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Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Quirky’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Graham Charles, president of the Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA), a US-based non-profit industry association servicing the standards and competency needs of polar tourism operators, field staff and guides across all platforms of polar tourism. We first spoke to Graham when he started the PTGA nearly two years ago (article here), and below is an update of the PTGA’s progress and initiatives.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

PTGA President Graham Charles enjoying some time out of the office in his own polar back yard. * Photo: Jerry Johnson

QuirkyCruise: Since we last spoke in Sept 2017, I see a few more lines have come onboard as members of PTGA, including Polar Latitudes, Antarctica21, Silversea Expeditions and Aurora Expeditions. Do you expect more to join?

PTGA President Graham Charles: We have had a number of companies express interest and seek further detailed information. These companies are clearly looking to the future and see that transparent accountability to guide minimum competency is impossible to ignore. Clients, insurance and authorizing bodies will soon demand it.

QuirkyCruise: What feedback have you gotten from the industry? What have you learned in the past 2 years since you started PTGA?

PTGA President Graham Charles: Feedback has been exceptional. We have now moved into a phase of active assessment of guides. Our “Workplace Based Assessment” model is working in the always changing and time demanding environment of expedition cruising and polar tourism operations.

We are constantly evolving as we create this platform in a space that has never had one. We listen to the needs of our Corporate Members, we make change. We listen to our growing pool of Assessors, we make change. We look at ourselves at Board level and make change.

The PTGA achieved ISO (International Organization for Standardization) status last year after a rigorous audit of our material and this lends undeniable credibility to what we are doing and how we are going about it. We are in the final stages of our legal acceptance at the federal level (we have state exemption) for tax exemption and to be federally recognized as a Professional Industry Association. This doesn’t impact our stakeholders much, but shows we are serious about our presence in all aspects of administration of the Association.

We have had our annual “Qualifications Review” and are about to draft a raft of changes to our “Qualifications Framework” to reflect a year’s worth of trial and development of our assessment tools. 

Our “Recognition of Current Competency” grandparenting scheme finished in October last year with a rush of applications. A number of senior guides are asking that we consider opening this gateway again for a limited time. We are still clearing the backlog of applications and will give it consideration once this is done. We learned that polar guides are spectacular procrastinators (no surprise really) and will respond in the dying seconds of an offer.

Further, we have hired a social media manager to create a stronger social media presence and we’re also running the Polar Guides Group Facebook page.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Senior Polar Guide Cam Walker leads a group on a snowshoe adventure on the Antarctic Peninsula. * Photo: Chris Prudden

QuirkyCruise: For those lines who haven’t joined yet, what is the reason?

PTGA President Graham Charles: I don’t see any theme in the reason people haven’t joined yet. The reasons are as varied as the number of people out there. Some of it is education and awareness — some people say they have never heard of us even after 2.5 years and now some good traction in the social media space. Others are procrastinating and waiting to see what happens. All this is common with something new like the PTGA.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

A young guide practices navigation skills in Svalbard. * Photo: Graham Charles

QuirkyCruise: Do you work with the Expedition Guide Academy (EGA) and Ben Jackson?

PTGA President Graham Charles: Yes we work with the EGA. Ben is an assessor and Senior Guide with the PTGA. And a number of their courses on offer work to PTGA competency levels and EGA can also offer assessments and legitimately administer our qualifications.

The PTGA isn’t a training organization, we are the testing body. To this end we encourage providers like the EGA so that when we get emails from guides looking to upskill in a particular area or get assessed in a particular qualification, we have quality providers to send them to.

It’s a great initiative. 

PTGA president Graham Charles teaches a class in Leadership theory and Teaming for A21 staff. Photog: Mariano Curiel

PTGA president Graham Charles teaches a class in “Leadership Theory and Teaming” for A21 staff. * Photo: Mariano Curiel

QuirkyCruise: Has the Polar Tourism Qualifications (PTQ) framework changed?

PTGA President Graham Charles: We have published our draft “Polar Bear Environments” award and have a couple more awards in development. This award offers a lot to northern polar guiding in light of events in Svalbard last season and questions that were asked about minimum levels of training and competency for guides working in polar bear environments. Our other awards are also more relevant to the north polar regions and terrestrial based operators.

Our team has recently reviewed everything about the framework, and amendments will be published by the end of May.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

A guide gives a briefing after landing on fast ice. * Photo: PTGA

QuirkyCruise: Are there new and more challenges, given the expedition ship building boom is gaining momentum?

PTGA President Graham Charles: One of the fun things about this industry is the change that is going on so yes there are challenges and change going on every day and I personally am vitalized by this. We are our own association and thus are quite “fleet of foot” so we can respond to organically evolving needs much faster than other big industry associations.

 

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European River Cruises for Single Travelers

European River Cruises for Single Travelers

By Ted Scull.

To begin with the hard reality, there’s far greater demand for single accommodations aboard cruise ships than there is an adequate supply to meet it. Then comes the task of landing a fair fare that equals or gets close to the per person double occupancy rate.

There’s no question, some Europe river cruise lines cater to single travelers more than others.

If you didn’t know, by the way, cruise boats and ships of all sizes (unlike hotels), base their cabin fares on a per person rate for two people in a cabin.

For most single travelers, without deep pockets, the general paucity of single rates is a barrier to cruising as often as one would like, and for some, a dead end.

This dilemma comes as no news to veteran travelers, including my own experience for many years. Sometimes I would find a friend to join me, and otherwise, it was go it alone and pay the freight, or not sail at all.

European River Cruises for Single Travelers

Ted on a solo Danube River cruise. * Photo: New Friend

Why are there so few single cabins?

Let’s discuss the reason for the paucity before we get onto some good news.

Quite simply, cruise lines can make more moolah building and selling cabins for two than for one.

It is nearly as expensive to design, build and equip a single cabin as it is to build a cabin for two, as both require roughly the same amenities. Further, a double cabin means two people share the same bathroom facilities, which, with their complex piping and wiring, are fairly expensive to build.

At one time, many city hotels were built with single rooms for business travelers. These days, in many countries, that has gone with the wind.

Few river ships today even bother to build any single cabins, and if they do, it’s usually less than the number of fingers on one hand. And if they have a few, they may be on the lowest deck with a view through a small window or porthole.

So, what improves the likelihood of getting a single’s fare?

No river cruise line (or any cruise line or hotel for that matter) wants empty cabins at sailing time. There’s no revenue in that. And this fact is a silver lining for solo cruisers.

From past experience, river cruise lines may sense that some upcoming off-season sailings in spring or fall aren’t selling as well and so may offer discounts and deals for single travelers. That said, there can also be special offers for solo cruisers at other times of the year when demand is down.

Of course, there are pros and cons to cruising at different times. Going in July and August means putting up with the summer tourist crush in the more popular ports. River cruising  in the off-season months means the weather may not be ideal — too cool or too rainy.

And remember, taking a river cruise at the last minute to avail of a good deal, means you will have to get your act together relatively quickly to travel (ie, book the dog kennel, get someone to water your plants, purchase airfare etc etc).

Personally, if I have a choice for when to take a European river cruise, I like late spring and autumn, but not too deep into the November chill.

European River Cruises for Single Travelers

Ted in Bratislava, Slovakia, on one of his solo European river cruises. * Photo: Fellow Passenger

Just what is the single supplement?

If you get lucky, the  single rate could be the same as the per person double rate, and that means there is no supplement and the cabin is yours.

Or a single rate could mean there’s an added surcharge of maybe 20 to 50 percent.

Either way, if it’s the itinerary you want, it’s a good deal because you’re not paying the standard double occupancy fare.

Veteran river cruisers who keep coming back know there are roughly a dozen very different Europe river itineraries that often have little or no overlap at all. So, be flexible with your choice of itineraries and take the better fare deal.

It is difficult to rate the lines by their single-fare policies as they do change with supply and demand. Therefore, this round-up is based on a sampling of what I could find on the websites of popular river cruise lines at the time of writing.

Keep in mind, the terms for single fares are all over the map, with some more welcoming than others. And remember, good offers can be long range (ie on a cruise next year)  or last minute (ie, a cruise next month).

While not all river lines are covered, the following hopefully gives an understanding of the wide-ranging policies.

European River Cruises for Single Travelers

Ted in Berlin on an Elbe River cruise. * Photo: A new friend

River Lines Genuinely Catering to Solo Travelers

As some river cruise lines see single travelers as an important part of their revenue stream, they actively cater to them.

Riviera River Cruises

This UK-based river line loves solo travelers enough that they have scheduled eight solo-friendly Europe river cruises for fall 2019, including two departures on the Danube and Douro rivers. On these sailings, singles will not pay a single supplement. Riviera debuted its series of solo cruises in 2018 and they’re very popular. A 7-night Danube River cruise for solos starts at $2,189 USD per person on Oct. 28, Nov. 1 and 4th departures. They have a dedicated section on their website called “River Cruises for Solo Travelers.”

Grand Circle Cruise Line

Grand Circle Cruise Line promotes “The Solo Experience” front and center on its website’s homepage, boasting: “We offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed.”

