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Ponant's Le Jacques Cartier
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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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Zegrahm Expeditions

Zegrahm Expeditions got its start in 1990 by a group of men who knew adventure travel with first-hand experience. In fact the company name is derived from their initials. The programs are worldwide and ever changing, and the firm has a very high loyalty factor with many return clients. Some field leaders have their own following amongst past passengers and biographies appear on the website.

While Zegrahm offers land programs in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, it is the unusually comprehensive expedition cruise programs that are the focus here. Most have one annual departure, while the Galapagos has two, so while we aim to update the changing expeditions and vessels chartered, use the itineraries listed below as a guide of both present and past itineraries.

Nearly every cruise has a land extension. Zegrahm has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to give participants a better understanding of the value of nature. They receive a year’s membership while a percentage of the cost of the cruise goes to the organization.

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

As there are many itineraries and multiple ships involved, every destination and the ship used will be treated together as a pair. Zegrahm does not own ships but takes on complete charters of a half-dozen vessels taking from 38 to 110 passengers.

Passengers

Mostly American, active, 50 and up, well-heeled, curious about the world and enjoying sharing the experience with others. Singles are welcome and rates are often favorable, more so than on land itineraries. Children are welcome and families are especially catered for on selected Antarctic and Galapagos itineraries.

Price

$$$ Very Pricey, yet with much included – see below.

Included Features

Zegrahm includes a lot in their pricing, so often there is little else to budget for other than air fare and land extensions, if any. All trips ashore and special events, entrance fees, kayaking, snorkeling and diving (when offered), all gratuities aboard and ashore, and beer and wine with lunch and dinner.

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

Note: Many itineraries are one-of-a-kind and often not repeated from year to year, so the specific destinations and rotation of ports will change. Here, we aim to show you the numerous and ever-changing possibilities for world-wide small ship travel that Zegrahm has offered, does offer and made offer again. Also, all ships are chartered for a specific cruise or a finite period of time, and other ships may take over. The standards will be high throughout the chartered fleet.  

1) Antarctica: The 22-day comprehensive itinerary embarks and disembarks at Ushuaia, Argentina located at the tip of South America and visits the Falklands, makes five landings in South Georgia, then several islands off the Antarctic Peninsula and as many landings on the peninsula as time and weather permit. Highlights are the huge variety of birds, whales, seals and penguins, former whaling stations, places associated with the explorer Ernest Shackleton and his party, often a research station, icebergs, stunning land and ice formations, and some of the clearest atmosphere your will ever experience.

During the time spent aboard, the expedition staff gives talks, share experiences and show films and recently prepared videos. A second 14-day itinerary concentrates on the Antarctic Peninsula plus a foray south across the Antarctic Circle. N.B. For those who have traveled to Antarctica, Zegrahm offers an itinerary that includes the Falklands and South Georgia without Antarctica.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

2) The Philippines: Very few ships visit the Philippines, let along multiple calls, and here is a 17-day interisland itinerary that combines visiting tribal as well as mainstream Filipino communities, beautiful landscapes, a volcano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, orangutan rehabilitation center, coral reefs and marine life seen from boats and snorkeling activities. The main island of Mindanao and Manila, the capital, are not in the plans.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

3) Japan: A 17-day cruise spring cruise features a voyage through the Sea of Japan and up the island country’s West Coast to visit Honshu Island’s fabulous gardens, landscapes, architectural wonders, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, medieval castles, and a sail across to South Korea’s World Heritage Site at Gyeongiu.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

4) Australia’s Kimberley: A 15-day coastal cruise embarks in Broome, a port in Western Australia, famous for its pearl industry, transports you to some of the country’s most remote parts (The Outback) reached by sea. Small-boats take you out to reefs, into river gorges, whirlpools, mangrove swamps and under cliff faces to search out some of the world’s most unusual sea, land and birdlife in the world.

Visit several waterfalls, some tidal and reversible, thousands of years old aboriginal paintings tucked away in cliff caves and an aboriginal village at a island port just off Darwin, the disembarkation port and the Northern Territory’s capital city. There are times that you feel you are stepping on shores that have seen very little human activity. The May 2018 Kimberley coastal cruise embarks in Darwin and disembarks in Broome.

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

4A) Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: An in-depth 15-day exploration embarking in Cairns (Queensland) and sailing northward to much less visited Ribbon Reef #3, 9 & 10, Rachel Carson Reef, Cod Hole (giant potato cod), and Lizard Island with focus on seabirds, monitor lizards, and minke whales including close contacts by diving and snorkeling. N.B. The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from global warming.

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

5) Melanesia: A 17-day interisland cruise embarking in major South Pacific city of Port Moresby, New Guinea and sailing through the Melanesian islands to Port Vila, Vanuatu. The emphasis is on the local Melanesia culture (customs, ceremonies, dress, art, music, boat building) in several very isolated communities and great variety of exotic sea and birdlife amongst the coral reefs. There will be many chances to snorkel and dive over around coral reefs looking for clownfish, damsels, Moorish idols, and butterflyfish. One dive visits the USS President Coolidge that sank in 1942. From the disembarkation port, fly to Brisbane, Australia.

