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Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

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

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

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

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

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

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

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

— Galapagos Conservancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ports of Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go

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

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

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

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

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

Company Reviews

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

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

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

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

Eclipse Travel

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

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

Journeys International

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

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

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

Mountain Travel Sobek

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

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

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

Natural Habitat Adventures

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

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

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

Wilderness Travel

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

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

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

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machu Picchu

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

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

 

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Celebrity Cruises Galapagos

If you’ve cruised on the biggies, you’ll feel right at home on these sporty miniature versions.

Many feel at ease knowing that the well-established Celebrity Cruises, a line that otherwise keeps busy with its fleet of giant 2,000 to 3,000-passenger mega ships, is behind the operation. Celebrity launched the 100-passenger, 296-foot CELEBRITY XPEDITION back in 2004, a groundbreaking move at the time for a mainstream cruise line, to sail year-round in the Galapagos Islands. The-mini cruise ship, or mega-yacht as the company refers to it, carries 5 zodiac landing craft on board for rides to remote beaches, bays and snorkeling sites, for up-close encounters with sea lions, turtles, schools of fish, and marine birds, namely the well-known frigates and blue-footed boobies.

The 48-passenger M/V ECLIPSE and the 16-passenger catamaran M/C ATHALA II  both of which started year-round cruises in March 2017 were replaced in mid-2019 by the brand new 100-passenger ship, the CELEBRITY FLORA, for the Galapagos.

RELATED: Celebrity’s Custom-Built Galapagos Ship, Celebrity Flora … by Anne Kalosh.

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CELEBRITY XPEDITION (built 2001, 100 passengers); CELEBRITY FLORA (b. 2019, 100 p.). The crew is mostly Ecuadoran.

RELATED: Galapagos Islands Cruise Overview

Celebrity Expeditions

CELEBRITY FLORA entered service in mid-2019. * Photo: Celebrity Expeditions

Passenger Profile

Wildlife-loving, eco-minded couples and families from North America mostly (click HERE for a kid’s review), with a sprinkling of passengers from the UK and Europe, who have always dreamed of going to the Galapagos Islands. Some have cruised on parent company Celebrity’s mega ships.

Passenger Decks

XPEDITION, 4 decks and an elevator connects 4 of them; CELEBRITY FLORA, 6 decks and elevator between all but highest deck.

Price

$$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

On packages of 10 nights or more, guided shore excursions, tips, wine, spirits and all drinks throughout cruise, plus round-trip airfare between Quito and Baltra, 2 hotels nights before and 1 after in Quito (on mainland) with transfer and meals. Snorkeling gear and wetsuits are always included.

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Itineraries

  • 7-, 10-, 11-, 13- and 15-night cruise packages round-trip from the island of Baltra, where the islands’ main airport is. You also add on over-land tours to Peru’s Machu Picchu.
  • Highlights include Kicker Rock, stunning stacks of towering volcanic rock formations that are home to many species of nesting birds including blue-footed boobies; the beaches of Cerro Brujo for close encounters with sea lions; and deep sea snorkeling off the coast of Isla Isabela to gaze on sea turtles, penguins, and marine iguanas feeding on underwater algae.
  • The addition of the two new ships greatly expanded Celebrity’s itinerary options in the Galapagos, with routes now stopping at the white sand beaches of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, the submerged caldera at Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island, and the mango estuary of Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island. Some visit the volcanic Chinese Hat Islet and Wall of Tears, a wall built by prisoners at a penal colony on Isabela Island in the 1940s and 50s.
Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

When to Go?

The ships cruise in the Galapagos Islands year-round; because of school holidays, the summer months and December/January are considered the peak season price-wise.

December though June is the rainy season with the warmest water and air temps or the year; there is sun and daily rain showers (late April and May are pretty ideal, as there’s less rain, flowers are blooming and sea lion pups are being born).

You’ll rarely get rain July through December, though it tends to be cloudy and seas can be rougher, however these months tend to be better for bird watching.

Cabins

On all three, all cabins are outside with balconies, windows and/or portholes. XPEDITION has 13 suites and all cabins have a sitting area, desk, TV, hairdryers, safe and bathrobes. FLORA is an all-suite ship, and the standard suite, the Sky Suite, will measure 33 square feet and have an Infinite Veranda. The doors to the Infinite Veranda can slide to the side to make the veranda a seamless part of the room. When the doors are closed, creating a separate veranda area, the top of a floor-to-ceiling outside window can be lowered to the open air. FLORA also has a few bigger, posher suites.

The top-of-the-line pair of corner Penthouse Suites, 1,288 square feet/120 square meters each, feature big verandas (321 square feet/30 square meters) and bathrooms (196 square feet/18 square meters) with floor-to-ceiling windows. The ship has stay in place without using an anchor that might damage the ocean floor and stabilizers that operate effectively at 0-speed. Seawater is processed to fresh for all needs.

One of 12 suites on board XPEDITION. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Public Rooms

Ships have two dining areas and a windowed lounge for daily lectures by the onboard naturalists. Each has a bar, with XPEDITION also boasting a small dance floor and a piano too. XPEDITION’s outdoor Blue Finch bar on the Promenade is the place for drinks with great views of islands. As the largest of the trio, XPEDITION offers the most amenities, with a small gym, co-ed sauna, massage room and a small boutique. All three have a sun deck with padded chaise lounges for sunbathing and relaxing, and each has a hot tub.

The CELEBRITY FLORA will have Darwin’s Cove, a place where passengers can chat with the naturalists who lead tours and give informative talks. There will be one naturalist guide for every dozen passengers. Briefings will be delivered in FLORA’s Discovery Lounge, where there’s a full bar, stage for entertainment and comfy seating. The lounge’s walls are nearly all glass, making another great place to take in the views. FLORA has plenty of open-air spaces on the top deck for lounging and observing wildlife and a stargazing platform. Four rental cabanas are available for privacy by day or sleeping under the stars.

Dining

Each boat has two relatively informal dining venues, one indoor and one al fresco, with open-seating tables of six and eight. Continental cuisine incorporates locally caught fish and fresh vegetables and fruits from the region, plus basics like roast chicken, ribs and pastas. No jackets or formal dressing are required. On XPEDITION, the al fresco Beagle Grill at the stern of Deck 6 is a casual place serving burgers, hot dogs, pizza, salads and the like, and sometimes there’s a grilled seafood fest at lunchtime. Usually once per cruise there’s a lovely barbecue on deck under the stars.

On FLORA, besides the Seaside Restaurant, open for all meals, the ship will have a casual alternative, the Ocean Grill, with panoramic views and the opportunity to dine under the stars.

Grilled seafood and corn on the cob for lunch is a delicious affair. on board XPEDITION, * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

The islands themselves and the wildlife you’ll encounter are the big stars with typically two excursions per day. When on board, then, most passengers are eager to relax and watch the scenery from the decks, look through the reference books in the small libraries or listen to the daily talks by the naturalists. You can also fit in a gym workout on XPEDITION. A marina in CELEBRITY FLORA’s stern will make it easy to step into Zodiacs for the frequent nature tours — hiking, swimming and snorkeling — that characterize a Galápagos cruise. A staircase leads from the marina to the Sunset Lounge, an outdoor space with a plunge pool.

Evenings, it’s drinks with friends at the bar and on most cruises, local entertainers come on board for a few hours to do a traditional Ecuadorian music, singing and dance performance. Another highlight is a slideshow of passengers’ encounters with wildlife during the course of the cruise.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

Celebrity Cruises, 1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33132; 888-751-7804.

— HMS

 

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Blue Lagoon Cruises

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Blue Lagoon Cruises operates a spiffy small 68-passenger catamaran on informal seven-night cruises to a string of tropical islands in the Fijian chain. While the company was established over a half-century ago, its present style of operation with the FIJI PRINCESS began in 2004. The emphasis is on visits to the islands, the people and a whole host of activities ashore while the vessel is at anchor or even tied to a coconut tree.

There is minimal sailing time as the islands are very close together, and if the water is at all rough, the vessel may shelter on the lee side away from the winds. Fiji is a popular stopover between the U.S. West Coast and New Zealand and Australia, so North Americans may set down here for a week, take the cruise and then fly onward to the antipodes. Cruises operate year-round.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

FIJI PRINCESS (built 1998, acquired 2004; 68 passengers) Most passengers will be adults (and honeymooners) from Australia, New Zealand (the closest large countries), then British, Europeans and North Americans. Designated cruises, especially during school holidays, include activities for families with children. The crew is all Fijian.

Passenger Decks

Four decks, three with cabins, and no elevator.

Price

$$

Itineraries

Cruises last seven days, while three- and four-day stints are also available with transit from the main embarkation port by high-speed transfer vessel. Very little time is spent sailing, usually not more than four hours a day, as the primary objective is to enjoy the string of islands and the water-based activities.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

The departure port is Denarau Marina, a short distance from Nadi Airport on the main island, for a sail out to the Mamanuca and Tasawa Islands. The cruises offer tropical island settings with virtually uninhabited beaches, a range of water-based activities, and a cultural experience among the island locals and the all-Fiji crew.

As the catamaran FIJI takes just 68 passengers, the atmosphere is relaxed and as social as you would like it to be.

Included Features

All excursions and water sport activities including snorkeling gear, spyboards (lie on a floating platform and look through a window to view underwater activities while propelling with one’s feet),  and kayaks, coffee, tea, juices, filtered water.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Snorkeling is amazing in this part of the world and gear is included in the fares. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Gratuities, diving gear, sport fishing, and alcoholic beverages are extra. A donation made to the Vinaka Fiji Trust is added to the final bill, and the amount may be removed or adjusted upward or downward. The trust aids villagers who are living below the poverty line, and the cruises visit one of the locations.

Why Go?

Once you leave the main island, you will soon enter another seemingly far away world that is only a few hours sailing aboard the FIJI PRINCESS. The seascapes are blue, while the islands are white sands with tropical landscapes, welcoming local people and adventures ashore and in the calm waters. Fiji makes a fine stopover with direct flights to and from the U.S. West Coast and then via much shorter flights to and from New Zealand or Australia.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Experience the local culture and customs. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

When to Go?

The weather chart shows that the best months to visit are between late March and early December, with November to April having the most rainfall, occurring in brief downpours. Daytime high temperatures range from 79F (26C) to 88F (31C) — not much of a variation in this tropical part of the world. Trade winds are normally east-southeast, and cyclones may appear in the wet season.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

One of the most gorgeous places on earth. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Cabins

The Upper and Middle Orchid Decks hold most of the cabins, here outside with windows and approximately 142 sq. ft. (13 sq. m) with queen or two single beds. Hibiscus Deck, below the Orchid deck, has cabins of 117 sq. ft (11 sq. m) and queen or single beds, windows and a location on the dining saloon deck.

