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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Silversea Expeditions

Silversea Expeditions was launched in 2008 as high-end Silversea Cruises’ adventure arm, offering its loyal well-healed clients a chance to explore some really remote corners of the globe at a level of luxury close to what they had been enjoying on Silversea’s 5 ritzy 296- to 382-passenger ships.

Silversea Expeditions started out with the SILVER EXPLORER (the former PRINCE ALBERT II), and then in 2012 added the SILVER GALAPAGOS (formerly GALAPAGOS EXPLORER), and in 2014, the SILVER DISCOVERER (the former CLIPPER ODYSSEY — since sold to CroisiEurope). All of the ships were refurbished before joining Silversea Expeditions, with SILVER EXPLORER being the most elegant.

Note, most officers and crew aboard SILVER GALAPAGOS are Ecuadorian as required by the government, and the crews on the other two ships are international.

Another note: In August 2017, Silversea Cruises’ SILVER CLOUD was refurbished and converted into an ice-class ship and then joined Silversea Expeditions at the end of 2017 to offer a similar experience as her fleetmates. After the overhaul, SILVER CLOUD EXPEDITION carries 254 passengers and sails in polar and non-polar regions; when sailing Arctic and Antarctic itineraries, the number of passengers booked on those cruises will be restricted to 200. Sistership SILVER WIND will receive the same modifications to ice class and have its passenger capacity drop from 294 to 254, again 200 when in Antarctica. The work is expected to be completed in November 2020, and expedition equipment such as kayaks and Zodiacs will be added.

In July 2020, SILVER ORIGIN (100 passengers) will join the fleet cruising the Galapagos bringing a new standard to the island chain with prices to match, and her passenger/crew ratio approaches one to one.

RELATED: Reader Reviewer Sue B on her Antarctica Silver Cloud cruise

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SILVER EXPLORER (b. 1989 & 142 p); SILVER GALAPAGOS (b. 1990 & 100 p); SILVER CLOUD “EXPEDITIONS” (b. 1993 & 254 p; rebuilt 2017); SILVER ORIGIN (2020, & 200 passengers).

Previously a sister ship, SILVER WIND (b.1995 & 296 p) remains with the main cruise ship fleet, while all her running mates exceed our 300 passenger limit. They comprise SILVER SHADOW and SILVER WHISPER (382 p), SILVER SPIRIT (608 p), and SILVER MOON and SILVER MUSE (596 p).

SILVER ORIGIN will appear in July 2020 taking only 100 passengers and 90 crew on mostly 7-day Galapagos circuits, plus two December and January holiday cruises at 10 and 11 days.

Silverseas Expeditions

SILVER ORIGIN cruises the Galapagos. * Rendering: Silversea Expeditions

Passengers

Well-to-do couples 40s on up from North America, and others from the UK, Europe and Australia. Many have previously cruised on Silversea’s posh cruise ships. Galapagos cruises will draw families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

5 with an elevator connecting all of them. 7 decks on SILVER CLOUD and elevators connect all but the highest deck with the jogging track and deck chairs overlooking the pool below. 6 decks with elevators serving 5, the exception being the highest Stargazing Deck.

Price

$$$

Included Features

All excursions, wine, spirits and all non-alcoholic drinks throughout cruise, plus gratuities. Also, a snappy-looking bright red expedition parka embossed with SILVERSEA EXPEDITIONS.

Itineraries

Cruises span the globe with the expedition fleet. Only SILVER GALAPAGOS stays put in the Galapagos with week-long, year-round cruises amongst the Galapagos Islands between Cristobal and Baltra, plus two nights in Quito, Ecuador.

In late 2019, the line announced the First Expedition World Cruise, the longest ever undertaken, when the SILVER CLOUD departs January 2021 for an 167-day odyssey calling in at 107 ports spanning the globe and including both polar regions.

What follows is a more normal sampling:

  • 12-day summer cruises with SILVER CLOUD either embarking in Norway or Svalbard for a Norwegian coastal and fjord experience and a circumnavigation of Svalbard and 16 days exploring Greenland’s west coast and Arctic Canada.
  • SILVER EXPLORER winters in the Antarctica on 10-day expeditions while 18-day itineraries add the Falklands and South Georgia  Following the Antarctica season, the ship cruises the Chilean fjords, then sails westward to Easter Island, interisland loops in the South Pacific, northward to Japan and South Korea, the Russian Far East (many islands plus the Aleutians), South-central and Southeast Alaska and return to the Russian Far East. The EXPLORER then undertakes the first ever Silversea’s Northeast Passage above Siberia/Russia. Following that the remainder of the summer is voyaging to Spitsbergen, Iceland, Greenland and Arctic Canada. Then prior to the winter in Antarctica, cruises resume via the Panama Canal and along the West Coast of South America to Ushuaia. N.B. This ship only, beginning in December 2021, will inaugurate the so-called Antarctic Bridge allowing passengers to fly the Drake Passage to meet the ship, the flight taking under two hours and avoiding possible rough weather and saving nearly four days travel time. The flight operates between Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island, South Shetlands.
Silver Explorer in the icy poles. * Photo: Richard Sidey

Silver Explorer in the icy poles. * Photo: Richard Sidey

When to Go?

The vessels cruise in different regions of the world at the best time to visit: Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica between November and February, Northern Europe, Arctic Canada Alaska, Russian Far East and Japan in the summer, Southeast, East Asia, Indian Ocean and East Africa in the cooler months and the Pacific regions in the summer (winter in the Southern Hemisphere).

Cabins

Aboard the three, all rooms and suites have twin beds convertible to queens, sitting area and writing desk (some also have vanity tables), and marble bathroom with shower or tub; SILVER EXPLORER and SILVER CLOUD have the choice of Ferragamo, Bulgari or hypoallergenic bath amenities.

SILVER GALAPAGOS offers a local brand from Ecuador). Enjoy butler service, plush robe, slippers, choice of pillows, fine Pratesi bed linens (that Elizabeth Taylor apparently swore by), and a stocked mini-fridge.

All accommodations come with expedition binoculars, hair dryer, personal safe, flat screen TVs, on-demand movies, direct-dial telephone, and Wifi access. All ships offer cellular service based on availability.  Complimentary parkas are offered on Antarctica and Arctic voyages as well as other select sailings.

Of SILVER EXPLORER’s 66 all ocean-view suites, 24 of them measure 230 sq. ft. with windows. Another 8 at that size also have French balconies (sliding doors with narrow ledge for standing); 14 rooms are 154 to 192 sq. ft.. There are two Owner’s suites at 626 sq. ft. and a pair of 675-sq.-ft. Grand Suites, all with balconies. Another 16 large suites measure 351 to 460 sq. ft..

SILVER GALAPAGOS has 50 all ocean-view suites, with 24 of them measuring 210 to 250 sq. ft.; a dozen are 268 sq. ft. including balconies. There are four 361-sq.-ft. Silver Suites and 8 Deluxe Veranda Suites measuring 303 sq. ft., both with balconies.

SILVER CLOUD has 130 all ocean-view suites, with 24 of them with windows and measuring 240 sq. ft.; 32 are 295 sq. ft. including balconies; (1) 541 sq. ft. suite includes balcony; (2) 736 sq. ft 1-bedroom Royal Suites; (2) 736 sq. ft 1-bedroom Grand Suites on the deck above; and (1) 587 sq. ft 1-bedroom Owners Suite (the later four categories can be combined with neighbouring suites to become even larger). All have walk-in closets.

