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Small-ship Sea Cloud Spirit construction

Small-ship Construction & Delivery Updates

By Anne Kalosh.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a lot of uncertainty on the cruise shipbuilding front. Some yards have been closed, in line with national rules, or operating at greatly reduced capacity to enable safe distancing among workers.

Subcontractors, the vast web of suppliers who provide the majority of components and highly specialized labor/craftsmanship that go into building ships, haven’t been able cross borders, creating bottlenecks.

And, in this zero-revenue environment, many cruise lines are trying to renegotiate new build deliveries. Anyway, who needs more berths at a time when all fleets are laid up and nobody knows when operations will restart?

Here’s an update on news emerging in recent days about some of the Quirky-sized oceangoing new builds.

It’s a mixed picture, with both delays and progress — but, overall, surprisingly robust with even some new entrants, on both the shipyard and cruise line sides.

Small-ship Construction: Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot

The hybrid electric, LNG-powered Le Commandant Charcot is one of a kind. Ponant is building this ship to be able to sail in extreme polar regions with the least environmental impact possible. It appears on track for April 2021 delivery.

The new build is now being outfitted at the Vard Søviknes in Norway after arriving from Vard Tulcea in Romania, where the superstructure was built. Towed from Eastern Europe to Norway in a monthlong voyage, Le Commandant Charcot rendezvoused in the Gibraltar Strait with Ponant’s L’Austral, Le Boréal and Le Lyrial as they headed to Marseille for layup during the current suspension of cruise operations, making for some spectacular drone footage.

Le Commandant Charcot’s destinations will include the true geographic North Pole and areas in Antarctica where fewer people have traveled than to the moon.

In addition to carrying intrepid travelers, the ship will facilitate scientific research with laboratories, equipment and dedicated staterooms for researchers, providing a platform for polar observation and analysis.

Le Commandant Charcot (foreground) rendezvoused with three other Ponant ships in the Strait of Gibraltar. * Photo: Loic Jugualt for Ponant

Small-ship Construction: Sea Cloud Spirit Delay

Sea Cloud Cruises’ long-awaited, triple-masted tall ship Sea Cloud Spirit had been scheduled to make its maiden voyage Aug. 29. It will go into service later than planned, the new date still to be advised.

The 136-passenger vessel is under construction at Metalships & Docks SAU in Vigo, Spain, where work stopped for several weeks due to the country’s shutdown. Operations have resumed in small groups, in strict compliance with new public health regulations. However, the European subcontractors and suppliers involved in the project have not yet returned to Spain due to entry restrictions.

Sea Cloud Spirit’s masts, manufactured in Poland, had arrived at the yard when the COVID-19 crisis hit but were not installed due to the work stoppage. Below deck, the interior fittings were also being carried out but not completed.

Small-ship Sea Cloud Spirit construction

Sea Cloud Spirit’s main mast lies ready to be installed at the shipyard. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

RELATED: Sea Cloud Building a New Tall Ship.  by Anne Kalosh.

New Canary Islands Program

Because of the delay, Sea Cloud Spirit will not cross the Atlantic, heading to the Caribbean in mid-November as originally scheduled. Instead, it will remain in the Canary Islands until April 2021.

According to Sea Cloud Cruises, its Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II are still expected to ply the Caribbean later this year.

The company’s 2021 brochure will be published this summer, including all voyages on the three ships. The upcoming year gives the Hamburg-based line several reasons to celebrate: the legendary Sea Cloud flagship will be 90 years old, Sea Cloud II will turn 20 and Sea Cloud Spirit will be operating its first full season.

Small-ship Construction: Eclipse II & More Polar New Builds for Scenic

Meanwhile, in Rijeka, Croatia, a steel-cutting ceremony for Scenic Eclipse II was held recently, and Scenic Group Owner Glen Moroney revealed plans to turn out five polar “discovery yachts” there in the next six years.

Due in 2021, Scenic Eclipse II is the sister of 2019’s Scenic Eclipse, which carries 238 passengers (200 in polar regions) in all-veranda suites with butler service. Numerous restaurants, an ample spa and nearly 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio make for an ultra-luxurious experience.

RELATED:   Cruising Aboard the New Scenic Eclipse.  by Peter Knego

Yet these are also serious expedition ships, with ice-strengthened hulls, super-sized stabilizers, two helicopters housed in a giant hangar, a submarine, a marina for launching Zodiacs and kayaks and a mud room for gear.

