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

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

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

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

Queen of the West. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

American Cruise Lines Passenger Profile

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

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

American Pride. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Passenger Decks

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

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

 

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

What’s Included

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

American Cruise Lines Itineraries

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

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

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

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

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

Why Go?

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Public Rooms

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

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

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

American Cruise Lines Contact Info

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

TWS

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American Queen Steamboat

American Queen Steamboat Company

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

Many stretches are notably scenic; there are locks to navigate; life in small-town America to discover; and with the locals coming down to the landing to welcome you. Embarkation and disembarkation cities provide an opportunity to linger a day or two. The company began with two boats and will soon have four, plus the addition of two more operating  under Victory Cruise Lines.

Return to cruising note: AMERICAN EMPRESS cruises along the Columbia and Snake rivers are suspended through August 2, 2002 and will begin cruising after that. AMERICAN DUCHESS will make a first cruise on the Lower Mississippi  August 17-23, 2020. AMERICAN COUNTESS and AMERICAN QUEEN will end their suspensions on August 8, 2020 when both return to Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee river cruises.

American Queen SB Co. have taken on the identical 202-passenger coastal ships VICTORY I and VICTORY II from Victory Cruise Lines and will operate the line as a separate brand using the same name. Details of initial itineraries along the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes can be found under Victory Cruise Lines.

RELATED: AQSC Acquires Victory Cruise Lines.  by Anne Kalosh

The AMERICAN QUEEN* is simply the best replica steamboat that money could buy, and the AMERICAN EMPRESS is not far behind. In late summer 2017,  the AMERICAN DUCHESS made its debut on the Mississippi offering some of the largest accommodations on the American rivers. (*While the AQ carries over 300 passengers, we consider her an exceptional exception so she deserves to join her smaller capacity fleet mates.). The firm is also rebuilding another boat, the 245-passenger AMERICAN COUNTESS, to expand the number of itineraries when she debuts in April 2020 (this will be postponed due to the coronavirus situation) with a first cruise from Louisville, Kentucky to Pittsburgh, PA. In an entirely different project, there are reports of operating an expedition ship for the Arctic region in 2021. More details will be forthcoming.

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

American Queen * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AMERICAN QUEEN (built 1996 & 414 passengers) and under present owners from 2012; AMERICAN EMPRESS (b. 2003 as the Empress of the North & 223 p) and under present owners from 2014; AMERICAN DUCHESS (rebuilt 2016-17 from a 1995 Mississippi River casino boat, with a third deck added & 166 passengers).

Passenger Profile

While the AMERICAN QUEEN exceeds QuirkyCruise’s passenger limit, for us she is an Exceptional Exception sailing alongside her two running mates. Expect mostly Americans 60 and up who set out to discover their own country in a thoroughly relaxed setting, to enjoy the camaraderie of others, and discover American music, history, food and local attractions. Some passengers collect as many new navigable stretches of river as are offered. Most children will find the pace too slow, and with no activities designed for them, there will be few, if any, aboard.

Passenger Decks

AMERICAN QUEEN 6 (two elevators serving all but Sun Deck); AMERICAN EMPRESS 4 (two elevators serving all decks); AMERICAN DUCHESS 3 (one elevator serving all decks); AMERICAN COUNTESS 4 (elevator connects three decks but not the topmost).

Price

$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

While the price is high, there are a significant number of complimentary features to soften the blow, such as shore excursions in every port (premium tours are available at an extra cost); a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay with breakfast and a transfer to the steamboat; beer and wine at dinner; coffees, teas, soft drinks and bottled water throughout the day. Free bicycles and helmets are available on all four boats.

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

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

Itineraries

American Queen Steamboat Company’s AMERICAN QUEEN, AMERICAN DUCHESS & AMERICAN COUNTESS steam along three distinct stretches of Midwestern rivers, between them year-round. N.B. AQ rest & refit Jan.-mid-Feb. AD rest & refit mid-Feb.-mid-Mar. All cruises offer a pre-cruise hotel stay. Certain departures will emphasize the Civil War and others American Music and be accompanied by special guest lectures and musicians. A third new theme for 2020 will be center on the American BBQ tradition with three masters competing for top billing by the passengers.

  • The Lower Mississippi (New Orleans-Memphis) featuring the Old South and Memphis-St. Louis; New Orleans and its great music, restaurants, Creole and Cajun culture; Ante-bellum plantations; Civil War history; Memphis and its music traditions and National Civil Rights Museum; plus watching considerable waterway commerce on the move. All are 9 days with shorter 5-day round trips operating from New Orleans December to February.
  • The Upper Mississippi (Alton near St. Louis-Red Wing near St. Paul) characterized by rolling hills and high bluffs; locking operations to navigate Ole Man River; riverside towns that blossomed during the steamboat era; dynamism of the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and the brilliant autumn color. 9-day itineraries July-September.
  • Three full-length cruises operate between New Orleans and Red Wing, Minnesota (located just below Minneapolis/St. Paul) in Jul and August 2019 – 16 and 23* days downriver, one 23 days upriver. *begins St. Paul.
  • The Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers reveal stretches of wilderness; Civil War battlefields; small town and big city America; Nashville’s country music and the Grand Ole Opry. With a wide selection of 9-day itineraries throughout the year, embarkations and disembarkations may be in Chattanooga, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Pittsburgh and St. Louis (Alton).
  • The AMERICAN DUCHESS is nimble enough to cruise the Illinois River from Ottawa, located just west of Chicago to St. Louis and Red Wing (near Minneapolis). Collectors of rivers will go for this one. (9 days in August).

AMERICAN EMPRESS operates nine-day itineraries between Vancouver, Washington (near Portland Oregon) and Clarkston, Washington, a town along the Columbia and Snake rivers near the border with Idaho. Early season (March) and late season (November) 9-day cruises are round trips from Vancouver sailing upriver just beyond the upstream end of the Columbia River Gorge. Between mid-March and late November, passengers enjoy each other’s company, and come to learn about Pacific Northwest history, wildlife, ecology and natural beauty.

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

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

To celebrate Americana: its history, glorious and varied scenery, river lore, music, food, small town and big cities, all in a thoroughly relaxed fashion aboard a steamboat. The glue that binds are the amazing river routes and the welcome one receives when people stop to watch the boat paddle by or view it passing through one of the lock chambers. Locals are on hand to greet the boat when she arrives at the town landing and wave farewell with the festive departure accompanied by the steam calliope playing a jolly riverlore tune or two.

When to Go?

AMERICAN QUEEN, AMERICAN DUCHESS & AMERICAN COUNTESS: Lower Mississippi from mid-February to New Year’s; Upper Mississippi (including Illinois River in summer) from summer into fall; Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers from summer into fall. Theme cruises may draw some to specific sailings such as music of the Big Band Swing, Blues, and 50s and 60s eras; Gardens of the River; Remembering Elvis Presley; Civil War history with lectures aboard and battlefield excursions on land; fall colors; and holidays aboard coinciding with Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year.

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

The three steamboats will be described separately and the AMERICAN COUNTESS due June 2020 will follow soon..

AMERICAN QUEEN

Cabins

The majority of the 221 staterooms are most attractively decorated with polished wood floors and colorful Victorian patterns on the furniture, fabrics and wallpaper; beds can be arranged as twins or a queen.

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

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

Staterooms range from 22 airy suites with verandas boasting about 500 square feet of space down to eight minuscule insides of just 80 square feet. Overall, the majority would be considered small by oceangoing cruise standards, from 130 square feet for the inside cabins to 190 square feet for the deluxe outside staterooms with verandas, plus 25 superior outside staterooms located on the top deck at 230 square feet with verandas.

While the cruise line loosely uses the term veranda, in most cases the double cabin doors open out onto a shared promenade with your neighbor, matching the style of the old steamboats. Small ship socializing is a natural result. However, the superior outside staterooms with truly private verandas — the AA category units on Texas Deck — offer balconies akin to oceangoing cruises. Cabins have two outside-the-door plastic-mesh chairs and a small table for drinks, reading and sightseeing.

Stowage space is adequate for a casual cruise and luggage fits neatly under the beds. Cabins come with safes, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers and flat-screen TV’s with a good number of basic cable options. The boat’s free Wi-Fi reception varies in speed, and it helps to keep the cabin door ajar, or go the Mark Twain Gallery, equipped with electrical outlets and tables for laptops.

Bathrooms are black and-white-tiled with showers and tubs or walk-in showers, a large mirror and multilevel toiletry stand, plus generous tubes of American Queen-branded lotion, soap and shampoo. Cabin sound-proofing is good. ADA-accessible cabins are available in all categories except for singles that are both outside at 140 sq. ft. and inside and tiny at about 80 sq. ft., but still a blessing for those traveling solo.

Public Rooms

The principal lounges and bars are located on the two lowest decks with additional spaces found higher up both fore and aft. The rich interior design is High Victorian, evoking opulence with lavish details. A generous budget from the original owners produced fine antiques, high-quality replica furnishings and decorative features. The overall effect is a “Wow” as you step aboard and climb the forward staircase to enter the Cabin Deck public rooms. The Grand Saloon traces its origins to Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. and features several boxes on the mezzanine level.

Promenades encircle three decks and ample outdoor lounge areas, both covered and open to the sky, allowing relaxed river viewing, with the best location all the way forward in a rocking chair on Texas Deck known as the Front Porch of America.

Dining

By far the most dramatic space is the J.M. White Dining Room, modeled after the dramatic space found on an 1878-built vessel of the same name. The soaring interior, bathed in natural light streaming in through the tall side windows, is bracketed by large mirrors hung at one end and a pair of handsome tapestries at the other. Tables (reserved) for two are placed by the windows, most with unobstructed river views.

Dinner sittings are 5:15 and 7:45pm. The rest are square tables for four and round tables for six, with a few for eight. Signature dishes include Veal Marsala, Red Snapper and Shrimp Creole, while the Mississippi region menu features Smothered Crawfish and Grits and Mississippi Mud Pie. Both breakfast and lunch offer selections from the menu as well as a buffet.