Uniworld

When you click on Uniworld’s “Offers” button at the top of the homepage, the “2019 Solo Traveler Savings” comes right up. You can see the dates that are open for single fare discounts. Then you are asked to call Uniworld for the actual price.

Vantage Deluxe World Travel

Vantage Deluxe World Travel has a prominent “Solo Travel” button on the home page that outlines fares, discounts, teaming up with another single traveler in a double cabin, and lots of good information about traveling solo.

Tauck

Avalon shows selected departures with single rates, with five cabins initially offered. They show how many are left and the deadline for booking.

European River Cruises for Single Travelers

Ted on another Europe river cruise enjoying the sights. * Photo: Fellow passenger

CroisiEurope

The line’s 2 to 4 Single-Specific cabins on more than half the riverboat fleet are slightly smaller than a standard cabin. During promotions, the single supplement may be waved for a few weeks or a month and more, and when there is a single supplement for a double cabin, it usually runs between 25 and 35% and seldom higher.

Crystal River Cruises

Meanwhile, Crystal River Cruises’ site reads, “Solo Fares on Request.”

AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways does not tout single travelers, rather indicates that if a discount sailing is offered, the single supplement, if not waived, is added to the already established discounted or original base fare.

Viking River Cruises

When you go to Viking’s Help/FAQs and look for “What is your single supplement?” it starts off — “On occasion, Viking Cruises will make special solo traveler fares available. Please check back for pricing updates.”

While perhaps not the first line to look for attractive single fares, Viking does operate by far the largest fleet of European river boats and, therefore, offers the most departures.

Scenic

The Scenic river cruises website has a “Special Offers” notice, but recently that led to solo fares buried under the offer for a third passenger occupying a suite. It says, unless the single supplement for that sailing is waived, the passenger will pay the supplement (percentage) before applying that to the discounted fare.

Keep checking back if you don’t see what you want and can afford, and if a lead appears, and requires a phone call, do it. If the line wants you to book a single, the offer may improve.

Bottom Line:

River Cruising is Ideal for Single Travelers

Taking from less just than 100 to perhaps 200 passengers, riverboats are definitely small ships and they’re great options for solo travelers. On Europe’s waterways and other parts of the world as well.

  • Singles on river boats don’t face multiple lounge choices as on the big ships when searching for the right atmosphere. Upon entering the riverboat’s lounge bar, take a quick scan and then choose a seat to aim for.
  • If you want to meet others, ask those seated if they are saving the seat(s) first, and if the answer is “no, please join us,” you have an invitation. The ensuing conversation may lead to, “Would you like to join us for dinner?”
  • If you don’t find much of a rapport, sooner rather than later, excuse yourself and head for the restaurant. The maître d’ might ask your preference and suggest a table with others who were just seated.
  • At the outset, it’s best not to get too tied to the same people, as you the may miss chances to widen your repertoire.
  • Shore excursions give you additional opportunities to meet others with easy topics at hand to discuss.

Good hunting, and hopefully Bon Voyage!

Ted making new friends on an Amazon River cruise. * Photo: New Friend!

 

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Afforable European River Cruises

Affordable European River Cruises

By Ted Scull.

Our regular visitors to QuirkyCruise know full well that small-ship cruising does not come cheaply. In many cases, it can be downright expensive and beyond one’s means.

Today’s massive cruise ships have economies of scale, though remember that the fares listed may only include passage and meals.

Meanwhile, many river cruises — the subject of this column — include quite a lot in the base price, hence comparisons are more like watermelons and tangerines.

So what is in the price you might pay to sail the Rhine, Rhone, Main, Moselle, Danube or Douro?

First-time searchers will be amazed at the almost complete absence of nickel and diming, especially if you are a deep-sea cruiser who has recently decided to try the calm waters of rivers and canals.

Rhine River Family Cruises

It’s a castle fest on the middle Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Europe River Cruising: What’s Included & What’s Not?

Most river lines include a daily shore excursion and that’s a big-ticket item on most mainstream mega cruise ships. They may range from $50 to $100 dollars and maybe more. Multiply that by the number of days you plan to take one; it adds up big time.

So, on mainstream big-ship cruises, you might not take an excursion in every port to save money; but then you’ll see less.

On a week’s river cruise, on the other hand, you will have at least six port calls. And especially if you have not been to any of them before, you can go on all the excursions you desire, as the outings are included in the fares.

Many river lines also include house wine and beer with lunch and dinner, plus soft drinks, bottled water in the cabins, and coffee and tea.

Of course, those who like a beer or glass of wine with lunch and perhaps share a bottle of wine at dinner will benefit most. Do the math. A glass of wine may be $8-15 and a bottle from about $25 and up for low-end table wines.

Affordable European River Cruises

Wine is included on most European river cruises. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Gratuities may also be included on a river cruise and coverage often takes in all the staff on board, guides ashore and drivers, if a bus is involved. On oceangoing ships, tips are often automatically billed to one’s account. They may amount to roughly $12-15 per person per day for the onboard staff plus tips you dish out to guides and bus drivers ashore.

Many river lines will also include the transfers between the airport and ship, and with any pre- or post-cruise hotel stays. Of course, some mainstream big-ship cruise lines may also, if you have booked their air package.

Europe River Cruise Rates

Now what are the reasonable per diem (daily) rates that will hopefully include most of the aforesaid?

A line’s brochure and website rates are often published a year or more in advance and may be just a starting point. A seven-night European Danube cruise will show that rates vary by dates, often with the early spring and late fall fares being lower than the June to September high season. The ports visited during an off-season departure will also be less crowded.

When bookings are slow for some sailings, even in August, there may be a discounted rate for that sailing. Or, if several are offered, you may be enticed by an air allotment or fully-paid economy airfare to and from certain cities and the embarkation port.

The river lines supply the international airlines with huge passenger numbers, so they can negotiate lower rates than most travelers can, notwithstanding using your own air miles. If you don’t live near an airport with direct flights to and from the riverboat, and even if you do, you may have to change planes once or even twice. Never fun, but them’s the real world of bucket fares.

Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels

A Viking Longship on the Main River. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Europe River Cruise Early-Booking Fares

Early-booking cruise rates usually have a cutoff date, and the period from mid-January through February may see enticing offers as the lines will already know how the year is faring.

On the other hand, last-minute booking fares may interest some who are veteran travelers. And I don’t mean the retired folks who show up at the pier in Miami on sailing day to hopefully get a huge windfall for an empty cabin. I’m talking about discounts on a cabin that will otherwise go un-sold and generate zero onboard revenue for that cruise.

For instance, say, it’s Valentine’s Day and the boat is leaving from Amsterdam, Paris or Vienna in late April or early May and has lots of open cabins. The river cruise line gives you a deal and books your air. And you pack your bag, deal with the dog or cat, make sure the bills are paid, and off you go.  You may not be able to turn down such a great deal, and so you’ll surely make your potential travel mate very happy.

Afforable European River Cruises

Europe river cruising in the fall by bicycle. * Photo: Peter Knego

Here They Are … A List of Affordable Europe River Cruises

So here’s what you have been waiting for…🥁🥁…drum roll …

The most affordable Europe cruises start as low as $200 a day per person sharing a double cabin and range on up to still-not-half-bad $300 to $350 per person a day.

Remember to check what’s included.

The lines in alphabetical order that generally offer rates within this range:

➢➢ Avalon Waterways

➢➢ CroisiEurope Cruises

➢➢ Grand Circle

➢➢ Vantage World Travel

➢➢ Viking River Cruises

Other lines may also bring rates way down on occasion, so have a look at their offers too. The best way to keep up to date is to sign up for lines’ email newsletter. Then pounce.

Affordable European River Cruises

Vantage River Cruises is one of the more affordable European River Cruises. * Photo: Vantage River Cruises

So What Do You Get?

Okay, where is your cabin located? The answer may not surprise you, and you may be pleased, unless you are used to traveling with your silver spoon. Several of my cruises have been with a cabin in the least expensive category, sleeping on the lowest deck.

Afforable European River Cruises

Avalon Visionary shows a line of small windowed cabins on the lowest deck. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

This will not be an inside cabin such as on a big cruise ship (because river boats don’t have them), but one with a porthole or small window that gives you light and a view just above waterline. If the boat had lots of space when you booked, it may be higher up with a step out or full balcony.

Remember, riverboats are small vessels, and a climb of one or maximum two decks will get you to a great viewing location. And most of your day will be either on a trip ashore, sitting up on deck or dining in a panoramic restaurant.

Go fetch that deal and see the castles along the Rhine, the landscapes and villages that captivated Impressionist painters, and the elegant cities along the Danube.

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How to Become a Travel Writer

How to Become a Travel Writer

Quirky’s Heidi Sarna interviews the other quirky, Ted Scull, about how he first got started writing.

QC: What was your first writing experience?

TED: My first semi-serious writing got launched, not by choice, during two eight-week summer sessions at a New Hampshire sleepaway camp. We boys had the task of writing a letter home every Sunday before supper. If not forthcoming and signed off on, we did not get fed.

At age 11, it was my first time away from home for more than two nights. Also, I knew only one other boy, a school chum from home. The rest hailed from all over, though mostly the Northeast, and some had very different accents and used strange phrases.

