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Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

By Heidi Sarna.

Note: This article was updated Oct 16, 2020, with new 2021 restart dates.

A specialist and pioneer in river cruises in southeast Asia for more than 25 years, Pandaw River Cruises paused its operations when the COVID19 pandemic hit in March, and is now gearing up to restart its wonderfully quirky and charming river cruises in July (2021) in six countries.

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

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

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

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

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

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

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

Read more about the line here.

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts in September

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

2021 Start dates for Pandaw River Cruises

Burma/Myanmar River Cruising

Irrawaddy River in Burma — September 25, 2021
* The 7-night Irrawaddy “Mandalay Pagan Packet” starts at $1,885 USD per person

Chindwin River in Burma — September 4, 2021
* The 7-night “Chindwin” expedition starts at $3,307 USD per person

RELATED: An Irrawaddy River Adventure.  by Heidi Sarna

Pandaw Sagaing Myanmar

Beauty in Sagaing, Myanmar. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Vietnam Cruising

Red River & Halong Bay in Vietnam  — July 27, 2021
* The 10-night “Halong Bay & Red River” adventure starts at $3,069 USD per person

Pandaw River Cruises restarts in Halong Bay

Angkor Pandaw in Halong Bay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Mekong River Cruising

Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam — August 7, 2021
* The 7-night “Classic Mekong between Siem Reap & Saigon” starts at $2,596 USD per person

Mekong River in Laos — Oct 15, 2021
* The 10-night “Upper Mekong in Laos” expedition starts at $3,924 USD per person

RELATED: Slowly Down the Mekong.  by Heidi Sarna

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

India

Ganges & Brahmaputra Rivers in India — October 2021
* The 7-night “Lower Ganges” cruise starts at $3,069 USD per person
* The 7-night “Brahmaputra” cruise starts at $2,861 USD per person

Pandaw does the Brahmaputra River

Beauty on the Brahmaputra River. * Photo: Venkatesh Kolappa

Flexible Booking Options

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

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

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

Read more here.

Health & Safety Protocols

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

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

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

Pandaw health protocols

Pandaw health protocols, CLICK IMAGE

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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of travel industry brands. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market, operating a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, Ganges and the Nile.

The line’s affiliation with the Cosmos and Monograms travel brands means Avalon Waterways offers countless add-on itineraries for before and after your cruise, and can coordinate the various legs seamlessly.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

COVID-19 UPDATE

Avalon Waterways will resume cruising in November 2020.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

FLEET
Europe (Avalon Suite Ships)

Avalon Panorama (b. 2011 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Vista (b. 2012 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Visionary (b. 2012 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Artistry II (b. 2013 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Expression (b. 2013 & 12 8p) – Danube, Rhine & Rhône Rivers

Avalon Impression (b. 2014 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon Illumination (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Poetry II (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Rhine, Rhône & Saône Rivers

Avalon Tapestry II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Seine River

Avalon Tranquility II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Imagery II (b. 2016 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Passion (b. 2016 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Envision (b. 2019 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon View (b. 2020 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Asia

Avalon Siem Reap (b. 2015 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Avalon Saigon (b. 2017 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Ganges Voyager (b. 2015 & 56 p) – Ganges River

South America

Treasure of Galapagos (b. 2009 & 16 p) – Galapagos Islands

Delfin III (b. 2015 & 44 p) – Amazon River

Egypt

MS Farah (b. 2011 & 124 p) – Nile River

Passenger Profile

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

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features
  • Onboard meals
  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks & water
  • Wine, beer & spirits with dinner, sparkling wine with breakfast
  • Wi-Fi (including in cabins for Europe cruises)
  • Most shore excursions
Itineraries

Avalon Waterways’ cruise itineraries are packed with options to extend your cruise with land tours.

In Europe, 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 motorcoach.

Springtime tulip bulb season cruises navigate the intricate waterways of Belgium and Holland; French rivers include the Seine, Rhône and Saône; the Rhine with or without the Moselle; combine the Rhine and Rhône 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 European 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).

In South America, cruises to Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon include a 7-night Galapagos cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador; 14-night cruise tour that combines the Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 17- to 19-night cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

For Asia, cruises along the Mekong include 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and (near) Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Longer itineraries of 12 or 17 nights include Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Halong Bay in Vietnam, respectively. On India’s Ganges River, there are 6-night cruises round-trip from Kolkata and 12-night journeys from Delhi to Kolkata.

In Egypt, Nile River itineraries include 9 nights round-trip from Cairo, and 13 nights from Cairo to the Dead Sea, exploring Jordan.

Sample Itineraries

The best way to explore Central Europe, the Magnificent Europe cruise on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers is a 14-night itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest. The cruise begins with a canal tour from Holland’s capital, then it’s on to Germany to visit Cologne and sail through the dramatic Rhine Gorge. In Germany, you’ll also call at Rüdesheim, Würzburg, Volkach, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Regensburg before sailing through the Main Danube Canal to Melk, Austria. Finally, the journey passes through the Wachau Valley to Vienna and on to its final stop in Budapest, Hungary.

Another popular itinerary is the Mekong Discovery, a 7-night cruise that starts at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, exploring the city and smaller local village via sampan. Cruising up the Mekong, stops at rural villages reveal temples, local cottage industries and cultures. The cruise finishes near Phnom Penh, Cambodia with tours of the city.

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. In Asia, South America and Egypt, river cruises access cultures, natural scenery and wildlife, and historical wonders in ways that overland touring can’t.

When to Go?

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

South American cruises generally take place from January to July and September to November. In India, cruises generally take place in the cooler months of January and February, and September to November, while Mekong cruises are generally year-round. In Egypt, cruises are also offered year-round.

Sustainability Initiatives

The company has removed all single use plastics from their cruises and supports The Ocean Cleanup organization.

Activities & Entertainment

The line offers a lot of included excursions and activities. Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus and offer a range of interest levels with local guides, from classic sightseeing to hands-on discovery experiences to active ventures.

The AvalonGo Mobile App aids in self-guided exploration. The onboard cruise director provides commentary at significant locations throughout the cruise. An Adventure host guides fitness activities and active excursions. The “Active Discovery” cruises on the Danube offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine. Other activities can include archery or cooking lessons.

Onboard entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway.

Avalon Waterways

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

SHIPS 
Avalon Suite Ships (Europe)

Avalon’s European fleet of 14 riverboats, known as Suite Ships, are almost identical, so this write up refers to all of them. Built for a capacity of either 128 or 166 passengers, all of them have four decks, with elevator access.

Avalon Illumination

The Avalon Illumination, a Suite Ship. * Photo: Avalon

 

Passengers have a choice of three dining venues, from the al fresco Sky Grill to casual meals at the Panorama Bistro or an elegant 4-course dinner under floor-to-ceiling windows at the Panorama dining room or 24-hour coffee and snacks. Menus feature regional cuisines and have an abundance of healthy choices.

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar and aft-facing Club Lounge with a book and games library. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool and game area. There’s also a fitness center.

Avalon Suite Ships come with large 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 wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling 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.

In cabin: en suite, TV with entertainment options, complementary Wi-Fi, minibar.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Avalon Siem Reap

Avalon Saigon

Along the Mekong, Avalon Waterways operates two 36-passenger sister ships, Avalon Siem Reap and Avalon Saigon.

Avalon Saigon

The Avalon Saigon. * Photo: Avalon

Despite their diminutive size (each has only two decks), they are still Avalon Suite Ships, as each has signature cabins open to the outside with 14-ft. sliding glass doors and windows; they measure 245 sq. ft. A forward-facing covered lounge provides a 180-degree view and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar.