5A) Micronesia: A truly off-beat 18-day cruise embarks in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and island hops (with no less than 13 calls) to Palau for diving, snorkeling, meeting the locals, birding, and an archeological site.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

6) Patagonia: Two cruises back-to-back feature first an 18-day voyage beginning in the Falklands and exploring the dramatic narrow waterways from Cape Horn into Patagonia and north along the Chilean fjords to Puerto Montt, just south of Santiago, Chile. This portion is nature at its most beautiful and rugged. Leaving penguins sightings in the Falkands, visit one of the world’s great national parks – Torres del Paine – for its birdlife and incredible mountain scenery. Cruise for whales, seals and sail up to the base of South America’s longest glacier, then navigate the fjords northward to Puerto Montt.

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

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

7) West Coast of South America: The second portion, is an 18-day cruise visiting coastal Chile, Peru and Ecuador to see historic architecture, some pre-Columbian, some Spanish, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and the driest place on earth, settings of volcanoes and glacier lakes, and unusual South American birds and sealife, some via Zodiacs amongst off-shore islands. The voyage ends near Guayaquil, Ecuador.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

8) Central America: This 15-day voyage begins in the Costa Rican port of Puerto Caldera via a flight to San José and sails south scouting out the huge variety of birds in Costa Rica via Zodiac cruises and hikes, visiting the Panamanian marine park on Isla Coibe, the Embera Indians of the Darien jungle and the Kuna of San Blas Islands. Linking the two coasts is a Panama Canal transit with views of the second canal under construction. On the Caribbean side, explore the Tortuguero Canals near Puerto Limon for monkeys, sloths, caimans, iguanas, lizards and crocodiles and finish off by visiting the coastal reefs of Honduras’ Bay Islands and Lighthouse Reef off Belize where the cruise ends (Belize City).

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

9) Galapagos: 13 days amongst no less than ten islands may provide one of the most thorough explorations of the islands that Charles Darwin made so famous, as most cruises are three, four, or seven days. As well as the endemic sea and birdlife, there is time to study the land forms, the active and dormant volcanoes and the lava fields. See the section on the Galapagos for more details. In July/August 2018, the Wild Galapagos itinerary lasts 10 days (still longer than most).

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

10) Circumnavigation of Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA . 14 days beginning with two hotel nights in Havana then joining the ship for nine ports calls, one sea day and return directly to Havana. Highlights are Old Havana, City of Bridges at Matanzas, exploring mangrove forest of Cayo Guillermo, snorkeling the reefs, nature reserve at Cayo Saetia to see water buffalo, wild boar and exotic birds, the World Heritage Site at Santiago de Cuba including the famous San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War (1898), the Spanish colonial town of Trinidad also a World Heritage Site, Cienfuegos for Zapata Wetlands and the Bay of Pigs where an unsuccessful American invasion took place in 1961, beaches at Cayo Largo, nature at its most diverse at Isla de la Juventud, and the biological diversity of Maria La Gorda. Note: this cruise is one of the most comprehensive offered by any cruise line.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

11) Canal to Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA. 16 days embarking in Panama City, Panama thence to the huge marine park at Isla Coiba, the Embera community in Darién Province, a daylight Canal Transit, San Blas Archipelago, Spanish fortifications at  Portobelo, Tortuguero Canals at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, the English-speaking island of Isla de Providencia, Colombia, then the Cuba ports (see above itinerary for descriptions) of Cienfuegos, Isla de la Juventud, Maria la Gorda and Havana with a hotel night.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

12) The Hidden Gems of the Caribbean: For the tropical island buff, this 14-day cruise of the Grenadines will show you all aspects of island life, their natural beauty, sea and bird life, coral reef diving and snorkeling, as well as the long histories of individual islands, their conquest by European powers and struggle for independence to today’s varied lifestyles.

Ship: LE PONANT

11) Coastal Europe: A lot of variety is packed into this 16-day voyage that starts out in Lisbon and works its way northeastward calling Spanish, French, English, Belgian and Dutch ports with just one day at sea. Destinations ashore include UNESCO sites at Santiago de Compostela, Mont St. Michel and the Frisian Islands; the wine county upriver from Bordeaux; World War II history on the French coast; three of the Channel Islands – Guernsey, Jersey and the tiny utterly charming Duchy of Sark; medieval Brugge and ending in Amsterdam. The 14-day itinerary has similar ports but does not call at Brugge or Amsterdam and ends in Portsmouth, England. Another all Spanish itinerary (apart from a call at Porto) begins in Barcelona and sails south, around through the Strait of Gibraltar up the west coast, and across the north coast as far as Bilbao.

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

11A) Wild & Ancient Britain: A 14-day cruise nearly circumnavigates the British Isles leaving from Portsmouth, England and calls at Falmouth, Isles of Scilly, then islands off Ireland, islands off the West Coast and to the north of Scotland, ending in  Aberdeen. The highlights are seabirds galore, numerous Neolithic monuments, unusual natural features, and architectural treasures.

