Elise Lentz's packing tips

Packing Tips: Some like it Hard

By Elise Lentz.

Hard-sided luggage that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my title…

Some Like it Hard
Packing Tips include hard luggage

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

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

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


Elise Lentz's packing tips

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

The Olive Oil Incident

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

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

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

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

The Venice Canal Drenching

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

Venice packing tips

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Wine Tasting

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

cruise backing tips

Be careful of the red wine!

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

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

What’s Your Luggage Horror Story?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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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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five types of small ship cruises

To help you browse, search, dream and plan your next small-ship cruise, QuirkyCruise covers five different types of small ship cruises that ply the waterways of the world carrying fewer than 300 passengers — coastal, expedition, oceangoing, river and sailing ships.


To see our full list of small ship cruise lines, click here.

Coastal Ships

Coastal small ship cruises

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

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




Expedition Ships

Expedition small ship cruises

The Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

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





Oceangoing Ships

Star Pride. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

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








River Vessels

River going small ship cruises

The River Empress * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Easy to identify, they offer a hugely popular means to get into the interior of a country or continent. As a matter of course, river boats may also ply canals and cross bays and lakes to cover many hundreds of island water miles. Europe, Asia, and North America offer the most diverse opportunities for river cruising, while South America brings to mind the Amazon and its numerous tributaries, and Africa the Nile but not much else of any great popularity.





Sailing Ships

Sailing small ship cruises

Sagitta * Photo: Island Windjammers

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









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Haumana Cruises

Tips for Booking Small Ship Cruises

By Heidi Sarna.

Small ship cruises are often bound for wonderfully far-flung places that involve complex flights and connections, hotel stays before or after the cruise, and things to figure out like tourist visas, possible inoculations, travel insurance, and what to pack. So definitely count on more planning going into the booking process than for your standard cruise or a trip to a Caribbean resort. But trust us, the extra effort is more than likely to be worth it.

“Small ships provide an ideal means for passengers to engage with the destination that is just not possible aboard a conventional cruise ship — better location in port, more personal service from ship’s staff and while ashore, and more educational opportunities,” says Steve Wellmeier of Poseidon Expeditions.

Like any trip, to book a small-ship cruise you can either use a travel agent to help you or you can book directly with the cruise line.

Either way, before you embark on a small-ship cruise, these 13 tips will help you navigate the options and plan what may easily be the trip of a lifetime.

1. First, figure out if a small-ship cruise is your cup of tea.

If you don’t like crowds, waiting in line or dressing for dinner, and seek memorable experiences way more than material things, then you’re small-ship material. If you love mingling with passengers from all over the world, learning about the destination through lecturers and local guides, prefer local folkloric performances to Vegas-style shows, and getting your feet wet and your hands dirty more than generic luxury, then a quirky small-ship cruise is clearly for you.

“Small ships get to places the others can’t reach and so it’s often more about the destination than the vessel, the entertainment or the number of restaurants,” says Powell Ettinger, director of The Small Cruise Ship Collection.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

2. Take some time to do your own market survey.

It would behoove you to do a bit of homework first, to see the full range of choices out there. is the prefect place to start your research. We have reviews of 53 small-ship cruise lines, with more in the works, that you can cross reference by the region you’d like to visit or by one of five types of small-ship cruises — oceangoing, rivers, coastal, sailing and expedition. It’s also always a good idea to ask friends and family if they’ve taken a small-ship cruise and what they thought of it.

3. Book directly with the cruise line IF you enjoy the details of trip planning.

Some small-ship cruise line websites allow you to book directly on their site, so if you’re the type who likes to book your own travel and is comfortable choosing a cabin, arranging airfare, deciding yay or nay on travel insurance, booking hotels stays and possibly arranging land tours before or after your cruises, then go for it.

“We have a very easy-to-use booking engine on for both travel agents and the public,” says Sven Zika of Pandaw Cruises, adding that consumers who book direct on their website must make payment immediately, while travel agents can hold a cabin for two weeks without a deposit.

Many small-ship cruise line websites, however, are not equipped to process direct bookings, so in that case, browse their site to learn about their offerings then call or email them directly to get your questions answered.

“We offer an upscale niche product and the personal contact by phone to share details and specific information is very important,” says Julia Elba of Sea Cloud Cruises.

Booking a small-ship cruise is often a very personal transaction, parallel to the experience itself.

“When they call us, customers can ask questions and have them answered immediately,” says Joy Ackert of Ontario Waterway Cruises. “We are a family business so that first contact is the beginning of making our customers feel like they are going to be coming to visit with friends or family. It creates a very welcoming atmosphere prior to boarding.”

4. Contact a travel agent IF you’d like some hand-holding.

If you have a beloved agent that has helped you or a friend with trip planning before, they’re a great place to start. A good travel agent (and they’re not all good) will know the many options out there and work to match the best small-ship cruise for your personal needs and desires. A good travel agent can help you plan and book airfare, hotels and land-based touring to complement your cruise before it starts or after it’s over. One specializing in small-ship cruises is even better, such as the Small Cruise Ship Collection.

The pros and cons of using a travel agent:

Pros: Someone is guiding you throughout the process, advising and reminding you about things like visas and airfare. Agents may have a special relationship with the lines and may know which cabins are the quietest on a given ship or which itinerary has the best ports. A good travel agent is indispensable. “Even if a line doesn’t pay commissions, a good travel specialist responding to a client request who believes a particular small cruise line is right for that client and destination and budget would simply add their commission to the final price or charge a service fee in some way,” says Mary Kleen, a regional director for Worldview Travel.

Cons: If cruise line X doesn’t pay commissions to travel agents (maybe because they’re too small to justify the cost or have a large in-house sales force, such as Grand Circle Travel), your travel agent may not recommend X to you and only suggest lines that pay them commissions — makes sense for the agents, but you could miss out some great alternatives (see #2, do your homework).

5. For a package deal, book a small-ship cruise through a third-party.

Tour operators put the pieces of the travel package together and sell it, while wholesale travel sellers just sell the packages — for example, a Mekong river cruise bundled with airfare and hotel stays.