SILVER ORIGIN (Delivery 2020) has all suites located on two of its six decks. Five pairs are interconnected, and half can accommodate a third passenger. The lowest four cabin categories measure 325, 335 and 355 sq. ft.. then it on up to 536, 897, 1,025 and 1,722 sq. ft. All have sitting area,writing deck, walk-in wardrobes and floor to ceiling sliding glass doors out to the veranda.

Public Rooms

Aboard SILVER DISCOVERER the largest space is the 120-seat Explorer Lounge with wraparound windows for scenery views; this is the ship’s hub and place where lectures are held and where passengers cluster to read and chat. It has a bar at one end and a station for coffee and tea all day long. There’s an outdoor bar on the Sun Deck and a pool as well as plenty of seating. Below decks is a small gym, massage room and beauty salon.

SILVER EXPLORER has two windowed lounges for scenery viewing — the smaller Observation Lounge forward on Deck 6 and one deck below the larger Panorama Lounge at the stern, which is also the best place for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. A pianist provides background music. Adjacent to the Panorama Lounge is the cozy Connoisseur’s Corner for cigars and cognac. The comfortable 110-seat Theatre is where lectures and slide shows take place. The ship has a small library/Internet Café, boutique, small gym, and a spa with one massage room, a sauna/steam room and a beauty salon. There are two hot tubs at the stern of Deck 6.

SILVER GALAPAGOS has a small ocean-view gym, massage room, beauty salon, and a combo boutique/library. The 100-seat Explorer Lounge is the hub of the ship and the place were lectures and briefings happen. It has a high-tech AV system and a photo station with an iMac where you can download and edit your photos. The Piano Bar, with a resident pianist on hand, is the spot for pre- and post-dinner drinks, as well as afternoon tea.

SILVER WIND, the largest of the expedition vessels, offers the Explorer Lounge for lectures by the expedition staff, an aft Panorama Lounge and on the same deck, a forward Observation Lounge. A Connoisseur’s Lounge is for cigar smoking and cognac. Additionally, there is a library, beauty salon, spa , and a top deck jogging track. A changing room on the lowest deck prepares the passengers for exploring in Zodiacs and hiking ashore.

SILVER ORIGIN, the newest in the fleet has a forward observation lounge located on the second highest deck, the Explorer Lounge for presentations and leading out to an after outdoor lounge, basecamp, the staging area for boating the boats via the stern marina, and an outdoor lounge area on the highest deck.

Silver Galapagos gets this close to shore. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Silver Galapagos gets this close to shore. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Dining

On all four ships, continental and regional specialties — Galapagos Lobster à la Galapaguera anyone? — are served in the open-seating no-jackets required dining venues; the food level and scope aboard  SILVER EXPLORER and SILVER CLOUD are essentially the same as the rest of the fleet (SILVER GALAPAGOS, on the other hand, is bound by Ecuadorian laws and restrictions regarding food sourcing, so the menus can’t quite compete). In the main restaurants, it’s fine dining all the way on candle-lit tables set with crisp white linens and china. Each also has a more casual al fresco Grille restaurant that turns into a popular dinnertime spot for grilled fish and steaks and other goodies prepared tableside on a heated volcanic-rock plate; reservations are suggested. The larger SILVER CLOUD also has a Relais & Châteaux® restaurant and La Terrazza.

There are two restaurants on SILVER EXPLORER, the main one serves buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and a la carte dinners, while the smaller more casual Outdoor Grille seats up to 34 passengers for breakfast, lunch and bar service.

SILVER GALAPAGOS has two dining venues, the larger main Restaurant and the al-fresco Grille at the stern of Deck 6, which serves buffet-style breakfast and lunch. At dinner at the Grille, you can grill your own steaks and seafood or choose homemade pizza or lite fare.

SILVER CLOUD EXPEDITION has four dining venues: the larger more formal main restaurant; the al-fresco Grille on deck; a Relais & Châteaux® restaurant (for $40 extra per person); and La Terrazza, on the stern with wake-facing seating.

SILVER ORIGIN  provides The Restaurant for all three meals and The Grill high up on Deck 7 aft of the Observation Lounge.

Activities & Entertainment

The destinations are the main event, with naturalist-led excursions at least once and often several times a day; about 10 expedition team members sail on every voyage. On board there are lectures and slide shows about the destination, and otherwise passengers read, chat with new friends and gaze out at the stunning landscapes. Evenings before and after dinner, it’s drinks and conversation.

They all carry inflatable zodiac landing craft (SILVER EXPLORER has 8; SILVER GALAPAGOS 5; and SILVER CLOUD 18).

Along the Same Lines

Closest would be the Celebrity XPEDITION and Ponant’s LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL.

Contact

Silverseas Expeditions, 110 East Broward Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301; www.silversea.com, 800-722-9955

— HMS

 

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Lindblad Expeditions

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Reader Reviews About Lindblad Expeditions

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

Based in New York, Lindblad Expeditions has a long legacy dating back to Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos beginning in the mid-1960s. In the intervening years, the firm, under the leadership of his son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, has expanded its fleet and ship charters to basically blanket the world for those in search of an adventure by sea. Destinations are expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica; natural history and wildlife cruises to the Galapagos, Indonesia and Borneo; cultural and historical voyages to the British Isles, Greek Isles and Morocco, revived cruise tours to Ancient Egypt — the list goes on and on.

The joint venture with the National Geographic Society established in 2004 expanded Lindblad’s passenger base and drew on the Society’s expertise; especially its photographers who enrich the pages of National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveler.  The relationship has expanded from itineraries in the US, Australia and New Zealand to Canada and Latin America.  As a four-time passenger I have always had the strong sense that the expedition and enrichment staff genuinely want to bring you absolutely the best experience possible. The large number on every voyage makes a huge difference in having them readily at hand when ashore or in Zodiacs and providing a rich variety of expertise.

Lindblad Expeditions

The N. G ENDURANCE represents the latest in Expedition ship design. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

In January 2017, Lindblad took delivery of the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II to replace the long-serving N. G. ENDEAVOUR  in the Galapagos. Then in July 2017, a newly-built 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST became the first of two ordered ships to sail alongside the veterans N.G. SEA BIRD and N. G. SEA LION in Alaska, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and to reintroduce Belize itineraries.

The second, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, l entered service in October 2018 on the U.S. west coast. Her seasonal itineraries will be in Baja, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. US-flag ships come from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, near Seattle. Not stopping there, in mid-March 2018, Lindblad held a keel laying ceremony for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE (126 passengers) commencing construction at the Crist Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland. This Polar Class 5 rated ship is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020, and ENDURANCE recalls the name of Ernest Shackleton’s pioneering Antarctic expedition vessel.

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. ENDURANCE offers 13 two-room balcony suites. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

 

The ships vary from perhaps the best-equipped expedition ships afloat to the most nimble for poking around confined spaces, along narrow rivers and into tiny island coves. Here, we treat the ships one by one, to see what they offer and where they venture — some go all over and others stay in one region.

It is hard to beat Lindblad for its creative and professional approach to expedition cruising, so be prepared to pay for the high standards.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (148 passengers & built 1982 as the rugged Norwegian coastal passenger and roll-on, roll-off ferry liner MIDNATSOL, enlarged for the same service 1989, and rebuilt into an expedition ship in 2008).

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers come on selected expeditions and so do families; Lindblad has a fine program for children, best in the Polar Regions and Galapagos.