The aft dining room seats all at once for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

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

The ships also have a fitness room, sundeck with plenty of shade, a spa treatment room and library with games.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, in-house telephone, safe, hair dryer, and complimentary bottled water

Avalon Cruise, Mekong

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

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

If you’re lucky, this is Angkor Wat at sunrise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ganges Voyager

A 56-passenger riverboat decorated in colonial-era style, Ganges Voyager has three decks (there is no elevator).

The Panorama Dining Room offers Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

There’s also an air-conditioned lounge with glass walls and another shady al fresco lounge, a fitness room, spa treatment room and library with games.

Most cabins measure between 260-280 sq. ft., some with pretty four-poster beds, all with French balcony. 

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with on-demand movies, in-house telephone, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Ganges Voyager

Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon

Ganges Voyager

Heritage Suite on Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon Cruises

Treasure of Galapagos

Accommodating 16 passengers, Treasure of the Galapagos has cabins and common areas on three decks (no elevator).

Common areas include a dining room, indoor lounge and bar, shaded outdoor lounge, sun deck with Jacuzzi and observation area.

Cabins measure 215 sq. ft., and all have balconies, while the master suite is 430 sq. ft. with two balconies.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, safe, hair dryer.

Treasure of Galapagos

Treasure of Galapagos. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Delphin III

Cruising the Amazon, Delphin III’s three decks are built to accommodate 44 passengers with a dining room, indoor and outdoor lounge (with nightly entertainment), an outdoor plunge pool, exercise room, spa, and excursion skiffs on board.

Most cabins are 237 sq. ft. and all have large picture windows.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, complimentary filtered water, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

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

Avalon Waterways

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

MS Farah

On five decks, MS Farah has a lot of facilities including a large restaurant (with vegetarian options on the menu), barbecue on the sun deck, pool and pool bar, lounge bar, library dedicated to Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho and fitness center with sauna and steam rooms. They even hold cooking classes on board.

Avalon Farah

The 120-passenger Farah. * Photo: Avalon

There are 60 cabins, most of which are 239 sq. ft. All have floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows for excellent views. There are also a pair of royal suites

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with cable programming, Internet, tea & coffee-making facilities, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

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

Along the Same Lines

Emerald Waterways and AmaWaterways offer comparable itineraries on Europe’s rivers and canals.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, US-based; Avalonwaterways.com; +1 (877) 797-8791

TWS

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Scenic Cruises

This luxury river cruise line was founded in Australia in 1986, expanded to the UK and Canada in 2007, and to the US in 2008. Most recently the line has broadened from its main focus in Europe, including Russia, to include Southeast Asia cruises. Expedition cruising began in autumn 2019.

Scenic includes lots of important features on its cruises and prides itself on not taking passenger credit card details at embarkation as there’s little chance of making additional purchases on board. A partnership with National Geographic sees an expert and photographer on board all European cruises.

The parent firm also operates the more moderately-priced Emerald Waterways.

Scenic

Scenic cruises the great rivers of Europe. * Photo: Scenic

COVID-19 UPDATE

Scenic is aiming to restart operations Oct 31, 2020.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

To encourage bookings, for a limited time, Scenic is offering discounts on their European River cruises, plus chauffeured transfers and free deposit payment protection coverage.

Fleet

Space-Ships

Scenic Crystal (built 2012 & 163 passengers) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jewel (b 2013 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jade (b. 2014 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Jasper (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Opal (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Amber (b. 2015/16 & 163p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Ruby (rebuilt 2019 & 159p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Pearl (rebuilt 2019 &159p) — Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers

Scenic Diamond (remodeled 2013, 149p) — Rhône & Saône Rivers & Bordeaux, France

Scenic Sapphire (remodeled 2013, 149p) — Rhône and Saône Rivers & Bordeaux, France

Scenic Azure (b. 2016 & 96p) — Douro River, Portugal

Scenic Gem (b. 2014 & 126p) — Seine River, France

Scenic

Embarking the Scenic Spirit in Cambodia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Other River Boats 

Scenic Tsar (b. 2013 & 112 p) — Volga River, Russia

Scenic Spirit (b. 2016 & 68p) — Mekong River, Southeast Asia

Scenic Aura (b. 2016 & 44p) — Irrawaddy River, Myanmar

Expedition Ships

Scenic Eclipse (b. 2019 & 228p) — Oceangoing expedition ship 

Future Plans

Second expedition ship scheduled to debut TK.

Scenic Spirit seen in the early evening on the Mekong River. * Photo: Gillies and Zeiser

Scenic Spirit seen in the early evening on the Mekong River. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

Passenger Profile

Seniors from 60s on up hailing from Australia and Britain primarily, followed by US and Canada.

Passenger Decks

Most of the riverboats have elevators that serve the two principal cabin and public room decks, and none reach the Sun Deck. SCENIC TSAR’s elevator connects the three cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$ Expensive

Note: Emerald (partner company) is less expensive than Scenic.

For selected off-peak itineraries, the single passenger supplement is reduced by 50% or eliminated entirely.

Included Features
  • Shore excursions, divided into active, moderate and relaxed pace activity level
  • Scenic “Tailormade” app for self-guided tours
  • Unlimited beverages including stocked mini-bar
  • Picnics and bottled water for shore excursions
  • All meals in multiple dining venues
  • Wellness facilities
  • Tips
  • Wi-Fi
  • Use of e-bicycles (in Europe)
  • 24-hour cabin service including butler service
  • Laundry service
  • Airport transfers
Itineraries

With so many riverboats in operation, Scenic offers many itineraries to choose from.

In Europe, itineraries from 7 nights explore the Seine, Danube, Rhine and Moselle, Rhône and Saône rivers, the rivers of Bordeaux and Portugal’s Douro River. Many itineraries combine destinations and can last as long as a month exploring France or throughout Europe. Christmas-themed cruises at the end of the year are always popular.

Scenic

Eiffel Tower from Pont Alexandre III, Paris. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

In Russia, cruises tour the Volga River on 14- to 28-night itineraries.

Southeast Asia river cruises comprise 10 to 17 nights along the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, 7 to 12 nights on the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, or a 25-night combination of both rivers.

Scenic Eclipse sails to every region of the world, for excursion cruises that last anywhere from one week to one month.

Scenic also offers several land-and-river packages in China, South Korea, South India, Egypt and Jordan.

Sample Itineraries

In Europe, the 7-night Gems of the Danube begins in Budapest, cruising to Vienna, Dürnstein (with a relaxing cycling tour to visit Melk), either Salzburg or Cesky Krumlov, Regensburg and ending in Nuremburg before transferring to Munich for departure.

In Southeast Asia, along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River, the Mystical Irrawaddy cruise begins in the capital city of Yangon for a few days of sightseeing before flying to Bagan, where passengers will embark on their cruise, with stops at Magwe, Minhla, Salay, Pakkoku, Yandabo, Mingun, Sagaing and Mandalay, where passengers disembark for a flight back to Yangon.

Scenic

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, a pre- or post-Mekong River cruise stopover. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser

Aboard the Scenic Eclipse, the 15-day Arctic Islands cruise begins at Reykjavik in Iceland, sailing to Greenland’s east coast to cruise along the coast and visit the fjords, to north-east Greenland to tour Greenland National Park, sailing on to the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway for arctic wildlife spotting and disembarking at Longyearbyen before flying to Oslo.

Why Go?

The passengers are truly an English-speaking union coming as they do primarily from Australia, Britain, Canada and the U.S.

When to Go?

