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Hebridean Princess is on the dream travel list

Places to Travel Next.

By the QuirkyCruise crew.

Many of us miss the ability to travel right now; to plan, book, dream, pine and take a trip with the ease that now seems unimaginable. For those of us who not only traveled for the love of exploring, but because we’re travel writers doing our jobs, it’s been especially trying to adjust to the new normal. We will travel again and are heartened to see travel bubbles emerging. The gradual return to small-ship cruising is on the horizon.

In the meantime, we can plan and dream and noodle on places to travel, and that’s exactly what Ted and I and our quirky contributors are doing.

Here are three places each of us is hankering to go to as soon as the coast is clear.

Ted Scull

I am based in New York City, and my hopes for travel are widely varied as they always have been.

1.  I have contracts, with Cunard, renewed on an annual basis, to serve as a lecturer twice a year aboard a Queen May 2 westbound crossing. Just being at sea for a week is pure joy, and with a purpose. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent April crossing was cancelled as has the next one scheduled for October. Prior to the transatlantics, my wife and I had planned to spend a week to 10 days either in the UK and/or on the Continent. I look forward to resuming these land and sea options in 2021.

Ted's Places to Travel

Ted before the Queen Mary 2 at Southampton.

2.  For a completely different experience, I would love a week aboard a small ship, and I mean a wee one, with from less than three-dozen passengers on down to 12, cruising Scotland’s Western or Northern Isles. It’s been my favorite inter-island cruising region since the 1970s. Happily — and Yikes! — there are so many new choices.

Ted's fave places to travel

St. Kilda, a bird sanctuary beyond the Outer Hebrides. * Photo: Ted Scull

RELATED:  Cruising Western Scotland, an Overview.  by Ted Scull 

3.  My most ambitious travel adventure would be an overland train journey from London to Shanghai, with a half-dozen stopovers such as Moscow and a couple of cities along the Trans-Siberian, thence to Ulan Bator (Mongolia), Beijing and finally Shanghai. I would allow a month, and we definitely want to share the trip with at least two or more people for company and security. Several friends have expressed interest. I made a similar-style adventure in 1976 traveling by train, ferry, smallish liner and bus from London via the Balkans, Turkey, Gulf States across India and finally by Toy Train up the narrow gauge to Darjeeling.

Ted's wish list include a London to Shanghai train journey


The end of the train journey: London St. Pancras to the Bund in Shanghai. * Photo: Ted Scull

QuirkyCruise.com co-founder Ted Scull is happiest near water, over water or better still on a conveyance moving through water. Over many decades, he has spent more than five years of his life on overnight vessels of all types — ocean liners, cruise ships, riverboats, night boats, coastal vessels, expedition ships, sailing ships and even a couple of freighters, while traveling to over 120 countries on seven continents. Read more here.

Heidi Sarna

I’m based in Singapore, so some of my “I-can’t-wait-to-go” places to travel are in the region, as regional travel will likely be more accessible for the near-term, as “travel bubbles” open between neighboring countries.

1.  I’ve been dreaming about doing the Upper Mekong in Laos and also the Chindwin River in northern Myanmar, both with Pandaw, one of my favorite small-ship lines. These itineraries are more off-beat and less traveled than Mekong river cruises in Cambodia/Vietnam as well as Irrawaddy river cruises, both of which I’ve done and loved. Ideally, I’d love to combine a Pandaw sailing with a guided Grasshopper Adventures cycling trip before or after.

A cruise on the Laos Pandaw is on Heidi's travel list

The 20-passenger Laos Pandaw. * Photo: Pandaw

2.  Definitely, a sailing cruise in Indonesia is top of my list, either around the Komodo Islands or further east in the stunning Raja Ampat region — both of these remote areas boast some of the best snorkeling and diving in the entire world, not to mention off-the-charts scenery. I’d love to do these trips with Star Clippers, Seatrek Sailing Adventures or Aqua Expeditions.

Komodo islands is a place to travel soon

Sparring Komodo dragons. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

3.  I’m really eager to do a Douro River cruise with a few days in Porto before or after. I love wine and loved a short visit to Lisbon a few years ago, so looking forward to spending more time in Portugal soaking it all up.

Douro River Valley is on Heidi's wish list

A river cruise through the breathtaking Douro River Valley. * Photo: Ama Waterways

QuirkyCruise.com co-founder Heidi Sarna has explored 78 countries around the world by boat, road, plane, foot, bicycle and camel. She started her travel writing career covering the big ships for guidebooks and magazines, though over the years she realized it was the small ones that really floated her boat. And so QuirkyCruise.com was born.  Read more here.

Peter Knego

1.  My first hoped for choice would be to sail on one of CMV ASTORIA‘s final cruises from the UK to Norway in the fall. Such a special, historic ship. See more about the Astoria here in Peter’s photo essay in USA TODAY.

The historic Astoria is the place Peter Knego wants to travel

Peter in front of the historic CMV ASTORIA.

2.  Second on my list would be to get on a sailing of the 95-passenger MV SERENISSIMA, a former Norwegian coastal liner operated by Noble Caledonia. A perfect itinerary on her would be a round UK cruise.

The MV SERENISSIMA is one of the places Peter Knego wants to go

The MV SERENISSIMA is a former Norwegian coastal liner operated by Noble Caledonia. * Photo: Noble Caledonia

3.  Finally, I’m long overdue to do a Galapagos cruise, ideally one that would include an extension to Machu Picchu.

Blue-Footed Booby birds in the galapagos

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

Peter Knego is a cruise journalist, as well as a historian and collector of ocean liner fittings and art — see www.midshipcentury.com. He writes for top cruise and travel pubs, including USA Today, Travel Weekly and Ships Monthly, and has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, SeaTrade Insider and others. Follow Peter on instagram @Knego.

John Roberts

1.   I’m hankering for a Morocco and Canary Islands cruise with Star Clippers.

Climbing the masts on a Star Clippers Greek Isles Cruise

Climbing the masts! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2.  Douro River cruise with Uniworld. I’ve never been on this river and have heard so many great things.

Uniworld Douro river cruise is on John's travel wish list

A suite aboard Uniworld’s Douro River boat, the São Gabriel. * Photo: Uniworld

3.  Belize and Guatemala with UnCruise. It’s a new itinerary with great activities on the water and on land that really appeals to active travelers like me!

Belize is one of the top places John wants to visit

John chilling on one of Belize’s cayes.

John Roberts is a freelance writer and operator of InTheLoopTravel.com. He writes about cruising and active travel. He’s been on more than 60 cruises in destinations all over the world, always keeping an eye out for how people can connect with the world and other cultures through rewarding travel experiences. Follow John @InTheLoopTravel on Twitter and Instagram.

Anne Kalosh

I’m not thinking about personal or professional travel yet — by ship, plane or even on the local metro. My thoughts are with how the tens of thousands of crew members still stuck on cruise ships due to port closures can get home safely to their families.

Anne Kalosh

This is an urgent focus for the cruise industry, and I hope governments will have a heart and facilitate passage for the seafarers caught up in this crisis.

I’m also keenly interested in how society and the cruise industry will harness their ingenuity and drive to come up with technological advances, operational changes and innovative solutions to overcome this pandemic.

Let’s hope lessons learned will make travel safer and society more humane. Then I’ll begin to dream again about my own trips.

Anne Kalosh has written about cruises for decades and her favorites involve small ships. She writes a cruise column for Afar.com, is the U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review, and has contributed to a bazillion pubs, including The Miami Herald, Cruise Travel, USA Today and Cruise Week.

Gene Sloan

1.  Moldova. After my wonderful Ukraine visit last year (on a Quirky Cruise! …. read about it here), I am intrigued by that corner of the world. I hear good things about Moldova.

ukraine

Gene’s visit to the Ukraine last year got him thinking about Moldova next.

2.  Liechtenstein. This is purely a country count play. I had a 48-hour dash to Liechtenstein using frequent flier miles on the books for February that I had to cancel when corona-virus blew up. I want to get it back on the schedule. No idea what I will do there. But that’s the point sometimes. Maybe I’ll extend my timeline a few days and make the trip about hiking. I hear they have mountains in Liechtenstein. From where I am, I can get to Zurich nonstop (from Newark) on United and then be in Liechtenstein by train in a couple hours.

Vaduz Castle in Liechtenstein

Vaduz Castle in Liechtenstein. * Photo: Principality of Liechtenstein Tourism Board

3.  The Jersey shore. Hey, no judgment. It’s an hour away, getting warmer by the day, and I can hunker down in a rental house where no one will infect me in between days at the beach.

Cape May is on the travel list

Cape May, on the New Jersey shore. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Gene Sloan has written about travel for nearly three decades, with a longtime focus on cruising. He spent more than 20 years as a travel writer and editor at USA TODAY, where he co-founded the paper’s travel section and later founded and ran its online cruise site. At last count, he’d sailed on nearly 150 ships. Follow Gene on Twitter at CruiseLog & Instagram!

Ben Lyons

1.  Transatlantic crossing on QM2. For the pandemic, I’ve been (fortunately) holed up in Montana the whole time. Montana is beautiful, but it is also landlocked.

I haven’t gone this long without seeing the ocean for probably 25 years.

So when cruising is back, top on my list is a transatlantic crossing on QM2 — a glorious week just staring at nothing but North Atlantic.

2.  Antarctica. Post COVID, I think we’ll see an interest in getting as far away from large cities and back into pristine nature. And when it comes to pristine nature, you can’t do much better  than Antarctica. I’ve been going to the White Continent every year since 2007; for many, the experience of visiting somewhere without cell phones is a  bit of a reset in life, even in normal times. Post COVID, I think it will be even more welcome.

Ben in Antarctica.

Ben in Antarctica.

3.  Hebridean Princess. Footloose walking cruise in Scotland. I believe when it comes to quirky cruises, the smaller the better. Hebridean Princess, a former Scottish island ferry turned luxury cruise ship, is about as small as they come with only 50 passengers.

Small groups are the way forward in a post COVID world.

And so a week spent cruising the Hebrides, while going ashore for long extended hikes across sparsely populated islands, seems a pretty ideal return to cruising trip.

Hebridean Princess is on the dream travel list

The 50-passenger Hebridean Princess is a great way to travel to the remote western isles of Scotland. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons has been obsessed with ships since he was five years old. Since then, he has spent almost every waking moment figuring out how to spend more time at sea, ultimately deciding on careers as a ship’s captain and travel writer. Follow Ben on Twitter @EYOS.

Lynn & Cele Seldon

1.  East Coast with Pearl. We were scheduled to travel up the East Coast from Charleston to Halifax with Pearl Seas in April, prior to the coronavirus crises. Although we have been to the majority of the ports of calls, we were anxious to try Pearl Seas as a line. And sailing along the East Coast is somewhat reminiscent of river cruising, with easy access to exciting cities without the hassles of larger vessels.

And, now, at least for the short term, there is the added appeal of sticking a little closer to home.

Seldon Ink share their top places to travel

Cele & Lynn Seldon of Seldon Ink.

2.  Iceland. We traveled to Iceland several years ago on a land-based trip, spending the majority of our time in Reykjavik and the surrounding area. And we always said we’d go back. However, this time, we’d like to do it by sea and experience a circumnavigation of Iceland to be able to explore all of the small towns and nooks and crannies of the island.

"Adventure Canada" Specials

Iceland. * Photo: Michelle Valberg for Adventure Canada

3.  Patagonia and the Chilean Fjords. What a perfect place to combine a land and sea exploration of the stunning scenery of such a different part of the world. Add on a few days in the wine regions of Chile and Argentina and you’ve got the makings of a bucket list trip for these intrepid adventurers (and wine drinkers!).

Seldon Ink is the travel journalist team of Lynn and Cele Seldon. Lynn brings their travels to life in words and pictures, while Cele, after a corporate marketing career, writes, edits, shoots, and handles marketing and research. In their 25-year career, they have taken 100+ cruises and have written for more than 200 publications, including Cruise Travel, CruiseCritic, and others. Follow them @Seldon Ink on Twitter & Instagram.

Judi Cohen

My first trip when the border opens between Canada and the USA will be to New York to hug my son and his new fiancé. They got engaged on April 19 in Central Park.

1.  Then, I would like to do a small-ship cruise on Pandaw in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Judi on the Mekong

Judi on the Mekong River with Pandaw.

2.  Another small ship cruise with UnCruise in Panama, Costa Rica or Hawaii would be at the top of my list. I had to cancel a Costa Rica/Panama cruise on UnCruise for March 19, 2020, just as corona-virus was spreading internationally.

Alaska cruise writer Judi Cohen aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Judi Cohen at the bow of the 90-passenger Legacy. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

3.  I’d also love to do another river cruise with Viking in Europe very soon.

New Viking Einar Impresses

Viking Einar. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Judi Cohen has travelled to more than 80 countries with her family, and as a tour leader. Writing about her off-the-beaten track journeys by train, helicopter, plane and small quirky cruise ships is her passion. Judi is also an inspirational storyteller, social media influencer and speaker. Visit TravelingJudi.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @TravelingJudi.

Robin McKelvie

1.Home. In a slightly bigger sense. We’ve been restricted in Scotland to driving within five miles of our homes. I’m desperate to get out further and from July 15 we can. I’m celebrating by heading out on a cruise with Red Moon so look out for the write-up on QuirkyCruise.com!

Caledonian cruise is one of Robin's places to go

Bagpiper plays a tune for Robin’s cruise on Scotland’s Caledonian Canal.

2.  Slovenia. Meant to be updating my Bradt guide to Slovenia this summer, but that’s not happening. Was looking forward to heading back to a wee gem I consider Europe in miniature. Epic mountains, balmy coast, postcard pretty cities, welcoming people and Michelin just issued their first restaurant stars for Slovenia. Brilliant, world class food and wine.