The grand scale of the J.M.White dining room harks back to 19th century American steamboats. * Photo: Ted Scull

The grand scale of the J.M. White dining room harks back to 19th century American steamboats. * Photo: Ted Scull

Breakfast offers a generous buffet with a waffle station and a menu that includes southern menu specialties such as Andouille (sausage) hash with corn cakes and eggs. Lunch is from a menu or the buffet and dinner is always from a menu. The sumptuous Jazz Buffet is a real treat.

The five-course dinner seatings are 5:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., while breakfast and lunch are open seating. Dinner menu items I liked were mock turtle soup, fried green tomatoes with blue crab and corn meal, shrimp Creole with tomatoes and peppers over Jasmine rice, lobster stuffed with crabmeat, and lamb chops with tomato-mint marmalade. Complimentary red and white wines and selected beers are served at dinner, and soft drinks are gratis throughout the day.

Alternative continental breakfast and a light lunch with salads, a carvery, poboys, and grilled hot dogs are served in the Front Porch Café, an indoor setting, with additional outside and under cover tables positioned to look forward over the bow. Soft drinks, coffee and tea, soft ice cream and fresh popcorn are available all day long. An Alfresco dinner is also served here, a lovely place to dine outside yet under cover, on a warm evening. The accompanying buffet serves side dishes, salads and a freshly baked crème caramel or pecan pie; do expect a few pounds added. As in the dining room, selected wine and beer are included. Dress is casual at all times, though many freshen up a bit for dinner in the elegant dining room. Cabin service is also available.

Activities & Entertainment

The opulent two-level Grand Saloon acts as the main entertainment venue that may include a Glenn Miller Orchestra, singers, Rat Pack and Elvis imitators, dancing sessions with the chairs removed, and the riverlorian’s daily enrichment talks on river history and famous personalities. A small theater shows full-length films twice a day. The Engine Room bar winds up the atmosphere with live music after dinner, and the Captain’s Bar adjacent to the Main Deck Lounge features a pianist and often a singer.

The AMERICAN QUEEN'S theater is modeled on a small-town opera house. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

The riverlorian also hangs out in the Chart Room to describe the river scenes, interpret the navigation charts and share reference books. At night, he or she may be out on deck pointing out the lighted navigational markers.

Puzzles, board games and cards are stored in the Mark Twain Gallery with tables provided to spread them out. Kite flying, an old tradition on steamboats, takes place on the Sun Deck when there are no low bridges ahead, and is also the location for a small pool and gym.

Pilothouse tours take place when the boat is tied up, and the engine room is nearly always open for viewing the paddle wheel mechanisms and to have a chat with one of the engineers. It is reached through the Engine Room Bar.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s itineraries include a river port every day, sometimes tying up for the morning or afternoon and occasionally all day. An included shore excursion program provides convenient hop on, hop off company-owned steamcoaches decorated to resemble a steamboat and plying a fixed route with numbered stops. One might first make the complete narrated circuit, lasting roughly 20 to 40 minutes, then begin over again and step off where it appeals, often with included admission to the cultural sites.

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

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

AMERICAN DUCHESS

The AMERICAN DUCHESS entered service in late summer 2017 on the Mississippi River system and inaugurating cruises along the Illinois River approaching Chicago. 166 passengers will occupy cabins ranging from 180 sq. ft. to 550 sq. ft. All cabins, except interior rooms, have verandas, and five face aft. 3 owner’s and four loft suites measure 550 sq. ft. Unique are the two-level loft suites with lounge, dining area, queen sofa bed and private bathroom on one level, and above, a loft creates space for a bedroom and private facilities.

Dining is at one sitting in the Grand Dining Room with The Grill Room an 80-seat alternative one deck above and facing aft. The lobby, bar and the auditorium share the high-ceiling Main Deck with the main dining area. There is a small fitness center. Deck space appears to be at a premium. The entertainment, activities, dining and shore programs will be similar to the AMERICAN QUEEN. For interior photos of the cabins and public spaces, please see Feature Articles via the home page.

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

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

AMERICAN EMPRESS

Cabins

All accommodations are outside and arranged over four decks, and apart from the windowed cabins on the lowest Explorer Deck, all offer verandas furnished with a couple of chairs and a table. Vista View Deck’s semi-private verandas open onto the side promenade creating a neighborly atmosphere with those living next door and others passing by while doing their constitutionals. Impromptu chats often break out. A pair of Luxury Suites (410 sq. ft.) has two separate rooms, while the Suites with Veranda (310 sq. ft.) are really one room with a larger sitting area than lower categories (150-250 sq. ft.). Décor is Victorian with period furniture and artwork reflecting the region, the subjects being exploration, steamboats, and Native Americans. Bathrooms are rather plain by comparison. Cabins have a flat-screen TV, small fridge, coffee maker and safe.

Public Rooms

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

Show Lounge - AMERICAN EMPRESS. * Photo: AQSB Co

Show Lounge – American Empress. * Photo: AQSB Co

Dining

Passengers have the choice of two locations — the Astoria Dining Room on Explorer Deck or more informally high up at the River Grill on Vista View Deck. Seating is open in the main dining room with a window of arrival times for all three meals, sometimes adjusted a bit depending on the shore program. Meals are served at tables of from two to eight seats. The River Grill is mostly sheltered from the elements, but as it faces an open deck, heat lamps will warm the space in chilly weather, so unless it is really cold outside, don’t miss a chance to eat here. Reservations are required for dinner as seating is limited to about 25 per cent of the ship’s passenger capacity. Breakfast and lunch are come-when-you-wish, so early risers will be happy to have a cozy place to start their day. The food is very good, and many ingredients are locally sourced such as Pacific Northwest shellfish, fish, and fresh produce. The Columbia River Valley is major wine country. Local beers and a variety of wines, some local, are complimentary at dinnertime.

Activities & Entertainment

Lectures on board about the formation of the Columbia Gorge, history of the early 19th-century Lewis & Clark expedition, Native American culture, and the wine industry take place in the show lounge while the sternwheeler is under way.

Steamcoaches follow the boat and provide circular sightseeing routes to access the fish ladders that allow the salmon to get past the dams; to stand below cascading Multnomah Falls; and to get a feel of what the Lewis & Clark expedition might have experienced at Fort Clatsop during one wet winter. Premium tours at an extra cost take one further afield at Astoria located at the mouth of the Columbia, for a jet boat ride deep into Hells Canyon with a stop at the Nature Conservancy’s Garden Creek Ranch, and a drive up Mt. St.Helens, a now quiet volcano that erupted with considerable force in 1980 and devastated the surrounding countryside.

AMERICAN COUNTESS

The fourth sternwheeler, with 123 staterooms, is being rebuilt and enlarged by 60 feet from an existing platform. AMERICAN COUNTESS will offer four decks with the cabin accommodations on two (about one-third are insides). Her public spaces will include a grand dining room, a River Grill, theater, chart room, library and card room. Two elevators will link three decks, but not the highest deck. The first cruise is scheduled for April 2020.

American Queen Steamboat Company

AMERICAN COUNTESS. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact Info

American Queen Steamboat Company; 222 Pearl Street, New Albany, IN 47150;  www.AQSC.com; 888-749-5280.

 

— TWS

 

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Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

PEARL MIST (built 2014 & 210 passengers)

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all cabin decks.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

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

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

Pearl Seas Cruises

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

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

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

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

 

Pearl Seas Cruises adds Panama Canal

Panama Canal. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

 

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The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

Emerald Waterways.

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

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

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

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

Emerald Harmony of Emerald Cruises

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

COVID-19 UPDATE

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

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

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

Star-Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emerald Cruises Emerald Sun

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

Other Ships

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

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

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

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

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

Future Plans

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

Sample Itineraries

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

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

Why Go?

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

Sustainability Initiatives

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

The Emerald Dawn. * Photo: Emerald Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

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

Emerald Waterways pool

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

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

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

RELATED: Active River Cruising on Emerald. by John Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emerald Liberté

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

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

Emerald Radiance

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

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

Emerald Harmony

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

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

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

Other Ships

MS Nizhny Novgorod

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

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

MS Rossia

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

In cabin: en-suite, TV, refrigerator.

MS Hamees

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

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

MS Swallow & MS Lastavica

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

In cabin: en suite, complimentary Wi-Fi.

EMERALD YACHT CRUISES
  • Emerald Azzurra (July 2021)

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

Contact

Emerald Waterways

Boston, MA 02111, USA

Tel: +1 (857) 444-4371

info@emeraldwaterways.com

EmeraldWaterways.com

 

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Expedition Lines Act to Reduce Air Pollution

Special Note: As only three of the 12 ships in the Hurtigruten daily service coastal fleet fall below our limit of 300 cabin passengers, a brief addendum at the end will describe the remaining ships that handle from 451 to 640 berthed passengers. Also, the expedition ship FRAM (276 passengers) will then follow with a full review and varied itineraries that include northern Europe, Iceland, Greenland, partial NW Passage, Canadian Maritimes and the U.S. East Coast en route to and from the Antarctic season. Others to follow and mentioned below under itineraries.

Hurtigruten

Norwegian ships (like the ones Hurtigruten operates) traveling north from Bergen, the country’s principal west coast port, have tied the south with the north beyond the North Cape since 1893 carrying passengers, all manner of cargo and until relatively recently, the mail. This venerable service has gradually evolved from serving as a much needed transport link to one that increasingly thrives on overseas visitors who come to ogle and partake in the delights of one beautiful country. During the course of a 12-day, 2,500-mile round-trip voyage, the ships put in at 35 different ports each way, and as the northbound schedule varies from the southbound, many served at night on the way north will become daylight stops in the other direction.

Tip: If limited in time, the northbound routing calls at the more interesting ports during convenient daytime hours.