The departures coincide with the better expected weather conditions with the busiest tourist season mid-June to September. Off-season allows you to share the trips ashore with fewer people  descending on the main attractions, and some of these sailings may be less expensive and/or offer single rates without a supplement.

 SHIPS
  •  Space-Ships
  • Scenic Crystal
  • Scenic Jewel
  • Scenic Jade
  • Scenic Jasper
  • Scenic Opal
  • Scenic Amber
  • Scenic Ruby
  • Scenic Pearl
  • Scenic Sapphire
  • Scenic Diamond

The fleet’s 15 “Space-Ships” are similar across the board, with some slight variations that are identified in the write-ups below. For the most part, however, these luxury boats are similar in length and have four decks, three of which house cabins, connected by elevator except to the uppermost sun deck.

Passengers can take their meals in any of four fine dining rooms or in the casual café, with cuisines taking inspiration and seasonal ingredients from the surrounding locales. Special dining events can include high tea, al fresco barbecue and seafood galas. Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond also hold small cooking classes on board. Drinks are served in the lounge and bar areas.

For down time, the “Space-Ships” have a sun deck, wellness area with massage services, fitness center, walking track, salon and gift shop. Scenic Crystal, Scenic Jewel and Scenic Jade have an additional salt therapy lounge while Scenic Jasper, Scenic Opal and Scenic Amber each have a Vitality Pool on the sun deck; Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond have no salon.

While most carry up to 163 passengers in 82 cabins, Scenic Sapphire and Scenic Diamond have 75 each for up to 149 passengers. Cabins are proportioned similarly on each ship, the average sizes measuring between 215 – 430 ft2. All are outward-facing with large picture windows; most have a balcony, created with the top of the window lowered to open the space to the great outdoors. Cabins are nicely appointed and include butler service.

“More effort than the norm is spent providing memorable meals in a variety of settings. Multiple venues include the Crystal Dining Room, the main restaurant with tables for parties of two to eight and views through picture windows; River Café, casual dining for breakfast and a light lunch; Portobello, 5-course Italian fare for 32 passengers; and Table La Rive, a 6-course degustation menu for 10 diners at a time, reserved for Diamond Deck passengers.” — Ted Scull

Scenic Azure

This smaller 96-passenger “Space-Ship” still maintains the same overall design and quality of the group (see longer review above), complete with four fine dining venues, casual café, lounge and bar, sun deck, wellness area, fitness center, walking track and gift shop.

Cabins are still as large as those on sister ships, but here there are only 48.

Scenic Gem

This 126-passenger Scenic Gem offers the same facilities as the rest of the fleet, with the addition of L’Amour fine dining.

The 63 cabins measure, for the most part, between 160 – 305 ft2.

Scenic Aura

Carrying a maximum of 44 passengers, Scenic Aura is the smallest river boat in the fleet, with five decks instead of four. It has the signature features of the “Space-Ships” with the inclusion of Vitality pool and bar, library and guest laundry.

All 22 cabins have balconies, most measuring between 258 – 430 ft2.

Scenic Spirit

This 68-passenger riverboat comprises five decks connected by an elevator. It also has an almost 1:1 crew-to-passenger ratio. Facilities include a dining room, café, sun deck, pool and pool bar, steam sauna, open-air cinema, library, wellness center, gym, library, and gift shop.

All 34 cabins have a balcony, with most between 344 – 430 ft2.

Scenic

The sitting room of suite #211. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Scenic Tsar

At its debut, the 112-passenger Tsar was Scenic’s first new-build ship to launch onto Russia’s waterways for over 25 years.

Expedition ship

Scenic Eclipse

A 6-star luxury experience, the Scenic Eclipse expedition ship offers facilities and cabins located on 10 decks, serviced by an elevator. For dining, there are nine intimate venues plus 24-hour cabin service and eight bars and lounges.

Recreational facilities include a sun terrace, indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzis, yoga and pilates rooms, gym and fitness area, spa with Jaccuzzi, plunge pool, sauna, steam room and salon, library, boutique, theater, medical center, self-service laundry and Discovery Center.

Guided journeys are led by “Discovery Leaders,” field experts, regional specialists and local guides, with tours via Zodiac, kayak, e-bike, plus two Airbus H130-T2 helicopters and a U-Boat Worx “Cruise Submarine 7” for underwater exploration.

The 114 cabins have a balcony, with most cabins measuring between 344 and 430 ft2.

RELATED: Peter Knego Cruises on the New Scenic Eclipse.

Christmas markets cruises are popular on Rhine and Danube river itineraries. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser.

Christmas markets cruises are popular on Rhine and Danube river itineraries. * Photo: Gillies and Zaiser.

Activities & Entertainment

There are three types of shore excursions: Enrich, Freechoice, and Tailormade.

Tailormade excursions are designed for independent exploration at your own pace by foot or bicycle using a app providing the commentary and an interactive map. Subjects covered may be art, architecture, and history, and they are available in 140 locations. You can also use these tools on board.

Freechoice allows you to concentrate on your interests and whether you want an active, moderate or relaxed pace. Active might involve a hike or cycling outing; moderate, a city walking tour, and relaxed a museum visit or a canal cruise. Favorite hiking routes are the Danube Path through Austria’s Wachau Valley and a coastal path near Bordeaux along Arcachon Bay.

Enrich excursions are led by an expert in history or local culture to get beneath the surface. On board cooking school, Scenic Culinaire, operates on the French waterways and that includes going to local markets to buy the ingredients for the onboard cooking component.

For a number of its European cruises, Scenic partners with National Geographic to offer National Geographic Expeditions, cruises with presentations from the magazine’s acclaimed experts, photography lessons from its award-winning photographers and behind-the-scenes access during sightseeing excursions.

Scenic riverboats in Europe carry a fleet of e-bikes that help you propel your way into villages and vineyards so you become part of life ashore and not just a spectator. A handful of departures between May and September will come under the titles “Gems of the Danube,” sailing between Budapest and Nuremburg, and “Rhine Highlights” between Amsterdam and Basel.

During the former, specialists in guiding bicycle tours of 15 to 60 miles will take passengers to breweries for beer tasting, along paths in the Wachau Valley, to Austrian grape wine-growing country, into Vienna Woods and through the hills of Buda in Budapest. The latter will visit the Alsace Wine Route, the Rhine Gorge, Cologne’s network of cycling paths, and the outskirts of Amsterdam for cheese tasting. Non-cycling activities will also be offered.

Biking & Beer on the Danube River

The boat’s bikers stop to see the ship. * Photo: John Roberts

Special Notes

Single travelers pay no single supplements on selected departures in March, April and October to December. 50% of the single supplement is available on selected sailings May to September.

Along the Same Lines

Scenic is among the top lines to offer in-depth river cruising with lots of choices for sightseeing and enjoying meals aboard.

Contacts

USA —  One Financial Center, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02111; scenicusa.com. 855-517-1200; scenicusa.com

CANADA — Suite 1025, 401 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 5A1; Scenic.ca, 866-689-8611; scenic.ca

UK — 13th Floor, 111 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2HY; Scenic.co.uk,  0161 236 2444; scenic.co.uk

AUSTRALIA — Level 15, 56 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW 2000; Scenic.co.au, info@scenic.com.au; scenic.com.au

Pont du Gard, South of France

Pont du Gard, a Roman masterpiece built in the first half of the 1st century, South of France

 

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Scenic Spirit Reader Review

Reader Review: Scenic Spirit.

REVIEWER

Walt Bruyns/Jan Hayes from Canada.

CRUISE LINE

Scenic.

SHIP

Scenic Spirit.

DESTINATION

Cambodia/Vietnam.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

October 2018, from Siem Reap, Cambodia.