Ljubljana, Slovenia is on Robin McKelvie list of places to travel

The rooftops of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

3.  Canal du Midi. Was booked to cruise along France’s famous waterway with European Waterways in a wash of fine wine, outdoor hot tubs and sheer luxury in May. Desperate to get back after seeing what they could do in Scotland with their Spirit of Scotland — you can read about that superb cruise on QuirkyCruise.com.

Hot tubbing with European Waterways for Robin

Robin loved the European Waterways hot tub on his Scottish cruise and is looking forward to more of the same in France.

Robin McKelvie is a Scottish based travel writer and broadcaster specialising in cruises, especially small ships. A native Scot, he’s the author of National Geographic Scotland and has been published across five continents in magazines and newspapers including CNN Traveller, The Daily Telegraph, Times, The Australian and The Straits Times. On Twitter @robinmckelvie and @scotcruises, Instagram @travelwriterinakilt and @scotcruises.

Elysa Leonard

1.  Bonaire. I have joined the board of directors for a charity called Aquarium Divers for Coral, but had to postpone a trip to the lovely island of Bonaire for a week of diving and learning how to restore coral reefs. I can’t wait to tell that story! Bonaire is definitely one of the places to travel for me.

Scuba Diving in St Lucia

I’ll be back. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

2.  Bermuda. Once my island home, my family and I will be headed there as soon as the coast is clear, to see friends and enjoy every nook and cranny of this amazing tiny country.

Bermuda's Horseshoe Bay is Elysa's next travel place

Horseshoe Bay on Bermuda’s South Shore. * Photo: Bermuda Tourism Authority

3.  A quirky cruise anywhere in the Caribbean where the diving and snorkeling are plentiful, with Island Windjammers or Star Clippers!

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

The Vela under full sail. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Elysa Leonard is a scuba diver who sure knows her tropical fish — she can identify more than 100 kinds. Writing about diving and snorkeling while on a small-ship cruise is her new nirvana. When she isn’t underwater, Elysa is CEO of Splash Communications, a global marketing and public relations firm.

Chrissy Colon

1.   My partner Peter and I would love to do a Greek islands cruise on a small ship with outdoor dining, perhaps couples only. Walking the islands and exploring ruins are all safe outdoor activities.

The Greek Isles is on the travel places list

A Greek Isles cruise with Star Clippers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2.  We would do another driving tour of English estates, staying at small B&B’s often owned by the family members who inherited these expensive properties. When we’ve done them in the past, we rarely encountered other people, as the tours were often small and some even by appointment only. Audio guides with timed admission would allow for safe distancing between visitors.

3.  Also, we’d plan an overnight driving trip to a stately old private estate in the northeast of the US, with botanical gardens and formal landscapes. We will look for B&B’s that are a stand-alone cottage or secluded motels. We prefer to wait a while before we jump on a plane even after flights are allowed.

Travel places include the estates in Stockbridge MA

A moon gate on the grounds of the Naumkeag estate in Stockbridge MA. * Photo: Peter Barnes

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ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Arctic vs Antarctic

By Ted Scull.

If you are in a quandary over booking an expedition cruise to the Arctic or Antarctic, here are some thoughts about both polar destinations based on a half dozen trips to the two regions.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Ted is about to embark on an expedition cruise around Svalbard in search of polar bears.

Cruises generally take place in June, July and August for destinations above the Arctic Circle.

While cruises to Antarctica have a wider window, November into February. The bracketed end months will be colder, and so lower rates will be in effect.

The geography of the two is vastly different, and they vary substantially in wildlife seen, scenery, excursions, and naturally the seasons.

However, many who visit Antarctica will be pleased how the daytime temperatures and conditions ashore can be most comfortable. Discomfort may come in the open seas between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Antarctic vs Arctic 

Antarctic cruises, the simpler of the two to explain, visit the continent of the same name, and most itineraries embark from a port (usually Ushuaia, Argentina) near the southern tip of South America. The ship heads south to cross seas known as the Drake Passage for a visit the Antarctic Peninsula, a land mass that juts north of the actual Antarctic Circle.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Expedition ship hovers alongside a huge Iceberg in Antarctic Sound. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Longer and more expensive itineraries venture south of the official circular line only at the height of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season when navigation through the ice permits a safe passage.

While the area visited seems relatively large, it is far more compact than with Arctic cruises.

Overview: The Arctic

The Arctic is a region above the Arctic Circle and not a continent. Its span across the Northern Hemisphere is remarkably long. A few itineraries visit an area that begins in remote northern Russia (Franz Josef Land) and slides west to northern Finland, Sweden and Norway — all attached to the European continent.

After that it’s islands. The main ones are Spitzbergen, the largest part of Svalbard (a Norwegian possession), and Greenland (a self-governing Danish possession) above the Arctic Circle.

Iceland falls almost entirely just below the Arctic Circle, with just a tiny northern tip officially within the region. And because the island is included in many Arctic itineraries, it will be included here.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

This polar bear ambled nearly two miles across the ice to check us out. * Photo: Ted Scull

West of Greenland, the Arctic Circle slices across Canada and encompasses the northern sections of Nunavut Territory, officially created in January 2000, from roughly the eastern half of the North West Territories, then continues across the NWT, Yukon Territory and Alaska into the Bering Sea with Siberian Russia on the opposite side.

Much of the northern Canadian portion is made up of islands, and the main channel through the archipelago is the famed Northwest Passage. A few Arctic itineraries enter this passage via Lancaster Sound to call at Inuit communities on Baffin and Devon islands. The full-length passage is for another day, and its high cost makes it available to so few.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Kayakers amongst the ice. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

The land within the Arctic region has seasonal snow and ice cover and is mainly treeless permafrost and tundra. Ice is present seasonally and may close the passage to navigation in winter.

Some expedition ships with substantial power to achieve a high level of icebreaking capabilities can reach the geographic North Pole during a relatively brief period of the northern summer.

Arctic Cruise map

One of the typical Arctic expedition routes. * Map: Poseidon Expeditions

Overview: Antarctica

Antarctica contains the geographic South Pole and the continent, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. The continent is almost the twice the size of Australia and has a minuscule resident population. Various national-flag research stations house several thousand souls with a seasonal variation. Some itineraries include visits.

Nearly 98 percent is covered by a thick ice cap apart the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula, the area most visited on cruises.

The continent, on average, qualifies as coldest, driest, and windiest continent and has the highest average elevation with most of its expanse a polar desert with low precipitation on its edges and almost none inland.

An outstanding fact is that 80% of the world’s freshwater resides there. If all of it melted, sea levels would rise 100 feet.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Easing up to a couple of icebergs. * Photo: Ted Scull

Unknown until the start of the 19th century and not stepped onto until the end of the century, Antarctica was not considered important because it lacked valuable resources.

Antarctica may be the best-known destination of the two, identifiable by its clear-air beauty, bird life, including ever-popular penguin species, toothy walrus, elephant seals, whales and, of course, humongous icebergs, some the size of small states.

Right off the bat, one has to honestly say that Arctic wildlife takes second place to the starkly beautiful landscape, iceberg-choked fjords, Inuit culture and the fascinating history of the search for the elusive Northwest Passage.

Its Arctic opposite is generally much less understood, but no less fascinating, and many of the same ships trade to both regions.

Polar expedition-style cruises have taken off in the last decade, and the people who are attracted to them bring aboard wide-ranging interests and expectations, most having little connection to today’s mainstream cruising.

Antarctic map

Antarctica. * Map: Lindblad Expeditions

RELATED:  An Antarctic Expedition with A&K and Ponant.  by John Roberts

 Arctic vs Antarctic — A Comparison

  ARCTIC – Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, Canadian Arctic ANTARCTICA
Season June, July & August Nov, Dec, Jan & February
Weather Mostly above freezing in the summer up to 60Fs on land. Wind makes it feel colder, possible rough sea days Freezing levels up to the 40Fs. Beautiful clear blue-sky days; gray days; possible rough weather crossing Drake Passage
Wildlife Birds, polar bears, seals, walrus, whales Birds (especially albatross), several species of penguins, seals, walrus, whales
Overall Scenery Ice & some snow, fjords, glaciers (Greenland), rugged terrain, tundra, wildflowers, some forests Ice & snow covers Antarctica, except northern portion of Antarctic Peninsula in summer months. Massive-to-minuscule floating and rooted ice formations
Landscape Highlights Glaciers, iceberg-choked fjords, geysers (Iceland), Northern Lights, spring flowers on some landscapes Giant icebergs (some colors), ice calving, rugged ice fields
Culture Inuit and European communities & culture, fishing villages, ancient ruins, former whaling stations Remnants of past explorers (ie Shackleton) & abandoned research stations; today’s research stations (possible visits); Falklands — villages, farms
Cruising Challenges Possible rough seas, windy conditions Drake Passage sea conditions, cold if windy

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Cruising the Arctic Region

Much of the experiential content here comes from four separate expedition cruises, all on small ships. The first section is based on two 10-day cruises in August to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.

Greenland

From the air, Greenland, the world’s largest island, appears as a dark forbidding landscape of stony mountains incised by deep blue fjords that carries the eye inland to a snow-covered white cap stretching to the far horizon.

The four-hour flight From Ottawa, Canada’s capital, set down on a gravel runway alongside the Sondre Stromfjord, a long arm of the sea slicing deeply into Greenland’s West Coast. School buses hauled us to a deep-water landing where Zodiacs sped out to the anchored ship, ready to sail because of a rapidly falling tide.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Southern Greenland from the air in summer. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing up the West Coast of Greenland, with a high following sea, we first anchored off the fishing port of Illulissat boasting populations of 6,000 people and 60,000 sled dogs. We walked through the brightly painted town, its wooden houses painted blue-gray, deep green, maroon, red and mustard, passing yapping sled dogs straining at their leads and impatiently waiting for winter when they would again go seal hunting.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Colorful villages help brighten the rugged and sometimes bleak landscape of West Greenland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jakobshavn Glacier

The main attraction here is the Jakobshavn Glacier, the world’s fastest moving ice flow, advancing 65 feet per day and calving a new berg every five minutes. Upon hearing the characteristic crack and thunder, eyes quickly sought the spot where falling ice would send up fountains of spray and ripples across the water.

Chances were pretty good, according to one of the naturalists, that the prolific Jakobshavn Glacier spawned the infamous iceberg that cruised south with the cold Labrador Current to sink the Titanic.

The Island of Umanaq

While the first day had been damp and drizzly, the second dawned crystal clear as the ship dropped anchor off Umanaq, a small island town nestled at the base of two impressive granite peaks.

Zodiacs headed over to the mainland shore for a climb up a spongy slope, carpeted with Arctic cotton and heather, blue harebells, Labrador Tea and wintergreen, to a hillside cave where well-preserved 500-year-mummies of seven women, two boys and an infant had been discovered. Several are now on display in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital city museum.

Most passengers stayed as long as time allowed to take in the magnificent view, white bergs drifting on a blue sea under blues skies flecked with white clouds and rimmed by snowcapped mountains, one closely resembling Japan’s Mt. Fuji.

Reboarding the ship, we moved closer to Umanaq and went ashore to visit the colorful fishing port with its wooden Lutheran church, original log and sod houses and hotel terrace with a million-dollar view and pricey Arctic beers.

Some time ago, a succession of calving bergs just outside the port sent destructive waves sweeping into the harbor and overturning dozens of boats and smashing docks. A local resident caught the high drama in a video shown in the town’s gift shop, and surprisingly no one was killed.

Baffin Bay

During the 24-hour passage across Baffin Bay, we passed close to huge tabular bergs marching south with the strong current, behind which rose a coastal mountain range draped with a half-dozen glaciers feeding into the sea. We then made several landings on Baffin Island, a major component of the Inuit territory of Nunavut that was hived off from the vast Northwest Territories at the end of the last century.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Last call in West Greenland before crossing the Baffin Sea to the Canadian Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

We walked the beach at Pond Inlet accompanied by a Scottish-born guide who had spent 29 years in the Arctic, first as a Presbyterian missionary and now a cultural historian and naturalist. We encountered a freshly killed ringed seal and poked around a Thule encampment dating from sometime between AD 900 and 1700, people who were direct ancestors of the present-day Inuit.

Milne Inlet

Cruising Milne Inlet one evening, a pod of narwhals spouted and surfaced, and we kept them in view while the staff grilled steak, sausage, wahoo and caribou ribs for an outdoor meal consumed under the coldest conditions that I have ever experienced. However, the barbecue served as a good primer for what the 19th-century expeditions had encountered when searching for the Northwest Passage extending across the top of Canada.

Beechey Island

On the desolate shores of Beechey Island, three graves marked the site where members of John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition had met their ends, and as we would learn, they may have been the lucky ones, for the rest of the party died an agonizing death of lead poisoning from cans containing preserved meat. Hundreds of empty tins scattered nearby eventually led researchers to uncover the trail of death.

Devon Island

Landing on Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world, we encountered our first sight of a polar bear and cub, walrus lounging on bergy bits and the bloodied ice where a ringed seal had been recently killed. The closest approach turned out to be a musk ox, a bedraggled looking beast with two layers of fur that pawed the tundra when someone moved in too closely.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

A polar contemplates his next move. * Photo: Ted Scull

Narsarsuaq

The second itinerary got into high gear as not a half hour after we sailed from Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland, we were donning rubber boots for our first wet landing by Zodiac to visit the ruins of the settlement Erik the Red established in 983 AD and the present-day sheep farm.

We explored the foundations of the first Christian church in the New World, had a look into an existing pretty wooden church with a slate blue interior and chatted with some villagers seated outside their homes painted in red, yellow and mustard, enjoying the end of a pleasant long summer day.

Davis Strait

During the choppy passage across Davis Strait, we approached a large pod of spouting fin whales and enjoyed close-up views of their cavorting. At dinner one evening while anchored in a fjord off Baffin Island, a polar bear and her two cubs came down to the water’s edge and began swimming out to the ship, bringing everyone out on deck. With poor eyesight but an especially keen sense of smell — in this instance our grilled salmon steaks —the three came within a hundred yards before turning back to shore and loping off to find another source of food.

