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SeaDream yacht club new itineraries

American Jazz Arrives & Other Small-Ship Updates

By Anne Kalosh.

A happy note amid the pandemic: American Jazz, the third in American Cruise Lines’ modern-style riverboats, has arrived.

The 190-passenger vessel is the latest to emerge from Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. It will debut on the Mississippi whenever service can resume.

American Jazz follows sisters American Harmony (2019) and American Song (2018).

American Jazz Riverboat

American Jazz is the latest in American Cruise Lines’ modern riverboat series. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

New wellness/yoga studio

Rising six decks, American Jazz has vast expanses of glass for great views throughout and a multistory glass atrium in the center of the ship. Other hallmarks of the modern riverboat series include a patented opening bow with retractable gangway.

Travelers can spread out in several lounges and a grand dining room. There’s also a fitness center, a new wellness/yoga studio, a casual outdoor cafe and expansive top sun deck. All interior spaces and accommodations have independent heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, with no shared duct work.

Rooms for solo travelers

The roomy standard staterooms range from 300 square feet to 350 square feet, all with sliding glass doors and private furnished balconies. American Jazz also offers suites up to 650 square feet and single-occupancy staterooms of 250 square feet.

The vessel will showcase oil paintings and sculptures by New Orleans-based artist Greg Creason.

“The outlook for 2021 is tremendous and we look forward to American Jazz’s first full season on the Mississippi, as well as the introduction of American Melody, the next new ship to follow in our modern riverboat series,” American Cruise Lines President & CEO Charles B. Robertson said.

Windstar cancels through 2020

Windstar Cruises became the latest line to sit out the rest of 2020. It had planned to re-enter service in Tahiti in October.

“We had hoped that the number of cases of COVID and episodes of transmission would be in decline by now, and that the world recovery from the pandemic would be faster, but based on what we are seeing, we believe the most prudent way forward to keep our guests and crew safe is to postpone all Windstar sailings until next year,” a company spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Windstar intends to continue reviewing and updating its “Beyond Ordinary Care” health protocols designed in partnership with the epidemiology department at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Center.

Wind Spirit in Tahiti

Windstar had planned to resume sailing in Tahiti in October but ended up canceling all itineraries through 2020. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Seabourn’s expedition new build coming later

Seabourn has continued to push back the return dates of individual ships and announced expedition new build Seabourn Venture will be delivered later than planned.

Seabourn Venture delayed

Seabourn Venture is now scheduled to enter service with a Norwegian winter program in late 2021. * Rendering: Seabourn

Due to coronavirus-related shipyard closures earlier this year, Seabourn Venture is now scheduled for completion Dec. 1, 2021, instead of June. Venture had been set to debut in the Arctic, followed by a season in Antarctica.

Quest to assume Antarctica/Venture to Norway in winter

Instead, Seabourn Quest will now take on the 2021/22 Antarctica program, while Seabourn Venture will sail Norway in winter, giving travelers an opportunity to see the northern lights.

Details about the 264-passenger ship’s revised inaugural season are being finalized and will be announced in October.

The interiors and outdoor guest areas of Seabourn’s first purpose-built expedition ship are by hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany, who’s using tactile materials for a hint of rugged adventure in comfortable spaces like the Expedition Lounge.

Seabourn Venture's Expedition lounge

A rendering of Seabourn Venture’s rustic chic Expedition Lounge. * Rendering: Seabourn

Silver Origin’s Galápagos debut set back

Silver Origin’s inaugural Galápagos voyage is now planned for Nov. 7. Silversea Cruises had hoped to start service Aug. 22 but this was delayed by Ecuador’s coronavirus situation.

Built for the Galápagos, the 100-passenger Silver Origin was delivered in June following an extraordinary effort by the Netherlands’ De Hoop Shipyard, which voluntarily worked through the COVID-19 shutdown. Low water and high water conditions were also overcome.

Silver Origin is currently at the mainland Ecuadorian port of Manta, where crew training and familiarization processes are under way.

Silver Origin will take over year-round sailings from Silver Galapagos.

Silver Origin is delayed

Silver Origin’s start of service in the Galápagos has been postponed until November. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

A-Rosa’s E-motion coming later

European river line A-Rosa reports things have been going well since its restart in mid-June, but the inauguration of its new E-motion vessel will be delayed by a year, according to Seatrade Cruise News. 

The so-far unnamed E-motion-type vessel will be coming in spring 2022. Originally this hybrid-powered boat, designed to approach destinations on silent, emissions-free battery power, was to debut in May 2021.

The revised schedule has the first cruises along the northern part of the Rhine in April 2022.

A-Rosa's E-Motion is delayded

A-Rosa’s new style E-motion vessel has been delayed by a year. * Rendering: A-Rosa

Related: Cruising Restarts in Travel Bubbles.  by Anne Kalosh

No money down to book Crystal Esprit

Reservations opened for 2023 and early 2024 for the boutique yacht Crystal Esprit. This all-suite, 62-passenger gem will sail six-, seven- and eight-night voyages in the Seychelles, Greece, France, Italy, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Croatia.

Crystal Esprit

Bookings are open for Crystal Esprit’s wide-ranging itineraries in 2023 and 2024. * Photo: Crystal Yacht Cruises

What’s more, travelers can reserve their trip with no money down, as the Crystal Confidence 2.0 program offers a 90-day deposit window, extended final payment and relaxed cancellation schedules for all voyages through 2023. From January 2023 through March 2024, Crystal Yacht Cruises — named the 2019 Best Small-Ship Cruise Line by Condé Nast Traveler readers — will sail 58 active voyages.

During January to March 2023 and 2024, Crystal Esprit will be at home in the Seychelles. From

April to October 2023, destinations include the Greek Isles with a Corinth Canal transit, Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, the Italian Riviera and the French Riviera. In April, November and December 2023, the yacht will explore Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Cyprus.

Fares start at $2,699 per person.

RELATED: Crystal is Not Going Out of Business.  by Anne Kalosh.

SeaDreaming of Barbados

SeaDream Yacht Club is asking its loyal customers what they think about a possible new weeklong Barbados itinerary that would replace the planned Caribbean program this winter.

When looking at the upcoming Caribbean season, SeaDream — which successfully restarted cruises with a novel Norway-Denmark itinerary on June 20 with just four weeks’ notice — thought of again trying something different from its published schedule.

The new itinerary includes St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Grenada. If it goes ahead, sailings would start Nov. 8.

Emilio Freeman, vice president, itineraries and destinations, said he chose places where SeaDream will be welcome, that are currently open for tourism and that are more secluded, in line with the brand’s yachting bent.

SeaDream yacht club new itineraries

SeaDream is considering a new itinerary from Barbados that would start in November. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

The proposed itinerary would see travelers embarking at Bridgetown, Barbados (Sunday), calling at Kingston, St. Vincent (Monday), Port Elizabeth, Bequia (Tuesday and overnight), Canouan Island (Wednesday), Mayreau (Thursday), Grenada’s St. George’s (Friday), Tobago Cays and Union Island (Saturday) and disembark in Barbados (Sunday).

Freeman said these destinations all offer friendly people; “smooth, silky sand beaches”; and are places where the rich go to escape. (Bloomberg described Canouan as “where the billionaires go to get away from the millionaires.”)

If this itinerary is approved, travelers most likely will be tested for coronavirus three times before embarking. Barbados requires a negative test taken within 72 hours before arriving at the airport and likely would retest travelers from high-risk countries like the United States on arrival, plus SeaDream would test everyone before they embark.

The line said it would use a “gold standard” PCR test with quick results, capable of processing 50 people an hour. The SeaDream yachts carry just 112 passengers each.

RELATED: Small Ship Cruising Restarts Fitfully. By Anne Kalosh

Lindblad raises $85 million

Cruise operators have been scrambling to shore up liquidity as the pandemic wages on. Lindblad Expeditions Holdings has just secured its future by entering into an agreement with a group of investors for the private placement of $85 million in convertible preferred stock.

This is part of Lindblad’s actions to ensure it is sufficiently capitalized to withstand the COVID-19 downturn and “emerge in a position of strength,” according to Sven-Olof Lindblad, president and CEO.

RELATED: Small Ships, Remote Operations, an Edge for Lindblad’s Return to Service.  by Anne Kalosh

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Blount's Mount HOpe

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

By Theodore W. Scull.

Once “The World is Our Oyster” literally as well as figuratively contributed to the start of Blount Small Ships Adventures.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

Grande Mariner & Grande Caribe share a berth at New Bedford. * Photo: Ted Scull

So, it is with great sadness that this pioneering U.S.-flag cruise line has called it a day 51 years after the company founder, Captain Luther H. Blount, set out with 40 paying passengers aboard the Blount-built Mount Hope in 1969 bound from the company’s HQ along the waterfront of Warren, Rhode Island, into Long Island Sound, around New York City’s Battery and northward up the Hudson and through the locks into Lake Champlain.

Blount's Mount HOpe

The cover of the August 1969 “Maritime Reporter Magazine” featured Mount Hope. * Source: https://magazines.marinelink.com/Magazines/MaritimeReporter/196908/page/1

Luther Blount’s Legacy

He pioneered modern-day overnight cruises along the length of the Erie Canal even though the railroads had built bridges in the 19th century to kill the lucrative freight and passenger traffic.

Not to be stopped dead in the water with too low bridges over the Erie Canal, Blount’s answer was to create a pilothouse that could be lowered into the vessel’s main body and the railings folded to the deck.

Captain Luther Blount

Captain Luther Blount on board. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

I recall intensely watching from the bow of the Niagara Prince as the captain inched his way under a railroad bridge with his wife’s eagle eye on the narrowing gap, to within maybe two inches to spare until the vessel was clear. I think I may have stopped breathing for a few seconds.

On another occasion aboard the same ship heading from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi, we passed under a railroad bridge with slightly more clearance, and seconds later Amtrak’s Super Chief bound from Chicago to Los Angeles thundered across the same span. I did notice that one bit of deck railing had a dent in it, from an earlier encounter.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Inches to spare. * Photo: Ted Scull

“Go where the big ships cannot” became the slogan.

However, the two most recently-built Blount vessels, the Grande Caribe and the Grande Mariner, actually had a problem. They were too high in clearance to pass along the western end of the Erie Canal. Hence cruises between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes would enter the canal just north of Albany then switched over to the Oswego Canal near Syracuse leading to Lake Ontario for onward passage through the Welland Canal and into Lakes Erie, Huron, Superior and Michigan.

