Quirky Cruise
December 13, 2016

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: International Expeditions

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

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull


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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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


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

Itineraries – A Sampling as itineraries changes from year to year

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

See the following website to answer questions that allow US citizens to travel to Cuba with International Expeditions:

Internatioal Expeditions

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

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

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull


EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unkown

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unknown

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

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

Diccovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Discovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Ships Used in the Above Itineraries

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

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

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

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

small ship India cruises

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

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

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

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

Along the Same Lines

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


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



Posted In:

Amazon Basin, Asia: South & Western Asia, Asia: Southeast Asia, Caribbean Islands, Central America, Coastal Ship & Line Reviews, Cuba, Expedition Ship & Line Reviews, Galapagos, India, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, South America, Uncategorized, West Indies

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