Sailing deep into the Geirangerfjord. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing deep into the Geirangerfjord. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

LOFOTEN (built 1964 & 153 beds), VESTERALEN (b. 1983 and enlarged 1989 & 301 beds), SPITSBERGEN (b. 2009 & 243 beds). Deck passengers are not counted. The LOFOTEN will be withdrawn from the coastal service with a final departure from Bergen in December 2020 and a return to Bergen on January 2, 2021.

When another operator is hopefully announced, we will share the good news here!

Note: If you live in North America and book through the Hurtigruten agency for this region, you can no longer book either the classic LOFOTEN or VESTERALEN. You have to book through an office in Europe —  https://www.hurtigruten.co.uk and email: uk.sales@hurtigruten.com. These older ships are ignored (worse: banned from booking) in North America while their heritage is touted and extolled in Europe.

Passenger Profile

International passengers (from principal countries: Norway, Germany, Britain, US), mostly over age 40 occupy the cabins, plus Norwegians and European backpackers of all ages traveling locally (a few stops) in cabins and on deck.

Passenger Decks

LOFOTEN (5) no elevator; VESTERALEN (7) elevator between all decks. SPITSBERGEN has an elevator between 5 of 6 decks, but not highest Sun Deck.

Price

$ – $$  Moderate to Expensive

Itineraries

As Hurtigruten operates a daily scheduled passenger and freight service, the itinerary remains fixed throughout the year, with the sole exception of a diversion into the gorgeous Geirangerfjord that begins in the spring and lasts into the fall. When in 2016 the SPITSBERGEN joined the fleet more as an expedition ship, including a staff to give talks and lead trips ashore. However, the ship calls only at daytime ports (as listed in the regular schedules), therefore, dwelling longer and skipping ports presently listed with nighttime arrivals and departures. Five detours into fjords are also included.

Several other Hurtigruten  ships will also join the more cruise-like itinerary with daylight calls – FINNMARKEN, MIDNATSOL and TROLLFJORD (550 to 570 passengers) will also follow this pattern as well as operate expeditions in Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. In addition, purpose-built new expedition ships will join the fleet with ROALD AMUNDSEN in summer 2019 and FRIDTJOF NANSEN IN 2020, both taking 530 passengers, thus certainly worth mentioning but well beyond our 300 passenger limit to engage in a full review.

Hurtigruten

Ted at bow of Lofoten. * Photo: Greg Fitzgerald

Included Features

Tips are not expected though many passengers do give to the wait staff.

Why Go?

The number one reason people think of booking a cruise to Norway is for the fjord, coastal and island scenery. Another is Hurtigruten’s variety of port calls, from tiny towns where the ships provide an essential service, to the country’s most beautiful mid-size cities of Bergen, Alesund, Trondheim and Tromso. Cargo handling is another attraction with something being loaded or off-loaded at every port, and lastly to meet Norwegians who are traveling in their own country for a whole host of reasons.

Should you choose the Lofoten, you will be sailing on a much loved time machine, a passenger and cargo-carrying vessel from more than a half-century ago, a type that has all but disappeared from the seas.

Lofoten is a working ship with all cargo crane-loaded in and out of the hold. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lofoten is a working ship with all cargo crane-loaded in and out of the hold or placed on the open deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

That’s a complex question as Norway’s maritime weather is fickle in almost any season.

Spring and fall will show off the change of seasons as you travel over 1,000 miles from south to north or vice versa. Long daylight hours are part of late spring through midsummer sailings.

School holidays will see the most passengers aboard, including backpackers making short coastal trips and heading out to the well offshore Lofoten Islands.

Winter brings on vibrant displays of the Northern Lights, with the downside being long hours of darkness. My preference, after a half-dozen coastal voyages, is from April through the end of May when there are fewer tourists, lots of light and a noticeable change of seasons during the course of the voyage.

Cabins

LOFOTEN’s tiny cabin accommodations will be the biggest hurdle to face as the best cabins sell out early. Very few cabins have twin lower beds, and most are designed like an enlarged railway sleeping compartment with upper and lower berths. On the deck plans, categories N (3 cabins), J (3), A (20) and I (7) have private shower and toilet. The Ds have showers and toilets along the passageways. Total cabin berths number 154.

Note:  See https://www.hurtigruten.com/our-ships/ms-lofoten/ for useful cabin photos to help make your decision.

VESTERALEN’s cabins come with private shower and toilet, and range from two beds, with one converting from a sofa, to others with upper and lowers; the majority are outside, plus insides and a block of cabins having restricted views. SPITSBERGEN’s cabins all have private facilities with a mixture of configurations. With two berth cabins, one converts to a sofa, and some will have an extra upper berth. All cabins have private facilities, with some having limited or no outside views. Upper grades have TVs.

Dining

Tables are assigned for dinner which is a set, served meal, though special dietary requests are accommodated with advance notice. The cooking is straight forward continental fare that appeals to a wide mostly European market. Breakfast and lunch are buffet, and the choices should satisfy most tastes.

If you like marinated herring served a half-dozen ways, as I do, you will be in heaven. Interport passengers who are on just for a day or two have to pay for meals so most head to the LOFOTEN’S and VESTERALEN’s cafeterias located behind the main restaurant. SPITSBERGEN has an aft dining room and a Bistro for light meals and refreshments.

Vesteralen leaving port to continue the southbound voyage to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

Vesteralen leaving port to continue the southbound voyage to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Rooms

LOFOTEN is one-of-a-kind and exudes the retro atmosphere of a small country hotel, comfy, beautifully wood-paneled and largely unchanged from the 1960s. Two lounges look forward, the top one affording the best views, while the lower lounge is quieter and better suited to reading and playing board games but with the view forward along the cargo deck. A third lounge, located aft and an extension of the cafeteria, is used for conversation and/or having a drink.

VESTERALEN is plainer inside and boasts a 360-degree top deck, glass-topped lounge for viewing the scenery, a second forward facing lounge, restaurant in the forward section of the deck below, café aft of that, small playroom, two conference rooms and a secluded lounge at the stern. SPITSBERGEN has two forward lounges, one with 270-degree views.

Dining room aboard the Lofoten. * Photo: Fellow Passenger.

Dining room aboard the Lofoten. * Photo: Fellow Passenger (Empty Chair).

Activities & Entertainment

Shore excursions abound from the active such as kayaking, snowmobiling and dog sledding (in season) to bird watching, sightseeing a town’s historic past, visiting a Sami camp in Lapland and a drive to the North Cape. The Northern Lights are at their brightest in winter. Nearly every call allows at least a quick look ashore before the ship’s whistle beckons you back, while Trondheim, a cathedral city, and Alesund, an Art Nouveau treasure, encourage several hours of exploring. On some summertime voyages, musicians will be aboard. SPITSBERGEN will have an expedition-style shore program.

Special Notes: Tax on alcohol is sky high in Norway, so beer and wine prices are amongst the most expensive in the world. Some bring aboard what they like to drink and enjoy it in their cabin before dinner — while private supplies are taboo in the public rooms.

Addendum

A description of the nine other ships follows including years delivered and berth capacities. Deck passengers are additional.

Kong Harald 1993 and 474 pass; Richard With 1993 and 464 pass; Nordlys 1994 and 469 pass; Polarlys 1996 and 473 pass; Nordkapp 1996 and 458 pass; Nordnorge 1997 and 451 pass; Finnmarken 2002 and 628 pass; Trollfjord 2002 and 640 pass; Midnatsol 2003 and 638 pass. Newly added, Spitsbergen 2009, rebuilt 2015 and 243 passengers, will replace Midnastol on the coastal route in winter when the latter goes off to Antarctica.

These 6- and 7-deck ships offer high up forward-facing panoramic lounges, additional public rooms and bars, conference rooms, children’s playroom, large restaurant aft with wraparound windows and cafeteria. At dinner, passengers will choose between the regular set 3-course meal and a 2- to 5-course a la carte menu with a supplemental charge starting at $19. Most cabins are outside with two beds, one a folding sofa bed, and private bathroom facilities with showers. Suites additionally come with TVs, sitting areas, minibar and some private balconies. All ships feature attractive Norwegian paintings, murals and sculptures. Cargo and vehicles roll-on, roll-off.

These larger ships have started a new thrust where an expedition team provides an enrichment program aboard and leads passengers ashore on hikes to look for wildlife and unusual geographical points of interest. Other new offerings on selected trips bring personnel aboard to provide a cultural emphasis with Norwegian art, music, history, music, legends & myths; voyages dedicated to astronomy during winter period when the Aurora Borealis is a dazzling sight; Norway’s conflicts through history from the Vikings to WWII and German occupation; and the all-important fishing industry. These are in addition to the classic style with 45 traditional shore excursions, some seasonal, offered over the course of a year.

The Nordlys passing southbound to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Nordlys passing southbound to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

FRAM: Expedition Ship

Hurtigruten began operating summer cruises to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), located north of Norway many years ago, and then in 2007, the firm built a dedicated expedition ship, Fram, at Italy’s Fincantieri yard, to offer a year-round program of expedition cruises to a new wide range of itineraries, not just the Polar Regions only. Before and after the Antarctic season, the ship makes positioning trips from and back to Europe. Itineraries include Iceland, Greenland, Canada’s Maritime Provinces, New England, U.S. East Coast, and the West Coast of South America via Costa Rica and the Panama Canal.

The ship’s name refers to the original Fram, an early 20th-century exploratory vessel that made pioneering voyages above the Arctic Circle on surveys and carried Roald Amundsen to Antarctica to become the first person to reach the South Pole. Midnatsol, taken off the Norwegian coastal route in winter carries 500 passengers in Antarctica. Additional expedition ships have been ordered to expand the variety of itineraries in North Europe, the Arctic, Antarctica and South America but they exceed our 300-passenger limit. For example, Roald Amundsen (530p), was to enter service in May 2019 and will now begin carrying passengers on July 2, 2019, more than a year late due to shipyard delays. Fridtjof Nansen, a similar vessel will follow.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

FRAM: built 2007 & 276 passengers; 200 pass in Antarctica.