RELATED: Ted’s Erie Canal Cruise with Blount Small Ship Adventures.

Luther’s Ingenuity

Now back to oysters. Luther Blount, born at Warren, Rhode Island, near the Head of Narragansett Bay, grew into adulthood and joined the family business – oystering – with its base of operations in the same waterfront location where the cruise line and shipyard exist all these many decades later.

Then came the legendary 1938 hurricane, the largest storm to hit the Northeast in modern times, and in a few short hours the oyster beds and the business were in shambles. Luther, a graduate of Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, then set out on a different course — briefly.

With his inventive nature and New England pluck, Luther developed a steaming process for his brother’s clam business that attracted Campbell Soup as big buyers for the firm’s clam chowder.

Luther’s association with oysters returned when he built a highly-successful new type of steel oyster boat and that led to large and more diverse vessels such as small tankers, launches for the Panama Canal Company, passenger vessels for the Circle Line, ferries for owners throughout the northeast, Spirit-class dinner boats, and as reported earlier, the company’s first cruise vessel, the 40-passenger Mount Hope in 1969.

Blount’s Shipyard

Then followed the New Shoreham, New Shoreham II, Mayan Prince and so on, each slightly larger than the previous new builds.

Blount's New Shoreham

New Shoreham. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Sometimes he would start constructing a hull and if he received an order for a dinner boat, he would complete it as such, and then start another that might end up in his own fleet.

Bllount Small Ship Adventures

Blount Boats – The yard in October 1999. * Photo: Ted Scull

The boats he built for the Circle Line in New York have carried over 75 million passengers.

Blount Marine Corporation eventually became Blount Boats, Inc. and the yard, built on top of a shell dump, has always had a reputation for quality and reliability.

The Blount 65 (a 65-foot passenger boat) was and still is found all over North America in multiple roles as excursion boats, dinner boats and ferries. One of the newest that I am fully aware of is the passenger and vehicle ferry for Governors Island, that separated piece of New York sitting just off the Battery in Lower Manhattan.

Three Daughters

Luther’s daughter Marcia is president and daughter Julie vice president, and Blount Boats has an enviable reputation in otherwise a largely man’s world. His third daughter, Nancy, joined the cruise side.

Blount Sisters

The Blount Sisters Three — Julie, Marcia & Nancy. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Their father died in 2006 at the age of 90. Nancy had started as a stewardess aboard the boats in 1966, then when she complained about being away from her friends during the summer months, she asked for a job closer to home. Luther made room for her as a welder in his shipyard.

By 1979, she was number two at the cruise line, back then known as American Canadian Line with Caribbean inserted later to form ACCL. The more recent change to Blount Small Ship Adventures came under her watch, to honor her father and more clearly define the cruise line’s mission — “Go where the big ships cannot.”

As Luther, a tried and true Yankee, did not believe in buying or building anything that he could not pay for, the company had no debt and that firm foundation put them in good stead during the last recession.

Blount's Grand Caribe

The Grand Caribe on a fall foliage cruise. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Go Where the Big Ships Cannot

Luther’s thrust was “go where the big ships cannot,” and the signature itinerary became the inland water cruise between home base at Warren, Rhode Island and Montreal and Quebec in Canada.

Blount Small Ship Cruises Bows out

The morning sun reflected in the Erie Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Leaving Narragansett Bay, the route passes through Long Island Sound, skirts by New York City via the East and Hudson Rivers, then above Albany turns west into the Erie Canal and Oswego Canal to enter Lake Ontario and continue on eastward along the St. Lawrence River and Seaway to French Canada. Passengers are never out of sight of scenery, and there is little chance of being seasick. No other line, not even competing coastal cruisers, can do this itinerary as we will see.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Passing West Point sailing south along the Hudson River. * Photo: Ted Scull

He established winter itineraries that cruised amongst the Bahamas, Caribbean islands and Belize and its impressive barrier reef. Then there were the Intracoastal Waterway cruises from Florida and the Deep South, an inland route bypassing Cape Hatteras into the Chesapeake Bay, thence through the Chesapeake and Delaware  Canal, along the New Jersey Coast, past New York and onto Long Island Sound and finally passing through the choppy waters off Point Judith and into Narragansett Bay to the Blount’s HQ.

So “go where the big ships cannot” morphed into landings directly on the subtropical beaches via Luther’s patented bow ramp allowing passengers to go ashore almost anywhere there was a few feet of water and without resorting to tenders.

In fact, his patents eventually numbered 20, a Yankee entrepreneur par excellence.

Luther Blount's bow ramp

Luther’s patented bow ramp. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Blount bow ramp

The bow ramp was super convenient for passengers. * Photo: Blount Small Ship Adventures Facebook page

Pint-A-Flush Toilets

One device that he was particularly proud of — though not all his passengers might agree — was the Pint-A-Flush toilet, the pint being the minuscule amount of water needed the complete the job. Simplicity reigned and that meant accordion type folding bathroom doors and hand-held showers in the same space as the toilet. Cabins were tiny, and still are by industry standards, but each cabin had its own separate air supply instead of the same stale air being circulated throughout the accommodations.

Most passengers soon got past the diminutive scale and appreciated the comparatively reasonable, but hardly cheap, fares and not being lured into dropping lots of extra money once aboard, other than for gratuities and shore excursions.

There were no casinos, spas, bars, extra tariff restaurants, shopping malls, inches of gold, or art auctions.

The line always had a BYOB policy as it did not sell alcohol. Passengers brought their own wine and spirits, and BSSA provided free storage, ice, set-ups and help about where they can top up ashore. On special evenings, the line offered fancy hors d’oeuvres and complimentary wine. Later wine at meals was included.

Meals were single sitting affairs where passengers freely join whomever they wish. Tables had places for six or eight, setting the scene for the fast-developing social atmosphere. Most came from the U.S. and Canada and occasionally, English-speaking foreigners found their way aboard. Generally, Blount’s clientele was retired or getting there, college educated and either refugees from the mega ships or never had a bit of interest in them in the first place.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Large tables attract those who like meeting and mingle with fellow passengers. * Photo: A crew member

Young American Crews

The crew numbering 17-18 were all Americans, and most of college age or older. They received a wage, shared in the pool of tips, and got medical insurance and a 401K plan. The captains often started as deck hands and rose to mate and captain. Many stewardesses came for the travel experience and training in the hospitality industry. There was no question that they developed a work ethic as well as living in close proximity to one another over long periods of time.

Breakfast times catered to early or late risers, and the buffet set up included juices, cereals, fresh fruit and yoghurt. Once seated the stewardesses brought the hot entrée of the day that might be blueberry pancakes and bacon, omelets and sausages or French toast.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

The table is set for lunch. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lunch and dinner were at set times, with at lunch, a tureen of soup set on the table and at dinner, a salad at one’s places as one sat down. The main entrée at lunch might be a quiche or make your own sandwich and at dinner, tender roast beef, pork loin, breast of chicken, grilled salmon, and thick lamb chops.

A serving window looked right into the galley, and what passes through the opening was very good American cooking, and the type of food that most North Americans eat at home. Of course, vegetarian, vegan and restricted diets were catered to with advance notice. Over the 35 years that I have known Blount, the food had in more recent times taken a noticeable step up in quality, preparation and presentation.

Since 1986, I have made Blount trips among the New England Islands, along the Intracoastal Waterway between Rhode Island and Georgia, and from Toronto via the canals and Hudson River to New York.

Toronto to New York

For the most recent cruise beginning on Toronto’s waterfront, my wife and I occupied a Grande Mariner twin-bedded cabin on the main deck aft with the new-style bathroom now dividing the toilet and sink compartment from the shower stall. The attractive bed fabrics were dark blue and red, with signal flags decorating the curtains. The picture window slid open to bring in the fresh summer air, and stowage was more than adequate for what is always a casual dress code.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

A typical double cabin with a window that opens. * Photo: Ted Scull

The lounge had comfortable seating and became the social center where passengers got acquainted, form friendships and have a drink before dining together.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

The forward lounge is a social and reading center. * Photo: Ted Scull

It’s hard to imagine a more relaxed venue to meet others from all parts of the U.S. and Canada and share what we were all about.

The Grande Mariner sailed across Lake Ontario to spend the day at Niagara Falls on both sides, including a ride on the Maid of the Mist, lunch in the flower-bedecked town of Niagara-on-the-Lake that hosted a summer-long Shaw Festival and ending with a Niagara Peninsula vineyard visit conducted by an excellent tour guide.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

A stately Victorian has many impressive neighbors in residential Kingston. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing nearly the full length of Lake Ontario, we called in at Kingston, once capital of Upper Canada, docking adjacent to the city center where a jazz festival was taking place and enjoying its lovely commercial and residential architecture on a walking tour. Cruising amongst the Thousand Islands, the captain gave a running commentary of the sights and famous people who frequented the resort region.

At Ogdensburg, we toured painter Frederick Remington’s house and art collection, then entered the Oswego Canal that led to the Erie Canal running nearly the full east-west length of New York State. Sections of the present canal use the Mohawk River, and bits of the earlier 1825 canal. The canal’s completion was a boon to New York City as its port became directly connected to the rest of the then known U.S.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows Out

Early travel on the Erie Canal

Near Amsterdam, a member of the Oneida tribe came aboard to give us a talk about the traditional crafts her people are engaged in, and a local historian told stories of early canal travel and introduced us to some of the historic writings and songs of the era. A photographer accompanied the cruise and gave popular talks and private lessons on camera use.

We passed under lots of low bridges and descended through a series of locks to the Hudson River just above Albany. Docking at nearby Troy, the city’s local historian gave us a wonderful tour of this once rich manufacturing center with its important civic buildings, handsome residential architecture and preservation successes.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

The crew prepare to lower the pilothouse to enter the Oswego Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

Blount Small Ship Adventures

The pilothouse has disappeared into the cavity. * Photo: Ted Scull

There was much to see on the all-day trip down the Hudson, including a top deck barbecue, so we would miss nothing en route. We passed historic houses with glorious Hudson River views, fringing Catskill Mountains, numerous lighthouses in the river and ashore, while sliding by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and slipping under stately suspension bridges.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

Buffet lunch while sailing the Hudson River. * Photo: Ted Scull

Then the grand finale, passing Manhattan skyline’s at dusk and docking at the West Side’s Chelsea Piers, with city life less than a block away.