Scenic Eclipse helicopters

The Scenic Eclipse ships have two helicopters each, a hangar, a submarine and more expedition toys. * Photo: Scenic

After the Uljanik Group that built Scenic Eclipse went bankrupt, Moroney formed his own company, MKM Yachts, as a sub-concession at Rijeka’s Maj 3 shipyard. This new entity is taking full responsibility for Scenic’s oceangoing new builds, starting with Scenic Eclipse II.

MKM Yachts reached this agreement with the Croatian government, which is also supporting the redevelopment of the shipyard and assisting in the funding of Scenic’s new building program. Under the plan, MKM Yachts is leasing a portion of the Rijeka yard to use its infrastructure and the knowledge of the Croatian shipbuilders, working in collaboration with Scenic’s expert team.

Scenic small-ship construction

Construction has begun on Scenic Eclipse II, the sister of 2019’s Scenic Eclipse, seen here. * Photo: Scenic

Small-ship Construction: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Atlas Ocean Voyages, the dedicated North American brand of Portugal’s Mystic Invest Holdings, has just opened sales for its inaugural Antarctica program in late 2021/early 2022. The voyages will be aboard new build World Navigator, currently under construction in Portugal.

As a new brand, Atlas faces the challenge of introducing itself amid the global cruise shutdown. However, President Alberto Aliberti said his team can focus on marketing and planning the safest possible entry into service instead of coping with the ongoing challenges facing other lines that have had to repatriate passengers and crew, lay up ships and juggle cancellations and rebookings.

World Navigator is not due to begin sailing until mid-2021, in the Mediterranean. By opening bookings for the subsequent Antarctica season now, Atlas is playing into the dreams of people cooped up at home who have time to plan a future big adventure.

World Navigator Antarctic season

Sales have opened for World Navigator’s 2021:22 Antarctica season. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Small-ship Edge

And, echoing the recent remarks of Sven Lindblad — whose Lindblad Expeditions just took delivery of its new polar ship National Geographic Endurance, which awaits entry to service when the global health situation improves — Aliberti believes small expedition ships will have an edge.

They carry fewer people and visit remote places like Antarctica, far from human populations.

Plus, Aliberti said, given World Navigator hasn’t entered service yet, Atlas can design for social distancing from the ground up.

For Antarctica bookings made by June 30, 2020, travelers may make a 50% reduced deposit, save $1,000 and get free business-class air per suite guest or $500 savings plus free economy-class air travel per Horizon or Veranda stateroom guest. Adventure staterooms come with free economy air. Changes to any itinerary departing before March 31, 2022, may be made without penalty.

As well, Atlas is catching the attention of the hard-hit travel advisor community with a “Get Paid Now” bonus gift card of up to $750 per booking, paid immediately, on top of a generous 15 percent commission.

Small-ship Construction: Project Vega Expedition Ships

Steel-cutting for the first of two planned Project Vega luxury expedition ships recently started in safe conditions and as scheduled in northern Europe despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Helsinki Shipyard, in icebreaker specialist with experience in mainstream cruise vessels such as Carnival Cruise Line’s long-running Fantasy class of the 1990s (and many more), is returning to passenger-ship construction after its sale and reorganization last year.

This first Project Vega order, for a pair of 157-passenger polar expedition vessels, was placed by Vodohod Ltd., Russia’s largest river cruise company and an affiliate of the Helsinki Shipyard’s new owners.

The steel blocks for the ships are being manufactured by Western Baltija Shipbuilding in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and will be transferred to Helsinki by sea. Production in Helsinki is to start in August, with the hull construction to begin with a keel-laying ceremony in September.

Deliveries are planned in 2021 and 2022.

Project vega new construction

Block production started for Project Vega in safe conditions. * Photo: Helsinki Shipyard

Small-ship Construction: New Entrant

Technology group Wärtsilä is developing a customized design for a potential series of six 200-passenger luxury expedition ships for start-up Amundsen Expeditions. These would be targeted primarily at the Chinese market.

Details are sparse for now. However, the design calls for all ocean-view cabins, presidential suites, winter gardens and the latest environmental equipment, according to Capt. Rajko Zupan of Amundsen Expeditions.

Wärtsilä said the ships will be crafted to operate efficiently in both tropical and polar waters.

They’ll be fitted with a complete package of Wärtsilä solutions, including Wärtsilä 32 engines, selective catalytic reduction systems to abate nitrogen oxide emissions, electric propulsion, the Wärtsilä Nacos Platinum bridge system for navigation and communication and Wärtsilä automation solutions.

