictions have been lifted,” the company said in reporting first quarter earnings.

CEO Sven Lindblad singled out its most notable advantage as the “size of our vessels, which range from 48 to 148 passengers, allowing for a highly controlled environment that includes stringent cleaning protocols. The small nature of our ships should also allow us to efficiently and effectively test our guests and crew prior to boarding.”

He estimated it will only take a few thousand tests a month to ensure all guests and crew across the entire fleet are tested.

Sven-Olof Lindblad.

“Lindblad travelers are eager to live their lives and won’t be held back,” says Sven Lindblad. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

“Additionally, the majority of our expeditions take place in remote locations where human interactions are limited, so there is less opportunity for external influence,” Lindblad continued.

“Lastly, our guests are explorers by nature, eager to travel and have historically been very resilient following periods of uncertainty.”

Testing is Key

The ability to regularly test crew and, as a condition for embarking, all guests is essential to restart operations, Lindblad stressed. He indicated the company expects access to reliable tests in the near future.

It’s also vital to offer a “verifiable” safe environment on board, to win the crew’s understanding and cooperation concerning new protocols and to have customers’ confidence.

On the latter, Lindblad reported receiving “many messages” about their eagerness to travel. While the company’s age group is older, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19, “They want to live their lives. They won’t be held back,” he said.

RELATED: Lindblad Announces “Self-Disinfecting Fleet.”  by Anne Kalosh

RELATED: Lindblad Expeditions Goes Carbon Neutral.  by Anne Kalosh

Wild & Remote Places

Since Lindblad focuses on wild and remote places, it’s possible to operate without the vast infrastructure the mainstream cruise industry requires. Docks and motor coaches aren’t needed.

“We drop anchor and launch Zodiacs and kayaks to explore … We control the logistics,” Lindblad explained. “We need very little shoreside support so we can keep self-isolated.”

Lindblad use lots of kayaks and zodiacs

The ships can anchor and deploy Zodiacs and kayaks to explore in places like Alaska, pictured here. * Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins for Lindblad Expeditions

In Alaska, for example, cruises sail between Juneau and Sitka with little other port content, “basically, one other place with human community. We will reduce that so there’s less exposure to communities,” he added.

Currently, anyone arriving to Alaska has to self-isolate for 14 days. “By July, I think [communities] will have a completely different view. By June, I don’t think that will be the case,” Lindblad said.

However, ports and borders need to open. For ships to explore the Norwegian Arctic, “Norway needs to invite us to come.” Iceland, Greenland and the Galápagos are also key to expedition programs.

The line is making plans to activate some third quarter voyages should authorities permit, and has already sorted out the charter air arrangements to get people to and from the ships.

Returned U.S. Aid

Lindblad qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program under the United States’ coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act, but returned the money after the brouhaha over the funding of public companies. Sven Lindblad said the money was given back in the hope it will go to smaller entities like travel advisors, and he called on the U.S. to create additional support programs.

Meanwhile, for canceled voyages, most Lindblad customers are accepting future cruise credits instead of seeking refunds.

Bookings are coming in for 2020, 2021 and 2022, including more than $15 million since March 1.

To keep the business going, the company has acted to shore up its liquidity and cut expenses. Like other cruise lines, Lindblad is taking advantage of COVID-19 debt holidays (loan payment deferrals) offered by export credit agencies that guarantee loans to build ships in their countries.

A Look Inside National Geographic Endurance

Polar new build National Geographic Endurance was delivered in March by Norway’s Ulstein Shipyard. If not for the pandemic, the vessel would have been welcoming passengers aboard inaugural Arctic voyages now.

A video preview shows National Geographic Endurance’s X-Bow, a design patented by Ulstein for a smoother ride and better seakeeping.

The bridge is spacious enough to hold all 126 passengers, according to Capt. Aaron Wood — not that that would ever happen, but Lindblad is one of the few companies with an open-bridge policy. At water level the “Base Camp” houses two sheltered areas to board the Zodiacs.

Lindblad's return with the National Geographic Endurance

The 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance with its distinctive X-Bow. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Endurance interiors have a sleek, modern Nordic look. And artist Zaria Forman curated a permanent polar art exhibit for the ship.

The Ice Lounge provides 39 flat-screen televisions for presentations. Restaurant 270º is named for its panoramic views, with floor-to ceiling windows. Meanwhile, the Sanctuary wellness center offers a yoga studio and infinity Jacuzzis. The very cool-looking transparent twin igloos afford panoramic views and seating on fur-covered daybeds.