On outings ashore, we divided into groups according the length of the hikes, and in polar bear country, our guides carried powerful shot guns and radios. Angelika, arctic white and yellow poppies, blue harebells, cotton grass, mosses, lichen, and one-inch high polar forests of birch, juniper and willow formed the colorful and often spongy tundra underfoot.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Caribou antlers from the Canadian Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

We had distant sightings of caribou sporting their huge racks, but more often we were satisfied by the physical beauty of the wild untouched landscape in temperatures that ranged from the mid 40s to the mid 60s.

The Zodiac trips brought us close to a half dozen polar bears one morning, to an island inhabited with lounging walrus, another with ring-neck seals and a steep cliff face where tens of thousands of guillemots waited for their young to make a first flight.

Inuit Villages

Two visits to isolated Inuit villages, Lake Harbour and Cape Dorset, gave us an insight to traditions of bone, marble and soap stone carving, gymnastics and the unusual sight and sound of two women engaged in throat singing.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Inuit mother & child, Lake Harbour, Nunavut. * Photo: Ted Scull

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Intricate carving on display in a Canadian Arctic cultural center. * Photo: Ted Scull

At Cape Dorset we were greeted by a handsome Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman wearing his formal dress uniform. After posing for photographs, he pointed the way to the Hudson Bay Company store where we could see what was available for the local Inuit to buy in the way of food and clothing.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman posses for a snap. * Photo: Ted Scull

Northern Lights

In the middle of one night, the expedition leader woke us up to witness a pulsating display of Northern Lights and most, wrapped in woollies, happily responded. On another night, we slowed to pass through two thick lines of pack ice, and during the day we encountered the wonderful shapes and colors of icebergs drifting south.

Svalbard

These recollections come from a seven-day expedition cruise from Longyearbyen, the main settlement.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Svalbard from the air. * Photo: Ted Scull

Polar Bears          

Liking ice and when a polar bear was spotted, the captain edged his ship as far into the flows as he felt comfortable in doing. These bears are curious creatures, and on two occasions they slowly ambled toward the ship, and with everyone on deck in the silent mode, they came right up beneath the bow, close enough to photograph with little magnification.

The rapid clicks of shutter releases sounded like a presidential press conference.

On another occasion, a large male had killed a ringed seal. After he was satiated, he moved off to take a nap while his off-spring moved in and vied with sibling growls for what remained. Birds strutted impatiently at a safe distance.

The largest number seen at one time totaled nine bears, taking turns at pulling apart the remains of a whale. One mother entered the fray by swimming across the inlet with her club clinging to her back.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Two polar bears fight over the remains of a whale. * Photo: Ted Scull

Excursions on land took place where no bears had been spotted, and even then the naturalist staff took precautions, and every party ashore was accompanied by a staffer with a rifle, happily rarely, if ever, used.

Hikes across the tundra or snowfields were offered as challenging, moderate and easy, with a fourth category for photographers.

Two-person kayaks were available on three of the seven days, often in addition to Zodiac excursions. It was fun circling the ship and inspecting ice that had calved off glaciers.

Ashore we found reindeer herds, walrus sprawled together, others frolicking just off the beach, whale bones, tiny delicate tundra flowers and the stone foundations of trapper’s huts and whaling camps. Early 17th-century whaling was close to shore and then as the herds were decimated, the whalers had to go further afield until the practice was banned by most countries, but not Norway or Japan.

One island’s rocky cliffs provided nesting spots for thousands of little auks while hundreds of others flew around the ship, bobbed on the water and went fishing, a raucous yet highly organized scene.

Near the end of the week, we headed to locations where whales are often found and came close to both fin whales and blue whales, the largest mammals on earth. None breached but their slow arcing movements through the water at close range revealed their immense size.

RELATED:   Svalbard Overview: Exploring the High Arctic.  by Ted Scull

Iceland

The account is based on a 14-day cruise in July that circumnavigated Iceland and called in at the Faroes and Orkney.

As those with a good geographical sense might already know, Iceland could have easily been named Greenland and Greenland, Iceland.

I say “could” rather than “should” as not all Iceland is green by any stretch, but except for one remote section there is very little ice.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Akureyri Falls, Iceland. * Photo: Ted Scull

During over visit, large swaths of open landscape were covered with wildflowers in yellows, blues, purples and reds. At the height of summer, sheep and lambs outnumber Icelanders by three to one, and 85 per cent of the houses in Reykjavik, the capital, are heated and supplied with hot water directly from thermal springs.

Our political lecturer gave us an insight into how fiercely independent the Icelanders are, that is beyond the Cod Wars with Britain. In 1918, with a war raging in Europe, the Danish colony took the opportunity to pass a referendum for a first step to independence, then in 1944 while the Nazis occupied Denmark, Iceland, then under British and American protection, declared complete autonomy!

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Almannagia Rift, Iceland. * Photo: Ted Scull

At three ports in Iceland — Akureyri, Isafjord and Reykjavik — we visited a traditional fishing village meeting some of the local folk, fish still being the country’s largest export. We walked through a deep mid-Atlantic rift that marks the continental divide between Europe and America, skirted boiling mud pools, watched geysers erupt and enjoyed the gentle nature of the towns where we went ashore.

RELATED:  Iceland Circumnavigation with Windstar.  by Sarah Greaves Gabbadon

The Faroes Islands

The Faroes, still Danish, showed a softer but no less dramatic landscape with its mountain, valley and cliffside scenery. The government center in Torshavn was quaintly housed in 19th-century wooden buildings situated atop a largely residential promontory jutting into the harbor.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Thorshavn, capital of the Faroes, Danish island dependency. * Photo: Ted Scull

Shetland Islands

Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, located well north of the Scottish mainland, is a charming stone town to walk through with Iron Age and Viking ruins not far away.

We chose a boat trip to the island of Mousa, where its 2,000-year-old broch or fortress is the country’s best preserved, a towering stone cylinder some forty feet high where early setters lived with considerable protection from their enemies and the forces of nature. We also enjoyed a two-mile walk around the island to see the nesting guillemots, basking gray seals and those adorable Shetland ponies.

➣Cruising Antarctica

This account is based on a 10-day cruise from Ushuaia in January.

Upon opening a reference book on Antarctica, the very first paragraph indicates that the white continent qualifies as the coldest, driest, windiest, and iciest land mass in the world, and the surrounding Southern Ocean whips up into the stormiest seas.

Antarctica sounded like a prime destination for the masochist. Yet once I stepped ashore there, a completely different set of superlatives came to mind.

The continent is the most pristine and least populated place on earth, and an international treaty signed in 1959 aims to keep it that way. Antarctica’s wildlife is the tamest and least fearful of humankind as in the Galapagos. Its scenery, seen through the clearest air, presents a breathtaking combination of majestic mountains draped by massive glaciers and rugged islands spread across a seascape peppered with icebergs longer than a football field and taller than our ship.

RELATED: Affordable Antarctica, Relatively Speaking.

The Falklands

After two choppy nights and a day at sea, we made landfall off the Falklands — the British islands invaded by Argentina in 1982, precipitating a nasty war. Wearing rubber boots and parkas provided by the ship, we made our first wet Zodiac landing at a private sheep farm cum nature preserve to visit a cliffside rookery of nesting rockhopper penguins, black-browed albatross, and blue-eyed cormorants.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

A rockhopper penguin in the Falkands. * Photo: Ted Scull

On approach, the sounds were more akin to a barnyard of domestic animals than a colony of birds, and with it came the strong odor of guano. Seated on a nearby rock, we watched a well-ordered line of two-foot-high penguins literally hop their way up the steep path from the beach, bellies full of fish and krill (shrimp-like crustacean) for regurgitating into the mouths of their fluffy chicks.

A school of playful dolphins accompanied our second landing, followed by a three-mile walk in bright sunshine through a hillside colony of burrowing Magellanic penguins and across sloping fields of a working farm to the main house for a proper English high tea.

A visit to Port Stanley provided a sleepy bit of old England transferred to the South Atlantic. We visited an eccentric museum packed with historic and natural history exhibits, the world’s most southerly Anglican cathedral, a safe harbor refuge for battered sailing ships, and a handmade woolen sweater shop looked after by local women with an English accent all their own.

We were taken on a personal tour by a sixth generation Falkland Islander who described the Argentinian invasion and evacuation to his grandparents’ farm and showed us the scars of war that included vast off-limit areas of unexploded plastic bombs.

Drake Passage

During the 48-hour crossing of the Drake Passage, a naturalist helped us spot Wilson’s storm petrels, Antarctic terns, and the huge wandering albatross boasting a wingspan of up to nine feet. By the end of the cruise, the bird list would grow to 62 species, but those expecting to see many whales were disappointed by infrequent sightings, generally the spout or tail of the whale.

Antarctic Peninsula Landings

Our first landing on the Antarctic Peninsula had to be aborted because of winds, and instead the captain deftly maneuvered his ship among the ice fields to anchor off volcanic Paulet Island, home to about 200,000 smelly Adelie penguins.

With nearly 24 hours of daylight, we went ashore after dinner.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Elephant oozing rotundity. * Photo: Ted Scull

In brilliant sunshine, low-lying Half Moon Island provided a rocky setting for several colonies of chinstrap (made by a black line of feathers) penguins, Weddell and fur seals in the shadow of 4,000- to 6,000-foot glacier-covered mountains. The temperature rose into the 50’s and remained above freezing every day.

While I was walking alone over a stony beach, a brown skua (predatory bird) flew toward me at a height of about three feet. The bird grazed my outstretched arm, and turning for another attack, the skua hit the piece of driftwood that I grabbed for protection.

Spotting a nearby nest, I quickly retreated out of harm’s way after a third close call. One of the naturalists later said that without protection. the skua might have taken a chunk out of me.

RELATED: Read more about Ted’s skua scare here …. 

Deception Island

In the afternoon, we cruised into the drowned caldera of Deception Island, where we explored the eerie ruins of a whaling station and a British research base, quickly abandoned in 1969 at the onset of a volcanic eruption. Steam and the smell of sulfur rose through the black sand.

Continuing south, we circled a towering conical iceberg estimated to be 250 feet high and later sailed between two tabular bergs measuring thousands of feet in length and generating their own strong winds.

A few weeks after we returned to the US, the newspapers carried reports of an iceberg the size of Rhode Island breaking off into the Weddell Sea. Near a tiny Argentinian base, Zodiacs took us into Paradise Bay, ringed by ragged glaciers, pockmarked with blue ice grottoes, that occasionally calved with a sharp crack.

an ice flow

Breaking through the ice in the Arctic. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

Faraday Research Station

By carrying Her Majesty’s Mail from Port Stanley, we gained permission to call at Faraday research station, a 20-person British base located in a sea of rocky islands and broken ice and cut off for nine months of the year. The base commander boarded for a talk about the greenhouse effect and ozone layer depletion, both phenomena causing world-wide concern.

He also reported that while the ice cap is breaking off at the edges at an increasing rate, it is thickening as snow and ice form in the center. He then accompanied us on a wet and windy ride ashore to inspect the scientific facilities and living quarters. Today the base is run by the Ukrainians.

Two more landings added the sight and far worse smell of a colony of molting young elephant seals, one estimated to weigh 4,000 pounds, a gentoo penguin rookery, and a Russian research station, where we off-loaded three tons of equipment and embarked two German scientists.

Drake Passage Again

Northbound, the dreaded Drake Passage lived up to its well-deserved reputation, as during the night moderate 20-foot waves grew to 50 feet, sending everything not tied down crashing to the floor. By late morning the storm abated, and the visit to Cape Horn was so tranquil that one almost forgot the night before and began questioning the truth about the legendary Cape Horners battling monstrous seas for days on end.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Pounding across the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

To the east one looked into the South Atlantic in the direction of South Africa, and to the west across the Pacific to Australia. South was the white continent. Cape Horn, an island, was covered in a mantle of wild flowers. The setting was so lovely that we hesitated to re-embark, because doing so meant the cruise was nearing an end.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Landing at Cape Horn, the most southerly point in South America. * Photo: Ted Scull

Re-entering the Beagle Channel, we sailed overnight and docked at Ushuaia on the 12th morning. Passengers either flew directly home or stopped over in Buenos Aires, a favorite city of mine for its turn-of the-century architecture, street life, restaurants and cafes, and stylish residents.

RELATED:  Exploring Antarctica on a Russian Research Vessel.  by Judi Cohen

South Georgia Option

Located southeast of the Falklands, a diversion to South Georgia, a British dependency, before heading to the Antarctic Peninsula, will add five days to the itineraries and naturally generate a higher fare.

The attractions are numerous as the island is home to large king penguin, fur seal and elephant seal colonies, nesting grounds for wandering albatross, and a former whaling station where the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton is buried and an island history museum.

Arctic vs Antarctic: Who Goes There?

Except where noted, all of these small-ship lines explore both the Arctic and Antarctica regions. Note, it looks like lines will not be cruising in the Arctic this summer, 2020, due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Lines are hoping to get back to the Antarctic for the 2020-21 season, let’s see.

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations

Abercrombie & Kent

Albatros Expeditions

Aurora Expeditions

Crystal Expedition Cruises  (Arctic only)

Grand Circle

Hapag-Lloyd

Hurtigruten

Lindblad Expeditions

Oceanwide

Overseas Adventure Travel

Polar Latitudes (Arctic only)

Ponant

Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions

Scenic

Seabourn Expeditions

Secret Atlas (Arctic only)

Silversea Expeditions

Vantage World Travel

Viking (beginning 2022)

Vantage World

Windstar (Arctic only)

Zegrahm Expeditioins

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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colorful luggage

Colorful Luggage.

By Elise Lentz.

I’m going to start this packing tips article by borrowing a line from one of my favorite movies The Birdcage: “Well, one does want a hint of color.“

colorful luggage

Elise at the Amsterdam train station. * Photo: Tim Lentz

As tour leaders, one of our many tasks is being responsible for the movement of luggage. For us, it is typically accounting for the groups’ luggage being moved from a hotel to the cruise ship. It is not uncommon for us to handle 100+ pieces of luggage in a single move.