Amundsen Expeditions small-ship construction

Wärtsilá is creating a customized design for start-up Amundsen Expeditions. * Rendering: Wärtsilä

 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

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Sven-Olof Lindblad.

Lindblad’s Return to Service

By Anne Kalosh.

Like all other cruise operators, Lindblad Expeditions‘ ships are laid up to wait out the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company was fortunate to have no reported cases among passengers or crew. And, while two of its ships were stuck off the Falkland Islands for a week or so, charter flights got people home so the desperate situations that affected some other lines were avoided.

Now, during the global suspension of cruise operations, Lindblad is lining up coronavirus tests and working with a team of outside experts to bolster its health protocols.

Small-ship Advantage

“We firmly believe that the smaller size of our ships, our advanced cleaning systems and robust operating protocols, along with the remote geographies we visit, and the profile of our guests, ideally situates us to be able to resume operations safely and effectively once travel restrictions have been lifted,” the company said in reporting first quarter earnings.

CEO Sven Lindblad singled out its most notable advantage as the “size of our vessels, which range from 48 to 148 passengers, allowing for a highly controlled environment that includes stringent cleaning protocols. The small nature of our ships should also allow us to efficiently and effectively test our guests and crew prior to boarding.”

He estimated it will only take a few thousand tests a month to ensure all guests and crew across the entire fleet are tested.

Sven-Olof Lindblad.

“Lindblad travelers are eager to live their lives and won’t be held back,” says Sven Lindblad. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

“Additionally, the majority of our expeditions take place in remote locations where human interactions are limited, so there is less opportunity for external influence,” Lindblad continued.

“Lastly, our guests are explorers by nature, eager to travel and have historically been very resilient following periods of uncertainty.”

Testing is Key

The ability to regularly test crew and, as a condition for embarking, all guests is essential to restart operations, Lindblad stressed. He indicated the company expects access to reliable tests in the near future.

It’s also vital to offer a “verifiable” safe environment on board, to win the crew’s understanding and cooperation concerning new protocols and to have customers’ confidence.

On the latter, Lindblad reported receiving “many messages” about their eagerness to travel. While the company’s age group is older, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19, “They want to live their lives. They won’t be held back,” he said.

RELATED: Lindblad Announces “Self-Disinfecting Fleet.”  by Anne Kalosh

RELATED: Lindblad Expeditions Goes Carbon Neutral.  by Anne Kalosh

Wild & Remote Places

Since Lindblad focuses on wild and remote places, it’s possible to operate without the vast infrastructure the mainstream cruise industry requires. Docks and motor coaches aren’t needed.

“We drop anchor and launch Zodiacs and kayaks to explore … We control the logistics,” Lindblad explained. “We need very little shoreside support so we can keep self-isolated.”

Lindblad use lots of kayaks and zodiacs

The ships can anchor and deploy Zodiacs and kayaks to explore in places like Alaska, pictured here. * Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins for Lindblad Expeditions

In Alaska, for example, cruises sail between Juneau and Sitka with little other port content, “basically, one other place with human community. We will reduce that so there’s less exposure to communities,” he added.

Currently, anyone arriving to Alaska has to self-isolate for 14 days. “By July, I think [communities] will have a completely different view. By June, I don’t think that will be the case,” Lindblad said.

However, ports and borders need to open. For ships to explore the Norwegian Arctic, “Norway needs to invite us to come.” Iceland, Greenland and the Galápagos are also key to expedition programs.

The line is making plans to activate some third quarter voyages should authorities permit, and has already sorted out the charter air arrangements to get people to and from the ships.

Returned U.S. Aid

Lindblad qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program under the United States’ coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act, but returned the money after the brouhaha over the funding of public companies. Sven Lindblad said the money was given back in the hope it will go to smaller entities like travel advisors, and he called on the U.S. to create additional support programs.

Meanwhile, for canceled voyages, most Lindblad customers are accepting future cruise credits instead of seeking refunds.

Bookings are coming in for 2020, 2021 and 2022, including more than $15 million since March 1.

To keep the business going, the company has acted to shore up its liquidity and cut expenses. Like other cruise lines, Lindblad is taking advantage of COVID-19 debt holidays (loan payment deferrals) offered by export credit agencies that guarantee loans to build ships in their countries.

A Look Inside National Geographic Endurance

Polar new build National Geographic Endurance was delivered in March by Norway’s Ulstein Shipyard. If not for the pandemic, the vessel would have been welcoming passengers aboard inaugural Arctic voyages now.