Other Connections to Blount

My direct connections to Blount continued on in an additional manner. When the Grande Caribe and Grande Mariner docked at the Chelsea Recreation Piers, once serving the White Star Line, and latterly excursion and dinner boats, sailing vessels and visiting yachts, I would take the subway from my New York apartment, meet the newly embarked passengers at dinner, then give a Power Point talk about New York harbor and the adjacent neighborhood.

Blount Small Ship Adventures Bows out

Grande Caribe docked at the Chelsea Piers, embarkation and disembarkation port. * Photo: Ted Scull

After a night in one of the vessel’s cabins, I would lead an after-breakfast walk into the fast-changing Chelsea neighborhood and take a hike along the High Line, a former elevated freight rail line. Its new role caused a post-industrial district morph into more of a residential neighborhood and a destination for the art world, including the relocated Whitney Museum, and a bar and restaurant scene.

I have happy memories of all my associations over the years, but as the cruising world kept growing (until the COVID-19 pandemic), the new small- and medium-size cruise vessels being launched were more upscale than Luther Blount’s idea of New England simplicity and down-home atmosphere.

Today’s older generation seems to want larger accommodations, plusher atmosphere and more amenities and willing to pay for it. Those who cannot afford all that, and want to sail aboard smaller and less costly cruises, may now be out of luck. Much lower per-diem fares are readily available — on the big ships with their economies of scale — if that is any attraction.

Finished With Engines. R.I.P.

The current three-vessel fleet is for sale: 68-passenger Niagara Prince (1994), 96-passenger Grande Caribe (1997) and 96-passenger Grande Mariner (1998).

Note: This essay is partly adapted from a piece I wrote for Cruise Travel magazine centering on Blount’s boat building side, a thriving business.

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Crystal Endeavor is not sailing yet

Crystal Not Going Out Of Business

By Anne Kalosh.

With parent company Genting Hong Kong suspending payments to financial creditors and pursuing a restructuring, Crystal tried to calm fears about its own viability by issuing a statement.

Not going out of business

“It is important to understand that the company is not going out of business,” Crystal said. “Whatever option our parent company pursues, it will allow Crystal to operate its business. Additionally, we have always been committed to honoring our contractual obligations with guests and travel partners, including the processing of refunds.

“While we have extended our suspension of global voyages until the end of the year, we are working with government and health authorities in our key markets to resume sailing when it is safe to do so and we look forward to welcoming our guests back on board at that time.”

Crystal Endeavor is not sailing yet

Expedition ship Crystal Endeavor should have been sailing by now. * Rendering: Crystal

$3.4 billion debt

Genting Hong Kong’s cash crunch is due to COVID-19’s impact on its operations, which include Asia’s Star Cruises and Dream Cruises and Germany’s MV Werften shipyards. The company owed a total of $3.4 billion as of July 31.

It expects to report a U.S.$600 million net loss in the first half of 2020 and has delayed the deliveries of giant ship Global Dream and small expedition ship Crystal Endeavor by “about a year.”

Crystal is a highly regarded brand dripping in “world’s best” accolades that expanded from Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity to introduce a yacht, Crystal Esprit, and four identical new European river vessels, Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Ravel. Crystal Endeavor had been scheduled to enter service in August this year.

Yacht Crystal Esprit is not going out of business

Yacht Crystal Esprit is among Crystal’s small-ship offerings. * Photo: Crystal

Avalon’s river-cruise ‘bubble’

The “good story” for river cruising is that it can operate in a safe “bubble,” according to Scott Nisbet, president & CEO of Globus Family of Brands, which includes Avalon Waterways.

Avalon’s small vessels carry fewer travelers, who’ll stay with the same group and adhere to health checks throughout their trip while seeing Europe from one room (their cabin, with no recirculated air), Nisbet said. They’ll dine in controlled venues with health protocols, skip the lines at sights and will always be just feet from shore should an emergency develop.

Many European countries, he noted, categorize river cruising as a hotel rather than a cruise, making resumption easier.

Travel is back on Europe’s rivers, in a controlled way and only for designated nationalities — not Americans, so far.

Nisbet said Globus is closely watching the continent’s famed Christmas markets, popular destinations for Avalon in November and December.

He’s confident markets will operate, but who knows if Americans will be allowed?

Avalon river cruise bubble

On a river cruise bubble, passengers travel Europe while staying in one room, their cabin. Here, a panorama suite on Avalon Envision. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Victory’s ‘Come Home to America in 2021’

Victory Cruise Lines‘ new flexible booking policy includes savings of up to $1,400 on 2021 sailings when travelers book and pay in full by Sept. 30, 2020.

The company’s “Come Home to America in 2021” offer gives travelers the option to change or cancel their voyage up to 121 days before departure and receive a full refund. The policy is valid for future and existing 2021 cruise reservations but not for rebookings from 2020 to 2021.

Victory, which isn’t sailing for the balance of 2020, recently detailed health protocols for its 2021 restart. Next year sees new ship Ocean Victory introducing “Discover Beyond” Alaska expedition cruises between Sitka and Vancouver, British Columbia. Other new Victory routes are in the Great Lakes, Canadian Maritimes, New England and the Southeastern United States, including 12-day round-trips from Amelia Island’s Fernandina Beach.

In the coming weeks, Victory will be announcing new winter 2021 itineraries for Victory I and Victory II.

new Ocean Victory

The new Ocean Victory is scheduled to operate Alaska expedition cruises for Victory Cruise Lines in 2021. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Scenic flights & dives

Luxury expedition ship Scenic Eclipse embarked on its maiden voyage a year ago. During its first eight months (before halting four months ago due to the pandemic), the 228-passenger vessel had journeyed to more than 20 countries across four continents.

scenic eclipse

Scenic Eclipse during its first Antarctica season. * Photo: Scenic

Travelers took to the skies on 290 helicopter flights from the ship’s helipad and experienced more than 200 dives in its submarine, Scenic Neptune, which is able to reach depths of more than 1,000 feet.

Scenic Eclipse submarine Scenic Neptune

The cool interior of Scenic Eclipse submarine Scenic Neptune. * Photo: Scenic

They also participated in more than 500 discovery explorations including kayaking and Zodiac trips around Antarctica’s icebergs. More than 270 daring (or crazy?) travelers took the polar plunge, diving into the freezing waters of the Arctic and Antarctica to earn their polar badges.

Scenic USA is currently offering U.S. customers free and reduced premium airfare for select Antarctica, trans-Atlantic and Arctic sailings in 2021 and 2022 aboard Scenic Eclipse. Free and reduced economy airfare applies to Arctic, Central America and Mediterranean voyages. If travelers pay in full within 14 days of booking, they’ll get an additional $500 in savings.

Scenic’s “Book With Confidence” program gives flexibility and includes a deposit protection plan valued at $250.

RELATED: The New Scenic Eclipse.  By Peter Knego.

scenic neptune

Scenic Neptune at the Trident Wall, Port Antonio. * Photo: f-Stop Movies

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Red Moon Cruises in Scotland

Scottish Cruising in the time of COVID-19

By Robin McKelvie.

Few things are simple in the age of COVID-19. Indeed sometimes it’s just tempting to just give up hope, which has happened to some lovers of cruise ship travel as sailings around the world first fell victim to the virus and then were cancelled en masse.

There are tentative green shoots, however, in a few places including Scotland, where it is small ships that are leading the way.

Scottish Cruising

On the face of it cruise ship travel doesn’t look possible in UK waters.

In a statement issued on July 9 the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised “against cruise ship travel at this time. This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England.”

They do stress that this advice is constantly under review, but it appears unequivocal.

However I’ve just been out on a cruise in Scottish waters . . .

Red Moon Cruises in Scotland

Red Moon Cruises the Scottish West Coast & Isles. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

When is a cruise ship not a cruise ship?

I headed out with Red Moon Cruises on the very day that restrictions for general travel around Scotland were eased on July 15. How?

Well, it was possible due to another part of the FCO guidance that is easy to miss. It clarifies its definition of what constitutes cruise travel — “Cruise ship travel means staying overnight for at least 1 night on a sea-going cruise ship with people from multiple households.”

As the husband and wife duo who run Red Moon only take four passengers — in this case me and my immediate family — we did not constitute “cruise ship travel.”

Scottish Cruising with Robin and his family

Robin and his family on the Red Moon. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

So Red Moon is an option if you want to head out right now. They are good value too with exclusive use — including all food and drink — for four people for four nights from £4,800.

>>Watch this space for Robin’s Red Moon Cruises article.

River cruises are go

It is not just small ships running as de facto charters that already have the official, clear go ahead. The FCO makes a distinction between “sea-going” and river cruises as these generally tend to be taken on smaller vessels that do not have the same risks of mass spreading of the virus.

In Scotland a superb option is European WaterwaysSpirit of Scotland.

Spirit of

Spirit of Scotland. * Photo: European Waterways

It is easily the finest way of exploring Thomas Telford’s remarkable Caledonian Canal. They are cruising again on September 6 with a six-night adventure that will be repeated on September 13, 20 and 27.

You can read a full review of my trip on this luxurious river cruiser last year, below.

RELATED: Spirit of Scotland on the Caledonian Canal.  by Robin McKelvie

The rest of Scotland’s small cruise ships

There are yet more green shoots for people desperate to head off on “proper” cruise ships as it were.

Indeed I am booked on two more sea-going cruises next month  on the Majestic Line and SkarvLines. This is possible due to the small nature of the vessels, leading on from the FCO advice on river cruising.

Ken Grant of the Majestic Line explains how they plan to recommence sailing at the end of August: “We are cruising based on our own risk assessment and following all relevant tourism and hospitality guidance issued by the Scottish Government.”

Many matters of policy — especially apparent in the field of public health during this pandemic — are devolved from the UK to Scotland and come under the auspices of the Scottish rather than UK government.

Grant is keen to reassure passengers: “We will have health and safety protocols in place, including weekly testing of staff to ensure they are COVID-free. Passengers can wear face masks if they choose, but this won’t be made compulsory. Before boarding, all passengers and crew will have their temperatures checked and the ship’s public areas and touchpoints will be regularly cleaned and sanitised throughout the day.”

RELATED: Ken Grant is in fact a public health doctor and epidemiologist, and he shares his opinions about travel in the age of COVID-19 in a white paper here.