Accommodations include 13 extra-large balcony suites — each named for a famous polar explorer. Of the 56 standard cabins, 40 (among them, 12 solo cabins) have balconies.

A sister ship, National Geographic Resolution, is under construction at Ulstein and still targeted for fourth-quarter 2021 delivery.

Hopefully, by then, the world will have awakened from the COVID-19 nightmare and small-ship expedition travel will be thriving again.

RELATED:  Peter Knego’s Adventure Aboard the Nat Geo Venture in Baja California.

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Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

Alaska Expedition Cruises.

By Anne Kalosh.

This year’s Alaska cruise season is looking more tenuous as time goes by. Due to port closures and no-sail orders, big-ship stalwarts like Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, at this point, plan just Seattle or Vancouver, B.C., round trips, not the one-way itineraries between Vancouver and Whittier or Seward, and no add-on land tours. Cunard canceled its Alaska season outright, and Norwegian Cruise Line is not sending a fourth ship there after all.

Of the small-ship (Quirky-sized) operators, Windstar Cruises scrapped its 2020 itineraries, too, because Star Breeze is still at the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Italy, where work stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Quirky Cruise detailed earlier, Star Breeze is being lengthened and updated. Instead of debuting in Alaska, the “stretched” ship is now expected to re-enter service in the Mediterranean.

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Victory Heads North

All of this is to say there’s a lot of uncertainty about Alaska expedition cruises for 2020; and about all cruises for 2020. For that reason, many avid cruisers are looking at 2021 instead. And that’s also when there will be a new choice in Alaska to make things even more enticing.

Known best for its Great Lakes itineraries, Victory Cruise Lines (operated by American Queen Steamboat Co.) will introduce its first expedition voyages in The Great Land using a brand-new ship, Ocean Victory.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory with its distinctive X-Bow profile. * Rendering:vVictory Cruise Lines

Vancouver-Sitka Itineraries

These new “Discover Beyond” adventures sail northbound, from Vancouver to Sitka (11 nights), and southbound, from Sitka to Vancouver (12 nights).

A world-class city, Vancouver offers bountiful museums, parks, a noted aquarium and great restaurants and nightlife. Sitka is a picturesque city of Russian heritage and the starting point for pre- or post-cruise adventures, such as a visit to Glacier Bay National Park.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The cruises sail between Vancouver & Sitka.

Ocean Victory

Equipped with 20 Zodiacs and dozens of kayaks, Ocean Victory will enable in-depth explorations of Alaska’s natural, historic and cultural treasures. Victory is working with California Polytechnic State University to carry marine biologists, scientists and naturalists among its expedition team of 19 to lead excursions and give lectures.

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory, currently under construction in China, is among the Infinity series of expedition vessels ordered by Miami’s SunStone Ships for charter to a variety of operators.

The Infinity vessels sport Ulstein Design’s patented X-Bow for a smoother ride and reduced noise and vibration. Rolls-Royce zero-speed stabilizers reduce rolling, and a dynamic positioning system eliminates the need for anchors in sensitive areas.

Ocean Victory measures 8,500 gross tons and stretches 104.4 meters/342.5 feet. It has 93 suites, 68 with balconies, nine with French balconies and 16 with panoramic windows.

Ocean Victory cabin in Antarctica

Ocean Victory balcony suite. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Two restaurants and an open-deck dining area provide choice.

Observation and lecture lounges, a piano bar, library, gym, spa, heated outdoor pool, pool bar and Jacuzzi are among the amenities. A dedicated launching platform will facilitate Zodiac and kayak adventures.

The ship will be served by 100 crew for a high 1:2 crew-to-guest ratio.

Alaska Expedition cruises

With its big windows, the Observation Lounge will be ideal for viewing Alaskan nature and wildlife from the ship. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Library aboard Ocean Victory in Alaska

And views from the library, too. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

gym on Ocean Victory in Alaska

Workout with a view in the gym. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Fjordland Conservancy

Itinerary highlights include Fjordland Conservancy, one of Canada’s newest marine parks, home to wolves, deer, eagles, bears and humpback whales. At Kynoch Inlet, a dramatic waterfall drops into a majestic fjord.

Conditions permitting, passengers will explore the Inlet’s Culpepper’s Lagoon with Victory’s naturalists.