A video preview shows National Geographic Endurance’s X-Bow, a design patented by Ulstein for a smoother ride and better seakeeping.

The bridge is spacious enough to hold all 126 passengers, according to Capt. Aaron Wood — not that that would ever happen, but Lindblad is one of the few companies with an open-bridge policy. At water level the “Base Camp” houses two sheltered areas to board the Zodiacs.

Lindblad's return with the National Geographic Endurance

The 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance with its distinctive X-Bow. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Endurance interiors have a sleek, modern Nordic look. And artist Zaria Forman curated a permanent polar art exhibit for the ship.

The Ice Lounge provides 39 flat-screen televisions for presentations. Restaurant 270º is named for its panoramic views, with floor-to ceiling windows. Meanwhile, the Sanctuary wellness center offers a yoga studio and infinity Jacuzzis. The very cool-looking transparent twin igloos afford panoramic views and seating on fur-covered daybeds.

Accommodations include 13 extra-large balcony suites — each named for a famous polar explorer. Of the 56 standard cabins, 40 (among them, 12 solo cabins) have balconies.

A sister ship, National Geographic Resolution, is under construction at Ulstein and still targeted for fourth-quarter 2021 delivery.

Hopefully, by then, the world will have awakened from the COVID-19 nightmare and small-ship expedition travel will be thriving again.

RELATED:  Peter Knego’s Adventure Aboard the Nat Geo Venture in Baja California.

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Responsible Travel Trends

Responsible Travel Trends

By Anne Kalosh.

Promising news in this era of coronavirus fears: Lindblad Expeditions is implementing “Premium Purity,” a system that fosters a cleaner, healthier ship while drastically reducing environmental impact.

Responsible Travel Trends

Lindblad said it’s committed to defining travel industry standards for sustainability and environmentally responsible operations. Here a ship in Antarctica. * Photo: Michael S Nolan for Lindblad Expeditions

Photocatalytic Process

ACT CleanCoat is a photocatalytic process — that is, it’s activated by light. This antibacterial spray breaks down bacteria, viruses, mold and airborne allergens. It can be applied to all surfaces to make them self-disinfecting.

A transparent and odorless spray, it protects a room like an invisible insulation while purifying and deodorizing the air for up to one year.

ACT.Global A/S, a Copenhagen-based company specialized in sustainable disinfection, said its ACT CleanCoat has been validated as effective against bacteria and viruses such as coronavirus, hepatitis, salmonella and E. coli.

Surfaces still need daily cleaning to remove dust and grease.

Here’s a video that explains more.

Chemical-free & Harmless

So the other component of Premium Purity is the ACT ECA water system. ECA stands for “electro-chemically activated.” This is a process in which salt molecules are split to create hypochlorous acid and sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda.

In short, ACT.Global explained, the system turns water and salt into a liquid cleaning agent by destabilizing and elevating the electrical charge of the water. This has been proven an effective disinfectant.

Chemical-free and completely harmless to passengers, crew and the environment, the ACT ECA water can be used to clean rooms instead of toxic chemicals. Gloves, masks and other protective gear aren’t needed, and the water doesn’t need to be rinsed off.

“As the oldest and most experienced expedition travel company in the world, we go to some of the most pristine places on the planet. We are very conscious of the waste we produce, and how the cleanliness of our ship and protection of our guests on board is vital to a healthy environment,” said Bruce Tschampel, vice president of hotel operations for Lindblad Expeditions.

“Premium Purity is unlike anything we have seen out there,” he continued. “Our ships are truly pristine and healthy, and we already have measurable results to prove it from our initial pilot program on one ship.”

RELATED: Lindblad Elminates Single-Use Plastic Fleetwide.

Guest-reported Illness Down 50 Percent

Following a yearlong trial aboard National Geographic Explorer, the system is going fleet-wide. Tschampel said guest-reported illness has declined by 50 percent, more than 1,000 plastic bottles of cleaning products were eliminated, and water usage was dramatically reduced by 1.1 million gallons per year.

National Geographic Explorer

National Geographic Explorer. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

“The crew is raving about how much healthier the ship is and how effective it is to use this solution,” he added.

The fleet-wide rollout is another step in what Lindblad called its commitment to defining travel industry standards for sustainability and environmentally responsible operations.

Other Sustainability Initiatives

In 2019, the line went carbon neutral, offsetting 100 percent of emissions from its ships, all land-based operations, employee travel, offices in New York and Seattle and other contributors. Guest-facing, single-use plastics were eliminated fleet-wide in 2018. And Lindblad has operated a sustainable seafood program for many years.