Tim and I have often commented, “If we had $1 for every black bag we have counted over the years, we would be gabillionaires.” And YES that is a real word.

It would never fail, that after we accounted for all 100+ bags (which were strategically stacked like a life-sized Jenga game), Mable would approach us demanding that she needed to get something critical out of her bag. It shouldn’t surprise you that my first reaction starts off with my eyes rolling into the back of my skull. This is then followed by the phrase “lady, you’re kidding me…” screamed loudly inside my head.

This exchange is then finished with me actually offering a gentle smile. And in my most congenial tone I ask for a description of the bag.

“It’s black”… REALLY!!! At that time my face writhes in agony as I realize I’m about to dive into the deep, dark abyss of black bags to look for Mable’s needle in the proverbial stack of luggage.

So as I continued to think about this universal invasion of the black bags, my mind began to drift towards the dark side. I became curious as to what was the favorite luggage color of bag thieves? The answer was shocking…basic black.

I found an article by Bob Arno, author of “Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams While Traveling. The article said that when police arrested a Phoenix couple for baggage theft from the Sky Harbor International airport, almost every one of the roughly 1,000 stolen bags found at their home, was black.

He further remarked by saying: “Stealing black bags is a snap. If the thief is caught red-handed by the bag’s owner, he only has to say ‘Sorry, it looks just like mine.’ And he’s out of there, scot-free.”

I always hear travelers explain: “Well Black won’t show the dirt.”

Ok fine, but that logic doesn’t stop you from buying a white pair of sneakers, does it? People, it’s a piece of luggage  meant to offer a utilitarian way of transporting your underwear. Which by the end of the trip will be dirty. So I ask you, do you travel with all black undies so they don’t show the dirt?

Because Tim and I have to transport a lot of work supplies, we don’t travel light. It looks like we are running away from home and it’s not uncommon for us to travel with four large hard-sided bags, two carry-on bags and two backpacks. We have been told that we stand out in a crowd because our multi-hued ensemble looks like the Easter Bunny puked all over our luggage. Sorry, but we swear by colorful luggage.

lots of colorful luggage

Elise & Tim’s colorful collection of luggage.

It is true, when we shop for a bag we look for the brightest, boldest color available. I want to be able to quickly locate my bag. Whether it is coming off the luggage carrousel in the airport or it is a part of the mélange of bags lined up in the cruise ship terminal, the sooner I spot my bag, the sooner I can relax knowing all of my ‘gear’ has arrived.

As you know from my previous article — “Some Like it Hard” — we are also hard-sided luggage fans. It can’t be too hard or too bright for me. And while we are at it, let’s add into the mix — CHEAP.

We typically pay less than $100 per bag and we frequently shop at the discount department store chains like TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Ross. Now I know what you are thinking… ‘Why wouldn’t professional travelers invest in high-end quality bags with lifetime warranties?’

Well, to start, our luggage typically travels on a plane or cruise ship. It is rare that our bags get damaged while sitting in the closet.  So, before you file your damage claim with the manufacturer, you need to identify the perpetrator of the damage. Typically manufacture warranties only cover manufacture defects. The loving, gentle caresses bestowed upon your case by the under-paid, under-appreciated airport baggage handler are not going to be covered by most manufacture warranties.

Additionally, our schedule does not warrant the three weeks (or more) it may take to send our bag to a repair center and wait for its return. So, we chalk up this unpleasant annoyance to just being a part of the job hazard. When damage (beyond our standard home repair of Gorilla Tape and super glue) happens, we hop in the car and drive to TJ Maxx (or similar) and buy another bag. Once back home, we celebrate the arrival of our brightly-colored, new member of our family, with a tasty beverage.

Have we ever filed a damage claim with the airlines? No. However, if you are so inclined, give it a try. If the airlines can’t repair your bag (which is the cheapest option for them), you may be entitled to a reimbursement based on the value of the bag minus its depreciation. If you calculate that the airlines reimbursement value exceeds the value of your time and sanity — go for it!

Bob Hope once said “I love flying. I’ve been to almost as many places as my luggage.”

Venice water taxi

Luggage in a water taxi on route to Venice. * Photo: Elise Lentz

Join us next time when we will share some tips on increasing the odds of you getting your colorful luggage back after the airlines have sent it on an itinerary that is different than yours.

 

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Whale Watching Tips

Whale Watching Tips

By Raphael Fennimore of Gotham Whale.

This article aims to provide a basic introduction to whales for small-ship cruisers visiting some of the world’s top spots for whale watching. The article describes some common types of whales and where you’ll likely see them.

What is a Whale & Where are They Found?

Whales are a truly amazing group of large marine mammals classified into the biological Order of Cetacea, a group that also includes dolphins and porpoises.

With approximately 90 unique species, cetaceans are found throughout the world’s oceans — from the warm tropical seas, to the icy poles, coastal areas and the very centers of every ocean basin.

Some of the popular small-ship cruising regions for whale watching include New England, St. Lawrence Seaway, Sea of Cortez, southeast Alaska, western Scotland, southwestern Greenland, Antarctica, South Africa, New Zealand’s South Island, eastern Australia and the Hawaiian Islands.

RELATED: A Lindblad Expeditions cruise in the Sea of Cortez.  by Peter Knego.

Whale Watching Tips

Breaching humpback in the waters off New York City. * Photo: Celia Ackerman

RELATED: Whale populations in New York harbor are booming—here’s why.  by Simon Worrall.

Minke Whale Watching Tips

A Minke whale in Antarctica.

Due to the very large number of cetacean species and their truly global distribution, this brief whale watching tips article will focus on only the most common cetaceans which small-ship cruisers are likely to encounter on their expeditions.

Whale Watching Tips: Two Categories of Whales

Whales can be divided into two categories — toothed whales and baleen whales.

Toothed Whales:
  1. Have teeth
  2. Hunt relatively large, singular prey

Examples of toothed whales include the sperm whale, known to hunt giant squid, and the orca (“killer whale”), known to hunt seals, sharks, and even other whales.

Other toothed whales include pilot whales, the beluga whale, the narwhal (with its famous spiraling “horn,” which is actually a tooth), and all of the dolphins, porpoises, and the little-known “beaked whales.”

orca Whale Watching Tips

An orca whale.

Baleen Whales:
  1. Do not have teeth
  2. Use rows of “baleen,” which look like the bristles of a brush, in their mouths to filter large amounts of seawater for numerous small prey, such as small fish or krill (a type of tiny shrimp)
Baleen whales

Baleen. * Photo: Celia Ackerman.

Examples of baleen whales include the humpback whale, blue whale, fin whale, right whales, minke whales and others.

Fin Whale Tips

Fin whales feeding.

Whale Watching Tips: Identifying the Common Types

If you think you see a whale while on a cruise, keep an eye on it. Alert a member of the crew so the captain can slow down or perhaps stop the vessel and an onboard naturalist can help you identify the species and characteristics.

Like us humans, whales are mammals, and so they breathe air directly from the atmosphere using their lungs (unlike fish, which use gills to filter air molecules out of the water, with the exception of the lungfish).

This means that whales must be at the surface to breathe, and when they exhale, you can often see, hear, or possibly even smell their cloud-like “spout” that quickly rises vertically up into the air.

This spout, or “blow,” is often the first thing observed when looking for whales. Whalers famously used to cry out ‘thar she blows!’ when they sighted this familiar rising cloud, which also resembles a puff of smoke.

Whale Watching Tips

The blow.

Spouting Humpbacks whales

Spouting humpbacks.

In fact, it is sometimes possible to identify a whale’s species based only on seeing a spout. For example, blue whales have very tall spouts (over 30 feet!), right whales have V-shaped spouts, and sperm whales have spouts that are aimed forward and to the left.

Whale spout comparison chart

Whale spout comparison. * Credit: www.north-atlantic-society.com

If you get close enough to see the whale’s body, then there are several features that you can look for to try to identify the type of whale that you are observing. Note the whale’s approximate size; its color and coloration pattern; the size, shape, and number of its fins; and the place, date, and time where you saw the whale. For more precise identification later, take photos or video of the whales you spot.

Consider sharing your data with “citizen science” organizations highlighted at the end of the article, including Gotham Whale and Happywhale.

To help in your whale identification, below are basic descriptions of some of the most common whales, including details about their size, defining characteristics, and areas in which they can be found.

Blue Whale

Blue whale

A blue whale. * Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Size: Up to 100 feet, over 200 tons
Description: Very long and slender body; small dorsal fin; blue or blue-gray mottled skin coloration; underside can appear yellow
Distribution & Habitat: Global, but not as frequently found in the tropics; solitary; prefers deep waters
Behaviors: Swimming at surface; filter feeding; rare other surface activities

 

Fin Whale

Fin whale tips.

Fin whale.

Size: Up to 85 feet, over 80 tons
Description: Very long and slender body; dorsal fin present; gray and black coloration; underside white; light-gray chevrons often behind the head; bottom jaw is white on the right and dark on the left
Distribution & Habitat: Global but not as frequently found in the tropics; prefers deep waters
Behaviors: Fast swimming at surface; filter feeding; rare other surface activities

 

Humpback Whale

Whale watching tips

Humpback flukes.

Size: Up to 60 feet, 40 tons
Description: Predominantly black with varying levels of white on underside, on pectoral fins, and on underside of tail; bumps on head; dorsal fin present; individuals have unique dorsal fin shapes, patterns on the underside of their tails, and shapes of their tails (try to photo!)
Distribution & Habitat: Global; highly migratory; distinct populations; generally give birth in warm regions and migrate to colder regions for feeding
Behaviors: Jumping out of the water (‘breaching’); flipper slapping; tail slapping; interesting feeding behaviors such as bubble net feeding

 

Orca (“Killer Whale”)

Killer whales

A pair of killer whales.

Size: Up to 32 feet, 6 tons
Description: Black with white undersides; white eye patches; gray or white ‘saddle patch’ behind dorsal fin; individual orcas have unique dorsal fin shapes and saddle patches
Distribution & Habitat: Global but less frequently in tropics; distinct ecotypes and populations; hunt in social pods; can be coastal or offshore
Behaviors: Jumping out of the water (‘breaching’); sticking their head out of the water (‘spy-hopping’); tail slapping; many interesting group feeding and hunting behaviors

 

Sperm Whale

sperm whale watching

Sperm whale. * Photo: Humberto Braojos

Size: Up to 65 feet, 60 tons
Description: Dark gray body; large rectangular head (1/3 of their body length); thin lower jaw full of large teeth; dorsal fin present; crenulations (bumps) in a line down the back behind the dorsal fin
Distribution & Habitat: Global; prefer deep water for hunting
Behaviors: Swimming; rare other surface activities (breaching, tail slapping)

 

Dolphins

Dolphin Whale Watching Tips

A Dolphin.

Size: More than 40 species, great variation; 4 – 13 feet, 85 – 1100 pounds
Description: Much variation. Can be solidly colored light to dark gray, pink, black and white, or can be a mixture of these colors in vibrant, streaking patterns. Some have distinctive spots, stripes, or scratches/scars.
Distribution & Habitat: Global, found in shallow waters and far offshore. Typically social and found in groups of a few to over a thousand
Behaviors: Swimming; hunting; jumping out of the water (breaching); and more

 

Learning More: How Can I Help Whales?

To learn more about the whales and dolphins travelers are likely to encounter on a small-ship cruise, here are some great resources and very worthy organizations that rely on public donations to operate, including:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Mission: “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep the public informed of the changing environment around them.

From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic product…”

NOAA whale organizationWhale SENSE

Mission: “Whale SENSE is a voluntary education and recognition program offered to commercial whale watching companies in the U.S. Atlantic and Alaska Regions. The program is sponsored by NOAA Fisheries and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Developed in collaboration with the whale watching industry, Whale SENSE recognizes whale watching companies committed to responsible practices…”

Whale Watching Tips
Gotham Whale

Mission: “To study, advocate for, and educate about the whales and marine mammals of New York City, through Citizen Science…Citizen Science is a movement to include average citizens in scientific research allowing them to make systematic observations, to collect and process data, and provide general support for scientific study. The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, running since 1900, is an excellent example. Gotham Whale will emulate that model with the vast citizen pool that is New York City.

The whale watching activities of the American Princess and other boatmen provide a platform to collect data and make observations. The many eyes of the pubic make sightings more probable. Gotham Whale will serve as a depository for that data…”

Here’s info on whale-watching day cruises in the New York area aboard the 250-passenger American Princess

Gotham Whale

RELATED: Humpback whales feast in NYC.  by Dr. Merryl Kafka, Director of Education and Naturalist for Gotham Whale 

Happywhale

Mission: “Happywhale inspires kinship between humans and marine life through whale citizen science.

Happywhale tracks individual whales throughout our world’s oceans. We believe that whale watching guides, naturalists and passengers are vital to our understanding of whales. Scientists can only be in one place at one time; by harnessing the power of millions of whale watching enthusiasts, we can expand our scientific knowledge exponentially.

Our platform empowers whale watchers to photograph whales and tell their stories…”

whale watching groups

The Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM)

Mission: “To promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management…”

Whale watching groups

More about Raphael Fennimore

Raphael recently joined Gotham Whale after helping run the world’s oldest whale/dolphin/porpoise conservation group, The Society for Marine Mammalogy. He also worked in the UK in 2019 on the World Cetacean Alliance’s “Global Best Practice Guidance for Responsible Whale and and Dolphin Watching.” The detailed paper is geared to whale- and dolphin-watching boat operators and guides, but may also be of interest to any whale and dolphin enthusiasts.

Raphael is an IAATO-certified Antarctic Peninsula field guide and most recently helped lead an 80-guest “Whales in Antarctica” expedition in Feb/March (2019) with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.