Passenger Decks

6. An elevator serves all decks apart from B-Deck for Internet center, Mud Room and lockers.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to the crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (NGEX) covers more territory in one calendar year than any other in the fleet. In winter, the polar regions include Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia (along with N.G. ORION); in summer the Norwegian fjords, Arctic Norway, Svalbard, Iceland (including a circumnavigation), Greenland, Canadian Arctic and Canadian Maritimes; Fall down South America’s west coast from Peru south to Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) for another Antarctic season; and closing the circle, a spring return to Europe via the Atlantic Islands, Iberia and onto the British Isles and Ireland. Watch for new itineraries. One Iceland and Greenland itinerary includes flights over the latter’s remote glaciers as well as land and sea travel.

Why Go?

The NGEX is  one of the best equipped expedition ship afloat with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as sophisticated equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for underwater exploration, hydrophone, underwater video camera, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore via Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor. On European itineraries, cultural experts and historians are aboard.

When to Go?

The ship ventures to various regions in the most suitable season such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic regions in summer.

Cabins

All cabins, of mostly moderate size (some larger suites), are outside, majority with windows, eight with portholes, and all thankfully have blackout curtains for 24-hour daylight sailings. Beds are queen-size, twins with some convertible to queens, and seven can take a third person at 50% reduction of the double occupancy rate; 13 have balconies. A nice extra is a World Atlas placed in cabins and open to the page you will be exploring. How about that for service?

Public Rooms

Main lounge (seats everyone) with bar equipped for films, slide shows and presentations; observation lounge on Bridge Deck with domed-roof and adjacent library; navigation bridge is generally open to passengers for meeting officers, learning about navigation and spotting wildlife; chart room for studying the region sailing to; fitness center, spa and sauna, Internet café.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is often another public room for the passengers.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is popular gathering place for  passengers, one of the delights of expedition cruising. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Single seating dining room forward and adjacent Bistro (same menu) has additional seating (some tables for two) in a more relaxed arrangement. Meals also offer buffet items at breakfast and lunch. The food is of good quality and well prepared, though that extra freshness may be lacking in remote regions. Lunch buffets also take place up in the domed observation lounge. Go for it; the view while eating is great!

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the excursions ashore and in Zodiacs accompanied by the expedition staff, sharing pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights — with underwater videos shot that day being shown, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the expedition staff. Unscheduled Zodiac excursions may occur when wildlife appears along the shore.

On Svalbard, for example, a polar bear may be spotted as a tiny speck on the ice, and passengers begin to gather, standing in total silence at the bow to watch the distance between the ship nosed into the pack ice and curious bear get ever shorter. I have seen polar bears walk up to the bow and sniff the smells we give off.

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during a cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen)

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during an expedition cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen) * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

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National Geographic Orion

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia's Kimberley Coast.

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION (102 passengers & built 2003 as ORION for Australian-based Orion Cruises, acquired by Lindblad in 2013 and underwent a major refit.

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers and families come on selected voyages. Given the cruising areas, now Antarctica and the South Pacific, expect some Europeans and Australians.

Passenger Decks

5 decks with an elevator connecting all but the Expedition Deck for the Mud Room, Zodiac boarding and Doctor’s Office.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

Winter in Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia from Ushuaia, Argentina (along with N.G. EXPLORER);  in spring, the NGOR heads first to Chile then across the South Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island for cruises to Tahiti and around French Polynesia. Also, in the summer in Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea, and the Russian Arctic and Russian Far East.

Why Go?

Here is a prime example of an expedition ship that excels for its comforts, style and travel adventure. The N.G. ORION is particularly well-equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, snorkeling gear, scuba diving gear for 24 passengers (on certain itineraries), a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, underwater video cameras, video microscope, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore and in Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor.

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to the best season exploring a specific region such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter November to March, while the rest of the year most other cruising areas are in tropical waters.

Cabins

Roomy for a small ship and beautifully-designed and furnished; twin beds that convert to queens, all are outside, 19 with oval windows; 9 with balconies, some of which are small and some shared with neighbors (no partitions); flat-screen TV with DVD/CD player, mini-fridge, personal safe, Internet access for laptops, shower except 4 suites with bathtub. Third person pays 50% of double-occupancy rate in triple-bed cabins. 4 single cabins.

Public Rooms

Attractive main lounge with sit-up bar that seats all for talks and films; renovated observation lounge and library; open bridge policy makes the navigation center another well-used public room.

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Orion: Lunchtime on deck in Australia.
* Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Meals are served at one open seating in a restaurant with large-view windows; delightful outdoor café serves buffet breakfast and lunches, and barbecue dinners when the weather is warm. Food is very good and often connected to the cruising region.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the guided excursions ashore, including on foot and bicycles, and in Zodiacs, the evening pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights with a film of underwater videos shot that day, a recap of the day’s happenings, and the presentation by the expedition and the lecture staff of the plan for tomorrow. Small hot tub aft on Observation Deck. Fitness center, sauna and spa.

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

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National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

This ship replaced the long-serving NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR  in early January 2017. The replacement started life as the VIA AUSTRALIS (b. 2005 & 136 passengers), and after major refit now carries just 96 passengers. The family friendly ship will has seven sets of connecting cabins and six triples, and for solo passengers, nine single cabins.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, with some other nationalities, and as Lindblad is well-prepared to handle children, families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

If swimming with sea lions and sidestepping marine iguanas stretched out in the sun sounds intriguing, then think about a week’s small-ship adventure in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago. Even wildlife names and antics are intriguing, such as blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance by lifting one foot, bending their wings and whistling. Days are spent on the water in Zodiacs, in the water snorkeling, and on land hiking with a trained naturalist guide.

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

That requires a somewhat complex answer. The peak seasons, because of the school holidays, last from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. December through May, the water is warm for snorkeling and swimming but there will be fewer fish to see. Most days in the first months will see some rain.

The latter part of the season is spring mating time for animals and birds on land, especially sea lions and turtles, plus wild flowers in bloom. June through November brings on the colder waters of the Humboldt Current, therefore, more fish and sea birds are looking for prey, but snorkeling is going to be less comfortable and the ocean is rougher.

Cabins

56, all outside with windows or portholes on Main and A decks. Most cabins are smallish and have compact bathrooms with showers. Amenities are a small fridge and video player.

Public Rooms

Lounge with bar seats all passengers; separate library on the deck above; open bridge policy provides another room and fraternizing with the officers; spa, sauna and fitness center.

Dining

Restaurant is forward on Upper Deck with large view windows either side, and the food is of good quality with some local island ingredients, and Ecuadorian fish such as Wahoo and Dorado.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and the glass-bottom boat with guides and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera screened, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the naturalists. Small dip-in pool on Veranda Deck aft.

A newly introduced  activity is plein air drawing where a resident artist instructs passengers during regular sessions on board and shore to create images of the wildlife they see, and many are tame enough to pose for you. Look for the departure dates that include this activity.

Lindblad Expeditioins

Sea lion and pup in Galapagos Islands. National Geographic Islander in background. * Photo: David Vargas

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Naturalists that Lindblad hires are likely to be amongst the best available in a very active cruising area. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadorean.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER (48 passengers & built as the twin-hulled catamaran ISLANDER in 1995, first cruised in Scotland, and taken on by Lindblad in 2004 and renamed).

Passenger Profile

Largely Americans and some Europeans; varied ages and families at holiday periods.

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above, plus the advantage, for some, choosing a ship with half the number of passengers compared to N.G. ENDEAVOUR. Also see this ship above for “Why Go.”

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

24 outside, mostly compact cabins on three decks, all with windows. Twins may be arranged as a double or as queen beds. Two cabins can accommodate a third person. Eight cabins on the Upper Deck have glassed-in terraces.

