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Amazon Clipper cruises

Amazon Clipper Cruises.

REVIEWER

Elaine Andrews from the UK.

CRUISE LINE

Amazon Clipper Cruises.

SHIP

Premium by Amazon Clipper.

DESTINATION

Amazon and Rio Negro, Brazil.

# OF NIGHTS

5.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

February 2020 from Manaus, Brazil.

OVERALL RATING

4 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 4

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 6 small ship cruises.

Amazon Clipper Cruises boat

The 16-passenger Premium of Amazon Clipper Cruises. * Photo: Elaine Andrews

REVIEW

Amazon Clipper Premium runs 3 cruises from Manaus, a 2 night cruise on the Amazon, a 3 night cruise on the Rio Negro, and a 5 night cruise which is a combination of the two. We did the combined cruise. The Amazon Clipper Premium is a traditional style Amazon riverboat with 16 cabins. There are 4 decks, including a sundeck on top. There is a bar, air-conditioned restaurant, air-conditioned lounge, and outdoor bar and seating area and two hot tubs. This cruise is aimed at those who have an interest in the wildlife of the Amazon.

The cabins are of a good size, with a big bed (or 2 twins), plenty of storage, a small safe, air conditioning, a big PVC framed picture window with river views, which slides open and a bathroom with toilet, washbasin and shower. Toilet paper has to go in the bin.

Free tea, coffee and water are available all day, breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the price and are all buffet style. The food was excellent, there was a good selection of food including plenty of local dishes if you were feeling adventurous. The bar was well stocked and the prices of alcohol and soft drinks seemed reasonable.

The crew was excellent and very helpful. Only the guides spoke English, but communication never seemed to be a problem. The boat was only half full for the second part of the trip, so there was plenty of space for everyone. We had 2 guides who were very knowledgeable, we were taken out on 2 canoes for the many opportunities to explore the Amazon and the River Negro. These included many early and night excursions to see wildlife (we saw lots!), we also went jungle trekking, piranha fishing and visited local communities. We saw the incredible meeting of the waters between the Amazon and the Rio Negro and had a number of opportunities to swim in the river.

The itinerary was pretty full on, we were woken at 5.50 or 6am every day, but if you want to see the wildlife, this is what you have to do. You can of course, skip excursions, but why would you? Our guides and canoe drivers worked really hard to let us see as much wildlife as possible. If I had a criticism, it would be that they were over enthusiastic and we sometimes disturbed the wildlife we were trying to see by getting too close. Also, there was a bit of duplication between the two combined cruises, but they try to minimise that.

Overall, if you want a cruise that combines the wildlife of the Amazon with the luxuries of modern life, this is the cruise for you!

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

RELATED:  Off the Grid: Small Ship Amazon Cruising by David Cogswell

 

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Tucano on an Amazon Nature Tour

Amazon Nature Tours

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

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

butterfly in the Amazon

The lovely Borboleta butterfly. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Amazon Nature Tours's Tucano

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

Passenger Decks

3 decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

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

a launch on an Amazon river cruise

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

Price

$$

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

Tucano on an Amazon Nature Tour

Serenity in the Amazon aboard the Tucano.

Why Go?

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

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

Amazon Expedition Cruises

A brilliant macaw. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

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

amazon expedition cruises

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

When to Go?

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

Spot a capuchin on an Amazon Nature Tours

A cute capuchin. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Cabins

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

twin Cabin with Amazon Nature Tours' Tucano

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

The Tucano's dining area.

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

The 18-passenger Tucano.

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

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

Contact

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

— TWS

 

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The 18-passenger Tucano.

Amazon Expedition Cruises.

By Anne Kalosh.

QuirkyCruise’s Anne Kalosh talks with Mark Baker, the founder of Amazon Nature Tours (www.amazon-nature-tours.com). Sailing in Brazil’s deep Amazon aboard the small, eco-friendly vessel Tucano, travelers explore the dense forests and small tributaries within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the planet’s richest places in terms of biodiversity.

Brazil map

Map: commons.wikimedia

Most of the four- and six-night journeys are spent on the Rio Negro, the least inhabited major river in the Amazon basin. Led by trained naturalists, these expedition cruises include kayak and launch excursions, hikes, visits to native villages, fishing for piranhas and beach outings.

The Amazon & Rio Negro map

The Amazon & Rio Negro.

Recently Brazil eliminated the tourist visa requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia, making it easier and less costly to travel to the country. However, there’s been an international outcry over fires in the Amazon, which have sharply increased this year. Activists say the anti-environment rhetoric of President Jair Bolsonaro has emboldened tree-clearing by farmers and ranchers since he took office in January.

QC: Given the Amazon fires and some calls to boycott trips to Brazil as a result, what would you advise mindful travelers?

Mark Baker: A boycott of travel to Brazil would have a very negative consequence on rain forest preservation. The travel industry is one of the strongest voices in conservation and has a very positive effect on public policy. By enabling travelers to experience the natural wonders of the Amazon, the travel industry helps generate international will to support conservation as well as serve in the vital role of environmental education, one of the most powerful forces for change.

Amazon Expedition Cruises' Mark Baker

Mark Baker, a boatbuilder from Rhode Island, fell in love with the Amazon and created a tour company in 1988. * Photo: Amazon-Nature-Tours.com

QC: Do your trips go anywhere near the fires?

Mark Baker: What may be hard for many of us to grasp is the grand size of the Amazon. It’s as big as the continental United States. While the pace of deforestation has increased this year, fortunately, the scale of the region is so large that it is not perceivable where we operate. We voyage in the state of Amazonas which, if it were a country, would be the 13th biggest in the world.

The forest in the grand extent of the Amazonas is not at all impacted by the fires. There is no smoke in the air. We are fortunate that the state of Amazonas is only about 3 percent deforested and where the cruises take place, on the Rio Negro, there is no commercial logging or agricultural development so we are able to enjoy the wild forest.

We absolutely support efforts for rain forest conservation, and one of the most important and necessary steps in this endeavor is environmental education. This is a mission of ours for our 30 years of operations and we remain dedicated and committed to sharing the beauties of the Amazon and the need to preserve them.

Amazon Expedition Cruises

A brilliant macaw. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: What drew you to the Amazon?

Mark Baker: It’s truly a quirky story. There’s a family myth: My great great-great-grandfather was Daniel Boone. I’ve always been a lover of nature, since I was small, poking around in the woods. I had a coonskin cap.

I’m a boatbuilder by trade, in Rhode Island. I took a vacation in 1980. As a professional mariner, I took a position on a sailboat as a crew member. When I finally got to Manaus I was so captivated, I decided I was going to make a life out of this somehow.