Poseidon’s Steve Wellmeier says that because of the more complex reservations required for small-ship cruises, for example to the Polar Regions when travelers naturally have a lot of questions, Poseidon relies on specialty tour operators and wholesalers to help sell their trips including Polar Cruises, and

6. Expect to pay more for a small-ship cruise than a standard big-ship cruise.

Most of the time (not all), a small-ship cruise carrying just a few dozen or a few hundred passengers will cost more than a mass-market mega ship carrying thousands of passengers. The small ship lines can’t take advantage of the same level of bulk discounts in procuring supplies, excursions, crew and various port fees.

“Small ships are a terrific antidote to the big ship experience: more and more clients find that they truly love the smaller vessels.  They are amazed by the more personalized service, getting to know many of their fellow passengers much more easily, and having the advantage of far more interesting itineraries where out of the way ports are featured.  From a travel agent’s point of view, it’s generally an easier sell for those reasons, but small-ship cruises are typically a higher-priced ticket as these vessels don’t have the economies of scale of the large ships,” says agent Mary Kleen.

7. In many cases, the price you pay for a small-ship cruise will be the same whether you go through a travel agency or book direct with the cruise line.

Many small-ship cruise lines covered on, especially the very smallest ones, will endeavor to offer everyone the same rates and discounts, no matter how you book their cruises.

Whether “rack rates or reduced online rates, it’s the same price for agents and public,” says Pandaw’s Zika.

8. Exception to above: The big European river lines often DO discount and sometimes exclusively to travel agents.

They have huge fleets, so they can offer volume discounts to travel agents who book a lot of their cruises.

Uniworld’s Arnelle Kendall says, “Our travel agency partners often have exclusive offers that we’ve negotiated with them that we aren’t able to offer customers that contact Uniworld direct, such as discounts on select sailings, shipboard credits, and special excursions, so customers do receive the best offer when going through a travel agency.”

9. Booking way in advance — a year or more — is a good idea in certain cases.

Unlike big ships with thousands of cabins, small ships have far fewer cabins to fill up, so with regions that have a short cruising season — Antarctica is just four months long, for example — it’s a good idea to book a year or more ahead if you really have your heart set on going on a specific date. Additionally, airfares can get booked up and may be more expensive if you wait until the last minute.

“If cabin choice is a priority, it is advised to book far in advance. Our upper-tier cabins are the first to book,” says Abercrombie & Kent’s Jean Fawcett.

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud's opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud’s opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

10. Book last minute — a few months or few weeks before — IF you’re flexible … 

Booking last minute works if you’re flexible with where and when you go, the cabin category and the cost of airfare. There often are last-minute deals especially during the off-season if ships haven’t filled up. For example, European river cruises are often eager for passengers early or late in the season, and often Mekong River cruise rates tend to go down in March and April when the river levels are low and it’s very hot.

11. It can’t hurt if a cruise line is a member of a reputable trade group.

Some of the top travel industry trade organizations that small-ship cruise lines might belong to include The International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, Virtuoso (global network of travel agents, cruise lines and other suppliers connected to the luxury end of the travel industry), and CLIA (Cruise Line International Association, a global cruise industry trade organization).



12. Nose around Trip Advisor and other ombudsman-like sites.

It’s not a good sign if the cruise line, tour operator or travel agent you’re dealing with has been consistently trashed on Trip Advisor or if multiple complaints have been filed with organizations like the Better Business Bureau.

13. Run for the hills if you see red flags.

Charlie Funk, co-owner of the travel agency Just Cruisin’ Plus for the past 35 years, says don’t do business with any small-ship cruise line that doesn’t accept credit cards and that requires full payment at the time of booking even if the cruise is a year or more away. In his experience, Funk says these two factors are early warning signs of cash flow issues, financial instability and impending bankruptcy. He cautions against patronizing a cruise line that imposes punitive cancellation penalties on the deposit rather than after final payment; processes credit cards on foreign banks and charges those foreign processing fees to the client; and fails to address complaints or problems in a timely manner.

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Thailand cruise

by Heidi Sarna.

In April, I took a 7-night Star Clippers Thailand cruise round-trip from Phuket aboard the 170-passenger tall ship Star Clipper. We tootled around the gorgeous rocky islands of the Andaman Sea in search of beaches and snorkeling sites. It was my fifth Star Clippers cruise — and it won’t be my last.

Here are 10 great reasons to take a Star Clippers cruise in Thailand. And here’s Heidi’s full feature article!

The Rocks.

The peaks of craggy ancient mountains poke out of the Andaman Sea like clusters of wild mushrooms, the result of tectonic activity eons ago. Scenic and very photographable, cruising among them on a tall ship is wonderous.

Thailand cruise

The rocky islands and formations of the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Beaches.

Beach bums will love this itinerary. The region’s islands, most of which are part of Thai national parks, are rimmed with arcs of white sand framed by picturesque rock formations and shaded by lush tropical foliage.

Thailand cruise

A gorgeous beach on Koh Surin. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


The Sunsets.

There’s just something about watching the sun set through the rigging of a sailing ship. Just about every night on this itinerary, a moody orange sunset slowly melted into the horizon to the delight of passengers gathered up on deck to watch the show.

Thailand cruise

Stunning sunsets are a daily affair in the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Ship.

The four-masted Star Clipper, like her two fleetmates, was built in the image of a 19th-century clipper, the fast kind that used to race across the ocean by sail power alone to transport tea and opium between China, India and England.  The Star Clipper is a beauty from stem to stern, and her sails, rigging and teak are constant reminders you’re on a classic tall ship.

thailand cruise

Star Clipper in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Snorkeling & Diving.

We snorkelled around shallow reefs and saw giant clams with purple lips, black spiny sea urchins and huge brain corals. Schools of fish, some cheeky enough to swim within inches of my mask, provided a constant stream of marine TV with their neon stripes and spots. All guests are issued free snorkeling equipment and a dive master is on board to take divers on optional excursions daily, to reefs further afield and around submerged black volcanic lava.

Thailand cruise

Snorkeling off the side of a tender near Koh Surin. * Photo: Sheila Healey

The Watersports.

The Star Clipper carries along paddle boards, kayaks, windsurfers and sail boats, and offers them for use right off the side of the ship when anchored in the right conditions and also sets up the equipment on the beach.

Thailand cruise

Paddleboarding is offered on every beach. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Massages.

Marietta the masseuse was excellent; she had just the right firm touch, working out the knots and kinks in a very relaxing and soothing way. The jury-rigged massage cabana is up on a sequestered section of deck near the dive tanks and tender boats.

The humble cabana where excellent massages were performed. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Other Passengers.