Public Rooms

Aft lounge seats all passengers for evening recaps, lectures and films; adjacent library and Internet Café, fitness center, covered seating aft on Upper Deck, open bridge policy.

Dining

Restaurant is aft on Bridge Deck with open seating for all to dine at one time. Food is average to good with some tasty Ecuadorian specialties.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and glass-bottom boat with guides, and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera shown, a look back at the recent happenings, and a plan for tomorrow by the naturalists. See additional Activities under the N.G. ENDEAVOUR.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadoran.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  QUEST  (built in 2017 and 100 passengers); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE followed in 2018.

Passenger Profile

Varies depending on the itinerary but mostly Americans, and some Europeans and Australians. Family during the school holidays, attracted by special programs and connecting cabins.

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

All sightseeing excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking, snorkeling gear, wet suits, non-alcoholic drinks..

Itineraries

The NG QUEST expedition ship offers many options, depending on the season and in brief they are: Alaska and Inside Passage (along B. C. coast at the beginning & end of season); Columbia and Snake rivers; Channel Islands off California; Baja California; along the Costa Rican coast and islands and Panama, including a canal transit; and Belize for the reefs, rivers and Mayan ruins.

NG VENTURE covers Alaska and B. C. coast; San Juan Islands; Channel Islands off California; and a long stint in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

The NG QUEST, completed in 2017, and NG VENTURE in 2018 have many of the latest features for an expedition vessel and a wide variety of destinations.

When to Go?

The itineraries are geared to the best season for visiting  the destinations.

Cabins

50 outside cabins(136 to 185 sq.ft., and 22 of these with step-out balconies). 6 cabins connect providing side-by-side accommodations for families.

Public Rooms

Large lounge for gathering before meals, including the day’s recap, lectures and videos, and leads out to a viewing platform; dining room aft with windows on three sides; gym and spa; open and partly covered sun deck; and open bridge policy, in effect providing another public room.

Dining

All dining is at one open seating, and the menus will reflect the wide-ranging itineraries.

Activities & Entertainment

While the so-called entertainment category includes presentations by the expedition staff before and after dinner and time at sea; the activities ashore will vary according to the specific itinerary; equipment available includes 10-12 passenger landing craft embarked from two landing platforms and 24 sea kayaks and a fleet of paddelboats; remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for exploring the sea beneath the ship and bringing back images; bow camera, underwater camera, hydrophone for collecting sounds that sea creatures make, video microscope, kayaks, wet suits and snorkeling equipment.

Special Notes

This pair was built by Nichols Brothers, Whidbey Island, Washington, the same yard that completed the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD. They fly the US flag hence they can sail on domestic itineraries without having to call at a foreign port, although the pair does venture south to Mexico and Central America.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD (62 passengers & built 1981, later upgraded and reduction in passenger capacity by eliminating lowest-deck cabins.

Most recently with the arrival of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST and NG VENTURE the old pair were further refitted with newly redecorated interiors for the lounge and bar, dining room and cabins. They carry sea kayaks, a fleet of paddleboats, video microscope, hydrophone and bow camera.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, generally 50+ and few families on the Columbia-Snake itineraries, and more likely on the other trips, especially during school holidays.

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

$$ Expensive but less pricey than the two new US flag vessels.

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries
  • Southeast Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka.
  • One-way positioning cruises early May and early September between Seattle via the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast, calling at Haida Gwaii (island) and into Southeast Alaska.
  • Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coast of Baja California for serious whale watching. In the height of whale watching season — gray and hopefully sperm, blue and fin whales in the lagoons along the Pacific Coast, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Channel Islands and Santa Catalina from Los Angeles for the beach life, hiking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and meditation sessions.

Intense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted ScullIntense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

Every itinerary has its numerous attractions. Alaska: glaciers, fjords, wildlife on land and sea and with the grandeur of Glacier Bay National the highlight, especially enjoyed on such a small ship; Baja California on both coasts for the varieties of birds; snorkeling among sea lions; coastal and island hikes.

Both vessels are about as simple as any small ships get, a bit pokey, past their prime, yet well maintained with excellent expedition staffs. So forget any thought of luxury and go for the wonderful experience. The Columbia-Snake rivers route was my first soft-adventure by ship – the Sea Lion, some 30 years ago.

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The two ships are positioned where the weather is best for expedition and soft adventure activities, so there are no cautions needed.

Cabins

Small and all outside with view windows, some twins may be converted to a double bed, and a few can take a third person at 50% of the double occupancy rate. Cabins on Bridge and Upper decks open onto a side promenade, while Main Deck cabins are accessed from a central corridor. These latter six cabins are also adjacent to the dining room, therefore a convenient, but also trafficked corridor.

Public Rooms

A single forward observation lounge with a bar; forward outdoor open observation deck and partly covered Bridge Deck. Spa and exercise equipment.

Dining

Food is good with buffet at breakfast, family-style service at lunch and served dinners.

Activities & Entertainment

Evening recaps of the day; plans for the day ahead and talks (some illustrated) by the naturalist staff using results of underwater video and video microscope. Depending on the itinerary, kayaking, snorkeling (with wet suits in Baja), and expedition landing craft for going ashore on hikes.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard on in Baja and Costa Rica/Panama and an undersea specialist in Alaska and Baja.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

Sea Cloud
SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lindblad charters the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD ($$$), a legendary sailing vessel built in Germany as a private yacht in 1931 and converted to a cruise vessel in 1979. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to sail in her —  in the Mediterranean, the Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens); along the Greek and Dalmatian coasts between Piraeus (Athens) and Dubrovnik; and Sicily and Malta.

The best, and the most expensive cabins, are the beautifully furnished eight originals on Main Deck when the Sea Cloud was E.F. Hutton’s private yacht built for his wife, Marjorie Meriweather Post (cereal heiress). The added cabins are modern, very attractively fitted and considerably less expensive, though not cheap. The main lounge is beautifully paneled and with parquet floors. Food and service are great, and some meals are taken out on deck. The Caribbean offers just the occasional one-week cruise from Barbados in winter.

Delfin II

Lindblad has chartered the Amazon riverboat DEFLIN II ($$$) since 2010 taking 28 passengers in 14 luxurious cabins on one-week cruises along two of the river’s upper tributaries. The riverboat has an enclosed lounge, an open lounge and bar under a top deck canopy. The dining saloon is the deck below with big windows facing aft, and the food is quite special and sometimes exotically sourced from the rain forest.

The cabins, with a desk and chair, are lovely with wood trim, wooden floors, large view windows, twin beds that can form kings; and two suites have king-size beds only. Some can be interconnected for families, and four face forward with terrific views. Bathrooms are roomy. Excursions ashore are made in 10-person skiffs and kayaks, plus some walking where paths exist.

A national reserve in remote Amazonia is the highlight, looking out for exotic bird species, monkeys and anacondas of the rain forest, and pink and gray dolphins, piranhas and red-eyed caiman in the dark waters, sometimes decorated with giant water lilies. Cruises operate year-round except April and September.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

The more than comfortable 48-passenger riverboat JAHAN ($$$) cruises the Mekong between Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia and My Tho (near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) on 15-day cruise-tours from January to March. The famous temple complex, Cambodia’s capital at Phnom Penh, and the teeming life along the river are the highlights.

Harmon V  (Note: This ship is not currently operating.)

This chartered 46-passenger ship, with stabilizers, will take 46 passengers in all outside cabins with windows on 11-day cruise tours beginning in December and running through March. Days 1-3 are spent in Havana then 4-11 on board the ship calling at the colonial cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, located on Cuba’s south coast, Islas de la Juventud and the Bay of Pigs where a failed U.S. invasion took place in 1961.