I started a lumber company, importing wood from Brazil into the United States. I would fly all over the Amazon to zones where big machines were cutting down trees. I did that for eight years. In the end, I just could not do it any more.

I realized you can appreciate the nature of this place but not support the destruction of the forest. So in 1988, I transitioned to a travel company.

In the Brazilian Amazon, you’re surrounded by thousands of miles forest, but it’s almost impenetrable. The way to get into it is by boat. It is a perfect way to see it and explore. So this was a very happy meeting of my two passions.

QC: Your company promises “true expedition cruises.” What does that mean?

Mark Baker: It’s not a boat experience. It’s an expedition experience. We use the boat as a vehicle to explore. It’s really about getting us to where we want to be. We take four or five excursions a day, so we’re only on the boat 10 or 11 hours.

Our six-night cruises are 230 miles one-way. We go into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’re pretty much the only regular boat. There are few people. No extractions of any kind are allowed. Fishing is limited. It’s a true wilderness.

When you come into a really remote place, you start to really understand what nature is like. There are no engine sounds. You have a true sense of the howling wilderness. You don’t walk off 100 yards on your own. We’d never find you.

It’s scary, thrilling and, in the end, captivating.

QC: What kind of experiences can people have on your trips?

Mark Baker: They’re very active. We offer four or more excursions every day. We divide into two groups, a science group and an adventure group. People can choose which one (for each excursion), so everyone’s happy.

The science group goes out in 10-meter launches, birdwatching, learning about plants and animals. It’s a wilderness experience but not physically taxing.

The adventure group goes hiking or kayaking. It’s a really physical experience.

The 18-passenger Tucano.

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

The science group goes out first in the morning, at 6 a.m., when the birds are out, feeding. They come back and have a big breakfast. Everybody goes out at 10. Both groups walk in the forest for about an hour. These are really wilderness trails but travelers don’t have to use a machete. The adventure group continues for about two hours.

Everyone comes back at about noon, when it’s getting hot. We fire up the main engine and travel until 3:30 or 4.

In the afternoon, everybody goes out in the launches. They’re back around 6 or 6:30. The sun goes down. They have dinner.

At 7:30 or 8, they go out for the night wildlife, always by launch, to see the nocturnal animals. It can be a little bit scary.

sloth on an Amazon Expedition Cruise

A sloth in the Amazon. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: What’s the boat like?

Mark Baker: We built Tucano. It’s been in service since 1997. It’s had four refits since then. You want it to feel new. Most recently it was out of service for a month. I am by profession a boatbuilder so we did it ourselves. We took it apart and put it back together.

We were really pressing on sustainability and made substantial modifications to make Tucano more thermally insulated, in order to expand solar energy use. We peeled off the exterior vertical walls and added double and triple insulation in the interstices and put in new windows that are thermally protected. Almost 25 percent of the energy used on board is solar.

We’ve replaced the exterior with a type of aluminum. We designed a method to not use wood. Our process is solar-powered electricity. There’s not a lack of it but we don’t want to waste it. We store the solar power because we have electric launches that we use every day. We’re making ice with it. Our galley refrigerator and freezer run on solar power. We heat the water for showers with it as well.

My goal is to make our main salon air-conditioned by solar power. This enables us to turn off all the machines and have absolute silence for four hours a day. The solar power hours are generally in the early morning and late afternoon when the boat is at anchor and most people are on excursions. The air-conditioning system does not operate during this time but because of the insulation, the boat stays cool.

These hours are a good time to enjoy the stillness and appreciate the sounds of the forest.

Iguana on an Amazon expedition cruise

An Amazon iguana. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Are people roughing it on Tucano then?

Mark Baker: Tucano has air-conditioned cabins with 700-thread-count Egyptian cottons, chocolates on the beds. It’s not a luxury experience but very comfortable, very sophisticated.

Each cabin has a private bathroom. There are two showers, one with solar-heated water, the other, diesel-electric-heated water.

At lunch and dinner, you get choices of entrees. It’s Brazilian cuisine. Lots of fruits, fish, quite sophisticated flavors and presentation. We have five kinds of fruit-flavored ice creams.

We carry lots of vegetarians and vegans. We ask everyone to fill out an information sheet so we can design the menus accordingly.

Our staff have worked with us for decades. We have eight crew members, all Brazilians. There are just 18 travelers.

Read QuirkyCruise contributor David Cogwell’s article about his week on the Tucano.

The Tucano's dining area.

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

QC: Who are your customers?

Mark Baker: People from all around the globe. This notion of exploring the Amazon features in the dreams of people from around the world. There may be four or five languages or nationalities on our cruises. The common point is they all love nature. They have a sense of adventure.

One-third are from the U.S. One-third are from Europe, a lot from the U.K. and Benelux. We have people from as far away as India.

Some travelers take our cruise as part of a Brazil package.

There’s always a real affinity with the other travelers. We want to have a congenial group. Some people form lifelong bonds.

QC: Should people be fit?

Mark Baker: We ask that people be healthy. Some people will come and stay on the boat (and not take the excursions). We’re always at anchor and they can see interesting things. Good health is necessary but athleticism is not.

QC: Do you allow children?

Mark Baker: It’s absolutely appropriate for children. We have some discounts for them, too. They need to be at least 7 years old. It’s a lot of fun to have children with us. In July and August we have lots of extended families — grandparents, parents, children. They go swimming, catch piranhas and we eat them. We find all kinds of strange creatures.

QC: What kind of wildlife can travelers see?

Mark Baker: One hundred kinds of birds — pygmy kingfishers, hoatzins, harpy eagles, king vultures with a wingspan of seven feet.

The primates include big groups of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, two to three species of tiny marmosets.

amazon expedition cruises

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

Collared peccaries are really unusual. Giant river otters.

It takes real discipline to see some things. We teach people how to watch in the forest. We’re quiet and use hand signals. We try not to wear bright colors.

Outboard motors make noise that scares off animals. We use electric motors.

Amazon Nature Expeditions

Part of Tucano’s Sun Deck is covered with a shade canopy. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Does the experience vary by season?

Mark Baker: We begin our voyages at about two degrees from the equator. There are rainy and dry seasons, but it doesn’t rain as much in this central part as in other places in the Amazon.

The rainy season is from about mid-December to mid-May. There’s really interesting bird life from February to April/May.

The dry season runs August to November. From June to September, the water depth is lower so it’s a really good time to see pretty much everything — lots of birds, primates, plants.