How to Become a Travel Writer

Teddy (then) out of uniform and missing a front tooth. * Photo:: Camp counselor

QC: Was writing a difficult task for you?

TED: I did not find it at all difficult, nor even a chore, as I had lots to say to my parents given nearly everything was new, starting with camping next to fresh-water Lake Winnipesaukee rather than being surrounded by the much more familiar salty Atlantic on Nantucket Island.

I wrote about large spindly spiders called daddy longlegs that sat on the lake’s surface with their bodies high out of the water and the ominous shapes below the surface that were mostly rotting tree branches. I never quite got used to treading water above them, so I mostly kept splashing and swimming.

QC: Any memorable experiences?

TED: A few days into that first summer at camp, we were shown how to paddle an Old Town canoe, and after we got the hang of it, we were let loose in the cove. I had seen a big white steamer pass the entrance to the cove one morning, so I ventured out into the lake to have a look.

Next thing I knew, I heard repeated blasts of a whistle, and I turned to see a big steamer bearing down on me. I don’t recall what I did next but I do remember seeing it list quite a bit as it angled away and almost swamp me. When it passed, I found myself looking up at the passengers on deck while the captain yelled down at me.

How to become a travel writer

Steamer Mt. Washington at close range on another occasion. *Photo: Ted Scull

QC: What happened next and what did you do with that experience?

TED: Well, first off, the counselor was furious, and the ship line phoned the camp. The punishment, as for many infractions, was to stand facing a tree and stay there until it moved.

My Sunday letter started with the story, then I decided, unless I told the whole truth, it was best not to mention it at all, so I saved that sheet for myself and began a fresh one.

QC: Any poignant experiences on land?

TED: The surrounding woods were really thick, and I would not wander into them without a few buddies, and then we did not go far. The counselors warned there were bears about though we never saw one. We probably made too much noise. I saw my first snakes somewhat camouflaged by tree branches, and I was not afraid then as I am now. That’s a story for another time.

QC: Back at school, what provided the next chance to write?

TED: I do not remember what the exact assignments were, other than opportunities to write about our favorite things. Mine were dogs, fish and gerbils.

My first attempt at a murder story came quite easily when Henry, the gerbil, killed Connie, his mate one night. They squabbled but I had no idea of Henry’s ultimate plan. Then one summer we had a nor’easter that knocked out all power for a couple of days. To save the fish we placed the tank next to the fireplace and kept the hearth lit 24 hours a day which meant alarms going off in the middle of the night. That was heroic fun to write about and the fish survived.

How to Become a Travel Writer

Our second dog Dessie. * Photo: Helen S. Scull

QC: What about in high school?

TED: I had an English teacher who made our class write 300-word essays three times a week for an entire semester. Sometimes, he gave us a topic and sometimes not specifically. That was hard and took a lot of time away from other after-school fun, so writing was a mostly chore. But I guess it was good training.

He must not have had much of a life with all those papers to correct. He put red dots above every “i” not dotted. I still think of the punishment that reduced my grade by one letter almost every time I write anything by hand. I still forget some dots, then remember to go back and finish the job.

QC: Did you parents encourage you?

TED: Mother let me know that she kept most of my letters that included periods when I lived abroad in London and Paris with no phone and during shorter stints in other locales during the summer. This took place before cell phones and laptops.

Pop did not like collect calls as I usually ran over his time limit of five minutes, so writing home was the only way to communicate. In those days, I collected my mail once a week from a poste restante, which while in Paris and London was American Express.

How I became a travel writer

Mother and Son. *Photo: Theodore C. Scull

QC: As a great traveler; did that encourage you to continue to write?

TED: Yes, I kept a daily journal when traveling and still do. Mother encouraged me to try selling some of my experiences. When I went into education, I used my summers to travel and wrote about them.

How to become a travel writer

Paris: Pont Alexandre III. *Photo:: Unknown photographer

QC: How did your first published piece come about?

TED: My first published piece transpired when traveling to the Orkney Islands, a rugged archipelago laid out north of mainland Scotland.

I booked passage on the interisland mailboat Orcadia making its rounds from Kirkwall carrying passengers, cargo and the mails to the outlying islands. Our well-being was in the hands of the long-serving purser, a lovely Scotsman.

He sold passage tickets, took reservations for meals and a proper afternoon tea in the restaurant, announced arrival and departure times, and stopped to have a natter when he had the time. He permitted me to tag along as he went about his duties. I had a nice little travel and human-interest story to flog on some publications when I go home, but where to start?

Hoiw I became a travel writer

Mailboat ORCADIA at Kirkwall, Orkney. *Photo: Ted Scull

QC: So how did you go about that?

TED: A good friend of mine subscribed to the Christian Science Monitor, and she gave me the travel editor’s name and contact address. So, I sent my piece in two versions — long at 2,250 words and short at 1,500 words — along with some color slides.

A few weeks later, the travel editor wrote back that he would use the short one, return the long one and send a check for $55. Digitals did not exist then, and many papers did not take color anything, including slides.

How I became a travel writer

Acceptance from the Christian Science Monitor. *Photo: Original letter

QC: What did it feel like to see your name and words in print?

TED: My Christian Science friend (who still is both) phoned me when it came out, and instead of waiting with baited breath for a tear sheet, I rushed down to Hotalings in Times Square, the once hugely popular news agency that stocked scores of daily newspapers from all over the US, Canada and Europe. I was so excited I bought a half dozen copies!

The newsagent smiled and remarked, “I hope to see more of you.” I took it as a kind of a pat on the back, and a week or so later, I had a tear sheet and my very first check for writing. The afternoon tea reference had been deleted as CS followers do not drink tea or coffee or alcohol but the rest seemed to be intact, though somewhat trimmed.

I eventually gave up teaching and went whole hog into the writing business. It wasn’t an easy transition, and the hardest of all was moving from my beloved typewriter to my first word processor. That sorry tale will appear in the next installment.

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UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White

Q&A with UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White

By John Roberts.

Sarah Sinn-White was one of the guides during our “Rivers of Adventure” sailing on the Columbia and Snake rivers on the 120-passenger SS Legacy.

The always wise-cracking, super-friendly Sinn-White has been working with UnCruise for about five years and as a guide for more than a decade.

She hails from Lompoc, a small town north of Santa Barbara on the Central Coast of California, but has lived a bit of a gypsy-like existence since taking off on a life of adventure and travel. It’s part of the DNA for most guides.

“It’s really seasonal,” Sinn-White says. “Before I started working with UnCruise, in the middle of the summer season, you are working as hard as you can, and in the middle of it, you start looking for the job for the winter. You have to be willing to take off and go to a whole new location.”

She continues “I’ve moved to Honduras with a backpack on my back, and I’ve moved to Hawaii with a backpack on my back. You follow that wanderlust and follow where the work is, as well. So, you’ve got to be willing to pack it all, put stuff into storage or get rid of it altogether.”

Sarah’s obviously found some more stability with UnCruise Adventures in the past half-decade, and she represents the expedition cruise line well.

We had a great time learning from Sinn-White and all the UnCruise guides on our trip, and we were happy to grab a few moments out of her busy schedule so she could tell Quirky Cruise readers all about the guiding life.

Read John’s review of his recent UnCruise “Rivers of Adventure.”

UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White

UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White. * Photo: John Roberts


QuirkyCruise: What led you to guiding and to working for UnCruise?

Sarah Sinn-White: I had no intention of going into the guiding industry and the tourism industry.

I originally started out as a production manager in a native plant nursery in California, and I managed a greenhouse and workers and sales for about four years.

I joined the California Native Plant Society while I was there … and I was one of the youngest members, along with a friend who was working with me. Because we were so young, they talked us into volunteering to lead hikes and organize things a little bit for the other chapters and members.

We would go to places like the redwood forest, the limestone quarries, the coastal meadows. It progressed into us dedicating a lot of time to it. Then some friends went off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and the nursery was shifting into a direction that I didn’t really enjoy as much. I realized that I’ve got the freedom. You know what? People are taking off, I’m going to take off.

So, I went from being a volunteer guide to being a paid sea kayaking and hiking guide up in Washington.

Then, I relocated to Maui to work as a naturalist, snorkel guide and deckhand for the Pacific Whale Foundation for the winter and spring. While I was there, I met a young woman who was talking about a summer job she had just finished (with UnCruise).

I decided it was just what I was looking for and applied that winter. I missed the deadline for applications but completed a Skype interview while sitting on my bed in Maui. Afterward, I was told they would get in touch the next fall about a placement on the boats.

I didn’t think too much more about it until my next kayak summer season was over, and I took a trip with a friend to the Kenai peninsula (in Alaska). I was about to be unemployed for the winter and was looking forward to it, but also looking towards spring for a new job.

While we were there on the Kenai, it rained the whole 10 days, but we had a great time anyway, and I vowed to find a job in Alaska after that trip. Less than two weeks later, UnCruise contacted me to reapply for the coming spring. I did, they hired me, and I have now worked almost every itinerary. I have worked on five of the eight boats in the fleet, and have worked my way up from newbie guide to expedition leader.

UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White

Sarah leads many hiking excursions like this trek in the Palouse. * Photo: John Roberts


QuirkyCruise:  What would you be doing if you weren’t a guide?