“I am a very passionate believer in the small cruise experience!!” —Raphael Fennimore

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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ted at sea

International Cruising

By Ted Scull.

Years ago before I settled down to gainful employment, I planned a seven-month west-about trip around the world using eight scheduled passenger vessels that flew the flags of a half-dozen countries. Passenger counts ranged from 25 to several hundred, plus most ships carried general cargo. The one exception was the transatlantic liner SS France that counted 2,000 aboard, plus mail but no cargo.

international cruising

One Yank amidst a score of Tanganyikans * Photo: Dr. Ursula M. Hay

The itinerary starting in the US, continued to Japan with stopovers in Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, India, the Seychelles, East and South Africa, England and a return by sea to New York. Some sea voyages were linked by train such as Bangkok to Singapore and Madras (now Chennai) to Bombay (now Mumbai).

During this January-to-July adventure, with the sea portions totaling 70 days, I encountered Americans (Yanks) on only two of the eight ships, one single soul on the French ship SS Laos from Hong Kong to Bangkok, and then as expected, many hundreds aboard the SS France from England to New York.

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Chinese & Japanese

Was that a problem? Not at all, or nearly so, aboard the SS Oriental Pearl on a 10-day passage from Yokohama to Hong Kong. Passengers were Chinese or Japanese and at the first meal, I knew which place was mine as it was the only one set with a fork and knife. I had never used chopsticks but I asked to have the cutlery replaced. Big mistake.

Dressed for arrival, Hong Kong, British Crown Colony. * Photo by the chief steward

While the other passengers pretended not to stare, they couldn’t help themselves. I ended the meal still hungry with food still on my plate. Happily, the Hong Kong Chinese chief steward, who spoke excellent English, rescued me by suggesting I stay back and share dinner and a chopstick lesson with him.

We both had a passion for Scrabble, and with British and American English words and spellings permitted, we played daily when at sea, quick to cover the words with our hands when the ship took to rolling. He won most of the time.

international cruising

Johnny, the Chinese bartender became my companion ashore. * Photo: Ted Scull

The only other person aboard who cared to speak English was the bartender, a young Chinese my age who had worked for the U.S. Army in the Philippines. His exceedingly thick accent took time getting used to, but we spent fun times ashore together in Japanese and Taiwanese ports.

I ate foods that I had never seen before, but mother said try everything once, so I did and much enjoyed the adventure.

Happily, nothing I ate disagreed with me.

Indians (South Asians) 

On an Indian ship crossing the Bay of Bengal (8 days), almost all passengers were South Indians and the Europeans numbered 12, all overlanders my age who were making the well-traveled trek by surface (bus, ship and train) from Australia to Europe. As one was not permitted to cross Burma (Myanmar) by land, they had go by ship if staying with surface travel, including hitchhiking.

international cruising

TSS STATE OF MADRAS, owned by the Shipping Corporation of India operated between Singapore, Malaysian ports and South India (Madras).

All spoke English as did many of the Indians, and we played Scrabble with some of the officers when they were off-duty.

international cruising

The overlanders bound from Australia to Europe gather on the promenade deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

My cabin mate turned out to be a delightful Indian bookstore owner living in Singapore, and we had nighttime conversations before drifting off to sleep.

I could have flown but money and the absence of any cultural experience easily nixed that. These first two ships were complex (to me) foreign floating countries. All in all, a great experience.

One Remote Island Chain

The stopover in the Seychelles, before airport access, required a minimum of two weeks until the next ship appeared, and I learned a lot about how this ever-so-isolated British colonial dependency operated.

international cruising

On the launch between the Long Pier, Mahe, Seychelles and an Indian ship at anchor bound for Mombasa.

The island chain was beautiful but with the only regular news access to the outside world, BBC Radio broadcasts, everything and everyone turned inward and life became a hierarchical interracial playground with the same participants day in and day out. The lucky ones amongst the Europeans had short-term contracts, yet long-term island living seemed suited to some.

Emigrating

The remaining ships were also rich cultural experiences because of those who were traveling mostly for reasons other than pleasure. Colonialism was rapidly receding, and many had left their jobs and home in East Africa and were heading for somewhere to settle.

international cruising

On board a train to Mombasa to meet the ship for South Africa

Where they planned to go to begin a completely new life varied widely, but as most were English-speaking, the favored choices were Britain, South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia or New Zealand. Some had connections in the arrival country and others none at all, but they had to give somewhere a chance. It was uncertain times for many especially if they had young children.

international cruising

Left, one of three cabin mates and social hostess aboard the RMS Windsor Castle from South Africa to England. * Photo: Ship’s Photographer

South Africans Scatter

On the leg from South Africa to England, there were lots of passengers my age who wanted to experience another country, the way I did when I chose to spend a year’s study program in Paris and another acquiring a master’s degree in London. New worlds opened up living on my own in modest digs, and in the first instance, having to cope with another language.

It took time but I thrived with the challenge, and the years abroad encouraged me to keep traveling when time and money permitted and to develop into a quasi citizen of the world.

Crossing the Line Ceremony

During the 18-day passage, I had a lot of great conversations amongst my age group. And as it turned out, being the only Yank aboard, the chief steward thought me an ideal choice to take part in the “Crossing the Line (Equator) Ceremony.” I had no idea what I was in store for but he indicated it would be fun and to be prepared for some roughhousing.

international cruising

Ted being dragged by Bobbies during the Crossing the Line Ceremony.  * Photo: Ship’s Photographer

The four chosen were subjected to being plastered with all sorts of goo during a mock botched surgical operation, reprimanded for imaginary misdoings, seated in a barber’s chair and messed up some more, then catapulted backwards into the swimming pool to be attacked by London Bobbies.

All this was performed before several hundred cheering passengers. One thing I learned from a few sympathetic souls was you only have to partake once, then you are no longer a neophyte. Good to know, and that became handy when I was offered two more “invitations.”

international cruising

Ted and two Rhodesians arriving Southampton, England

What Now?

So what is all this leading to?

Well, when I go abroad now, I want to be truly in the country I am visiting whenever possible, and sometimes that works just fine and other times it can be very limiting when I don’t even know a smattering of the local language. I do okay with French, know railroad German (can get about by train), and understand a bit of Spanish because it is widely spoken where I live. I can at least pronounce the Cyrillic words and that then might reveal the meaning such as recognizing the correct metro stop in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Today, with so many people speaking at least some English, you can often have successful conversations that broaden one’s knowledge of the “neighborhood.”

international cruising

Aboard a Norwegian train, many will speak English. Strike up a conversation. * Photo: Ted Scull

Making Choices

With QuirkyCruise hoping to help travelers find a small ship or riverboat to their liking, one needs to decide how deeply to venture into foreign territory. That means choosing a ship with an itinerary you like; one that may be populated with many foreigners. To broaden the situation beyond a Yank and foreigners, let’s also be inclusive with just the reverse.

Germans Visit the Upper Midwest

Let’s say you are a German who speaks some English and wants to go on an Upper Mississippi River cruise because the largest European nationality that populated parts of the Midwest were Germans. If you have done your homework, you will know that few of the descendants speak German today, because much of that settlement happened in the 19th century. Your facility with English will have to do, and you will be most likely sailing with mostly Americans traveling in their own country.

international cruising

Start a conversation, “What do you think that barge is carrying?” * Photo: Ted Scull

Your quest, if you work at it, will unearth some German heritage but you need to be ready for it to be an American atmosphere on board and likely many, after the initial polite exchange, will not want to bother to develop an ongoing conversation unless your English is pretty fluent. Keep at it, as some will respond, and if you are open minded, you can have a more in-depth experience, with minor hiccups, than if you traveled with an all-German tour group.

Countries Full of English Speakers

Europeans from countries with relatively small populations such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, tend to speak English and many with fluency, and it may only be some of the older generations that don’t.

international cruising

Helsinki: Who speaks Finnish other than a Finn? So they learn English and maybe Swedish from the country next door. * Photo: Ted Scull

For Americans, Canadians, Brits, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders, and many Indians, that opens wide access to these countries, so when you want directions on a street in Sweden, find the right tram in Amsterdam, deal with the post office in India or order a meal in Finland, language will likely not be a barrier, though the name of the local fish may not translate at all.

After feeling comfortable that you are not alone with foreigners who don’t speak your language, you can relax and begin to chat with the locals to get a better understanding of their country. You may have to initiate the conversation, so get used to it.

international cruising

You might start with, “What ship is that?” Answer: Aurora – fired the first shot that signaled the start of the Russian Revolution. *Photo: Ted Scull

Returning to Your Roots

In the English-speaking world, Irish, Australians and New Zealanders, in particular, may have very recent connections to the country of their ancestors, so if they are genuinely interested in their homeland culture, they might think of researching a small ship or riverboat line that does not cater heavily to their nationality.

Small-ship travel can be a shared international experience and with most vessels having open seating, you may pick with whom you want to sit – your nationality or other English speakers. Then when you go ashore in your country of ancestry you are more likely to get more out of the visit than if you only palled around with your country folk aboard and ashore. You will have some experiences that are uniquely all your own.

Some Travelers Never Leave Home

One of my least successful riverboat experiences was sitting at a table (fixed seating) with just Americans, who never discussed what they had seen along the Moselle River or looked ahead to the next stop. It was all minutiae about home. I was traveling alone then and I was trapped. Eventually, someone acknowledged that I did not seem to be having a good time. How right they were, and happily I never faced that crushing confinement again.

A close second took place on a 14-day German riverboat sailing from Amsterdam, then across Germany and up the Elbe to Prague. The itinerary was outstanding but as a policy of fixed seating was in effect for all meals, my wife and I ended up having 42 meals with the same six people. Happily, one couple was a delight but…

international cruising

Happily, most riverboats have open seating and occasional buffet meals as here on the Moselle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luckily, most riverboats offer open seating, and so you can go with your instincts when you are choosing table mates.

My wife and I often stand briefly at the entrance before agreeing on the target table.

Usually, we have made good choices.

Take Some Initiative Going Ashore

Going ashore is often a group experience, and your cruise may include all the excursions, so it makes monetary sense to join in. Then when you have free time, often before or after dinner, as the boat may be tied up for the night, go ashore again on your own or with your traveling companions and explore a neighborhood a bit away from the ship or sit at a café and take in the passing scene.

international cruising

See that black hole on the right, let’s go exploring after dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Travel to foreign parts can be as rewarding as you make it, and it requires some research to find the combination that delivers the experience you want. For some, it is staying with the foods you like at home, socializing with people just like you and being carefully shepherded so as not to get lost or confused by people who don’t speak like you.

At the other end, open up a bit and test the local food, look forward to meeting others from another country on the ship and ashore.

Don’t be too timid to break out from your comfort zone in a direction that looks interesting.

You may well come back feeling you have truly been somewhere different, and at enjoyed it at your own pace.

international cruising

Mother said, “Try everything once.” I am preparing to. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Father vs Mother

When we traveled abroad as a family, father would say, “Your mother likes to strike up a conversation with complete strangers. She is always talking to people.”

When I became less timid, sometimes I would follow her so I could see what I might learn. After she died, father would say when we were away from home and I struck up a conversation with a stranger, “You are just like your mother.”

By then, even if he was reticent to follow suit, I think he liked that I did because he saw I enjoyed it.

Travel is places and people.

international cruising

Plenty of relaxed people to meet. Now to find a seat. * Photo: Ted Scull

Test the Waters

So, don’t be shy and give it a try — test the waters. Strike up a conversation with someone while sharing a meal or in the seat next to you on the coach. If it does not work the first time, look to a second try. You never know what and who you might be missing out on unless you make a little effort.

For some this is a cliché, but Churchill’s pronouncement that Brits and Yanks are separated by a common language is quite true. That may also include Irish, Scots, Aussies, and Kiwis (New Zealanders). Some expressions may be understood right away if they are in context and some not.

Where’s the loo? She’s wasted and he’s hammered. That’s fair dinkum. Do you wear a singlet?

The mozzies are bad tonight. Crack on. He’s a real whinger. Now archaic, let’s go to the bioscope.

Joining a QuirkyCruise ship

While many lines attract an international mix of passengers, the exact demographics will vary.

Here’s a look at some small-ship lines we cover and very roughly who represents their main clientele.

Line & Dominant Nationalities

American Cruise Lines — North Americans

Aurora Expeditions — Aussies & Kiwis

Australis — Europeans & South Americans

Blue Lagoon Cruises — Aussies & Kiwis

Blount Small Ship Adventures — North Americans

Captain Cook Cruises — Aussies & Kiwis

Compagnie Polynesienne (Aranui) — French, Germans, Aussies & Kiwis

CroisiEurope — French & other Europeans

Coral Expeditions — Aussies & Kiwis

Deep Blue Holidays — English speaking & International

Emerald Waterways — Aussies & Kiwis

Gota Canal Steamship Company — Europeans

Hapag Lloyd — German-language-only cruises on some ships with one catering to English speakers

Hurtigruten — Norwegian Coastal Cruises & Antarctic Expeditions – Europeans

Lindblad Expeditions — North Americans

Murray River Cruise — Aussies & Kiwis

Pandaw River Cruises — Europeans, Aussies & Kiwis

Patricia Cruises — Brits

Paul Gaugin Cruises — French & English speakers

Pitcairn Island Link — Variety of English speakers

Ponant — French but not when the ship is chartered for English speakers

Riviera River Cruises — British

Scenic — Aussies & Kiwis

Scotland’s small ships: Argyll Cruising, Hebrides Cruises, Hebridean Islands Cruises, Magna Carta Steamship Company, The Majestic Line, Puffer Steamboat Holidays, St. Hilda Sea Adventures, Trinity Sailing — Mostly British

Sea Cloud Cruises — Germans and English-speaking charters

Sea Trek Sailing Adventures — English speaking & International

Silhouette Cruises — English speaking & international

Silolona Sojourns — English speaking & international

UnCruise Adventures — North Americans

Victoria Cruises — English speaking & international

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

 

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Viking Jupiter's terrace

Viking Jupiter

By Judi Cohen.