In September you start to see dramatic changes. The water goes down. It’s much hotter. There are countless fish. Lots of dolphins. Every kind of fishing bird. Caiman. It’s a really good time for raptors.

In October-November, it’s extremely hot.

QC:  What does a trip cost, and what’s included?

Mark Baker: There are nine cabins. The daily rate is $600 to $650 per person, and the lower category rooms cost 30 percent less. There are two single cabins.

The cost includes excursions, meals, water. There are very few extras, with the exception of alcohol and soda. We’re sober naturalists, but we do have a party the last night with music and caipirinhas for everybody.

QC: How should people prepare for a trip like this?

Mark Baker: We send a 24-page pre-departure booklet that tells about some suggested equipment and the perspective travelers should have. We ask people to focus on the nature and history and think of themselves as explorers for knowledge.

Stay focused. That’s what hunters do. They are ecological hunters. Look and listen.

When people are focused, we see lots more than would be possible otherwise.

🦜

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Quasar Expeditions Seals

Quasar Expeditions.

Quasar Expeditions resides at the top of the charts with its stellar reputation for operating well-run, well-guided, one-week Galapagos itineraries away from the crowds, using two traditional-looking yachts that take just 16 and 32 passengers.

The cruises have operated exclusively within the Galapagos archipelago for over three decades, while the land itineraries use lodges along the Amazon in Ecuador, treks in the high Peruvian Andes, and overland journeys in super scenic Patagonia.

These land-based options may be added to the one-week cruises. As an alternative, the firm also offers shorter hotel stays in the Galapagos with exploration on foot and in small boats.

Quasar Expeditions Seals

The gorgeous beaches and seals of Espanola Island. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

The yacht Grace was first built before WWII and patronized by nobility in Europe and by Grace Kelly on her honeymoon with the Prince of Monaco. (16 passengers).

Quasar Expeditions' 18-passenger Grace

Quasar Expeditions’ 16-passenger Grace was the honeymoon of choice for Grace Kelly and the Prince of Monaco.

The yacht Evolution was completed in 2005 with an attractive traditional design (32 passengers).

Quasar Expeditions' 32-passenger Evolution

The 32-passenger Evolution. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Both vessels are available for full charters.

Passenger Decks

Both vessels have four decks and no elevators.

Passenger Profile

International but emphasizing English speakers; all ages. Most of the crew speaks Spanish and English and are Ecuadoran locals. A doctor is carried and may accompany passengers on excursions.

Iguana and child in the Galapagos

Galapagos cruises are great experiences for families. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Price

$$$

Itineraries

Both yachts both operate a pair of distinctive one-week itineraries embarking in San Cristobal or Baltra. Sailings take place year-round. You may want to study the differences, but you can’t go wrong with whichever itinerary you choose.

Bartolome Island in the Galapagos

The panoramic views overlooking the island of Bartolome. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Included Features

Excursions in Zodiacs, walks and hikes ashore, kayaking, and snorkeling. Extras include gratuities to guides and crew (guidelines given on website and aboard), alcoholic beverages, and scuba diving.

Why Go?

The Galapagos is nature at its best, with abundant birdlife, land animals and sea creatures seen up close. Many species are found nowhere else, having adapted to this particular island chain pretty much in isolation.

Blue-Footed Booby birds in the galapagos

The famed Blue-Footed Booby birds of the Galapagos. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

When to Go?  

Cruises operate year-round. The climate is subtropical, and the water temperatures are affected by the islands’ proximity to both the cold Humboldt and the warmer El Nino currents.

January to June is warm season with rain, and it’s the ideal period for ocean activities; July to December is cooler and dry.

Sea turtle in the Galapagos

Snorkeling and diving in the Galapagos will be life changing. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Cabins

Both vessels have comfortable all-outside cabins, most with windows, and a few with portholes and a variety of layouts — single beds, queen-size and king-size.

Completed in 2005, Evolution takes 32 passengers in double, queen and twin-bedded cabins that range in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft.

Quasar Expeditions

The Double A1 Suite aboard the 32-passenger Evolution. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Grace takes just 16 and the Grace Kelly suite is particularly spacious and in a quiet isolated location forward.

The Grace Suite aboard the 18-passenger Grace of Quasar Expeditions

The Grace suite aboard the 16-passenger Grace. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Public Rooms

The 32-passenger expedition vessel Evolution is noted for its roomy public spaces, indoor/outdoor dining, open decks with outdoor bar and a hot tub forward on a lower deck. The lounges are enclosed and covered, yet can be open to the sides, with deck space out of doors and a small tub at the bow. The observation deck is canopied covered and has a bar for relaxing at the end of the day’s activities ashore or in the water.

The outdoor lounge aboard Quasar Expeditions' Evolution

The al fresco lounge aboard the Evolution. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

The Grace ha an interior lounge and al-fresco dining aft and under cover. At the stern, a small lounge offers views aft. A second covered lounge and bar are aft of the cabins. A sunbathing deck is atop the ship, and a Jacuzzi is forward. Both vessels have wraparound decks for strolling and watching the wildlife.

Quasar Expeditions' Grace's outdoor dining

The Grace’s outdoor dining. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Dining

Meals offer both Ecuadoran and Continental choices at one open seating for everyone.

Activities & Entertainment

Talks aboard and off the ship, guided hikes and walks to lava flows, along cliffsides and on the beach, snorkeling, and zodiacs trips. Two kayaks are available for passenger use, and the bridge has an open policy most of the time. Scuba diving is available at an extra expense.

Seals on the beach

The entertainment, of course, IS the natural beauty of the Galapagos. * Photo: Quasar Expeditions

Special Notes

The line prides itself on banning all single-use plastics such as straw, cups, and water bottles. Yay !!

Along the Same Lines

The higher-end operators with small capacity vessels.

Contact

Go to www.quasarex.com. US: 7855 NW 12 St. Ste 111, Doral, FL 33126 (1-888-502-9503, local 1-415-689-8509); UK: 0-800-883-967; Australia: 1-800-312-976.

— TWS

 

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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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Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

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

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

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

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

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

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

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

— Galapagos Conservancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ports of Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go

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

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

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

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

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

Company Reviews

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

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

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

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

Eclipse Travel

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

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

Journeys International

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

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

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

Mountain Travel Sobek

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

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

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

Natural Habitat Adventures

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

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

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

Wilderness Travel

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

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

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

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machu Picchu

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

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

 

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Celebrity Cruises Galapagos

If you’ve cruised on the biggies, you’ll feel right at home on these sporty miniature versions.