Sarah Sinn-White: I’d probably be in more of a classroom setting.

I really enjoy teaching. I love giving presentations.

I love having that moment of seeing an epiphany of knowledge sweep across someone. I love taking someone out and showing them a bird that they didn’t think they would ever really care about or notice even.

(I must note here that Sarah gave a fantastic talk onboard our SS Legacy cruise about some of the world’s lesser-known birds.  The passengers loved it.)

In Alaska, I also love  taking people tide-pooling. Because everyone shows up in Alaska looking for the mega-fauna, the postcard animals. They want whales and they want bears. Then, I take them tide-pooling, and all of a sudden, we’re putting sea stars on our faces, and we’re flipping over rocks and looking for little naked slugs (nudibranchs). It’s amazing.

You end up with someone who is maybe working in an office situation or they’ve been living in the big city their whole life … this happened to me last season.

I had a woman who had been a stay-at-home mother in a big city. She hadn’t ever really been out in the wild. We were tide-pooling in this incredible place called the Keku Islands, and she walked so far out to find animals that she was up to her knees, and her boots were filled with water.

I said, “Aren’t your feet cold?”

She said “Yeah, they are. But I don’t care Sarah. Do you see this one? What’s this?”

Those are the moments I love. When I tell people at the beginning of the week that I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone, and everybody kind of rolls their eyes because I say a lot of ridiculous things. But it turns out to be true.

Tide pooling reveals some pretty amazing sea life when the tides is out. * Photo: UnCrusie Adventures


QuirkyCruise:  What will cruisers get out of the UnCruise experience?

Sarah Sinn-White: Memories!

I want you guys to go back and say that you had the best time ever and then start talking about things that you’ve learned and not even realize that you learned something. I want your UnCruise experience to be like an adult summer camp that you didn’t have to organize but also picking up a little bit of those knowledge tidbits along the way.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Adult summer camp anyone! * Photo: John Roberts


QuirkyCruise:  Can you share some funny tales of interactions with guests?

Sarah Sinn-White: I can recall a time when I was a sea kayak guide in the San Juan Islands in Northern Washington….

The San Juan Islands are a hot bed for racoons. I would take people out camping for up to a week at a time, and it was about the fourth night of this particular trip.

As a guide at that time, I didn’t even pitch a tent. I just slept on the picnic table. It allowed me to keep better track of our food bins and the kayaks because the racoons would shred (lifejackets) and rip apart stuff going after a granola bar wrapper.

I had these big bins that I would wedge under the picnic table and sleep on top of. I woke up in the middle of the night, and the racoons are pulling the bins out from underneath me. So, I jump up, and I’m chasing them around. It’s like a cartoon; we’re going around a tree.

UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White

Don’t judge a book by its bright pink silk pajamas. * Photo: The Silk Pyjama Company

It was a family of racoons, and they bolt up the tree, and they’re all looking down at me, hissing.

I was shaking my fist and everything, like “You pesky racoons!”

Then, I hear one of my guests. She says: “Ohmigosh! Sarah, what are you looking at?”

She’s got her flashlight on. I told her it was just racoons, no big deal. She was like “Racoons? I’ve never seen those before.”

In my mind, I was like “You’ve never seen these trash pandas before??”

All of a sudden, I switched modes. I stopped shaking my fist at them. Instead, let’s talk about racoons. What are their adaptations? Let’s talk about their creepy little tiny hands.

So, we’re talking about all of this, and it’s about 3 a.m. So, finally, it’s like “They’ve been scared away; let’s go back to bed.”

I turn and look at her, and we’re on this weeklong sea-kayaking/camping trip, and she’s wearing hot pink silk monogrammed pajamas.

It was so great. We both learned something that night.

She brought what she was happy sleeping in.

She had never seen racoons before, and I had never seen hot pink silk monogrammed pajamas in a campground.


QuirkyCruise:  What do you like to do in your off-season?

Sarah Sinn-White: I pretty much do everything I do on the boats, but without guests in tow.

We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t enjoy doing it, period. So, I’ve got my kayak that I’ve built in California and my paddleboard. I’ve got my Subaru parked in Seattle (UnCruise Adventures’ home base). I’ve got stuff kind of sprinkled up and down the West Coast, so that if I show up at a friend’s house, I can either show up with my bag or have a bag waiting for me.

So, I do a lot of hiking, a lot of kayaking and camping. And I’m really big on the traveling. I’m trying to do 35 countries by the time I’m 35. I’m 32, and I’ve done 32, so I’m on my way.

UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White

Sarah leads various kayaking excursions, like this one in the Palouse region of WA. * Photo: John Roberts

🐙 Editors’ Note 🐌

Interested in becoming an expedition guide? We asked UnCruise Adventures what they look for in their expedition guides. And they told us:  “Expedition guides must have a Wilderness First Responder certificate. Only crew with Captain’s licenses may drive skiffs, so some guides have those, but it is not required except on the Safari Quest and Safari Explorer. All must have guiding background, interpretive/public speaking background, and we prefer a BS as opposed to a BA, but equivalents in those degrees are acceptable. The vast majority of our guides have previous science/naturalist backgrounds, including Masters degrees in various science-related fields such as marine biology. Some have history backgrounds, which is equally valuable for our guest programming. It really comes down to the individual.”

 

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The dancers of French Polynesia are mesmerizing and so is the backdrop. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Small Ship Cruise Line Reviews by Destination

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. Go ahead, have a look around!

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

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Africa
(including Egypt)

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS (Coastal, Expeditions)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
St. Helena Line (Oceangoing)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silhouette Cruises (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Expeditions)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Alaska

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Alaska Marine Highway
(Coastal)
Alaskan Dream Cruises (Coastal, Expeditions)
American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
Atlas Ocean Tours (Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Marine Link Tours (Coastal)
Pacific Catalyst (Coastal)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expedition)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Antarctica
(including Falklands, South Georgia & Tierra del Fuego)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions)
Australis (Expeditions, Coastal)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions  (Expeditions, Rivers)
Oceanwide Expeditions (Expeditions, Sailing)
One Ocean Expeditions (Expeditions)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Polar Latitudes (Expeditions)   
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Poseidon Expeditions (Expeditions)
Quark Expeditions (Expeditions)
Seabourn Expeditions (Expeditions)
Silversea Expeditions (Expeditions)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Arctic Regions
(including Iceland & Greenland)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Oceanwide Expeditions (Expeditions, Sailing)
One Ocean Expeditions (Expeditions)   
Polar Latitudes (Expeditions)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Poseidon Expeditions (Expeditions)
Quark Expeditions (Expeditions)
Seabourn Expeditions (Expeditions)
Silversea Expeditions (Expeditions)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Asia: East Asia
(including China & Japan)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Cruises (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Victoria Cruises (Rivers)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Asia: South & Western
(including India, the Indian Ocean & the Middle East)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS (Coastal, Expeditions)
Crystal Yacht Cruises (Oceangoing, Expedition)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Pandaw River Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Silhouette Cruises (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Asia: Southeast Asia
(including the Mekong & Irrawaddy Rivers)

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
AmaWaterways (Rivers)
Aqua Expeditions (Rivers)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Coral Expeditions (Expeditions)
CroisiEurope (Rivers)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Pandaw River Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Scenic Cruises (Rivers)
Seatrek Sailing Adventure (Sailing)
Silolona Sojourns (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Atlantic Ocean
(including Azores & Canary Islands)

American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
Crystal Yacht Cruises (Oceangoing, Expedition)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Pearl Seas Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
St. Helena Line (Oceangoing)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
SeaDream Yacht Club (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)

Australia & New Zealand

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions, Coastal)
Coral Expeditions (Expeditions)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises  (Expeditions)
Murray River Cruises (Rivers)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Caribbean Islands
(including Cuba)

Abercrombie & Kent (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Island Windjammers (Sailing)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Pearl Seas Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
SeaDream Yacht Club (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Victory Cruise Lines (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Central America
(including Mexico, Belize, Sea of Cortez & Panama Canal)

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Europe
(including Rivers & Oceangoing)

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
AmaWaterways (Rivers)
Argyll Cruising (Coastal, Oceangoing)
A-Rosa (Rivers)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions, Coastal)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Barge Lady Cruises (Rivers, Canals)
CroisiEurope (Rivers)
Crystal River Cruises (Rivers)
Crystal Yacht Cruises (Oceangoing, Expedition)
Emerald Waterways (Rivers)
Gota Canal Steamship Company (Rivers)
Grand Circle Cruise Line (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Hebridean Island Cruises (Coastal)
Hebrides Cruises (Coastal)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
Le Boat (Rivers)
Lindblad Expeditions Expeditions, Rivers)
Magna Carta Steamship Company (Coastal, Rivers)
Majestic Line (Coastal)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Patricia Cruises (Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Puffer Steamboat Holidays (Coastal)
Riviera River Cruises (Rivers)
St. Hilda Sea Adventures (Coastal, Sailing)
Scenic Cruises (Rivers)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Trinity Sailing (Sailing)
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Viking River Cruises (Rivers)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Europe: Mediterranean
(including the Greek Isles & Croatia)

AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Sea Cloud Cruises (Sailing)
SeaDream Yacht Club (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Star Clippers (Sailing)
Swan Hellenic (Oceangoing, Rivers)
Tauck (Tour Operator)  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
Vantage Deluxe World Cruises (Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing)
Variety Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

North America
(including Alaska, US Rivers & Canada)

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Alaska Marine Highway
(Coastal)
Alaskan Dream Cruises (Expeditions)
American Cruise Lines (Coastal, Rivers)
American Queen Steamboat Company (Rivers)
Atlas Ocean Tours (Coastal)
Blount Small Ship Adventures (Coastal, Rivers)
French America Line (Rivers)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Croisières Jacques-Cartier (Rivers, Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Marine Link Tours (Coastal)
Ontario Waterway Cruises (Rivers)
Pearl Seas Cruises (Coastal, Rivers)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Rivers)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Victory Cruise Lines (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Zegrahm Expeditions (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

Pacific Ocean Islands
(including French Polynesia, Fiji & Hawaiian islands)

Blue Lagoon Cruises (Coastal)
Captain Cook Cruises (Coastal)
Coral Expeditions (Expeditions)
C.P.T.M. & the Arunai 5 (Oceangoing)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Haumana Cruises (Coastal)   New!
Paul Gauguin Cruises (Oceangoing)
Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II (Coastal, Oceangoing)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Windstar Cruises (Oceangoing, Sailing)

South America
(including Galapagos, Amazon & Tierra del Fuego)

Adventure Canada (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Coastal)
AdventureSmith Explorations (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers, Sailing, Coastal)
Aqua Expeditions (Rivers)
Aurora Expeditions (Expeditions, Coastal)
Australis (Expeditions, Coastal)
Avalon Waterways (Rivers)
Celebrity Cruises Xpedition (Expeditions)
Delfin Amazon Cruises (Rivers)
Ecoventura (Expedition, Coastal)
G Adventures (Expeditions, Rivers, Sailing)
GreenTracks (River, Expeditions)
Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Expeditions)
Hurtigruten (Coastal, Expeditions)
International Expeditions (Rivers, Expeditions, Coastal)
Lindblad Expeditions (Expeditions, Rivers)
Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) (Expeditions, Rivers, Oceangoing, Sailing, Coastal)
Ponant (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)
Silversea Expeditions (Oceangoing, Expeditions)
Tauck (Tour Operator) (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Rivers)
UnCruise Adventures (Coastal, Expeditions)
Zegrahm Expeditions  (Expeditions, Oceangoing, Sailing)

 

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© 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.

Barge Cruising in France

Barge Cruise Tips

By Ben & Jane Lyons.

Barge cruises are often not well understood. Don’t barges carry cargo?

Well, originally the flat-bottomed boats were used for carrying freight, typically on canals and rivers, either under their own power or towed by another.

Then back in the 1960s, when the need for commercial freight-carrying barges on the canals of Europe declined, many of the barges were converted into “hotel barges” for luxury passenger cruising — some posher than others. The Rest is History.

Today, a network of hotel barges operate on the canals and rivers of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, with the majority on French waterways.

The re-purposed barges focus on high-end food and wine, and leisurely visits to ports along the way, passing by pastoral and rustic countryside, with occasional industrial areas part of the mix.

Barge cruises are an intimate and pampered holiday — promising the ultimate in slow travel.

Barge Cruise Tips

The calm and serene waterways of a barge cruise. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Barge Lady Cruises 

One of the top brokers of Europe barges, Barge Lady Cruises curate barge cruises from a pool of about 50 luxury barges they represent (about half are individually-owned) that traverse 30 waterways across eight European countries.

After recently sampling a 6-night barge cruise on the Marne River aboard the 6-passenger Johanna in July (2018) through Barge Lady Cruises, Ben Lyons and his mother Jane share their barging cruise tips.

Barge Cruise Tips

The 1966-built Johanna. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Barge Cruise Tips & Basics

➢Barges carry between 2 and 22 passengers, with the vast majority in the 6- to 12-passenger range.

➢The smallest carry 2 to 6 passengers and are often in the Canal du Midi; one of the oldest and smallest of the canal systems.

➢Go with a small 4- or 6-passenger barge only if you’re traveling with friends or family, then the intimacy is ideal. (If you don’t know the other couples, the risk of friction with one possibly incompatible couple is real.)

➢If traveling as a couple only, it’s best to book a barge that carries at least 8-12 other passengers.

➢Most barge cruises are 6 nights long.

➢Larger barges may have amenities like hot tubs.

Barge Cruise Tips

Larger barges may have amenities like hot tubs. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

➢Barge cabins are cozy, compact and charming with en-suite bathrooms, plus toiletries, hair dryers and daily maid service.

➢An English-speaking crew includes a chef, hostess/host (manager), captain and tour guide. On smaller boats, two crew will wear several hats and handle everything, with a guide meeting passengers each day for the excursions; on larger boats there may be four to six crew.

➢Excellent food and wine — and presentation — at breakfast, lunch and dinner is a main focus on a barge cruise. The more crew members onboard, the more you can expect in terms of quality and variety. A dinner or two in a restaurant on shore is often part of the itinerary (and included in the fare) affording passengers some local flavors.

Barge Cruise Tips

Wining and dining are main focus of barge cruises. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

➢Because barge cruises are small and intimate, individual dining preferences can be easily accommodated.

➢On barges, everything is included, from wine to shore excursions — except for the substantial crew tip. Barge Lady Cruises recommend a tip of 5-10% of the cruise price per person.

➢Barges cover about 50 miles over the course of a week at the canal speed limit of 4 miles per hour.

➢The barging season in Europe is April through October.

➢Seasickness is simply not a concern on a barge. The rivers and canals are smooth as mirrors.

➢Barges carry bicycles on board for use in port; you can pedal along the tow path or further afield, it’s up to you.

Barge Cruise Tips

All barges carry along bicycles for guests’ use. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

➢The barge will always tie up for the night. Barges never sail during the evening hours.

➢Often, you will tie up in the center of a town and be able to walk directly into the town square. However, this isn’t always the case; due to logistics, sometimes barges tie up in industrial docks outside of town. This is a good question to ask before you settle on an itinerary.

➢Barge Lady Cruises categorizes their offerings into 4 groupings based on level of luxury and price — from 3 stars, starting at $4,000 per person to 6 stars, starting at $7,500 per person.

Read more about barge cruises 👉🏼👉🏼 Barge Cruise in France: A First-Timer’s Take & A Mother & Son French Barge Meander.

 

 

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Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

By Ted Scull.

For small ship cruising, it is not always fair winds and calm seas. Some parts of the world see more chop than others, and to be in the know before booking, here below are the regions that have a bit of a reputation.

Now let’s begin with the good news. Advance weather forecasts give ship captains ample warning to steer clear of a hurricane’s track by altering course. A diversion may result in skipping a port or two and substituting others, and while you might still feel the swell from the storm, it is unlikely that the ship’s movement will be more than a gentle rise and fall.

Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

Some major white water in the Atlantic, off Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Stabilizers help reduce side-to-side rolling, but not the up and down pitching motions into oncoming swells. The smaller the small ship, the less likely it will have the stabilizing fins. Large cruise ships’ massive blunt bows tend to slam into head seas, and to lessen the unpleasant sensation, the captain may drastically reduce his speed to lessen the impact.

The bodies of water below have the potential for the being the choppiest in world; in no particular order:

1)  Caribbean

The Caribbean’s hurricane season (roughly June to October) tops the list in terms of the number of passengers potentially affected because of the large number of ships cruising here. However, with so many alternative routes and ports of call, in most instances, ships can avoid the storm’s fury and still provide a satisfying cruise.

2)  North Atlantic

The North Atlantic is notorious for its storms at almost any time of the year, and the further north the track the more likely it is to encounter some rough seas along the multi-islands’ passage between the North of Scotland, Shetland/Orkney, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the Canadian maritime provinces and/or the U.S. East Coast. It is positive thinking to note that all islands have a lee side.

The ships that reposition seasonally via the Atlantic between the Mediterranean/Iberia and the Caribbean/Florida are much less likely to encounter storms. However, ships that sail between Northern European ports, Iberia and the Mediterranean pass through the Bay of Biscay. This body of water, west of France and north of Spain, has a long anecdotal history especially with Brits.

In my experience — 16 passages — only one (Santander to Portsmouth) was truly tempestuous and that was quite enough for everybody on board, including me who likes a bit of chop.

3)  Mediterranean

Speaking of the Mediterranean, the Mistral that roars down the Rhone Valley in France and then across the Western Med can stir up heavy seas in winter and spring as does the Meltemi in summer in the Greek Islands. I was aboard the ROYAL CLIPPER during a powerful Mistral and the sail-laden ship reached its maximum hull speed. It was exhilarating and more than a bit dramatic.

4)  Drake Passage

The dreaded Drake Passage between Ushuaia, Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula has a well-deserved reputation, and happily any storm that does occur rarely lasts more than 12 to 24 hours. If you are susceptible to mal de mer, be prepared to deal with any eventuality because the expedition is well worth it.

Longer itineraries that include the Falklands and South Georgia expand the chances for stormy weather.