Star Clippers attracts an international mix of folks from mostly Europe, the UK and North America who appreciate traditional sailing, offbeat itineraries and good old-fashioned socializing.

Thailand cruise

On route to the next great beach! * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Thailand is a cool, historic, quirky place, there’s no two ways about it. Many passengers spend a few days in Phuket, nearby Krabi, and/or Bangkok, before or after the cruise, to enjoy the country’s delectable cuisine, famous friendly hospitality, and stunning gilded temples.

Thailand cruise

Bangkok’s gilded temples and stupas. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Ok, maybe this one’s cheating, but I love the fact that this cruise could happen after just a short 1.5-hour flight to Phuket from Singapore where I live! From North America, on the other hand, it’s a full-day’s schlep to get to Thailand, but it’s worth it, trust me.

Through 2019, Star Clipper is doing weeklong Andaman Sea cruises between October and April starting at $1,360 per person and spending the other half of the year cruising in the Indonesia archipelago round-trip from Bali.

And here’s Heidi’s full feature article!

Visit Star Clippers for booking info.

Star Clippers Thailand

A Star Clippers cruise in Thailand is one photo op after another. * Photo: Mark Brompton

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November Europe River Cruise

Below we share a recent AMA Waterways blog post from Kristin Karst, executive vice president & co-owner of AmaWaterways.

Six Great Reasons to Take a Mid-November Europe River Cruise

by Kristin Karst.

November Europe RIver Cruise

I frequently get asked, “When is your favorite time to take a river cruise?”

This question is often difficult to answer as each season in Europe offers different scenery and wonderful events to discover. One time of the year that doesn’t get highlighted as much as it should is mid-to-late November.

So here are Six Great Reasons to Take a River Cruise in Mid-November:

1. Cost Savings:
Airfare can be 30% cheaper than in September and October and sometimes half the cost of a peak Christmas time flight.

2. Less Crowded – More Time to Relax: Towns and villages are more relaxed and guests become privy to the every-day life of the locals that make these locations so captivating.

3. Plentiful Wine Talk and Tastings: The wine harvest is usually completed and wine producers have more time to talk about — and taste — their wonderful regional wines.

AMA Waterways

4. Leisurely Christmas Shopping: The Christmas Markets in Europe start opening around mid-November offering early Christmas shopping without the crowds.

5. Stress-free Family Time: No worries about who is cooking the Thanksgiving turkey or organizing activities to keep every member of the family happy. We love to surprise our guests with colorful, seasonal decorations and special holiday menu items that create a cozy and festive feeling onboard all our ships at this time of year.

6. Great for Your Health: The fresh cool air is perfect for invigorating walks or leisurely bike rides along country paths.

November Europe River Cruise

AMA Waterways

Now that I have shared my “Six Great Reasons,” here are four special Wine Cruises that offer all of that …not to mention a special $750 per person cruise savings.

November 15-22nd The Romantic Danube from Vilshofen to Budapest (AmaStella): hosted by Anna Marie Dos Remedios, Co-Owner and Winemaker, Idle Hour Winery, Oakhurst CA. Special itinerary highlight — Vienna Christmas Markets visit.

November 16-23rd The Taste of Bordeaux (AmaDolce): hosted by Preston Mohr, a wine expert and wine educator, based in Paris, France, and founder of “Paris By The Glass” that offers wine tastings, gourmet walking tours, classes and vineyard day trips in France and beyond. Special itinerary highlight – Bordeaux was named “Top City in the World to Visit in 2017” by Lonely Planet and the Los Angeles Times — I can’t think of a better reason!

November 18-25th The Enchanting Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel (AmaSonata): hosted by Mike and Marti Andrews, Owners, Coyote Canyon Winery, Prosser, WA. Their vineyard grows more than 26 varieties and has received more than 200 gold medals since its founding. Special itinerary highlight — Thanksgiving dinner on board and a visit to the Christmas Markets in picturesque Riquewihr, France.

November 20-27th The Romantic Danube from Vilshofen to Budapest (AmaCerto): hosted by Black Widow and Popular Grove Wineries, boutique wine producers from the Naramata Bench wine region in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. Special itinerary highlight — Thanksgiving dinner on board and visits to Christmas Markets in Vienna and Budapest.


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By Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

Here are answers to 11 Small Ship Cruising FAQs — frequently asked questions.

Q: Will I feel hemmed in on a small ship?

 A: The lounges and bars will appear intimate rather than spacious and not as numerous as on larger ships. Then consider that the passenger counts — most all our listings will fall below 300, and depending on the ship you chose, even less — so the size of interior spaces, and even the number, fit the passenger capacity. Soaring atriums and vast show lounges are not part of the small-ship experience.

Q: I am social and like meeting new people, is a small ship for me?

A: There’s an excellent chance that your small-ship cruise mates will have at least some of your interests, then with a small ship seriously dedicated to giving you a rich cultural experience on a Mediterranean cruise or an expedition-style adventure in the Arctic or Antarctica, your ship has come in. The cruise becomes a shared experience when ashore, in the Zodiacs, at the special interest talks and at open seating meals.

The few number of people aboard the Hebridean Princess provides an intimate shared experience. * Photo: Ted Scull

The few number of people aboard the Hebridean Princess provides an intimate shared experience. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: I’m shy and not very social, how will I get on with small-ship togetherness?

A: On a big ship, you can hide, find isolation in your cabin, the corner of a public room, and maybe snag a table for two. On a small ship, but not a tiny ship, you probably can retreat to your cabin, may be able to find a quiet space, but at meals you are likely to share a table with others; and as you probably have come for the same reason they have, you are likely to find other compatible, and reserved types.

Q: What’s the entertainment? I like something to happen after dinner.

 A: On a small oceangoing ship or riverboat cruising Europe, a pianist may travel with the ship, and local musicians may board in ports when the ship is docked for the evening.

Expedition cruises mix special interest talks with entertainment, the latter a video that was shot that same day of what you experienced or one that shows what creatures may be lurking underwater. On riverboats, you are often docked in the evening, so you can walk ashore and visit the town. There may be a concert, opera, dance event or festival on.

Local entertainment on board. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Local entertainment on board. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Q: Will there will be foreigners aboard and different languages blasted over the ship’s speaker system?