Many feel at ease knowing that the well-established Celebrity Cruises, a line that otherwise keeps busy with its fleet of giant 2,000 to 3,000-passenger mega ships, is behind the operation. Celebrity launched the 100-passenger, 296-foot CELEBRITY XPEDITION back in 2004, a groundbreaking move at the time for a mainstream cruise line, to sail year-round in the Galapagos Islands. The-mini cruise ship, or mega-yacht as the company refers to it, carries 5 zodiac landing craft on board for rides to remote beaches, bays and snorkeling sites, for up-close encounters with sea lions, turtles, schools of fish, and marine birds, namely the well-known frigates and blue-footed boobies.

The 48-passenger M/V ECLIPSE and the 16-passenger catamaran M/C ATHALA II  both of which started year-round cruises in March 2017 were replaced in mid-2019 by the brand new 100-passenger ship, the CELEBRITY FLORA, for the Galapagos.

RELATED: Celebrity’s Custom-Built Galapagos Ship, Celebrity Flora … by Anne Kalosh.

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CELEBRITY XPEDITION (built 2001, 100 passengers); CELEBRITY FLORA (b. 2019, 100 p.). The crew is mostly Ecuadoran.

RELATED: Galapagos Islands Cruise Overview

Celebrity Expeditions

CELEBRITY FLORA entered service in mid-2019. * Photo: Celebrity Expeditions

Passenger Profile

Wildlife-loving, eco-minded couples and families from North America mostly (click HERE for a kid’s review), with a sprinkling of passengers from the UK and Europe, who have always dreamed of going to the Galapagos Islands. Some have cruised on parent company Celebrity’s mega ships.

Passenger Decks

XPEDITION, 4 decks and an elevator connects 4 of them; CELEBRITY FLORA, 6 decks and elevator between all but highest deck.

Price

$$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

On packages of 10 nights or more, guided shore excursions, tips, wine, spirits and all drinks throughout cruise, plus round-trip airfare between Quito and Baltra, 2 hotels nights before and 1 after in Quito (on mainland) with transfer and meals. Snorkeling gear and wetsuits are always included.

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Itineraries

  • 7-, 10-, 11-, 13- and 15-night cruise packages round-trip from the island of Baltra, where the islands’ main airport is. You also add on over-land tours to Peru’s Machu Picchu.
  • Highlights include Kicker Rock, stunning stacks of towering volcanic rock formations that are home to many species of nesting birds including blue-footed boobies; the beaches of Cerro Brujo for close encounters with sea lions; and deep sea snorkeling off the coast of Isla Isabela to gaze on sea turtles, penguins, and marine iguanas feeding on underwater algae.
  • The addition of the two new ships greatly expanded Celebrity’s itinerary options in the Galapagos, with routes now stopping at the white sand beaches of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, the submerged caldera at Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island, and the mango estuary of Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island. Some visit the volcanic Chinese Hat Islet and Wall of Tears, a wall built by prisoners at a penal colony on Isabela Island in the 1940s and 50s.
Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

When to Go?

The ships cruise in the Galapagos Islands year-round; because of school holidays, the summer months and December/January are considered the peak season price-wise.

December though June is the rainy season with the warmest water and air temps or the year; there is sun and daily rain showers (late April and May are pretty ideal, as there’s less rain, flowers are blooming and sea lion pups are being born).

You’ll rarely get rain July through December, though it tends to be cloudy and seas can be rougher, however these months tend to be better for bird watching.

Cabins

On all three, all cabins are outside with balconies, windows and/or portholes. XPEDITION has 13 suites and all cabins have a sitting area, desk, TV, hairdryers, safe and bathrobes. FLORA is an all-suite ship, and the standard suite, the Sky Suite, will measure 33 square feet and have an Infinite Veranda. The doors to the Infinite Veranda can slide to the side to make the veranda a seamless part of the room. When the doors are closed, creating a separate veranda area, the top of a floor-to-ceiling outside window can be lowered to the open air. FLORA also has a few bigger, posher suites.

The top-of-the-line pair of corner Penthouse Suites, 1,288 square feet/120 square meters each, feature big verandas (321 square feet/30 square meters) and bathrooms (196 square feet/18 square meters) with floor-to-ceiling windows. The ship has stay in place without using an anchor that might damage the ocean floor and stabilizers that operate effectively at 0-speed. Seawater is processed to fresh for all needs.

One of 12 suites on board XPEDITION. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Public Rooms

Ships have two dining areas and a windowed lounge for daily lectures by the onboard naturalists. Each has a bar, with XPEDITION also boasting a small dance floor and a piano too. XPEDITION’s outdoor Blue Finch bar on the Promenade is the place for drinks with great views of islands. As the largest of the trio, XPEDITION offers the most amenities, with a small gym, co-ed sauna, massage room and a small boutique. All three have a sun deck with padded chaise lounges for sunbathing and relaxing, and each has a hot tub.

The CELEBRITY FLORA will have Darwin’s Cove, a place where passengers can chat with the naturalists who lead tours and give informative talks. There will be one naturalist guide for every dozen passengers. Briefings will be delivered in FLORA’s Discovery Lounge, where there’s a full bar, stage for entertainment and comfy seating. The lounge’s walls are nearly all glass, making another great place to take in the views. FLORA has plenty of open-air spaces on the top deck for lounging and observing wildlife and a stargazing platform. Four rental cabanas are available for privacy by day or sleeping under the stars.

Dining

Each boat has two relatively informal dining venues, one indoor and one al fresco, with open-seating tables of six and eight. Continental cuisine incorporates locally caught fish and fresh vegetables and fruits from the region, plus basics like roast chicken, ribs and pastas. No jackets or formal dressing are required. On XPEDITION, the al fresco Beagle Grill at the stern of Deck 6 is a casual place serving burgers, hot dogs, pizza, salads and the like, and sometimes there’s a grilled seafood fest at lunchtime. Usually once per cruise there’s a lovely barbecue on deck under the stars.

On FLORA, besides the Seaside Restaurant, open for all meals, the ship will have a casual alternative, the Ocean Grill, with panoramic views and the opportunity to dine under the stars.

Grilled seafood and corn on the cob for lunch is a delicious affair. on board XPEDITION, * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

The islands themselves and the wildlife you’ll encounter are the big stars with typically two excursions per day. When on board, then, most passengers are eager to relax and watch the scenery from the decks, look through the reference books in the small libraries or listen to the daily talks by the naturalists. You can also fit in a gym workout on XPEDITION. A marina in CELEBRITY FLORA’s stern will make it easy to step into Zodiacs for the frequent nature tours — hiking, swimming and snorkeling — that characterize a Galápagos cruise. A staircase leads from the marina to the Sunset Lounge, an outdoor space with a plunge pool.