A double bed cabin. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Shared amenities amongst all the cabins include a welcome fruit platter, complimentary daily stocked mini bar (beer, wine, soft drinks & bottled water), a sun care pack, in-cabin Nespresso coffee machine,  tea making facilities, and cabin TV for  DVD viewing.

Public Rooms

The main lounge with bar faces aft on the Middle Orchid Deck, and a second bar is on the top Sky Deck where the sun loungers (deck chairs) are located.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Bar Lounge on FIJI PRINCESS. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Dining

The covered restaurant is located aft on the lowest Hibiscus Deck and faces aft to a splash pool and then over the stern. The food emphasizes local fresh fruit, fish and vegetables, and is served in an informal setting facing aft over the stern. Seating is open and in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, morning coffee and afternoon tea are also served. A boutique and reception are also located on this level.

The dining salon. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

While anchored in a lagoon, shore trips visit remote villages, discover Fijian culture, partake in an island feast as well as learn how to prepare your own, explore several caves, and visit schools. Just relaxing on South Pacific island beaches is another appealing option, and one stop will be at the line’s private beach.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Being in the water is a big part of a Blue Lagoon Cruise. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Water sports choices are swimming, including with manta rays, stand-up paddle boarding, and snorkeling. Diving and fishing trips are optional extras. A glass bottom boat makes trips for viewing underwater. On board, there is a splash pool, spa, and deck chairs on the upper sun deck. Entertainment comes aboard at some island stops.

Special Notes

On trips to Fijian villages, dress is modest. Men are provided with a sulu knee-length skirt-like covering and women are asked to cover up their bare shoulders.

Along the Same Lines

Captain Cook Cruises also operates in Fiji.

Contact

Blue Lagoon Cruises, PO Box PD052, Port Denarau, Fiji Islands; www.bluelagooncruises.com, (679) 675 0500.

 

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Captain Cook Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

Captain Cook Cruises is an Australian-owned line that got its start in 1970 when Captain Trevor Haworth began operating cruises and excursions in the Sydney Harbor region, then up north in Queensland along the Great Barrier Reef and in the south on the Murray River. The present Fiji Islands operation includes year-round cruises of 3, 4, and 7 days to Yasawa Islands, 3, 4 and 7 days to the remote northern isles, and the occasional 11-nighter to the out islands.

The focus is on Fiji’s scenic beauty, island exploration, water sports, local island culture and visits to traditional villages. The experience is about as tropical outdoorsy as any small ship cruise could be. The parent company, Sealink Travel Group, also operates an overnight sternwheeler on the Murray River as well as numerous ferry routes throughout Australia. The line also books pre- and post- cruise holiday resort stays, and as Fiji is a hugely popular resort destination there is a large inventory at all price points.

Captain Cook Cruises

Fiji’s out islands are remote and drop dead gorgeous. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

REEF ENDEAVOUR (built 1996 & 130 passengers).

Passenger Profile

Because of proximity to New Zealand and Australia, the largest numbers originate there, including families (children age five & above) during holiday periods; beyond it’s English speakers from Europe and North Americans, the latter who tend to stopover for several days en route to/from New Zealand or Australia. With a lot of shared activities and experiences, and open seating, meeting others comes naturally. If you prefer a cruise without many other children aboard, be sure to check the Australian and New Zealand school holiday periods. Most of the crew is Fijian.

Passenger Decks

The ship has five decks and an elevator.

Price

$$ to $$$ Moderate to Expensive. Children’s fares apply to ages 5 to 17 when they occupy cabin with adults.

Itineraries

The emphasis is on outdoor activities, both active and sedentary, and normally calling at two islands a day, morning and afternoon, among the 300 available in the Fiji island group.

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

Yasawa Island. * Map: Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

  • 3- and 4-night Yasawa Island cruises may be combined into a 7-night cruise, all leaving from Nadi (pronounced as if Nandi), also the locale for the international airport.
  • 7-night Remote North Cruises sail further afield to the world heritage colonial town of Levuka, a time capsule of architecture facing a waterfront promenade. Visit markets, hot springs, a garden island, a waterfall lagoon and an extinct volcano. Activities include snorkeling, scuba diving and glass bottom boat sightseeing, plus standing astride the 180th Meridian that marks today and tomorrow.
  • 7-Night 4 Cultures Discovery Cruises circumnavigate Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second’s largest island and explore the islands, rivers and rainforests of the remote north. Visit four distinct cultures: the Ellice Islanders and Banabas, Indian (South Asian) and Fijian people. Snorkel along the world’s third longest barrier reef, sail by tender up the Labasa River to Vanua Levu’s largest town and natural produce market. A lovo feast (cooking on hot rocks in an earthen pit), school visit, choral church service, meke (Fiji-style dancing) and island night are aspects of the cruise to the remote north.
  • The occasional 11-night Lau and Kadavu Discovery Cruise heads to Fiji’s remote north where a lucky few arrive to visit the unspoiled beauty.  Next sailings are November 5, 2019 and March 3, 2020.
Captain Cook Cruises

Meet the locals at the shellmarket. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Included features

Shore excursions and tours to villages and schools outlined in the day-to-day itineraries, festive meals shore, kayaking, snorkeling and stand-up paddle boarding, on board kids’ club ages 5-9 at specified hours, and post-cruise transfers to Nadi hotels. (Note: A small passenger contribution goes to the school). WiFi is available at most but not all anchorages. The speed will vary considerably.

Why Go?

To enjoy the attractions of South Pacific Islands and delightful tropical weather conditions with outdoor activities on board, ashore, and at beaches and meeting the Fijians. Special interest activities are available for adults and children in marine biology, ecology and environmental issues.

Bula! (Hello) from down under the South Pacific ocean. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Bula! (Hello) from down under the South Pacific ocean. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round and the busy season coincides with the Southern Hemisphere’s school holidays as Fiji is just four hours from Australia’s East Coast and a bit less from North Island, New Zealand. December to February are hot and humid with afternoon downpours, but being near and on the water softens the heat factor. The driest months are June to August.

Cabins

The largest accommodations are the 4 suites with separate lounges; most standard cabins measure approximately 150 square feet; 6 are interconnected family cabins with twin/double beds that open onto the deck; 49 twins/doubles have two windows and face to a side passage; 11 have portholes, open to an interior corridor and have twin/double beds, plus one or two upper bunks (for families).

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

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

Public Rooms

Forward facing panorama lounge and the second Yasawa Lounge looks aft and opens to the outdoor pool with a bar. Sun Deck has outdoor seating, twin spa pools, sauna, gym, bar and BBQ.

Dining

Reserved seating prevails the first night then it’s open sitting for all meals with buffet breakfast and lunch offering both hot and cold dishes that appeal to an international passenger list and feature a lot of island produce. Root plants and coconut are used in cooking. Alfresco barbecue meals occur on the Sun Deck twice on a 7-night cruise. Pineapple, paw paw, papaya and watermelon are main stay fruits; lunches include grilled fish, sausages, chicken, beef, curries and lots of salad fixings. Three-course served dinners feature baked fish, prawns, pork, beef, lamb, and vegetarian main courses. Desserts are fresh fruits, cheese plates, and sweet dishes such as butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce and chocolate pavlova (meringue with fruit and cream). Two themed dinners are Asian (Indian) and Fiji island.

Suite and repeat passengers will have a chance to dine with the captain or chief engineer. Wines from Australia, New Zealand and Washington State that are served at meals are extra with the average bottle from $US25 to $US35; beer $US6. Extra treats are a self-service afternoon tea with cakes and cookies and varied canapés before dinner in the Yasawa Lounge. The Fijian crew is a delight — friendly and helpful. They speak English and Fijian.

Activities & Entertainment

Onboard activities take place in a small gym, sauna, spa and fresh-water pool. For going ashore, a glass-bottom boat is available to view marine life such as the giant manta ray, also snorkeling gear, swimming in the Pacific and in lagoons, and guided islands tours to meet the locals, attend cultural events and visit schools. PADI 5 star scuba diving is extra and a boat is carried. Crew shows are popular and local talent comes aboard.

Snorkeling in the clear waters surrounding Fiji. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Snorkeling in the clear waters surrounding Fiji. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Special Notes

Children (age 5+) are always welcome, and the outdoor, activity-based itineraries make the REEF ENDEAVOUR a most attractive family vacation.

Along the Same Lines

Blue Lagoon Cruises also operates in Fiji, while other firms cruise French Polynesia.

Contact

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji, PO Box 349, Milsons Point, NSW 1565, Australia; captaincook.com.au; + 61 2 9206 1111. Representatives: USA 866-202-2371; UK +44 (0) 1787 211 668; NZ +64 21 631474

— TWS

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GreenTracks

GreenTracks, in business since 1992, operates wildlife, archeological and cultural cruise and land tours to South America with its geographical emphasis on the Amazon River and its tributaries; Peru and Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, national parks and reserves, and stays in Amazon rain forest lodges; Brazil and the Pantanal for wildlife; and the Galapagos Islands.

Cruises use a wide range of chartered Amazon riverboats, and in the Galapagos, a pair of 16-passenger yachts. GreenTracks specializes in matching cruises with land travel, exploration, and lodge stays. Apart from set departure dates for cruises, cruise-tours, and land-only tours, the firm will customize travel arrangements for groups, and in the case of cruises, will handle from eight to 38 travelers within the fleet it charters.

GreenTracks is the big fish in the Amazon, offering the widest choice of Upper Amazon riverboats from the affordable to the luxurious.

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

THE AMAZON

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Click HERE for GreenTrack’s table listing the eight vessels chartered for their Amazon Cruises with passenger capacities, amenities, length of cruises, price comparisons, and single supplements. All vessels share outside cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities. A few have cabins for a third person such as a child or three friends sharing, while single cabins are scarce. Balcony cabins are few but on the Amazon, you will want to sit out on deck with 360-degree views.  

Note: A couple of the vessels have historic backgrounds, including as far back as the rubber boom at the start of the 20th century.

Passenger Decks

All vessels have three decks, except the CATTLEYA, with just two and cabin space for only eight passengers.

31-passenger ESTRELLA cruises the Upper Amazon. * Photo: GreenTracks

Passenger Profile

With a wide range of accommodations and price levels, the company attracts travelers and cruise passengers of all ages down to as young as about seven years. The majority of passengers will be Americans.

Price

$ to $$$. The chart shows a range of per diem rates.

Itineraries

The Amazon, when referring to these river cruises, is the overall designation that comprises the various Peruvian tributaries flowing into the main stream that becomes the Amazon that ultimately empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Cruises, based in Iquitos, Peru, are mostly 4, 5, and 8 days, and the emphasis on wildlife and cultural pursuits and itineraries varies with different boats.