Passenger Profile

An older international passenger list is drawn from Europe, North America and Australia with the main languages aboard being Norwegian and English.

Passenger Decks

7 decks, and two elevators serve every level except top Observation Deck.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

Many itineraries include local flights (not from the U.S.) and perhaps an overnight hotel stay; all shore activities with an English-speaking expedition team; water-resistant winter jackets; tea and coffee. Suite passengers receive complimentary drinks with meals.

Steaming Iceland. * Photo: Shutterstock Hurtigruten

Itineraries
  • Iceland’s diverse landscapes, glaciers, volcanoes, hot and cold springs, birdlife, and historic settlements; Greenland’s glaciers, icebergs, fjords, Viking settlements and hiking and partial transits of the Northwest Passage; Spitsbergen (Svalbard)’s wildlife such as musk oxen, Arctic fox and wolf, and polar bear and whaling stations; and northern Norway and its islands and fjords.
  • En route to and from South America and Antarctica, voyages call in a small Canadian maritime ports and cruise along the U.S, East Coast from New England to Florida.
  • Central America (mostly the Gulf of Mexico side); varied Caribbean islands and south to the Panama Canal and a transit.
  • Some voyages head south from the Panama Canal along South America’s west coast calling in Ecuador, Peru (incas), Chile’s fjords and the southerly Patagonia region with its spectacular scenery. Other sail via the reast coast calling at Brazilian ports.
  • Antarctic expeditions leave mostly from from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula while longer trips include the Falklands and South Georgia to see polar landscapes, icebergs of varying colors, glaciers, wildlife and birdlife, and a former whaling station on South Georgia. Activities are via Polarcirkel boat and, kayaks, and on foot.

Penguins galore, Antarctica. * Photo: Hurtigruten

Why Go?

The FRAM is a highly professional operation, organized by Norwegians who have had a lot of experience operating expeditions that began in the early 20th century. The ship is purpose-built and not a conversion from some other use nor operated on standard cruises. As one of the larger such ships, she handles rough seas about as well as any of her ilk.

When to Go?

Itineraries are arranged to operate in the warmer seasons for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins having a noisy discussion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins having a noisy discussion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

127 compact outside and inside cabins, with six cabins having shared balconies facing aft; one suite and standard cabins with one bed and one fold-up sofa bed or two sofa beds. Cabins are similar to the newer Hurtigruten coastal ships. Amenities are showers, TVs and mini-fridges. No dedicated singles.

Public Rooms

The décor reflects the culture of Norway and Greenland. Layout is also much like the newer Hurtigruten coastal ships with a large Deck 6 observation lounge, lobby lounge and arcade, two lecture rooms, fitness room, two Jacuzzis, and two saunas. There’s an open promenade deck, open Sun Deck and Observation Deck, plus an Internet Café and shop for clothing and souvenirs.

Dining

Restaurant is aft with both buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. Local dishes will include fish and bison. Food is average to good. A Bistro serves food informally at an extra charge. Because of high taxes, alcohol is very expensive.

Activities & Entertainment

Landings are via Polarcirkel landing craft equipped with “step-bow and grab railings” for easier and safer disembarkations on land. Organized special interest talks take place during the days at sea and in the evenings.

Special Note: Smoking is allowed out on deck only.

*NORDSTJERNEN: Expedition Ship

While no longer in Hurtigruten’s coastal program, the entry remains as she undertakes summer cruises to the North of Norway and Spitsbergen.

Nordstjernen, built 1956, taken in an earlier guise in Hurtigruten service. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nordstjernen, built 1956, taken in an earlier guise in Hurtigruten service. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen expedition cruises operated by the 1956-built NORDSTJERNEN operate separately from Hurtigruten’s programs and not always for the English-speaking market. See the website for details then contact the link below*. She is a gem of the classic mailship design that even predated the much-loved LOFOTEN. Within her classic lines are a forward observation lounge, bar, restaurant and small cabins, with and without private facilities, totaling 150 berths.

Her Spitsbergen  cruises  last six days and leave from Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen to look for wildlife – polar bears, walrus and varieties of birds, and with calls in a Barentsberg, a Russian mining community, Ny-Alesund, a former coal mining town and now a High Arctic Research Facility, and Magdalenfjord for the remains of a whaling community. The northern Norway itineraries leave from Tromso for the Lofoten Islands, the historically important port of Narvik, Vesteralen Region and several additional islands. It’s the rugged and wild landscapes that are the main attractions. On the Hurtigruten website, see Ships, then chose NORDSTJERNEN and have a look at The Handbook. *Then if interested go to usbooking@hurtigruten.com.

Along the Same Lines

The classic coastal ships are unique, while the expedition ships are equivalent to other high-end expedition lines.

Contact

Hurtigruten (Norwegian Coastal Voyages), 1505 Westlake Ave. N #125, Seattle WA 98109;  www.hurtigruten.com.us; 866-552-0371.

— TWS

 

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Hebridean Island Cruises

Based in Great Britain, the independently-owned British cruise line operates a single ship, HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, a lovely floating country house hotel that has had no equal for three decades in atmosphere or price.

She is based largely in Scotland, with the most frequent base port being Oban, for the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles, occasional cruises that calls at Northern Ireland’s ports, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and in 2021, several summertime cruises to the Norwegian Fjords.

This line should not be confused with the pair of 10-passenger yachts operated by Hebrides Cruises.

Note: The rest 2020 season has been cancelled, and the 2021 and 2022 seasons’ itineraries have been announced.  See the website for details, and we will update the review soon.

Hebridean Island Cruises

The Hebridean Princess. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Addendum: Hebridean River Cruises charters the intimate 70-passenger ROYAL CROWN to ply the Belgian and Dutch waterways in the spring and later in the season cruise the Danube between on two cruise between Passau, Germany and Bucharest, Romania. Fares include transfers between Britain and the riverboat, shore excursions, wines and spirits, internet and WiFi, and gratuities. See the website for additional details.

Note: The shortened 2020 season is expected to resume on 7th October.

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS (Built 1964 as COLUMBA and rebuilt into a cruise ship in 1989 & 50 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mainly British aged 50+ with many repeat passengers and occasionally Americans and other Europeans, Australians.

Passenger Decks

5, no elevator

Price

$$$  Very pricey, yet lots of included features.

Itineraries

Cruises operate from March to November to include lots of itineraries amongst Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides, and depending on the year to Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Ireland, South of England, the Channel Islands, French coastal ports, and via the Shetlands and Orkney thence across the North Sea to Norway’s coast and fjords. In any one season, no cruise is repeated. Here are samplings of  itineraries and be sure to check the line’s website for all the wonderful options.

Scotland, Hebridean Island Princess

Eilean Donan, Scotland * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

  • Secret Gardens of the Western Seaboard (7 nights) round trip from Oban, Scotland visiting Plockton, Loch Ewe, Ullapool, Skye, Mull, and Ft. William.
  • St. Kilda and Islands on the Edge (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Colonsay, Tiree,  St. Kilda (the most western isle), Lewis (Callanish Stones), Shiant Islands, Eigg,  and return to Oban.
  • Pearls of the Irish Sea  (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Islay, Bangor, Isle of Man, Cockermouth, Larne, Jura, and return to Oban.
  • Sea Lochs of the Lower Clyde (6 nights) from Greenock ( near the mouth of the Clyde) to Rothesay, Troon, Port Ryan, Holy Isle, Holy Loch and a return to Greenock.
  • Two cruises, marked as Spring Surprise and Autumn Surprise, are seven-night Hebridean itineraries decided upon by the captain. They leave from and arrive back at Oban and are popular with repeat passengers who like the ship so much that they don’t mind where she goes. Footloose indicates a focus on walking and hiking outings.
  • 2021 will see a return to Norway, a North Sea crossing to and from little and will known fjords and inlets and island between Bergen and Stavanger and a pair of cruises based at Bergen.

 

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far Western Isles.

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far out Western Isles.* Photo: Ted Scull.

Special interest cruises include: hiking (marked Footloose), golf, gardens, wildlife and nature, world and highland heritage, architecture, art, classical music, Scottish food and drink; bicycles available. Look for designations.

Generally, the vessel either docks or anchors at night and travels during breakfast or lunch to the next location. Occasional overnight sails take place when the itinerary stretches south to and from English Channel ports.

Included Features

All drinks; tips; shore excursions; bicycles; speed boat rides; fishing trips; Internet; transfers between airports and railway stations; free parking.

Why Go?

If you crave an authentic upscale Scottish country hotel atmosphere and would like it to move about seeking the most wondrous and obscure locales in the northern British Isles, this is your conveyance, and it is limited to 50 like-minded souls. Additional cruises, depending on the year, head south to Ireland, Wales, Channel Islands, South of England, Channel Islands and French coastal ports and coastal Norway.

Most amazingly, the HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS was created from a hard-working, well-engineered ferry that plied the Western Isles for a quarter century before being transformed into something quite different, yet retaining much of its traditional profile. Ted slept aboard her in one of the tiny below deck cabins as a ferry and returned for two wonderful cruise voyages in island-studded Scotland and coastal Ireland.

Scotland. Hebridean Island Cruises

Some cruises specialize in hiking. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

When to Go?

The weather in the British Isles is notoriously fickle, so you take your chances. You won’t find a cozier ship to retreat into on a foul day.

Cabins

All accommodations are individually decorated in beautiful colors and fabrics and are named after Scottish isles, castles, lochs and sounds, with wildly varying layouts. Many are roomy for a small ship, and those without windows have portholes, while six are inside without natural light. Beds may be king-size or twins, double or single. Two cabins have private balconies and ten are singles. Cabins along with the bathrooms were refitted for the 2019 season.

Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Above: Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

Renovated cabin - Isle of bute

Renovated cabin – Isle of Bute – use of Scottish plaids and Harris tweed

Amenities include a dressing table, ample storage space, fridge stocked with soft drinks, milk, coffee/tea making facilities, TV, personal safe, hairdryer, trouser press, iron and ironing board, bathrobes and slippers.

Public Rooms

In the forward-facing Tiree Lounge, the ship excels in that special small country hotel feeling with a brick and timber fireplace, comfy sofas and chairs and a cozy bar in one corner. The snug library draws readers to its tartan upholstered and leather seating, and two sides lounges — the Look-Out and wicker-furnished Conservatory are venues for morning coffee and afternoon tea.

In fine weather, passengers gather on the open afterdeck for pre-dinner cocktail receptions with hot hors d’oeuvres. On the topmost Boat Deck, windbreaks protect partitioned sections furnished with sun loungers and chairs.

Hebbridean Island Cruises

A cozy light-filled lounge. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Dining

The restaurant, refurbished for the 2019 season, operates like a hotel dining room with tables for two or up to eight for those traveling together. Single passengers sit at an officer’s table. Presentation and service from a European staff are tops with the menu thoroughly British such as a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding and sliced duckling , while Scottish specialties may be highland game, sautéed and smoked salmon, and fresh oysters. You might wish to, or not, sample haggis, a concoction of calf or lamb hearts, lungs and liver with onion, suet and seasonings and kedgeree made from rice and smoked fish. Dinner sees men in jackets and ties with women in equivalent attire; some are formal nights.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Restaurant. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

Shore trips (included) visit near and remote islands, castles, stately homes, and gardens, fishing villages and for walks of varying difficulty on rugged islands. The ship is also equipped bicycles for touring and fishing tackle, so you can try your luck.  In Scotland and Ireland, be prepared for Scottish mists and uncertain weather. Entertainment aboard is geared toward individual musicians.

Activities: How about enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Staying aboard and enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

Children under the age of nine not accepted. With a high rate of British repeaters, Anglophilia helps.

Along the Same Lines

Equally small and less pricey ships of Hebridean Cruises, Magna Carta Steamship Company, and The Majestic Line.

Contact

Hebridean Island Cruises, Kintail House, Carleton New Road, Skipton, Yorkshire BD23 2DE, www.hebridean.co.uk; from the US 011 44 (0)756 704 704, UK 01756 704 704; Also, contact a US rep. at 877-600-2648. Be sure to mention promo code HEB2020.

— TWS

 

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Pitcairn Islands

Pitcairn Island Silver Supporter

With its official status as a British Overseas Territory, the UK government subsidies a regular shipping service on specific Tuesdays from the port of Mangareva, French Polynesia, (connecting with Air Tahiti flights from Papeete, Tahiti) to Pitcairn Island. The Gibraltar-registered cargo-passenger ship SILVER SUPPORTER carries 12 passengers in snug double cabins with portholes.

The passage takes two nights and a day (about 32 hours), and disembarkation at Pitcairn Island is into a long boat. Arriving at the Botany Bay landing, it is then a steep cliff by twisting road up to Adamstown where houses dot the wooded hillside.

Until very recently, I had noooo idea that remote — and I mean beyond-anyone’s-horizon remote — Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, the home of the descendants of the HMS Bounty’s mutiny, could be accessed by a scheduled passenger-carrying ship.

Remote Pitcairn Island

The gorgeous remote Pitcairn Island. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

The volcanic island’s rugged tropical beauty is home to a population that numbers just 50. Measuring just two miles (3.2 km) by one mile (1.6 km), the island is the centerpiece to the world’s largest marine reserve. Its clear waters are home to species that have yet to be all identified.

Note: The new supply ship, Silver Supporter, replaced the Claymore II in 2019. Go straight to the island website for more info.

Now you know how far away you are. * Photo: Pitcairn Island Tourism

Now you know how far away you are. * Photo: Pitcairn Island Tourism

Ship & Year Delivered

SILVER SUPPORTER (built 1998 & 12 passengers in cabins) had a previous career as a Norwegian supply ship and was converted into a passenger-carrying cargo ship with the completion in February 2019. The ship is 1,109 GT and sails at 10 knots.

Pitcairn Islands

Silver Supporter carries 12 passengers and a crew of five. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Passenger Decks

There are three decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

SILVER SUPPORTER carries local islanders leaving and returning home, service providers, and well-heeled adventurers who wish to visit one of the most remote places on earth. The ship’s five-member crew hails from New Zealand.

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Itineraries

The ship sails from Mangareva to Pitcairn on Tuesdays from one to four times a month, so an island stopover needs to be timed for the return voyage. The length of the stopovers would be four, 11 or 18 days. If “Supply Ship” appears in the schedule, that is available only to Pitcairn Island residents and families who receive special rates.

Additional visitors arrive at Pitcairn by private yacht and aboard the occasional cruise ship.

Staying Ashore on Pitcairn

The time on the island, while the ship is anchored and handling the cargo, can be four days or if staying over and taking the next return voyage, then 11 days. Daily home-stay accommodations range from USD $70 to $150 and include three meals.

Payment is in cash in USD (there are ATM machines and currency exchange at the Government Treasury Office).

There are 12 registered accommodation providers that range from offering private rooms and meals shared with the family, semi-private chalets with optional shared meals, and private bungalows with meals taken separately. Food is available at the general store, a government operation in Adamstown. Apply for accommodations on the website at the bottom of this review.

Included Features

On board SILVER SUPPORTER, all meals, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks (alcohol is BYO); plus transfers to and from home stay accommodations on Pitcairn.

Why Go?

Go to visit one of the most remote places on the globe and make first-hand contact with direct descendants from the HMS Bounty who landed here in January 1790. The original population comprised 9 male British mutineers under the command of Fletcher Christian and 18 male and female Polynesians. In the 1930s, the population peaked at 233, and it has since dropped below 50. The island encourages immigration as you will discover on the website.

rugged Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island is a very special place. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

On the island, activities include self-guided walks through the tropical paradise with maps provided, quad bike tours, visiting the Pitcairn Museum, fishing in longboats, diving to the two shipwrecks (Bounty and Cornwallis), visiting three nearby uninhabited islands, swimming, tennis and shopping for island curios.

The island is increasingly dependent on tourism, though numbers are relatively low compared to other South Pacific islands.

When to Go?

The climate on Pitcairn is tropical and rain falls year-round; the driest month is August and the wettest June. It is best to avoid June and perhaps the few weeks either side. The roads and tracks turn to mud.

Cabins

Six private cabins with have twin berths, en suite facilities and small windows or portholes, plus a small sitting/office area.

cabin on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

Twin-bed cabin with a small window and en suite facilities. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Cabin lounge area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

A cabin’s lounge area. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Public Rooms

There are two lounges, one with a 49″ LED TV with USB + DVD Players.

Lounge of Silver Supporter

Silver Supporter’s newly refitted lounge. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Dining

Enjoy locally-sourced fish and vegetables and from overseas (often New Zealand). Food could be described as South Seas — continental and New Zealand served buffet style at fixed hours. Breakfast 7:30am; Lunch 11:30am; Dinner 5:30pm. Snacks and soft drinks available at all times.

Dining area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

Dining area with service buffet style. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Activities & Entertainment

Reading, watching films, socializing and relaxing.

Special Notes

No visa is required if staying on Pitcairn less than 15 days.

You need *XPF 1000 French Pacific Francs (about USD $10.50) to pay for the transfer from the Mangareva airport(Gambier Islands French Polynesia) to the ship and then $50 USD for a landing fee on Pitcairn. Medical insurance is mandatory, including an evacuation clause, with proof when finalizing the booking. The island currency is the NZ $.

*XPF is the currency code for “French Pacific Francs,” or CFP (which originally stood for Colonies Françaises du Pacifique  or “French colonies of the Pacific”), the currency used by the four French overseas collectivities that include French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis, and Futuna.

Along the Same Lines

Now that St. Helena in the South Atlantic is linked by air, one would have to search hard to find a comparable multi-night ship to a remote island of any interest. The South Pacific would be the place to start.

Pitcairn Island group's Henderson Island

The Pitcairn Islands group comprises Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands. Here is gorgeous Henderson island, a UNESCO World Heritage site. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Contact

For more info, go to Pitcairn Islands Tourism.

— TWS

 

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Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions was founded in 1999 by Nikolay Saveliev as Poseidon Arctic Voyages. Registered in the UK, the company operated its first voyage in 2001 aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker YAMAL. Expedition voyages center on the Arctic Region, including multiple annual departures sailing directly to the North Pole, and to Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia.

The firm currently charters two fine ships, the 114-passenger suite ship SEA SPIRIT, and 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, nuclear-powered and the world’s most powerful icebreaker, also with excellent accommodations for 128 passengers. The latter is a working ship at other times of the year, and she can break through ten feet of ice (3 meters). In the printed brochure, members of expedition teams are featured right up front with brief bios and their expertise.

Sea Explorer. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Explorer. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SEA SPIRIT (built 1991 with recent major renovation, 114 passengers) and 50 YEARS OF VICTORY (b. 2007, 128 p).

Passenger Profile

Active people from Europe, Australia, the Far East and the US/Canada are aged 45 and up. English is the primary language onboard.

Passenger Decks

SEA SPIRIT: elevators operate between all 5 decks. 50 YEARS OF VICTORY: elevators link the four cabin and public room decks but not the bridge nor the pool and sauna located aft on the lowest of the six decks.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Super Pricey (North Pole expeditions)

Included features

One pre-voyage hotel night (most departures), all regular excursions*, foul weather parkas with destination patches, free loan of Wellington boots for Zodiac landings­, and digital voyage log. * Helicopter flights included for North Pole expeditions but not flights to Murmansk to join/leave ship.