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

12) The Baltic: A comprehensive 17-day itinerary departs London for ports in Germany, and a Kiel Canal Transit, then Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland and ending in Stockholm.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

13) The Adriatic, Sicily & Malta: The 13-day cruise begins at the Maltese port of Valetta, a World Heritage Site that survived heavy fighting in WWII: visits four Sicilian ports with roots in Greek and Roman times; even more cultural influences with a stop in Albania and another in Montenegro, then successive calls along the Croatian coast, including Dubrovnik and ending in Venice.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

14) Sicily: A more focused itinerary is a 13-day circumnavigation of Sicily calling at ten ports plus Malta and Lipari in the Aeolian Islands.

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

15) Black Sea Circumnavigation: A 15-day spin begins and ends in Istanbul and proceeds counterclockwise with three stops along the Turkish coast; a call at Batumi in Georgia, the spas at Sochi, then skipping the Crimea and stopping at the crossroads city of Odessa, two ports in Romania (including seldom-visited Histria, the country’s oldest settlement) and lastly Varna, with its Greek and Roman connections. 10 ports and cruising the Danube delta (home to 200 species of birds) makes this a thorough study of Black Sea history and communities today. All that is missing is Russia (Crimea).

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

16) Iceland & Greenland: A 16-day voyage aims to combine searching in Zodiacs for sea life and birdlife, dramatic scenery that includes glaciers, fjords, icebergs, and vast expanses of tundra, Viking settlements and the colorful modern-day fishing villages and their cultural attributes. In June/July 2018, the 15-day expedition embarked in Narsarsuaq, Greenland by charter flight from Reykjavik and concentrates on Greenland’s south and east coast then crosses to northwest Iceland ending in Iceland’s capital.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

16A) Svalbard: A-14 day expedition uses flights to and from Oslo to join the ship at Longyearbyen, the island’s  principal port. The emphasis is on wildlife, especially polar bears, seals, walrus, whales and Arctic foxes; seabirds such as kittiwakes, guillemots, dovekies, puffins and ivory gulls, and the natural beauty of the lush tundra, fjords and glaciers. Touring off the ship is on foot, and in kayaks and Zodiacs.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

17) Indonesia: A 19-day linear voyage begins at the northern tip of Sulawesi and heads along the chain of Indonesian islands to Papua and Papua New Guinea, with a call at Australia’s Thursday Island. Activities are diving and snorkeling amongst the coral reefs, visits to Asmat’s warrior tribes and West Papua’s seafarers, and looking for birds of paradise, doves, parrots, cockatoos, friarbirds and flying foxes.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

18) Vietnam: Zegrahm began trips to Vietnam 25 years ago shortly after travel was permitted. A 16-day coastal cruise begins in Hanoi with a transfer to Haiphong Harbor for embarkation. Eight calls are made en route to Ho Chi Minh City including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Chinese-style “Forbidden City” of Hue and a leisurely sail amongst the sculpted islands in Halong Bay. A special activity is discovering Vietnamese and French-influenced cuisine where passengers tour local markets and vegetable and herb gardens, sample treats at food stalls such as prawn cakes and grilled port patties with sticky noodles, and participate in cooking classes on board. In November/December 2018, a 19-day mostly land and air tour to Myanmar and Laos slotted in a two-day river cruise between Mandalay and Bagan and another two-day cruise on a less visited portion of the Mekong in Laos. Both use Pandaw river boats.

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

19) Cuba: Travel to Cuba on a humanitarian project, a 17-day itinerary that includes a partial circumnavigation of the island and then onward land travel returning to Havana. The 56-passenger Le Ponant, a motor/sail vessel provides comfortable accommodations at sea and the nimbleness to get into small ports. Activities combine cultural, water sports and people-to-people encounters. In April 2018, there are two Cuban itineraries, the first one including Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama before sailing north to Cuba for three days, and the second, a 14-night cruise that completely circumnavigates the island calling at 9 ports and with flights to and from Havana.

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

OCEAN ADVENTURER, formerly SEA ADVENTURER: Renewed in 2017, this traditional 120-passenger vessel was built in 1975 for the Russians to operate rugged sea routes especially in the Arctic has been refitted several times to offer a steady, stabilized oceangoing experience, including strengthening for ice. It has two lounges, including a lovely library, and an aft-located dining room with wraparound glass windows. Cabins are of small to moderate size and all are outside. Zodiacs carried.

CALEDONIAN SKY: Built in 1992 as one of the original six small Renaissance ships, she carries 100 passengers in roomy one-room suites with sitting areas, including eight cabins with balconies, many positioned in the forward half of the ship. One lounge is located above the bridge for glass-protected viewing and the other, with a bar, seats all passengers at once for lectures and socializing. In addition, there is a small library and gym. The dining room is aft on the lowest deck with portholes. A lido deck serves informal outdoor meals in good weather. Zodiacs and scuba diving gear are carried.

ISLAND SKY: Built in 1992, she is also one of the original Renaissance ships (100 passengers) though while her roomy one-room forward-located suites are similar (four with balconies), her layout is somewhat different with two aft lounges including a good-sized library, in place of a forward-viewing lounge. The dining room is on the lowest deck with portholes, and the aft-lido deck serves informal meals in good weather conditions.