Evenings, it’s drinks with friends at the bar and on most cruises, local entertainers come on board for a few hours to do a traditional Ecuadorian music, singing and dance performance. Another highlight is a slideshow of passengers’ encounters with wildlife during the course of the cruise.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

Celebrity Cruises, 1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33132; 888-751-7804.

— HMS

 

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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of brands that also includes Cosmos. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market and is adding new ships with suite features that are unique to the line. Avalon operates a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as relatively new programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy (not 2019),  Ganges (began 2019) and the Nile (2020).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

European Rivers
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AVALON IMAGERY II (built 2016 & 128 passengers); AVALON PASSION (b. 2016 & 166p); AVALON TAPESTRY II & AVALON TRANQUILITY II (b. 2015 & 128 p); AVALON IMPRESSION (b. 2014 & 166p); AVALON POETRY II (b. 2014 & 128 p); AVALON ARTISTRY II (b. 2013 & 128 p); AVALON VISTA (b. 2012 & 166p); AVALON VISIONARY (b. 2012 & 128 p); AVALON LUMINARY & AVALON FELICITY (b. 2010 & 138 p); AVALON PANORAMA (b. 2011 & 166p); AVALON AFFINITY (b. 2009 & 138p); AVALON CREATIVITY( b. 2009 & 128p) and AVALON SCENERY (b. 2008 & 216 p). An addition to the fleet in 2019 will be AVALON ENVISION (b. 2019 & 166 passengers).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

All riverboats have four decks, and an elevator connects the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Most shore excursions, WiFi (including in cabins), minibar with bottled water, regional wines and beers with dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast, coffees, teas and hot chocolate throughout the day, cabin TV with English-speaking channels and 100 movie options.

Itineraries

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

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

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

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks.

When to Go?

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

Cabins

All riverboats, except the five built between 2008 and 2010, are designated Avalon Suite Ships and come with larger cabins and substantially different configuration – for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a large 11-foot glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside. The remaining five boats offer four 258 sq. ft. Royal Suites with a similar layout but where the TV interrupts the continuous glass window, and 172 sq. ft. Avalon Deluxe Suites. All Indigo Deck (lowest) deck cabins have small rectangular windows set high in the wall as they are located just above the waterline.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Public Rooms

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar, aft facing Club Lounge, and main dining room. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool, Sky Bistro for light meals and navigation bridge.

Dining

The pattern for meals is pretty much the same throughout the fleet of European riverboats, though the boats built in the last few years have more sophisticated alternative meal set ups. The food is geared for those who would like to branch out and taste regional offerings or stick with what one likes to eat at home.

Breakfast has an open window of times to cater to early risers or those who want to sleep in. Breakfast and lunch are buffet with the latter available at the top deck Sky Bistro (a grill), inside the Panorama Lounge (light fare) or in the big-windowed main dining room.

Dinner is served here as well, while those wanting something lighter than a served three-course, can frequent the Panorama Lounge’s more informal setting.

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

Activities & Entertainment

Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus. On board entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway. All vessels have a top deck whirlpool and small fitness centers on the lowest decks. Newish are Active Discovery cruises on the Danube that offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine and take archery lessons.

Avalon Waterways

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

Special Notes

While this high-quality fleet is of basically a similar design, and the itinerary likely the deciding factor, having a bed configuration that allows you to wake up and linger between the sheets while watching the river scene pass above your toes just may dictate an Avalon Suite Ship.

Along the Same Lines

Many other European river cruise lines.

 

Avalon’s cruise tour programs to South America, Asia and Eqypt are briefly outlined below.

GALAPAGOS & AMAZON

Avalon Waterways charters the TREASURE OF GALAPAGOS, a catamaran with accommodations for 18 (b. 2009 and refurbished 2017) for a 4-night Galapagos cruise that adds up to a 8-day cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador. It also does a 12-day cruise tour that adds a 3-night Amazon River lodge stay; a 15-day cruise tour that combines the 4-night Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 20-day cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

Treasure of Galapagos, Avalonn Waterways

Avalon Waterways, Treasure of Galapagos

Another option includes a 3-night Amazon River cruise aboard the 44-passenger DELFIN III (formerly AMAZON DISCOVERY; b.2015), which Avalon charters. The ship’s cabins are all outside and consists of staterooms measuring 237 sq. ft. , corner staterooms 253 sq. ft. and the owner’s at 537 sq. ft. Departures are January to July and September to November.

There are also 3-night cruises of the Peruvian Amazon from Iquitos, to look for wildlife in the river and the surrounding rain forest landscapes plus village visits both combined with 11- and 13-day land tours that include Lima, the capital of Peru, Cusco and Machu Picchu and the longest, the Nazca Lines.

Avalon Waterways

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

A selection of 18- and 20-day cruise tours combine the Amazon River cruise with the land destinations in Peru and Ecuador plus a Galapagos cruise. The river boat’s 237- and 253-sq. ft. cabins with huge floor-to-ceiling picture windows are spread over two of the three decks. Beds may be configured as twins or king-size. In addition, there is one single and a 597-sq. ft. suite that faces forward. Public spaces are an indoor and covered outdoor lounge, aft dining room with large view windows, a spa, small gym and plunge pool. A 24-hour medic is aboard. Departures are January-June and September to November.

Avalon Waterways

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

EGYPT
The Nile

(Note: Nile cruises begin in 2020).

Avalon Waterways

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

10-day Egyptian cruise tours, operating year-round, include hotel stays in Cairo for the museum and the Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis and more that bracket a 4-night Nile cruise to Luxor, Karnak, Aswan, Edfu and Kom Ombo. The MS FARAH, built in 2011, provides the cruise. 58 cabins and two suites provide large picture windows, Internet and bathrooms have bathtubs.

INDIA

Ganges River

Avalon Cruise began Ganges River cruises in 2019, operating the 56-passenger GANGES VOYAGER in the cooler months of January and February and September to November. The shortest 13-day cruise-tour begins in New Delhi or Kolkata and includes a 6-night cruise plus hotel stays in Agra for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. 16-day cruise tours add Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, and 18-days add Mumbai and Kochi (Cochin) but not Kathmandu. The riverboat decorated in colonial-era style has cabins measuring 260, 280, 360, and 400 square feet, offer Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

GANGES VOYAGER, Avalonn Cruises

GANGES VOYAGER, Heritage Suite Avalon Cruises

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA & CHINA
Mekong River

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

Avalon Waterways operates the 2015-built, 36-passenger AVALON SIEM REAP and 2018-built sistership AVALON SAIGON cruising on 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City’s waterfront, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The riverboats’ 245 sq. ft. cabins, located in two decks, all open to the outside with 14-foot sliding glass doors and windows. A forward-facing covered lounge give a 180-degree and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar. The aft dining room seats all at once for buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The wide-ranging itineraries, in time and places visited, combine a 7-night cruise with a hotel stay and sightseeing at both ends that can add up to 13- to 21-day cruise tours to include — your choice of  extensions — Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Halong Bay in Vietnam; Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos; and Bangkok, Thailand. Departures are January to April and July to December.

Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River – N.B. THIS CRUISE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon operates its own riverboat some 1,300 miles along the Upper Irrawaddy River between Yangon and Bhamo (northern limit if navigation) with a hotel stay in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital adding up to 14 days and an extension to Bangkok that creates a 17-day cruise tour.

The 36-passenger AVALON MYANMAR was completed in 2015 and takes up to 36 passengers. Sights visited along the river are pagodas, Buddhist monasteries, and riverside villages where the local activities produce candy made from palm trees, pottery, and food from adjacent farms. Note: These itineraries operated September-December in 2018, and none are scheduled for 2019.

The well-fitted out riverboat offers 245-sq.ft. Avalon Suites spread over two decks where the twin or king-size beds face a 14-foot-wide wall of glass that opens to a railing and the world outside, similar in layout to many of the line’s European riverboat fleet. A forward open-air covered lounge shares the Mandalay Deck with an adjacent enclosed lounge and an aft dining room. The Sky Deck’s lounge is covered and next to the spa treatment room and gym.

China and the Yangtze River: N.B. THESE CRUISES ARE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon takes space for up 20 passengers on two Yangtze River vessels that combine a 3- or 4-night, 650-mile cruise between Yichang and Chongqing into 11- and up to 17-day cruise tours that include major sights in China such as Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong on the longer cruise tours. The 7-deck riverboat CENTURY LEGEND, completed in 2013, handles up to 392 passengers (oops, higher than QC’s 300-pax max!).

To personalize the cruise portion, all meals, apart from the farewell banquet, take place in the Sun Deck VIP restaurant. Meals feature Chinese buffets and a la carte Western dishes. Wine, beer, and soda are complimentary at dinner. Cabins (266 sq. ft.) are all outside with balconies and separate bathtubs and 24-hour access to an Executive Lounge. The boat’s amenities include an indoor swimming pool (unusual feature), library, game room, cinema, and gym.

All land tours are private to Avalon and land extensions do not exceed 20. Itineraries extend from April to October, though some specific tours do not include the searingly hot months of mid-June to mid-August.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, P.O. Box 3219, Highland Park, MI 48203;  Avalonwaterways.com; 877-380-1540

TWS

 

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Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA EXPEDITIONS began operating a high-end riverboat on the Peruvian Amazon in 2007. Cruises begin and end at Iquitos, Peru and sail to one source of the Amazon and in the vast the Pacaya Samira Reserve seeing wildlife and visiting riverside communities. In 2014, the firm established a second base in South East Asia with cruises along the Mekong aboard the AQUA MEKONG between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In November 2019, the AQUA BLU was added to the fleet offering 7- and 12-day Indonesian island cruises from Komodo National Park to Ambon, Spice Islands and Raja Ampat. The 15-suite ship formerly operated as a British Naval Explorer and has been upgraded to yacht standards. A fourth vessel, AQUA NERA, is set to debut in October 2020 to do Peruvian Amazon cruises, replacing the AQUA AMAZON that was lost in July 2016.

Aqua Expeditions operates one of the top river experiences in the lap of luxury along the Amazon and Southeast Asia’s Mekong  and more recently eastern Indonesia. And seeing is believing: visibility through floor-to-ceiling glass is a huge plus.  

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

ARIA AMAZON (built 2011 & 32 passengers); AQUA MEKONG (b. 2014 & 40 p); AQUA BLU (b. 1968, converted 2006, refurbished 2019 & 30 passengers); AQUA NERA (to debut Oct 2020 & 40 p).

Passenger Decks

3 Decks, No elevator. AQUA BLU 5 decks.

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Passenger Profile

Guides cater to English, French and German speakers. Children must be at least seven to travel. Interconnecting cabins for families.

Price

Expensive — $$$

Itineraries

Peruvian Amazon Cruises

ARIA AMAZON (and AQUA NERA as of October 2020) make 3- (partial), 4- (partial) and 7-night (combining the two) cruises year-round from Iquitos along several Upper Amazon river tributaries, including the Ucayali and Maranon rivers to the Pacaya Samira Reserve, a five-million-acre flooded rain forest punctuated by black lagoons that dramatically reflect the surrounding trees. Activities visit riverside villages and food markets, and offer hikes in the rain forest and skiffs for water exploration and fishing for piranhas.

Keen eyes look for freshwater pink dolphins, turtles, lizards, caiman, iguanas, and frogs (some poisonous), snakes, sloths, capuchins, squirrel and howler monkeys, terns, toucans, and macaws.

With the cruises of short duration, many travelers choose to add on some of the following: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Lima and/or Nazca Lines.

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, soft drinks, premium wines and craft beers with meals; all excursions and entrance fees; use of bikes and kayaks; and transfers between the boat and airport on company recommended flights. Complimentary laundry service. Tipping is extra and recommended rates are $81-120 for 3 nights and $108-160 for 4 nights including crew and guides.

Why Go?

The outstanding varieties of mammals, birds, and aquatic species seen along the rivers and in the deep rain forests simply are staggering. The riverboats are more than comfortable and allow down time after a day exploring in small craft and on foot.

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how far the skiffs can penetrate the rain forest via narrow tributaries.

Cabins

ARIA AMAZON has 16 cabins with polished wooden floors that measure a generous 250 square feet with beds positioned to face the expansive floor-to-ceiling glass windows flanked by two chairs and a table. With windows like these, you’ll practically feel like you’re IN the river with the wild critters!

AQUA NERA has 20 suites on two decks that measure an even more generous 322 sq. ft., again with large windows.

Aria Amazon's gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aria Amazon’s gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

ARIA AMAZON and AQUA NERA have an indoor lounge with large view windows, bar and library selection and a top deck lounge both open and under a canvas awning, especially enjoyable when the boat is underway. AQUA NERA has a screening room and pool table.

Dining

The floor-to-ceiling windows bring in lots of light during meals while passengers dine at tables for two, four or six. AQUA NERA offers indoor or outdoor dining. The stylish settings serve 70% locally sourced fish from the Amazon, fresh fruits and vegetables and premium South American and European wines.