Cowabunga dude!! That's some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cowabunga dude!! That’s some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

5)  Gulf of Alaska

The Inside Passage to and from Alaska may be well protected apart from a few short-open sea stretches, while ships traversing the Gulf of Alaska to Seward, on the other hand, may encounter North Pacific storms or swells from a more distant storm.

6)  Southeast & East Asia

Typhoons are an occasional worry in Southeast and East Asia from the South China Sea north to Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, but course alterations can minimize discomfort unless the ship must call at a disembarkation port, then arrivals may be delayed until the waters calm.

7)  Trans-Tasman Passage

The Trans-Tasman passage between Australia and New Zealand and the Bass Strait between Southeast Australia and the island of Tasmania can kick up a mighty storm, but few small ships venture into these southern waters.

8)  Point Judith

The only time I ever felt I might be seasick was standing at the bow of a small ship rounding Point Judith where Narragansett Bay meets Long Island Sound. The sea becomes confused here due to colliding waters, and by simply moving amidships, the unpleasant sensation eased.

Charles Darwin was seasick more than not during his three-year voyage on the Beagle, but back then there were few remedies, and today they are many. A truism is that everyone reacts differently, so there is no easy answer. Still, for the small percentage that do experience mal de mer, it is no picnic. Get professional advice before you go.

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UnCruise USC Kayaking

Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

By Ted Scull.

Alaska, America’s largest state, is 2.5 times the land area of Texas and 430 times the size of Rhode Island, and unlike all the other states, except Hawaii, its mass is not contiguous to the Lower 48. For many folks, it appears to be two different states — the huge central portion that is most obvious on a map and location for the major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks and Denali National Park, and the longish Alaskan Panhandle that juts southeast along the British Columbia coast. I

t is to the latter that most visitors go for the majestic sights of snowcapped mountains, deep fjords, the multiple moving tongues of ice in Glacier Bay, forests habitats to bears and moose, varied activities such as fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking, visiting native Alaskan communities and walking amongst those tall colorful totems, some recently carved to carry on the tradition.

The big cruise ships depart northbound for the Panhandle from Seattle or Vancouver or southbound to one of those two cities from Seward, a port just south of Anchorage. Many cruises are round trip from Seattle or Vancouver. Steaming time between the Panhandle and any of these three ports is two nights and one day each way. That necessarily limits the number of Alaskan port calls to three or four.

For the small ship fleet featured in QuirkyCruise, nearly all departures are from a prime Panhandle port, usually Juneau, the state’s capital, or Ketchikan. Both cities have direct flights from the Pacific Northwest. Being positioned in Alaska the week is spent entirely in the Panhandle making one of two port calls or landings a day.

These voyages are more expedition-style than the mainstream mega-cruise ships. Some small ships sail the Inside Passage to position themselves in the Panhandle for the summer, with a single voyage up in May and down in September, while most others spend the winter layup in Alaska.

Why Go? 

To experience America’s vast last frontier, a natural wonderland of fjords, mountains, forests, glaciers and wildlife.

The Panhandle’s prime cruising area is relatively small requiring just a few hours of sailing time each day to locate sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals basking on the rocks, watching black bears and moose come down to the water or spotting pods of whales and dolphins in Icy Strait. Getting close up views without putting them in danger is easy for highly maneuverable small ships.

While sailing along narrow fjords beneath steep cliffs you may spot a small herd of mountain goats high above you and ease close enough to waterfalls to feel the spray. At the far end of Misty Fjord come face to face with a calving glacier that gently rocks the ship as a block of ice drops into the sea.

When to Go?

The Alaska cruising season begins in May and tapers off in September. The earlier in the season the more snow that will be present on the lower mountain slopes, but the higher peaks are snow-capped year-round. Newborn wildlife will be clearly evident in the spring and early summer. Whales migrate north to Alaska in late winter and early spring, hence the May to September whale period coincides with the cruise season. There are fewer tourists early and late in the season and many more, including families, from mid-June to August.

The Alaska Panhandle has a maritime climate, which means more clouds and possible rain at any time, but little of the searing heat that visitors may face in Alaska’s interior. Mid-summer has the least amount of rain.

Cruising Alaska Itinerary Options

While most expedition cruises last a week, some are longer and others combine two different non-repeating itineraries to make two weeks. Coming all this way, think about adding a land package that takes in Denali National Park and the Alaska Railroad. The train operates between Anchorage, the state’s largest city, Denali and Fairbanks and is equipped with sightseeing dome cars. Denali, the tallest peak, at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) can be viewed on a clear day from a low base camp altitude that is 1,000 to 3,000 feet, making the mountain’s vertical rise one of the world’s highest. Caribou, moose, Dall Sheep, wolves, and maybe grizzly bears, may be seen in the valley below the park’s access road. Fairbanks is the gateway to sternwheel steamer trips, rafting and a visit to a native Alaskan community above the Arctic Circle and the wilds of the Brooks Range.

Small vs Very Small in Alaska

The ships that we cover may carry as few as a dozen passengers on up to a couple hundred. A group of friends or extended family groups may like chartering their own small yacht with lines like Alaskan Dream Cruises. Those traveling on their own, as singles or as one or two couples, may prefer a larger vessel with more people to meet and a wider variety of activities offered at any one time, yet still small enough to call at isolated ports without the big cruise ship infrastructure that serves thousands.

Alaska Small Ship Port Overview

Many of Alaska’s destinations are not the ports but the majestic fjords, landing at wooded islands for mountain hikes and glaciers, including Glacier Bay that combines several glaciers with abundant wildlife. What follows is a brief description of the main port towns, all but Juneau relatively small, but be warned that some many have more population from the big cruise ships on big boat days than local residents.

  • Ketchikan. Starting from the south end of the Alaskan Panhandle, Ketchikan may be one of the most crowded port call when several massive cruise ships are tied up, and what you see is mostly a shopping mecca. Some small ship operators use this port and for embarkation or disembarkations. While Ketchikan has a lot of mining history and is known as the salmon capital of the world, the most worthwhile sights are the Tlingit village of Saxman, displaying totem poles and the town’s cultural past and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, educating all ages life-like displays of rainforests, salmon streams, and native buildings.
  • Petersburg. A much smaller town, Petersburg has a Norwegian heritage that is kept alive with culinary, musical and dancing events with participants (often children) wearing traditional celebratory Nordic clothing. However, it is the fishing industry that is the lifeblood of the economy and the locals give small-group tours.
  • Juneau. Built up against a mountainside, the state’s relatively isolated capital with no road access to the outside world, offers a couple hundred miles of hiking trails, the large and receding Mendenhall Glacier just out of town, the Mt. Roberts Tram for spectacular views, several museums touting the state’s and immediate area’s cultural and gold-mining history, and plenty of shops to peruse. Juneau is often the start and/or end of the small ship cruises. If you’re hankering for a “flightseeing” floatplane excursion above the glaciers and mountains, Juneau is the place to do it because there’s a better chance of clear weather (they’re offered in Ketchikan too, but it rains a heck of a lot there).
Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tramway. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tram. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

  • Sitka. Its main claim to fame was serving as Russian America’s capital, and a thriving place Sitka was during that period. Then in 1867 the U.S. bought Alaska and the deal took place at Castle Hill, an historic site with remnants of fortifications and Baranof’s Castle was located. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church is the most impressive holdover and an active center for church services. The original 19th century structure burned in 1966, and then rebuilt in pretty much its original style. If open to the public is well worth visiting for its religious artifacts. Just outside town, Sitka National Historical Park displays a collection of totems set in an attractive 100-acre heavily-wooded forest and the Haida and Tlingit peoples’ cultural heritage is on display here.
  • Skagway. The most northerly of the Panhandle towns, tiny Skagway was once the only coastal point to access the land routes to the Klondike region of northwestern Canada’s Yukon Territory — on foot over the Chilkoot Pass and White Pass or via the White Pass and Yukon Route, a narrow-gauge railroad that stretched all the way to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. After gold was discovered in 1898 the railway line became the principal access route to the Klondike. The remaining portion of the line is Skagway’s main attraction for cruise passengers offering a highly scenic mountain and lake ride. The train also serves small groups of hikers. Architecturally, the town retains much of its gold rush atmosphere in spite of the hordes of milling tourists.

Alaska’s Fjords, Straits, Bays & Arms

Icy Strait. Located due west of Juneau and south of the entrance to Glacier Bay, the waterway teems with sea life because of its rich nutrients, orcas and humpback whales that come north in the spring to feed here, and coinciding with the start of the Alaska cruise season. Sport fishing is also a draw, and it is not uncommon to see bears and deer on the nearby shorelines. Small ships have the advantage of being much less of a danger to sea life, while their relaxed schedules permit extended dawdles to perhaps take a position in the very midst of a pod of whales.

Misty Fjord. Designated as a National Monument, a trip along the narrow passages bracketed by sheer cliffs that soar straight up two to three thousand feet, and though unseen, drop down to 1,000 feet below sea level. At the start of the season, the peaks will have a heavy overlay of snow that as it melts creates cascading waterfalls where a close approach can wash the decks. Located in extreme Southeast Alaska in the immense Tongass State Forest, the nearest port is Ketchikan off to the west.