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

Lindblad’s building its first ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, a 126-passenger ship with the distinctive X-BOW to provide fuel efficiency and significantly improve passenger comfort in rough seas. Delivery for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE is planned for early 2020.

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Scottish 48-passenger, 4-deck vessel with 52 outside cabins makes 9-day canal, loch and island itineraries in June, July and August between Kyle of Lochalsh (across from the Isle of Skye) and Inverness. The route calls for stops on Skye, Eigg or Rhum, Iona, Oban, Loch Linnhe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Neptune’s Steps (flight of locks) in the Caledonian Canal, then passing through Loch Ness to Inverness, thus having crossed the Scottish mainland to just short of the North Sea.

Note: For a fuller account of the ship and its itinerary, go to the ship’s owner, Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Oberoi Philae

The newly-rebuilt Nile riverboat with enlarged accommodations for 42 in 22 cabins and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, including four suites, has two restaurants with one on the Sun Deck, and several lounges. 13-day cruise tours will operate between January and March and September to December.

The land portion begins in Cairo for the museum, Coptic churches in Old Cairo and Ben Ezra synagogue before flying south to Luxor and boarding the 6-day cruise that give access to the temple at Luxor and Karnak, a felucca sail, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the island temple at Philae on the far side of the Aswan High Dam. After visiting the temple at Abu Simbel, fly back to Cairo to stay at the Mena House (the original and now much enlarged hotel adjacent to the Pyramids at Giza), plus step pyramid at Saqqara. A five-day extension is available to Jordan.

Contact

Lindblad Expeditions, 96 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014; 800-397-3348 or 212-265-3770.

TWS

 

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Australis

Australis

If you really want to get away from it all, but don’t have a ton of time, Chilean cruise line Australis offers short expedition cruises of a week or less to the southernmost regions of Chile and Argentina, and they can be combined with land tours in the region. They’re ideal voyages for adventure seekers eager to soak up the beautifully rugged and fantastical landscape of this remote corner of the world. The expedition cruise line has been sailing through Patagonia’s southernmost channels for some 25 years, including the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, and the many fjords and waterways of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, going as far south as the mythical and remote Cape Horn island, one of many small islands “at the end of the world” where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. Getting all the way down to Tierra del Fuego to start the expedition is a long journey, but for the curious and the intrepid, the trip is more than worthwhile. Penguins and glaciers beckon, and so does the allure of the legendary explorers who paved the way decades and centuries before us, from Ernest Shackleton to Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Drake and Ferdinand Magellan.

Read our STELLA AUSTRALIS feature article by Randy Mink here.

 

Australis

The Australis 2. * Photo: Australis

 

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

STELLA AUSTRALIS (built 2010; 210 passengers); a sister ship, VENTUS AUSTRALIS (b. 2018; 210 p.) operates September to April.

Passenger Profile

Generally about 45% of passengers are European, 45% North American and the rest mostly from South America. Announcements are made in English and Spanish, and excursion guides speak both languages with excursions divided into groups accordingly. Depending on the passenger mix, announcements and excursions may also be conducted in a third language, say French, Italian, Portuguese or German. In December there are often more families with children sailing (look for children-sail-free promotions).

Australis

Zipping around on zodiacs is business as usual. * Photo- Australis


Passenger Decks

Five decks and no elevator.

Price

$$ and not a lot of extra charges.

Itineraries

Between September and April choose from 4-night (one way) and 8-night (roundtrip) cruises between Punta Arenas, Chile, and Ushuaia, Argentina. Destinations are Tierra del Fuego, Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Magdalena Island for Magellanic penguins, and Eagle, Condor, Pia and Garibaldi glaciers.   Before or after the cruise, many passengers stay a few days in Ushuaia or take a tour to the gorgeous Torres del Paine National Park or the town of Calafate, gateway to Los Glaciares National Park. To or from Patagonia, many add on stopovers in Santiago, Chile and/or Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Included Features

All meals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages when barman is on duty, and shore excursions. There is no Wifi or Internet access on board. Suggested tipping is $15 per day per person.

Why Go?

To tick Cape Horn off your list and see some fascinating and very desolate territory — fewer people set foot on Cape Horn than in Antarctica. (For some, it’s also a way to see some of what you would see on an Antarctica cruise — penguins and glaciers! — without spending much more time and money to do a full Antarctica cruise; furthermore, some people want to avoid the often very rough seas on the 500-mile journey across the Drake Passage to Antarctica.) N.B. The landing at Cape Horn is subject to favorable weather conditions. On average, landings occurred for 70% of the cruises.

Close up views. * Photo: Australis

Close up views. * Photo: Australis


When to Go?

The summer season in the southern hemisphere is September through April, with the best months weather-wise being January and February. No matter when you go, though, weather can change quickly and you can feel like you’re getting four seasons in one day.

Cabins

All rooms are outside measuring 177 square feet and have large picture windows. Cabins are comfortable but basic, and are configured as doubles or twins, with a chair or two (and no TV). Bathrooms have showers and hairdryers.

Public Rooms

Overall, the ship’s decor is pleasant with nautically inspired blues, beiges and wood tones. The hub is the Darwin Lounge, with a bar and plenty of sofas and chairs with prime views of the passing landscape through floor-to-ceiling windows (everyone can be seated here at one time). Order drinks from the bartender or help yourself to beer and soft drinks from the stocked mini-fridge. There are two other smaller lounges, also with large windows: the aft Sky Lounge with its black-and-white photos of sailboats and models of expedition ships associated with Darwin and Shackleton, and the smaller and cozy forward-facing Yamana Lounge with leather furniture.

The Darwin Lounge is the ship's hub. * Photo: Australis

The Darwin Lounge is the ship’s hub. * Photo: Australis


Dining

Eating isn’t the main point on this cruise, though meals are satisfying enough. The dining room has tables for 4 and 6, with windows along both sides. Themed lunch buffets get high marks from most, with a focus cuisines like Japanese, Italian or Patagonian fare (like lamb empanadas and King Crab chowder). Dinner is a la carte from a menu with choices that often include regional favorites, like grilled conger fillet with pastel de choclo, a typical South American sweet corn dish, or entrees like braised lamb with mashed potatoes. Breakfast is buffet. A small station in the Sky Lounge offers a selection of tea, coffee, juices and snacks throughout the day.

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis


Activities & Entertainment

By day the show of course is the landscape all around you, with a fleet of 6 inflatable zodiac boats zipping passengers to national parks for onshore treks, remote beaches for penguin spotting, and the edge of glaciers for close-up looks. On board, there’s a GPS chart in all three lounges to track the ship’s course every step of the way. Come evenings enjoy conversation over drinks and dinner, with bingo or karaoke offered for those interested. Talks by the onboard experts about the features, flora and wildlife of the region are a daily event, usually in the morning and/or again before dinner, and at least one relevant documentary shown as well. The 9 to 10 expert expedition guides on each cruise lecture in both Spanish and English; some also speak French, German, Italian and/or Portuguese. There are translator audio headsets for anyone who may need one. For families, there are no special activities for children and none are required, as the daily program is super educational and memorable for adventurers of all ages.

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis


Along the Same Lines

No one else regularly sails in this Patagonian region.

Contact

Australis, Ave. El Bosque Norte 0440, 11th floor, Santiago, Chile; www.australis.com lists regional offices as well. Phone: USA 1-800-743-0119; Europe +34 93 497 0484

 

 

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Articles About Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

N.B. HANSEATIC INSPIRATION will resume sailings for the English and German-speaking markets when the ship departs from Hamburg on September 7, 2020 on a cruise to Greenland. The following few sailings will feature Western European and Mediterranean ports. The ship will sail at 60% of capacity and will have a full day in port to undergo a thorough cleansing.