A: There are small ships that cater exclusively to North American passengers such as some river cruise lines, and others in all our categories, that cater to English-speaking passengers where there may be Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and passengers whose first language may not be English but who are perfectly comfortable with it. In those cases, the language aboard and ashore will be English only. Some small ships may cater to an international group, but it is likely that there will be only two languages used: for example English and German or English and French.

Q: What’s the food like? Will I be able to experiment and eat like a native? If I am wary of food that is too exotic, spicy or heavy, will I enjoy meals that I am used to at home?

A: Small ships have small galleys and food storage facilities, so while the top lines will offer quality and creatively, they may not offer great variety at individual meals. At you move down the luxury scale, creativity may begin to fall by the wayside, while quality should remain. The principal nationalities of the passengers will have a lot to do with the menus. A ship that is geared to multinationals will offer variety, so there is likely to be a wide choice for the food experimenters, and at least a small selection of the familiar for the timid. Ships that cater to English speakers will be more like home. Some of the riverboat operators cater largely to North Americans and the food will reflect that thrust, so those looking for a varied culinary experience may want to go elsewhere.

Delicious meals made with fresh local ingredients. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Delicious meals made with fresh local ingredients. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Q: Should I expect to pay more per diem for a small ship cruise that a mainstream large ship?

A: Yes, in most cases, but the amounts will vary and be less of a gap with some river cruise lines. Large ships, and large ship fleets, by their nature offer tremendous economies of scale, including purchasing food, supplies and fuel in bulk. They often offer low rates because once aboard the passengers will be encouraged to spend for shore excursions, shipboard shopping, casino gambling, drink packages, spa treatments, Internet, and eating in extra tariff restaurants. Watch out or you can easily spend as much daily as your per diem cruise fare.

While the answer to what’s included is all over the map, small ships often include all shore excursions in the basic fare, especially expedition ships and river cruises. Extra tariff restaurants are usually not part of the scene, nor are a casino and shopping, apart from a small selection of items connected to your destinations. Many riverboats lines, and some oceangoing ships too, offer complimentary beer wine, soft drinks at lunch and dinner.

You are paying for certain exclusivity with a small passenger list, often visiting places not accessible to large ships, while on expedition cruises, there are expenses for the expert staff carried, the high-tech equipment used for going ashore and then sharing the findings back on board, and being able to be entirely self-sufficient in remote cruising locales.

Q: Will airfare costs be higher for getting to small ships?

A: No, not with destinations and port embarkations shared by big and small ships; but yes for remote locations such as flying to the tippy tip of South America for a cruise to the Falklands, Antarctica and South Georgia; where charter flights are used in conjunction with regular international flights; and where you must fly inland from major gateways such as Bangkok or Singapore to a destination in Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar.

Q: What if I have mobility problems on a small ship?

A: Some small ships are less likely to have elevators or at least service to all decks. Often the ships anchor in remote locations, and passengers must embark into launches and Zodiacs that may involve gangways with steps down into and up out the transfer craft. Getting ashore may be stepping onto embankment, a beach, even into shallow water. Check with the line to see if there is extra assistance for going ashore and if the ship and transfers are not ADA accessible.

Almost all ships now are forthright with how much walking there will be on excursions, how level or not, how uneven under foot, and if wheelchair access is available.

On expedition ships you need to be nimble to hop in and out of zodiac boats. * Photo: Ted Scull

On expedition ships you need to be nimble to hop in and out of zodiac boats. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: Can I bring my young children on a small-ship cruise?

A: Most small-ship cruises are not geared at all to children under about age 10; and others are not suitable for older kids either due to there not being playrooms, activities, kids menus, and often not TVs or reliable WiFi, not to mention the smaller space of the ship itself. That said, there ARE some small-ship cruises are that are wonderful for families with kids in the 10 to 18 year old range, including cruises in the Galapagos, Caribbean, Alaska, Antarctica, and the Greek Isles. During the summers and holiday weeks like Christmas, there will be more children traveling with their families and some lines offer special kids’ programming during those times, including Lindblad Expeditions, Celebrity Xpeditions, Un-Cruise, and others. On Europe’s rivers, some lines also offer special family departures, including lines like Uniworld and AMA Waterways.

Q: Why should I take a small-ship cruise?

A: The fundamental advantages of small ships are being able to travel with a small group, often with similar focused goals; to be able to go to places the big ships cannot reach and land passengers such as in Antarctica, a small port in Southeast Alaska, the coast of France or South Pacific island. You are having a shared experience and will after a few days feel a bond to many of the other passengers. According to our limit of 300, all sailing ships are considered small as are almost every riverboat and expedition vessel. Here’s more on the kinds of ships we cover.

The world is your oyster, so go open it.

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10 Best Small Ship cruises include the Sweden-based Juno

The 10 Quirkiest Cruises.

By Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

This list changes in accordance with the tides, our moods, the stock market, and the new and cool cruises we learn about all the time.

Currently, here are our picks of the 10 quirkiest cruises for those who really want to do something different.

Light Vessel Patricia

Trinity House

Trinity House is a centuries-old British organization that looks after lighthouses and buoys in the waters around England, Wales and the Channel Islands using its spiffy light vessel PATRICIA. This hardworking little ship that has had Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spending time aboard offers comfy accommodations for 12 passengers.

Join for a week, or two, and observe the inspections and replacements of channel markers and fueling and repairing unmanned lighthouses dotting the islands and rugged coastline. Often the itinerary is not known until a week or two before departure and it may change at sudden notice. The cozy social life aboard is a big draw.

Visit the Trinity House site for more info.

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

M/S Juno on Sweden’s Göta Canal

Göta Canal Steamship Company

Launched in 1874, the 29-cabin M/S JUNO is the world’s oldest registered ship with overnight accommodations, and its journeys along the 19th-century Göta Canal system are a fascinating way to experience small-town Sweden. One of our 10 quirkiest cruises for good reason, JUNO’s 3-night cruise between Gothenburg on the west coast and Söderköping near Stockholm on the east coast (a total of 382 miles) takes you through 58 locks, some single and some in stepped sets.

Charming cabins are like train compartments (bathrooms are shared!) and the dining room serves very taste set meals. Daily excursions include visits to old fortresses, churches and Viking sites, as well as the chance to bike or walk along the tow bath.

The whole experience is wonderfully old fashioned.

Visit the Göta Canal Steamship Co website for more info on this amazing cruise.