I am a small-ship “connoisseur” accustomed to ships under 300 passengers, which is how QuirkyCruise.com defines a small-ship cruise. However, when presented with the opportunity to cruise on Viking’s new 930-passenger Viking Jupiter in the Baltic Sea I immediately said “yes!”

Having never visited Russia, seeing St. Petersburg on the 8-night Baltic itinerary was a major draw. While it wasn’t exactly a “small-ship,” it featured the advantages of larger ships, while also offering some of the intimacy and highly personalized service of a true small-ship. I like to think of it as a “small big-ship.”

Viking Jupiter

The new Viking Jupiter. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The Viking Jupiter took us from Stockholm to Berlin, with stops at the ports of Helsinki, Tallinn and Gdansk. The historical and gilded riches of St. Petersburg, of course, were the big draw for most passengers.

My two-day visit to St. Petersburg provided just a taste of the city’s rich art, architecture and history. I hope to return to do a true small-ship river cruise, on the Volga River, and see more of Russia, including Moscow.

Russia cruise with Viking

Judi and Lawrence at the Church of the Spilled Blood. * Photo: Judi Cohen

In the spirit of Quirky Cruise’s small-ship ethos, Russia’s Volga River cruises are an ideal way to visit both Moscow and St. Petersburg in combination with a Baltic itinerary. Small-ship cruises to this region are offered by various cruise companies including a 13-day Viking cruise on one of their five 200-passenger boats.

Meanwhile, Ponant Cruises and Tauck both operate 12-day small-ship Russia/Baltic Sea cruises using Ponant’s 184-passenger Le Dumont D’Urville with two full days in St. Petersburg. Emerald Waterways does a 12-day river cruise on the 224-passenger MS Rosia with stops in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

6 “Small Ship” Moments on the Viking Jupiter

While the Viking Jupiter has features you would typically find on larger ships including a variety of dining choices, numerous bars with live entertainment, and a luxurious Nordic spa with gym and treatment rooms, the ship felt intimate and uncrowded giving it a small-ship feel.

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#1: Optional Small-group Shore Excursions

In St. Petersburg we chose to pay for two small-group tours in addition to taking the panoramic coach tour of St. Petersburg that was included at no extra cost (Viking offers one free tour option in every port). We did a full-day “Behind Closed Doors” tour of the 18th-century Hermitage Museums and a half-day walking tour of the 1950-era St. Petersburg metro system, museum-like itself.

With only 13 guests on each tour, they were similar to excursions and tours I have done on previous small-ship cruises.

 Winter Palace Hermitage Museum

The gorgeous Winter Palace Hermitage Museum. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Hermitage museum entrance

Entrance staircase in the Hermitage Museum. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our Hermitage Museum guide was knowledgeable about architecture and art history, and contributed to our learning and enjoyment. Our guide during the metro tour, which was a highlight for me, led us into the system to see some of the oldest stations that were built as “palaces of the people” rich in Soviet history, with their fascinating art and sculpture.

St Petersburg Metro System

Kirovsky Zavod Station, part of the stunning metro system. * Photo; Judi Cohen

St Petersburg metro stations

Avtovo Station light fixtures. * Photo: Judi Cohen

These small-group excursions felt much like the tours I have enjoyed on other small-ship cruises along the Mekong and Irrawaddy with Pandaw and the Brahmaputra River with India-based Adventure River Cruises. As on these smaller ships, on board the Viking Jupiter, there were many opportunities to immerse myself in the artistic and historical presentations offered on board by local experts. There was even a magical performance one evening in the ship’s Star Theatre by the famous Russian Mariinsky Theatre.

Other passengers told me about the small-group premium excursions they took (ranging from about $75 to $300 per person), including a tour of the Stutthof concentration camp in Gdansk, Poland; reindeer feeding in Nuuksio National Park; and a bicycle tour in Helsinki, Finland. Several premium excursions at additional cost were offered in every port.

#2: Private Balcony in our Cabin

Our cabin had a private balcony that provided a quiet and private place to relax, read and reflect. It reminded me of smaller ships I’ve been on that also had private balconies, including the 195-passenger Viking Einar that I cruised on along the Rhine River in 2019.

RELATED: Cruising on the new Viking Einar … by Judi Cohen

balcony of Viking Jupiter

Judi’s husband Lawrence on their cabin balcony. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#3:  Intimate Dining Experiences

Mamsen’s is a small take-away café aboard the Jupiter named in honor of Viking founder Torstein Hagen’s mother. Located on Deck 7 in the Explorers Lounge, serving light traditional Scandinavian dishes, snacks and pastries, it was never crowded and became our go-to spot for early breakfast and light bites throughout the day.

With comfortable seating in sofas or at tables with chairs, Mamsen’s felt very warm, welcoming and cozy…and the open face shrimp sandwiches and signature waffles were delicious!

waffels aboard the Viking Jupiter

Mamsen’s signature Scandinavian waffle. * Photo: Judi Cohen

 #4: Afternoon Tea

Like many of the small European river boats, traditional high tea was served every afternoon in the Wintergarden Conservatory on Deck 7. Separated from the pool by floor-to-ceiling glass doors, I found the Wintergarden to be one of the most beautiful areas on the ship. The blonde wood ornamentation looked like trees climbing the pillars and covering the roof and created the feeling of being in a forest!

afternoon tea on the Viking Jupiter

Afternoon Tea in the Wintergarden on Deck 7. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#5: Explorers Lounge

The Jupiter had many comfortable and quiet sitting areas with books neatly organized on library shelves. However, we kept going back to the Explorers Lounge on Deck 7 and the upper level above it, called the Observation Lounge, to read, rest, have a snack or drink, or watch the waves through the expansive windows.

While seated in the sofas, complete with fur throws, we could also enjoy the warmth from the faux fireplaces. I never felt like I was on a large ship in these lounges.

Explorer's Lounge on Jupiter

The lovely ocean-view Explorers Lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#6: Musicians in the Atrium

The multi-level atrium typical of big ships, felt cozy each evening when a pianist or a trio of musicians played sweet music there for hours. The Viking Bar and the surrounding Living Room lounge, that actually felt like our own living room at home, drew us back nightly for pre-dinner cocktails  and again following dinner.

After only one night aboard, the musicians welcomed us back warmly and it felt like they were playing just for us! Very few other passengers were there in the evenings, which made it feel even more intimate.

musicians on Viking Jupiter

Musicians performing nightly on Deck 1. * Photo: Judi Cohen

For anyone who wants to get the best of a larger cruise ship with many of the benefits of a small ship, I would recommend the Viking Jupiter.

The Jupiter’s attentive personal service, small-group shore excursions options, cozy and comfortable lounge areas with music, and casual dining all combined to create a wonderful “small-ship” feeling.

The added bonus was having some “big-ship” features such as a spa, gym and multiple pools, plus 24-hour room service so we could enjoy refreshments on our private balcony. Having been teased with the history and riches of St. Petersburg for only two days, I am ready to go back to experience Russia in depth!

Viking Jupiter's terrace

On the Aquavit Terrace leaving Stockholm. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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Happy Holidays from Quirky Cruise

Happy Holidays from the QuirkyCruise Tribe

by Heidi & Ted.

QuirkyCruise.com wouldn’t be what it is today with our tribe of excellent contributing writers. They’re a well-traveled and experienced group with impressive pedigrees, a flair for writing and many years plying the world’s rivers, lakes, coastal areas and oceans on small-ship cruises under 300 passengers.

A big big thank you to all of them wherever they cruising this holiday season!

Happy Holidays from Quirky Cruise

Happy Holidays from Quirky Cruise

And as a gift to you…
Our experts share their favorite small-ship cruises.
Enjoy! And Happy Traveling in 2020!
Happy Holidays from Anne

Anne Kalosh

Anne Kalosh

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I love small ships because they’re able to go to the most interesting places without impacting the environment and they attract the most interesting passengers — people traveling with a purpose.

My favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

I like them all! 

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

  • Climbing the mast on Star Clipper. I was scared to death, but a handsome officer came along to help.
  • Crunching through the ice in the otherworldly atmosphere of Antarctica aboard A&K’s Explorer (now gone).
  • Nudged against a riverbank in Cambodia where kids jumped rope beneath my AmaDara balcony.
  • Stepping back centuries from Kristina Regina at the Solovetsky Monastery in the White Sea.
  • Dazzled by the colored lights and glinting gold of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on Aegean Odyssey.
  • Hiking amid puffins on Fair Isle from Clipper Adventurer.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

I love sharing my enthusiasm for small ships and am thrilled to be among thoughtful and inspiring writers like Heidi, Ted, Peter Knego, Ben Lyons and so many others.

Tell us about YOU!

I’m a long-time editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and I freelance for many others.

Anne’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Mekong River Cruise Adventure with AmaWaterways

Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators Voluntarily Ban Heavy Fuel Oil

More of Anne’s articles here …

_______

John Roberts at the Holidays

John Roberts

John Roberts

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I really enjoy the intimacy and flexibility. You are more likely to meet like-minded travelers who are seeking immersive experiences and regard the vessel as merely a way to get there. The atmosphere is more conducive to meeting people and creating new friendships.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • My favorite experiences have been with UnCruise Adventures (I have taken five expeditions with them) because the guides and crew are so passionate about wildlife and conservation, and the program offers so many thrilling activities that adventure-seekers would love.
  • Avalon Waterways is an amazing line, with especially outstanding sailings on their small ships in Southeast Asia.
  • AmaWaterways is my top river line for exploring historic European waterways like the Danube and Rhine. They offer a great wellness program and wonderful cuisine and service onboard.

My favorite small-ship cruise memory is …

I sailed on Avalon Myanmar along the Irawaddy River. This 36-passenger ship offered an amazing experience visiting such a remote and exotic place. The people are so warm and inviting and the children just precious, curious and an overall delight.

We had a similarly outstanding experience on Avalon Siem Reap sailing the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam. We can’t wait to return. We learned so much about the culture and history on these voyages.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

QuirkyCruise.com has been a great outlet for me to tell the stories of my travels and adventures in fun ways using my voice. Plus, the story designs encourage the use of a lot of photos and videos, so readers get a lot of information and can get a true feel of what the experience on a voyage will be like for them.

Tell us about YOU!

I write for Porthole magazine, Cruise Travel magazine, Cruise Passenger magazine in Australia, Travel Age West, Cruise Fever, Cruise Addicts and my site In The Loop Travel, among others. I also have a fun YouTube channel that features a lot of trip highlights and ship tours. Follow me on TWITTER @ InTheLoopTravel & INSTAGRAM @ LoopTravelPics.

John’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Active European River Cruises

Sporty New Zealand Cruise

More of John’s articles here …

_______

Happy Holidays from Gene Sloan

Gene Sloan

Gene Sloan

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

To me, the travel experience is always richer and deeper when you’re in a small group. Small ships are more intimate, and they can get you more off-the-beaten-path.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are ….

  • I’m a big fan of UnCruise’s super-small vessels in Alaska, which can get you deep into the wilderness of the region far from the tourist hordes in Juneau and Ketchikan. They carry Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring. They’re not the newest or snazziest ships, but that’s not what matters in a destination like that.”
  • I also love Windstar. They’ve got this wonderful collection of small vessels that go to both mainstream and off-the-beaten-path places all over the world. Former Seabourn executive John Delaney has done a great job with that line since he took over in 2016. He’s really expanded the itinerary offerings, and he’s also overseeing a major update of the ships, which all are around 30 years old. For the record, these mostly are vessels in the 150 to 200 passenger range. What John has done in keeping these small ships alive is great news for the small-ship lover.
  • I also will give a shout-out to tiny Adventure Canada, which offers expedition-style cruises in the Canadian Arctic each summer. The ship they charter for the trips isn’t fancy. It’s the old Ocean Endeavour, which dates to the early 1980s and is about as no-frills as it gets. But the breadth and depth of the team of onboard experts and guides that they put together for the sailings is stunning. They really know Arctic Canada — including the fabled Northwest Passage — like no other company. 

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

Bumping through the ice in the Arctic Sea above Russia on a small but rugged Hapag-Lloyd Cruises expedition ship. You feel like you’re a million miles away from the world.

Also, sailing through the Caribbean on a Star Clippers sailing ship. I love the feeling of being under sail, experiencing the awesome power of the wind. Star Clippers ships also visit some wonderfully out-of-the-way places in the Caribbean that are off limits to bigger ships.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

QuirkyCruise focuses on small vessels that often are overlooked by the mainstream travel media but shouldn’t be. I truly love the opportunity to bring attention to some of these lesser-known cruise offerings, which often are wonderful experiences. QuirkyCruise also gives its writers a lot of freedom in their writing.

Tell us about YOU!

I’ve written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. These days I mostly write for The Points Guy, the fast-growing travel site that points-and-miles expert Brian Kelly started about a decade ago as a blog (it now has an editorial staff of over 40 people and 7 million unique visitors a month). I’m also writing quite a bit for Afar Magazine, both print and online. On social, you can follow my cruise travels on my Twitter page and Facebook page.

I’ve sailed on nearly 150 ships and have served as a cruise expert for The Travel Channel. I’ve written travel guides for Frommer’s and my work has appeared in more than 70 outlets. I’m the proud winner of a Lowell Thomas Award (Society of American Travel Writers) and a Gold Prize Award (North American Travel Journalists Association).

Gene’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Sailing to the Canary Islands with Sea Cloud

Viking River Cruise in the Ukraine

More of Gene’s articles here …

_______

Holiday Greetings from Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I love small ship cruising because (often) it is all about using the ships as platforms to reach areas that are otherwise inaccessible. There also develops  a wonderful sense of community on smaller ships — an element that I think many first-time small-ship cruisers overlook or don’t expect.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • A “footloose” hiking cruise through Scotland on the Hebridean Princess is absolutely one of my favorite cruise experiences. I love the charm of the ship, and it fits perfectly into the destination.
  • I love what Windstar is doing on many levels. Sailing on the Wind Star around Tahiti with the sails up… a spectacular combination.
  • I’ve always had a soft spot for the ships of SeaDream dating back to when they were the Sea Goddesses. They were trailblazers in the small-ship industry and the ships have actually gotten better as they get older.