Other initiatives include building ships that increase efficiency to reduce emissions, mandating supply chain solutions to eliminate plastic, sourcing and serving local, organic produce and making crew uniforms from recycled plastic.

Lindblad logo

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Nat Geo Venture Reader Review

NAT GEO VENTURE in Alaska.

REVIEWER

Laura Virkler  from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

Lindblad Expeditions.

SHIP

National Geographic Venture.

DESTINATION

Southeast Alaska.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

July 2019, from Sitka, Alaska.

OVERALL RATING

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

-Food Rating: 3

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

We took our three children (ages 16, 14 and 12) on this trip and everyone loved it for different reasons. Our oldest was able to talk with so many of the naturalists on the ship and really used her love of bones and history, and she loved the crew. Our middle son isn’t very social, but the crew on the bridge let him come and hang out and learn how the ship worked and he was fascinated with all of it. Our youngest met many other kids his age and loved being able to explore the ship on his own. All three kids loved the freedom they had on the ship.

My husband and I thought the cabins were very nice and so comfortable and had everything we needed. The staff was amazingly friendly and helpful. Meals were nice but became tedious after 7 days, but everything was very good. The excursions were interesting and the sights amazing — glaciers and icebergs and bears and seals and so on. Our one complaint would probably be that outings were a little slow-paced and a lot of time was spent on education, which is awesome, but a little slow sometimes.

All of us loved the experience and the ship and its crew!

Reader Review bird

 

 

Here’s the Lindblad Expeditions site.

 

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Guests get up close to a calving glacier in Southeast Alaska, at the Sawyer Glacier.

Lindblad Expeditions Goes Carbon Neutral

By Anne Kalosh.

Great news for QuirkyCruisers who care about the impact of their travel on the planet: Lindblad Expeditions is becoming a carbon neutral company beginning this year, in 2019.

This enforces the small-ship operator’s longstanding commitment to the environment. It also supports the efforts of its partner, National Geographic, to identify greenhouse gas emissions associated with its travel programs and decrease their impact by offsetting those that cannot be eliminated.

100 Percent Offset

Lindblad said its investments will offset 100 percent of emissions from its ships. This means eight ships in the Lindblad-National Geographic fleet and five leased, along with all land-based operations, employee travel, offices in New York and Seattle and additional small but measurable emission contributors.

Guests get up close to a calving glacier in Southeast Alaska, at the Sawyer Glacier.

Travelers with Lindblad Expeditions can feel good knowing the carbon impact of their journey is offset. * Photo: ©Flip Nicklin Lindblad Expeditions

“Greatest Threat Humanity has Ever Faced”

“As a company, recognizing that global climate change is arguably the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, we all need to urgently step up our efforts whether big or small,” said Sven Lindblad, CEO and founder, Lindblad Expeditions. “Our goal is to reduce and offset our carbon footprint, and to commit to carbon neutrality throughout the many layers of our business.”

Lindblad added that “climate change and its resulting impacts on global biodiversity and human health and livelihoods has provided a clarion call and awakening. The message is clear: we must rebalance and rebalance urgently.”

Travel contributes to the human footprint that affects the earth’s climate. National Geographic Partners has been working to reduce this impact over the past decade, investing more than $1.5 million in verifiable carbon offset projects, according to Nancy Schumacher, executive vice president, travel and tour operations.

Golden-mantled howler Monkey (Alouatta Palliata), family, troop, Barro Colorado Island, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Gatun Lake, Panama Canal, Panama

Climate change impacts global biodiversity. * Photo:©Ralph Lee Hopkins Lindblad Expeditions

Verified Emission-Reduction Projects

Working with South Pole, a leading developer of emission-reduction projects, Lindblad now has a portfolio of six investments that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These investments focus on renewable energy (solar and wind), reforestation and community-based projects in six countries, including Mexico, Peru and Vietnam, places that Lindblad-National Geographic travelers visit.

South Pole requires independent, third party verification and regular monitoring of the projects in its portfolio to ensure they deliver the stated impacts and adhere to the highest internationally recognized standards. Further, South Pole ensures emission reductions are accurately measured and verified to enable transparent public reporting.

Carbon neutrality joins a host of other sustainability programs at Lindblad.