A whale thrusts itself almost completely out of the water.

Tracy Arm.  Along with Endicott Arm, these two 30-mile-long fjords are located 45 miles south of Juneau in Tongass State Forest. Tracy Arm, the better known, is noted for the North and South Sawyer Glaciers that together cover nearly 20 per cent of the surface. In the summer, large and small chunks of ice break off and create a sea of floating ice that the small ships gingerly pass through to reach the face of the glacier and watch it calve. On shore, bears, wolves and harbor seals are often spotted, and if lucky, mountain goats may be staring down at you.

Glacier Bay.  The best known of all Alaska destinations is Glacier Bay, a vast national park with lots of wildlife, fjords and inlets, and no less that nine glaciers, both receding and advancing. The largest receding glacier is also the most famous, Margerie, where small ships stand off of to watch the calving ice collapse into the sea, while the Johns Hopkins Glacier is the longest advancing river of ice.

You can expect to see at least three-quarters of the most common wildlife — humpback whales that enter from Icy Strait, Steller sea lions. harbor seals, sea otters, harbor porpoise, brown and black bears, and if your National Parks guide spots them, mountain goats and moose. Look up to the west when approaching Margerie Glacier and spot the eternally snow-capped Mount Fairweather, at 15,300 feet, taller than any mountain in the Lower 48 states.

Alaska Small Ship Excursions

Generally, small ship Alaska cruises are more active, sporty and hands-on than their larger counterparts. Directly from a small ship, you board a Zodiac accompanied by a naturalist to look for wildlife at close range, or step ashore and take a hike in the temperate rain forest or form a fleet of a dozen kayaks to explore a nearby bay. Excursion options may also include bicycle and rafting tours.

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Small ships spending the afternoon in Glacier Bay, after the big ships leave, often cruise up to multiple tongues of ice, while bald eagles, oyster catchers and blue heron soar above and wildlife comes down to the shore. National Park guides come aboard to supplement the ship’s own naturalist staff.

Flight excursions are super memorable if the weather cooperates. * Photo: Arun Sarna

The small ship fleet may call at towns and villages where big cruise ships cannot to see first-hand what remote native Alaskan island life is like or to experience Norwegian cultural traditions at Petersburg, a charming town where the fishing industry is still paramount and highly lucrative. Fishing trips can be arranged here and at other Panhandle towns.

Your small ship may call at ports where the big ships dock too — such as Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway — though organized activities are kept as separate as they can from the milling hoards.

Ted’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

Sailing into a fjord, one never knows what lies around the corner, and then you see a slim waterfall or maybe two, one cascading down the cliff face and the other in free fall, a glacier at the far end and another narrow passage forking off from the main channel.

The most serene times of day are early morning and at sunset when the ship is at anchor, and the solitude of the Alaskan wilderness can settle in around you. If I am in a kayak, I like resting the oars and taking in the stillness, sights and sounds of nature — a family of ducks serenely gliding along, dolphins cruising by, and startled fish erupting skyward. On clear evenings, stand at the ship’s railing and watch the moon above reflected in the calm waters below. At times like these you don’t want your expedition voyage to end.

Heidi’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

My first small ship cruises more than 20 years ago were to Alaska and they got me hooked. One I took with my father, and I still remember the serenity of walking through Sitka’s National Park, dwarfed by the cedar trees and totem poles, and smitten with the cool fresh air and simple but profound beauty of the pristine forest. Another day in Petersburg, we went on a fishing excursion with just four other passengers, on a trawler operated by an endearing couple who looked like Mr. and Mrs. Clause. They helped us catch crabs and then cooked them up for us right on board to eat in the tiny galley with melted butter and plastic cups of white wine. It may have been dreary and drizzly outside, but we were warm and happy clams that afternoon. Still one of my favorite cruise memories of all time.

Small Ship Lines That Serve Alaska

Abercrombie & Kent
Alaska Dream Cruises
Alaska Marine Highway (regular ferry routes on ships with cabin accommodations)
American Cruise Lines
Lindblad Expeditions
Silversea Expeditions
UnCruise Adventures

These lines range from operating a single ship to a small fleet, with the latter naturally offering many different itineraries and the possibility of returning for a second expedition cruise in another area and with a different thrust.

Read More About Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

Alaskan Dream Cruises Adventure by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Alaska Cruise Adventures with UnCruise by Judi Cohen

Finding My Route to Alaska by Car, Ferry, Trains & Small Ship

Small Ships vs Big Ships in Alaska

Definitely an UnCruise Adventure: Safari Endeavour to Alaska is a Wonderful Small Ship Cruise 

 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

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quirky-cruise-fall-foliage-small-ship-cruises-fall-foilage

By Ted Scull.

In the northern U.S. and the Canadian-American St. Lawrence River Valley, deciduous trees turn from the mostly green of summer to a dazzling display of yellow, orange, burgundy, scarlet and purple. And fall foliage small ship cruises are an ideal way to get a front row seat for the show.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Hudson River Valley at Bear Mountain Bridge

For someone who has lived in the Northeast most of his life, I always look forward to following the daily New York Times reports as October approaches to see how the changing colors are progressing south in my direction. While the mostly “gray” Times uses shades between black and white to show the march, there are websites (see below) using color coding that are prettier, but don’t tell shifting color any more accurately.

If the third week of October 2017 was any indication, the St. Lawrence Valley was near to or at the peak height of color, while downriver (northeast on the map) and the higher altitudes in New York State’s Adirondacks and Catskill are past their peak. The Hudson Valley is still in the first and second stages while New York City, 150 miles south of Albany, is still unaware of what’s happening to the north, a typically provincial attitude. This last year our peak was and usually is the first week of November.

Different trees exhibit different colors: red maples turn greenish-yellow, vibrant scarlet or burgundy; sugar maples yellow, orange and red; white ash to yellow, burgundy and purple; and American sycamore yellow and orange.

The cruise lines position their ships where they think the best shows will take place, and it is hit and miss sometimes, especially if the itineraries are east-west rather than north-south where some portion of the voyage will meet the colors at their best.

 

Blount Small Ship Cruises

Blount Small Ship Cruises operates the most north-south voyages of our QuirkyCruise.com lines with three fall embarkations in New York for Montreal or just the reverse if embarking first in the Canadian port aboard either the 84-passenger Grande Caribe or Grande Mariner. This complex route uses the St. Lawrence River and Seaway, Lake Ontario, Oswego and Erie canals and the Hudson River. Viewing is from the spacious top deck, and the pilot house is lowered to slide under low bridges along the Erie Canal.

 

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

A Blount ship passing the Montreal skyline.

Why choose this line? For Blount’s complex routes and innovative ship design that allows them to navigate waterways other ships can’t.

Read more about Blount here.

 

Victory Cruises Lines

Victory Cruises Lines sends two 202-passenger ships, Victory I and the brand-new Victory II, west to east and north-south with three cruises in October. The October 3rd departure operates from Boston to Halifax and on the 10th heads back to Boston (both 7 nights). A third 10-night cruise leaves Toronto on October 16 for Portland, Maine. Acadia National Park, during a call at Bar Harbor, ME is one of the top locations to see the colors from the water and from atop Cadillac Mountain.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines – Victory I

Why choose this line?  For the comfort and amenities of a larger small ship.

Read more about Victory Cruise Lines here. 

 

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines’ 66-passenger Canadian Empress cruises more or less northeast and southwest on a 7-night October 15-22 trip embarking in Kingston for the scenic and wooded 1000 Islands, St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal and return. Passengers have almost the entire top deck to view the spectacle.

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Canadian Empress * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

Why choose this line? For the open and spacious top deck.

Read more about St. Lawrence Cruise Lines here. 

 

Croisieres Jacques Cartier

Croisieres Jacques Cartier, a new Quebecois line, operates mostly the same St. Lawrence route from Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City with continuous 7-night cruises into October aboard the 68-passenger Jacques Cartier. The last departure of the season cruises the Saguenay Fjord for its wonderful fall colors and majestic scenery.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

A Canadian view in the Province of Quebec

Why choose this line? For a French-flavored onboard vibe.

Read more about Croisieres Jacques Cartier here.

 

American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines provides by far the most fall foliage cruises with no less than three ships based in New York for Hudson River autumn runs along the stunning, and in some sections, deeply wooded valley anchored by stately mansions and lovely scenes celebrated in the Hudson River School of American painting.  The American Star (100 passengers), American Constitution (175 pax) and Independence (100 pax) all operate three cruises each on October 6, 13 and 20th.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Thomas Cole, Hudson River School of Painting. Brooklyn Museum

ACL also bases two of its Mississippi riverboats — America (185 pax) and Queen of the Mississippi (149 pax) — on Upper Mississippi cruises in the fall. One operates from St. Paul and sails down river and the other upriver from St. Louis. The best stretch in the autumn is Wabasha, MN to Winona, WI.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

The woods bordering the Upper Mississippi.

In the Pacific Northwest, ACL sends the American Spirit (100 pax) on 7-nights round trips from Seattle into the island-studded Puget Sound on October 5, 12, 19 and 26.