RELATED: Ken Grant was interviewed for The Telegraph by writer Dave Monk, where he’s quoted saying he’d rather not sail than force guests to wear face masks.

Their first cruise on August 29 was set to be a charter, but now has spaces for the public. The plan is to run using two of their four vessels and make 11 cruises in total this year.

It’s no surprise that they are running their larger vessels, the Glen Shiel and the Glen Etive, which both carry up to 12 passengers and have more space including, I think crucially, indoor public spaces fore and aft, as well as outdoor areas.

Glen Etive Scottish cruising

Glen Etive’s interior. * Photo: Majestic Line

Scottish cruising on Glen Etive

Glen Etive’s stern deck space. * Photo: Majestic Line

Glen Etive Scottish cruising

Glen Etive’s upper deck. * Photo: Majestic Line

A brave new cruise ship this year

There has never been a worse year for the cruise ship industry and it is certainly a terrible year to launch a cruise ship. That is the unfortunate position that SkarvLines have found themselves in. This is the first year for their 11-passenger Nova Spero, a converted fishing boat.

Skarv Lines cruising Scotland

The 11-passenger converted trawler Nova Spero. * Photo: Skarv Lines

For months they must have worried that they would not even be able to make their maiden passenger voyage in 2020, but now they are slated to set sail in September and I will be on one of their first voyages.

I spoke to their owner, who is excited at the prospect of finally getting going.

“Honestly, we can’t wait. We have spent a fair bit of time during lock-down working out social distancing measures and we’re happy that we’ve got it covered. Safety has always been of paramount importance and once the sea air has blown away any thoughts of COVID-19 I am sure we’ll all get along just fine,” said John MacInnes.

MacInnes provides a useful overview of how cruising more generally might be in the time of COVID-19:

“For the remainder of this year, we are limiting the number of guests on board and we’re offering single occupancy of cabins for no supplement. This reduced capacity means we can spread guests out more evenly throughout the boat with the required two-metre distancing enabled. Crew/passengers will be wearing PPE throughout the cruise (masks will be worn by all when outside cabins) and we will have strict cleaning regimens in place for public areas and shared shower rooms/toilets as well as all high-touch surfaces using COVID-effective biocidal cleaning sprays. All towels and linens will be washed at a minimum of 60 °C degrees.”

Lounge of Nova Spero

Nova Spero’s lounge. Photo: Skarv Lines

“Meals will be taken with increased spacing at tables. Payments will all be handled in advance or by contactless card transaction. Guests will be asked to complete a health questionnaire before arrival and as part of this they will need to agree to allow personal contact in the event of an emergency. Other than that, the guest experience will be much as normal and we still strongly believe a cruise on Nova Spero will be truly unforgettable.”

decks of Nova Spero

The Nova Spero. Photo: Skarv Lines

What about the others?

Not everyone has committed to cruising yet. Iain Duncan of Argyll Cruising is being more cautious, but still optimistic.

“We’re not out cruising ourselves at the moment. We too are waiting for word from the FCO and Department of Transport. We are hoping that we will be allowed out come September and resume cruising from 12th Sept to end of October 2020,” Duncan says.

RELATED: Back Doon the Watter, a Cruise on Argyll’s 8-pax Splendour. by Robin McKelvie

RELATED: Check out the Argyll experience below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW1icMOPbTA

 

One cruise line that definitely won’t be heading out is St. Hilda Sea Adventures, a company that runs a trio of characterful small ships. They may not be sailing, but they are showing impressive flexibility by now offering their vessels for stationary self-catering breaks.

If you’re not comfortable about cruising at the moment this is an option to get a slice of that romantic cruising ambience.

Seahorse II in Scottish waters

St. Hilda’s 11-pax Seahourse II. * Photo: St Hilda

Good news on the horizon

Hebridean Island Cruises, who operate the glorious 50-passenger Hebridean Princess, may have cancelled all sailings aboard the favourite cruise ship of British Royalty, but they have good news too.

In mid-August they announced that they have bought the plush Lord of the Glens, which cruises Scotland’s Caledonian Canal and isles. Look out for a step up in luxury as they strive to bring her up to a similar level as the Hebridean Princess next year.

Lord of the Glens update

Scottish yacht Lord of the Glens has a new owner. * Photo: Magna Carta Steamship Co.

RELATED: Lord of the Glens is Sold.  by Ted Scull

Looking ahead there is further good news.

All of the cruise companies I spoke to are planning on running full programmes in 2021, COVID-19 dependent of course.

With an eye perhaps on revenue, some are offering earlier than usual booking into 2022 and offering new programmes.

A shining example is the Majestic Line, who have announced that they are to be the first small-ship company (with vessels under 12 passengers) to pioneer trips out to the remarkable Orkney Isles off the northern tip of Scotland in 2022.

Amidst an ocean of depressing cruise news, Scotland’s small ships are plotting an impressively optimistic course for the future. Watch this space.

Cruising Scotland

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Note

Before booking any Scottish cruise it is essential to check all of the constantly under review COVID-19 travel restrictions not only to the UK, but Scotland too as they can vary. Also it is essential to check the guidelines on spending time in Scotland safely in the time of COVID-19 as regulations again vary from England and other parts of the UK.

Clear advice is available on the Scottish Government website at https://www.gov.scot/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance/.

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UnCruise update

UnCruise Update & Other News.

By Anne Kalosh.

The one traveler who tested positive for COVID-19, ending UnCruise Adventures’ short-lived Alaska program, subsequently tested negative. This led many cruise fans to decry a “false positive,” but UnCruise CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard isn’t going along with that.

Blanchard said the Alaska state COVID PCR test that produced the positive must be respected.

There’s a much higher likelihood of a false negative than a false positive, he explained. The chance of a false positive is very low.

“So I have to call it a positive. I believe this was a positive, not a false positive.”

UnCruise Updates about aboard sailing

Wilderness Adventurer carried just 36 passengers on its aborted voyage. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Some validation of safe sailing protocols

Assuming the traveler did have coronavirus — he remained asymptomatic — UnCruise provided some validation of safe sailing protocols since nobody else got sick.

“Our plan worked,” Blanchard said. “It worked flawlessly.”

State epidemiologists and contact tracers thought everyone on a small boat could potentially be exposed if someone became ill. But the way UnCruise designed its program, with people frequently off the boat in small groups for wilderness activities, that wasn’t the case, according to Blanchard.

Travelers were separated so, for example, contact tracing identified a person who shared a skiff ride with the infected man, and that person was among the four who had to remain in quarantine, while others who tested negative and didn’t have close contact were cleared to go home.

UnCruise passengers wearing masks

UnCruise travelers wore masks on a skiff ride. * Photo: UnCruise Adventurers

For UnCruise and other hopeful U.S.-flag cruise operators, though, that positive was a blow.

“Once the word got out, that killed us,” Blanchard said. The line immediately halted operations, canceling the five planned weeks in Alaska and five in the Pacific Northwest to follow. He said other small-ship U.S. companies were impacted, too.

Along with the losses of six other companies that planned to operate, he tallied probably “tens or twenties of millions of dollars” in cancellations due to the one positive UnCruise case.

Call for rapid, reliable testing

What would have prevented this, in Blanchard’s view, is reliable, rapid testing with a four-hour return or less. Rapid testing at the Juneau airport would have made the difference in not boarding the guest, and the trip would have run.

“If I had the president and the Congress in front of me right now, I’d say … Rapid testing, please, if you want to get this economy going. It should be at the airports, and it should be readily available and reliable.”

UnCruise Update

Quick, reliable COVID-19 tests are sorely needed, UnCruise CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard said. * Photo: UnCruise Adventurers

Hawaii looking ‘iffy’

UnCruise is scheduled to start Hawaii sailings in December, but Blanchard said both Alaska and Hawaii have been very cautious about COVID-19, “and whether we’ll be able to start in Hawaii and we’ll have rapid testing, it’s hard to say.”

Alaska 2021

Blanchard thinks the kind of wilderness cruises his company operates — the weeklong Glacier Bay itineraries crafted for this season were chock-full of activities like skiff rides, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and more, with the only port being the Juneau turnaround — are a safer way to operate.

UnCruise Update

Kayaking during UnCruise Adventures brief return to service earlier this month. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

“Big ships and maybe small ships that make a lot of port calls, that’s going to be a huge challenge,” he said.

Crystal and Viking cancel through 2020

In other small-ship news, two diversified operators — Crystal Cruises and Viking Cruises — both threw in the towel for 2020. None of their vessels, ocean or river, will be sailing this year because things are just too up in the air.

Both companies are giving incentives for travelers on the canceled voyages to book future dates.

In a letter to Viking travelers, Chairman Torstein Hagen said “recent events have shown us that the recovery from this pandemic will be sporadic, and the ability to travel freely across borders remains some time away. Fortunately, the U.S. State Department has lifted some travel advisories for Americans, but many countries are still limiting tourists. As keen as we may be to get back to exploring, for now, international travel must wait.”

Crystal Clean+ 2.0

Crystal, meanwhile, outlined new health protocols for when the 106-passenger Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Ravel resume service in 2021. Among the Crystal Clean+ 2.0 actions are online check-in/health questionnaire, assigned arrival time to reduce congestion at embarkation, a second health questionnaire prior to boarding and a temperature check.

Social spaces on board will have reduced capacity, and social distancing will be enforced.

Since all four of Crystal’s river fleet only carry half the number of travelers typical on a 135-meter vessel, there’s been no talk about reducing overall occupancy.

Also, all accommodations consist of balcony suites.

Small ship updates

Crystal river vessels already provide loads of passenger space. Here, Crystal Bach on the Danube. * Photo: Crystal River Cruises

Masks will be provided to passengers and crew and will be required in venues and instances where proper distancing isn’t possible. On shore, Crystal will comply with destinations’ rules about masks.

Enhanced cleaning protocols will include medical-grade disinfectants, electrostatic fogging as an added practice prior to embarkation, 100 percent fresh-air supply and HEPA filters to remove 99.95 percent of airborne pathogens.

Open-seating dining will continue, with distancing. Self-service options will be eliminated and in-room dining choices will be available 24/7.

Tour group sizes will be reduced. Crystal includes tours in most places so it has greater control over the shore experience.

Hebridean Island Cruises adds new yacht

HP Shipping, which fields Hebridean Princess, acquired the 27-cabin luxury yacht Lord of the Glens. As with Hebridean Princess, the operator is Hebridean Island Cruises, which is chartering the vessel.