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

Undoubtedly my first trip to Antarctica has to stand out — I can still clearly remember my first ice berg, my first King Penguin, etc. My highlight from that trip: spending 4 hours just cruising through thick ice south of the Antarctic Circle. It was for me — as a ship’s officer used to larger ships — a real eye opening moment in what was possible.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise.com?

I enjoy helping to bring attention to many of  these smaller operators. I love the diversity in the cruise industry and want there to be more and more of these smaller ships and operators, so anything I can do to help bring attention to them, the better.

Tell us about YOU!

I was thrilled to make the Seatrade 20 under 40 list!

Ben’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Barge Cruising in France

An UnCruise Adventure to Alaska

More of Ben’s articles here …

_______

Seasons Greetings from Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

There is no better way to see the world than by water and small ships are the ideal way to do it.  As much as I’m impressed with the technology and engineering, I’m not fond of the crowds, amusement parks, casinos and the whole over-the-top aspects of modern mega ship cruising.

Smaller ships enable travelers to mingle with and get to know like-minded people in an intimate setting and not overwhelm the places they visit.  They also can get into more remote ports that are not yet spoiled by tourism.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are ….

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

Hard to limit to just two! A few years ago on the former Hapag-Lloyd ship HANSEATIC, I enjoyed a rather thrilling zodiac ride only a few feet away from the prow of the moving ship. The first officer was driving the zodiac at exactly the same speed as the HANSEATIC while the ship entered Alaska’s magical Misty Fjords on a brilliantly sunny morning — we were literally in the shadow of the moving bow, bone in teeth lurking within arm’s reach!

Another favorite experience was a nighttime stingray encounter with UnCruises’ SAFARI EXPLORER off Hilo. We gathered in a circle at the surface as the massive rays swam up from the depths to feed, gently brushing against us in the process.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

I started writing blogs over 20 years ago, so it is nice to be able to do so again with QuirkyCruise.com. Perhaps fittingly, my writing style is a bit quirky, so it’s nice to be able to inject a little personality into my experiences when I contribute to Quirky, something that is not always possible when writing for industry trades or more nuts and bolts consumer markets. And, as a cruise fan, I’m so happy there is a site exclusively dedicated to smaller ship cruising.

Tell us about YOU!

My other outlets are USA Today Travel, Cruise Travel Magazine, TravelAgeWest, Ocean and Cruise News, Porthole, Ships Monthly and MaritimeMatters.com.

I own MidShipCentury.com, which is a website and e-commerce site dedicated to the classic cruise ships and ocean liners broken up at Alang, India in the past two decades, featuring artworks, furniture and fittings that I have rescued.

In 2014, I was the recipient of the Samuel Ward Stanton Lifetime Achievement Award from the Steamship Historical Society of America for my contributions to the world of ocean liners and cruise ships.

Peter’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Great Lakes Cruising Aboard Victory I

Lindblad Adventure in Baja California

More of Peter’s articles here …. 

_______

Happiest Holidays from Judi Cohen

Judi Cohen

Judi Cohen

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

Because they are not big!! I enjoy getting to know the other passengers and the crew, the casual style for meals, and the opportunity to see and learn about our close encounters in places many larger ships might not be able to visit.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are …

Spending Christmas and New Years aboard the Pandaw Kalaw in Myanmar with only 18 guests including some friends and my family. Partying with the crew and captain into the wee hours under the stars along the Irrawaddy was just magical.

Many memorable moments on UnCruise in Alaska when the captain turned the boat for a pod of Orcas. Breathtaking moments approaching the glaciers and watching global warming in action (sadly) as massive sheets of ice and snow collapsed into the water around our skiff.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

QC is a treasure chest of interesting and current information on small-ship cruises. Writing for Heidi has allowed me to connect with like-minded small-ship cruise lovers and share my first hand off-the beaten-path experiences.

Tell us about YOU!

My website is TravelingJudi.com and I also write for AllThingsCruise.com, Food Wine Travel Magazine and Travel World International Magazine. Follow me on Instagram & Twitter @TravelingJudi.

Judi’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Brahmaputra River in India

Antarctica on a Russian Research Vessel

More of Judi’s articles here …

_______

Sarah says Happy Holidays

Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon

Sarah GreavesGabbadon

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

Because it combines the convenience and many of the amenities of modern cruising with the intimacy and romance of sailing. And when a small ship enters a port with a couple of hundred passengers or fewer, I believe you get a more authentic experience of the destination. Because when 3,000+ people disembark in any given place, there’s no way it can remain unchanged!

What are your favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax)?

My favorite small-ship cruise memory is ….

My circumnavigation of Iceland on Windstar last summer was unforgettable. I was awed by the beauty of the landscape and discovered that I’m a natural-born hiker!

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

I appreciate that the site is run by editors who truly care about the subject and spreading the word about small-ship cruising.

Tell us about YOU!

You can follow my globetrotting, fitness and shopping adventures on my website and on my @JetSetSarah social media channels. I’m kind of a big deal on Instagram! 😉

Sarah’s articles & videos for QuirkyCruise.com

Iceland Circumnavigation with Windstar (article)

Iceland Cruise Excursions (video)

Iceland Cruise ABCs (video)

JetSet Sarah Takes the Polar Plunge (video)

_______

Randy Mink

Randy Mink

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

I love small-ship cruising because, as in real life, I can’t deal with big complicated things.

My favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • Scenic (Europe rivers)
  • Iceland ProCruises
  • Latin Trails (Galapagos)

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

I loved sharing a Galapagos cruise with my veterinarian daughter. There were only 16 people onboard Latin Trails’ yacht-like Sea Star Journey, and three were dad-daughter groups, including two Australians with their 83-year-old dad.

On my circumnavigation of Iceland, I treasured the free time I had to poke around the little port towns — peeking into backyard gardens, talking to Icelandic ponies on the other side of the fence and just getting a sense of how people live in this isolated country at the top of the world.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise.com?

I like writing for QuirkyCruises.com because I feel I’m part of a community.

Tell us about YOU!

In everyday life, I am editor of Cruise Travel Magazine, which has been published since 1979.

Randy’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Galapagos Islands Cruise

Circumnavigating Iceland with Iceland ProCruises

More of Randy’s articles here …

_______

Seldon Ink says Happy Holidays

Lynn & Cele Seldon

Lynn & Cele Seldon

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

We prefer the intimacy of a smaller group of like-minded travelers. And the ease of everything from embarkation to excursions to less choice. We also love the shared experience with the other passengers. And we love getting to know the staff and crew. It usually adds to the experience.

My 3 favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are ….

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are …

We loved exploring the nooks and crannies of Cuba while circumnavigating the island with International Expeditions. It was the perfect way to immerse ourselves in the culture, from visiting a local school house to exploring the prison where Fidel and Raul Castro were held. One of our favorite memories was going to the Tropicana in Havana on New Year’s Eve and celebrating with the incredible music, costumes, dancing, and, oh yes, the Cuba Libres!

Kayaking amongst the crystal-blue glaciers of Fords Terror in Alaska with Alaskan Dream Cruises is also a memory we will not soon forget.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise?

We love sharing our experiences and spreading the gospel of small-ship cruising with others.

Tell us about YOU!

We also write for Cruise Travel magazine; Porthole; AAA Carolinas GO Magazine; AAA Carolinas Traveler; Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and FoodNetwork.com. Follow us on Instagram @SeldonInk and on our site: www.seldonink.com.

Lynn & Cele’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Alaska with Alaskan Dream Cruises

Cuba with International Expeditions

More of Lynn & Cele Seldon’s articles …

_______

Happy Hols from Elise

Elise Lentz

Elise Lentz

Why do you love small-ship cruising?

If you’re reading this post, chances are, you are an avid fan of quirky cruises, and a member of the small-ship cruising community thus sharing a like-minded approach to travel. We tend to thrive on the ways small cruising gives us the ability to more easily interact with and get to know our fellow cruisers. I love being able to access unique and remote ports of call that only small-ship cruising can offer.

My favorite small-ship lines (under 300 pax) are …

  • Tauck’s River Cruises are great for chartered groups. The tour operator staffs the riverboats with their own tour leaders and cruise director, and packages the excursions and programs specific for group travel. The food gets great reviews and the ability to easily venture off the boat for independent exploration is a definite plus.
  • Ponant ships offer chic accommodations and smooth sailing. The line is continuing to expand their fleet so some of the ships are “hot off the presses.” This line offers a cruising clientele with an International flare and the ships present themselves with a sleek/modern design.

My favorite small-ship cruise memories are ….

When I was first introduced to the QuirkyCruise family, I remember seeing a post from Ted Scull about a Panamanian indigenous group, the Embera. When I reflect on one of my favorite small-ship cruise memories, my numerous visits to this beautiful and amazing group of people, always rises as #1.

My voyages to the Darien were onboard the Le Levant (also previously known as the Tere Moana). The Darien is so remote; there are only a small number of cruise/tour operators that are able to arrange these visits.

Why do you like writing for QuirkyCruise.com?

Writing for QuirkyCruise has allowed me to share some of my behind-the-scenes’ drama that happens while working in the travel industry. I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t change it for the world. So, thanks to you, the loyal fans and readers of QuirkyCruise, for your continued support of QuirkyCruise and its contributing writers.

Tell us about YOU!

Want to hear what others have to say about us?  Visit our website at Global Tour Management. Tim and I also teach for the International Guide Academy (IGA); check out their website if you have an interest in becoming a tour leader.

Elise’s articles for QuirkyCruise.com (some of them!)

Packing Tips: Some Like it Hard

Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 12)

More of Elise’s articles …. 

 

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Elise Lentz's packing tips

Packing Tips: Some like it Hard

By Elise Lentz.

Hard-sided luggage that is.

Being travel directors, the #1 question we get asked all the time is, “What is your favorite destination?”

The #2 question is, “What packing advice do you have?”

During one of our cruises, a guest mentioned that we should do a lecture on travel packing tips. So we did.

During a sea day, we hosted an impromptu lecture aptly titled Travel Tips 101 — Lessons Learned from a Life on the Road.

Our props were easy. We just loaded the contents of our cabin into our suitcases, rolled them into the lounge and started to talk about the items we use. As it turned out, this lecture packed the room.

The guests took notes, snapped pictures of our “junk” and mobbed us with comments and suggestions following the talk. Now I know how a celebrity must feel. (OK – maybe not.)

This article is the first of a series that will offer a few suggestions for you to consider the next time you pack to head out. With that said, there is no right or wrong way to pack (or travel). That’s what makes travel so great. The entire process of the journey allows you the freedom to experience the adventure the way you want.

Back to my title…

Some Like it Hard
Packing Tips include hard luggage

Travel expert Elise Lentz says hard-sided luggage is the only way to go!

I have to admit, at first it started out soft. Our very first contracts on cruise ships saw us embark with four soft-sided rolling duffel bags. We knew crew quarters were compact and stowing four large suitcases would be a challenge. We figured we could find some area to shove four collapsible duffels and still manage room to sleep.

For a while, these soft-side bags worked for us. Then we were exposed to numerous horror stories and what follows is just a sampling… These incidents happened both personally and vicariously through other guests. The olive oil incident was followed by the Venice Canal drenching, and after numerous other tragic sagas, the coup de grâce was the red wine tasting.

Enjoy!

Elise Lentz's packing tips

Elise swears by a hard-sided bag! * Photo: Tim Lentz

The Olive Oil Incident

Many people tell me that they purchase a new clothing item for their trip. I can envision the scenario. You carefully pack your new frock, full of anticipation that when you get to your destination you will “strut your stuff’ in your new outfit. And then it happens.

Your luggage comes off the plane and as it rides carefree along the baggage carousel, you notice a strange discoloration on your bag. You think to yourself, “I didn’t know it was raining outside.” And then, as you retrieve your bag from the belt, your nose catches a whiff of the sweet smell of garlic and spice. One of your fellow passengers on that flight was bringing home a souvenir bottle of infused olive oil, from that adorable little hillside village.

As fate would have it, the baggage handlers, ever so gently, placed that leaking bag next to yours. The contents of their cold-pressed treasure oozed its oily goodness through your bag infusing its stench all over your new outfit.

Quiz time. 10 points for the correct answer — Was this bag: (A) Soft-sided or (B) Hard-sided?

The Venice Canal Drenching

Even if you have never been to Venice, you may still know that it is referred to as the “City of Canals.”

Venice packing tips

Venice is the city of canals! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The canals are the highways of the city and used to transport everything, from food, supplies, garbage, and the mail, to the sick, the dead and yes…luggage.

Guests on a group tour were leaving a Venetian hotel to embark on a cruise ship. The group’s luggage was being transported to the ship via a delivery barge. The bags were precariously perched on top of one another forming an unstable mountain of luggage. Can you see where this story is going???

A “rouge wave” caused the barge to bounce, sending a shockwave through Mount Luggage, thus propelling one of the bags off the barge and into the canal. Said bag was fished out of the canal and returned to the barge — but the contents inside were soaked and left with the lingering scent of “Acqua di Canal.”

Quiz time. 10 points for the correct answer — Was this bag: (A) Soft-sided or (B) Hard-sided?

The Red Wine Tasting

Following one of our Mediterranean assignments, we were anxious to return home and sleep. We spotted one of our suitcases on the baggage carousel that happened to be riding behind a bag with a steady stream of dark liquid leaking from it. Hmmm …  Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet?

cruise backing tips

Be careful of the red wine!

Since the flight was coming from Rome, Chianti seemed more like the logical answer. Oblivious to the liquid flowing from his bag, the owner pulls it off the belt and proceeds to leave a beautiful garnet trail across the floor as he exits the airport. Recovering our bag, there was enough evidence on the outside to confirm it was indeed Chianti.