Much effort is put into meal preparation that achieves the best in Peruvian-style cuisine for signature dishes such as Peruvian ceviche, combining a river fish, juicy onions and corn kernels spiced with cilantro and coriander, or plantain and yucca gnocchi, and palm soufflé. Cooking demonstrations reveal the techniques and ingredients.

Dining on Aqua Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining on the Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

The ARIA AMAZON is equipped with a massage room, stationary bicycle and treadmill, and a Jacuzzi on the outdoor lounge deck. AQUA NERA has two spa treatment rooms, gym and plunge pool. Talks by the English-speaking guides take place in the lounge, and passengers go ashore with multiple guides in very small groups (6-8).

The vessel offers two or three excursions daily and aluminium skiffs take no more than eight passengers and are manned by a guide trained to spot animals and birds that might otherwise go unnoticed in murky water and rain forest settings. Kayaks are available.

AQUA NERA has four 10-person aluminum launch boats. Staffing and passenger ratio are one-to-one on both vessels.

Mekong River Cruises

AQUA MEKONG offers 7-night cruises between a docking point near Siem Reap, Cambodia, and My Tho, a Vietnamese port in the delta, with access by bus to and from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the temples of Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, Cambodia).

The 3- and4-night cruises may start or finish at either end and embark or disembark part way along at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Because the river cruises are short, consider adding any of these destinations: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue and Angkor Wat.

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of bikes and kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

Both Cambodia and Vietnam are culturally rich in architecture and the arts and crafts, and traveling the Mekong allows close up views of the passing scene with considerable trade plying the river, manufacturing, towns and cities lining the shores, and a chance to tie up and explore markets, watch Buddhist ceremonies, and enjoy a home visit.

Aqua Expeditions

Views from the sundeck. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

Cruises operate year-round with some itinerary adjustments depending on high or low water levels. Rainy season normally extends from November to May. Daytime temperature are cooler. During high water periods, the boat can sail to and from Tonle Sap Lake with easy access to Angkor Wat and into the emerald flooded forest in Vietnam.

Cabins

The accommodations measure a very spacious 320 square feet, and eight have balconies and all floor-to-ceiling windows. Four sets interconnect two suites, for families or for one giant suite for two, and all bathrooms feature twin sinks.

Public Rooms

Indoor spaces are a lounge with bar, a small indoor cinema, and boutique. Outdoors on the Sun Deck are two lounge areas with canopies and bar, sun loungers at one end and sit-up bar and table and chair seating at the other. Staff ratio on AQUA MEKONG is one-to-one.

Aqua Expeditions Mekong lounge

Aqua Mekong’s Indoor Lounge * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

The setting is sophisticated with large windows giving clear views of the Mekong, where passengers may sit as a couple or at larger tables. Menus feature Vietnamese and Khmer traditions that may include Vietnamese catfish with shallots, chilies and basil; grilled prawns with peanut relish; vegetable dumplings; and chocolate fondant (a tip to French influence in Indochina).

Aqua Expeditions dining room on Mekong

The windowed dining room. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

From the plunge pool on the Sun Deck, you can look forward; the spa has two treatment rooms, and there is a gym, foosball in the games room cum library, screenings for up to 10 people in the indoor cinema or attended by a larger group out on the covered deck. Four tenders take passengers on river outings and ashore when the boat cannot dock.

Visits are made to plantations, homes, artisan compounds, markets, Buddhist temples, markets with the boat’s chef, and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the Royal Palace, Silver Temple, National Museum and Museum of Genocide. Bicycles are available for guided trips into the countryside, stopping to see farming operations, markets and village life. Motorized tuks tuks venture further.

Indonesia Cruises

AQUA BLU entered service in November 2019 to cruise in Eastern Indonesia. The ship, converted from British Naval Exploration ship now operates as a high-end cruising yacht for 30 passengers in 15 suites.

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA BLU cruises the eastern Indonesian islands. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

The cruises in Eastern Indonesia are offered in three different 7-night itineraries, plus connecting voyages:

1) Bali to Komodo National Park, visiting a series of closely packed islands with disembarkation at western tip of Flores Island and in the opposite direction;

2) 7 nights to Ambon and the Spice Islands; and

3) 7 nights to Raja Ampat, a recently popular area of extreme tropical island beauty, rain forests and tropical birds, beaches and coral reefs with abundant marine life at and off the western tip of West Papua.

Komodo National Park

The Moyo Island Waterfall in the Komodo National Park. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

The program is year-round when combining all three repeating itineraries.

Cabins

15 suites are situated on four decks and fall into three categories with two pairs of suites interconnecting, for families or good friends. The accommodations have round, rectangular, and oval windows and portholes.

Aqua Expeditions cabin

Windowed suite on Bridge Deck 1. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

Lounge spaces offer choices between out in the open or beneath a covered deck seating, or totally within A/C room; small library collection and a TV room.

Aqua Expeditions lounge

The ship’s hub, the main lounge. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

Meals are served in one of two locations, depending on the temperature and weather conditions: open air, including BBQ, or air-conditioned and at both venues open seating. As the ship operates in a tropical island climate, lots of local fish, fruits and vegetables are close at hand in  addition what is supplied to the ship as embarkation ports.

Aqua Expeditions dining

Lovely outdoor dining. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities and Entertainment

Enjoy lectures, videos, snorkeling, and swimming. There’s an exercise room, spa and a pair of outdoor hot tubs.

Aqua Expeditions hot tubs

A pair of dreamy outdoor hot tubs. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Special Note

In July 2016, AQUA AMAZON was lost in an explosion, with deaths and injuries to the crew, while no passengers were aboard.

Along the Same Lines

There is a wide choice of operators in both of Aqua Expeditions’ cruising regions, including Star Clippers, Pandaw, SeaTrek Sailing Adventures, Scenic & AmaWaterways.

Contacts

Go to www.aquaexpeditions.com; USA & Canada: 866-603-3687; UK: +0 808 189 0361; Australia: +1 800 243 152; New Zealand: +0 800 466 098.

 

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G Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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GreenTracks

GreenTracks, in business since 1992, operates wildlife, archeological and cultural cruise and land tours to South America with its geographical emphasis on the Amazon River and its tributaries; Peru and Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, national parks and reserves, and stays in Amazon rain forest lodges; Brazil and the Pantanal for wildlife; and the Galapagos Islands.