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Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises traces its origins back to the 19th century when two German firms — Hamburg-American and North German Lloyd — entered the passenger trade, competing largely on the North Atlantic and then spreading their routes to other parts of the world. Later they merged, and today the passenger cruise business is owned by the TUI Group that operates the top-rated, medium-size cruise ships, EUROPA (built 1999 & 400 passengers) and EUROPA 2 (b. 2013 & 500 p), the latter offering guaranteed English-speaking cruises; and a pair of expedition vessels: BREMEN (b.1990 & 155 p) and HANSEATIC (b. 1991 & 175 p), the latter now sold with a trio of high-tech expeditions ships coming on line. The BREMEN may offer some bilingual cruises from time to time and is also chartered by English-speaking affinity groups.

N.B. A trio of high-tech expedition ships with 120 passenger cabins and suites have the first in service and two under construction: HANSEATIC NATURE entered service in May 2019 for German-speaking passengers, HANSEATIC INSPIRATION (October 2019) for both German- and English-speaking passengers), and HANSEATIC SPIRIT (adults only) for delivery in Spring 2021. The 15,650-ton ships are being built in Norway’s VARD shipyard.  Passenger capacity will be limited to 199 for Antarctic and Spitsbergen (circumnavigation) cruises. Additional details will be available on QuirkyCruise.com as the first delivery gets closer but it is safe to say that this class will be 5 Star in accommodations, amenities, expedition gear and ice classification.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Bar Observation Lounge. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Passengers

While Hapag-Lloyd is a German company, drawing mainly German-speaking passengers, selected bilingual cruises are set aside for English-speaking passengers with guaranteed departures. That means that all documentation, handbooks, programs, announcements, menus, lectures and safety drills will be in English. Shore excursions are arranged separately. Any other international cruises that attract at least 15 English-speaking passengers will automatically become bilingual as the aforesaid  Those cruises will be featured here, and expect German-speaking passengers in varying numbers and often in the majority.

Passenger Decks

7 decks and lifts serve all levels except the Sun Deck, the highest and with a small outdoor area.

Price

$$$

Included features

Expeditions ashore in Zodiacs (14) and tenders; parkas, rubber boots, snorkeling gear, Nordic walking poles and bicycles, depending on the itinerary; staff gratuities; sending & receiving e-mails up to 1MB; minibar with soft drinks replenished daily; a bottle of Champagne upon arrival.

Itineraries

A full winter program of Antarctica cruises include the Falklands, South Georgia, South Shetland and South Orkney Islands, Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The large number of Zodiacs carried means that everyone can be on an excursion at one time, and not waiting aboard for a second or third rotation as with larger capacity ships. Highlights are the varieties of penguins, incredible numbers of birds (especially at South Georgia), whales, walrus, seals; Zodiac excursions to get close to beautiful ice formations and glaciers, a former whaling station, and connections to the Ernest Shackleton expedition.

Pre-Antarctic season, a Pacific cruise begins in Tahiti and calls at numerous islands, remote and virtually unknown, and justly famous such as Pitcairn (Mutiny on the Bounty), Easter Island (stone statues) and Robinson Crusoe Island (inspiration for the fictional character) and onto Puerto Montt at the north end of the Chilean fjords.

Post-Antarctic season, one cruise makes a nearly complete West Coast of South America voyage from near the southern tip at Patagonia and sails northward past glaciers, into the Chilean fjords, calls at Valparaiso, the lovely port for the capital Santiago then onto Peru and Ecuador.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

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

The Amazon journey begins way up river at Iquitos (Peru, and headwaters of navigation for ocean-going ships) and travels 2,500 miles (4,000 kms) to the mouth at Belem. Zodiacs take you to remote Indian tribes who live along the riverbanks and to tropical fruit and vegetable markets, cruise for pink river dolphins, make explorations into tributaries penetrating the world’s largest rain forest, filled with flowers and exotic birds. At the meeting of the waters where the Rio Negro joins the Amazon sits Manaus, the largest city on the river and boasting an opera house, built during the rubber boom period. The Amazon then widens considerably as it reaches the delta and spreads out into several channels.

From Belem on the northeast Brazilian coast, the itinerary explores the Orinoco, offers a flight to Angel Falls, calls at off-shore islands, a UNESCO site, national parks for bird life, sloths, and monkeys, a research station, examples of Spanish colonialism, San Blas Indians, views of the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal, and finishes at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

HANSEATIC in the Amazon basin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

 

 

Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a circumnavigation cruise, is a large archipelago tied politically to Norway, two days by sea north of the North Cape and well above the Arctic Circle. The expedition embarks at Longyearbyen, the capital with an excellent museum, and goes in search of polar bears that often come to the shore, well within camera range, plus whales, walrus, Arctic foxes, birds, fantastic cliff formations, ventures into fjords, up close to glaciers and makes Zodiac landings where it safe from polar bears. The final couple of days visit the North Cape with disembarkation at Tromso, Norway’s largest community above the Arctic Circle.

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Northeast Passage, less frequented than the Northwest Passage, follows an Arctic route from Northern Europe eastward across the top of Siberian Russia, Kamchatka and Kuril Islands to Japan.

FUTURE ITINERARIES include an unusual circumnavigation of Iceland embarking and disembarking at Reykjavik and visiting nine locations – islands, volcanoes, fjords, fishing villages, bird inhabited cliffs, waterfalls; the west coast of Greenland with its colorful villages, early Viking settlements, ice fjords, and at sea, humpback and fin whales, then onto Labrador for breathtaking scenery such as spectacular rock formations, Inuit culture artifacts, traditional fishing villages and fjords; coastal southern Africa with two port calls in Namibia revealing architecture from the former German colonial rule and six ports in South Africa including Cape Town and Durban and access to the lovely Garden Route, beautiful beaches, and game parks for the homes of the “Big Five.”

Why Go?

There is a wonderful world out there, and the destinations outlined here can only be comprehensively done by ship.

When to Go?

The expedition cruises are scheduled for the best seasons such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic Regions in summer.

Cabins

HANSEATIC Nature/Inspiration/Spirit: All outside cabins and most with balconies or French balconies; separable beds; equipped with binoculars, Nordic Walking sticks, coffee machine, minibar (free), and heated bathroom for drying towels and parkas.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration – French balcony cabin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Public Rooms

The principal spaces are the Observation Lounge with bar and adjacent library, with 180-degree views, Explorer Lounge with bar and a dance floor for presentations and occasional musical entertainment.

Dining

The restaurant is the main dining area for all meals (excellent menu selections including Continental as well as German specialties) seats everyone at one assigned sitting at dinner, with open seating for breakfast and lunch. Americans like open seating and Germans like fixed, so this is the fair compromise. Buffets-style meals take place in the informal café and tables are available just outside in good weather. Barbeques and themed dinners here require reservations, but entail no extra charge. Tea time is a daily ritual.

Activities & Entertainment

There are film presentations and lectures in preparation for the landings, plus you’ll find a sauna steam bath, fitness room, whirlpool and small swimming pool. Some Germans like a dip in the winter. Snorkeling and cycling is on offer when appropriate.

The Hanseatic at anchor in Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: Helicopter pad. Hull is given the highest passenger classification – E-4.

Along the Same Lines

The passenger mix is unusual, as most high-end expedition lines draw mainly English-speaking passengers, unless the line is entirely focused on a European language.