Quiz time. Bonus question: 20 points for the correct answer — Was our bag:  (A) Soft-sided or (B) Hard-sided?

What’s Your Luggage Horror Story?

We were recently reminded of this story when we ran into one of our recent IGA (International Guide Academy) students working in Alaska. She confessed to us, that because of these stories, she purchased hard-sided luggage for her assignments. Then she laughed, as she recanted personally witnessing her own “Red Wine Tasting” at the airport.

In the deep recesses of your travel memories, you probably have your own luggage horror story (and we’d love to hear them, share below!). And if not — consider yourself lucky.

But remember, just like every good horror movie (cue spooky music), eventually, your luck may run out.

Come back for future postings where we will share with you what we look for when purchasing luggage and travel accessories we have fallen in love with.  We will also include tips on increasing your odds of getting your luggage returned to you when the airlines decide to send it on an itinerary that is different than yours!

____________________

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for more than 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Below, read more of Elise’s fun and quirky take of a life working at sea!

Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Hitting the Road  (Part 1)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Voyage Begins (Part 2)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Sleeping Around (Part 3)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Shook Me All Night Long (Part 4)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Say Cheese (Part 5)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Good Cruises Gone Bad (Part 6)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Whatever the Client Wants (Part 7)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Crazy Cruise Charters (Part 8)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Yoko Ono Encounter (Part 9)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Losing a Friend at Sea (Part 10)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Surreal Tour Guide Spiels (Part 11)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Effects of Too Much Mango (Part 12)

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small cruise ships types

91 Small Ship Cruise Lines By Type

We’re the ONLY travel site out there that covers so many small-ship cruise lines in reviews, feature articles and photos — we’re up to 91 small-ship cruise lines and counting! QuirkyCruise.com offers original, quality writing about this wonderful corner of the travel world.

To help you browse, dream and plan your next small-ship cruise, we categorize our 91 small ship lines (with vessels under 300 passengers) into 5 cruise types:

Coastal Ships  ✴️ Expedition Ships   ✴️  Oceangoing Ships   ✴️  River Boats   ✴️  Sailing Ships

 

Coastal Ships

Coastal small ship cruises

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Perhaps the hardest category to pin down, coastal ships cruise in open waters, but usually stay close to land so they may call at numerous ports and islands, and enter bays, canals, lakes, and rivers. Examples are the Norwegian coastal service linking many towns and cities facing the North Sea, and US-flag coastal ships plying between the New England Islands, the Intracoastal Waterway and Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Croatian coast (Mediterranean) and the islands of Japan make excellent coastal cruising itineraries.

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Argyll Cruising

Alaska Marine Highway

American Cruise Lines

Atlas Ocean Tours

Blount Small Ship Adventures

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises

Croisières Jacques-Cartier

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

Hebridean Island Cruises

Hurtigruten

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Majestic Line

Marine Link Tours

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pacific Catalyst

Pandaw River Cruises

Patricia Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

SeaDream Yacht Club

UnCruise Adventures

Victory Cruise Lines

Expedition Ships

Expedition small ship cruises

The Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

These have a distinctive learning element and bring to mind a sense of adventure whether it’s visiting remote peoples in the South Pacific or plying the Upper Amazon; looking for rare birds and exotic animals along Australia’s Kimberley Coast or in Central America; cruising amongst amazing, and often colorful, ice formations in Antarctica; and encountering dramatic landscapes in Patagonia. Trained experts give talks aboard and lead active outings ashore.

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Aurora Expeditions

Australis

Celebrity Cruises’ Xpedition

Xpedition

Coral Expeditions

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

G Adventures

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises

Haumana Cruises

Hurtigruten

Lindblad Expeditions

Oceanwide Expeditions

One Ocean Expeditions

Overseas Adventure Travel

Ponant

Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions

Quasar Expeditions

Seabourn Expeditions

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

Silversea Expeditions

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Zegrahm Expeditions

Oceangoing Ships

Star Pride. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Designed for the open seas, travel between continents or from the mainland to islands well out to sea, oceangoing ships also offer port-rich cruises such as between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean or from Great Britain to Baltic Sea ports. Some oceangoing ships are also used for expedition itineraries.

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Compagnie Polynesienne

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Grand Circle Cruise Line

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Ponant

SeaDream Yacht Club

Silverseas Cruises

Tauck

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

River Vessels

River going small ship cruises

The River Empress * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Easy to identify, they offer a hugely popular means to get into the interior of a country or continent. As a matter of course, river boats may also ply canals and cross bays and lakes to cover many hundreds of island water miles. Europe, Asia, and North America offer the most diverse opportunities for river cruising, while South America brings to mind the Amazon and its numerous tributaries, and Africa the Nile. This section also include canal barges.

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AMAWaterways

American Cruise Lines

American Queen Steamboat Company

Aqua Expeditions

A-Rosa

Avalon Waterways

Barge Lady Cruises

Blount Small Ship Adventures

CroisiEurope

Crystal River Cruises

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Emerald Waterways

French America Line

G Adventures

Gota Canal Steamship Company

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Le Boat

Lindblad Expeditions

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Murray River Cruises

Ontario Waterway Cruises Inc.

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pearl Seas Cruises

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

Riviera River Cruises

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Scenic Cruises

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Vantage World Travel

Victoria Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines

Viking River Cruises

Sailing Ships

Sea Cloud

This group comes under a broad umbrella, from the sails providing the main means of propulsion, to using wind power when the conditions are ideal, or as window dressing with the principal push coming from diesel engines. Sailing ships of all three variations have a majesty and beauty all their own. Most are found amongst islands in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and in the South Pacific and Indonesia, with repositioning transoceanic crossings such as between Europe and the Caribbean drawing the most ardent sailors.

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

G Adventures

Lindblad

Oceanwide Expeditions

Ponant

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Sea Cloud Cruises

Silhouette Cruises

Silolona Sojourns

Star Clippers

Trinity Sailing

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

 

And if you’ve been on a small-ship cruise lately, we’d love to hear about it in our Reader Reviews section!  

If you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for our QuirkyCruise Newsletter for monthly updates!

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Small Ship Cruise Collection's Powell Ettinger

The Small Cruise Ship Collection’s Powell Ettinger

QuirkyCruise’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Powell Ettinger, co-founder and managing director of The Small Cruise Ship Collection (SCSC), a travel agency specializing exclusively in the small-ship niche. Powell shares why he’s so passionate about this cozy corner of the travel world.

Small Ship Cruise Collection's Powell Ettinger

 

Q: What size ships does Small Cruise Ship Collection specialize in?

Powell Ettinger: Specialising in small ships worldwide, the largest vessels we work with carry around 260 passengers, and the smallest carries 8, but most carry 40-100.  Our cruises are more about the destinations than the vessels, more “travel by boat.” We don’t sell European river cruises offered by many large companies; it’s a different market to the small vessels we work with. Most of our passengers hate the idea of traditional cruising.

Small Cruise Ship Collection's Powell Ettinger

Small Cruise Ship Collection’s Powell Ettinger

Q: Why small ships?

Powell Ettinger: At The Small Cruise Ship Collection, we only sell small-ship cruises as we feel they have many advantages.

  • Responsible Travel. Small-ship cruises tend to be much more responsible than larger vessels. They provide income to many small communities around the world. The idea is to get the passengers ashore as much as possible to let them experience local culture and food, rather than keep them on board to make money from them.
  • Nooks and Crannies. Small ships can reach the parts larger ships cannot. Whether this is a bay full of penguins in Antarctica, a small village in Papua New Guinea, a pristine reef in Fiji or a known polar bear haunt, larger ships can’t access these nooks.
  • Docking. In many ports, for instance in Croatia, only small vessels are allowed to dock; larger ships must anchor off shore.
  • Small Villages.  If you are visiting a small village in Cuba, the Greek Islands or Papua New Guinea, the locals will welcome a visit from 40-50 people, but 600? 3,000? Just not feasible.
  • Queues. What are they?
  • More Personable. On a small ship, you will get to know the passengers, the crew and the captain usually too.

RELATED: QuirkyCruise’s Take on “Big Ships Small Ships”

Q: Why did you get into the business of selling small-ship cruises?

Powell Ettinger: I have worked in the travel industry for 25 years, specialising in responsible travel to off-the-beaten-track destinations. I’ve trekked and sailed all over the world, from Morocco, Nepal, Iceland, Peru and Ethiopia, to the Greek isles, fjords of Chile, and the Amazon River.  I’ve never been on a traditional big-ship cruise and wouldn’t want to. Small-ship “cruises” are the best, and often the only, way to see most of the places we visit.

Small Ship Cruise Collection's Powell Ettinger

The cozy Delfin II on the Amazon. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Q:  What can you and your team offer travelers?

Powell Ettinger:  We offer huge choice in the specialist small-ships market. Because we only sell small-ship cruises, our team has a vast knowledge of the market and we always offer honest opinions — if we don’t think a particular trip is right for someone we will tell them.

Q: How has the small-ship business changed in past 10-20 years?

Powell Ettinger: It has grown substantially and has become a “thing” in its own right, rather than just a few luxury and expedition ships in Polar Regions.

Q:  What are the joys and the challenges of the small-ship cruise niche?

Powell Ettinger: The joy is the feedback we get from our passengers, and also from the people we work with worldwide who appreciate the jobs we provide in their communities without disrupting their environments.

The main challenges are that the ships are small, so capacity is limited. Also, many people (mistakenly) confuse small-ship cruises with mainstream cruising, and so won’t even consider them. Another challenge is I don’t have enough time to do all the small ship cruises that I want to do!

Q: Do you have a couple of favorite small-ship cruise experiences?

Powell Ettinger:  Too many. The grandeur of Antarctica, the amazing white icebergs off Greenland on a beautiful sunny day, the whales of Alaska, the harbour restaurants of Croatia, seeing a polar bear with her cubs, the people of New Guinea, exploring the Amazon…

White on white, seeing a polar bear from the ship in the Arctic.

White on white, seeing a polar bear from the ship in the Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: How do you reconcile traveling in delicate regions affected by climate change?

Powell Ettinger: The amount of emissions created by our travel to the Polar Regions is a minute fraction of the world’s output, and even a minute fraction of our own footprint. Ships are getting greener, but there is no such thing as a completely green cruise. However, it is important that some people do visit, and in fact many people that do are so moved by their experience they go home and change their lifestyles — swap their diesel car for an electric car, and change their lifestyle in general.

Additionally, in the Arctic there are many small communities who derive an income from the few tourists that do visit, and it helps them preserve their unique culture and way of life.

 

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Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

By Anne Kalosh.

The seas are awash in plastic. Chances are, if you’re an expedition-cruise “type,” you’re more environmentally aware and eager to do your part to combat this scourge.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) has just issued new guidelines for visitors to the north. These supplement steps that AECO’s 30 member lines are taking to reduce single-use plastics on their ships and to involve travelers in beach cleanups that remove tons of marine litter each year.

Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Here’s a sorry sight — polar bears munching on plastic waste. * Photo: Kevin Morgans for AECO

AECO notes that travelers on Arctic expeditions will visit remote areas with limited waste management facilities. Depending on the location, waste may go into local landfills or be compacted and shipped elsewhere for treatment.

To cut the amount of waste small communities need to process and to cut plastic litter, AECO suggests travelers prepare before trips to take reusable items then, during travel, avoid disposable items and responsibly dispose of waste. Upon returning home, travelers can continue their plastic-reduction efforts under the “Reduce, reuse, recycle” principle.

AECO’s tips don’t just apply to the Arctic. Try following these guidelines wherever you go and when you’re at home, to be part of the solution to plastic pollution.

Here are the guidelines, which also can be found on AECO’s site (click here).

Before Traveling
  • Travel with reusable items such as water bottle, coffee cup, reusable bag, reusable cutlery, etc. that you can bring home with you.
  • Consider bringing a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera from the elements.
  • When packing toiletries, choose eco-friendly alternatives such as cosmetics free of microbeads.
  • Choose products with non-plastic packaging such as soap and shampoo bars. Your accommodation may also be equipped with refillable dispensers. If you need to use plastic bottles and containers, use reusable ones.
  • Synthetic clothing sheds small plastic fibers. We recognize that it may not be possible to entirely stop using synthetic clothing, but reducing the amount we use is a great first goal.
When Traveling
  • When possible, avoid using disposable cups, straws, bottles, food containers and other items.
  • Do not throw any non-organic items in the toilet, including wet wipes.
  • Make sure all your belongings are well secured when ashore or on deck. A moment of inattention and a gust of wind can easily blow light bags and other items away.
  • Enquire about local environmental initiatives and how you can reduce your plastic footprint to support the community you visit.
  • Talk to other travelers and staff — not everyone has the same experience and knowledge, so it is a good opportunity to learn from and inspire others.
Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Be part of the pollution solution. * Photo: AECO

Continue at Home

Reduce: By consuming less and using reusable items you can help reduce the total amount of waste.

Reuse: Extend the life of your belongings. If you no longer need it, give it away.

Recycle: Learn about the cycle of your waste at home and sort out your waste accordingly to maximize the chances of material recovery.

As well, AECO notes that in areas where waste facilities are limited, most items are treated as general waste. Products labeled “degradable” or “biodegradable” will degrade faster than regular plastic items, but may still contain fossil fuels, thus creating microplastic particles.

To effectively reduce waste, AECO advises avoiding these alternatives and choosing reusable items instead.

AECO says please help keep these items out of nature …. 

Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Keep these items out of nature. * Source: AECO

 

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Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

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

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

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

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

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

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

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

— Galapagos Conservancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ports of Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go

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

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

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

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

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

Company Reviews

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

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

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

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

Eclipse Travel

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

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

Journeys International

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

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

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

Mountain Travel Sobek

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

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

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

Natural Habitat Adventures

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

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

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

Wilderness Travel

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

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

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

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machu Picchu

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

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

 

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