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

New York to Chicago via 3 Rivers, 3 Canals & 6 Lakes

Blount Small Ship Adventures

(Rivers = Hudson, Mohawk and Detroit; Canals = Erie, Oswego and Well; Lakes = Oneida, Ontario, Erie, St. Claire, Huron and Michigan.)

Yes, they all string together to form a continuous and diverse watery route for Blount’s two super nimble ships to follow while sailing between two of America’s largest cities. Head north from New York to see stately homes with Hudson River views, stopping along the way. Slide under low bridges on the Erie Canal with inches to spare.

Break out into Lake Ontario and lock through the Welland Canal in tandem with giant ore carriers. Navigate the Detroit River with the US to port and Canada to starboard and on into Lakes Huron and Michigan, with pretty towns to visit. Then Chicago’s skyscrapers begin to rise above the horizon a good hour before berthing at the Navy Pier.

Visit Blount’s website for more info.

Blount's Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Blount’s Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Rembrandt Van Rijn in the Arctic

Oceanwide Expeditions

Cruising the poles may be thrilling and exotic enough, but exploring the Arctic on a sailing ship as explorers did centuries ago is out of this world and good reason to deem this one of our 10 quirkiest cruises. The 3-masted, 33-passenger Dutch schooner REMBRANDT VAN RIJN was built in the early 20th-century as a herring lugger and rebuilt in 1994 to operate as a pleasure cruiser in Greenland and occasionally Iceland.

Today it’s a comfy, cozy craft for coastal voyages, and if the wind dies, the auxiliary diesel engine kicks in to keep you on course and into fjords to see Viking ruins and wildlife or just let the sails luff and stay silent while amongst a pod dolphins or whales.

For more details, here’s Oceanwide’s website.

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

M/S Katharina in Eastern Indonesia

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

This 12-passenger Indonesian pinisi schooner has a sheer so dramatic, it’s an uphill walk to get to KATHARINA’S bow. The chunky ironwood workhorse bucks through the seas at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago with an Indonesian crew leading the way.

There are opportunities to snorkel in the middle of nowhere, laze on white-sand beaches, and experience encounters with exotic wildlife and tribal people you’ve definitely never seen before. The best itineraries are the ones with an expert lecturer on board.

For more info visit

10 best small ship cruises include SeaTrek Bali

The Bugis schooner Katharina takes the adventurous back in time. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

High-tech Exploring in the Galapagos

Lindblad Expeditions

Since the 1960s, Lindblad Expeditions has been pioneering expeditions to the Galapagos and other far flung places, and in recent years enhanced by a partnership with National Geographic Magazine that brings top photographers and scientists on board. Besides the team of Ecuadorian naturalists, there’s an undersea specialist and a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor on board every Galapagos cruise.

But it’s the techy stuff that pushes the envelope: the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR carries aboard not only a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks and a glass-bottom boat, but also underwater cameras and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that dives down 500 feet to film what lies beneath. After each long and exciting day of exploring, the staff produces an amazing recap of photos and videos for passengers to marvel over.

For more info, contact Lindblad.

10 Quirkiest Cruises include Lindblad in the Galapagos

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

Aranui 5 in the South Pacific

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM)

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM) has operated passenger-freighters in the remote South Pacific Marquesas Islands for decades, and the Tahiti-based 254-passenger ARANUI 5 is the latest of them. It’s clear why it’s one of our favorites and makes our 10 quirkiest cruises list. Visit idyllic islands with perfect beaches while observing the workings of a cargo ship.

While the 5th ARANUI carries everything and anything the remote islands need, you travel in great comfort along with an international passenger list that is searching for the paradise that Paul Gauguin sought. Trips ashore head to cultural sites, observe local customs and enjoy a beach barbecue.

For more info, here’s the line’s website.

10 quirkiest cruises include the ARANUI 5 Passenger Cargo Liner

The Aranui 5. * Photo: Peter Knego

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker in the North Pole

Quark Expeditions

Standing on the site 60 Degrees North is made possible by sailing aboard 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, the world’s most powerful icebreaker.

When she is not doing duty keeping the Northeast Passage above Russian Siberia open to commercial traffic, she plows her way through thick ice to reach the North Pole, at one time only accessible on foot and then by air in ideal weather. As a bonus, you can have a bird’s eye view of the icy scene from a hot air balloon.

Click over to Quark’s site for more details.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Mahabaahu on the Brahmaputra River

Adventure River Cruises (ARC)

India’s rivers are holy places, and a cruise on one is to see India in all its glorious contrasts. The Brahmaputra flows from high in the Himalayas of Tibet, down into India’s Assam valley in the northeast and finally into the Bay of Bengal.

Pandaw’s 46-passenger M/V MAHABAAHU traverses part of it, visiting tea plantations, tribal villages and the Kaziranga National Park to see the greater one-horned Indian rhino. The boat has 11 cabins with balconies (and the rest with large windows), a massage room and a small pool, but it’s India that will keep your attention. If you’re looking for something truly different, consider the MAHABAAHU, one of our 10 quirkiest cruises.

Go to Adventure River Cruises (ARC) site for more details.

Pandaw on India's Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

Pandaw on India’s Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

RMS St. Helena to St. Helena Island

RMS St. Helena

Sadly, this ship is due to go out of service sometime in 2018. But up until then, it holds the title of one of the quirkiest ships out there. The 128-passenger Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA is the very last in a long line of passenger, mail and cargo ships that connected the mother country to her dependents; in this case the remote and beautiful South Atlantic island of St. Helena, and intriguingly the last domicile of Emperor Napoleon.

An airport is nearing completion that will put the island residents within five hours of Johannesburg instead of five days to and from Cape Town, and apart from the convenience for the island’s population, it is hoped that foreign visitors will come in larger numbers for a holiday stay.

St. Helena’s remoteness was, for some, its principal attraction, coupled with a true liner voyage albeit rather minuscule compared to the QUEEN MARY 2, the only other true ocean liner afloat. So, if you act fast, there is still time to experience a unique combination — space available. For many, she will be missed.

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull


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By Heidi Sarna.

Small ship cruises have big advantages and that’s why we and lots of other people love them. But for small-ship newbies who aren’t sure what to expect, here’s the lowdown.

It's easy to make friends on an intimate small ship. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

It’s easy to make friends on an intimate small ship. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

1. Expect to mingle with the other passengers.

Small ships are intimate and naturally more social than big ships.