Contact

Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises, C/O Kartagener Associates Inc., 14 Penn Plaza, Suite 2223, New York, NY 10122; www.Hl-cruises.com, 877-445-7447 or 800-334-2724 (USA/Canada); Free Phone United Kingdom: 08000 513829. — TWS

QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Catherine from Singapore.

Cruise Line: Australis.

Ship: Stella Australis.

Destination: Patagonia.

# of Nights: 3.

Departure Date & Ports:  December 28, 2016, from Ushuaia, Argentina.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? No.

Review: Highly Recommended.

We had an incredible multi-generational holiday in ARGENTINA and Chile which included three nights on this fabulous cruise. I did not think that I was a cruise person at all – but I cannot recommend this intimate, special cruise enough. The boat was lovely – big bright rooms, the side trips were well executed, the staff was fantastic and the scenery looks just like the photos in the Randy Mink article on QuirkyCruise – they could easily be our photos!

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Joyce Zemans from Canada.

Cruise Line: Australis.

Ship: Stella Australis.

Destination: Patagonia.

# of Nights: 3.

Departure Date & Ports:  December 28, 2016, from Ushuaia, Argentina.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? No.

Review: This One I Would Highly Recommend.

We travelled as a group of 16 ranging in age from 12 to 78. There was something for everything. The excursions and the programs were well organized and geared to different levels. The facilities — cabins, lounges, and dining room etc. — were great.

As one who has avoided cruises, this is one I would highly recommend.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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The new Ventus Australis will look just like the Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

The new Ventus Australis will look just like the Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

Chile-based Australis is the only line doing regularly scheduled cruises in the waters of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and they offer the voyages aboard their one ship, the 210-passenger STELLA AUSTRALIS. But that’s about to change. The expedition company that has been exploring South America’s southernmost channels for a quarter century, just announced they’re building a nearly identical sister ship named VENTUS AUSTRALIS to do similar cruises. Latin for “Southern Wind,” it’s being constructed in the Asenav shipyard in Chile and is set to debut in January 2018 offering 4- and 8-night programs exploring the stunning glaciers, narrow fjords and unspoiled landscape of southern Patagonia. A highlight is reaching Cape Horn island, the point where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans merge, and weather permitting, going ashore.

STELLA AUSTRALIS, built in 2010, does 3-, 4- and 7-night cruises that traverse the Magellan Strait, Beagle Channel and the waters surrounding Tierra del Fuego from the cities of Ushuaia, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile. Click here for more information on Australis and its cool cruises.

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By Randy Mink.

To anyone smitten with wanderlust and dogged by a desire to travel to the ends of the earth, the maze of fjord-indented islands at the tip of South America beckons with undeniable allure. As one of the relatively untouched areas left on the planet, the remote, windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego is a bucket-list destination that calls out to starry-eyed globetrotters, enticing them to the “farthest corner of the world.”

Close up views. * Photo: Australis

Close up views. * Photo: Australis

The scenery — rocky islands and islets, mountain-backed inlets, isolated channels and bays, and huge glaciers slowly making their way to the sea — seems to belong in Alaska or Scandinavia, not South America. Wild and majestic in some ways, it’s bleak and forboding in others.

The vast emptiness and chilly weather appeal to nature fans, like those who sign up for three-, four-, and seven-night cruises on the 210-passenger Stella Australis, an expedition ship launched in 2010 by the Chilean cruise line Australis. Sailing between Punta Arenas, Chile, and Ushuaia, Argentina at a speed of no more than 14 miles per hour, the ship plies the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, and other waterways in Tierra del Fuego, going as far south as Cape Horn, the point where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet.

Park near glaciers, WOW! * Photo: Australis

Park near glaciers, WOW! * Photo: Australis

The very name Patagonia, as the largely undeveloped region of southernmost Chile and Argentina is called, suggests adventure travel. Tales of explorers Ferdinand Magellan, Sir Francis Drake, Charles Darwin and Ernest Shackleton pop up during shipboard and on-shore commentary by Stella Australis lecturers and guides.

While cruise travelers venture to the foot of the continent to satisfy a general curiosity, most also have two specific goals in mind — to see penguins and to reach Cape Horn. Those were certainly my priorities.

The Stella Australis cruise season runs from September to April, which is spring to fall in the Southern Hemisphere. When I sailed in early December, most days were in the 40s and 50s, but brisk winds often made it feel colder, and occasional rain posed another challenge. Because it stayed light until after 10 p.m., we really got our money’s worth, scenery-wise.

I chose a four-night itinerary that started in Punta Arenas and ended in Ushuaia. (The seven-night roundtrip was tempting, but repeats two stops.) Just getting to Punta Arenas was an epic undertaking, as I spent 15 hours in the air on three flights from Chicago. An inconvenient connection necessitated an overnight stay in Santiago, the capital of Chile, but I had such a good time there that what I initially considered to be an annoyance turned out to be nice bonus.

Before boarding the ship, I had five or six hours to poke around Punta Arenas, a city of 133,000 on the Strait of Magellan, a passage that separates the mainland from Tierra del Fuego. Tourists can fill their time visiting museums, shopping for woven crafts and other souvenirs in the central square, and touring the Sara Braun Municipal Cemetery with its extravagant mausoleums dedicated to prominent early settlers, many of them Croatian. The Naval Museum’s exhibits got me in the mood for the upcoming journey to Cape Horn.

On the first morning we reached Almirantazgo Sound and put in at Ainsworth Bay, where the ship’s six inflatable Zodiac boats were lowered to ferry us to Alberto de Agostini National Park, a wilderness rarely visited by anyone but Stella Australis passengers. (Australis has exclusive landing rights at some of the stops and has built boardwalks to protect fragile habitats.) Our young Chilean guide took us on a leisurely, 1½-hour nature hike along the boulder-strewn beach and through the sub-polar forest, pointing out mosses, lichens, three kinds of beech trees and other vegetation, like the firebush with its reddish-orange flowers. At one point we stopped for a moment of silence — birds and raindrops the only sounds. With temperatures in the mid-50s, there was no need for gloves or hats, though I did take out my poncho during a brief drizzle. Some people wore tall rubber boots, but my beat-up hiking boots worked fine on the damp trails. From the shoreline we could see Marinelli Glacier in the Darwin Range, an extension of the Andes, and in the bay a lone fishing boat trolling for king crab. Upon returning to the Zodiac landing area, refreshments — hot chocolate and whiskey — were waiting for us.

Getting your feet wet is part of the fun. * Photo: Australis

Getting your feet wet is part of the fun. * Photo: Australis

After lunch in the ship’s Patagonia Dining Room, we arrived at Tucker Islets for the much-anticipated penguin watch. Zodiac boats took us right up on the stony beach on Santa Cruz Island, a spring breeding ground for Magellanic penguins, one of 16 species of the flightless bird found only in the southern seas — and the most common kind in Patagonia. We couldn’t leave the boat, but had a field day taking photos of the clumsy, tuxedoed creatures we had only seen in zoos and aquariums. There were hundreds of them preening and waddling about, just 10 feet from us. Our guide explained their nesting, mating and feeding habits as we snapped away. The one-hour Zodiac excursion, a trip with choppy waves and tranquil interludes, also took us close to islets populated with rocky and king cormorants.