HEBRIDEAN SKY: As with the two sisters above, the ship was first completed as one of the Renaissance ships in 1992 and most recently refitted in 2014 and 2016. Passenger capacity is 112 and roomy cabins with sitting areas measure 225, 266 and 325 square feet. The owner’s suite is even larger. The sofa bed will sleep a third person. An elevator serves all decks, and an observation platform is popular for spotting wildlife. Zodiacs are carried for exploring near land, edging up to glaciers and sailing into fjords.

LE PONANT: Completed in 1991, with French registry, as a sail-assisted motor ship, she has three masts and takes just 56 passengers in moderate-size outside cabins, most located on the lowest passenger deck and with portholes. Five others are clustered two decks higher amidships. The lounge is aft opening onto a deck at the stern. Dining is either in the forward restaurant, or in favorable weather, one deck above, aft and outside. Zodiacs, snorkeling and scuba diving gear are carried.

CORAL DISCOVERER, formerly Oceanic Discoverer: Built in 2005, this small Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins, most with view windows. A lounge, seating all, faces aft to an open deck, and the dining room is on the lowest passenger deck with a long rectangular window on either side. The top deck has a Jacuzzi. The vessel carries Zodiacs, a glass-bottom boat, and a tender taking all passengers ashore at one time.

ISABELA II: Completed in 1979, she was heavily refitted and last refurbished in 2012. Good-size cabins are all outside with two partial-view singles, to accommodate 39 passengers. The dining room, lounge and library are on the lowest passenger deck. The Sun Deck has a covered aft bar and lounge for informal dining. The vessel carries Zodiacs, sea kayaks and a glass-bottom boat.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I, formerly Coral Princess: Completed in 1988 and refitted 2005, this 4-deck Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins. The lounge seats all for lectures, often illustrated on two large plasma TV screens. The open top deck has a Jacuzzi, and for sightseeing, there is a glass bottom boat, Zodiacs, and an excursion vessel that can take all passengers at one time.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS II, formerly Coral Princess II (Completed in 1985 and refitted in 2015, the three-deck ship carries 44 passengers in all outside cabins with the 4 D-Deck units having portholes rather than windows. A glass bottom boat is available for watching tropical fishes.

VARIETY VOYAGER: Built in 2012, this sleek-looking yacht handles 72 passengers in all outside cabins located on three of the four decks. Public areas include a lounge, single-seating dining, outdoor dining, library, gym, spa and top deck outdoor bar lounge.

Why Go?

If you long to visit off-beat places around the world, or popular expedition destinations, you will be in good company enjoying the experiences with other like-minded modern-day explorers. Many Zegrahm cruises offer longer itineraries than other operators giving you more in-depth connections but also increasingly the monetary outlay.

When to Go

All Zegrahm Expeditions are geared to the best season or seasons to travel to a particular region.

Activities & Entertainment

These cruises are designed for the active traveler with lots of destinations and as few sea days as possible. Time aboard, however, will be well spend with lectures and audio-visual presentations presented by the expedition staff who will bring their expertise to you on board and on excursions ashore. Excursions will be in vehicles, on foot and in kayaks and Zodiacs and some itineraries offer snorkeling and diving. Two vessels have glass-bottom boats — ISABELA II and OCEANIC DISCOVERER.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

Zegrahm Expeditions, 3131 Elliott Avenue, Ste 205, Seattle, WA 98121; www.zegrahm.com 855-276-8849 or 206-745-9364

TWS

 

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oral Expeditions Review

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QuirkyCruise Coral Expeditions Review

Coral Expeditions based in Cairns, Queensland, Australia got its start in 1984 as Coral Princess Cruises by refitting a WWII submarine chaser into a small passenger-carrying ship for Great Barrier Reef cruises. With this initial success, CORAL PRINCESS, a catamaran was added in 1988; CORAL PRINCESS II a second catamaran, in 1996; OCEANIC DISCOVERER, a new small oceangoing ship in 2005; and the largest and newest, a true expedition ship CORAL ADVENTURER (120 passenger), arrived in April 2019. Similar CORAL GEOGRAPHER is expected to be delivered in December 2020. Each new member of the fleet allowed itineraries to reach beyond the Australian coast to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, South Pacific Islands, Tasmania, New Zealand and Indian Ocean. Along with renaming the line Coral Expeditions, the existing fleet took on new names: CORAL EXPEDITIONS I, CORAL EXPEDITIONS II and CORAL DISCOVERER. The barrier reef cruises mainly frequent what are known as the ribbon reefs where the bleaching we hear about has had little impact. The line’s website has an information section composed by the line’s marine biologist about what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change. While there is considerable damage, some sections have experienced recent recovery. In June 2021, the line will completely revamp the Great Barrier Reef cruises by expanding all of them to 7 days and include some more remote offshore destinations that seldom see regular visitors. See below (Itineraries}.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I (built 1988 & 50 passengers); CORAL EXPEDITIONS II (b. 1985/refitted 2015 & 44 p); CORAL DISCOVERER (b. 2005 & 72 p); and CORAL ADVENTURER (b. 2019 & 120 p). The last-named, a true expedition ship, left Singapore on April 24, 2019 on its maiden trip to Indonesia and then onto Australia via a first call in Darwin. 120-passenger CORAL GEOGRAPHER to follow at the end of 2020.