There are only so many places to go on a small ship, so unless you hole up in your cabin, you’ll be in fairly close confines with your shipmates. Dining is usually at communal tables, where you’ll be seated with strangers (who if all goes well will become friends). If you’re on board with it, small-ship togetherness can be a wonderful thing.

Exceptions: The larger 200- to 300-passenger ships in’s Oceangoing category

A cozy cabin aboard the Juno canal boat in Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A cozy cabin aboard the Juno canal boat in Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2. Expect tighter quarters and low ceilings.

Small ships are small, and that’s a BIG part of their appeal.

You won’t find soaring atria and multi-level shows lounges on small ships, because, well, they’re small and that’s the whole point. In some cases, if you’re tall, you may have to duck your head in stairwells and doorways, and may come close to grazing the ceiling in some cabins and public rooms.

Exceptions: The larger ships in’s Oceangoing category

Local belly dancer brought on board for a performance in Kusadasi, Turkey. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Local belly dancer brought on board for a performance in Kusadasi, Turkey. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

3. Expect basic entertainment, if any.

On a small-ship cruise, the main show is the destination.

After dinner there may be a local folkloric show (puppetry in Myanmar or swirling dervishes in the Med or story tellers on the Mississippi), and a night or two the crew may lead silly passenger contests and talent shows. The big act is the destination and mingling with the other passengers and the crew.

Exceptions: The larger small ships in’s Oceangoing section will have small-scale cabaret acts and mini casinos

4. Expect some of your fellow small-ship cruise mates to speak a different language than you do.

Small-ship cruises can be a floating United Nations.

Small-ship cruises tend to attract an international mix of folks from North America, Europe and everywhere else, and so commonly lectures and announcements will be made in multiple languages if there are a fair number of people whose first language isn’t English.

Exceptions: River cruises in the US and American-focused lines like Victoria Cruises in China

A medley of local vegetables in Myanmar on a Pandaw river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A medley of local vegetables in Myanmar on a Pandaw river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Expect food and drinks to reflect the local cuisine.

Cloudberries in Sweden, tealeaf tempura in Myanmar, lager in Germany…

There will always be a nod to continental tastes to appeal to a broad passenger mix, but overall dining on small-ship cruises, unlike the biggies, means enjoying the flavors of the region you’re cruising in.

Exceptions: The galleys on larger ocean-going ships are often not as adventurous as those on the smallest river and canal boats.

Delicious local fare presented in a simple buffet spread. * Photo: Heidi

Delicious local fare presented in a simple buffet spread. * Photo: Heidi

6. Expect fewer options at mealtime compared to a giant ship.

There may be less choice, but food will be tasty, fresh and not mass produced.

There may be a breakfast and lunch buffet, or a combination of buffet and ala carte items, and usually dinner is served by waiters; on the smallest ships, there may one or two options for dinner (typically with accommodations made for vegetarians and other dietary issues).

Exceptions: The larger the ship, the more choices as the galleys are larger and there is more staff — check out the ships in’s Oceangoing section.

7. Expect to pay more than you would for a mainstream cruise.

Not always, but often small-ship cruises cost more because you’re getting a BIG experience. 

Cruise lines with fewer ships that carry fewer passengers don’t have the economies of scale the big guys do, plus when they’re cruising in super exotic locales like the Poles, French Polynesia, the Galapagos and Japan, there are more onboard experts, equipment and other extras that are naturally passed on to consumers.

Exceptions: Weeklong small-ship Caribbean cruises and some Asian river cruises tend to be quite affordable.

Excursions on small-ship cruises may entail using local boats. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Excursions on small-ship cruises may entail using local boats. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

8. Expect steep stairs, climbing in and out of small boats, and scrambling
up/down dirt embankments to get on and off the ship in some ports.

Getting your feet wet and your hands dirty is part of the experience.

Adventurous by nature, many small-ship cruises take you into remote places where there may not be docks or piers. River cruises in Southeast Asia, for example, often tie up to a tree stump and throw out a narrow gangway for passengers to use to go ashore.

Exceptions: The mainstream European riverboats and the oceangoing ships are the best small-ship options for folks with mobility problems.

Walking tour around the ancient Viking burial mounds in Birka, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Walking tour around the ancient Viking burial mounds in Birka, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

9. Expect shore excursions to be culturally rewarding.

Exotic culture, pristine nature and simple beauty don’t need to be dressed up with gimmicks.

Visiting remote villages in Cambodia or castle ruins in Germany or a nesting site for exotic birds in the Galapagos are par for the course on small-ship cruises; wonderful excursions, but the not the adrenaline rush you might get from zip lining or a Harley Davidson riding excursion offered by mega ships.

Exceptions: Small ships in’s Sailing and Oceangoing categories that have watersports marinas offer heart-thumping water-skiing and banana boat rides.

The more exotic small-ship cruises require multiple flight legs. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The more exotic small-ship cruises require multiple flight legs. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

10. Expect long, complex and/or pricey flights to get to where the cruise starts.

Getting to some of the world’s most fabulous places takes a bit of effort.

For instance, small-ship cruises in Antarctica require flying to Buenos Aires and then to Ushuaia, Argentina; for a Galapagos cruise, you must fly to Quito, Ecuador, and then to the islands; for a river cruise on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy or the Mekong between Cambodia and Vietnam, you must first fly to a major gateway like Singapore or Bangkok, and then another flight or two to via a local airline to get to the cruise embarkation port. All this flying takes time and costs a small fortune, but it’s worth it, trust me.

Exceptions: Small-ship cruises from major islands in the Caribbean (St. Thomas or Puerto Rico) or major European cities (Munich or Paris).

small ship cruises copyright

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

A small-ship cruise, like any cruise, includes a lot of the basics in the fare — your cabin, meals and often guides/lecturers — but not everything. Because small-ship cruises are interesting and offbeat by their very nature, there are typically a few more details to factor into your budgeting than if you were off on a no-brainer Caribbean mega-ship cruise out of Miami. To eliminate any surprises, here are 12 tips to help you determine what’s included in the fare, what’s not, and what optional extras you might spring for to enhance your experience.

 1. Airfare. Usually it is NOT included. To distant locales like Antarctica, Galapagos, Australia or French Polynesia, airfare is a major factor even in economy class. Occasionally, lines will include airfare, especially for European riverboat trips that are not selling well or when there may be a charter flight thrown in (e.g. for Galapagos cruises, between mainland Ecuador and the Islands). The airfare, when included, will be economy, possibly not the most direct routing and usually not upgradable. If you want a specific airline or a better itinerary, the line may charge a fee to customize your requests. High-end lines occasionally offer discounted business class.