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis

The next day we navigated the Beagle Channel on the southern shore of the Darwin Range. To get there, though, we had to leave a sheltered channel around 4 a.m. and for about 20 minutes endure the commotion of the Pacific Ocean while trying to sleep. A warning the night before advised us to take cameras and other things off counters and shelves. It was smooth sailing after that and by afternoon we arrived at Pia Glacier, where Zodiacs took us ashore for a glorious two hours to take in the wall of bluish ice backed by jagged mountain peaks. Hiking up smooth rock, we got within several hundred yards of the glacier and feasted on panoramic views of ice chunk floating in the fjord’s milky green waters. There were even periods of blue sky, and at one point some of us shed our coats until the clouds rolled back in.

After this up-close encounter with a real live glacier, we spent some time cruising Glacier Alley, a stretch of the Beagle Channel with Darwin Range glaciers named after countries in Europe — Germany, France, Italy and Holland. As we passed each one, the narration was accompanied by appropriate snacks in the Darwin Lounge — sausages for Germany, wine and cheese for France, pizza for Italy, pofferjtes (mini-pancakes) for Holland. (All announcements on the public address system were done in Spanish and English.)

The Darwin Lounge is the ship's hub. * Photo: Australis

The Darwin Lounge is the ship’s hub. * Photo: Australis

About 60 percent of passengers on a Stella Australis sailing are European, expedition team leader Mauricio Alvarez told me. Another 30 percent are North Americans, the rest from South America. The Chilean guides who speak German accompany the Germans and Austrians on Zodiac excursions, while others can lead French-, Italian- and Portuguese-speaking groups. Though passenger capacity is 210, the five-deck ship rarely sails with more than 190, Alvarez said, and our departure had only 144, representing 16 nationalities.

In the dining room I shared a table with an Irish couple visiting a son working in Santiago and a trio of Austrians doing on-ground Patagonian adventures before and after the cruise. Dinners, usually with a choice of fish and beef or lamb, were not too exciting, but the rolls were excellent. The culinary highlights were the bountiful Italian-, Japanese-, and Chilean-themed lunch buffets. On Chile day I filled up on delectable stews, empanadas, and king crab chowder, saving room for calafate ice cream (made from a berry we saw on one of our nature hikes) and mote con huesillos, a concoction of barley, peach juice and canned dried peaches served in a glass (something I tried at a street stand in Santiago).

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis

The ship’s layout is rather uncomplicated, its simple décor in a blue-beige color scheme with nautical motifs. All cabins are outside and have large picture windows for viewing the passing parade of Patagonian splendor. Or share the panoramas with fellow passengers in Darwin Lounge, the main gathering spot, with its five-stool bar and plenty of sofas and chairs positioned for looking out the windows that wrap around it. You can order liquors and Chilean wines from the bartender or help yourself to a mini fridge stocked with soft drinks and beer, including brews from Patagonia. (The cruise fare includes all drinks.)

The aft Sky Lounge features a self-serve station with coffee, juices, pastries, cookies, and finger sandwiches. It’s decorated with black-and-white photogrpahs of sailboats and museum-quality models of the 1820 HMS Beagle and 1912 HMS Endurance, expedition ships associated with Darwin and Shackleton, respectively. The smaller Yamana Lounge (named after the indigenous people who inhabited these islands before the Europeans arrived) has three writing/card tables. All three lounges have a GPS chart tracking the ship’s course and schedule of events in six languages.

Aside from bingo one night and karaoke another, there wasn’t much in the way of organized social activities. But we did have some excellent talks by Alvarez and others on the glaciers, flora and fauna, and human history of Tierra del Fuego. In the Sky and Darwin lounges I enjoyed documentary films like Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure and National Geographic’s Eden At The End Of The World.

The final leg of our expedition would culminate in what we’d all been waiting for — Cape Horn. During our briefing the night before, we were told that big waves or fierce winds sometimes prevent the Zodiacs from making the trip to Horn Island, the last in the chain and southernmost point of the Americas. A scouting party made a test run early the next morning and, thank goodness, gave us the okay for boarding the sturdy inflatables. (Every day I marveled at how these sailors maneuvered the boats and kept us safe from ship to shore and back.)

Our pre-breakfast visit to the island started with a trek up a 161-step wooden staircase snaking to the top of the craggy, green cliff. Then we had a choice of taking the boardwalk to the Cape Horn monument or going in the opposite direction to the lighthouse and chapel. The temperature was 43 degrees, but a brutal wind made it the coldest we’d felt so far. Only our orange lifejackets added any color to the desolate landscapes of brownish grasses and gun metal-gray waters on this overcast, but rainless morning. The monument of black, gray and white steel plates, forming the silhouette of an albatross in flight, commemorates navigators who have lost their lives in these treacherous seas. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Cape Horn by Dutch explorers looking for a shipping route to the Pacific. They named it for the Dutch town of Hoorn.

The Cape Horn monument. * Photo: Australis

The Cape Horn monument. * Photo: Australis

After posing at the monument for the obligatory picture, I headed toward the lighthouse, stopping to look at some of the stone monuments (with descriptions in Spanish) that honor individuals like Captain Robert Fitz Roy, who commanded the Beagle on Darwin’s research voyage in Patagonia. At the lighthouse some of us had a chance to chat briefly with the Chilean naval officer who lives in the lonely outpost with his wife and two young children. Except for adventure-seeking navigators and cruise ship passengers, he doesn’t get much company. Rounding Cape Horn was once the only way to sail from the eastern coast of North America to the Pacific, and it was a well-traveled route from 1850 until completion of the Panama Canal in 1914.

The Cape Horn Lighthouse. * Photo: Randy Mink

The Cape Horn Lighthouse. * Photo: Randy Mink

Besides being blessed with the right conditions to set foot on Cape Horn, we also were fortunate enough to be able to sail around the island, something that’s usually not possible. But it involved some serious rocking and rolling on the infamous Drake Passage, a rough patch of water familiar to those who have cruised to Antarctica, 500 miles away. We swayed while walking through the lounges and held onto to our hats on deck.

During my time on Horn Island and while dealing with the Drake Passage, I had recalled the Cape Horn exhibit at the Naval Museum in Punta Arenas. A signboard there summed up the trepidation and exhilaration associated with reaching the tip of the continent: “Rounding the Horn gave a man the craved status of ‘real seaman’ and the unquestionable right to be listened to everywhere with respect and awe.”

Though our tourist experience was not exactly heroic, later that day we found in our cabins a souvenir certificate signed by the captain, a “diploma” for “having reached Cape Horn, the world’s southernmost point, on board the Expedition Cruise Stella Australis.”

Later that day we reached Wulaia Bay for our last shore excursion before a nighttime arrival in Ushuaia. This time we learned about European settlers and their interaction with the Yamana people. After an easy coastal walk with our guide, we visited a museum that Australis built inside an abandoned two-story house dating back to the early 1900s.

Our trip (covering 586 nautical miles) came to a festive conclusion that night in the Darwin Lounge, where we enjoyed a farewell champagne toast and slideshow of passengers’ photos. In the auctioning of the captain’s navigation chart used for sailing to Cape Horn, the winning bidder paid $320, but it has gone for as high as $5,700.

Cruising in Patagonia attracts a particular type of traveler, one who can go for a few days without shopping, city life, television or internet access. As someone always looking for a real escape, this journey to the bottom of the world suited me just fine.

Seeing adorable Magellanic Penguins is a cruise highlight. * Photo: Australis

Seeing adorable Magellanic Penguins is a cruise highlight. * Photo: Australis

Australis recently sold the only other ship in its fleet, the 136-passenger Via Australis, to Lindblad Expeditions, but has plans to build a vessel similar to the Stella Australis. The new sister ship should be completed by the end of 2017 and will do the same route between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia.

For more info, go to QC’s Australis line review or contact Australis at www.australis.com.

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