Coral Princess cruises off Cape York, Australia's Top End. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Coral Princess cruises off Cape York, Australia’s Top End. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Passenger Profile

The line draws locally from Australia and New Zealand, also Britain, Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Passenger Decks

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I has four decks; CORAL PRINCESS II three; and CORAL DISCOVERER four decks and stabilizers. None have elevators. CORAL ADVENTURER 5 decks and elevator between lower 4; CORAL GEOGRAPHER 6 decks and elevator between lower 4.

Coral Expeditions

CORAL GEOGRAPHER. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive/Very pricey.

Included Features

All excursions and activities.

Itineraries – A sampling
  • Year-round Great Barrier Reef (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) cruises on CORAL EXPEDITIONS II from Cairns, North Queensland are either 3-night trips out to the reef for snorkeling/diving, private islands for the beaches, resorts, Danetree rain-forest trails 0r 4-night trips head north to the amazingly colorful Ribbon Reefs, going ashore at Lizard Island research station, and visiting historic Cooktown for its botanic gardens and nature walks. 7-night cruises combine the 3- and 4-nighters. Beginning in June 2021, the program will change into longer and more varied cruise that lasts 7 days and concentrates on the reef’s northern sections to include Hope Island and Osprey Reef, the latter a remote isolated seamount located at the outer limits of the Coral Sea Marine Park. Queensland’s coastal Daintree Rain Forest hikes and visits to Cooktown and indigenous cultures will round out the week.Coral Expeditions Review

Glass bottom boat and snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

  • It’s 10-night cruises in the Australian Outback along the extremely remote Kimberley Coast between Darwin, Northern Territory and Broome, Western Australia aboard CORAL DISCOVERER and CORAL EXPEDITIONS I during the dry season from April to October . Highlights are numerous waterfalls, especially powerful just after the rains in April and May, colorful cliff formations, indigenous Aboriginal rock art, birdlife, beach walking and some swimming. Apart from passing a few other small cruisers and private yachts, you are unlikely to encounter many, if any, people ashore. Much of the coast is inaccessible except on foot or by boat. Darwin is worth a stopover for its WWII and devastating cyclone history, plus a natural history museum showcasing scary and truly weird Australian wildlife. Broome, a former pearl-diving center, has developed into a popular international resort town. Personal Note: On my Kimberley cruise, I hooked an 80-pound shark, wrestling with it for over an hour before it broke the line.
  • Arnhem Land and Cape York expeditions on CORAL DISCOVERER and CORAL EXPEDITIONS I lasting 11 or 12 nights, operate at the beginning and end of The Kimberley season between Cairns and Darwin. The itinerary follows the extremely remote coast with Outback calls at the little visited northern end of the Great Barrier Reef; Cape York, the country’s most northerly tip; a community of Torres Strait islanders; Arnhem Land, home to Aboriginals and ranchers, and the Tiwi Islands, located just off Darwin with a distinctive group of Aboriginals speaking their own native language.
  • Papua New Guinea and the Spice Islands of Indonesia aboard the CORAL DISCOVERER feature in February, March and October with expeditions of 10, 12 and 24 nights. The many aspects are exploring the largest rain forest outside the Amazon Basin teeming with hundred of species of birds, butterflies and insects, Sepik River villages, WWII battle sites, volcanic mountains, and coral atolls. The longest cruise circumnavigates Papua New Guinea with a larger emphasis on WII sites. 13-night CORAL DISCOVERER cruises also operate between Papua New Guinea and South Pacific Islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, visiting local cultures, coral reefs and WWII sites.
  • Tasmania, Australia’s island state located south of Melbourne sees the stabilized CORAL DISCOVERER offering 7-day cruises from January to March (summertime in the Southern Hemisphere) that explore the east, and south coast coasts, some sections inaccessible by any other means than hiking. Visit national parks and World Heritage Area, and sail beneath 1000-foot cliffs, spot albatross, fur seals, dolphins, go kayaking, bush walks through thick forest land, and visit Port Arthur, Australia’s notorious penal colony. Cruises leave from and return to Hobart, Tassie’s capital and largest port. If you like seafood, you will love this place, as well as eating freshly caught oysters during the cruise.
  • N.B. The expanded fleet allows far more itineraries such as to  New Zealand on two different itineraries of 8 and 12 nights from late December through February. The longer one embarks in Auckland and hugs the Pacific coasts of the North and South Islands.  Experience Maori culture, the Art Deco city of Napier rebuilt after a 1931 earthquake, whale watching off Kaikoura, wildlife at Akaroa, Scottish culture at Dunedin, Stewart Island off the tip of South Island for birds and especially kiwis, and the natural wonders of Fiordland National Park. The ship enters less visited Dusky and Doubtful Sounds and finally the grand finale of Milford Sound. A transfer over scenic roads to the lakeside community of Queenstown provides a fitting climax. Spend a night or two here. The shorter 8-nighters ply between Milford Sound and Wellington, calling at all the South Island destinations to Kaikoura mentioned above, and then enter Marlborough Sound, disembarking at Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. The Indian Ocean is another with long cruises to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, and Réunion when the CORAL GEOGRAPER arrives at the end of 2020.
Coral Expeditions Review

Cruising past waterfalls along the Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Why Go?