While the colorful landscapes may be the initial draw, there is so much else to enjoy on these cruises — historic towns; stately mansions, some with notable gardens; and winding foot paths to lookouts above the rivers — all shared by a small continent of fellow passengers.

Why choose this line? They offer the most variety of itineraries.

Read more about ACL here.

 

More resources

Published by New York State, this fall foliage report lists the best places to see the colors, and has a useful tree leaf color guide.

For the Province of Quebec and the St. Lawrence River Valley, the Official tourist site of the Government of Québec is full of useful info.

Scenic Pathways is packed with tips about the Upper Mississippi, for the stretch between Wabasha and Winona, Minnesota.

The official tourism site for the state of Washington offers great info for visitors to Puget Sound and the Columbia River — technically geared to drivers, the info also applies to small-ship cruises in the same regions. The lines that cruise the Columbia River do not specifically call attention to the fall colors, but in case you are interested they are American Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions and UnCruise Adventures.

 

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quirky-cruise-galapagos-small-ship-cruise-tips-from-adventuresmith-explorations-red-footed-booby-bird

By Anne Kalosh.

California-based AdventureSmith Explorations is run by owner Todd Smith, who’s among the prestigious ranks of Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialists as a leading expert on small-ship expeditions. He also serves on the board of the International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA).

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Todd Smith, AdventureSmith Explorations Founder & President

Growing each year in popularity, the Galápagos Islands are a highly sought-after vacation destination. They’re also among the world’s most fragile ecosystems.

The appeal of this archipelago off Ecuador’s coast can be likened to the goose that laid the golden egg. Becoming too popular, Smith said, means risking uncontrolled growth for this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“This could lead to eroding the very ecosystems that support the bird life, flora and fauna that people travel [there] to experience,” he warned.

Smith seeks to position his company and clients to be part of the solution, keeping the region’s best ecological interests in mind and not adding to the problem of overtourism.

“We want to help make a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Galápagos the best trip possible when it comes to fulfilling travel dreams and to securing the future health of the islands,” he said.

Here are 6 tips by AdventureSmith Explorations on how to do the Galápagos right:

  1. Go by small ship (12 to 100 passengers).

Small ships enable visitors to witness wildlife in their unchallenged island environments. Covering more than 3,000 square miles with 13 major islands, the Galápagos archipelago is larger than most people realize, and many visitor sites are accessible only by water. Sleeping aboard a ship each night allows a broader range of exploration since you don’t have to travel back to a land-based accommodation each evening following day trips by boat.

IGTOA reports that 100 percent of the growth in Galápagos tourism in the last decade came from land-based tourism at a time when ship-based tourism declined.

“Ship-based travel in the Galapagos is highly regulated to maximize guest experience and minimize impact on the islands,” Smith noted. Land tourism is currently less regulated, and it is a goal of IGTOA, UNESCO and other conservation groups to approach on-island growth as carefully as ship-based tourism.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven-Olof Lindblad

  1. Stay as long as you can.

By allowing yourself more time in the archipelago you are going to encounter the most wildlife possible and see a wider range of islands. Allotting more time to understand the subtle ecological differences among the islands enhances the experience and assists conservation with fewer airline flights in and out. Air traffic along with increased cargo shipments are two of the concerns identified by UNESCO in its 2016 State of Conservation Report on the Galapágos Islands, as these are primary ways new invasive species arrive.

Longer stays also help support the local community with more opportunities for meaningful interaction.  Smith recommends at least a seven-night/eight-day cruise.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

A famous Galapagos tortoises. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Make conservation a priority.

In advance of a Galápagos trip, Smith encourages people to learn about conservation organizations and community needs and to donate time or money to them.

AdventureSmith Explorations supports conservation partners and offers a convenient way for its travelers to donate to the Galápagos Traveler Conservation Fund on their booking invoices. Plus, every AdventureSmith traveler in the Galápagos is sailing carbon neutral; the company launched a carbon-free cruising campaign in 2005 and pays to offset each passenger’s cruise carbon footprint via MyClimate.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Expert guides teach visitors to respect the fragile eco-system. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Plan ahead, do it right once.

Travel to a place as fragile as the Galápagos should ideally be done once, so make the selection process fun for this once-in- a-lifetime trip.

“Shop for the best experience and seek advice from an expert who has traveled to the Galápagos Islands,” Smith advised. Booking early provides more date and ship choices, plus special offers like early-bird discounts.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Spotting dolphins on a zodiac excursion, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Snorkel!

“If you don’t get in the water, you are missing half of the wildlife in the Galápagos,” Smith said. “There is no shortage of colorful fish, but encounters with charismatic megafauna (playful sea lions, sharks, rays, turtles), prehistoric-looking marine iguanas and the only penguin that lives north of the equator are what really sets Galápagos snorkeling apart.”

Snorkeling options range from deep-water to beginner-friendly shoreline snorkels.

Those who don’t wish to snorkel can opt for a ship that carries a glass-bottom boat.

“Interacting with the Galápagos wildlife and seeing them in such close proximity fosters a conservation mind as you bond with the fearless animals,” Smith added.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Definitely snorkel for up-close encounters with beautiful creatures like this sea lion pup. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Remember you’re in South America.

Don’t rush the journey and miss out on exploring a bit of what else Ecuador or other nearby regions, like the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Peru, have to offer. Smith cautioned against trying to combine the Galápagos and Peru in just one week, thereby shortchanging two of the world’s most spectacular destinations.

“Machu Picchu is our most popular extension,” Smith pointed out. “Our team offers an array of ways to experience this world-renowned Incan site, from lodge-to-lodge treks to boutique lodges in the Sacred Valley. In Ecuador, our crew can recommend unique lodges in the cloud forest, complementary small ship cruises down the Amazon River or haciendas in the highlands to horseback ride and seek out the Andean condor.”

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Machu Picchu, WOW. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

Even if pressed for time, you have to include a stopover. To access the Galápagos Islands some 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador, you must fly.

“As there are no direct international flights to the archipelago, you must route through either Quito in the Andean foothills or Guayaquil along the coast,” Smith said. AdventureSmith’s Galápagos Cruise Package takes care of the essentials of getting to the islands and lets travelers explore these gateways efficiently with a knowledgeable guide.

For more info, go to www.adventuresmithexplorations.com.

Click here for a gander at QuirkyCruise.com’s excellent Galapagos Islands small-ship cruise overview.

 

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Pups and kids are a great combo. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

 

© 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.

cruise traveller

QuirkyCruise’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Craig Bowen, managing director of Cruise Traveller, an Australia-based travel agency specializing exclusively in the small-ship niche. Craig shares why he’s so passionate about the boutique cruise world.

 

Cruise Traveller

 

We’re happy to announce Cruise Traveller is providing QuirkyCruise readers
with a selection of curated small-ship cruise deals every month. QC’s deals columns
usually run on Fridays, so make sure you stop by!

 

QC: When and why was Cruise Traveller founded?

Craig Bowen: Cruise Traveller was founded in 2003. I previously had a luxury travel company called Connoisseur Tours. Our clients were asking for more cruise product. At the same time a good friend from New Zealand was contemplating expanding to Australia, so over a beer we agreed on a joint venture. It was a slow start, but today we are Australia’s most experienced small-ship cruise agency.

 

QC: How did you get involved in the small-ship scene?
Cruise Traveller

Craig Bowen, managing director of Cruise Traveller

Craig Bowen: My first luxury cruise experience was Silver Wind in 1999. This set the scene for small ships in our life and business. My wife and I have a passion for nature-based travel and small ships create the best possible and sometimes the only platform to experience wildlife. Antarctica in 2004 was the game changer and I made the decision to totally specialise in small ships moving forward, and we have never strayed from that objective.

 

QC: Does Cruise Traveller have a specialty within the small-ship niche?

Craig Bowen: Small ships tend to be linked with their own speciality. It might be nature-based in the Antarctic, Arctic, Amazon or many other wonderful destinations, or maybe history-based in the Mediterranean. Whichever it is, the ship is the conduit to bringing the destination alive. These specialised products attract the like-minded travellers who further add to the experience. For these and many more reasons we only sell small ships.

 

QC: Do you have a favorite small-ship line or region?

Craig Bowen: We represent nearly 50 wonderful and diverse small-ship products from all around the world here in Australia. It is seriously hard to single out one or two. However by region — Antarctica, the Canadian Arctic and the Kimberley in North Western Australia are my remote and amazing favourites.

 

QC: What is the small-ship market like in Australia?

Craig Bowen: We had to fight hard for this incredible sector of the cruise industry to be recognised in our early years. The last five years has seen amazing growth both from new cruise guests and most importantly from large-ship travellers keen to see what they are missing. Our business has grown tenfold from 2004 to 2017.

 

QC: What are your strengths compared to other travel agencies in Australia?

Craig Bowen: We are accredited with CLIA, AFTA and ATAS and have very strong relationships within the industry. Our real strength is the experience of our team. As a company we invest a significant amount every year for our team members to travel to remote and exotic parts of the world to experience first-hand the amazing products we sell so that our guests are getting an expert opinion 100% of the time.

I often say we don’t know a lot about the 90% of the industry that we don’t sell, however we know absolutely everything about the sector that we do specialise in.

 

© 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.