Commencing in April 2021, Lord of the Glens will offer five- and seven-night jaunts along Scotland’s scenic Caledonian Canal between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh, including Loch Ness and Oban.

With its deep blue hull and white superstructure, Lord of the Glens’ livery was inspired by the royal yacht Britannia. The elegant, four-deck vessel’s cabins were recently refurbished.

Lord of the Glens update

Scottish yacht Lord of the Glens has a new owner. * Photo: Magna Carta Steamship Co.

New Windstar routes

Windstar Cruises’ lengthening and update of its three all-suite yachts will come to fruition in 2021. Besides new dining, an enlarged pool deck and added suites, each ship’s capacity will increase from 212 passengers to 312.

Because many of Windstar’s new itineraries for 2020 were canceled due to the pandemic, 2021 has many new ports and routes, including several selections in Alaska (like a shorter, seven-day cruise), comprehensive Black Sea itineraries, sailings to the Holy Land and additional ports and offerings in Canada/New England following a one-year hiatus from visiting the region.

More cruises departing from U.S. ports include two yachts sailing Caribbean cruises round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Also of note, Star Breeze, the first yacht to emerge from its extensive Star-Plus transformation in fall 2020, will be sailing the new itineraries in California and the Sea of Cortez, along with filling in for the 148-passenger Wind Spirit, which typically sails year-round in Tahiti.

Star Breeze stretch

The Star Breeze with its new lengthened profile at the shipyard a few months ago. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

While Wind Spirit undergoes routine maintenance at a scheduled dry dock, Star Breeze will take over the seven-day “Dreams of Tahiti” itinerary, giving travelers a one-time chance to experience this newly updated all-suite ship in the South Pacific.

On Wind Spirit’s way to Indonesia for its dry dock and back, there are rare opportunities to visit places like Port Vila, Vanuatu, and cross the Coral Sea.

Silver Origin’s enhanced Galápagos itineraries

Silver Origin, built for the Galápagos and just delivered to Silversea Cruises this year, will offer 68 voyages in 2021 that incorporate five maiden calls, including the island of Santa Fe.

Fernandina and Isabela islands will now feature on both of the ship’s itineraries, and each will include improved programs ashore.

These will give travelers more opportunities to admire the iconic wildlife of the archipelago, including the Galapágos penguin, green sea turtles, endemic iguanas and many remarkable birds.

Silver Origin has one guide for every 10 guests and one Zodiac for every dozen or so travelers.

Silver Origin update

Silversea’s new Silver Origin. * Photo: Silverseas

Savings for Emerald Harmony’s 2021/22 Mekong

Emerald Waterways opened bookings for the 2021/22 Mekong River season for its 84-passenger Emerald Harmony with savings for U.S. travelers.

Emerald Harmony Mekong update

The 84-passenger Emerald Harmony plies the Mekong River. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

The vessel offers four itineraries: The eight-day “Majestic Mekong Cruise” sails between Prek’kdam, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, while the 13-day “Majestic Mekong Discoverer Cruise” travels between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap with time on land to explore Angkor Wat.

The 17-day “Treasures & Temples of Vietnam & Cambodia” cruise-tour adds stops in Hanoi and Halong Bay in the north, and the 21-day “Grand Tour of Vietnam & Cambodia” cruise-tour includes Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Hue and Siem Reap.

U.S. travelers who book any program 13 days or longer will receive their choice of $2,000 savings per couple or free, round-trip air to Asia, while those choosing the eight-day river cruise will receive $1,500 savings per couple or round-trip air for $295. This offer is good for bookings made by Dec. 31, 2020.

Additionally, travelers paying in full within 14 days of booking will save $400 per person. This early payment discount expires Sept. 30, 2020. All bookings are covered by Emerald Waterways’ flexible Deposit Protection Plan.

Emerald Harmony, which entered service in 2019, has a shallow enough draft to sail all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, unlike many vessels that use a more distant port and bus travelers in and out.

Emerald Harmony restaurant

Emerald Harmony’s Reflections Restaurant. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

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Lord of the glens

Lord of the Glens Sold

By Ted Scull.

The Magna Carta Steamship Company (UK) has sold the 48-passenger Lord of the Glens to HP Shipping Ltd. It will sail in tandem with Hebridean Island Cruises’ famed 50-passenger “country hotel-style” Hebridean Princess.

The firm had operated the Greek-built vessel for the last number of years.

Lord of the glens

Lord of the Glens. * Photo: Magna Carta Steamship Co

Under the new owners, the “Lord” will offer five- and seven-night Scottish cruises beginning in April 2021 between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh across from the Isle of Skye. Highlights are the islands of Eigg and Rhum, the pretty town of Tobermory, Island of Mull, then inland along the Caledonian Canal that passes through Loch Ness en route to Inverness.

The itinerary then reverses back to the Kyle.

Eigg mountains

Eigg with the mountains of Rum in the background. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

When the fickle Scottish weather cooperates, the shimmering lochs, deep glens, and high bens (mountains) are magnificent. Spring brings wild flowers and the autumn, an array of color. The landscapes change very quickly as the ship moves along the Caledonian Canal and crosses long deep lochs.

In June, July and August 2021, the “Lord” is chartered to Lindblad Expeditions for a nine-day package on a similar routing.

More information about the ship’s layout will be available for the next few weeks under the Magna Carta Steamship’s review.

RELATED: Cruising Scotland’s Western Isles — an Overview.  by Ted Scull.

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coronavirus outbreaks

Coronavirus Outbreaks & Other Small-Ship Updates

By Anne Kalosh.

The hope that it would be easier to avoid coronavirus outbreaks on small ships hasn’t quite panned out,  although, for the most part, cases have been handled well.

The insidious illness has cropped up on some small vessels that recently resumed service such as UnCruise Adventures in Alaska, which, as reported here, ended the line’s planned Glacier Bay nature itineraries this season just four days into the first sailing.

There was a case on Paul Gauguin Cruises in French Polynesia, too, four days in to its first voyage carrying international passengers. The American woman, 22, traveling with her mother, was asymptomatic and quickly isolated. Paul Gauguin immediately returned to its Papeete, Tahiti homeport where all other passengers, including the woman’s mother, and the crew, tested negative.

Paul Gauguin in Tahiti had a coronavirus case

Paul Gauguin had just spent two days in Bora Bora, seen here, when coronavirus test results came in positive for a U.S. traveler. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Travelers were taken off the ship in a “sterile corridor” and the crew went into quarantine on board.

The first line to resume international ocean cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, was notified a passenger who’d disembarked SeaDream I after a 12-day cruise to northern Norway with his father tested positive on returning home to Denmark. He, too, was asymptomatic. The father tested negative.

coronavirus outbreaks

SeaDream I in Norway. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

SeaDream I’s subsequent cruise was diverted to Bodø, Norway, where everyone on board — passengers and crew — tested negative, and the sailing continued.

SeaDream didn’t respond to a question about contact tracing for travelers on the prior cruise where the man testing positive had traveled.

In these three cases, coronavirus was identified due to the testing required by governments (Alaska, French Polynesia, Denmark) of arriving travelers and the lines responded quickly.

Bigger Coronavirus outbreak

The big headlines, though, were about Hurtigruten, the Norwegian company that had an outbreak on expedition ship Roald Amundsen during a cruise to Svalbard. That’s a 500-passenger ship, so too large to be considered Quirky-sized (under 300 passengers). However, it carried reduced loads, 209 passengers on one voyage and 178 on the second, plus 158 crew.

Returning to Tromsø, Norway, the ship disembarked despite the fact there were crew with flu-like illness on board, including four who were hospitalized in Tromsø on arrival day. Health officials had all crew tested and contact tracing began for those who’d just disembarked and people on the prior cruise.

Coronavirus cases steadily rose. At last count, they totaled 62, including 41 crew.

Norwegian authorities tested crew and passengers on two other Hurtigruten expedition ships, Roald Amundsen’s sister vessel, Fridtjof Nansen, and the smaller Spitsbergen. Everyone on Spitsbergen tested negative, as did all crew and 168 of the 171 passengers on Fridtjof Nansen.

Three passengers declined to be tested and remained in quarantine on board as the ship headed back to Hamburg, Germany, where the cruise originated.

Hurtigruten’s CEO apologized and admitted the company had failed to follow its own protocols, including not quarantining crew when they arrived in Norway before signing on the ship.

The company’s expedition cruises were canceled until further notice, and several investigations are under way. Read more in Anne’s article for Seatrade Cruise news.

In other news …

58 vessels cruising Europe’s waterways

Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of AmaWaterways — who’s often called the godfather of European river cruising — counts 58 vessels currently sailing European waterways. They’re serving mainly local markets, mostly on the Rhine and Danube, with some vessels on the French waterways and Portugal’s Douro.

AmaWaterways’ AmaKristina is among them since, as QuirkyCruise detailed earlier, the line became the first U.S.-based river operator to resume service in Europe. Instead of carrying Ama’s usual customer base of North Americans, AmaKristina is on charter to a German tour operator and carrying German-speaking clientele.

RELATED: Cruising Restarts in Germany. by Anne Kalosh.

Schreiner remains hopeful there could still be some European cruising for North Americans this year. But since coronavirus isn’t under control stateside, that seems less and less likely. So, if not, AmaWaterways plans to resume in March 2021.

At least it will have had the benefit of sailing AmaKristina for some months with new health safety protocols in place.

coronavirus outbreaks despite protocols

Toasting through plexiglass dividers in an AmaKristina lounge. * Photo: AmaWaterways

And, going forward, travelers who book their air through AmaWaterways will get a private transfer to the vessel instead of having to go in a group motor coach. The private transfer applies to couples or parties traveling together.

Speaking of next year, AmaKristina will transfer to the Rhône to meet growing demand for France, and the new 68-passenger AmaDahlia will debut on the Nile in September. It’s already well booked for the inaugural season, which AmaWaterways stretched by an extra month, through June 2022. (Egypt sailings would typically halt before June due to the heat.)

coronavirus outbreaks haven't stopped AMA Waterways

Interest is strong in AmaWaterways’ new Nile vessel, AmaDahlia, debuting in September 2021. * Rendering: AmaWaterways

A suite on the AmaWaterways AmaDahlia

A suite on the 68-passenger AmaDahlia. * Rendering: AmaWaterways

Crystal Endeavor delayed

Genting Hong Kong, the owner of Crystal Cruises, said the delivery of expedition ship Crystal Endeavor will be delayed by “about a year.”