Cruises use a wide range of chartered Amazon riverboats, and in the Galapagos, a pair of 16-passenger yachts. GreenTracks specializes in matching cruises with land travel, exploration, and lodge stays. Apart from set departure dates for cruises, cruise-tours, and land-only tours, the firm will customize travel arrangements for groups, and in the case of cruises, will handle from eight to 38 travelers within the fleet it charters.

GreenTracks is the big fish in the Amazon, offering the widest choice of Upper Amazon riverboats from the affordable to the luxurious.

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

THE AMAZON

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Click HERE for GreenTrack’s table listing the eight vessels chartered for their Amazon Cruises with passenger capacities, amenities, length of cruises, price comparisons, and single supplements. All vessels share outside cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities. A few have cabins for a third person such as a child or three friends sharing, while single cabins are scarce. Balcony cabins are few but on the Amazon, you will want to sit out on deck with 360-degree views.  

Note: A couple of the vessels have historic backgrounds, including as far back as the rubber boom at the start of the 20th century.

Passenger Decks

All vessels have three decks, except the CATTLEYA, with just two and cabin space for only eight passengers.

31-passenger ESTRELLA cruises the Upper Amazon. * Photo: GreenTracks

Passenger Profile

With a wide range of accommodations and price levels, the company attracts travelers and cruise passengers of all ages down to as young as about seven years. The majority of passengers will be Americans.

Price

$ to $$$. The chart shows a range of per diem rates.

Itineraries

The Amazon, when referring to these river cruises, is the overall designation that comprises the various Peruvian tributaries flowing into the main stream that becomes the Amazon that ultimately empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Cruises, based in Iquitos, Peru, are mostly 4, 5, and 8 days, and the emphasis on wildlife and cultural pursuits and itineraries varies with different boats.

Destinations are scenic waterways, some penetrating deep into the rain forest and lagoons, national parks and reserves, and riverside villages. Apart from the cruise, nearly everyone tacks on at least a few land days staying at a rain forest lodge or visiting destinations such as Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Peru or Brazil’s national parks.

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II - Green Tracks

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II – Green Tracks

Included Features

Transfers, meals, excursions, guides, and bottled water. Some river boats include soft drinks, beer and wine with meals. As to tipping, some recommend about $80 per person for a week and include the guide, and boat staff, and a few others, a whopping $20-30 a day for the crew and $7-10 per diem for the guides. Those figures must represent their wages.

Why Go?

With the aid of trained GreenTracks guides, you will have plenty of eagle eyes picking out the vast array of birds, mammals, aquatic species seen along the rivers and deep in the rain forests. Village stops are also on the itineraries, many quite isolated and only connected by water.

The riverboats are a comfortable way to take you to numerous locations to then explore more locally in small craft and on foot, followed by relaxing down time at the end of the day. To see more of the country, combine the river cruise with a rain forest lodge stay, a trip up to Machu Picchu or another land destination.

Fish market along the Upper Amazon, Iquitos, Peru

Fish market along the Upper Amazon, Iquitos, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round, and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how deep the exploratory boats can travel up shallow tributaries.

Cabins

Sleeping accommodations vary in size and included amenities, so check the chart and the individual profiles. All cabins are outside with windows and all have private showers and toilets.

Public Rooms

Every riverboat has open deck space for viewing, including portions under cover, a lounge with bar, and a single dining room.

Dining

Passengers eat at the same time for all meals, and feeding times are matched with the day’s excursions. Given the variety of vessels chartered and what you pay, the meals will vary from good substantial offerings that you look forward to on up to gourmet levels you’ll go ga-ga over aboard the more expensive riverboats.

Activities & Entertainment

The activities take place ashore on hikes and in small boats, two to three outings a day. Aboard, a crew member may play a musical instrument, and the tour leader is there to answer questions and lay out the daily programs but generally GreenTracks does not offer formal lectures — unless the group asks for them. The time aboard the boat is for relaxation, enjoying the river when underway, reading up, socializing, sleeping and eating.

Gone Fishing, Upper Amazon, Peru. Photo: Ted Scull

Gone Fishing, Upper Amazon, Peru. Photo: Ted Scull

THE GALAPAGOS

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Sea Star Journey (built 2008; 16 passengers);  Seaman Journey (built 2003, refurbished 2011; 16 passengers).

Itineraries

Galapagos cruises can be as short as 4 days/3 nights and as long as to 15 days/14 nights. Additional days increase the number of islands visited.

Included Features

Excursions, guides, use of equipment. Tipping levels are high (as they tend to be with other lines too in the Galapagos): $8-$10 per person a day for the naturalist and $25-$30 pp a day for the crew.

Why Go?

Wildlife in the air, on land and at sea is amazing for its variety and its casual response to human visitors. You can literally walk (carefully) amongst lounging marine iguanas. Different islands have their own particular species and/or share similar wildlife with other islands. A partial list includes pelicans, frigate birds, blue- and red-footed boobies, penguins, albatross, cormorants, fur seals, sea lions, marine iguanas, and the giant tortoise.

Marine Iguanas, Galapagos, Ecuador. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Marine Iguanas, Galapagos, Ecuador. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go

Cruises operate year-round. The climate is subtropical and the water temperatures are affected by the islands’ location with regard to both the cold Humboldt and the warmer El Nino currents. January to June is warm season with rain and good for ocean activities; July to December is cooler and dry.

Peak periods for visitors are the holidays from before Christmas through New Year’s and summer school’s out months. GreenTracks’ website has a detailed month by month rundown of what to expect from the weather and the wildlife.

Cabins

Both vessels carry just 16 passengers in outside cabins, mostly doubles, one triple on SEAMAN JOURNEY (a twin-hulled catamaran) and also one suite on SEA STAR JOURNEY (a mono-hull yacht).

Galapagos catamaran SEAMAN JOURNEY takes just 16 passengers. * Photo: GreenTracks

Sea Star Journey

Matrimonial Suite aboard Sea Star Journey. * Photo: Green Tracks

Public Rooms

Vessels have a lounge and bar, dining inside and out on deck, covered deck area for relaxing and viewing.

Dining

Meals are of a high standard and carefully presented for the 16 passengers, and everyone dines at the same time.

Activities & Entertainment

By day it’s snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking, hiking, and sandy beaches for swimming; come evening, enjoy mingling with shipmates and recaps of the day’s events and what’s ahead. SEA STAR JOURNEY has a Sun Deck Jacuzzi.

Along the Same Lines

For Amazon River cruises, GreenTracks used such a large and varied fleet that most other well-run firms will share similarities. In the Galapagos, look at the operators of low-capacity yachts.

Contact

GreenTracks, 416 County Road 501, PMB 131, Bayfield, CO 81122; 970-884-6107.

 

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