Flights are rarely included in the cruise fare. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Flights are rarely included in the cruise fare. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2. Shore excursions. MAY or MAY NOT be included in the fare. While they may be included on many river cruises or on expedition voyages in the Galapagos, Arctic or Antarctica, shore excursions will often not be included on oceangoing small-ship cruises in Europe and many other places. A basic walking tour or similar might be included, but hot-air balloon rides or sightseeing by helicopter costing hundreds of dollars extra will not be.

3. Sporty activities. They ARE typically included. The use of equipment that’s carried on board the ship — from bicycles to water sports paraphernalia like paddle boards and snorkeling stuff — will typically be included in the fare, while scuba diving (gear and guiding) will not be. Kayaking may be included in locales other than the Arctic and Antarctica where closer supervision is required.

Kayaking right from the ship in Southeast Alaska. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Kayaking right from the ship in Southeast Alaska. * Photo: Ben Lyons

4. Alcoholic drinks. Usually are NOT included. With the exception of some of the higher-end lines and increasingly some of the river lines, wine, beer, and spirits are typically not included in the fares, or may be only included at lunch and dinner, or just at dinner. Typically across the board, coffee, tea and bottled water are included in the fares; and usually sodas, but not always.

Beer, wine and spirits are usually not included in the cruise fares. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Beer, wine and spirits are usually not included in the cruise fares. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Cabins. Pricing is based on DOUBLE OCCUPANCY. Most of the time, small-ship cruise fares, like the big ships, are based on two people sharing a cabin. So, theoretically if solo travelers occupy cabins by themselves, they may have to the pay the price of two people (referred to as the “single supplement”), i.e. buying the whole cabin.

6. Solo travelers. There MAY or MAY NOT be special rates for you. The ship may have some single cabins, usually not many, and they sell out fast. Or, the line may offer discounted single supplements for occupying a double cabin such as 150% of the fare; 125%; or even waive the charge entirely, again usually if bookings are soft. Click here for an article about solo small-ship cruising.

7. Cabin sharing. If offered, it WILL save you money. A few lines will help solo travelers find a share with another passenger of the same sex. If you sign up for this and a share is not found, you may well get lucky and end up having the cabin to yourself for the per person double occupancy rate. Read the individual lines’ brochure/websites to see if this is an option.

8. Cabins for 3 to 4 passengers. Extra berths WILL save you money. Some ships’ double cabins may have a sofa bed or a fold out lower berth and/or fold down upper berth. It is quite a bit cheaper for additional passengers to share the same cabin than to buy a separate one. This arrangement is highly popular with families or young people on a budget.

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

9. Tips. They are usually NOT included. While not mandatory, in most cases they are customary, so do factor in gratuities for onboard staff and local guides/drivers ashore, which depending on your generosity and length of cruise, can add up to a few hundred dollars.

10. Special gear. It may NOT be included. For many expedition cruises in places like Antarctica, Arctic or Alaska, you’ll need special clothing such as raincoats, waterproof pants, boots and/or parkas. In some cases, these accessories may be included, but you still might want to supplement with some of your own.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

11. Hotel stays. Usually are NOT included. In some instances, for example the Galapagos and throughout Asia, you’ll have to stay a night or two in a hotel before and after the cruise due to the timings of flights. However, some lines create cruise tour packages where the ship portion is bracketed by included hotel stays such as Prague at the beginning and Budapest at the end of a Danube River cruise or a Cambodian hotel and sightseeing and the same in Vietnam for a Mekong River cruise. When hotel stays and sightseeing are bundled into one price, then transfers between hotels and ship will be included.

12. Additional extras to consider. Massage and salon services, extra tariff dining and transfers between the airport, rail station or hotel and the ship via taxi, bus or train. Wi-Fi may or may not be included, and when it is, Internet speed is usually much slower than on land, and there may be gaps in coverage. Gradually, Internet accessibility is improving.

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Small-Ship Cruising in Antarctica

By Ted Scull.

Quirky’s Ted has been everywhere, and here, he shares his 10 top moments small-ship cruising in Antarctica and the Falklands.

 1. Ship in My Sights

The end is nigh. After too many hours in the air on multiple legs to reach the southern extremities of South America, my heart starts pounding, when minutes before landing, I see my ship down below.

2. Dog Sled Tails

Drifting into the expedition mode soon after settling in, we meet the team and hear a fascinating introductory account from a former sled dog driver, a profession that has completely disappeared in Antarctica.

3. Long Line of Hoppers

Two days later, sitting on a cliff edge in the Falkland Islands, my brother and I watch rock hopper penguins living up to their name as they return from the sea and start the steep climb up to their lairs. The leader stops for a scratch and a look around, and the long line of hoppers behind pauses. All seem ever so patient and none try passing the boss or each other. Then the movement upward continues.

Rockhopper in the Falkland Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

Rockhopper in the Falkland Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

4. Alabatross Friend

Standing on the back deck, a Wandering Albatross, largest seabird in the world, effortlessly follows us for the next two sea days to our first Antarctica landing. Every time I come back to the deck, the giant bird is there gliding so gracefully.

5. Incredible Ice

Just off the White Continent, I am enchanted by the fantastic shapes and range of colors the floating ice takes on, large tabular icebergs broken off the mainland, some immense enough to create their own winds.

6. The Right Shot

I now see my brother enjoying himself, as after other mal de mer remedies failed, The Shot triumphed, and its calming effects last for a week.

7. Gentoo Show

We stay ashore until the last boat beckons, watching Gentoo penguins suddenly pop out of the water, land on their feet, some with a fish cradled in its mouth, wobble across the sand to feed their young.

8. Major Skua Scare

High drama enfolds when my brother and I stray from the group. I see a low-flying skua coming directly at me. I duck at the last moment only to see it make a wide circle and head my way again. I pick up a piece of driftwood to protect my head, and he slams into it when I thrust it upward. I do not wait for another attack and high tail it out of there.

My brother says I had inadvertently gotten too close to the skua’s ground nest, one that I never saw. I tell the expedition leader who replies that I was darn lucky not to be injured or worse as the skua aims straight for the eyes and forehead. I do not mention the incident to any of the other passengers.