Crystal Endeavor has been under construction at the Genting-owned MV Werften in Germany and was planned to enter service this summer. A new date was not specified, but Crystal has canceled departures for all its brand experiences — ocean, river and yacht in addition to expedition — through 2020.

The 19,800-gross-ton, 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor is the first of two vessels for Crystal Expedition Cruises. The second had been expected to enter service in 2021. There was no word from Genting on that one.

coronavirus outbreaks delays Crystal Endeavor

The delivery of expedition ship Crystal Endeavor has been significantly delayed. * Rendering: Crystal Expedition Cruises

RELATED: German Chancellor Presides Over Crystal Endeavor Keel-Laying.  by Anne Kalosh.

Atlas Ocean Voyages gets more inclusive

Atlas Ocean Voyages, the “luxe-adventure” line set to break out with new build World Navigator in July 2021, is now bundling airfare into its pricing. Plus, some longer, regional sailings will include a multi-day overland tour, at no additional charge.

Atlas calls its approach to pricing “All Inclusive All the Way” as air joins other included components such as gratuities, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi and at least one shore excursion on every cruise (in Antarctica, all outings are covered).

World Navigator

Bird’s-eye view of World Navigator, scheduled to begin sailing for Atlas Ocean Voyages in July 2021. * Image: Atlas Ocean Voyages

The company will include economy-class airfare from 16 U.S. and Canadian gateways. Subsidized upgrades to business-class air and occasional free upgrade offers will be available.

World Navigator is “spot on” schedule at Portugal’s WestSea Viana do Castelo shipyard, according to Atlas President Alberto Aliberti. It is the sister of Portuguese parent company Mystic Cruises’ World Explorer, which began sailing in 2019, and this year’s World Voyager.

World Navigator will enter service with Mediterranean, Black Sea and Holy Land voyages before redeploying to the Caribbean and South America en route to Antarctica for the 2021/22 season there.

RELATED: New Atlas Ocean Voyages Promises Luxe Adventure.  by Anne Kalosh.

Max Shore

The line’s new “Max Shore” program includes a three- to six-day overland adventure when travelers book an extended regional cruise. The first choices pertain to the Black Sea and Holy Land.

The 16-night “Black Sea in Full” Max Shore, departing July 28, 2021, from Piraeus, Greece, will delve into Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and Russia. Included is a three-day/two-night overland adventure from Odessa to Kiev and Pripyat, Ukraine, to explore the country’s capital city and the infamous Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The power plant, where a reactor suffered a catastrophic failure in 1986, has been designated safe for escorted visitors and Atlas is the first cruise line to offer this experience.

Black Sea Max Shore travelers also will transit the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits and overnight at Sochi, Russia, with calls at Kusadasi (for Ephesus), Turkey; Nessebar, Bulgaria; Bucharest (Constanta), Romania; Novorossiysk, Russia; Batumi, Georgia; and Sinop and Amasra, Turkey. The cruise ends with an overnight in Istanbul.

The 24-night “Comprehensive Anatolia & The Holy Land” Max Shore, Aug. 13, 2021, starts with an Istanbul overnight. World Navigator will then circumnavigate the Levantine Sea to Piraeus, calling at Kepez (for Troy), Bozcaada, Dikili, Kusadasi, Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethieye, Kekova Island and Demre, Turkey; Patmos and Heraklion (Crete), Greece; Limassol, Cyprus; and Port Said (Cairo) and Alexandria, Egypt.

At Ashdod, Israel, travelers will depart on a six-day/five-night Max Shore caravan journey through Israel and Jordan, where they will visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra, head off-road with a Bedouin team for desert glamping under the stars and delve into the history and cultures of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Masada and Madaba.

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COVID-19 on UnCruise's Wilderness Adventurer

COVID-19 on UnCruise.

By Judi Cohen & Heidi Sarna

UnCruise Adventures confirmed today that a passenger aboard the Wilderness Adventurer tested positive for COVID-19, three days after the start of the cruise that departed Juneau Aug 1, the first US cruise to set sail since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

At the time of confirmation, which came via a phone call, the Wilderness Adventurer  was anchored in a secluded harbor while off-board activities were underway.

To maintain necessary social distancing there were 36 passengers aboard the vessel that has a capacity of 76 passengers. With the physical distancing aboard, UnCruise Owner and CEO Dan Blanchard indicated in a Zoom call with reporters that he was “hopeful there was no spread to a lot of guests, outside of his four travel mates,” and added that “contact tracing commenced immediately by the State.”

The Wilderness Adventurer  will arrive in Juneau tomorrow, Aug 5, and all guests will be placed at a local hotel where they will quarantine as prescribed in the company’s Alaska state-approved COVID-19 contingency plan.

“We are focusing all efforts on care of the guests, crew and the local community,” Blanchard said.

“This is very discouraging news and not what we had hoped for, but we’ll deal with it professionally. The guests are taking the news well, and the crew has executed our contingency plan quickly,” added Blanchard.

RELATED: UnCruise Restarts Operations in Alaska. by Anne Kalosh

COVID-19 on UnCruise's Wilderness Adventurer

The 76-passenger Wilderness Adventurer carried just 36 passengers on its Aug 1 cruise. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

The Backstory

The identified passenger took the 5-day testing option prior to their departure from home in the Lower 48 with a negative result as required to embark on an UnCruise expedition. A second test was taken upon arrival at the Juneau airport on Saturday Aug 1, but the results would take a few days to receive. The passenger boarded the Wilderness Adventurer and off they went.

The guest was notified by phone by Alaska authorities on Tuesday Aug 4, that the test was positive for COVID-19. Blanchard reports that the guest is showing no symptoms and no other guests or crew are showing outward symptoms of any kind. Subsequently, all guests were informed and asked to restrict themselves to their cabins where plated meals were served.

Blanchard added that the passenger arrived in Juneau on Aug 1, just a few hours before departure, and was traveling with four friends.

“He had minimal exposure to the city of Juneau since he arrived around 3:30pm to the UnCruise lounge and was transferred onto the boat around 5:30pm,” Blanchard reported.

Contingency Plan

UnCruise had planned extensively for months to return to sail. Moving forward, UnCruise will continue to follow their COVID-19 contingency plan approved by the State of Alaska, working closely with Alaska state and local health officials to comply with relevant protocols and their own safety standards.

“With the spotlight on the cruise and small boat industry we understand there are risks in operating and travel in general. With months of preparation, we were still able to pivot quickly in response to this event,” states Blanchard. “We wish to thank those that have worked rapidly to isolate and implement the appropriate processes as we determine the next steps,” he added.

The hotel and meal costs for all passengers are being paid for by the company while in quarantine in Juneau. The crew will quarantine on the vessel in port at Juneau. Blanchard confirmed that “all guests would be given a full credit for a future cruise and agent commissions would be honored.”

As an additional precaution, UnCruise Adventures has canceled all sailings for the remainder of the season.

The Future

This unfortunate incident raises the question about the safety of travel to hotels, resorts, campgrounds and cruises of all kinds.

Blanchard said that while UnCruise made this week’s Alaska cruise as safe as possible and all precautions were taken, as supported by public health authorities and interim guidelines, with outbreaks in the Lower 48, ultimately there is a need for rapid testing and a vaccine. He calls the whole situation “very sobering.”

UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard before COVID-19 on UnCruise

UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard at the docks Aug 1 when Wilderness Adventurer was departing on its first cruise back in service.

“A go-at-it again for us would require rapid testing,” Blanchard says about restarting cruises, adding, “the 4-day testing just doesn’t do it.”

All passengers were Americans from the Lower 48 states. Blanchard will be tested and is isolating as a precaution, as he met and welcomed passengers on Saturday including the passenger who tested positive.

In the past days, other small-ship cruise lines have also reported cases, including Hurtigruten, Paul Gauguin and SeaDream Yacht Club.

For more info: UnCruise Adventures.

RELATED: From QC contributor Anne Kalosh reporting for “Seatrade Cruise News” about the Hurtigruten situation.

RELATED: QC’s Anne Kalosh also reports on a SeaDream incident here.

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UnCruise Adventures Restarts Alaska with no ports

UnCruise Adventures Restarts in Alaska

by Anne Kalosh.

It’s looking like UnCruise Adventures may be the only small-boat operator sailing in Alaska this summer. Certainly no big cruise ships are there.

The Seattle-based company resumed cruising Aug. 1 from Juneau with its small Wilderness Adventurer. UnCruise CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard was on hand to welcome the 37 passengers and 30 crew.

The five weeklong “Glacier Bay Adventure” sailings scheduled focus on wilderness and nature activities like hiking, kayaking, birding and whale-watching. Passengers may even get to take a dip in Glacier Bay directly from the ship.

Apart from Juneau, there are no port calls.

UnCruise Adventures Restarts Alaska with no ports

Kayaking from Wilderness Adventurer. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

RELATED: Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship. by Ted Scull

Why UnCruise Can Do It

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order applies only to overnight cruise ships carrying 250 or more souls (passengers and crew). And, as a U.S.-flag operator, UnCruise does not need to stop at a foreign port on its Alaska itineraries to satisfy U.S. cabotage regulations. So it doesn’t matter that Canada isn’t allowing cruise ships for now.

The company also credits its restart of operations to pivoting quickly as a small business, along with establishing crucial conversations with government officials and leading the Small Boat Operators Coalition, an advocacy group.

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

UnCruise Adventures Restarts Alaska with a focus on Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is the focus of the company’s five cruises this season. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Negative COVID-19 Test Required

Alaska allows nonresidents to enter without quarantining provided they present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to travel.

UnCruise requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test, and passengers need to complete a health screening questionnaire.

While Wilderness Adventurer is small — it carries up to 60 passengers — the company self-imposed a 66 percent occupancy cap for this summer.

On board, everyone (including crew) gets daily temperature checks. Four times daily sanitation rounds give attention to touchpoints such as railings, handholds and doorknobs. Adventure gear is sanitized after each use. Plated meal service replaces buffets.

Crew have received training in COVID-19 symptom observation, identification and reporting, and UnCruise Is supplying them with personal protective equipment including face shields, gloves and masks.