Metlakatla & Misty Fjords

Ocean Victory will also visit Ketchikan, “Salmon Capital of the World,” with the opportunity to fish right from Creek Street.

Visit Ketchikan on an Alaska Expedition Cruise

Salmon is big in Ketchikan. * Photo: Seanna O’Sullivan Photography

Metlakatla provides immersion into the rich culture of the Tsimshian people, including a private visit to a long house for a performance by one of Alaska’s best dancing groups. At Misty Fjords National Monument, travelers find lush greenery, granite cliffs and cascading waterfalls wrapped in gossamer mist.

Russian History & Tlingit Culture

Wrangell was originally a Russian settlement, however the Tlingit people were in the region long before Russian traders settled there. Besides learning about Tlingit culture, travelers can look for bears at Anan Creek, take jet boat rides on Stikine River, go charter fishing or see ancient petroglyphs.

Another highlight is Baranoff Island’s eastern coast, where naturalist guides will lead explorations by kayaks and Zodiacs to tucked-away bays at the base of sheer mountains and cliffs.

Also known as “Little Norway,” Petersburg was settled by Norwegians who thought the area looked just like home.

Directly across the water is Kupreanof Island, with hiking trails, while a floatplane experience provides a bird’s-eye view of LaConte Glacier and its dramatic ice fields.

Tracy Arm & Endicott Arm

Rivaling Norway’s fjords, Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm contain the magnificent Sawyer and Dawes glaciers. The 12-night itinerary from Sitka spends two days there, with visits to Tracy Arm, Endicott and Ford’s Terror Wilderness. The 11-night itinerary from Vancouver spends one day and visits Tracy or Endicott, depending on the ice conditions.

Alaska Expedition cruise excursions in zodiacs

Zodiac excursions take you close up to glaciers and ice fields. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Whale country

After a morning visit to the Tlingit village of Kake, Ocean Victory will travel through whale country. As the home of the Five Finger Whale Research Center, the Frederick Sound is world famous for viewing humpbacks, orcas and Dall’s porpoise. A hydrophone will be used to hear the underwater sounds.

Whales on Alaska Expedition cruises

Ocean Victory will travel through whale country. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Fares for the 11-night northbound cruises on May 21, June 11, July 2 and 23, Aug. 13 and Sept. 3, 2021, start at $4,199 per person. The 12-night southbound cruises, on May 31, June 21, July 12, Aug. 2 and 23 and Sept. 13, start at $4,999. A one-time “Hidden Coast” itinerary, 11 nights, from Vancouver to Seattle on Sept. 24, is priced from $4,199.

Port fees, taxes and gratuities are extra.

Ocean Discoverer Joins in 2023

Victory Cruise Lines is chartering a second expedition new build, Ocean Discoverer, to join sister ship Ocean Victory in Alaska in 2023.

For more info on Victory’s Alaska expedition cruises, go to Victory Cruise Lines’ website.

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Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi River Debut for 2022

by Anne Kalosh.

It has been a long time coming but river-cruise giant Viking plans to begin plying the Mississippi in August 2022. The line is going big and modern with a 386-passenger, five-deck vessel it’s building in Louisiana. [The passenger count is above QuirkyCruise’s 300 cut-off,  but we make exceptions sometimes as we want to report on this!]

Named Viking Mississippi, the vessel is inspired by Viking’s existing river and ocean ships and will feature clean Scandinavian design along with public spaces that are familiar to brand loyalists but reimagined for the Mississippi.

And “no paddlewheels — real or fake,” Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said.

Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi — five decks high and modern design with no paddlewheel. * Rendering: Viking

Viking itineraries cover Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia and Egypt. Yet Hagen said loyalists continue to list the Mississippi as “the river they most want to sail with us.” It is “closer to home for many of our guests,” he continued, “and no other waterway has played such an important role in America’s history, commerce and culture.”

Lower & Upper Mississippi

Viking Mississippi will sail the Lower and Upper Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul, Minnesota. Ports currently scheduled span seven states: Louisiana (besides New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Darrow and St. Francisville), Mississippi (Natchez and Vicksburg), Tennessee (Memphis), Missouri (Hannibal, St. Louis), Iowa (Burlington, Dubuque and Davenport), Wisconsin (La Crosse and Red Wing) and Minnesota (St. Paul).