Destinations are scenic waterways, some penetrating deep into the rain forest and lagoons, national parks and reserves, and riverside villages. Apart from the cruise, nearly everyone tacks on at least a few land days staying at a rain forest lodge or visiting destinations such as Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Peru or Brazil’s national parks.

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II - Green Tracks

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II – Green Tracks

Included Features

Transfers, meals, excursions, guides, and bottled water. Some river boats include soft drinks, beer and wine with meals. As to tipping, some recommend about $80 per person for a week and include the guide, and boat staff, and a few others, a whopping $20-30 a day for the crew and $7-10 per diem for the guides. Those figures must represent their wages.

Why Go?

With the aid of trained GreenTracks guides, you will have plenty of eagle eyes picking out the vast array of birds, mammals, aquatic species seen along the rivers and deep in the rain forests. Village stops are also on the itineraries, many quite isolated and only connected by water.

The riverboats are a comfortable way to take you to numerous locations to then explore more locally in small craft and on foot, followed by relaxing down time at the end of the day. To see more of the country, combine the river cruise with a rain forest lodge stay, a trip up to Machu Picchu or another land destination.

Fish market along the Upper Amazon, Iquitos, Peru

Fish market along the Upper Amazon, Iquitos, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round, and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how deep the exploratory boats can travel up shallow tributaries.

Cabins

Sleeping accommodations vary in size and included amenities, so check the chart and the individual profiles. All cabins are outside with windows and all have private showers and toilets.

Public Rooms

Every riverboat has open deck space for viewing, including portions under cover, a lounge with bar, and a single dining room.

Dining

Passengers eat at the same time for all meals, and feeding times are matched with the day’s excursions. Given the variety of vessels chartered and what you pay, the meals will vary from good substantial offerings that you look forward to on up to gourmet levels you’ll go ga-ga over aboard the more expensive riverboats.

Activities & Entertainment

The activities take place ashore on hikes and in small boats, two to three outings a day. Aboard, a crew member may play a musical instrument, and the tour leader is there to answer questions and lay out the daily programs but generally GreenTracks does not offer formal lectures — unless the group asks for them. The time aboard the boat is for relaxation, enjoying the river when underway, reading up, socializing, sleeping and eating.

Gone Fishing, Upper Amazon, Peru. Photo: Ted Scull

Gone Fishing, Upper Amazon, Peru. Photo: Ted Scull

THE GALAPAGOS

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Sea Star Journey (built 2008; 16 passengers);  Seaman Journey (built 2003, refurbished 2011; 16 passengers).

Itineraries

Galapagos cruises can be as short as 4 days/3 nights and as long as to 15 days/14 nights. Additional days increase the number of islands visited.

Included Features

Excursions, guides, use of equipment. Tipping levels are high (as they tend to be with other lines too in the Galapagos): $8-$10 per person a day for the naturalist and $25-$30 pp a day for the crew.

Why Go?

Wildlife in the air, on land and at sea is amazing for its variety and its casual response to human visitors. You can literally walk (carefully) amongst lounging marine iguanas. Different islands have their own particular species and/or share similar wildlife with other islands. A partial list includes pelicans, frigate birds, blue- and red-footed boobies, penguins, albatross, cormorants, fur seals, sea lions, marine iguanas, and the giant tortoise.

Marine Iguanas, Galapagos, Ecuador. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Marine Iguanas, Galapagos, Ecuador. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go

Cruises operate year-round. The climate is subtropical and the water temperatures are affected by the islands’ location with regard to both the cold Humboldt and the warmer El Nino currents. January to June is warm season with rain and good for ocean activities; July to December is cooler and dry.

Peak periods for visitors are the holidays from before Christmas through New Year’s and summer school’s out months. GreenTracks’ website has a detailed month by month rundown of what to expect from the weather and the wildlife.

Cabins

Both vessels carry just 16 passengers in outside cabins, mostly doubles, one triple on SEAMAN JOURNEY (a twin-hulled catamaran) and also one suite on SEA STAR JOURNEY (a mono-hull yacht).

Galapagos catamaran SEAMAN JOURNEY takes just 16 passengers. * Photo: GreenTracks

Sea Star Journey

Matrimonial Suite aboard Sea Star Journey. * Photo: Green Tracks

Public Rooms

Vessels have a lounge and bar, dining inside and out on deck, covered deck area for relaxing and viewing.

Dining

Meals are of a high standard and carefully presented for the 16 passengers, and everyone dines at the same time.

Activities & Entertainment

By day it’s snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking, hiking, and sandy beaches for swimming; come evening, enjoy mingling with shipmates and recaps of the day’s events and what’s ahead. SEA STAR JOURNEY has a Sun Deck Jacuzzi.

Along the Same Lines

For Amazon River cruises, GreenTracks used such a large and varied fleet that most other well-run firms will share similarities. In the Galapagos, look at the operators of low-capacity yachts.

Contact

GreenTracks, 416 County Road 501, PMB 131, Bayfield, CO 81122; 970-884-6107.

 

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UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures

Seattle-based UnCruise operates a fleet of nine expedition vessels taking from 22 to 90 passengers for those seeking adventure cruises in North America’s coastal, island and inland waters from Alaska south to Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, out amongst Hawaiian Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the Galapagos Archipelago off Ecuador.

The American firm, with origins dating back to 1996, has the largest selection of small ship cruises in Alaska, varied enough for return exploratory voyages. UnCruise Adventures is a shared, unrushed experience. For those who like off-season travel, some Alaska itineraries begin in April as the state’s wildlife is waking up, and the spring months are generally drier than later on.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

WILDERNESS ADVENTURER (b. 1984 & 60 passengers); WILDERNESS DISCOVERER (b. 1992 & 76 p); WILDERNESS EXPLORER (b. 1976 & 74 p); SAFARI ENDEAVOUR (b. 1983 & 84 p); SAFARI EXPLORER (b. 1988 & 36 p); SAFARI QUEST (b. 1992 & 22 p) and SAFARI VOYAGER (b. 1982/renovated 2015 & 64 p).

Replica Coastal Steamer: S.S. LEGACY (b. 1983 & 90 p).

For the LA PINTA (b.   & 48 pax), see Galapagos below. The fleet comparison chart  on the website is useful for what features one ship has that another may not such as single cabins and triples.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Passenger Profile

A varied lot spanning the ages who come for itineraries that combine popular and off-beat destinations. Cruises are as informal as they come, and the emphasis is outdoor activities and exploring, with activities designed for children. The Columbia-Snake cruises had always attracted generally older passengers for its specific slants on history, cultural traditions and scenery, though now with a big focus on active adventure, the passengers ages should go down. As all but one of these ships are American-flagged, and the crews hail from the US of A. The SAFARI VOYAGER is registered in St.Kitts.

Passenger Decks

3 or 4 and no elevators except for the S.S. LEGACY, connecting the three public decks.

Price
$$ – $$$

Weeklong cruises are typically upwards of $3,200 per person, and include shore excursions, booze and other perks. Some 7-night itineraries command twice that, while early spring dates (14 nights) may begin below $5,000. Peruse the lot to find the price you can afford.

Included Features

Shore excursions; use of the skiffs, kayaks and paddle boards; and non-alcoholic beverages. Spirits, wines and microbrews and a complimentary massage are included on all ships (though no massages on Safari Quest or SS Legacy).

Itineraries

Most cruises last 7 nights, and some Alaska cruises may be combined to create 14-night trips. Some cruises have special themes: marine biology, photography, storytellers, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine, Alaska Insiders and a wellness cruise. Here’s the link to UnCruise’s theme offerings. 

The numerous cruising regions are:

Alaska

The 49th state is the line’s prime summer focus involving six ships and 13 different itineraries of 7 nights plus one 8-nighter April to September, in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage embarking in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka. Beginning and end of season one-way repositioning 14-night voyages between Seattle and Juneau operate in April, August and September.

The emphasis is on avoiding the big cruise ship ports and offering outdoor boating activities in scenic coves and fjords, sea life watching, and Native American cultural life. Glacier Bay is on some itineraries. Some expeditions offer wet suit immersions.

UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking is a big part of the UnCruise ethos. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Land tours of 4- and 5-night may be added to include Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad, Kenai Fjords National Park, Anchorage, Seward, and Girdwood, a small mountain town near the Chugach Mountains. Activities featured are guided hikes, dogsled rides, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, river floats, and scenic train rides. Included features are hotels, meals, transfers between the vessel, hotels and airports, and baggage handling. Check out the land operator at Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Related: UnCruise in Alaska … by Judi Cohen.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up. * Photo: Ted Scull

Columbia & Snake – OR & WA

From Portland covering almost one thousand round-trip miles along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far inland as Idaho’s Hells Canyon. The 7-night Rivers of Adventure, running September-October, travel between Portland, OR and Clarkston, and includes an expedition team, kayaking, hiking on the Rowena Plateau, whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River and biking along the Columbia Gorge. Paddle boards and skiffs have been added to the activities.

The 7-night Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruises are offered in November 2018 and  September-November 2019 roundtrip from Portland aboard the 90-passenger S.S. LEGACY and showcasing famed Oregon and Washington State vineyards and produce.

Related: Rivers of Adventure on the Columbia & Snake Rivers  …  by John Roberts

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho's Hells Canyon.

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho’s Hells Canyon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

7-night cruises aboard the 84-passenger SAFARI ENDEAVOUR December 2019 to April 2020 and December 2020 to April 2021 leave from San José del Cabo to islands in the Sea of Cortés and coastal towns, along with hikes for viewing wildlife and landscapes, kayaking and snorkeling, and whale watching (January-March) via overland transfer to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Coast.

Swim alongside sea lions and whale sharks in Bahia de la Paz dubbed the “aquarium of the world.” Take a mule ride into the arroyo with local rancheros. Stargazing and bioluminescence in the water at night.

Hawaiian Islands

From Hawaii (Big Island) or Moloka’i and including Maui and Lana’i. 7-night weekly departures July-August and November December 2019 and year-round in 2020 and 2021 aboard the 36-passenger SAFARI EXPLORER, for water sport activities in the world’s largest marine sanctuary, beach relaxation, searching for Great Pacific manta rays and humpback whales, viewing astounding landscapes and seascapes and taking in cultural activities.

Pacific Northwest – San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and Olympic National Park

Roundtrip from Seattle:

7 nights to the Olympic Peninsula’s mountain wilderness and San Juan Islands for attractive port towns, looking for sea life (seals, sea lions, orcas, whales), and enjoying waterborne activities (hiking, birding, kayaking, paddle boarding). Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April-May and September-November 2019 & 2020.

7 nights to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, exploring deep incisive inlets on the B.C. mainland, and wildlife watching. Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April and September to November.