For passengers, masks may be required at certain events and in some situations and are mandated when direct contact with people is planned, such as during transfers on/off the ship.

Crew are instructed to maintain social distancing at all times.

RELATED: Small-Ship Sector Still Active. by Anne Kalosh

UnCruise Adventures Restarts Alaska with no ports

It’s easy to distance when hiking in Glacier Bay National Park. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

“Adventurers, not tourists”

CEO Blanchard is adamant about distinguishing his company from the negatives of big ships and mass tourism.

“Travelers want to have a positive impact upon communities and the environment now more than ever,” he said. “We left the term ‘tourists’ behind long ago. Tourism isn’t about a one-way channel. A balance is needed and that is what ‘untourism’ is.

“Our guests are adventurers, not tourists.”

UnCruise Adventure' Dan Blanchard

UnCruise CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard calls his guests adventurers, not tourists. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

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RELATED: UnCruise Expedition in Hawaii.  by John Roberts

RELATED: UnCruise Adventures in Alaska.  by Judi Cohen

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Masks worn by passengers in the Small-Ship Sector

Small-Ship Sector Still Active

By Anne Kalosh.

While most travel remains on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, dynamism in the small-ship sector gives cause for hope.

Just a trickle of ships are operating, many for local markets only, but it’s a growing trickle. New brands have launched. Ship construction continues.

There are setbacks, too. Delays in restarting service, delays in new build deliveries, ship withdrawals.

But overall things seem a tad more encouraging in the “small is beautiful” realm.

Here’s a rundown of some of the latest developments.

New brands

As QuirkyCruise has recently reported, the venerable Swan Hellenic brand is staging a comeback. Two expedition ships are under construction, the first scheduled for late 2021 in Antartica.

And new brand Atlas Ocean Voyages confirmed its first ship, the 196-passenger World Navigator, is on track to debut a year from now, in July 2021. The line just broke out a new website, here @ Atlas Ocean Voyages,  that emphasizes its adventurous profile, with images of diving, hang gliding and biking interlaced with video clips of Antarctic landscapes and Mediterranean seascapes.

Atlas also recently announced it’s bundling airfare into pricing, making for an even more inclusive product that already had components like gratuities, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi and at least one shore excursion on every itinerary (in Antarctica, all outings are covered).

Atlas Ocean Voyages'The World Navigator

The World Navigator. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

First U.S.-based river line to resume Europe cruising

While European lines like A-Rosa and CroisiEurope have restarted river sailings — the latter with Botticelli July 13 on the Seine — U.S. operators’ hopes for sending Americans to Europe this year may be fading. Since the United States hasn’t managed to control coronavirus, most European countries are blocking Americans.

But ever-resourceful AmaWaterways found a way to sail, albeit on a very limited basis and with a different business model. One of its vessels, AmaKristina, is operating charter sailings in Germany, carrying local guests.

“Although many countries continue to have travel restrictions in place, we have begun operating a series of sailings for European guests, in collaboration with an established German tour operator, e-hoi. With these sailings, we have been able to put into practice and perfect our enhanced health and safety protocols while demonstrating that travelers can enjoy our unforgettable river cruise vacations with peace of mind,” said Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-founder of AmaWaterways.

The new procedures reflect the recommendations of E.U. Healthy Gateways, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, IG RiverCruise and other bodies.

Pre-boarding health questionnaires are required, and passengers and crew are subject to daily temperature checks. The crew received in-depth updated training. When more Ama vessels are able to operate, each will have a designated public health officer to oversee protocols.

AmaWaterways normally carry up to 150 passengers per vessel, however current regulations limit European river boats to 100 guests.

Crew must wear face coverings at all times, while guests have to do so only while moving around the vessel. With capacity currently capped, this means the main restaurant and The Chef’s Table easily accommodate the distancing now required. New room service options have been added.

Masks worn by passengers in the Small-Ship Sector

Masks are worn by passengers and crew on AmaKristina, which began sailing in Germany. * Photo: AmaWaterways

AmaKatrina lounges have plexiglass to separate seating groups and, for the time being, there are no live singing performances since the virus can be spread by droplets.

Passengers use the personal portable Quietvox systems that Ama has always provided to hear guides’ commentary while distancing during the included small-group shore excursions. Many tours involve hiking and biking.

Yangtze cruises to restart

China’s Ministry of Transport issued guidelines for the resumption of Yangtze River cruises, which will be available to the domestic market.

Initially, itineraries will be limited to between Chongqing and Yichang, Hubei province. Departure and transit ports and destinations will need to be at low risk for COVID-19, crew will be tested before embarking and vessel capacity will be capped at 50 percent.

Two lines, Chongqing-based Century Cruises and Huaxia Goddess Deluxe Cruise, plan to begin sailing in mid-August.

New Viking vessel for the Mekong next year

Rivers giant Viking will introduce Viking Saigon next summer for its “Magnificent Mekong” cruise-tour. Currently under construction, the 80-passenger vessel is scheduled to debut for the Aug. 30 departure.

Small ship Viking Saigon debut

The 80-passenger Viking Saigon is scheduled to debut in August 2021. * Rendering: Viking

The river portion of this cruise-tour sails between Kampong Cham, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

While the interiors of many Mekong vessels are dripping in dark mahogany and other local design elements, Viking Saigon will sport the light and modern Scandinavian look characteristic of Viking’s wider fleet. The triple-deck boat will offer a spa & fitness center, infinity pool and open-air Sky Bar on the top deck.

The 40 outside cabins will have hotel-style beds and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors with a veranda or French balcony. The Explorer Suites are especially roomy with big corner balconies affording sweeping views.

Viking Mekong in the Small-Ship Sector

Imagine gazing at the Mekong from this Explorer Suite balcony on Viking Saigon. * Rendering: Viking

Small-Ship Viking Mekong

Viking Saigon interiors will have Scandinavian design. Here, a veranda cabin. * Rendering: Viking

Viking’s 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” explores the cultural treasures of Vietnam and Cambodia with 16 guided tours. Hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City bookend the eight-day cruise.

During the land portion, travelers can shop in Old Hanoi’s markets; explore the Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat; visit Ta Prohm, where trees sprout from ancient ruins; and see the sights of Phnom Penh by cyclo rickshaw. The cruise affords visits to silk towns, fishing villages, monasteries and floating markets.

Pricing starts at $5,299USD per person, with discounted airfare from $1,199 per person.

For Asia sailings this year, Pandaw River Cruises plans to restart in September, as separately reported here.

Pandaw's small ship Champa Pandaw

The 28-passenger Champa Pandaw. * Photo: Pandaw

Coral Expeditions to restart Great Barrier Reef cruises

Meanwhile, in Australia, domestic line Coral Expeditions plans to begin operating in mid-October with Great Barrier Reef sailings from Cairns.

These seven-night adventures on the yacht-like Coral Discoverer will be open to Australians (and the crew are Australian, too). The vessel will carry just 72 passengers and adhere to the company’s SailSAFE protocols developed in partnership with health emergency specialist Respond Global.

Coral Expeditions Commercial Director Jeff Gillies told Seatrade Cruise News all permissions and protocols are in place to begin these cruises Oct. 14.

Coral Expeditions is in the small-ship sector

Coral Expeditions’ Jeff Gillies said the line has permission to resume sailing from Cairns. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Windstar delay in French Polynesia

Windstar Cruises had planned to restart service with Wind Spirit in Tahiti on Sept. 10. French Polynesia opened to all travelers on July 15.

But Windstar just pushed its date back to Oct. 5 in order to respect the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order through Sept. 30. The line wasn’t required to do that since the CDC order applies only to sailings to or from the United States.

But a Windstar spokeswoman said the decision was taken voluntarily since most of its customers come from the U.S.

The 148-passenger Wind Spirit will sail seven-day round-trips from Papeete, Tahiti, and a variety of longer cruises that add the Tuamotu Islands.

small-ship sector includes Windstar Tahiti

Travelers will have to wait a little longer to sail Wind Spirit in Tahiti. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Windstar has developed a “Beyond Ordinary Care” program in partnership with the epidemiology department at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Center to address travelers’ health concerns.

Elements include pre-trip health screening, hospital-grade HEPA filters to clean the air (plus the extra step of of UV-C ultraviolet germicidal irradiation), enhanced cleaning, more open-air dining options and reduced capacity in restaurants and on tours.

Janssonius keel-laying ceremony

In expedition new build news, Oceanwide Expeditions celebrated the keel-laying for Janssonius, the sister of 2019’s Hondius. This marked the start of construction at Brodosplit shipyard in Split, Croatia.

small ship Oceanwide Expeditions' Janssonius

The keel is laid for Oceanwide Expeditions’ Janssonius. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Janssonius is being built to Polar Class 6 standard and has capacity for 170 passengers in 80 cabins and 72 crew. The ship is named after Dutch cartographer Jan Janssonius.

Netherlands-based polar specialist Oceanwide, which markets its cruises internationally, plans to introduce Janssonius in November next year for the 2021/22 Antarctica season. One expedition features a solar eclipse. This Nov. 25-Dec. 14, 2021 trek visits the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as well as the Antarctic peninsula.

Quark’s Ultramarine due in spring 2021

Quark Expeditions‘ first owned new build, Ultramarine, is also under construction at Brodosplit. It had originally been announced for the 2020/21 Antarctica season but instead is going to start sailing in the northern spring 2021 in the Arctic.

The 199-passenger Ultramarine will be managed by V.Ships Leisure, one of the world’s leading ship management companies, with decades of experience.

Quark President Andrew White touted Ultramarine as an “unrivaled base for polar adventure” with its a pair of twin-engine helicopters, 20 quick-launching Zodiacs and a robust portfolio of off-ship adventures such as heli-hiking, heli-skiing, flightseeing, alpine kayaking and an ice sheet experience.

Quark's small ship Ultramarine in Antarctica

Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine is scheduled to debut in the Arctic in spring 2021. * Rendering: Quark Expeditions

Bye-bye, Bremen. Hello, Seaventure

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has decided not to return its oldest vessel, Bremen, to service this year following the COVID-19 suspension of operations.

The German company said it won’t be able to implement strict social distancing rules and new hygiene measures aboard the 164-passenger ship, which has been in service since 1993. Bremen had been scheduled to leave Hapag-Lloyd in 2021, when new build Hanseatic Spirit arrives.

As announced last year, Bremen was sold to Switzerland’s family-owned river-cruise operator Scylla AG to sail as Seaventure for its new VIVA Cruises brand as Scylla branches into ocean cruising.