OVERALL RATING

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

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 5 small ship cruises.

REVIEW

On board the Scenic Spirit, the staff was friendly, attending to all our needs. The cabin was well laid out with the bedroom separated from the sitting area; it had everything we needed and our cabin attendant was efficient.  The pace of the cruise as well as the itinerary was terrific…… Stopping along the way was well planned and thoroughly enjoyable.  The Mekong River is one of the most scenic rivers of the world and the scenery showed well from the Spirit; we saw some great sunsets. Having travelled with Scenic before, we expected a great trip…….and we got it!

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Mekong River Cruise with Scenic.

By Heidi Sarna.

My first Mekong River cruise a decade ago was with Pandaw, a pioneer of Southeast Asia river cruising and one of my favorite small-ship cruise lines.

They offer a casual old-world experience aboard traditionally-designed boats built with lots of teak and open decks to resemble classic Scottish-built Irrawaddy River paddle steamers from a century ago.

In recent years, more river boats — many of them quite luxurious — have entered the waters of Southeast Asia. One of the companies is Scenic.

Last October, I cruised the Mekong River from Cambodia into Vietnam with Scenic aboard the all-suite 68-passenger Scenic Spirit — by far my poshest Mekong River experience — complete with an onboard spa and mini swimming pool.

Scenic Spirit's outdoor pool with Mekong views

Hard to believe a 68-passenger river boat has a pool and a spa! Lov’in it! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

My friend Sheila and I thoroughly enjoyed our 10 days of pampering and adventure. Scenic smartly combines its 7-night Mekong cruises with a 3-night hotel/tour pre- or post-cruise package in Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor Wat.

Tuk tuk ride in Cambodia

Heidi & Sheila’s Mekong River cruise adventure!

Thinking about taking a high-end Mekong River cruise?

Here are 15 reasons to choose Scenic!

The Immersive Excursions

The whole point of a Southeast Asia river cruise is to learn something, see something, and feel something. Scenic’s daily excursions, usually one in the morning and another after lunch (often with multiple choices), range from temple and monastery visits to walks through rural villages.

There are strolls through eye-opening, nostril-shocking open-air markets selling fresh everything; jaunts on motorized wooden sampans to soak up life on the river; and adventurous rides in tuk-tuk cycle rickshaws.

wet market in Cambodia

Wet markets in Cambodia and Vietnam are an experience! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Angkor Wat Temple Complex 

One of the world’s most coveted travel sites, parts of the world-famous temple complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia, date back more than 1,000 years. With its intricate carvings, jungle setting and hauntingly beautiful ruinous visage, the temples of Angkor Wat inspire awe, wonder and gratitude for anyone fortunate enough to visit. Three days in Siem Reap, based in a luxury hotel, is part of the package.

Ankgor Wat is included in many Mekong River Cruises

The stunning Angkor Wat complex. * Photo: Sheila Healey

The Pagodas

A Mekong River cruise in Cambodia and Vietnam is a journey rich in gilded Buddhist sanctuaries, alternatively called temples, shrines and pagodas. Some are grand and topped with massive roofs and ornate glittering interiors covered with intricate murals. Others are humbler, with aging wood, faded paint and crumbling stupas; they’re part of the everyday village tableau, complete with sleeping dogs and playing children.

A gilded pagoda on a Mekong River Cruise

A grand gilded monastery in Cambodia near the Mekong River. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Sampan Rides

Most days, excursions involved transferring from the Scenic Spirit, whether anchored mid-river or tied up to a tree along the river banks, to a local motorized sampan. Some were wooden, and all had the requisite evil eye painted on the bow to ward off danger. Zipping up and down the river in these boats afforded us close up views of the river banks, to see women washing clothes at the water’s edge and children splashing and waving. We saw lone figures in conical hats fishing from small skiffs and families living aboard squat cargo barges, laundry flapping across the stern, motoring past with loads of sand, gravel, rice and watermelons.

sampan excursions on a Mekong River cruise

Most excursions involved traveling by sampan, which allowed us up close views of life and commerce on the river. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Sunsets

It seemed we were treated to soul-stirring sunsets nearly every day of the cruise, and some morning sunrises were equally as jaw-dropping. With our suite’s huge windows that could be opened with the touch of a button, we could take amazing photos and videos with very little effort! Or if we felt more ambitious, Scenic Spirit’s expansive top deck was an excellent perch to soak up a fiery sunset melting into the Mekong.

Great views of a sunset over the Mekong River.

The all-suite Scenic Spirit affords stunning views of sunrises and sunsets over the Mekong. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

AND, our days at Angkor Wat included a sunrise visit, which turned out to be a mind-blowing pinky-purply stunner. We stood in awe watching the morphing color, thanking our lucky stars for the opportunity to witness such a spectacular natural wonder.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise on a Mekong River cruise

Angkor Wat at sunrise blew us away! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The All-Inclusive Fares

An impressive repertoire of excursions, from walking, speedboat and motor-coach tours, to Scenic’s special “Enrich” happenings — experiential events such as high-tea at Raffles in Phnom Penh — are part of the fare. Also priced into the package are free-flow drinks, with an excellent complimentary wine list with multiple choices each day. Room service, transfers to and from airport, wifi (though spotty), and gratuities (however many leave additional tips) are also part of the fares.

Scenic River cruises are all inclusive

Fares on a Scenic Mekong River cruise include all wines and spirits. Cheers! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Suites

Southeast is Asia hot year-round, not to mention quite culture-shocky, so your cabin is an important retreat for relaxing and recharging. The Scenic Spirit’s 34 outside suites impress with floor-to-ceiling windows that open top to bottom with the touch of a button, for fresh air and photo taking. Most are 344-square-foot Deluxe Suites with walk-in wardrobes, mini-bars, sitting area, and flat-screen TVs for movies and music.

Scenic Spirit Deluxe Suite

Our Scenic Spirit Deluxe Suite was just lovely. * Photo: Scenic

The Spa

The Scenic Spirit’s lovely little spa, a dark-wood paneled retreat, was my happy place. Each excellent treatment begins with a ceremonial foot bath in a copper bowl. Making a great thing even better is the price — an hour-long massage is just $30 USD. I had two of them with the sweet and skilled therapist Rotana! There’s also a gym with three cardio machines, a sauna and steam room, and even a decent-sized outdoor pool up on deck.

Scenic Spirit spa

The Scenic Spirit spa can accommodate two guests at a time. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Guides

The group of excellent local Scenic guides that accompany passengers for the entire 10-day cruise-tour are the glue that keeps the itinerary running smoothly. They lead all excursions and share not only facts about the region’s rich culture and heritage, but fascinating personal anecdotes as well about about marriage, education and tragic stories of family members who perished during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Scenic Spirit guide tying a monk robe

The Scenic Spirit team of guides was excellent — explaining, enlightening and demonstrating monk robe tying!. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Service

Attentive, approachable, friendly and exceedingly professional, the service level is high-end on board, in Siem Reap and during excursions. From the multiple excellent local guides who travel with the cohort to the restaurant servers, massage therapists and front desk staff, it really is “your wish is my command.”

Excellent services in the restaurants of our Mekong River cruise

Courteous, efficient and friendly service was the order of the day! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Dining

As most passengers want to try the local fare, at least at some meals, and the Scenic Spirit did a great job offering both Asian and western dishes in its lovely windowed restaurant. Lunch was my favorite meal of the day — highlights included Cambodian and Vietnamese “street food” buffets. Festive stations offered prawn sugarcane skewers, Khmer crepes, dim sum, Vietnamese pho noodle soup, fried insects, and exotic fruits like hairy red rambutans. At all meals, there were always western favorites as well.