Friday Harbor in Washington's San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when ships leave Seattle.

Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when Un-Cruise ships leave Seattle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Galapagos

7-night Galapagos cruise in the 48-passenger LA PINTA. Departures April-August & October 2012 & 2020. Optional add-ons: pre-cruise 4-night Amazon rainforest cruise in Ecuador or post-cruise 6-night Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco & Guayaquil land extension.

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Costa Rica  & Panama Canal

7 and 10 nights Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Panama with a canal transit and Colombia (one itinerary) and visits to islands and national wildlife parks, hiking, kayaking, paddle boards, skiffs, and snorkeling. Departures: 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER.  November-March.

Why Go?

The majestic nature of Alaska, the Columbia-Snake rivers, and the Hawaiian Islands are best seen from the decks of a small ship; the varieties of wildlife living in Alaska, Sea of Cortés, Galapagos and Central America; and the cultural connections in all the regions shared close up with less than 100 others (and often below 50) rather than amongst multiple thousands in the mega-ship ports.

When to Go?

The cruises are scheduled for the best weather times of the year, and the UnCruise brochure and website outline with easily understood bar charts the prime months for whale watching or enjoying the wild flowers in Mexico, and in Alaska, wildlife sightings and Northern Lights, plus the optimum driest and sunniest periods. For instance, in Alaska, spring means lots of newly-born animals, migrating birds and whales, lots of snow on the mountains, waterfalls at their peak with runoff, and the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis (other than in winter).

Cabins

The Wilderness prefix vessels have all outside, windowed and mostly small cabins with some double, but mostly queen and twin beds located on two or three decks, TV/DVD players, and iPod docking stations. The Safari-named offer queen, twin or king-size beds, TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. Larger cabins have sitting areas and a few cabins come with French doors and step-out balconies.

The ENDEAVOUR adds a refrigerator to these cabins. The S.S. LEGACY has all outside cabins with view windows; queen, double or twin beds; TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. The top two categories add refrigerators, and the 300 sq. ft. Owner’s Suite goes all the way with a separate bedroom and a large lounge with wet bar and media center for entertaining. it’s a wow for a small ship.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Public Rooms

The Wilderness- and Safari-prefixed ships have one forward lounge and a top deck sun lounge or covered area and a hot tub or sauna. S.S. LEGACY adds a second aft-facing bar-lounge.

Safari Voyager's Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Voyager’s Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Dining

All ships have a single open seating, with a window of time at breakfast and set times for the other meals. The food will be well prepared and reflect the cruising region. Lunches tend to be lighter fare—soups, salads and sandwiches. Occasional barbecues are set up on deck in good weather. Spirits, wine and microbrews are now complimentary at lunch and dinner aboard the entire fleet.

Klondike Dining Saloon. * Photo: Ted Scull

S.S. Legacy – Klondike Dining Saloon and aft lounge and embarkation access through the swinging doors. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

All ships carry expedition teams who give (often illustrated) talks, some based on what the bow camera catches and the underwater hydrophone sees and hears. They organize adventures ashore, guided shore walks and rigorous hikes and explain use of the available craft such as kayaks, inflatable skiffs, and paddle boards.

The fleet has stern boarding platforms (now including S.S. LEGACY) with its Sea Dragon landing), and snorkeling is offered in short sessions, even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, using a supplied wet suit. Note: The line’s website features a comprehensive fleet amenities chart showing what’s available on every vessel.

There are a number of theme cruises including photography, marine biology, ornithology and wellness where experts are on board to offer talks and guidance (see UnCruise’s website). All vessels also have fitness equipment, TV and DVD players in the lounge, and small book libraries.

Hiking in Baja California's Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Hiking in Baja California’s Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Special Notes

The UnCruise Adventures’ 148-page brochure is amazingly well-detailed in all aspects of their expedition business.

For adventure trips, UnCruise has a wide variety of price points and a fleet that includes 22- and 36-berth yachts, 60- to 84-berth small coastal-style ships, and a remarkably winsome Victorian atmosphere aboard the one-of-a-kind S.S. LEGACY. Private charters are available for all ships.

Along the Same Lines

Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions.

Related: Small-Ship Cruising with Alaskan Dream Cruises … by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Contact

UnCruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119; US & Canada 888-862-8881; International (00) 800 12639888.

— TWS

 

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Lindblad Expeditions

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Reader Reviews About Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad in Alaska
Reader Review: Lindblad in Alaska's Inside Passage. REVIEWER Elizabeth Moss from the USA. CRUISE LINE Lindblad Expeditions. SHIP National Geographic ...
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NAT GEO VENTURE in Alaska. REVIEWER Laura Virkler  from the USA. CRUISE LINE Lindblad Expeditions. SHIP National Geographic Venture. DESTINATION ...
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QuirkyCruise Reader Review: NAT GEO ORION in Antarctica (Lindblad) by Anisha M.
Orion in Antarctica (Lindblad). REVIEWER Anisha  from the USA. CRUISE LINE Lindblad Expeditions. SHIP National Geographic Orion. DESTINATION Antarctica. # ...
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National Geographic Endeavour II in the Galapagos REVIEWER Sapna Rao from Singapore. CRUISE LINE Lindblad Expeditions. SHIP National Geographic Endeavour ...
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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

Based in New York, Lindblad Expeditions has a long legacy dating back to Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos beginning in the mid-1960s. In the intervening years, the firm, under the leadership of his son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, has expanded its fleet and ship charters to basically blanket the world for those in search of an adventure by sea. Destinations are expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica; natural history and wildlife cruises to the Galapagos, Indonesia and Borneo; cultural and historical voyages to the British Isles, Greek Isles and Morocco, revived cruise tours to Ancient Egypt — the list goes on and on.

The joint venture with the National Geographic Society established in 2004 expanded Lindblad’s passenger base and drew on the Society’s expertise; especially its photographers who enrich the pages of National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveler.  The relationship has expanded from itineraries in the US, Australia and New Zealand to Canada and Latin America.  As a four-time passenger I have always had the strong sense that the expedition and enrichment staff genuinely want to bring you absolutely the best experience possible. The large number on every voyage makes a huge difference in having them readily at hand when ashore or in Zodiacs and providing a rich variety of expertise.

Lindblad Expeditions

The N. G ENDURANCE represents the latest in Expedition ship design. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

In January 2017, Lindblad took delivery of the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II to replace the long-serving N. G. ENDEAVOUR  in the Galapagos. Then in July 2017, a newly-built 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST became the first of two ordered ships to sail alongside the veterans N.G. SEA BIRD and N. G. SEA LION in Alaska, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and to reintroduce Belize itineraries.

The second, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, l entered service in October 2018 on the U.S. west coast. Her seasonal itineraries will be in Baja, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. US-flag ships come from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, near Seattle. Not stopping there, in mid-March 2018, Lindblad held a keel laying ceremony for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE (126 passengers) commencing construction at the Crist Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland. This Polar Class 5 rated ship is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020, and ENDURANCE recalls the name of Ernest Shackleton’s pioneering Antarctic expedition vessel.

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. ENDURANCE offers 13 two-room balcony suites. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

 

The ships vary from perhaps the best-equipped expedition ships afloat to the most nimble for poking around confined spaces, along narrow rivers and into tiny island coves. Here, we treat the ships one by one, to see what they offer and where they venture — some go all over and others stay in one region.

It is hard to beat Lindblad for its creative and professional approach to expedition cruising, so be prepared to pay for the high standards.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (148 passengers & built 1982 as the rugged Norwegian coastal passenger and roll-on, roll-off ferry liner MIDNATSOL, enlarged for the same service 1989, and rebuilt into an expedition ship in 2008).

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers come on selected expeditions and so do families; Lindblad has a fine program for children, best in the Polar Regions and Galapagos.

Passenger Decks

6. An elevator serves all decks apart from B-Deck for Internet center, Mud Room and lockers.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to the crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (NGEX) covers more territory in one calendar year than any other in the fleet. In winter, the polar regions include Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia (along with N.G. ORION); in summer the Norwegian fjords, Arctic Norway, Svalbard, Iceland (including a circumnavigation), Greenland, Canadian Arctic and Canadian Maritimes; Fall down South America’s west coast from Peru south to Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) for another Antarctic season; and closing the circle, a spring return to Europe via the Atlantic Islands, Iberia and onto the British Isles and Ireland. Watch for new itineraries. One Iceland and Greenland itinerary includes flights over the latter’s remote glaciers as well as land and sea travel.

Why Go?

The NGEX is  one of the best equipped expedition ship afloat with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as sophisticated equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for underwater exploration, hydrophone, underwater video camera, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore via Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor. On European itineraries, cultural experts and historians are aboard.

When to Go?

The ship ventures to various regions in the most suitable season such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic regions in summer.

Cabins

All cabins, of mostly moderate size (some larger suites), are outside, majority with windows, eight with portholes, and all thankfully have blackout curtains for 24-hour daylight sailings. Beds are queen-size, twins with some convertible to queens, and seven can take a third person at 50% reduction of the double occupancy rate; 13 have balconies. A nice extra is a World Atlas placed in cabins and open to the page you will be exploring. How about that for service?

Public Rooms

Main lounge (seats everyone) with bar equipped for films, slide shows and presentations; observation lounge on Bridge Deck with domed-roof and adjacent library; navigation bridge is generally open to passengers for meeting officers, learning about navigation and spotting wildlife; chart room for studying the region sailing to; fitness center, spa and sauna, Internet café.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is often another public room for the passengers.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is popular gathering place for  passengers, one of the delights of expedition cruising. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Single seating dining room forward and adjacent Bistro (same menu) has additional seating (some tables for two) in a more relaxed arrangement. Meals also offer buffet items at breakfast and lunch. The food is of good quality and well prepared, though that extra freshness may be lacking in remote regions. Lunch buffets also take place up in the domed observation lounge. Go for it; the view while eating is great!

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the excursions ashore and in Zodiacs accompanied by the expedition staff, sharing pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights — with underwater videos shot that day being shown, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the expedition staff. Unscheduled Zodiac excursions may occur when wildlife appears along the shore.

On Svalbard, for example, a polar bear may be spotted as a tiny speck on the ice, and passengers begin to gather, standing in total silence at the bow to watch the distance between the ship nosed into the pack ice and curious bear get ever shorter. I have seen polar bears walk up to the bow and sniff the smells we give off.

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during a cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen)

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during an expedition cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen) * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Orion

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia's Kimberley Coast.

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION (102 passengers & built 2003 as ORION for Australian-based Orion Cruises, acquired by Lindblad in 2013 and underwent a major refit.

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers and families come on selected voyages. Given the cruising areas, now Antarctica and the South Pacific, expect some Europeans and Australians.