The core itineraries are eight days and include “America’s Heartland,” cruising between St. Louis and St. Paul. This Upper Mississippi voyage sails past farms nestled in rolling terrain and steep bluffs rising from tributaries dotted with wooded islands, and traverses locks and dams. Travelers will hear stories about westward migration, Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain, John Deere, and the Amish and Norwegian settlements. They’ll experience regional music like polka and Norwegian folk and taste local beer, produce and Wisconsin cheese.

Exploring the Lower Mississippi, “Heart of the Delta,” between New Orleans and Memphis, delves into areas where the French and Acadians settled, the Civil Rights movement and the music of the South — jazz, blues and gospel. Travelers will get to dine on Cajun and creole dishes and Memphis dry-style barbecue, rubbed with salt and spices.

“Southern Celebration,” cruising New Orleans-Vicksburg-New Orleans, also explores the Lower Mississippi, affording visits to historic homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. There will be opportunities to learn about Civil War history and tour sites like Vicksburg National Military Park. As well, travelers can discover the distinct flavors of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The 15-day “America’s Great River” spans nearly the full length of the Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul. Viking Mississippi will travel from the Gulf of Mexico to the northernmost reaches of the U.S. This journey will present a variety of scenery, foliage and wildlife. Travelers can tour plantation houses in Natchez, retrace the steps of Civil Rights leaders in Memphis, ascend the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and visit “The Norwegian Valley” in La Crosse.

Big Views & Alfresco Dining

Viking Mississippi will sport expansive windows and a 360-degree promenade close to the water on Deck 1. A two-story Explorers’ Lounge is situated high up and facing forward adjacent to The Bow, an outdoor seating area with big river views.

Viking Mississippi River Boat's Explorer Lounge

The Viking Mississippi’s Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 1. * Rendering: Viking

An Aquavit Terrace on the top deck, ideal for American-style barbecues, and an indoor-outdoor River Cafe will provide ample alfresco dining opportunities. Besides American classics, the River Cafe will serve Norwegian specialties, recalling the Mamsen’s deli venues on Viking’s ocean ships.

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe. * Rendering: Viking

A glass-backed pool will be situated aft on the Sun Terrace.

The Living Room on Deck 1 is designed for socializing, relaxing and entertainment, with a quiet corner housing a library.

Viking on the Mississippi

The Viking Mississippi Living Room. * Rendering: Viking

The Restaurant, the main dining venue, is also situated on Deck 1, and will serve daily-changing menus of regional dishes and always-available classics prepared with fresh, local ingredients.

Viking Mississippi's main restaurant

The main restaurant aboard the Viking Mississippi. * Rendering: Viking

Verandas or French Balconies

With 193 all-outside staterooms, Viking Mississippi has seven accommodations categories ranging from 268 square feet to 1,024 square feet. All have a private veranda or French balcony, king-size bed with luxury linens, large flat-screen interactive TV, mini-bar, large glass-enclosed shower, heated bathroom floor and 24-hour room service.

Viking Mississippi's Deluxe Veranda cabin

The Viking Mississippi’s Deluxe Veranda Stateroom. * Rendering: Viking

The top-of-the-line Viking Suites have two rooms and a full-size veranda off the spacious sitting room. Travelers in Penthouse Junior Suites (400 square feet) and Terrace Suites (425 square feet) get early room access, expanded double-sink bathroom, mini-bar with alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, water and snacks replenished daily, welcome champagne and laundry, pressing and shoeshine services. Those in Explorer Suites (657 square feet to 1,024 square feet) additionally have a wraparound veranda and included Silver Spirits Beverage Package.

Viking Mississippi Penthouse Terrace Suite

The Viking Mississippi’s Penthouse Terrace Suite. * Rendering: Viking

Viking Mississippi's Forward Explorer's Suite aboard Viking Mississippi

Viking Mississippi’s Forward Explorer’s Suite Living Room on Deck 3. * Rendering: Viking

Enrichment and ‘Privileged Access’

Viking will extend its noted on-board enrichment program to the U.S. heartland. Destination performances are to showcase regional music, and guest lecturers will expand on art, architecture, history, culture and the natural world. “Privileged Access Local Life and Working World” experiences will open doors to places otherwise difficult to visit.

Travelers can take a guided kayaking trip in the Louisiana bayou, visit a working farm near the Quad Cities or immerse themselves in Cajun culture during a Privileged Access excursion to the Rural Life Museum of Louisiana State University.

RELATED: Viking to Offer “Privileged Access” Excursions to Egypt River Cruises. 