Australia’s 1,400-mile Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1,500 fish species and 30 different mammals, while much of the remote coastal Outback is virtually devoid of human habitation and full of the freaks of nature. Exploring by small ship is the only practical way to access the region. New Guinea expeditions lead to remote coast lines and penetrate deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River, while South Pacific island hopping takes you to culturally distinct people and pristine atolls where nature abounds in the sea, air and on land. Most of New Zealand’s wildlife and man-made attractions are on or very near the coast. Coral Expeditions’ three small ships carry only 44 to 72 passengers providing truly intimate shared experiences.

Coral Expeditions Review

Coral Discoverer off Manum Island, Papua New Guinea. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

When to Go?

The height of the tourist season along the Great Barrier Reef is June to August after which the humidity begins to build and then the rains arrive in the peak of the summer between December and March. However, the heat is less uncomfortable when at sea and enjoying activities on and in the water. The other expeditions are geared to the best weather seasons.

Cabins
Coral Expeditions

CORAL GEOGRAPHER’s bridge deck balcony suites. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

All cabins are outside with windows, except four D Deck cabins with portholes aboard CORAL EXPEDITIONS II. Beds are twins or doubles (junior kings on CORAL DISCOVERER). CORAL ADVENTURER has two suites and CORAL GEOGRAPHER has six suites. Many cabins have balconies.

Public Rooms

All five  ships have a lounge (forward facing on the two catamarans), dining room with a bar and ample outdoor deck space for viewing.

Dining

Seating is open for all meals. Breakfast (continental or cooked) and lunch (cold and hot dishes) are buffets while dinner is served from a menu. You partake of Australia’s bountiful fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats. Wines are from Australia and New Zealand.

Activities & Entertainment

CORAL DISCOVERER has a small pool and offers guided engine room tours; and all three have an open bridge policy, Zodiacs for touring and scuba diving with instructors and snorkeling equipment on selected itineraries. Additionally, CORAL EXPEDITIONS I and CORAL DISCOVERER carry excursion boats with capacities to handle all passengers. CORAL EXPEDITIONS II operates a glass bottom boat, ideal for viewing the tropical fishes along the Great Barrier Reef. Lecturers and briefings occur on all itineraries, and two Special Guest Lecturers accompany The Kimberley, Arnhem Land & Cape York, and the South Pacific itineraries.

Special Note: Be sure to read the report on the current condition of the Great Barrier Reef written by Coral Expeditions’ marine biologist.

Coral Expeditions Review

Going ashore along the Great Barrier Reef. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Along the Same Lines

No other line offers such a comprehensive coverage of Australia, including Tasmania and Papua New Guinea.

Contact

Coral Expeditions, P.O.Box 2093, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia; http://coralprincess.com.au/home-au/;  in Australia  1800 079 545; rest of the world +61 7 4040 9999.

TWS

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Mahabaahu on Brahmaputra River

International Expeditions ranks amongst the top adventure travel firms and is known for its creative itineraries and highly qualified staff who accompany its small group land and sea tours.

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Snapshot

International Expeditions (I.E.) belongs to a consortium of high-end travel firms that include Quark Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions, both covered on QuirkyCruise.com, and TCS World Travel and TRAVCOA (not yet covered), both with selections of small-ship travel in their overall land and air programs. While I.E. offers mostly adventure land travel, there are some excellent small expedition ship itineraries offered as well.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

As several very different ships are involved in the expedition program they will be matched with the specific itineraries. See the itinerary details below, which at any given time are representative of I.E.’s offerings.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Very Pricey. Included features will vary greatly from tour to tour, as the boats are chartered not owned by International Expeditions.

Itineraries – A Sampling as itineraries changes from year to year

Cuba Voyage: A 10-day land and cruise itinerary includes two full days on land with nights on board in Havana and visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Juventud (Isle of Youth) and a nature reserve. Then embark in the 46-passenger PANORAMA, a sleek motor sailer for the rest of the itinerary, including docking near Havana for three days with access to the capital city. Excursions include visits to historic town centers, national scenic areas and meeting locals while visiting student activities, art and music workshops, shop owners, markets and museums. The itinerary also operates in the opposition direction. Departures: January to April.
Ship: PANORAMA

See the following website to answer questions that allow US citizens to travel to Cuba with International Expeditions: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

Internatioal Expeditions

Colorful arcaded buildings along a Havana street. * Photo: Cuba Tourism

Amazon River Cruise: A 9-night cruise tour with two nights in Iquitos that emphasizes the Amazon River and its tributaries with seven nights aboard the 38-passenger ZAFIRO, while visiting local villages (which vary between cruises) to see their way of life, the key feature is Peru’s Pacaya-Samiria Reserve to look for sloths, monkeys, pink and gray dolphins, and a wide variety of tropical birds. The check list runs to 143 different birds from the Amazonian Umbrellabird to Long-billed Woodcreeper. Departures: year-round except a brief hiatus at the beginning of the year. Available extensions to Guayaquil, Machu Picchu, Ecuador’s Amazon.
Ship: ZAFIRO 