Lunch aboard a Mekong River Cruise

My favorite meal of the day was lunch — the buffets were awesome! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Entertainment

The entertainment in Siem Reap was excellent, from the dazzling Phare Cambodian Circus, a campy and skillful acrobatic extravaganza, to the magical dinner and Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple. Onboard the Scenic Spirit, entertainment revolved around after-dinner drinks with new friends, plus a few featured events — a colorful and clanging dragon dance by a local troupe, a lively trivia contest and a dance party on deck under the stars with the crew.

An Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple.

We enjoyed a magical dinner and Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Other Passengers

A big part of the fun is cruising with an intimate group of like-minded others, folks who are as inspired and eager to travel in Southeast Asia as you are. The majority of Scenic river cruise passengers are Australian, with a sprinkling of other nationalities, including North Americans, New Zealanders, Britishers, Europeans, and others. Mingling was easy and we enjoyed hanging out with new friends.

The well traveled passengers on a Scenic Spirit excursion

Fun loving and adventurous passengers on an excursion. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Convenience

Southeast Asia is an amazing travel destination, but it can be challenging at times for even the heartiest adventurer, thanks to the heat (it’s hot year-round, sticking to the 80s and 90s F) and crazy traffic. A luxurious river cruise mitigates much of the hassle and lets you focus on the cultural treasures. Unpack once; largely avoid road travel; enjoy plush air-conditioned suites, spa and dining; and soak up the fascinating life on the river and along its banks. 

The scenic spirit docked along the Mekong RIver

The plush 68-passenger Scenic Spirit is a wonderful home base for a week on the Mekong River! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Family Vibe

I’ve noticed that family-run companies like Scenic seem to thrive on the pride and passion that come from building and owning a business. Scenic was started by Australian Glen Moroney in 1986 and has grown into the thriving high-quality luxury cruise and travel company it is today.

Scenic name in candles at an Apsara performance

Family-owned Scenic seems to take great pride in delivering a high-quality travel experience. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Fares start at $4,395 USD per person for the 10-night Luxury Mekong and Temple Discovery Cruise package (7-night Scenic Spirit cruise + 3-night Siem Reap hotel stay). Fares include drinks, meals, excursions and a handful of special enrichment experiences. Visit the Scenic site for booking info.

 

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AmaWaterways

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Submit Your Own Review

Visit Our Reader Review Form

 

QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About AmaWaterways

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

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

EUROPEAN RIVERS

Ships & Years Delivered

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

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

RELATED: Read Gene Sloan’s AmaMagna review here.

Passengers

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$$

NOTE:

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

Included Features

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

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

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

Itineraries (through 2020)

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

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

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

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

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

Other European operators.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA & VIETNAM

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

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

Ships & Years Delivered

AmaDara (built 2015 & 124 passengers).

Passengers

Mainly North Americans 50 and up.

Passenger Decks

4 decks, no elevator.

Price

$$$

Included Features

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

Itineraries

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

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

IRRAWADDY RIVER IN MYANMAR (BURMA)

(Note: Not currently operating)

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

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

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

SOUTHERN AFRICA: ZAMBEZI RIVER IN BOTSWANA

In Brief

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

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

Giraffes in Nambia

Giraffes in Nambia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Contact Info

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

— TWS

 

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Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

Best Small-Ship Cruises for Bicycling

By John Roberts.

Cycling offers a unique sense of freedom when exploring a destination.

Sitting high in a bike seat and pedaling through European countryside and historic villages and cities lets you see these places in a different way. Few experiences are quite as exhilarating as hopping onto your bike to work up a bit of a sweat and get your heart pumping during a day in port on your cruise.

Whether you are an avid cyclist looking to pile up big mileage on a daily ride or just an active traveler who loves a good ride to get away from the crowds and cover more ground in a new and interesting place, cruise lines are offering more options every year for travelers to love.

I love to include fitness into my travel and have been on dozens of small-ship cruises and racked up hundreds of miles in the bike seat to visit cities, villages and the countryside. It’s always a thrilling experience.

Check out our roundup of the top cruises for cyclists based on the 88 small-ship lines (and counting!) that we cover on QuirkyCruise.com.

Most of the small-ship biking opportunities are available in Europe, but you can also find some lines that can get you pedaling in places like New Zealand, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, as well.

AmaWaterways

The river cruise line has led the way for years when it comes to active travel. All AmaWaterways’ ships in Europe carry bikes onboard that passengers can use at their leisure or as part of active shore excursions that are offered in certain ports.

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

All AmaWaterways’ ships in Europe carry bikes onboard. * Photo: John Roberts

AmaWaterways also has a revolutionary partnership with Backroads to offer specific sailings for avid cyclists. On these partial-ship charters, Backroads guides lead groups of up to 30 cyclists or more on daily rides along the Danube, Douro or Seine Rivers, for examples.

I took a Backroads cycling cruise on the Danube, and we piled up about 150 miles over the course of the weeklong voyage. This meant that I didn’t feel guilty at all about all that food and beer that I also enjoyed.

Here’s Ama Waterways website for more details.

Click the photo below 👇🏼to see John’s video about Ama Waterways’ cycling chops!

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

AMA Waterways has led the way for years when it comes to active travel. * Photo: John Roberts

Scenic Cruises

Scenic also carries bikes onboard its ships in Europe for independent passenger use and for guided tours on designated group excursions. These are e-bikes, which means you can add a little boost of electric power to assist you over the hills, if needed. This makes the activity more accessible for all ages and fitness levels and allows you to enjoy glorious days pedaling amid vineyards or along river paths.

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

Scenic partners with Trek Travel, a biking company that offers group cycling charters on Scenic ships on the Danube and Rhine Rivers. * Photo: John Roberts

Scenic also partners with Trek Travel, a biking company that offers group cycling charters on Scenic ships on the Danube and Rhine Rivers. I did one of the Danube bike tours, and this was easily the most physically challenging cruise I have been on to date.

Here’s Scenic’s website for more details.

Click the photo below 👇🏼for John’s video about Scenic’s bicycling options! 

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

Scenic carries e-bikes onboard its ships in Europe allowing you can a boost of power if need be (John never needs the help of course!). * Photo: John Roberts

Ponant

The French cruise line has a new fleet of luxury expedition yachts and makes good use of the 184-passenger vessels through its partnership with Backroads, a well-established active tour company that runs biking cruises on select Ponant cruises. The partial charter groups come onboard to explore exotic destinations and undertake challenging bike rides in places like New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden and Russia.

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

Ponant partners with Backroads for special small-ship biking cruises that explore exotic destinations and undertake challenging bike rides in places like New Zealand, pictured here. * Photo: John Roberts

I rode with my Backroads group of 24 riders in New Zealand on routes that went up to 24 miles along stunning coastlines and through quiet farmlands. The mid-ride meals and wine tasting at the vineyards were, needless to say (!), a great way to refuel. Read John’s article! 

Here’s Ponant’s website for more info.

Click the photo below 👇🏼for selfie stick-wielding John’s video about his Ponant-Backroads adventure!

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

New Zealand is an ideal place to cycle! 🚴🏻‍♂️ Photo: John Roberts

Tauck Cruises

Tauck’s fleet of European river ships features bikes, as well as regular guided biking excursions at its port stops. We enjoyed our outings pedaling with an intimate group of riders during our Tauck cruise on the Rhone River in France, taking rides in Lyon, Arles and Avignon.

Passengers can also experience scenic cycling amid the windmills in Kinderdijk in the Netherlands or take a spin around Antwerp or Ghent in Belgium.

Here’s Tauck’s website for more details.