The company banished guest-facing single-use plastics fleet-wide in 2018 and has served sustainable seafood on board for many years. Other initiatives include building more efficient ships that require less energy to operate and, therefore, reduce emissions. Lindblad also mandates supply chain solutions to eliminate plastic, serves local, organic produce and makes crew uniforms from recycled plastic.

$17 Million in Traveler Donations

Since 1997, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic have raised more than $17 million from travelers to the regions they explore together. These voluntary donations currently go toward conservation, education, research, storytelling and technology projects that support the health and viability of oceans, coastlines and coastal communities.

snorkeling south pass fakarava on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise

Lindblad travelers can donate to a fund that supports the health and viability of oceans coastlines and coastal communities.* Photo ©Mike Greenfelder for Lindblad Expeditiions

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Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

By Peter Knego.

My Lindblad Expeditions “Among The Great Whales” adventure aboard the brand-new 100-passenger National Geographic Venture began at San Jose del Cabo at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It was a three-hour drive up the Pacific Coast and across rugged desert terrain to the CostaBaja Resort overlooking the Bay of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

“Among the Great Whales” itinerary. Note the order of ports may vary. * Map: Lindblad Expeditions

A nice buffet dinner under the stars provided an ideal way to unwind and meet fellow shipmates, about 100 well-traveled Americans and a scattered few from other countries.

Nearly everyone on board the 7-night cruise was there to see and get up close to the wildlife, sea lions, birds and especially the whales. Many guests were avid photo takers who appreciated the official photographer‘s tips with techniques.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

All aboard as the National Geographic Venture prepares to depart San Carlos! * Photo: Peter Knego

On Board

The next afternoon, we crossed to the Pacific Coast to join the brand-new National Geographic Venture; aka NG Venture.

Introduced in early 2019, the 238-foot, 2,380-gt NG Venture is a sparkling, state-of-the-art expedition ship with a fleet of eight zodiacs and 24 kayaks. The US-flag ship is fitted with stabilizers that would come in handy in open ocean conditions.

The ship has four decks connected by a lift and two stair towers. The layout includes a lounge, dining room, shop, gym, an open bow observation platform, an open bridge (conditions permitting), a sheltered stern terrace and a platform for boarding kayaks and zodiacs.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The interior portion of Lounge Deck begins with the Lounge, which can seat all guests at once and features a bar, library, numerous LED screens and a rotunda-style podium called the Circle Of Truth for presentations by the ship’s expedition team. * Photo: Peter Knego

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

At the aft end of Lounge Deck, the Dining Room can also seat all guests at once and features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. * Photo: Peter Knego

Due to an approaching storm, instead of overnighting for a morning bird-watching excursion in Bahia Magdalena, we sailed off to Laguna San Ignacio, a protected whale feeding ground about 100 miles up the coast. It is a site made famous by the likes of John Steinbeck and Jacques Cousteau.

The Cabin Accommodations

My Category 3 cabin had a comfy queen-size bed, two picture windows, a writing desk, plenty of storage space, and bathroom with shower. Being the most forward cabin, it was a bit bumpy that first night as it took the brunt of the pounding waves and succumbed to some serious “corkscrewing” — that dreaded combination of pitching and rolling.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

There are no keys to access cabins on the National Geographic Venture, including Category 3 stateroom 202, shown facing port.  All staterooms do lock from the inside and are stocked with eco-friendly amenities (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel — in shower dispensers) and soap. * Photo: Peter Knego

Thankfully, for those like me with motion sickness issues, the ship provided an abundant supply of delicious ginger chews and meclizine tablets. Both were effective.

As for the Venture’s other accommodations, the top-grade Category 1’s have large picture windows that look out to a narrow promenade, a sitting area and an expanded bathroom. Category 2’s are slightly smaller but come with a private balcony.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The NG Venture’s Category 1 staterooms have picture windows that look out onto the Observation Deck promenade. * Photo: Peter Knego

Categories 4 and 5 are the most economical, and thus smaller and lower in the ship, which can actually be a good thing when the seas get rough.

The lack of televisions provided a chance to fully disengage from the chaos of the outside world.

 First Excursion Ashore

It was gray and cooler than expected when we finally reached the shelter of Laguna San Ignacio the next afternoon. That first Zodiac ride in the chilling wind and rough surf would add to the sense of adventure and ultimately pay off in spades.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Zodiacs are accessed via a platform on the stern of the ship. * Photo: Peter Knego

Strangely, this entire week in the Baja region would be about ten degrees cooler than in California where I live, so I was glad to have brought a sweatshirt and waterproof windbreaker along.