9. Pastoral Beauty

While returning north, and after passing through a major storm, the sea in the matter of an hour quiets down, and we can land at Cape Horn. The hilly setting on terra firma is fields of wildflowers, tufted grass, lichen clinging to the rocks and grazing sheep. The walk up to a viewpoint is so peaceful compared to the wild Drake Passage that had lived up to its storybook reputation.

Ashore at Cape Horn. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ashore at Cape Horn. * Photo: Ted Scull

10. Camera Journey

My brother leaves his camera in an overhead rack on the first of three flights home to San Francisco. It is returned to him in 48 hours, a distance of over 11,000 miles.


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By Ted Scull.

As the cruise industry has matured, ballooned in numbers, and focused on the bottom line, most lines have designed their ships to cater exclusively for two or more passengers occupying each cabin, leaving single travelers (who don’t care to share a cabin with a stranger) on the quayside unable to foot the higher price they must pay for solo occupancy of a two-bedded cabin. The penalty, and many see it that way, can be as high as a 100 per cent premium, in others words paying for both beds and using just one, or perhaps laying out clothes on the other to give it a thinly-veiled purpose.

Many ships once had dedicated single cabins with one bed; some large ships were built with a hundred or more. That’s all gone with the penchant to maximize profits. Building a single cabin with all the usual amenities costs almost as much outfitting a double cabin. Hand a passenger sole use of a double cabin, and that empty berth won’t be spending anything for all the revenue-generating extras that have become a big factor for most cruise lines: shipboard shopping, spa treatments, drinks, casino gambling, extra tariff restaurants, and shore excursions (aka money machines).

I traveled as a single passenger quite a lot before I married so I am well aware of the options that were once available and now are no more. I have several friends who simply stopped cruising because they could not afford paying the steep premiums.

Let’s see how all this grim news applies to the small ship industry. The extra expense of incorporating single cabins still holds true, with one exception. That second berth, other than its ticket price when sold, has far less value as an onboard revenue generating factor simply because many small ships include some features that you pay extra for on large ships (in some cases shore excursions and drinks) or they don’t offer them to begin with (shopping arcades, gambling, spa treatments, extra tariff restaurants).

So now you have read enough about the downside of traveling solo, here’s the good news: there are in fact opportunities to cruise without feeling you are being penalized every day you are aboard.

Let’s start with small-ship cruising in Canada and the United States.

Single outside cabin aboard Un-Cruise Adventures' Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Single outside cabin aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

 1. American Cruise Lines (ACL)

The world of North America is your oyster with American Cruise Lines (ACL) — we’re talking the U.S. East Coast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and the Mississippi River system. ACL has the most generous number of dedicated all-outside single cabins across its entire fleet starting from just two to six with the coastal fleet to 12 to 19 single cabins with the riverboats. Aboard the coastal Independence with six singles, the rate for a single with private balcony is just 12% above a double cabin with private balcony, while the rate for a single without balcony is almost par with a double. On the river fleet, the premium is 15% and that’s with a balcony.

2. Pearl Seas Cruises

ACL’s companion line, Pearl Seas Cruises, operates the 210-passenger Pearl Mist in the Great Lakes, along the coast of Eastern Canada and the U.S. and soon circumnavigations of Cuba. Single cabins, all with balconies and located on all cabin decks, are priced at a premium of about 45% above the lowest fare per person rate for an outside double with balcony. The premium charged here is closer to the norm.

3. American Queen Steamboat Company (AQ)

American Queen Steamboat Co offers highly favorable single rates for its Mississippi and Ohio River cruises. For instance, a 9-day fall Upper Mississippi River cruise (St. Louis to St. Paul) has single inside cabins priced slightly less than the per person minimum-rated outside double cabins, while a single outside with open veranda is only slightly more than the AA per person double rate that includes a private veranda. AQ is also offering 2016 promotions that, because of the lower fares to begin with, add between 25 per cent and 50 per cent premiums, depending on the category booked.

4. Blount Small Ship Adventures

Blount operates a pair of 88-passenger ships on the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence and New York State rivers and canals, in New England, along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Bahamas.

Its three outside singles on the Grande Caribe and Grande Marine, located on the Sun Deck with a single bed, sliding window and door opening to outside deck, are sold as 20% premium over the per person rate in a double cabin on the same deck, and a 55% premium over the minimum per person rate. Additional doubles may be sold as singles, when available, and the premium varies depending on the double cabin demand for a particular sailing.

Blount also offers a “Willing to Share” program where you may pay a per person rate for a double occupancy room by wait listing for a same-gender traveling companion. If none emerges, you will get sole occupancy of the double cabin at the share rate.

5. Un-Cruise Adventures

This line lists rates for single occupancy on many of its cruises. For example, Un-Cruise AdventuresSafari Explorer’s rate is the same as a per person rate for a Captain level double; for the Safari Quest at Commander level; and for the Safari Endeavour, at the Admiral level. For the S.S. Legacy on the Columbia and Snake rivers, single rates are available for four Master cabins, outsides with a double bed at a 30 per cent premium to the double occupancy rate for these cabins.

6. Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad operates the 62-passenger Sea Bird and Sea Lion in Alaska, along the Columbia and Snake, and in Baja California. Single rates for an outside twin-bedded double cabin with window are sold at a 50 per cent premium for Categories 1 (the minimum rate) and 2, a standard outside double.

7. Ontario Waterway Cruises

Up in Canada, Ontario Waterway Cruises charges a 75% premium over the per person double occupancy rate for sole occupancy on its 32-passenger Kawartha Voyageur. There is but one single cabin, and good luck trying to get it.

8. St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Operating the 64-passenger Canadian Empress, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines also charges a 75% supplement over the per person double occupancy rate and at times drops it to 60%. Cabins 1, 2, 5, 6 and 20 are sold at 50% supplement.

Alaska Dream Cruises lists no single cabins or single rates on its website, so you will have to contact the line directly and ask. The same goes for Marine Link Tours operating a tiny 12-passenger cargo carrier along the British Columbia Coast.

Keep in mind, if you are flexible with your departure date and learn of a sailing that is not selling well, you may be able to have a double to yourself at the per person fare, otherwise it leaves the dock empty. Maybe you have a friend who would like to come along, so that’s two cabins booked that would have gone empty.

Now go to the reviews for the lines mentioned above and see what appeals to you.

Stayed tuned for a future feature to cover river cruises in Europe.

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