Check out John’s video about his Tauck river cruise along France’s Rhone River.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways offers 10 bikes that are free for passengers to use on each of its ships in Europe. The line also offers “Active” optional bike tours (for a fee) that let cyclists explore a region that offers especially good riding routes in a more thrilling way. These outings are led by certified, expert guides.

Check out Avalon’s website for more info.

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

Cycling is a great way to explore Europe; here John poses in Rotterdam. * Photo: John Roberts

Emerald Waterways

The river line carries 20 bikes onboard its ships for passenger use, and guided cycling tours are offered in several locations on Europe itineraries. The line features at least one “active” shore excursion per cruise, such as the popular Melk-to-Durnstein route in Austria on Danube voyages, which I have ridden several times.

Here’s the Emerald website for more details.

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

John & Colleen biking in port in Budapest. * Photo: John Roberts

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Another river cruise line that features a fleet of bikes onboard, Uniworld has a partnership with Butterfield and Robinson, a travel company focused on active touring. Butterfield and Robinson charter space on certain Uniworld sailings for special cycling-themed cruises, offering a luxury experience as you cycle along routes that highlight Europe’s Old World heritage.

Check out the UniWorld website for more info.

Rhine River Family Cruises

You can bike every day in port on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

CroisiEurope Cruises

CroisiEurope’s offerings include its “Cruise ‘n Bike” voyages along five waterways in Europe. These sailings are designed specifically for cycling enthusiasts who want to explore the idyllic landscapes under pedal power along the Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Loire and Gironde Rivers.

You can bike in Bratislava and Budapest or amid the forests, pastures and orchards that inspired artists in Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Go to CroisiEurope’s website for more details.

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

Biking in Bordeaux on a CroisiEurope river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Grasshopper Adventures

This company is not a small-ship cruise line, but a well-respected bicycle tour company operating in Asia since 2004.

Grasshopper Adventures has started getting into small-ship cruise and bicycling combos they call “Bike & Boat Tours.”

They’ve chartered three charming and intimate colonial-style river boats for upcoming week-long cruises on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam; Thailand’s River Kwai; and India’s Brahmaputra River — the boats are your base and each day you’ll spend time exploring on shore via guided bike excursions.

Here’s a video from Grasshopper that provides a great overview.

Most days schedule a total of 30 to 50 kilometers of pedaling for morning and afternoon cycling jaunts — choose to do both or just one ride a day, it’s up to you. There will be non-biking excursions offered as well if you want a break or if your spouse or traveling partner has no interest in biking. Everyone’s happy!

Best Small Ship Cruises for Bicycling

Pedalling over Thailand’s River Kwai. * Photo: Grasshopper Adventures

 

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AmaWaterways Mekong River Boat Captain

AmaDara’s Mekong River Captain Boat Dang Tuc

By Anne Kalosh.

Inspired by the Australian miniseries “All Rivers Run” about a life of adventure on a paddle-steamer, a young Vietnamese set his heart on a ship career. And today, Dang Tuc, 52, commands AmaDara, one of the finest boats on the Mekong.

He often stands at the gangway to welcome passengers to a river he considers “smooth and romantic.”

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Capt. Tuc and a crew member greet embarking passengers at My Tho. Photo: Anne Kalosh

Tuc first worked aboard fishing boats, then cargo ships, and by 1999 he was skilled enough to become a pilot, leading vessels into Ho Chi Minh City. Subsequently, working for the Vietnamese partner of AmaWaterways, he was appointed captain of AmaLotus in 2014 after a stint as staff captain.

In 2015, Tuc took command of the brand-new AmaDara, where he continues to serve, leading a deck and engine crew of 11. Besides ensuring safe operations at all times, a key duty is crew training. The Mekong has few docking sites for passenger boats, so sometimes AmaDara anchors in the river, while other times the captain nudges the boat to the shore, where it’s tied to trees.

Another challenge is the great difference in water levels between the rainy and dry seasons, which Tuc said can go from 45 meters to just 10 to 15 meters. This means, he said, that the top of the boat is lower than the ground level at one of the villages where AmaDara docks during the dry period. (Wow, that’s hard to imagine!)

Tuc’s kids are proud of what he does. Though the downside of the job is being away from his family for a couple weeks at a time. When he’s sailing, he phones his wife every night.

As the number of boats operating in the river is growing, Tuc sees a bright future for Mekong cruising. He thinks that’s due to the quality delivered and positive reports back from passengers.

That I can sure agree with!

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  Enjoy Anne’s full story about her AmaDara Mekong River cruise HERE.

 

 

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Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

By Anne Kalosh.

I woke to a rooster crowing at 4:30 a.m. AmaDara was nudged against a bank of the Mekong River, tied to trees. Beneath my balcony, a man was up to his neck in the brown water, bathing his ox. As daylight broke, houses in the forest became visible.

While we ate breakfast on board, families ashore were doing the same, squatting beside their houses that stood on tall stilts. When we strolled through the village in small groups, we met a grandmother chewing betel nuts as she minded a baby, kids jumping rope who called “Helloooo!” and a sprightly 90-year-old man who invited some of us in to his house, climbing the steep staircase with ease.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Children jump rope alongside AmaDara. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Authentic Experiences

These kinds of intimate, authentic experiences marked my weeklong cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia with AmaWaterways. Fascinating cultures, incredible and sometimes tragic history, beautiful sights, wonderful food and unforgettable people made this Mekong River voyage one of my greatest adventures ever.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

A floating village on the Mekong. Photo: AmaWaterways

We roamed markets where we were the only Westerners, got blessed at a Buddhist ceremony in a fabulous temple and rode sampans, trishaws, tuk-tuks and even oxcarts. At a one-room school in Cambodia, we helped barefoot children practice speaking English and brought their teacher pencils and notebooks.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Oxcart Anne! (in blue hat) * Photo: Anne Kalosh

In Phnom Penh’s nightmarish Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, once a prison and torture center run by the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge, we met one of the few survivors. In Siem Reap, we joined hundreds of other pilgrims trekking through the dark to view sunrise at Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most magnificent temples.

The Mekong is home to many ancient cultures and a lifeline for trade, fishing and agriculture. But cruising is relatively new to the river, so we felt like we were experiencing something very special.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Ox cart driver in Kampong Tralach. Photo: Anne Kalosh

Beauty of a Boat

AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaDara, built in Vietnam in 2015, is a beauty of glossy teak, French colonial styling and carved wood furniture.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

AmaDara has been plying the Mekong since 2015. * Photo: AmaWaterways

I loved my room’s dark woods, spaciousness and tall windows. It was elegant and comfortable, the big bed facing a walk-out balcony and the seating area beside a French step-out balcony.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Benli, one of the wonderful AmaDara crew, showed me to my room. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The Saigon Lounge with its bar and floor-to-ceiling windows served as a central meeting point for daily briefings, lectures and entertainment. Local performers came aboard several nights to dance and sing. Other evenings we sang karaoke, competed in a rollicking group trivia game about the Mekong and were treated to a fabulous and fun crew talent show.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

The Saigon Lounge hosts briefings, lectures and entartainment. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Local Dishes

The food aboard AmaDara was extraordinary. With Vietnamese and Cambodian chefs preparing the dishes, we enjoyed authentic meals, with some U.S. and international options always available.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Vietnamese and Cambodian chefs prepare authentic meals in AmaDara’s Mekong Restaurant. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Breakfast included fresh fruits like mango, rambutan, dragon fruit, sapodilla, jack fruit and melon; juices, smoothies, made-to-order omelets, stir fries and pho (a Vietnamese broth with noodles, vegetables, lemongrass and chili); cereals, porridge, nuts, yogurt and pastries. There was always a bottle of Champagne for those who wished to start the day with a mimosa or, instead, addictively sweet and strong iced Vietnamese coffee.