Inclusive Pricing

Cruise fares include one shore excursion in each port of call, alternative dining, all port charges and government taxes, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, self-service launderettes, 24-hour room service and Wi-Fi.

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Ritz-Carlton Yacht Evrima Delayed

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Evrima Delayed To 2021

By Anne Kalosh.

Due to delays at the Hijos de J. Barreras shipyard in Spain, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection‘s first vessel, Evrima, is set back to April 2021.

The inaugural had previously been delayed to June this year from its original early 2020 date.

New Shipyard Oversight

The shipyard has been undergoing widely publicized difficulties. These led to the majority of its shareholders agreeing to hand over control to a newly formed entity headed by Douglas Prothero, who is also CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. This new structure is intended to ensure Evrima’s completion.

Evrima was launched down the slip at H.J. Barreras shipyard in October 2018. * Photo: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

“We sincerely apologize to all guests who were ready to sail with us,” Prothero said. “We remain deeply committed to ensuring a seamless delivery of the standards of quality and service that The Ritz-Carlton is known for as well as providing a highly customized, state-of-the-art build that will make our inaugural yacht the most distinctive of its kind.”

Lisbon-Palma Inaugural Cruise

The inaugural sailing is now scheduled for April 22, 2021, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

The luxurious, 298-passenger Evrima had been one of 2020’s most anticipated new cruise ships.

RELATED: The New Quirky Sized Oceangoing Builds for 2020.  by Anne Kalosh.

Designed as a yacht inside and out, Evrima promises to be a beauty when completed, with its cascade of open decks aft, a marina and spacious suites and lounges. Dining experiences will include Southeast Asian small plates, an alfresco seafood bar/steak grill, a marina spot and a restaurant by three-star Michelin chef Sven Elverfeld of Aqua at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg.

Evrima is now set to debut in April 2021. * Rendering: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

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Coronavirus Support from American Queen Steamboat Co

U.S. Coronavirus Support

By Anne Kalosh.

Sister brands American Queen Steamboat Co. and Victory Cruise Lines have stepped up to offer their vessels to support the U.S. battle against coronavirus.

For Military Personnel Quarantine

Victory’s two coastal ships and AQSC’s four river vessels are being made available to house U.S. military personnel who are under quarantine, as they either arrive from a foreign country or will be departing shortly for a foreign country.

RELATED: Cruise Operations Pause for Coronavirus.  by Anne Kalosh.

Possible Deployment Cities

Cities where the AQSC and Victory Cruise Lines vessels could potentially be stationed include Seattle, San Diego, St. Louis, New Orleans, Norfolk and Miami.

Coronavirus Support from American Queen Steamboat Co

Mississippi paddle-wheeler American Duchess is available to quarantine military if needed. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

‘Readily Available’

“AQSC and VCL would be pleased to assist the federal government during this crisis, and our six vessels are readily available and on standby,” the company said.

This humanitarian spirit puts small-ship lines AQSC and Victory in with the big guys — from the U.S. Navy to Carnival Corp.

The Navy’s hospital ships Mercy and Comfort have been deployed to help New York and Los Angeles. And Carnival Corp. Chairman Micky Arison has offered the use of select ships from Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia.

Coronavirus Support from Victory Cruise Lines

Coastal vessel Victory II is one of the ships offered to house military. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

The Vessels

AQSC operates American Queen, American Duchess and the about-to-be-introduced American Countess on the Mississippi and other rivers of the U.S. heartland and American Empress on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Victory’s Coastal ships Victory I and Victory II sail the Great Lakes and Canada/New England.

Both brands are among the many cruise operators that have suspended service while the coronavirus situation rages.

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Cruise Operations 'Pause' for Coronavirus

Cruise Operations ‘Pause’ for Coronavirus

By Anne Kalosh.

(Note: Anne is the Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor, Seatrade Cruise Review, and we share some of her breaking Seatrade coverage below.)

Big cruise ships have been in the headlines because of coronavirus quarantines, port restrictions and temporarily suspended operations.

In recent days the Quirky Cruise part of the business — vessels carrying up to 300 passengers — has come into the picture, too. There have only been a handful of passengers reported with COVID-19 on small ships. But a growing number of lines are proactively suspending operations as part of the global effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Fluid Situation

The situation is extremely fluid, with announcements and changes almost by the hour. In some cases, current itineraries are being completed before operations stop. In others, ships are disembarking passengers as soon as possible.