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unkown

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unknown

Galapagos Islands: 10-day itineraries cover two different island itineraries with all year-round departures, beginning with a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the islands and a week aboard the 32-passenger expedition vessel EVOLUTION noted for its roomy public spaces, indoor/outdoor dining, open decks with outdoor bar, hot tub, and comfortable cabins ranging in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Some departures are geared to families. The islands are noted for highly diverse landscapes from desert dry to well-watered forests, and some of the wildlife is unique to these islands. Enjoy walking amongst penguins (yes, not only Antarctica), sea lions, marine iguanas, tortoises and those blue-footed boobies. Talks aboard from the Darwin Station staff and small groups ashore. Departures: Year-round except September.
Ship: EVOLUTION

Panama Cruise: This 9-day cruise embarks in Panama City aboard the 24-passenger DISCOVERY to seek wildlife and visit with distinctive local inhabitants living in relative isolation much as they always have, and transit a good portion of the Panama Canal, quite a different experience on a small ship. Sail out into the Pacific Ocean and enter the Darian jungle region via narrow waterways in a small launch to visit with the Embera Indians. Then as a complete contrast onto the Pearl Islands just off the coast for some snorkeling and swimming. Enter the Panama Canal and sail through two separate sets of locks that raise the ship 85 feet while hearing about the recent enlargement of the canal to handle the world’s largest container vessels. Enter Gatun Lake and stop at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Center located on one of the islands. Wildlife to be seen include crocodiles, iguana, sloths, and monkeys, then enter the Chagres River for bird sightseeing and a visit to a 16th-century Spanish fort, built to protect the gold mining trade. Travel back to Panama City via the Panama Railroad, the world’s shortest transcontinental railroad at 48 miles in length, and predating the Panama Canal.
Ship: DISCOVERY

Diccovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Discovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Papua New Guinea: This 16-day tour to Papua New Guinea is largely by air beginning and ending in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. However, three nights along the Sepik River aboard the SEPIK SPIRIT positions you well inland to remote backwater people who first had outside contact in the 1930’s. Besides visiting the Huli “wigmen” and hearing Mt. Hagen’s “sing sing” performed by locals in elaborate costumes and body paint, there is much wildlife to see — some only seen in this part of the world such as cassowaries, kookaburras, bowerbirds, lorikeets, cockatoos and birds of paradise. Departure dates are on request.
Ship: SEPIK SPIRIT

Kaziranga's one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Kaziranga’s one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

India’s Kaziranga and Brahmaputra: This 12-day itinerary combines land travel to Indian state of Assam and its Kaziranga National Park and a 6-night cruise on the Brahmaputra River, plus a stay in Kolkata (Calcutta), Bengal’s capital city. After two nights seeing the city’s distinctly Bengali and British colonial sections, head north via a short flight to Assam for a jeep safari to Kaziranga National Park to see the world’s only one-horned rhinos, plus wild Asian elephants, water buffalo and hog deer. The cruise aboard the riverboat MAHABAAHU lasts for six days following a portion of the massive Brahmaputra River that spreads far and wide in Assam before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. (The river starts high up in the Himalayan range and tumbles down the steepest gorge in the world, eroding and picking up sediment as it goes, passing through China before reaching India, and then finally flowing through Bangladesh and to the sea via the Bay of Bengal.) The cruise visits Assam tribal villages and tea plantations, with gangetic dolphins leaping in and out of the river and Kaziranga’s wildlife coming down to the banks to drink at dawn. Depending on the river levels when you travel, marvel at the vast expanse of sand bars within the striated Brahmaputra. Visit Mishing villages built on platforms over the river, watch priests performing religious services, and view Hindu temples to the Lord Shiva as well as indigenous Tai Ahom architecture. Cruises operate for International Expeditions in the cooler months.
Ship: MAHABAAHU

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

The Ships Used in the Above Itineraries

DISCOVERY is a 24-passenger catamaran built in 1994 manned by 11 crew. The 12 cabins have either queen or twin beds and windows that stretch the length of the rooms. The dining room and bar on the upper deck are enveloped by floor-to-ceiling glass. Above that the observation deck has lounge chairs and a BBQ. At the stern, there is a platform for lowering kayaks and Zodiacs.

EVOLUTION, completed in 2005, takes 32 passengers in double, queen and twin-bedded cabins that range in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Meals offer both Ecuadoran and Continental choices at one sitting. The observation deck is canopied covered and has a bar for relaxing at the end of the day’s activities ashore or in the water. Two kayaks are available for passenger use, and the bridge has an open policy most of the time. A doctor is carried and may accompany passengers on excursions.

ZAFIRO takes 38 passengers in 19 suites (17 at 226 sq. ft., master suite 248 sq. ft., & Zafiro suite 480 sq.ft.) on two decks with floor-to-ceiling windows (Upper Deck suites with balconies), indoor lounge with bar, outdoor deck with bar and Jacuzzi, dining room aft, massage room and gym.