Passenger Decks

5 decks with an elevator connecting all but the Expedition Deck for the Mud Room, Zodiac boarding and Doctor’s Office.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

Winter in Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia from Ushuaia, Argentina (along with N.G. EXPLORER);  in spring, the NGOR heads first to Chile then across the South Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island for cruises to Tahiti and around French Polynesia. Also, in the summer in Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea, and the Russian Arctic and Russian Far East.

Why Go?

Here is a prime example of an expedition ship that excels for its comforts, style and travel adventure. The N.G. ORION is particularly well-equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, snorkeling gear, scuba diving gear for 24 passengers (on certain itineraries), a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, underwater video cameras, video microscope, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore and in Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor.

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to the best season exploring a specific region such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter November to March, while the rest of the year most other cruising areas are in tropical waters.

Cabins

Roomy for a small ship and beautifully-designed and furnished; twin beds that convert to queens, all are outside, 19 with oval windows; 9 with balconies, some of which are small and some shared with neighbors (no partitions); flat-screen TV with DVD/CD player, mini-fridge, personal safe, Internet access for laptops, shower except 4 suites with bathtub. Third person pays 50% of double-occupancy rate in triple-bed cabins. 4 single cabins.

Public Rooms

Attractive main lounge with sit-up bar that seats all for talks and films; renovated observation lounge and library; open bridge policy makes the navigation center another well-used public room.

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Orion: Lunchtime on deck in Australia.
* Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Meals are served at one open seating in a restaurant with large-view windows; delightful outdoor café serves buffet breakfast and lunches, and barbecue dinners when the weather is warm. Food is very good and often connected to the cruising region.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the guided excursions ashore, including on foot and bicycles, and in Zodiacs, the evening pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights with a film of underwater videos shot that day, a recap of the day’s happenings, and the presentation by the expedition and the lecture staff of the plan for tomorrow. Small hot tub aft on Observation Deck. Fitness center, sauna and spa.

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

QuirkyCruise Review

National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

This ship replaced the long-serving NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR  in early January 2017. The replacement started life as the VIA AUSTRALIS (b. 2005 & 136 passengers), and after major refit now carries just 96 passengers. The family friendly ship will has seven sets of connecting cabins and six triples, and for solo passengers, nine single cabins.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, with some other nationalities, and as Lindblad is well-prepared to handle children, families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

If swimming with sea lions and sidestepping marine iguanas stretched out in the sun sounds intriguing, then think about a week’s small-ship adventure in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago. Even wildlife names and antics are intriguing, such as blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance by lifting one foot, bending their wings and whistling. Days are spent on the water in Zodiacs, in the water snorkeling, and on land hiking with a trained naturalist guide.

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

That requires a somewhat complex answer. The peak seasons, because of the school holidays, last from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. December through May, the water is warm for snorkeling and swimming but there will be fewer fish to see. Most days in the first months will see some rain.

The latter part of the season is spring mating time for animals and birds on land, especially sea lions and turtles, plus wild flowers in bloom. June through November brings on the colder waters of the Humboldt Current, therefore, more fish and sea birds are looking for prey, but snorkeling is going to be less comfortable and the ocean is rougher.

Cabins

56, all outside with windows or portholes on Main and A decks. Most cabins are smallish and have compact bathrooms with showers. Amenities are a small fridge and video player.

Public Rooms

Lounge with bar seats all passengers; separate library on the deck above; open bridge policy provides another room and fraternizing with the officers; spa, sauna and fitness center.

Dining

Restaurant is forward on Upper Deck with large view windows either side, and the food is of good quality with some local island ingredients, and Ecuadorian fish such as Wahoo and Dorado.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and the glass-bottom boat with guides and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera screened, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the naturalists. Small dip-in pool on Veranda Deck aft.

A newly introduced  activity is plein air drawing where a resident artist instructs passengers during regular sessions on board and shore to create images of the wildlife they see, and many are tame enough to pose for you. Look for the departure dates that include this activity.

Lindblad Expeditioins

Sea lion and pup in Galapagos Islands. National Geographic Islander in background. * Photo: David Vargas

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Naturalists that Lindblad hires are likely to be amongst the best available in a very active cruising area. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadorean.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER (48 passengers & built as the twin-hulled catamaran ISLANDER in 1995, first cruised in Scotland, and taken on by Lindblad in 2004 and renamed).

Passenger Profile

Largely Americans and some Europeans; varied ages and families at holiday periods.

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above, plus the advantage, for some, choosing a ship with half the number of passengers compared to N.G. ENDEAVOUR. Also see this ship above for “Why Go.”

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

24 outside, mostly compact cabins on three decks, all with windows. Twins may be arranged as a double or as queen beds. Two cabins can accommodate a third person. Eight cabins on the Upper Deck have glassed-in terraces.

Public Rooms

Aft lounge seats all passengers for evening recaps, lectures and films; adjacent library and Internet Café, fitness center, covered seating aft on Upper Deck, open bridge policy.

Dining

Restaurant is aft on Bridge Deck with open seating for all to dine at one time. Food is average to good with some tasty Ecuadorian specialties.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and glass-bottom boat with guides, and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera shown, a look back at the recent happenings, and a plan for tomorrow by the naturalists. See additional Activities under the N.G. ENDEAVOUR.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadoran.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  QUEST  (built in 2017 and 100 passengers); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE followed in 2018.

Passenger Profile

Varies depending on the itinerary but mostly Americans, and some Europeans and Australians. Family during the school holidays, attracted by special programs and connecting cabins.

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

All sightseeing excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking, snorkeling gear, wet suits, non-alcoholic drinks..

Itineraries

The NG QUEST expedition ship offers many options, depending on the season and in brief they are: Alaska and Inside Passage (along B. C. coast at the beginning & end of season); Columbia and Snake rivers; Channel Islands off California; Baja California; along the Costa Rican coast and islands and Panama, including a canal transit; and Belize for the reefs, rivers and Mayan ruins.

NG VENTURE covers Alaska and B. C. coast; San Juan Islands; Channel Islands off California; and a long stint in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

The NG QUEST, completed in 2017, and NG VENTURE in 2018 have many of the latest features for an expedition vessel and a wide variety of destinations.

When to Go?

The itineraries are geared to the best season for visiting  the destinations.

Cabins

50 outside cabins(136 to 185 sq.ft., and 22 of these with step-out balconies). 6 cabins connect providing side-by-side accommodations for families.

Public Rooms

Large lounge for gathering before meals, including the day’s recap, lectures and videos, and leads out to a viewing platform; dining room aft with windows on three sides; gym and spa; open and partly covered sun deck; and open bridge policy, in effect providing another public room.

Dining

All dining is at one open seating, and the menus will reflect the wide-ranging itineraries.

Activities & Entertainment

While the so-called entertainment category includes presentations by the expedition staff before and after dinner and time at sea; the activities ashore will vary according to the specific itinerary; equipment available includes 10-12 passenger landing craft embarked from two landing platforms and 24 sea kayaks and a fleet of paddelboats; remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for exploring the sea beneath the ship and bringing back images; bow camera, underwater camera, hydrophone for collecting sounds that sea creatures make, video microscope, kayaks, wet suits and snorkeling equipment.

Special Notes

This pair was built by Nichols Brothers, Whidbey Island, Washington, the same yard that completed the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD. They fly the US flag hence they can sail on domestic itineraries without having to call at a foreign port, although the pair does venture south to Mexico and Central America.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD (62 passengers & built 1981, later upgraded and reduction in passenger capacity by eliminating lowest-deck cabins.

Most recently with the arrival of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST and NG VENTURE the old pair were further refitted with newly redecorated interiors for the lounge and bar, dining room and cabins. They carry sea kayaks, a fleet of paddleboats, video microscope, hydrophone and bow camera.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, generally 50+ and few families on the Columbia-Snake itineraries, and more likely on the other trips, especially during school holidays.

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

$$ Expensive but less pricey than the two new US flag vessels.

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries
  • Southeast Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka.
  • One-way positioning cruises early May and early September between Seattle via the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast, calling at Haida Gwaii (island) and into Southeast Alaska.
  • Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coast of Baja California for serious whale watching. In the height of whale watching season — gray and hopefully sperm, blue and fin whales in the lagoons along the Pacific Coast, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Channel Islands and Santa Catalina from Los Angeles for the beach life, hiking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and meditation sessions.

Intense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted ScullIntense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

Every itinerary has its numerous attractions. Alaska: glaciers, fjords, wildlife on land and sea and with the grandeur of Glacier Bay National the highlight, especially enjoyed on such a small ship; Baja California on both coasts for the varieties of birds; snorkeling among sea lions; coastal and island hikes.

Both vessels are about as simple as any small ships get, a bit pokey, past their prime, yet well maintained with excellent expedition staffs. So forget any thought of luxury and go for the wonderful experience. The Columbia-Snake rivers route was my first soft-adventure by ship – the Sea Lion, some 30 years ago.

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The two ships are positioned where the weather is best for expedition and soft adventure activities, so there are no cautions needed.

Cabins

Small and all outside with view windows, some twins may be converted to a double bed, and a few can take a third person at 50% of the double occupancy rate. Cabins on Bridge and Upper decks open onto a side promenade, while Main Deck cabins are accessed from a central corridor. These latter six cabins are also adjacent to the dining room, therefore a convenient, but also trafficked corridor.

Public Rooms

A single forward observation lounge with a bar; forward outdoor open observation deck and partly covered Bridge Deck. Spa and exercise equipment.

Dining

Food is good with buffet at breakfast, family-style service at lunch and served dinners.

Activities & Entertainment

Evening recaps of the day; plans for the day ahead and talks (some illustrated) by the naturalist staff using results of underwater video and video microscope. Depending on the itinerary, kayaking, snorkeling (with wet suits in Baja), and expedition landing craft for going ashore on hikes.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard on in Baja and Costa Rica/Panama and an undersea specialist in Alaska and Baja.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

Sea Cloud
SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lindblad charters the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD ($$$), a legendary sailing vessel built in Germany as a private yacht in 1931 and converted to a cruise vessel in 1979. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to sail in her —  in the Mediterranean, the Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens); along the Greek and Dalmatian coasts between Piraeus (Athens) and Dubrovnik; and Sicily and Malta.

The best, and the most expensive cabins, are the beautifully furnished eight originals on Main Deck when the Sea Cloud was E.F. Hutton’s private yacht built for his wife, Marjorie Meriweather Post (cereal heiress). The added cabins are modern, very attractively fitted and considerably less expensive, though not cheap. The main lounge is beautifully paneled and with parquet floors. Food and service are great, and some meals are taken out on deck. The Caribbean offers just the occasional one-week cruise from Barbados in winter.