European river giant Viking was the first to announce, on March 11, that it would halt sailings of all its river and oceangoing cruise fleets the following day, until May 1.

RELATED: March 16 Update of Coronavirus-related Cruise News … by Anne Kalosh.

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Travel is “Exceedingly Complicated”

As Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said, COVID-19 has made travel “exceedingly complicated,” with an increasing number of ports closed to cruise ships. As well, major attractions and museums are shuttered, and a growing number of countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.

Cruise Operations 'Pause' for Coronavirus

Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said travel is ‘exceedingly complicated.” * Photo: Viking

Viking’s move was quickly followed by other high-profile river lines, including AmaWaterways, which delayed the start of its European cruise season until April 26. At the same time, Ama’s Mekong River cruises would be suspended “starting March 23.”

RELATED:  Viking Halts River & Ocean Operations until May 1 … by Anne Kalosh.

Subsequently Cambodia, which together with Vietnam provides the core of the itinerary, announced it would block international river cruises from March 13 until further notice, according to tour operator Destinations Asia.

Avalon Waterways and other brands in the Globus family suspended travel across all destinations through April 30. A-ROSA Cruises has also temporarily halted its Danube, Seine and Rhone itineraries; CroisiEurope has a suspension in place until April 15; and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises just announced a service suspension.

Avalon Waterways pauses for Coronavirus

Avalon Waterways is giving a bonus credit of $200 for rebooking. Avalon Envision is pictured in Budapest. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Even U.S. domestic operator American Queen Steamboat Co. halted, with service planned to resume April 12.

RELATED: Disney, Windstar, AmaWaterways, Avalon & Celestyal Pause Operations … by Anne Kalosh.

Windstar Cruises

Small-ship line Windstar Cruises, too, stopped departures embarking from March 14 through April.

On March 14, Cruise Lines International Association, whose members include the bulk of the cruise industry globally, said all its oceangoing lines would quit sailing from and to U.S. ports in a 30-day hiatus.

RELATED: All CLIA Ocean-going Lines Suspend Cruises to/from US Ports … by Anne Kalosh.

Destinations Turn Away Ships

Meanwhile, a growing number of places around the globe are blocking cruise ships. In most cases, the restrictions are temporary, for set periods like a couple weeks or 30 days, however some orders are open-ended.

Many of these places are popular small-ship destinations, including French Polynesia, which ordered ships based in Papeete, Tahiti, to return without delay to disembark travelers so they can return home.

RELATED: French Polynesia Stops Cruise Calls Until April 11 … by Anne Kalosh.

Countries turning away cruises for now include Italy, Monaco, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, and British Virgin Islands.

RELATED: New Zealand’s ‘Toughest Border Restrictions of Anywhere in the World’ … by Anne Kalosh.

Canada’s ban, which lasts until July, exempts small ships carrying up to 500 people (passengers and crew). Certain ports in Norway are saying “no” to cruise calls, as well.

RELATED: Canada Blocks Cruise Calls by Ships Over 500 People until July … by Anne Kalosh.

Compensation Varies

Cruise lines are trying to do their part in the global fight against coronavirus, and travelers can be supportive by not canceling trips but, instead, taking advantage of offers to postpone to future dates, even in future years.

Most operators are offering incentives to do that. The deals vary widely.

Just a few examples: Within the March 12 to April 30 period Viking isn’t operating, it’s dangling a future cruise voucher valued at 125 percent. Passengers will have 24 months to use their voucher to reserve any river, ocean or expedition cruise. The policy is identical for Windstar, which aims to resume sailing May 1.

AmaWaterways is offering a future cruise credit of 115 percent. And Avalon is giving a bonus credit of $200 per person for a new reservation, redeemable for any future 2020, 2021 or 2022 vacation.

Windstar Cruises is offering future cruise credits of 125 percent for people who postpone, instead of canceling. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

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American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

What’s New At American Cruise Lines.

By Anne Kalosh.

U.S. river cruising is getting more and more interesting.

With European powerhouse Viking poised to enter the Mississippi market, there’s going to be a wider choice of brands. And with American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) growing its paddle-wheel fleet and American Cruise Lines its modern-style vessels, travelers can pick classic or contemporary.

American Cruise Lines recently announced the acceleration of its new build program on strong demand for the modern-style boats and continues a “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.

Viking Foray

This comes as AQSC introduces its fourth paddle-wheeler, American Countess, in late March and as Viking is ready to reveal its long-awaited plans for the U.S. (Check back here after April 7 for details.)