MAHABAAHU, meaning “mighty arms,” is a five-deck 46-passenger Indian riverboat, completed in 2011, with a crew of 28. Good-size windowed cabins with en-suite bathrooms have satellite TV, personal safe and minibar. Meals are a selection of Indian and Continental menus using locally sourced food. As the boat is tied up at night, the evenings present local entertainment, lectures keyed to the sights ashore and atmospheric bonfires and drinks on the remote sandbars where the boat anchors and ties up to stakes banged into the ground. Mornings, an hour of yoga is offered on deck or on a nearby sandbar. The top deck is partly open and partly covered for river viewing while underway, and there is a small swimming pool, spa and library collection. An elevator connects the decks.

small ship India cruises

Yoga on a Brahmaputra River beach. * Photo: Noni Chawla

PANORAMA is a three-masted motor sailer built in 1993 that accommodates 46 passengers in 24 cabins arranged over three decks, the top two with windows and lowest with portholes. Inside spaces are the restaurant, lounge and library with an open foredeck at the bow and after deck at the stern. A swimming platform may be used when conditions permit. The crew numbers 16-18.

SEPIK SPIRIT offers 9 windowed cabins for 18 passengers and a bar-lounge that connects to the restaurant, both spaces decorated with Papua New Guinea carved wooden art. The top deck has both covered and open sections. She is moored in the river as a hotel ship (she does not sail) with excursions undertaken daily in launches.

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

Along the Same Lines

Abercrombie & Kent, G Adventures, Tauck, and Zegrahm Expeditions

Contact

International Expeditions One Environs Park Helena, AL 35080; 855-246-0399 (USA/Canada) Worldwide 205-28-1700; www.ietravel.com.

— TWS

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Blue Lagoon Cruises

10 Great Places Only Small Ship Cruises Go

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

If you love traveling by water, here are 10 neat places around the world only accessible by our wee quirky fleet of ships, from North America to South America and Europe out to the Far East. Big ships can’t get to any of these cool spots.

The Islands of New England, USA

Yes, a couple of large cruise ships have called at Martha’s Vineyard disgorging many hundreds into poor Vineyard Haven, but they can’t get anywhere near the more charming town of Nantucket. Neither can they get close to the utterly Victorian nature of Block Island, tiny Cutty Hunk in the Elizabeth Islands or through the flood gates to access New Bedford, the former whaling capital of the world.

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

New York State’s Hudson River Valley

A big cruise ship could not get you beyond the New York City limits, while one of our small ship cruises will take you 150 breathtaking miles up America’s Rhine past stately mansions with Hudson River views and the spectacle of fall foliage as breathtaking as Vermont’s.

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska’s Glacier Bay

Sure, it’s accessible to all sizes of ships with the proper permits — all the big ships sail up to the same glacier then turn around and leave, while small expedition ships do that and more such as venturing up to the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an immense growing glacier that big ship passengers will never see. Hundreds of harbor seals will be lounging on the ice flows.

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Reaches of the Amazon River

Medium-size cruise ships can make it 1,000 miles up the broad Amazon to Manaus where they have to turn around stopping at locations where hundreds go ashore to over-visited villages, while small riverboats sail the Upper Amazon and its amazing network of tributaries to some of the most remote places on earth reached by water. Here riverside villages are completely isolated from one another, except by small boat, and wildlife abounds in the water, in the sky and deep in the rainforest.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

The Length of the Chilean Fjords

The big ships duck in and out where they can safely turnaround while small ship cruises can travel the length of Chile’s inside passage south to the tip of South America while sailing close to numerous glaciers and up narrow inlets to spot mammals and birds, and stopping at islands en route.

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia

Big ships dock at St. Petersburg, a wonderful city with a couple of palaces just outside, but to see Mother Russia, an inland river cruise will expose you to the vast interior countryside and allow you to step ashore to see Russian life in small towns and cities.

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Interior of France

River cruises take you into the heart of France directly to Claude Monet’s Giverny Gardens, not to a coastal port with a long bus ride inland like the big ships offer. On a small ship river or canal cruise, there’s no need to endure an even longer drive from a Mediterranean port to spend a few hours at the wonder of Avignon as riverboats docs just outside the medieval walls.

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fiji’s Out Islands

When ships of all sizes cross the Pacific they may make a stop at Fiji’s major port, but only small ship cruises sail from Fiji to the many nearby out islands and drop anchor in a blue lagoon to go snorkeling, enjoy a beach barbecue, and visit a local village and its school.

Out Islands - Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Out Islands – Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

The Interior of Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos

River cruises sail into the interior of all three countries via the Mekong River and its tributaries, visiting exotic cities like Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang (Laos). Meanwhile, big ships can only get to the coastal cities of Vietnam, and it’s still a two- to four-hour drive each way to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Eastern Indonesia

Big ships can get you close enough to Bali to go ashore and join the masses of tourists already there, but small ship cruises explore the eastern end of the archipelago, from the Raja Ampat islands to Papua New Guinea, sailing deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River.

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

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