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) - Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) – Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries:
  • Arctic: SEA SPIRIT operates a program of 10-to 15-day expeditions in June and August/September that visit Iceland, including the Northern Lights, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen (Svalbard); Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land (Russia); Spitsbergen circumnavigations; Iceland and east Greenland. Most expeditions feature photography (free) and kayaking (a fee). En route north for the Arctic season, in May the ship will embark in Plymouth, South of England and visit sites in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, ending at Leith, the port for Edinburgh. A second cruise begins in early June at Leith and subsequently calls Jan Mayen Island, and disembarking in Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen. After a series of Spitzbergen itineraries, the ship heads for Franz Josef Land. Expedition dates are available for the 2020 season.
  • North Pole: 50 YEARS OF VICTORY operates three 13-day expeditions in July and the beginning of August to the North Pole starting with a flight from Helsinki to Murmansk (Russia) then boarding the ship to sail 90 degrees north and onto the North Pole with a return via the uninhabited Franz Josef Land to look for polar bears and sea birds and stop at an abandoned meteorological station. All North Pole trips feature photography lessons and helicopter sightseeing (included), barbecue, and an optional polar plunge. Note: A Russian visa is required for this expedition.
  • Antarctica: SEA SPIRIT spends a full season with departures from late October onto late February undertaking 11-day Antarctica Peninsula cruises and several 20- and 21- expeditions to the Antarctic Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, the Falklands, and South Georgia. One cruise crosses the Antarctic Circle to 66 degrees South, now that’s about as far south as it gets! All cruises begin at Ushuaia, Argentina, except the first and last of the season that use Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Some Antarctica trips feature photography lessons (free), kayaking amongst the ice (a fee), and how about overnight camping on the White Continent (a fee). Expedition dates are available for the 2020-2021 season
Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Why Go?

Few expeditions go directly to 90 Degrees North, where you can stand at the North Pole and be photographed from the air. The other destinations such as Greenland and South Georgia are little visited, and often arriving by ship is the best or only way.

Drop anchor and go ashore where roads and air access do not exist. If you want to feel that you are truly away from your normal routine, then one of the expedition-style voyages is for you.

When to Go?

The itineraries operate seasonally according to the most advantageous times of the year, so generally the Arctic Region in the summer and Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

Poseidon Expeditions

50 YEARS OF VICTORY. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Cabins

SEA SPIRIT: All accommodations are designated as suites, all outside, and with dimensions 215, 250, 277, 353 and 437 sq. ft. The largest two categories have balconies. Twin beds convert to king-size. Amenities are TV/VCR, refrigerator, Internet Access. The headboards are partitioned mirrored glass panels.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: Cabins are located amidships and forward, all outside and originally designed for officers and top staff who would spend months aboard breaking ice so there are desks and plenty of storage space. Windows open. The smallest are 151 sq. ft., while the rest range from 237-355 sq. ft. All have TV/DVD and only the smallest categories do not have a fridge.

Public Rooms

SEA SPIRIT: All public rooms are located aft while suites are amidships and forward. The Presentation Lounge is set up for lectures and video presentations, and above that, the Club Lounge is for socializing, with a bar and an adjacent library lounge with books on exploration and wildlife as well as for general reading. Outside deck space circles the ships so viewing locations span 360 degrees.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: On one deck, the Victory Bar looks over the bow while, the library and lounge are just aft and the second lounge and bar are all the way aft and used for lectures and presentations. There is plenty of deck space for viewing. For both ships, the bridge, often open to passengers, is a spacious additional focus to learn about navigation and chat with the officers.

Dining

SEA SPIRIT: The main restaurant is on the lowest passenger deck and seats all at one sitting. The food is good, varied and as fresh as it can be when sailing in remote locations. In addition, an outdoor bistro serves lunch most days from a covered buffet section, and tables are arranged on the adjacent deck.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: There is a single restaurant accommodating all passengers at one sitting. As the crew is both Russian and from other European countries, the meals will partially reflect these nationalities.

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

SEA SPIRIT: The principal emphasis are the outdoor activities relating to the destinations such as the Zodiac trips in search of wildlife and for going ashore to local communities, beauty spots and onto the ice with destinations such a penguin colonies, and even the North Pole! On board, the presentations and recaps tie in with what happens ashore. The ship is equipped with a gym and hot tub. During the evening hours, a pianist provides light entertainment.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: Designed for long periods at sea, the ship is equipped with a massage room, gym, two saunas and heated outdoor saltwater pool, and not often found, a basketball and volleyball court. The ship carries a helicopter on an after deck.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Special Notes

Read carefully what the line suggests you bring and don’t burden yourself with too much unnecessary luggage. Excursions ashore in these remote parts as well as activities such as kayaking and helicopter sightseeing are subject to weather and wind conditions.

SEA SPIRIT was refitted during a drydocking in spring 2019 with a more effective set of stabilizers to reduce rolling while underway, drifting and when anchored.

Along the Same Lines

Other high-end expedition lines.

Contact

USA & CANADA — Poseidon Expeditions, 245 Waterman St., Suite 502, Providence, RI 02906; 347-801-2610.

UK — Poseidon Expeditions, 13 John Prince’s Street, London W1G 0JR  poseidonexpeditions.com,  +44 020 3369 0020.

Check the website for additional offices in Germany, Cyprus and China.

TWS

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New England Islands Cruising

By Ted Scull.

(Note: updated from an original December 2015 post.)

To visit New England’s enchanting islands, a small ship cruise is by far the best way to sample them as trying to do the rounds independently involves making individual round-trip ferry reservations to each one, a costly proposition and in the height of the season often very difficult to get. Yes, you could leave the car behind in paid parking lots and then when you arrive, you are on your own to get around, while a small ship cruise will offer half-day and full-day trips to the best of the island’s attractions and advice how to do some of your visits independently. When you return to the car on the mainland, you have to drive to the next ferry landing and park the car again.

Two U.S.-flag lines, American Cruise Lines (ACL) and Blount Small Ship Adventures make the rounds, and I have sampled both on roughly similar itineraries. The price difference between the two is staggering. ACL is very expensive (starting at $3,970 per person), and many who could afford the higher fares would be happy right down to the less expensive cabins. Aboard the 84-passenger Blount pair, the Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe, the difference between higher end cabins and the least expensive is quite pronounced, and the lower end are very small and some are inside with no natural light. However, with the lead in per person rate at $2,259,  they allow some people to travel who cannot afford more, and all share the same ship facilities — dining, lounge, deck space and the itinerary. The highest rate on Blount is still less than the minimum rate on ACL.

Note: Blount’s cruise is six nights and ACL’s is seven. However, on many departures, Blount offers a $150 supplement for early boarding that includes dinner, the night and breakfast, a day in advance of sailing and make the cruise seven nights.

Blount’s New England itinerary is to embark in New York then call at Block Island, Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and ending in Boston, or in reverse by starting in Boston. Go to blountsmallshipadventures.com for a description of the two identical vessels, their layout and accommodations.

To get the full flavor of what the New England Islands’ cruise is all about, I will use an American Cruise Lines cruise I’ve sampled, as the example.

American Cruise Lines

Approaching the Independence, the ship shows off a rakish, four-deck profile with a sharp bow, two backward-leaning masts, sloping red, white and blue funnel, prominent sun visors above the pilot house, and square picture-windows punctuating the length of the superstructure. Not a porthole in sight. A wonderful conveyance for New England Islands cruising.

The cruise line’s American Star is similar and together they operate seven-night cruises May to September from Providence, Rhode Island to New Bedford, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Newport and Bristol/Fall River, then returning to Providence.

Read Ted’s “12 Irresistible Reasons to Visit New England on a Small-ship Cruise.”

For the passenger seeking roominess on a small ship, the Independence offers space in spades. All double cabins measure 265 square feet, and those with balconies add an additional 48 square feet. They come furnished with two chairs and a table, and the four single cabins on these decks also have balconies.

Unlike most other U.S.-flag coastal vessels, the Independence and the rest of the ACL fleet have multiple lounges, allowing passengers to seek a quiet or social place to read, play games, talk or work on the computer. Two rooms have seating for about eight and often double as entrance foyers in port. The forward Chesapeake Lounge, with good views ahead and to both sides, is arranged like a plush extra-large living room with very comfortable upholstered chairs and couches and occasional chairs.

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

The dining room is aft on the lowest passenger deck. Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs for 90 minutes. All meals are open seating at tables of four, six and eight. The buffet offers a small selection of fruit, cereals and freshly baked muffins. Orders are taken for main courses such as blueberry pancakes, Belgian waffles, and eggs Benedict, or eggs any style, served along with bacon, sausages, toast and bagels.

Dining & Lecturers

At breakfast, passengers check off their choices for lunch and dinner, a preparation guide for the chef rather than fixed-in-stone selections. Typical lunch (12:30 p.m.) items on a New England itinerary are Rhode Island clam chowder, oysters Rockefeller and a mixed green salad as appetizers, plus Maine lobster ravioli, shrimp salad sandwich and corned beef Reuben as the main courses.

Dinner (6:30 p.m.) might be soup of the day and shrimp cocktail as appetizers and then grilled swordfish, beef tenderloin or a whole steamed lobster; a vegetarian selection is always available.

The quality of the ingredients is high and preparation ranges from good to excellent. Complimentary red and white wines are on the dinner table, and if the selection does not please, there are other choices. Wine is also available at lunch for the asking.

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lecturer with skills in photography traveled with our cruise, and local guides added regional knowledge. Occasionally, musicians come aboard. Shore excursions by bus and on foot are fairly priced while some are complimentary walks into town or along the waterfront.

Usually the ship is docked by dinnertime and sails to the next port in the early morning or late afternoon. This allows an after dinner walk, often still light enough to enjoy the evening light and possibly a gorgeous sunset with the sun dropping the sea.

Underway

Over a Memorial Day Weekend, my wife and I took a six-night New England Islands cruise from Providence, Rhode Island. The embarkation dock, located at the head of Narragansett Bay, is just 10 minutes by taxi from the Providence railroad station, the city’s airport and several downtown hotels. Passenger boarding started at 9 a.m., and we simply showed a ticket at the gangway and walked aboard with our luggage trailing right behind.