American’s reaction to Viking’s entrance?

“It’s good. It just brings more exposure to the market and increases the visibility of river cruising in the country,” said Charles B. Robertson, who succeeded his late father as CEO of American in February. “We’ve built our own market and will continue to define our own market. We’ve got a different market and there’s enough business for both of us.”

AQSC, he added, “has a different product also and is attracting a different segment.”

American Cruise Lines CEO

American Cruise Lines new CEO Charles B. Robertson. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

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Small Ships, Big Appeal

The fact that multiple brands are thriving stateside shows “There’s such a big market out there … People are realizing river cruises are available and are fantastic in this country.”

One challenge when American started was just educating people that about cruising on America’s rivers. Now, with availability of modern boats like those in Europe, “There is more appeal. We’re really getting the message out,” Robertson said.

American Jazz begins sailing the Mississippi in the third quarter this year, bringing the fleet to 12, and the decision was recently made to add two new builds — up from one — in 2021. American Melody’s inaugural was moved forward to June from September next year, and construction just began on a sister vessel.

Though nothing has been announced, Robertson wouldn’t be surprised if two more new builds also follow in 2022.

A competitive strength for American Cruise Lines is the ability to build at affiliated company Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. The facility has five hull fabrication buildings and more than 1,000 feet of deep-water bulkhead to build and outfit multiple ships at the same time.

Robertson said American continues tweaking things with each new build, making small improvements. Passenger capacity will stay under 200, though, an “important threshold” to enable the delivery of the small-ship experience the line’s known for.

(And this fits nicely into the QuirkyCruise focus on vessels carrying up to 300 passengers.)

American Song

American Song on the Columbia River. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Big Rooms, Lots of Glass

Robertson said accommodations on American’s modern-style boats are 70 percent larger than the average European river vessel, while suites may be double the size. Balconies have gotten larger, and have more furniture (table and chairs), with the bigger suites adding chaise lounges.

The real distinction, though, is the design aesthetic. There are large glass areas to let in light and provide better views — so vital for river cruising. The colors are more contemporary, the exercise room is larger and a yoga venue added. Besides the single-seating dining room, a top deck café serves casual fare like burgers, salads and pizza.

Pricing is inclusive. Mississippi, Columbia/Snake rivers and Alaska programs include an excursion at every port; more extra-cost tours are available in New England.

American Cruise Lines balcony view

Balcony view. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

No More Paddle-Wheelers for Now

American doesn’t currently plan to build more paddle-wheelers, having switched focus to the modern-style boats with American Song in 2018, continuing with American Harmony in 2019.

“We love the paddle-wheelers we have and will continue to operate them, and there’s a fabulous market for them,” Robertson said. “But the modern riverboat style is where we see a concentration of demand and market appeal.”

This type of vessel better appeals to the younger end of American’s market, where future growth lies. But Robertson was quick to state it’s “critical we don’t alienate the older end of the market, and we’ve seen they’re comfortable with either style: traditional or modern. We were concerned our loyal passenger base might not like the modern style as much and are thrilled that’s not the case.”

American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

American Melody — One of two modern-style riverboats coming in 2021. * Rendering: American Cruise Lines

Two by Two

Next year American will field two modern-style boats and two paddle-wheelers both on the Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest.

American Harmony will shift from the Mississippi to the Columbia/Snake, joining American Song and a pair of paddle-wheelers. American Melody will replace American Harmony on the Mississippi, joining American Jazz and two paddle-wheelers.

Cruise Close to Home

Many lines have stopped advertising due to uncertainties surrounding coronavirus. American continues its “Cruise Close To Home” marketing begun in November.

Ninety percent of the U.S. mainland population can drive to an American cruise within a “reasonable amount of time,” according to Robertson. That cuts out the need to get on a plane.

ACL’s “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.

Coronavirus

“We are definitely affected by [coronavirus], but it’s having less impact than on the rest of the industry,” he said. “We’re insulated a bit by virtue of the smaller ships and entirely domestic itineraries. We’re dealing with it like the rest of the industry and, yes, we take it absolutely seriously.”

American adheres to Cruise Lines International Association policy and procedures to avoid transmission of the virus.

Some travelers whose overseas cruises were canceled have come to American as an alternative. “That’s not something we’re promoting,” Robertson said. “We’re not looking to be opportunistic.”QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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