Lunch included a salad bar, cold cuts, cheeses, seafood, fish, pasta, action-station items like steamed rice paper rolls with pork and vegetables and main courses like sweet and sour fish, potato dumplings with pumpkin sauce, pizza and burgers (meat or veggie).

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Fresh tropical fruits are in abundance aboard AmaDara. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Dinner choices included Khmer salmon and grilled watermelon, prawn with mango, cauliflower soup with chive oil, Oriental beef consommé, Vietnamese egg drop soup with bean curd and mushrooms, sirloin steak with green pepper corn sauce, roasted turkey with taro and yam, cobia fillet with tamarind sauce and coconut rice, sesame seed tofu and tempura bok choy.

I thought the food was terrific, and it satisfied palates ranging from sophisticated New York foodies to a vegan couple who told me they found plenty of variety. Beer and wine were included at meals.

Friendly Crew, Great Guides

AmaDara is a beauty, but the best thing about the vessel was the friendly Vietnamese and Cambodian crew and the wonderful Ama guides. Tour leader Son met my late-arriving flight to Ho Chi Minh City (which most everyone still calls Saigon). On our way to the plush Sofitel Saigon Plaza, where other Ama travelers spent two nights pre-cruise, I learned Son had been a refugee abroad for several years, and a university professor. He’s the kind of knowledgeable, witty and charming leader you’d follow anywhere. And we did.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Tour leader Son, Anne Kalosh and guide Fin at Angkor Wat. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho
A City Market Adventure

The lotus embryo tea in my hotel room was a preview of the kind of drinks and foods that seemed very exotic to this American. My first city market visit was an eye-opener. There were nets of live toads, baskets of live prawns and kettles of live fish, framed collections of bats and spiders, Vietnamese coffee with brand names like Weasel and Squirrel, wood carvings (one of the Titanic) and enormous bags of cashews. A woman sat skinning an eel.

And the pointers from our Ama guides about bargaining definitely came in handy. Counter the price with 30 percent, then buy at 40 percent, they said. No eels or spiders for me. I took home fresh-ground coffee and silk scarves.

After the market our small convoy of buses drove along the wide avenues of Ho Chi Minh City, buzzing with action and lined with cafés and stands selling all kinds of things. In the countryside we passed emerald-green rice paddies and giant lotus flowers. People along the road wheeled carts piled high with coconuts, watermelons and dragon fruit.

“We like to live on the highway because of the opportunity to do business,” our guide Duy said. Two hours later, we arrived at My Tho, where AmaDara was docked.

Captain Dang Tuc stood at the gangway, impressive with his seafarer’s beard. On board, we learned that “Ama” means “love” and “dara” means “star.” We were just 87 passengers—from the U.S., Canada, Germany, the U.K., Philippines and Australia—on this early-season sailing. (Riverboats run on the Mekong from August to April.)

I was surprised by the number of families, including those with young children and teens, as well as solo travelers like me.

Our first day’s sail, to Cai Be, was short. We anchored midstream overnight. After dinner, Vietnamese musicians played traditional instruments.

Capt. Tuc and a crew member greet embarking passengers at My Tho. Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 2: Cai Be and Sa Dec
Floating market, Temple and Romance

Cai Be is an important agricultural distribution center, especially for fruits. To visit the floating market, we rode in long, covered sampans past colorful boats with eyes painted on the bows (a tradition said to ward off sea monsters). Many of these were live-aboards, and families strung their laundry on lines, kids played on deck and food was cooked in the open air. Many of the larger boats transport live fish in an underwater well or tank with screens to allow river water to flow through.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Touring the Mekong by sampan. Photo: Anne Kalosh

I saw coconut candy, popped rice snacks and edible rice paper being made in a shop that also sold cobra and scorpion wine, these creatures visible in the glass bottles. Other products included “Fat of Pythons” ointment for burns and dry skin and “Cobratoxan” cream for muscle pain.

“We eat anything that moves,” guide Duk said, adding snake is considered particularly nutritious. “We don’t eat python,” he clarified. “It’s too fatty and tasteless. We do eat cobra. We eat rats in the rice field. We eat mice. We eat crickets. Roasted crickets in garlic and chili are tasty.”

Walking along a forest trail we arrived at Kiet House, a pre-colonial home of elaborately carved wood, filled with antiques, ceramics and an altar to the ancestors.

In the afternoon, at Sa Dec, an agricultural and industrial trading center, we visited a colorful temple to Caodaism, a syncretistic religion whose symbol is the Divine Eye of God. Strolling through a market, we saw pigs’ heads split open in puddles of blood, eels and snakes, live crabs and heaps of fresh vegetables, greens and herbs.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Butcher stall in Sa Dec market, Vietnam. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The French writer Marguerite Duras lived in Sa Dec as a teenager where she had an affair with a wealthy 27-year-old Chinese man. Her novel “The Lover” was made into an exceedingly atmospheric film. We had tea at the wealthy man’s house, now a museum.

Day 3: Tan Chau
Rural Life and Riding in a Trishaw. Whee!

The sampans took us to Tan Chau, famous for its black-dyed silk. We visited a silk factory and at a rattan factory, we scooped up items decorated with hand-dyed silk threads. We learned about rural life on a stroll through Evergreen Island, our guides engaging people to tell about their homes and families. Back in Tan Chau, we rode cycle trishaws, my adept driver chatting on his phone as he pedaled away. I loved the ride!

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Strolling around Emerald Island. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 4: Phnom Penh
Tragedy & Beauty

Arriving at Cambodia’s bustling capital, AmaDara docked right downtown, in the heart of the action. The most tragic period of Cambodian history, the 1975 to 1979 reign of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime, was a sobering start to our visit. Well more than a million people, perhaps nearly three million, were executed or died from starvation or disease. No family was spared. When our guide Fin was a baby, his father vanished and was never heard from again.

Seeing one of the Killing Fields—sites where large numbers of people were executed—was indescribably sad and horrifying. Back on the bus, we fell silent. The shock and revulsion continued back in the city at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, known as Security Prison 21, or S-21.

There we met Chum Mey, one of its few survivors, who wrote a book about his life and ordeal. “How do you have the strength to come here every day?” I asked.

Chum said he’s compelled to bear witness to what happened. His book sales help support victims of the Khmer Rouge.

On the bus, Fin summed it up: “That was heavy. Not an enjoyable morning, but an important one.”

The afternoon was quite different: A walk through the grounds of the Royal Palace, home to Cambodia’s king. In the Silver Pagoda thick silver tiles covered the floor and a Buddha of solid gold was encrusted with thousands of diamonds. For me, a high point was the National Museum with its incredible collection of Khmer art. The Khmer empire was a powerful state that once covered most of modern-day Cambodia, southern Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. Great builders, artists and musicians, the Khmer created monumental temples like Angkor Wat, and the museum houses many sculptures, statues and other artifacts from there.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Phnom Penh’s gilded Royal Palace complex. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Day 5 Phnom Penh, Oudong and Kampong Tralach
Buddhist Blessing & Oxcart Parade

We journeyed by bus to Oudong, Cambodia’s royal capital from the 17th century until 1866, and a place of pilgrimage. AmaWaterways had arranged a special Buddhist blessing for our group at one of the country’s largest monasteries. We sat on the floor, gazing up at the incredible neon lights, statues and paintings while monks performed the blessing.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

A special Buddhist blessing for Ama passengers at Oudong. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Nearby, at Kampong Tralach, dozens of oxcarts awaited, each driven by a farmer. We climbed in, two apiece. Our slow-moving parade was a spectacle followed by skipping children and women waving from doorways.