No matter what the weather conditions are, you can never go wrong with layers!

Peter all layered up in Baja! * Photo: Peter Knego

After a beach landing, we transferred from the ship’s Zodiacs to locally operated pangas that buzzed us deep into the gray whales’ turf. All around us, the giant cetaceans were “spy hopping,” or projecting their massive bodies vertically out of the sea to get a peek above the surface and then falling back with a giant splash.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

A pair of gray whales doing their “spy hop” maneuver at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

Our guides explained that this gravitational shifting also helps them digest the little crustaceans and other tiny creatures they had come to gorge on.

As our panga returned to the beach, a “friendly” (a baby gray calf) surfaced alongside just long enough for us to pat its barnacle-encrusted skin before it vanished back into the bubbly realm.

Click below: When a whale breaches within touching distance, it is called a “friendly”.

 

Sunsets & Sunrises

Back aboard the National Geographic Venture, dinner was slightly delayed so that we could gather on the bow for a startlingly beautiful sunset. For that lingering transition from day into night, our slice of the world was bathed in an almost fluorescent orange and magenta glow.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

San Ignacio’s sunset over the bow. * Photo: Peter Knego

The next morning, it was all about Zodiacs and pangas and the pursuit of more whales.  The seas were not only teeming with majestic grays, but provided a side show of dancing dolphins, the occasional leaping manta and scores of sea turtles.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Pangas, breaching grays and the mirage-like National Geographic Venture at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

With the sun beaming on the jagged purple peaks of the Sierras De La Gigantes in the backdrop, it couldn’t have been more exhilarating. Although there were no more close encounters of the “friendly” kind.

Racing Ahead to Avoid a Storm

For the next 36 hours, the National Geographic Venture made a mad south-by-southeasterly dash for Cabo, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.  For a delightful interlude on that first afternoon, dolphins frolicked in our bow wave.

Click above to view dolphins escorting the National Geographic Venture on her southbound journey.

Thankfully, as the Venture kept ahead of the storm, it would be a relatively smooth ride. I enjoyed the ship, dining, enrichment lectures and fellow guests, free of the trance-inducing effects of meclizine.

Dawn of a New Day

Day six began with the night sky morphing from ink blue into a lovely shade of pre-dawn purple-essence.

With coffee in one hand and camera in the other, I worked my way up to the bow platform to join fellow guests as the rising sun cast its first rays on Friar’s Rocks. The iconic formation at the tip of Cabo San Lucas is also known as Los Arcos.

Sunrise on Friar’s Rocks, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. * Photo: Peter Knego

Scores of tiny craft were heading out of Cabo’s small harbor to join us in welcoming the new day and the National Geographic Venture’s transition from the open Pacific to the Gulf of California, or as it is more commonly called, the Sea of Cortez.

After breakfast, the Venture motored to the outskirts of another small marina, that of San Jose Del Cabo, where we boarded zodiacs for a short ride ashore. I opted for the combined bird-watching walk in the estuary and time to wander the old town, with its historic mission, shops and galleries.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Birders in the San Jose Del Cabo estuary. * Photo: Peter Knego

Whales Whales & More Whales

Back aboard in time for lunch, we felt the gentle rumble of the Venture’s diesels propelling us into deeper water for an afternoon spent chasing humpback whales. With each breach and fluke, there were gasps, the frenzied clicking of camera shutters, and the occasional groan of someone who just missed capturing the action in pixels.

Another spectacular sunset serenaded us as we gathered on the stern terrace, where the al fresco bar was opened up for the first time during our trip.

On most nights, one of the naturalists would give an excellent presentation on the marine life, history and lore of the region.

Highlights were lecturer Marylou Blakeslee’s readings from John Steinbeck’s and Ed Rickett’s “The Log From The Sea Of Cortez,” describing their pioneering visit to the Baja Peninsula. I also greatly enjoyed expedition leader Bette Lu Krause’s tales of being a young female mariner in a male-dominated sea.

Day seven began with an early morning blue whale sighting as the Venture neared Isla San Francisco. I signed up for the morning kayak ride in the relatively sheltered bay, seizing the opportunity to not only get up close to a rocky outcrop of pelicans but to snap some nice, up-close views of our ship.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Kayaking off Isla San Francisco. * Photo: Peter Knego

 

Click above to experience the National Geographic Venture from a kayak’s perspective.

After returning the kayak, I joined a guided walk into the tide pools on the other side of the narrow strip of land linking the two halves of the islet. Expedition team members pointed out numerous starfish species, urchins, crabs, sea cucumbers and other saline fauna.