Once all had embarked, the Independence sailed south through Narragansett Bay’s sheltered waters, out into the Atlantic for about an hour, then finally slipping through the flood gates into New Bedford, Massachusetts late in the day, to tie up at State Pier amidst a vast fleet fishing vessels. On a 90-minute harbor tour, we learned that, in terms of value of the catch, New Bedford ranks number one with deep-sea scallops the main source followed by fish, clams, and crabs.

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

The city rivaled Nantucket during the whaling days and shows off outstanding examples of substantial 19th-century houses built by sea captains and local industrialists. With a street map from the tourist office, we took in the rich architectural variety in the space of a delightful hour. In fact, everything of interest is within walking distance or via a rubber-tire-type trolley, including the outstanding whaling museum (allow an hour or more) and the nearby Seamen’s Bethel (Chapel) that featured in the novel “Moby Dick.” In the evening, a semi-retired fisherman boarded and regaled about it is like to make a living at sea. It’s a tough life but the monetary rewards are there for those who hustle.

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford's whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford’s whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nantucket

Leaving New Bedford well before dawn, we crossed Nantucket Sound and slipped between the jetties leading to Nantucket Island’s harbor as a regatta of several dozen sailing yachts headed out. The ship dropped anchor just beyond the huge anchored flotilla of visiting yachts, and a launch took us ashore.

The town is a National Historic District and an absolute treasure trove of New England architecture, from simple grey shingle-style salt boxes, some topped with widow’s walks, to large Federal-Style brick mansions. The most prominent are the elegant “Three Bricks” on cobbled Upper Main Street, built in 1836-38 by whaling merchant Joseph Starbuck for his three sons.

Unlike Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket has very few buildings from the wooden High Victorian period. When the whaling industry collapsed, the island became quite poor; hence there was little new building in the last half of the century. Recovery did not start until the summer resort role took hold in the early 20th century.

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers oeriod rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers period rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

My wife and I planned an all-day trek that would take us to the dozen houses that my family had rented or owned since my grandparents and great aunt and uncle started summering on the island in the 1920s. Situated in town, on high bluffs and close to the beach, most were happily little changed, while two have been enlarged and one torn down to be replaced by something much larger.

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

Meanwhile the other passengers took a three-hour island tour or used the inexpensive local bus system to reach the tiny village of ‘Sconset, eight miles distant on the island’s east side or south to the Atlantic Ocean at Surfside for a beach walk and to watch the breakers.

Some spent their time in the enchanting town center, walking the cobble-stoned Main Street and following a suggested residential district loop. Turn left off Main and follow Orange Street as far as York, then right and right again on Pleasant. The street returns to the upper end of Main Street opposite the Starbuck’s handsome Three Bricks.

The Vineyard & Block Island

During the evening social hour, we sailed around Brant Point Light and across the Sound to Martha’s Vineyard, docking just after dinner at Vineyard Haven. Here we remained for two nights.

Some opted for the island tours to the Victorian village of Oak Bluffs, upscale Edgartown and the dramatic headlands at Aquinnah, while the more independent-minded used the island’s subsidized bus network to visit many of the same places.

We joined friends who own a tiny gingerbread Victorian in Oak Bluffs, one of over 200 built as part of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association in the 19th century and now a National Historic Landmark.

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

In the middle of the night, we pushed off for a seven-hour sail to Block Island, a small dot in the Atlantic that a good walker can navigate on foot in a day. The island rose to utterly charming prominence in the second half of the 19th century when several wooden New England-style hotels were built facing the Old Harbor or on high ground just inland. The prominent ones that remain are the National Hotel fronting directly on the harbor and the Spring House set high on a hill overlooking the sea.

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Vans tours set out from New Harbor to explore the hilly island with its lovely freshwater ponds, steep cliffs, bird sightings, and the main attraction — the impressive Southeast Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic.

As we are walkers, my wife and I followed roughly the same route on foot then found the lighthouse enshrouded in thick fog and doing its thing, sending out a powerful warning that can be heard miles out to sea.

Newport on Many Levels

The short sail to Newport had us tie up at Fort Adams, a military defense built following the War of 1812. We used the launch service to downtown Newport and explored the city’s original 19th-century town center and its narrow lanes, just two blocks inland from Thames Street’s tourist shops.

Scheduled rubber-tire trolleys and a ship’s bus tour operated to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and the Breakers, one of the dozen extravagant mansions along Bellevue Avenue that are open to the public.

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

After our tour of Touro Synagogue, built in 1763 and the oldest remaining synagogue building in the United States, we walked past the Catholic Church where John and Jacky Kennedy were married. Continuing on, we followed Memorial Boulevard to the start of the dramatic Cliff Walk that I frequented during my boarding school years; it offers front-yard views of many estates. The first section is easily walkable passing the Breakers, Rosecliff, the Marble House and its charming Chinese Tea House to Doris Duke’s Rough Point. The path thereafter, badly damaged more than once by hurricanes, is best left to those who can spring from rock to rock. A section may be even closed but there is plenty to see along the initial two-mile route.

Our final stop at Bristol, Rhode Island, a charming waterfront setting facing Narragansett Bay, put us right across the street from the Herreshoff Marine Museum, the site of the former shipyard that once produced eight America’s Cup defenders, sleek private steam and sailing yachts, fast torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy, and waterline models.

Don't miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Don’t miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Later in the afternoon, we sailed north to the head of the bay, returning to Providence for disembarkation the next morning after breakfast.

For most passengers, New England was a first-time experience, and with three off-shore islands involved, an itinerary such as this would be awkward and hugely expensive to drive due to the considerable cost of taking a car on the ferries. For us, this is a region we have known over a lifetime, and one that we cannot get enough of.  And the weeklong New England island-hopping cruises offered by ACL and Blount are a great way to travel!

Click here for booking information on American Cruise Lines.  And here for Blount. 

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The Majestic Line

The Majestic Line specializes in small-boat cruises in Argyll, Western Scotland and the Hebridean isles, using two converted fishing boats and two custom-designed steel hulled gentleman’s motor yachts. While there is an outlined itinerary for every departure, the exact coastal and island calls and their sequence are dependent on the fickle Scottish weather. As the boats carry 11 and 12 passengers only, a cruise is very much a shared experience in close quarters. Every cruise has two single cabins offered and the booking chart shows availability.

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

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

GLEN MASSAN (built 1975 & converted 2005 & 11 passengers); GLEN TARSAN (b. 1975 & converted 2007 & 11p); GLEN ETIVE (b. 2016 & 12p); and GLEN SHIEL (b. 2019 & 12p).

The Majestic Line

Majesty Line’s trio at the dock before the GLEN SHIEL was delivered in 2019. * Photo: Majesty Line

Passenger Decks

Three decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

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

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Itineraries

GLEN MASSAN and GLEN TARSAN offer short-break 3-night and longer 6-night cruises and GLEN ETIVE 6- and 10-night cruises from Western Scotland to lochs and town landings in Argyll and trips out to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. In all, 14 different itineraries are offered with departures from April to October.

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

The vessels usually anchor by dinnertime in a secluded setting, and get underway after breakfast. If the next stop is a bit further on, then the boat may depart before breakfast. GLEN SHIEL added the mix of itineraries in 2019, and her slightly higher speed allows for more far-ranging destinations.

In 2020, Argyll and the Clyde will be featured at the beginning and end of the season on 6-night cruises. As most of the route is along the river and into sheltered lochs it should be smooth sailing. Highlights are picturesque town of Rothesay, Loch Fyne’s access to Inverarary, Mount Stuart Mansion House, Carrick Castle and the narrow channel to the Kyles of Bute.

puffins on lunga

Puffins on Lunga. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Included Features

Good selected wines at dinner. The tender may be used for exploring at no extra cost while traditional shore excursions do not exist. With maps and guidance from the crew, passengers go ashore independently to visit towns and take walks.

Why Go?

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

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

Iona. * Photo: Majestic Line

Iona. * Photo: The Majestic Line

When to Go?

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

Cabins

The vessels are small hence the cabins are compact with either twin or double-bed configurations. Two singles are available on every cruise with no supplement. The newer GLEN ETIVE and GLEN SHIEL (2019) have larger cabins. All cabins are outside and feature en suite showers, toilets and washbasins.

Cabin on Glen Etive. * Photo: Majestic Line

Cabin on GLEN ETIVE. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Public Rooms

A passenger lounge with bar service, dining room, and open deck space. At times, the wheelhouse is open to visitors, and the crew is happy to share knowledge of navigation and geography. You might even have a hand at the wheel.

Dining

Communal table seats all. Typical meal times are: breakfast 8-9am; lunch 1pm; afternoon tea at 4pm; and dinner 7:30pm. Wine is included with dinner. Main courses feature local fish and shellfish (crabs and sometime lobsters), beef, lamb and venison all sourced locally. With so few to cook for, meals are a craft and a treat. An outside table may also be available when the weather is conducive.

Dining on Glen Tarsan. * Photo: Majestic Line

Dining saloon on GLEN TARSAN. * Photo: Majestic Line

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

All four vessels are available for charter, and such an arrangement can be researched first by looking at the cabin availability on the annual cruise schedule. No bookings indicate a charter may be possible, and rates are discounted by 10%. GLEN ETIVE and GLEN SHIEL (2019) have stabilizers and is used for longer trips that might encounter some choppy seas such as to the Outer Hebrides and to remote St. Kilda truly out in the Atlantic.

The Majesty Line's Glen Shiel

The Glen Shiel joined the Majesty Line fleet in 2019! * Photo: The Majesty Line

Along the Same Lines

Hebridean Island Cruises‘ 49-passenger HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS also cruises in Scotland’s Western Isles; as does an equally small pair operating for Hebrides Cruises; and the single vessel, LORD OF THE GLEN, for the Magna Carta Steamship Company. Also check out Argyll Cruising and St Hilda Sea Adventures, a pair of wonderful companies with charming vessels cruising Scotland.