Back in Phnom Penh, we tried another typical conveyance, tuk-tuks (motorcyle-driven carts). It was fun surging en masse with all the other tuk-tuks, occasionally seeing familiar faces from AmaDara.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Buddha at Oudong Monastery, Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 6: Oknhatey
Chatting with Schoolchildren

Sailing from Phnom Penh at 7 a.m., we arrived at Koh Dach, known as Silk Island, and rode tuk-tuks through the countryside of rice paddies and orchards to see silk artisans at work and buy beautiful hand-loomed scarves.

The trip’s most heartwarming experience was visiting a school, where we paired off with the children so they could practice speaking English. I can’t forget the little boy who told me he wants to be an author.

That night AmaDara pulled alongside Angkor Ban.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

School visit on Oknatey Island, Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 7: Angkor Ban & Kampong Cham
Village Visit

This was the morning I woke to the rooster’s crow. In small groups, we strolled through the village with our Ama guides. Huge oxen, “like money in the bank” for Cambodian families, according to Fin, lazed in the shade. Some walls had drawings intended to ward off evil spirits.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Oxen are highly valued and considered money in the bank in Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

AmaDara cast off for Kampong Cham, our final port. We docked beside an outdoor cafe with umbrella tables.  The third largest city in Cambodia, Kampong Cham appeared prosperous and busy.

Traveling by bus to Wat Nokor, we discovered an interesting temple dating from the mid-11th century. Roadside stands served duck eggs with 20-day-old embryos. Fin explained this is “Something one person eats that makes two persons happy. Get it?” I didn’t, until he winked.  We saw the Twin Mountains (Man Hill and Woman Hill), the topic of a legend in which the women outwitted the men in a mountain-building contest.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

This Cambodian man invited us into his home. At right is AmaWaterways guide Fin. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 8: Kampong Cham to Siem Reap
Goodbye, AmaDara. Hello, Angkor!

Capt. Tuc and all the crew lined up on shore to wish us farewell. It was sad to say goodbye to so many kind and charming people who’d cared for us with such wonderful hospitality.

We were handed box lunches for the four-hour drive to Siem Reap. Cornfields were juxtaposed with rubber trees, and motorcycles buzzed by with four or even five riders. As we arrived at Siem Reap, Fin’s home, he pointed out where, as a boy, he herded the family’s cows, walking carefully to avoid trip wires set by the Khmer Rouge. It was a chilling reminder of Cambodia’s not-so-distant holocaust.

Once a sleepy town, Siem Reap is now the bustling gateway to Angkor Wat, with an international airport and many fine hotels as well affordable and cheaper digs for budget travelers. Ours was the lavish Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort.

On an afternoon tour to Ta Prohm Temple, where giant trees grow from the walls, parrots and macaque monkeys broke the eerie silence. Angelina Jolie filmed “Tomb Raider” there.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Trees grow from the walls at eerie Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor, Cambodia, which featured in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 9: Siem Reap
Sunrise at World’s Largest Temple Complex

Most AmaWaterways travelers spent two nights in Siem Reap. I had a noon flight so I opted for a sunrise visit to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex. No rooster crowed at the posh Sofitel, but croissants awaited the 4 a.m. early risers in the Ama group. We joined the flow of pilgrims, walking with flashlights, over the causeway atop a wide moat. A light mist made things even more atmospheric.

There was no brilliant sunburst but the gradual unveiling of this incredible sight at daybreak was still profound. Besides its monumental scale and alluring shapes, Angkor Wat is fascinating for its dynamic bas-reliefs of scenes from Hindu epics and hundreds of dancers, each pair said to have different headdresses.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Angkor Wat is rich with thousands of well-preserved carvings. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

It was a climatic finish to a fascinating trip, from the vigor of Vietnam to the calm (decades after the Khmer Rouge storm!) of Cambodia. I learned and experienced a lot, and much of that was thanks to our excellent Ama guides.

When we’d first arrived in Cambodia, Fin taught us the sampeah, the traditional way of saying hello, goodbye, sorry and thank you by pressing the palms together and slightly bowing the head. The level of the hands is important, signifying different relationships. For example, friends of the same age place both palms together at chest level. When greeting bosses, older people or high-ranking people, the hands are raised to mouth level. Saying goodbye to Fin, I put my palms at nose level, appropriate for saluting a teacher.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

If you’re lucky, this is Angkor Wat at sunrise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

For booking info, contact AmaWaterways.

And here’s Anne’s interview with AmaWaterways Co-Owner Kristin Karst.

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REVIEWER Judi Cohen from Canada. CRUISE LINE Pandaw Expeditions. SHIP Kalaw Pandaw. DESTINATION Irrawaddy River, Myanmar. # OF NIGHTS 7 ...
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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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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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Monastery visit on a Scenic Cruise

QuirkyCruise Reader Review

Scenic Spirit on Mekong River

REVIEWER

Sheila Healey from the US.

CRUISE LINE

Scenic.

SHIP

Scenic Spirit.

DESTINATION

Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

October 2018, from Siem Reap, Cambodia downstream into Vietnam.

OVERALL RATING

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

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HOW MANY SMALL-SHIP CRUISES HAVE YOU BEEN ON?

6.

REVIEW

If you want an escape in comfort, with a good balance of UNESCO World Heritage sites and small village and temples excursions while river touring, then the Scenic Spirit is the ticket.  This over-worked New Yorker was in love from the get go. As Australian-owned you get a well appointed Modern-designed vessel along with a realistic view of the region.

This 10-day trip transported me to 9th-century Angkor Wat with a knowledgable guide and then back to Siem Reap for total comfort at the lovely Hyatt Regency for two days before we began the river segment of the trip. The guide team was exceptional in their knowledge throughout Cambodia and Vietnam and happy to assist in any need. The staff on the Scenic Spirit was just lovely and aimed to please. One of the highlights on board was the spa and pricing — a plus while traveling in Asia. With 45-minute foot massages for $20, I happily booked three times while on board. It’s the little things in life!

As many will ask about our food and wine selections while on board — overall decent choices and the kitchen did its best with a lovely fresh juice selection daily at  breakfast. I absolutely took advantage of the watermelon juice offerings!  Local cuisine was always a staple as well as western ala carte selections for the less adventurous traveler. Yes, we had the option of beetles and scorpions for one of our lunch selections. If you are a hard core foodie you may be let down at times, but you will have plenty of time to explore Saigon and Phnom Penh for that special food experience, which of course we did!

Our Cabin was super comfortable and the beds beyond inviting.  The size of the cabin is much larger than most river cruise ships and one feels the need to linger at times to enjoy the river views. A real plus was that the windows open with the touch of a button. perfect for your own private sunset photo opportunity while sipping champagne.

The excursions were  quite good overall. To me, the Cambodian side of the trip was more interesting (given excursions like Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields) than the Vietnam side of the trip, which was much more in the vein of local markets and small temple visits. We opted one afternoon to stay on the boat and enjoy the small pool and bar, which was quite enjoyable. WIFI is available, but at times non-existent, which assists in getting one off the grid and much appreciated.

If you are looking to get off the merry-go-round of western life, but don’t want to let go of your creature comforts this may be your kind of holiday. For me Cambodia invaded my soul and touched my heart in a way I wasn’t expecting. The Mekong awaits!

➢➢Peruse more Reader Reviews HERE  …. and …. REVIEW your latest small ship-cruise ✍🏽 HERE  ✍🏽

 

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