Delfin II

Lindblad has chartered the Amazon riverboat DEFLIN II ($$$) since 2010 taking 28 passengers in 14 luxurious cabins on one-week cruises along two of the river’s upper tributaries. The riverboat has an enclosed lounge, an open lounge and bar under a top deck canopy. The dining saloon is the deck below with big windows facing aft, and the food is quite special and sometimes exotically sourced from the rain forest.

The cabins, with a desk and chair, are lovely with wood trim, wooden floors, large view windows, twin beds that can form kings; and two suites have king-size beds only. Some can be interconnected for families, and four face forward with terrific views. Bathrooms are roomy. Excursions ashore are made in 10-person skiffs and kayaks, plus some walking where paths exist.

A national reserve in remote Amazonia is the highlight, looking out for exotic bird species, monkeys and anacondas of the rain forest, and pink and gray dolphins, piranhas and red-eyed caiman in the dark waters, sometimes decorated with giant water lilies. Cruises operate year-round except April and September.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

The more than comfortable 48-passenger riverboat JAHAN ($$$) cruises the Mekong between Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia and My Tho (near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) on 15-day cruise-tours from January to March. The famous temple complex, Cambodia’s capital at Phnom Penh, and the teeming life along the river are the highlights.

Harmon V  (Note: This ship is not currently operating.)

This chartered 46-passenger ship, with stabilizers, will take 46 passengers in all outside cabins with windows on 11-day cruise tours beginning in December and running through March. Days 1-3 are spent in Havana then 4-11 on board the ship calling at the colonial cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, located on Cuba’s south coast, Islas de la Juventud and the Bay of Pigs where a failed U.S. invasion took place in 1961.

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

Lindblad’s building its first ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, a 126-passenger ship with the distinctive X-BOW to provide fuel efficiency and significantly improve passenger comfort in rough seas. Delivery for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE is planned for early 2020.

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Scottish 48-passenger, 4-deck vessel with 52 outside cabins makes 9-day canal, loch and island itineraries in June, July and August between Kyle of Lochalsh (across from the Isle of Skye) and Inverness. The route calls for stops on Skye, Eigg or Rhum, Iona, Oban, Loch Linnhe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Neptune’s Steps (flight of locks) in the Caledonian Canal, then passing through Loch Ness to Inverness, thus having crossed the Scottish mainland to just short of the North Sea.

Note: For a fuller account of the ship and its itinerary, go to the ship’s owner, Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Oberoi Philae

The newly-rebuilt Nile riverboat with enlarged accommodations for 42 in 22 cabins and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, including four suites, has two restaurants with one on the Sun Deck, and several lounges. 13-day cruise tours will operate between January and March and September to December.

The land portion begins in Cairo for the museum, Coptic churches in Old Cairo and Ben Ezra synagogue before flying south to Luxor and boarding the 6-day cruise that give access to the temple at Luxor and Karnak, a felucca sail, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the island temple at Philae on the far side of the Aswan High Dam. After visiting the temple at Abu Simbel, fly back to Cairo to stay at the Mena House (the original and now much enlarged hotel adjacent to the Pyramids at Giza), plus step pyramid at Saqqara. A five-day extension is available to Jordan.

Contact

Lindblad Expeditions, 96 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014; 800-397-3348 or 212-265-3770.

TWS

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Anne Hanifen from the USA.

Cruise Line

Viking River Cruises.

Ship

Viking Lofn.

Destination

Rhine River.

# of Nights

7.

Departure Date & Ports

June 2017, Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland; stopping at German and French ports along Rhine River.

Overall Rating

5 out of 5 stars  (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

Review

For our first family cruise we took a seven-day Viking Rhine river excursion from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland.  Although there was an option to stay in Amsterdam for three days prior to embarkation, we opted to add three days in Lucerne, Switzerland at the end of the cruise.  Thankfully, we had the afternoon to see some of Amsterdam before the ship departed around midnight as Viking provided shuttles into the city and tours all day.  After a long flight it was a treat to have easy access to the city and an opportunity to explore a bit.

With 50 crew members aboard the Viking Lofn, the approximately 190 passengers were taken care of well.  Our state rooms on the upper deck were modern with small balconies, air conditioning, internet (spotty at times) and television (not a lot of movie options for our teenagers).  We all enjoyed the complimentary fresh baked goods, coffee, tea and cocoa available in the common area all day.  The dining on board was exceptional with many wines, cooking demonstrations and delicacies from the local areas we visited.  Though the menu choices changed daily, there were certain items that pickier eaters could always order.

Traveling between ports primarily overnight was quiet and relaxing, while each day offered new places to explore.  Transportation, local guides and access to historic sites were all included.  Passengers could tour on their own, remain on board, or participate in the well-organized included tours.  For a fee, Viking offered additional tours at many of our stops along the Rhine.  We added a tour of the medieval village of Colmar, which was charming with canals, half-timber houses and Alsatian architecture.  Our daughters aged 15 and 18 were old enough to appreciate the history and culture of all the sites we visited.  One of our favorite days was spent touring the Marksburg castle in the morning and lounging on the upper sundeck in the afternoon as we cruised past numerous castles perched above the scenic Rhine.

At the end of the cruise, Viking provided transportation for those traveling on to Lucerne and booked us in a gorgeous hotel overlooking the lake.  Viking maintained staff in the hotel lobby to arrange activities as well as transportation to the airport in Zurich for our return flight.  Viking took care of every detail and the service was fantastic.  The cruise was excellent from start to finish and we would happily travel with Viking again.

 

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Adventures by Disney

By Anne Kalosh.

Disney fans will get more opportunities to explore Europe by river in 2019, including a new cruise on the Seine from Paris. Adventures by Disney, which offers meticulously planned, guided group tours, will increase its European river departures to 21 on the Danube, Rhine and, for the first time, the Seine.

The nine-night Seine vacation combines two days exploring Paris, followed by eight days of cruising to destinations such as Conflans, Vernon and more. The program operates with AmaWaterways, which has customized several vessels for families.

Adventures by Disney

AmaLyra, one of AmaWaterways’ vessels designed for families, will operate the Seine program. * Photo: Adventures by Disney

Highlights of the Seine package include culinary experiences such as a gourmet food tasting tour, regional wine and cheese sampling and hands-on macaron-making. There will be guided tours of Paris icons like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, plus active excursions for the whole family, including biking, canoeing, horseback riding, a ropes course and hiking on the cliffs of Etretat.

Other immersive experiences include a visit to Monet’s House and Gardens in Giverny, a painting workshop and an apple orchard visit with calvados tastings. In addition, travelers can go to the Normandy American Cemetery. And castle tours with rich historical storytelling will be offered at Chateau de Bizy, Chateau Malmaison and Chateau Gaillard.

Adventures by Disney

Families can visit Monet’s garden at Giverny and take a painting class. * Photo: Adventures by Disney

An extension package to Disneyland Paris Resort is available, too.

This new Seine itinerary will be offered in two summer departures for families and two fall epicurean sailings exclusively for adults, with food and wine experiences on and off the vessel.

As well, Adventures by Disney will provide a mix of family and adult-only Danube and Rhine cruises next year. The Rhine program visits France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. Experiences on the seven-night vacations range from riding a toboggan in the Black Forest to exploring the storybook Heidelberg Castle.

Adventures by Disney

Biking in the Netherlands on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Adventures by Disney

Eight summer departures in 2019 are designed for families, while two adult-exclusive epicurean sailings will take place during the fall.

Also in 2019, Adventures by Disney will offer seven Danube departures, including five for families during the summer, a family holiday themed sailing in December and an adult-exclusive Oktoberfest-themed cruise in September. These seven-night tours visit Germany, Austria and Hungary. Travelers can climb above the German treetops, learn to make strudel in Austria, and stroll through charming towns and villages.

 

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Australis

Australis

If you really want to get away from it all, but don’t have a ton of time, Chilean cruise line Australis offers short expedition cruises of a week or less to the southernmost regions of Chile and Argentina, and they can be combined with land tours in the region. They’re ideal voyages for adventure seekers eager to soak up the beautifully rugged and fantastical landscape of this remote corner of the world. The expedition cruise line has been sailing through Patagonia’s southernmost channels for some 25 years, including the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, and the many fjords and waterways of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, going as far south as the mythical and remote Cape Horn island, one of many small islands “at the end of the world” where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. Getting all the way down to Tierra del Fuego to start the expedition is a long journey, but for the curious and the intrepid, the trip is more than worthwhile. Penguins and glaciers beckon, and so does the allure of the legendary explorers who paved the way decades and centuries before us, from Ernest Shackleton to Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Drake and Ferdinand Magellan.

Read our STELLA AUSTRALIS feature article by Randy Mink here.

 

Australis

The Australis 2. * Photo: Australis

 

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

STELLA AUSTRALIS (built 2010; 210 passengers); a sister ship, VENTUS AUSTRALIS (b. 2018; 210 p.) operates September to April.

Passenger Profile

Generally about 45% of passengers are European, 45% North American and the rest mostly from South America. Announcements are made in English and Spanish, and excursion guides speak both languages with excursions divided into groups accordingly. Depending on the passenger mix, announcements and excursions may also be conducted in a third language, say French, Italian, Portuguese or German. In December there are often more families with children sailing (look for children-sail-free promotions).

Australis

Zipping around on zodiacs is business as usual. * Photo- Australis


Passenger Decks

Five decks and no elevator.

Price

$$ and not a lot of extra charges.

Itineraries

Between September and April choose from 4-night (one way) and 8-night (roundtrip) cruises between Punta Arenas, Chile, and Ushuaia, Argentina. Destinations are Tierra del Fuego, Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Magdalena Island for Magellanic penguins, and Eagle, Condor, Pia and Garibaldi glaciers.   Before or after the cruise, many passengers stay a few days in Ushuaia or take a tour to the gorgeous Torres del Paine National Park or the town of Calafate, gateway to Los Glaciares National Park. To or from Patagonia, many add on stopovers in Santiago, Chile and/or Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Included Features

All meals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages when barman is on duty, and shore excursions. There is no Wifi or Internet access on board. Suggested tipping is $15 per day per person.

Why Go?

To tick Cape Horn off your list and see some fascinating and very desolate territory — fewer people set foot on Cape Horn than in Antarctica. (For some, it’s also a way to see some of what you would see on an Antarctica cruise — penguins and glaciers! — without spending much more time and money to do a full Antarctica cruise; furthermore, some people want to avoid the often very rough seas on the 500-mile journey across the Drake Passage to Antarctica.) N.B. The landing at Cape Horn is subject to favorable weather conditions. On average, landings occurred for 70% of the cruises.

Close up views. * Photo: Australis

Close up views. * Photo: Australis


When to Go?