Contact

The Majestic Line, Unit 3, Holy Loch Marina, Sandbank, Dunoon PA23 8FE Argyll, Scotland; +44 (0) 1369 707 951 or www.themajesticline.co.uk.

— TWS

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AmaWaterways

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About AmaWaterways

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

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

EUROPEAN RIVERS

Ships & Years Delivered

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

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

RELATED: Read Gene Sloan’s AmaMagna review here.

Passengers

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$$

NOTE:

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

Included Features

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

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

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

Itineraries (through 2020)

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

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

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

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

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

Other European operators.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA & VIETNAM

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

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

Ships & Years Delivered

AmaDara (built 2015 & 124 passengers).

Passengers

Mainly North Americans 50 and up.

Passenger Decks

4 decks, no elevator.

Price

$$$

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

IRRAWADDY RIVER IN MYANMAR (BURMA)

(Note: Not currently operating)

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

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

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

SOUTHERN AFRICA: ZAMBEZI RIVER IN BOTSWANA

In Brief

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

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

Giraffes in Nambia

Giraffes in Nambia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Contact Info

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

— TWS

 

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Pandaw Cruises

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QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review of Pandaw River Cruises

Pandaw has been offering high-quality expedition-style river cruises in Asia aboard traditional-style boats for more than 25 years. The growing fleet comprises similar-looking colonial-style teakwood riverboats 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 meals are tasty enough.

In every way, the Pandaw River Cruises experience is solid, authentic and eminently comfortable just like the boats, with the focus on the destination, not fussy décor or cloying service. Step on board and breathe in the refreshing scent of teak wood before wiping your sweaty brow with a chilled face towel handed out by crew at the gangway.

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. In 2015, Strachan published a book called The Pandaw Story about his adventures, Pandaw, and the history and culture of Myanmar. He’s also written guides to Bagan’s art and architecture.

Pandaw River Cruises on the Orient Pandaw

The embarkation adventure is half the fun! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

Divided into two classes, the river boats number 16:

The smaller two-deck “K” class river boats — ANGKOR PANDAW (built 2012, 32 passengers), KALAW PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), KALAY PANDAW (b. 2013, 10 p), KATHA PANDAW (b. 2011, 28 p), KHA BYOO PANDAW (b. 2014, 20 p), KINDAT PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), ZAWGYI (b. 2014, 20 p), LAOS PANDAW (b. 2015, 20 p), CHAMPA PANDAW (b. 2016, 28 p) and SABAIDEE PANDAW (b. 2018, 24 p). On November 7, 2019, the KANEE PANDAW (28 passengers) takes delivery of the latest “K” vessels for Irrawaddy cruises between Prome north of Rangoon and Mandalay and the Great Irrawaddy Delta.

The larger three-deck “P” class river boats — BASSAC PANDAW (b. 2012, 60 p), INDOCHINA PANDAW (b. 2009, 60 p), MEKONG PANDAW (b. 2003 & totally refitted in 2013, 48 p), ORIENT PANDAW (b. 2008, 60 p), PANDAW II (b. 2002, 48 p), and TONLE PANDAW (b. 2002 & totally refitted in 2013, 56 p).

In addition, Pandaw introduced the coastal cruiser ANDAMAN EXPLORER built for the Norwegian coast guard in 1963 and subsequently converted to a luxury yacht before passing to Pandaw. She carries 20 passengers in ten suites, nine of which have double beds and one twins).

Passenger Profile

Mostly couples, with some singles, in their 50s on up from the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe mostly. Not recommended for children under age 12 or for anyone with trouble walking, as getting on and off the ships usually involves walking across narrow gangways and up and down muddy embankments.

Pandaw River Cruises aboard the Orient Pandaw

Watching the world go by from the bow of the Orient Pandaw. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Decks

2 or 3; no elevators

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

All excursions led by a local tour guide who travels with the boat, bottled water and tips, though many passengers do leave something extra in the communal tip box at the end of the cruise.

Reasonably priced drinks package are offer for house wines, free-flow drinks (minus wine), and free-flow drinks including house wines.

Itineraries

The majority of Pandaw’s river expeditions are on three of South-East Asia’s great rivers: the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in Myanmar, and the Mekong River that flows from China through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. From time to time the line experiments with new itineraries, for instance in Borneo, offering Pandaw fans great reasons to keep coming back.

A few itineraries venture into northern Vietnam, to Halong Bay and on the Red River that flows past Hanoi into the Gulf of Tonkin. River itineraries in India now number three with three different riverboats. A brand new 10-night itinerary aboard 20-passenger Andaman Explorer sails from the mainland to India’s Andaman Islands, an archipelago rich in its ethnographic mix, biodiversity and marine life. Fly both ways to/from the Andaman’s for a 7-night cruise. Below is an outline of the additional itineraries offered along the coast and to the islands.

  • A wide variety of 1- to 20-night itineraries along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers includes the popular week-long Bagan to Mandalay runs nearly year-round, with the highlight being Bagan’s stunning profusion of Buddhist pagodas. Shallow draft riverboats allow navigation to Katha, 1000 miles above Rangoon (Yangon) well above Mandalay and past the third and second defiles. Note: These cruises are subject to sufficient depth of water, and the shallow draft of the riverboats deployed on this route is 32 inches or 80 cm.
  • The most popular of the 3- to 14-night Mekong River cruises are the classic week-long journeys between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, for visits to both rural villages and cities. Most people spend a few days before or after the cruise ogling the stunning monuments of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to take in Vietnam. Other itineraries traverse the more remote Mekong in China and Laos. The boats here have very shallow drafts and powerful engines 3 times the horsepower of the main fleet to “climb” the Laotian Mekong into China.
  • Every year in mid April, May and June, the fleet is taken out of service for maintenance coinciding with the extreme hot weather and very low water levels.
  • The upper Ganges itinerary operates from Kolkata well inland to Varanasi, the lower Ganges, not as far, to Farakka, and a third on the Brahmaputra.
  • The coastal ship ANDAMAN EXPLORER undertakes 7- to 18-day voyages in the Irrawaddy Delta, the length of Myanmar’s coast, amongst the Mergui Archipelago and to India’s Andaman Islands.
  • Note: For Indochina land travelers, Pandaw now offers short, three-day river cruises between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, passing through the Mekong River Delta with stops at villages and a bird sanctuary. Includes hotel stays at both ends.
Mekong River Cruising

The gorgeous U Min Thone Se Pagoda outside of Mandalay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

To see remote parts of Asia with expert guides on charming period-vessels.

When to Go?

Pandaw cruises July through early April, with water levels the highest and landscape the lushest between about October and February. Even in dry season (March and April), though, the boats with their shallow drafts can navigate the rivers even when waters levels are getting low.

Cabins

Well laid-out with colonial decor, the wood-paneled cabins are roomy with comfy twin captain’s beds with ample storage beneath. There’s a closet, two bedside tables and a small desk. Large glass doors open onto the side promenade decks. Wood paneled bathrooms have very large showers, and shampoo and soap are provided; a few of the older boats, including ORIENT PANDAW, TONLE PANDAW and MEKONG PANDAW have recently refurbished bathrooms with natural stone-clad showers.

Other extras across the fleet include cotton robes, slippers, personal safe, individually controlled AC, and hair dryer. To avoid engine noise, choose a cabin as far forward as possible. There are no TVs and few PA announcements, assuring a peaceful journey.

These ships are not recommended for passengers using wheelchairs, as there are no elevators, only stairs between decks.

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Public Rooms

Each has one restaurant, a combination bar and lounge, and lots of covered outdoor space on the uppermost deck for hanging out and scenery viewing. The open design allows air to flow through the vessels providing not only a welcome breeze, but also a stabilizing affect for the boats.

The larger “P” class boats have a third deck and amenities including a massage room, small boutique and art gallery, and a lecture and meeting room with a large flatscreen TV, projector and sound system to show movies about the region after dinner (like Indochine or The Quiet American). One of them, MEKONG PANDAW, has a small gym with cardio machines and weights.

Dining

On the larger ships the restaurant is inside, and depending on the temperature, with large French doors open to the river or closed with air-conditioning; on the smaller ships, they’re open-air on the covered top deck. Meals are served in one open seating at tables for four, six or eight, though different configurations can be made on request if there is space. Breakfast and lunch are semi-buffet and dinners are served.

Cuisine incorporates fruits and vegetables from the region into dishes such as chicken breast stuffed with tea leaves, roast pumpkin, prawn curry, fried rice, and various delicious Asian soups made to order with the ingredients laid out for diners to pick and choose from.

There are also western staples, from scrambled eggs to salads, fish and chips, and pasta. All meals are prepared onboard and nearly 100% of supplies are sourced from local producers in keeping with Pandaw’s commitment to support the local economies.

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

The boats make at least one stop a day, sometimes two or three. When sailing, most people are content to relax on a padded wooden deck chair or chaise lounge to watch the river traffic and scenery float by.

An expert tour guide from the country visited sails along for the duration of the cruise, leads shore excursions and gives talks on board about various aspects of the destination and local culture, such as demonstrations about how to tie a sarong or make the tree-bark thanaka face paint popular in Myanmar. (On weeklong Mekong itineraries through Cambodia and Vietnam, there is a guide from each country for that half of the journey.)

Generally once or twice per cruise a local dance or singing group, or maybe a troupe of puppeteers, are brought on board to entertain guests after dinner. Otherwise, it’s drinks and chatting about the day’s adventures with new friends before heading off to sleep to rest up before another eventful day begins.

Along the Same Lines

In Myanmar, Paukan and Belmond offer the closest equivalent to Pandaw, and on the Mekong River, Heritage Line does.

Contact

Pandaw Cruises, www.pandaw.com; information@pandaw.com.

HMS

 

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