The ship will be marketed internationally. Its maiden voyage is planned to embark May 15 in Amsterdam, sailing to Warnemünde, Germany. After that, Seaventure will explore the Baltic Sea, then Iceland and Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland, Iceland and Canada, and South America.

Scylla is now considering taking Bremen early, but nothing has been decided.

Hapag-Lloyd's small ship Bremen

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises decided not to bring Bremen back into service. * Photo: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

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Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

By Heidi Sarna.

A specialist and pioneer in river cruises in southeast Asia for more than 25 years, Pandaw River Cruises paused its operations when the COVID19 pandemic hit in March, and is now gearing up to restart its wonderfully quirky and charming river cruises in September in six countries.

Pandaw’s fleet of 17 colonial-style teak riverboats were built in Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos in the spirit of the 19th-century Scottish-crafted paddle steamers that plied Burma’s rivers at the height of the British Empire.

Each boat carries 10 to 60 passengers and has an ultra-shallow draft, two or three decks, and flat tops so they can slip under bridges and easily navigate small rivers, even when water levels are low. Wood-paneled nautical-style cabins are roomy and very comfortable and tasty meals reflect local flavors.

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

Pandaw has a fleet of 17 colonial-style teakwood riverboats. * Photo: Pandaw

The company was founded in 1995 by Scotsman and Burma historian Paul Strachan with the re-building of an original Clyde-built steamer called PANDAW 1947, one of the last boats built for the original Irrawaddy Flotilla Company founded by Scots merchants in 1865.

The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was once the finest river fleet in the world with some 500 vessels that carried passengers and cargo, from bags of rice to blocks of jade, silk, tobacco and whisky, on Burma’s Irrawaddy and other rivers from the 1860s until the Japanese invasion in WWII when the British scuttled virtually the entire fleet to keep it out of enemy hands.

Family-run Pandaw was the first company to offer expeditions on both the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers and continues to stay true to its mission of building smaller ships, even as other companies build bigger ones, to offer river adventures in remote areas, especially in Myanmar and more recently in Laos.

Read more about the line here.

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts in September

Pandaw River Cruises restarts in September. * Photo: Pandaw River Cruises

Start dates for Pandaw River Cruises

Burma/Myanmar River Cruising

Irrawaddy River in Burma — September 24
* The 7-night Irrawaddy “Mandalay Pagan Packet” starts at $1,885 USD per person

Chindwin River in Burma — September 5
* The 7-night “Chindwin” expedition starts at $3,307 USD per person

RELATED: An Irrawaddy River Adventure.  by Heidi Sarna

Pandaw Sagaing Myanmar

Beauty in Sagaing, Myanmar. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Vietnam Cruising

Red River & Halong Bay in Vietnam  — September 13
* The 10-night “Halong Bay & Red River” adventure starts at $3,069 USD per person

Pandaw River Cruises restarts in Halong Bay

Angkor Pandaw in Halong Bay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Mekong River Cruising

Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam — October 17
* The 7-night “Classic Mekong between Siem Reap & Saigon” starts at $2,596 USD per person

Mekong River in Laos — September 24
* The 10-night “Upper Mekong in Laos” expedition starts at $3,924 USD per person

Mekong River in Laos & China — October 12
* The 14-night “Mekong from Laos to China” cruise starts at $4,708 USD per person

RELATED: Slowly Down the Mekong.  by Heidi Sarna

RELATED: A Mekong River Cruise in Cambodia & Vietnam.  by Ted Scull

India

Ganges & Brahmaputra Rivers in India — October 2121
* The 7-night “Lower Ganges” cruise starts at $3,069 USD per person
* The 7-night “Brahmaputra” cruise starts at $2,861 USD per person

Pandaw does the Brahmaputra River

Beauty on the Brahmaputra River. * Photo: Venkatesh Kolappa

Flexible Booking Options

For new bookings, Pandaw requires just a $100 deposit to secure a cabin between now and September 1, 2020. On their website, Pandaw says: “This means that you can book now to get a guaranteed cabin but if you change your mind for whatever you can walk away without too much of a hit. If you want to go ahead with the trip then we will ask you to make up the deposit to the usual amount by 1st September 2020 (or balance if due beforehand).”

Further, if you make a booking for next season and then, for whatever reason, want to change the date of travel or the routing, Pandaw will transfer any monies paid as a credit to another date or route within 12 months of that sailing date without penalty, subject to availability of a cabin.

Like other travel companies, Pandaw is continuously monitoring the situation and will decide at least 30 days prior to departure if operation is possible, if borders are open and if it’s safe to travel.

Read more here.

Health & Safety Protocols

To ensure maximum safety for all Pandaw guests and crew, Pandaw has just released an outline of its health and safety measures created by Pandaw senior management and based on the current available guidelines of the WHO as well as on the regulations of the individual countries involved.

General rules for social distancing entail new operational procedures on board to ensure a minimum distance of 2.0 meters(6.5ft) between each person. Passengers are required to wear face masks (covering mouth and nose) in public areas onboard if the required minimum distance is not possible. Further, crew will forego usual welcome rituals such as shaking hands, etc. until further notice.

More details are below; click on image to access full report.

Pandaw health protocols

Pandaw health protocols, CLICK IMAGE

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Swan Hellenic is Back

Swan Hellenic Reborn

by Anne Kalosh.

One of the most storied small-ship brands, Swan Hellenic, is being revived with the goal of becoming the leader in cultural expedition cruising.

So said CEO Andrea Zito, a veteran of Silversea Cruises and V.Ships Leisure, whose ties to Swan Hellenic go back years.

The new Swan Hellenic will retain its British heritage but have an international flavor, targeting the most seasoned travelers from around the world. They’ll journey in a sophisticated, English-speaking ambiance. Lecturers and guest speakers will be a highlight. Particularly intriguing itineraries include the Russian High Arctic and a Siberia-Svalbard combo.

Swan Hellenic is Back

The first of two new Swan Hellenic ships is planned to debut in Antarctica in November 2021. * Photo: Swan Hellenic

Two ice-class vessels are under construction at Helsinki Shipyard, with the first set to debut in Antarctica in November 2021 and the second in the Arctic in April 2022. Their project names are Vega I and Vega 2.

These 152-passenger ships will measure about 11,000 gross tons. They’re billed as “five-star elegant Scandi-chic boutique” — how’s that for a mouthful?

They’ll have PC5 ice-strengthened hulls, diesel-electric propulsion and extra-large stabilizers.

Open spaces

“Open spaces will provide comfort for the guests, and views,” Zito said. “You want to be outside. Everything is happening outside — the wildlife, the scenery. You want to be immersed in the magic of the environment.”

 

Swan Hellenic CEO

CEO Andrea Zito said he fell in love with the Swan Hellenic brand years ago. * Photo: Swan Hellenic

At 115 meters/337 feet in length, the ships will rise nine decks, with plenty of big windows and outdoor spaces. Facilities include a base camp with mud rooms, a photography lab and library.

Travelers will dine in the single-seating Swan Restaurant and spread out in the observation lounge, club lounge and sun deck with its heated outdoor swimming pool. A spa, gym and sauna with a view are located high on Deck 8. At the top of the ship is a stargazing deck.

The 76 cabins, many with balconies, include six suites. Some accommodations have faux fireplaces.

balcony cabin

A balcony cabin. * Rendering: Swan Hellenic

The history

Swan Hellenic’s roots go back to the 1950s when a British travel agency, Swan’s Tours (operated by a father and son, W.F. Swan and R.K. Swan), organized a trip to the antiquities of Greece. Its success led to a full program of tours, carrying writers, academics and clergy as guest speakers. Swan Hellenic’s cruises were distinguished by original itineraries that seldom repeated, at first focusing on classical sites in the Aegean Sea and around the coasts of Greece and Turkey. Academic lecturers were a hallmark.

The new Swan Hellenic is backed by European shareholders including Vodohod Ltd., Russia’s largest river cruise company. Zito is a highly experienced ship operator who’s been instrumental in many refurbishments and new buildings, including Silversea’s just-delivered Galápagos vessel, Silver Origin.

He was with V.Ships when it and the Vlasov Group built Minerva for Swan Hellenic (then part of P&O Cruises) in the mid-1990s and managed it. When Carnival Corp. & plc decided to shutter Swan Hellenic in 2007, former P&O Chairman Lord Jeffrey Sterling acquired it, later selling to Roger Allard’s All Leisure Group.

V.Ships Leisure was managing operations for Allard’s Voyages of Discovery when All Leisure went bust in early 2017. Zito brokered the brand’s sale to Canadian expedition operator G Adventures, hoping to keep it alive.

“I was very much in love with the brand,” he said. His group acquired the Swan Hellenic name and set up offices in Monaco, London and Dusseldorf, Germany. Sales representatives are being set up in other countries.

“We want to be a global brand,” Zito said.

Swan Hellenic logo

Swan Hellenic logo.

Unusual destinations

Antarctica itineraries feature a solar eclipse 2021 cruise from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands, Antarctic peninsula and ending at Ushuaia, Argentina (16 days). A “classic” Antarctica program (10 days) operates round-trip Ushuaia, and an in-depth voyage (18 days) adds South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

Arctic itineraries will include Iceland in depth (eight days); Iceland, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen (14 days); a Svalbard circumnavigation (eight days), Svalbard in depth (11 days); Franz Josef Land, Spitsbergen and East Greenland (19 days); West Greenland (11 days); Greenland to the Canadian Arctic, circling Baffin Bay (17 days); and the Northwest Passage, from Greenland to Nova Scotia (16 days).

Swan Hellenic deck shot

The spacious outdoor decks are ideal for scenery viewing. * Rendering: Swan Hellenic

Russian Far East adventures include a Sea of Okhotsk explorer that begins with a number of calls in Japan (14 days). A 21-day voyage combines Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands with Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, while another trip blends the Aleutian Islands, Kamchatka and the Bering Sea (17 days).

Further adventures explore the Russian High Arctic and Svalbard (19 days), Eastern Russia and Wrangel Island (15 days) and a one-of-a-kind Siberia, Svalbard and Norway odyssey (17 days).

Other destinations include New Zealand in depth, Papua New Guinea, Japan in depth, Micronesia and Melanesia, and the Philippines, Amami Islands and Japan.

Information: www.swanhellenic.com.

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