The summer season in the southern hemisphere is September through April, with the best months weather-wise being January and February. No matter when you go, though, weather can change quickly and you can feel like you’re getting four seasons in one day.

Cabins

All rooms are outside measuring 177 square feet and have large picture windows. Cabins are comfortable but basic, and are configured as doubles or twins, with a chair or two (and no TV). Bathrooms have showers and hairdryers.

Public Rooms

Overall, the ship’s decor is pleasant with nautically inspired blues, beiges and wood tones. The hub is the Darwin Lounge, with a bar and plenty of sofas and chairs with prime views of the passing landscape through floor-to-ceiling windows (everyone can be seated here at one time). Order drinks from the bartender or help yourself to beer and soft drinks from the stocked mini-fridge. There are two other smaller lounges, also with large windows: the aft Sky Lounge with its black-and-white photos of sailboats and models of expedition ships associated with Darwin and Shackleton, and the smaller and cozy forward-facing Yamana Lounge with leather furniture.

The Darwin Lounge is the ship's hub. * Photo: Australis

The Darwin Lounge is the ship’s hub. * Photo: Australis


Dining

Eating isn’t the main point on this cruise, though meals are satisfying enough. The dining room has tables for 4 and 6, with windows along both sides. Themed lunch buffets get high marks from most, with a focus cuisines like Japanese, Italian or Patagonian fare (like lamb empanadas and King Crab chowder). Dinner is a la carte from a menu with choices that often include regional favorites, like grilled conger fillet with pastel de choclo, a typical South American sweet corn dish, or entrees like braised lamb with mashed potatoes. Breakfast is buffet. A small station in the Sky Lounge offers a selection of tea, coffee, juices and snacks throughout the day.

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis


Activities & Entertainment

By day the show of course is the landscape all around you, with a fleet of 6 inflatable zodiac boats zipping passengers to national parks for onshore treks, remote beaches for penguin spotting, and the edge of glaciers for close-up looks. On board, there’s a GPS chart in all three lounges to track the ship’s course every step of the way. Come evenings enjoy conversation over drinks and dinner, with bingo or karaoke offered for those interested. Talks by the onboard experts about the features, flora and wildlife of the region are a daily event, usually in the morning and/or again before dinner, and at least one relevant documentary shown as well. The 9 to 10 expert expedition guides on each cruise lecture in both Spanish and English; some also speak French, German, Italian and/or Portuguese. There are translator audio headsets for anyone who may need one. For families, there are no special activities for children and none are required, as the daily program is super educational and memorable for adventurers of all ages.

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis


Along the Same Lines

No one else regularly sails in this Patagonian region.

Contact

Australis, Ave. El Bosque Norte 0440, 11th floor, Santiago, Chile; www.australis.com lists regional offices as well. Phone: USA 1-800-743-0119; Europe +34 93 497 0484

 

 

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Ecoventura

Ecoventura

This family-run expedition cruise company has specialized in small-ship cruises to the Galapagos Islands for more than 30 years and owns a fleet of  three vessels — two 20-passenger motor yachts, two are more high-end than the third, and one 16-passenger dive live-aboard boat for advanced divers. All are custom-built in Ecuador for Galapagos cruising. Ecoventura is focused on quality, small-group travel with a guarantee of no more than 10 travelers per guide.

Ecoventura

The 20-passenger Origin. * Photo: Ecoventura

The conservation-minded company prides itself on its commitment to sustainable tourism, from reducing carbon emissions — for instance, by installing 40 solar panels and 2 wind generators on its ERIC yacht — to partnering with conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Ecology Project International to fund marine conservation education programs for local children and teens.

Back in 2000, Ecoventura was the first company to earn and maintain the Smart Voyager volunteer ecological certification that’s based on a set of strict conservation standards created by scientists and other experts that spurred other lines to do the same. More recently they earned another conservation verification set by the Rainforest Alliance for travel companies who meet a laundry list of comprehensive benchmarks for conserving natural resources, protecting wildlife and helping local communities thrive. You’re in safe green hands when you travel with Ecoventura.

Ecoventura

The sundeck on the upcoming Theory. * Rendering: Ecoventura

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LETTY (b 1994; 20 p); ORIGIN (b 2016; 16 p); THEORY (b 2019; 20 p). The last ship’s name comes from Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and ORIGIN from his Origin of Species.

Passenger Profile

About 70% hail from North America, and the rest mostly from the UK, Australia/New Zealand and Europe (on SKY it’s a more even mix between North Americans and Europeans). About 40% are families with the kids and another 40% are active seniors 60+. Families with children 12+ are welcome at any time throughout the year, while for younger kids, there are special family-oriented departures during school breaks for ages 5 through 11 (younger kids are allowed if the family is charting the entire vessel). Every year there are a handful of special cruises geared to families with teens and a few others for families with college-age offspring.

Ecoventura

Wow, look how close I can get! * Photo: Ecoventura

Passenger Decks

4 and no elevators

Price

$$$

Included Features

Meals and non-alcoholic drinks, plus house wine and local beer at dinner (the higher-end ORIGIN and THEORY have an open bar 24/7), plus all guided shore excursions, use of snorkeling gear, kayaks, wet suits (coveted June to November when water temps are between 65 and 72 degrees), and transfers from the airport to the docks. While gratuities are optional, the suggested amount is a hefty $250-300 per person for the week for LETTY, ORIGIN, and tTHEORY.

Ecoventura

A giant tortoise, the star of the Galapagos. * Photo: Ecoventura

Itineraries

LETTY & ORIGIN and THEORY alternate between two different 7-night Galapagos itineraries round-trip from San Cristobal and departing every Sunday, making it ideal for those who wish to combine them for a two-week trip. (The Galapagos National Park requires lines to alternative routes in an effort to lessen over-use of the most popular islands).

Southern/Central route visits multiple points on the islands of San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Bartolome, South Plaza and North Seymour.

Northern/Western route calls on multiple points on the islands of Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Isabela and Santiago.

Ecoventura

The beloved blue footed booby. * Photo: Ecoventura

Cabins

The LETTY has 10 outside cabins across three decks, measuring a compact 100 square feet or so. The décor has a nautical flair with polished teak wood and brass fittings; the rooms have two twins or one double bed, with two cabins accommodating three people. The Iguana Deck cabins, on the lowest level, have very small “port light” windows, while the cabins on the upper two decks have larger windows.

A Letty cabin with twin beds. * Photo: Ecoventura

A Letty cabin with twin beds. * Photo: Ecoventura

ORIGIN’s and THEORY’s 10 roomy double cabins have a modern, light décor and a much more upscale feel than the cabins on LETTY; they measure 140 square feet and are all located on one deck and have large windows. Twin beds can be converted to kings and there are two rooms with interconnecting doors and two with a third pull-down bunk-style birth. The cabins have Apple TV with pre-loaded movies, universal docking station and an Espresso and tea kettle set-up.

Ecoventura

A Double Cabin on Origin. * Photo: Ecoventura

Public Rooms & Dining

The boats has an indoor lounge for island briefings by the two onboard naturalists and for hanging out and mingling with your shipmates. There’s also a bar, a mini boutique for logo items, a small library, and outdoor deck space for lounging and scenery gazing. Aboard the ORIGIN and THEORY, the open decks have bed-sized chaise lounges and a pair of hammocks, and there’s a hot tub at the stern of the cabin deck.  ORIGIN and THEORY also have a small gym — a big WOW on ships of this size.

Ecoventura

The elegant common area aboard the Theory. * Rendering: Ecoventura

All have an indoor dining salon with buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and served dinners at tables for four on LETTY and aboard ORIGIN and THEORY, tables from 2 to 10). The ORIGIN and THEORY also have an outdoor grill and adjacent seating for lunch; occasionally lunches aboard LETTY  are also served out on deck. At dinner, you get a choice of two appetizers (such as mushroom risotto with goat cheese or a seafood and potato leek soup) and two entrees (from beef loin to crab encrusted wahoo fish over sautéed spinach), followed by a dessert the likes of cheesecake or bananas foster. There are always vegetarian options as well.

Letty's dining area. * Photo: Ecoventura

Letty’s dining area. * Photo: Ecoventura

Activities & Entertainment

Like on all Galapagos cruises, the main show is the wildlife and scenery of the destination itself, and it’s entertaining to chat about it all with your fellow passengers, naturalists and crew.  Each day, you’ll be exploring on land on guided hikes and also in the water via tenders and zodiac boats (2 are carried on board each vessel), flipping over the side to snorkel and swim. On all but the SKY dive boat, there are a handful of kayaks on board for passengers to take turns using where possible. If you’re feeling cold in the water (those hailing from warm climates may find the water chilly), there are complimentary wet suits to borrow. One naturalist per 8 passengers accompanies on all outings.

Underwater exploring may wow you with sightings of schooling hammerheads, giant whale sharks, bottlenose dolphins, octopus, rays of all shapes and colors, turtles, Galapagos fur seals and much more, i.e. considered some of the best sites in the world.

Along the Same Lines

Closest are Kleintours, International Nature & Cultural Adventures (INCA), Andando Cruises, Quasar, and Ocean Adventures (recently bought by Celebrity Cruises).

Contact

Ecoventura, 5805 Blue Lagoon Drive, Suite 160, Miami, Florida 33126; 800-633-7972 USA & Canada; 305-262-6264 rest of the world, www.ecoventura.com. For LETTY, ORIGIN & THEORY, the US-based sale agent is Galapagos Network (part of Ecoventura).

 

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By Heidi Sarna.

The storied, romantic Rhine is one of the world’s most legendary rivers — a muse for artists and writers, a snaking siren to lovelorn sailors, and a coveted cruising destination. Along with the Danube, it’s also served as a vital waterway for trade, invasions and defence since the Holy Roman Empire. More recently, during WWII, the Rhine was a much fought over frontier between the Allied and Axis powers. Over the centuries, major cities developed along its banks, from Basel, Switzerland, to Strasbourg, France, and Germany’s Mannheim, Mainz, Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf where prestigious universities and important industries thrived. Today, the cities delight visitors with their flower-lined canals, and medieval half-timbered buildings and cathedrals.

The scenic Middle Rhine from a hilltop castle. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The scenic Middle Rhine from a hilltop castle. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

One of Europe’s longest rivers at 820 miles (or 1320 Kilometers*), the Rhine begins in the Swiss Alps, born of glacial ice and snow. It rushes down steep slopes, taking the form of waterfalls and rapids — hence it’s no surprise that “Rhine” is a Celtic and Gaulish word meaning “raging flow.” ­From its origins, the Rhine passes through remote forests and travels into and out of huge lakes, taking a sharp turn west at the foot of the Alps, ever twisting along its course until reaching Basel, at the junction of the Swiss, French and German borders. At different points, the Rhine forms the border between countries: Switzerland and Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Austria, and Switzerland and Germany. It separates France and Germany for just over a hundred miles between Basel and just south of Karlsruhe.