Snorkeling

Lunch on the ship was followed by a snorkeling expedition. Lindblad provided the gear, including wet suits, as the sea temperature was in the mid-60s.

My adventurous Australian snorkeling partner Haney and I encountered some pretty exciting sea life, including a rare zebra eel, schools of positively fluorescent fish and some adorable yellow puffers.

Another zodiac ride to/from the ship allowed us to change gear for an afternoon hike that unfortunately had to be aborted midway due to severe winds.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Isla San Francisco overview. * Photo: Peter Knego

As we kayaked, snorkeled and hiked, our expedition leaders pieced together an exciting last segment of the voyage. Taking advantage of the extra day gained by skipping Bahia Magdalena we would head to Puerto Escondido.

Sightseeing Alternative

Here, the next morning, local drivers took us on a ride back to Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific Coast to board pangas for another chance to enjoy an all-day expedition amongst the whales.

Those, like myself, who opted for the alternate choice, would be driven up into the Sierras de la Giganta for a visit to the historic Mission San Javier.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Nestled in Baja Sur’s rugged mountains, Mission San Javier was built in 1744. * Photo: Peter Knego

Then it was off to nearby Loreto, a charming Sea of Cortez resort town, where we could savor a Mexican lunch with time to explore on our own.

Last Full Day

Our last full day would be spent in the Espiritu Santo archipelago where the first morning excursion included a swim amongst sea lions followed by zodiac-ing into their feeding ground, where the rock formations resembled the creatures we had come to witness.

Rock formations versus sea lions in Espiritu Santo. * Photo: Peter Knego

Click below for a leaping sea lion snippet.

 

Late that afternoon, we anchored off Los Islotes where the crew prepared a beach barbecue while many of us headed off on hosted hiking expeditions in search of wildlife and the unique flora of the Baja Sur region.

Hiking at Los Islotes in the Sea of Cortez’ Espiritu Santo archipelago. * Photo: Peter Knego

As the final sunset extinguished itself, we returned to the ship for a slide show recap of the week’s adventure, then ultimately back to our cabins to pack and prepare for our homeward journeys the following morning. 🐋

Click here for a gander at QuirkyCruise’s John Roberts’ photo essay on the Nat Geo Venture.

Weather

This particular itinerary with both Pacific and Sea of Cortez ports operates between January and March.

Weather is typically moderate but it can get very windy in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific swells can be rough at times, especially for a small ship.

What’s Included

Drinks and tips are not included, but excursions are included in each port. In certain spots, weather conditions permitting, there will be a choice of activities from snorkeling and kayaking to hikes of various length and endurance.

Lindblad provides gear for snorkeling (masks, fins, snorkels and wetsuits), but guests must bring hiking boots and shoes that can withstand “wet landings” in the zodiacs. Layers of light clothing are highly recommended.

Rates for  the 7-night “Among the Great Whales” itinerary start at $5,990 USD per person based on double occupancy in a Category 1 cabin.

All images, text and video copyright Peter Knego 2019

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10 Best Small Ship cruises include the Sweden-based Juno

The 10 Quirkiest Cruises.

By Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

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

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

Light Vessel Patricia

Trinity House

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

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

Visit the Trinity House site for more info.

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

M/S Juno on Sweden’s Göta Canal

Göta Canal Steamship Company

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

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

The whole experience is wonderfully old fashioned.

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

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

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

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

Blount Small Ship Adventures

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

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

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

Visit Blount’s website for more info.

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

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

Rembrandt Van Rijn in the Arctic

Oceanwide Expeditions

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

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

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

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

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

M/S Katharina in Eastern Indonesia

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

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

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

For more info visit wwwSeaTrekBali.com.

10 best small ship cruises include SeaTrek Bali

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

High-tech Exploring in the Galapagos

Lindblad Expeditions

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

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

For more info, contact Lindblad.

10 Quirkiest Cruises include Lindblad in the Galapagos

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

Aranui 5 in the South Pacific

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM)

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

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

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

10 quirkiest cruises include the ARANUI 5 Passenger Cargo Liner

The Aranui 5. * Photo: Peter Knego

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker in the North Pole

Quark Expeditions

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

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

Click over to Quark’s site for more details.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Mahabaahu on the Brahmaputra River

Adventure River Cruises (ARC)

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

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

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

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

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

RMS St. Helena to St. Helena Island

RMS St. Helena

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

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

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

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

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

 

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