Photo Credit: Tauck

Photo Credit: Tauck

It is from Basel that the Rhine becomes navigable all the way to the North Sea. From Basel north to Bingen, the river is called the Upper Rhine and it proceeds on a flatter, calmer, tree-lined path, in part because the Rhine has been canalized and straightened over the past two centuries; in this section river boats will pass through 10 locks. Between Bingen and Bonn (just south of Cologne), the Middle Rhine is that fabled 90-mile stretch of castles and vineyards, largely original, deeply incised and forever winding. Finally, at Bonn, the Lower Rhine continues north and eventually splits into several named tributaries in the delta region of The Netherlands to empty into the North Sea. On a typical weeklong cruise, roughly two days are spent in each region. For a list of river cruise lines that ply the Rhine, click HERE.

Not all of the Rhine is scenic. Industrial complexes with belching smokestacks, especially around Ludwigshafen, and north of the Rhine Valley, around Cologne, Dusseldorf and the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heart, flank some sections of the Rhine. Luckily this grey commercial landscape is confined to a few spots, and it should be noted that much of this region drives Germany as Europe’s economic powerhouse.

An industrial area along the Lower Rhine, as seen from a river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

An industrial area along the Lower Rhine, as seen from a river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Besides other tourist boats, another frequent sight are commercial barges carrying heaps of coal (Germany still relies on coal power for a lot of its energy), chemicals, oil, ore, new cars, and other cargo. Some barges, privately-owned and the equivalent of water-going 18-wheelers, are also home so look for barking dogs, flower boxes and cars parked behind the living quarters and wheelhouse.

* The exact length of the Rhine seems to be up for grabs; another popular figure found online is 764 miles or 1,230 kilometers, the later of which is supposedly a transposition of the “3” and the “2.”

Canalizing & Straightening of the Rhine

A good part of the Upper Rhine, roughly between Basel and Strasbourg, was redirected, straightened and/or canalized (with locks) at various points over the past two centuries to improve navigability and make inland shipping and water management more predictable. Varying weather conditions in the Alps, for instance, mean a winter with too much ice and snow can cause flooding, while too little leads to low water levels, with the depth of the Rhine ranging between 5 and 35 feet. To offset this and make conditions more reliable, the Rhine’s original curves were cut off like the elbows of a bent arm, not dissimilar to what happened to the Lower Mississippi when it was straightened and kept in check by levees.

Passing through one of the 10 locks on a typical 7-night Rhine itinerary. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passing through one of the 10 locks on a typical 7-night Rhine itinerary. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

In his 2006 book, “The Rhine,” Hydrologist Thomas P. Knepper goes into great detail about how the Rhine has been altered. Here’s an excerpt:

“For centuries, man has been seeking to control the rivers. With the growth of cities and the expansion of industries, the river landscape has inevitably become an artificial landscape, with considerable difference between various river branches. Although the rivers today are far from natural, they probably cannot be completely controlled by man, which is demonstrated by unexpected floods and inundations.

The Rhine has created a number of problems in the past, particularly in the regions of the Upper Rhine, the Lower Rhine and the Delta Rhine. To address all of these problems, extensive river improvement schemes began in the 19th century. Main channels were systematically fixed and narrowed, navigation channels were dredged, sandbanks were removed, groynes [structures that stop sediment] were created to fix the riverbanks, and the rivers straightened at necessary points.

In other parts of the river, particularly in the Netherlands, dikes were erected. The oldest dikes on the Dutch river system were built in the 10th century. By 1450, the great rivers had been more or less completely diked.”

Cruising Between Basel & Amsterdam

Most Rhine River cruises last a week and ply between Basel and Amsterdam. Many travelers tack on a few days at either end using the cruise lines’ pre-/post-cruise hotel packages or creating their own. Amsterdam is a wonderful city of museums and gorgeous architecture, a necklace of canals, and with a vibrant street life thronged with pedestrians and zillions of bicycles. As a welcome bonus, its airport makes a convenient gateway.

Amsterdam, what else but canals and bicycles. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Amsterdam, what else but canals and bicycles. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Underrated and less known, riverside Basel’s lovely old town is a treasure trove of stunning medieval buildings. In summer, “Rheinschwimmen” is a popular activity in Basel, when adventurous souls float down the cold fast-moving river clutching brightly-colored, locally bought waterproof bags to hold their phones, wallets and stuff, bobbing along like fishing floats for 15 or 20 minutes until they climb out and do it all over again. (A good place to enter the river is behind the Tinguely Museum, and then exit out of the ramps or ladders that line the northern banks — just follow the crowd).

"Rheinschwimmen" in Basel. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

“Rheinschwimmen” in Basel. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

For those who choose to fly in or out of Zurich, Switzerland, the country’s best-connected airport, or Lucerne, they tend to spend a few days in one of these beautiful, historic lake cities — both about a two-hour drive or 1-hour train ride from Basel.

The Rhine Valley: The Star of the Show

The gorgeous Middle Rhine, or Rhine Valley, is the highlight of the cruise, with two days spent soaking up the beauteous glory between Rudesheim and Koblenz, a feast of medieval castles one after another popping into view atop the river’s steep rocky slopes and interrupted by quilt-like patches of emerald-green vineyards. This outstanding section has deservedly earned the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage site. See old toll towers, some perched imperiously atop rocky outcroppings, where tariffs were once collected before the boats could pass.

The castles of the Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The castles of the Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The legendary Lorelei is a craggy cliff that towers over a deep, narrow and at one-time dangerous section of the Middle Rhine. It once held a powerful sway over sailors who imagined there to be a beautiful mermaid in the rocks beckoning them with her alluring song, and causing ships to come to grief. From the early 19th century to current times, the mythical siren and the desire she stirred have inspired an endless procession of poems, paintings and the late 19th-century opera Lorelei.

Throughout this stretch, besides the many day and hotel-style river boats, campsites — clusters of neat and tidy tents and RVs — pop up along the banks paying homage to the gorgeous landscape.

The gorgeous Middle Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The gorgeous Middle Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A Rhine River Cruise is a UNESCO World Heritage Fest

Besides cathedrals and the old quarters of many port towns and cities on a Rhine Cruise being designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, in 2002, the 40-mile (65-km) Middle Rhine Valley region between Bingen und Koblenz was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Here’s an excerpt from the world body (whc.unesco.org/en/list/).

“As a transport route, the Rhine has served as a link between the southern and northern halves of the continent since prehistoric times, enabling trade and cultural exchange, which in turn led to the establishment of settlements. Condensed into a very small area, these subsequently joined up to form chains of villages and small towns, and for over 1,000 years the steep valley sides have been terraced for vineyards.

The landscape is punctuated by some 40 hilltop castles and fortresses erected over a period of around 1,000 years. Abandonment and later the wars of the 17th century left most as picturesque ruins. The later 18th century saw the growth of sensibility towards the beauties of nature, and the often dramatic physical scenery of the Middle Rhine Valley, coupled with the many ruined castles on prominent hilltops, made it appeal strongly to the Romantic movement, which in turn influenced the form of much 19th century restoration and reconstruction.

Thanks to the relatively modest leeway given by the natural landscape of the Middle Rhine Valley to the people inhabiting it, this section of the river has undergone fewer changes than others. As a result, but also thanks to various early attempts to protect the landscape and its historical monuments, the landscape has remained largely untouched. And so, many of the features and elements that lend the area its authenticity have been preserved. However the railways that run along the valley contribute to the noise pollution in the Valley, which is a problem that needs to be mitigated.”

Pretty Port Highlights

Most river cruises offer guided walking tours in each port as part of the fares, plus another optional tour or two to a vineyard, castle or notable city or town further afield.

Breisach, for Colmar. It’s a 30- to 40-minute bus ride from Breisach to charming Colmar, a compact French city in the heart of the Alsace wine region. The city’s old town is lovely, with colorful half-timbered houses, flowers everywhere and historic treasures like the 13th-century St. Martin’s Cathedral and the 14th-century Gothic Maison Adolph house. Colmar is also the birthplace of Statue of Liberty sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.

Kehl, for Strasbourg. One of the highlights of the week is gorgeous Strasbourg, an Alsatian city on the French side of the Rhine. Its historic center is actually an island, called Grande Île, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site with no shortage of half-timbered houses and flower-lined canals — the photo ops are endless. The city’s impressive Gothic cathedral has a tower you can climb for sweeping views of the city.

Stunning Strasbourg. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Stunning Strasbourg. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Germersheim, for Speyer. It’s a short bus ride to Speyer, a lovely small town whose big star is Europe’s largest Romanesque cathedral, the massive 1,000-year-old Speyer Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There’s also a local brewery, Domhof Hausbrauerei, that’s definite worth a visit for a pint or two. Some lines offer day trips to beautiful Heidelberg on the Neckar River, with its 14th-century university.

Rudesheim am Rhein. Classic Germany, admire the vineyards that line the hilly river banks surrounding this charming and popular riverside village, known for its 15th-century Drosselgasse cobblestoned lane lined with half-timbered shops and restaurants. Many folks choose to take the cable car up (you can also walk) to the top of the slope for an hour’s trek through the Niederwald forest with panoramic viewing points of the Rhine Valley below, and then down again via ski lift at the village of Assmannshausen.

Over the grapes and down to the Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Over the grapes and down to the Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Koblenz. Highlights of this historic city include a short aerial tram ride over the Rhine up to the 19th-century Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, a massive complex built on the site of previous forts that kept watch over the surrounding area for thousands of years. The gigantic equestrian statue of Emperor William I of Germany is another top site in this city, both for its size and its setting at the tip of a promontory where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet.

Cologne. Walk from the boat to the city’s old town to marvel at Cologne’s massive Gothic Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of Europe’s most famous (though much of Cologne was destroyed during WWII by Allied bombings, the pilots spared it). It’s stunning stained glass windows comprise classic designs and modern ones too, including an abstract 20-meter-high window created by German artist Gerhard Richter. Other sites include the 12 Romanic churches in the city’s old quarter along the Rhine.

A lovely corner of Cologne. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A lovely corner of Cologne. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Worms. There’s a lot to see in Germany’s oldest city and one of it’s most important wine-growing centers, from the 7th-century Romanesque Cathedral of St. Peter to a Jewish cemetery with tombstones dating back to the 11th century. One of Europe’s oldest Jewish quarters, Worms was once called the “Jerusalem of the Rhine.” It’s also renown as the city where back in 1521 German theologist Martin Luther refused to recant his teachings about Christianity at the Diet of Worms.

— HMS

 

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